Restaurants & Reservations: Dining in Cincinnati

What happens when a rabbi and a lawyer walk into a bar? We'll let you know in a few years, but until then we'll do our best to share with you our favorite (and not-so-favorite) Cincinnati restaurants and hope you'll share some with us, too!

Palomino: Cincinnati's best "European-inspired regional American Cuisine"

Palomino505 Vine Street • Cincinnati, OH 45202 • (513) 381-1300

Her Take

A visiting family friend offered to take me to dinner, and since his conference was downtown, we were headed to a downtown restaurant. He chose Palomino. I had never been, but I had heard that it fit right in with the other upscale downtown dining establishments. Even on a Monday night, it was crowded with businesspeople, conference-goers, and, at least in the bar area, fans stopping in after Reds opening day.

As crowded as it was, the service was great. Our waitress came for drink orders right away, and—not deterred by waters all around—she soon came back with a great basket of bread and the list of specials. The bread wasn’t warm, but might as well have been—it was very good restaurant bread. Instead of butter, it came with a (cold) tomato-basil sauce that resembled turning our bread into bruschetta. We ordered a salad to share and our entrees and settled in to catch up and munch on bread.

Our Grilled Wild Mushrooms came to the table looking suspiciously like a salad, even though it was from the appetizers section of the menu. We did not particularly care; it was great. Grilled mushrooms on top of field greens, with walnuts and gorgonzola cheese, in a portion certainly big enough to share as an appetizer/salad hybrid course. Just as we finished the dish our meals came to the table. I had one of the specials, an asiago-encrusted tilapia with mashed potatoes and green beans. I don’t get excited about green beans (and I usually leave them behind), but I did eat a few of them—dipped liberally in the creamy, cheesy sauce. The mashed potatoes were good, but nothing special, although the sauce again helped. The fish was delicious. It was not fishy, and it was cooked perfectly, with a crusty outside and a soft center. It was one of those meals when we did not feel uncomfortably full at the end—but there was no chance we were ordering dessert.

We did, however, order drinks after dinner so that we could stay and talk a little longer. My friend got coffee, and although it was not on the menu, I asked for hot chocolate. Caffeine and I are not good friends in the evening. They were happy to oblige, and I am happy to report that they did a good job with my drink. It was not the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had (you’ll have to go over to Europe for that), but it was pleasantly creamy. Watery hot chocolate makes me sad.

All in all, Palomino does exactly what it sets out to do: it delivers a high quality meal for those willing to spend a little more in the heart of downtown. Main courses range from about $15 to $25, with a few things a little more, and a few a little less. Leftovers are less likely than in other places because the dishes are not so oversized. The food is delicious. I figured I would return when someone else came to town and wanted to take me out for a good meal!
Her Take 2

As it turned out, I was to go back to Palomino a couple of days later, during the same conference, with a different group. This time we ate lunch rather than dinner, so I had a chance to try out their lunch menu. It took me a few minutes to realize that it was, in fact, a different menu. There are not that many differences. I would have to compare them side by side to see if there is a difference in pricing on the same dishes, and many of the same dishes are offered for both meals. However, at lunch, they offer reasonably priced combos of small portions of pasta, soup, salad, or sandwiches. All four of us decided to do combos.

I had a salad with chevre and pumpkin seeds and a gorgonzola pasta. They came out in two small bowls (think cup-of-soup style bowls) on one long plate. We were all impressed with the presentation. It meant that there was no waiting on the part of salad-less members of the party for others to finish their first course, and it meant that people (me) who like starting with the hot part of the meal could do so without attracting (too many) weird looks from friends while leaving the salad for afterwards. Both dishes were very good, and both made excellent use of flavorful cheeses, something I love.

After lunch, we decided to get dessert. Not because we were still hungry, but because the friend treating lunch insisted that we look at the dessert menu. Two of us were going to split the chocolate torte. When we told our server the order, he said they were fairly small, so we ended up getting two. Ultimately, we were each thrilled to have our own, because they were fantastic. The outside was cooked, and the middle was gooey and delicious. Plus, vanilla ice cream (way better than average) and cut strawberries came on the side. I am not easily impressed by desserts, but this one certainly blew me away.

The restaurant was crowded at lunchtime on a weekday, and while we were seated immediately, they apologized for seating us at a large table. The four of us were seated at a table that would fit six comfortably, and probably more. Luckily, the food and service were great, so we didn’t much mind spreading out.

Between my two visits in the last week, my advice would be to try Palominos…and see if you can save room for dessert!

Palomino Euro Bistro on Urbanspoon

No comments: