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!

Tropicana: Fresh Squeezed Has Nothing On This Place!

Jeff Ruby's Tropicana • 1 Levee Way • Newport, KY 41071 • (859) 491-8900

UPDATE: This restaurant is permanently closed. Stay tuned for details on what will replace it.

His Take

We decided it had been a little while since we visited the Levee, so when we scoured the directory for an interesting new place to try, Tropicana jumped out at us. We made a reservation on the early side (7:15), though it didn’t look like we necessarily needed one.

When you walk into Tropicana, you immediately get the sense that this is a place serious about food and service. The servers are wearing white aprons and butchers’ jackets (the white coats) and the hostess dresses to make an impression (see right for more details). Our server was very nice and extremely knowledgeable when it came to questions about wine, cheese, and steak (what else do you need?).

We arrived plenty hungry and decided to start with salads and wine, holding out hope that there would be bread, too (we weren’t disappointed). My salad was a “steakhouse salad,” which was more or less a standard fare salad with fancy greens, some cut up veggies, and a nice large toasted crouton on top. The salad tasted quite good, and while it certainly isn’t a dish about which I would get too excited, it did the job well, looked appealing, and tasted just fine.

And then there was the bread. Oh, the bread. The bread was divine. I’m a huge fan of delicious bread, and this is some of the best free bread I’ve ever had. The first set of slices that came out were a homemade rye that was nice and thick with terrific flavor. I get tired of the same old sliced french bread that has more air than dough, so this was a relief and a delight. Along with butter they served a mushroom and torte spread that had a few other items in it. It didn’t have a particularly strong taste, but the bread needed no accompaniment. The sourdough came later and was quite good, too, but the rye was better. OK, enough about the bread; let’s get to the good stuff.

Steak. Center cut filet mignon to be precise. I gave Tropicana’s chef the ultimate test: I trusted that when I ordered my steak medium, I would actually receive a steak that was red hot in the very center, pink for most of the inside, and charred on the outside. As Emeril would say: BAM! The steak was cooked perfectly and had a terrific dusting of house spices on the outside. This was the best, tenderest, most delicious steak I’ve had in a long while—and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve been disappointed elsewhere on more than one occasion.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to try their dessert, but we made the server recite the list anyhow just to tempt us. The list included traditional favorites such as key lime pie and a more tempting double chocolate cheesecake.

Even worse, we found out...they’re closing! June 26th to be precise. So if you’ve never been there, set a date to stop by before they’re gone—you’ll thank us later :-)

Jeff Ruby's Tropicana on Urbanspoon
Her Take

In a sentence, stop reading and go make your reservation at Tropicana! With only two and a half weeks until the restaurant closes, you don’t want to miss out on this one.

We decided to try Tropicana, not realizing at the time that it was a restaurant on the way out: they close their doors at the end of the month due to an ongoing lawsuit with Tropicana Entertainment over use of the name Tropicana. The restaurant certainly does not present itself as one on its last legs. Tropicana is clearly a restaurant aimed at the young professional crowd, which is who filled the tables on a recent Saturday night. The few older parties stood out, but there were two different bachelorette outing groups who seemed to fit right in. The image of the restaurant can be embodied by its hostess. She wore a white short-sleeved jacket (impractical but cute), black satin short-shorts, and black high heeled pumps. Now, I’ve never thought of black satin shorts at all, and certainly not as formal wear. But somehow, it worked, and that was my lasting image of what this restaurant is trying to project.

I started my meal with a Caesar salad, which always runs the risk of being incredibly boring, but it was great. It came with a “parmesan frico” which turned out to be a sort of baked circle of cheese on top of the salad, like a flat cheese crouton. It was a nice touch on a too-often ordinary salad.

The arrival of our salads was also when our bread came to the table. We were given several slices of a rye, along with butter and another topping that had herbs and things, but I missed the description of exactly what it was. We were told there was also a sourdough, and that it would be brought to us as soon as it was out of the oven. Both breads were fantastic with a perfect texture. The rye had sea salt around the crust, which gave it a distinction from most breads, and the slices were good and thick. The sourdough was less exciting, and not overly sourdough flavored, but still very good.

Then came the entrees, and wow. I ordered the Black Iron Seared Tuna, which came with “green apple, wasabi tobiko, and mango.” I wasn’t exactly certain what wasabi tobiko was, but I went with it, and I’m so glad that I did. My first bite of tuna had me doing what a good tuna steak should: I did a double take and checked that I was really eating fish and not beef. The mango topping made it sweet, and the greens with apple sticks on the side were, I assume, the mystery wasabi tobiko, and they were good as well. It’s rare that a salad, or even just side greens, can make me rave, but these were different and interesting and flavorful, and they just contributed to the overall impressiveness of the meal.

I have to admit that I almost ordered the Manchego Ravioli. In the end, I decided that in a place that specializes in meat and fish, I should order one or the other. Since it comes as both a main course and an appetizer (“tapa-tizer”), I would happily have done that smaller portion, but as my date and dairy don’t get along, I had to pass. Perhaps I’ll get back there in the next few weeks for a taste. We also didn’t get to dessert, but I personally thought the chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce sounded best. There were others, but I tend to zone out on non-chocolate desserts.

In short, Jeff Ruby’s Tropicana is not cheap, but it is one of the best meals I’ve had in a Cincinnati restaurant. If you have an occasion (or the budget for a great meal) in the next few weeks, try Tropicana before it disappears!

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