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!

Can't Judge a Restaurant by its Awning: Kona Bistro

Kona Bistro3012 Madison Road • Cincinnati, OH 45209 • (513) 842-KONA (5662)

His Take

We decided at the last minute on a Saturday night to head out for dinner and quickly settled on Kona Bistro—a place neither of us had been previously and a place that sounded like we could get in pretty quickly. The first thing I noticed about the restaurant was the excellent decor. The entire restaurant was painted with bright colors that made the mood feel lighter and suggested a real energy coming from the restaurant’s designer. Fortunately, the energy didn’t stop with the walls and carried straight on into the dishes we ordered, which all came out looking terrific, fun, and tasty. Unfortunately, looks can sometimes be deceiving.

We started our meal by ordering an appetizer, salads, and entrees. The appetizer was a mediterranean sampler—pita with hummus, feta, tomatoes, etc., which we assumed would come out pretty quickly. It did arrive fast, but was easily outdone by the salads, which showed up almost immediately. A little thrown off by the order of the dishes, we nevertheless looked forward to wonderful looking food.

The salads were simple, fresh, and well presented, though the taste was nothing to write home about. The bigger concern was that we had both asked for dressing on the side and neither of our salads matched that request. Minus one point for attention to detail.

The appetizer fits a similar description. It was well plated and everything tasted fine, but therein lies the problem: it was just fine. The hummus tasted like regular store-bought hummus, as did the other items on the plate. All in all, it filled our stomachs, but left us a little disappointed.

Our entrees arrived looking even better than the two dishes before them. I ordered a flank steak served with a chipotle-mole sauce. The description sounded amazing on the menu, but as I ate my first two bites I realized that my imagination had clearly done a better job of seasoning the dish than the chef. Neither the steak, nor the sauce had any seasoning that stood out. The chipotle-mole sauce could easily have been outdone at Chipotle or even Taco-Bell (gasp!).

In the end, we had set our sights high and Kona Bistro fell far short. The place and the food look and feel fun, but the food appears better than it tastes. All in all, it was fine…and that’s about it.
Her Take

I was excited to try Kona Bistro, because I’ve driven past it many times in Oakley Square, and I’ve heard that it’s pretty good. We finally decided to go try it, and I called late Saturday afternoon for a reservation, figuring that a Saturday night would be busy. I was told that they do not take reservations for parties smaller than five, but that they were not busy, so it shouldn’t be a problem. I was a bit surprised, and also skeptical, having been fed the same line and then enduring an over-an-hour wait at other places. Nonetheless, we went and found that at 7:30 on a Saturday night, it was only about half-full. Dewey’s, right next door, looked completely packed, so it wasn’t the night or the neighborhood as we first suspected.

Walking into Kona Bistro, we immediately noticed that it's bright and just a little funky, but it seems to me that the clientele did not quite match the restaurant itself. We seemed to be the only diners in our twenties, younger than most by at least 15-20 years. Regardless, the menu looked fantastic, but unlike our success with sharing three courses at Teller’s a few days ago, we really wanted different dishes this time. We split an appetizer, each had a little salad, and each had our own entrée.

For our starter, we had the Mediterranean Munchies, which included hummus, baba ghanouj, feta cheese, tomatoes, and pita. Except, it didn’t come out first. Our salads were the first plates delivered to the table. We ordered the little salads--mixed greens with tomatoes and raspberry vinaigrette. We were both amused to see that the salads came out with each item separated on the plate: a pile of greens, a pile of tomatoes, and a slice of bread. It was like an assemble your own salad! We had asked for dressing on the side and that didn’t happen, but it was a perfectly decent salad.

About three bites into the salads, the appetizer arrived, so we had salad plates, appetizer plates, and the appetizer dish all on the table at once. The Mediterranean Munchies were not all that exciting. Everything was perfectly decent and nothing was bad, but nothing had much flavor. It just wasn’t particularly interesting, and all of the items on the plate had the potential to be fantastic. Sadly, nothing was.

We were still finishing up the appetizer plate when dinner appeared, so we were stuck with the dilemma of whether to finish what we were eating and have the meal cool off or just move on. The choice was not one that either one of us likes to make, and we were not impressed that they could get food on the table so quickly. I like to eat one course at a time! My main course was “roasted butternut squash, raisins, walnuts, shiitake mushrooms, and roasted red pepper blended with ziti pasta in a zesty chevre cream sauce.” It was pretty good, but not quite up to the level of “zest” that I expected from the description. I like the completely random mix of things that I would never have considered putting in a pasta dish, and the cream sauce was light, at least by cream sauce standards. It was difficult to order. As I tried to tell the waiter what I wanted, I found myself reading that two-line description above. It turns out that although I didn’t notice this until it was time to order, the menu has no names for many of its dishes. Some have unique words near the beginning of the description, like “jambalaya” or “Indian stuffed burrito,” but mine was just a list of ingredients, which was awkward to order.

Overall, Kona Bistro was an adequate restaurant. The food was decent, but didn’t make that jump to good food that I expect from any restaurant. There was nothing particularly unique about most of the flavors, and the service was paced fairly awfully. The waiter came frequently to refill our glasses, but too frequently when it came to bringing our food, and, of course, he was nowhere to be found when we were ready to pay the bill. I’m not planning to return any time soon, and it’s unlikely I’ll be encouraging anyone else to head over there either.


Julie said...

Every time I've eaten there it has been mediocre-- I reviewed them during Restaurant Week and had a similar experience.

Jaime said...

Your review goes along with my past experiences there as well. The dishes sound great but they they just.... aren't. Their sandwiches seem to be pretty good, but the entrees always fall short.

liz said...

you know, i really like kona but i always order the same thing there... crab and corn chowder with the stir fry salad. both are very delicious. maybe the rest of their menu isn't as good though... i actually have no idea!