This was my second time eating at Brio’s and my third attempt to eat there. The restaurant is located at the Levee immediately adjacent to the Valet Parking station (because the underground garage is so far away?). It features a large bar, extra-large dining area, and a pretty decent size patio, too.
I must confess that I wasn’t particularly excited to be returning to Brio’s. On my first visit, my impression was that the Italian options were good, but not too special, and you paid more for the location and ambiance than the taste. However, because the food was decent and I felt like heading to the Levee, I wasn’t opposed to giving it a another try. It might be worth noting that my second and unsuccessful attempt to eat at Brio’s was on a Friday night last summer when we were told the wait would be about two hours. We politely took the pager and walked right in to Mitchell’s Fish Market and were seated immediately. Timing is everything, so aim to be at Brio’s no later than 8pm on a weekend night.
Anyhow, back to our most recent visit. We both remembered Brio’s being particularly cold, so we were a little excited at the chance to sit on their patio. Although the patio is next to the valet station, it was pretty quiet and very pleasant outside. As with any outdoor seating area, you need to check beforehand for the number of smokers if that bothers you, but it wasn’t much of a problem during our visit. Our server was prompt, friendly, and helpful, so we were off to a good start.
The bread arrived shortly after we ordered, and it was warm and delicious. I don’t think it was any particularly special type of bread, but there was a nice crust, just-doughy-enough center, and it was fresh from the oven. Note to other restaurants: please heat up your bread; it tastes so much better even if it’s store bought! We’ve also become big fans of oil with our bread rather than butter. Although Brio’s only brings you butter, we were very impressed by the tomato-chutney, herb, and oil mixture that our server brought out (no charge) when we requested some oil. Really delicious--they should use that for every table.
Next up was the salad. We split a seared Ahi Tuna Chopped Salad, which was terrific. Finding good salads, particularly as an appetizer, is very hit or miss. Restaurants seem to either put significant effort into making special salads or could care less about them. Fortunately, Brio’s is in the former category. The salad was a terrific mix of greens, veggies, feta, and of course, tuna. The tuna was appropriately seared on the outside and warm and red inside. Plus, the lemon vinaigrette was delicious, too. The server was great about having the kitchen split the salad for us, and my date is right, you almost always get more salad that way for the same price.
Then, there were the entrees. I had ordered the Pasta Brio--grilled chicken with mushrooms and rigatoni in a roasted red pepper sauce. The dish was very good. There was plenty of chicken and pasta (enough to take some home if you want) and the sauce was very tasty. That said, the dish wasn’t “spectacular,” “amazing,” “phenomenal,” or anything close to such superlatives. It was a good sauce, but you could probably come pretty close to this dish with a Foreman grill and a jar of Classico. I think I’m just hard to please when it comes to Italian. It’s all about the sauce for me, and this sauce was good, but just that.
Overall, we enjoyed eating at Brio’s. We were generally impressed by the food we ordered, the bread, the drinks, and the service, so we would not hesitate to return. If you’re heading to the Levee, you can’t go wrong with Brio’s--just know that other great options are around the corner if the wait gets too long!
We were in the mood for a comfortable Italian dinner, so we decided to head to Brio Tuscan Grill at Newport on the Levee. I remember having been there for standard chain Italian, but slightly embarrassingly, that was kind of what I was in the mood for. We expected a wait, so we were pleasantly surprised to be told that there was no wait for tables on the patio. It was a bit warm outside, but not uncomfortably so, and surprisingly quiet, at least until the drummer up near Barnes & Noble got going.
The bread came out first, and it has become difficult to really impress us with bread, but this one had all the requirements. There were two types of bread, although one was more of a cracker with cheese and spices baked on. It was ok, but the actual bread was better, and more importantly, hot. It was nothing too exciting, but cut in thick slices with a good texture. It was served with plain butter, but we asked for olive oil, and I’m thrilled that we did! Our waitress brought out a plate that looked like it had tomato sauce on it, but it was actually a tomato and spices blend, to which she added a healthy amount of oil. It was delicious!
Next came our drinks and salads. We’re not usually big drinkers, but the mango bellini was hard to resist. It sounded fruity, cold, and delicious, and it was. We briefly considered a pitcher instead of two glasses. We definitely would have finished it (and enjoyed it!), but we stuck with one glass apiece.
We ordered the Seared Tuna Chopped Salad to share, and the waitress immediately offered to have it split in the kitchen, which is usually at least a neater option, and often one that results in bigger half-salads. We were not disappointed! We each had four slices of seared tuna on top of a mix of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, a few green beans, onion, and feta cheese, with a lemon vinaigrette. It was fantastic. By this point in the meal, everything had been far better—and more interesting—than anticipated, at least by me, so we were psyched.
The main course did not let us down, although I had already had enough food to be far from hungry. I had the Penne Mediterranean: mushrooms, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, pine nuts, and feta cheese. Like everything before it, I was thoroughly impressed. It was different enough to be interesting, but familiar enough to be the comfort food I had been looking for this time.
Overall, the meal far exceeded expectations, and because we had so much food, I have enough left for a fantastic lunch tomorrow!
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!