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!

MPF seeks Italian restaurant with good alfredo sauce for, three

We recently received an email from a (very pregnant) friend asking us for our opinion on the perfect restaurant to satisfy her craving:

I want to go to a nice Italian restaurant before the baby's born, so I looked at your blog and reread the reviews for Bella Luna, Maggiano's, Buca di Beppo, Trio, and Betta's. Did I miss one? In terms of chains I also thought of Olive Garden (love the salads).

So tell me, oh restaurant guru, which do you recommend? I'm going for a non-vegetarian, hearty, totally fattening alfredo sauce. :)

We love a good challenge, so we put our thinking caps on and debated amongst ourselves what to recommend. The verdict: Maggiano's (and don't forget the chocolate cake for dessert). Now, we're sure there are some of you who are shocked and dismayed that we would recommend a chain like Maggiano's for our friend here, but please, allow us to explain.

First and foremost, we've been struggling to find an Italian place in town that is reasonably priced and has a delicious sauce. We've been satisfied at most places we've tried (other than Pompilio's), but we haven't fallen in love with anything. In other words, your recommendations are much needed here.

Now, let's start with the runner-ups before we get to why Maggiano's won.

First runner up (who gets the crown if Maggiano's closes tomorrow): Olive Garden. We haven't formally reviewed Olive Garden here, because we haven't been to one locally, but we stopped at one last month while traveling and were reminded why we like it: good pasta, great endless salad, and buttery bread. Olive garden's pasta is plentiful and tasty, but the atmosphere and flavor just aren't anything amazing. You always feel like you're in a middle-of-the-road restaurant that happens to have white tablecloths.

The other finalists:

Trio--We probably don't need to tell you we love Trio. But I don't think we've ever had pasta there, and I wouldn't bank on them having an alfredo sauce if you just pick a random night to visit. If alfredo is what you crave, better count on finding it elsewhere.

Betta's--Betta's is good Italian at very reasonable prices. But it's just good, not great.

Buca di Beppo--This is always the place to bring a large group. Even though someone eight or nine months pregnant might be more than a little rotund, food for twelve still seems like overkill. The pasta there is adequate, but again, not amazing.

Bella Luna--Bella Luna is a little bit different than the other's. It's got a funkier atmosphere, a more interesting menu, but it also doesn't have huge portions or out-of-the-park taste. And we're betting you need a decent portion size :-)

Other places to consider: Macaroni Grill (but the one in Kenwood closed), Carrabba's (but it's a bit of a commute), and Brio (just avoid the weekend!).

So that takes us back to our winner for this competition: Maggiano's. Maggiano's has very good pasta. Some love it more than others, but I've never heard anyone say they really didn't like their dish. I think their sauce hits the spot, and the portions...oh my, the portions...will feed you and at least an extra person. So if you happen to be feeding yourself and an extra person, the portion should be just about right. And they have a pretty killer chocolate cake, too :-) So this place gets the taste points, portion points, atmosphere points, and dessert points. Haven't found a place yet to top that.........yet :-)


Unknown said...

What about Ferrari's???? There are good non-chain italian places too!

Anonymous said...

This article is killing your foodie street cred big time. Olive Garden is NOT Italian food and is horrible beyond it's bread and salad. Very surprised not to see the two most Italian Cincinnati restaurants mentioned at all; Roma and Scotti's.

Chris Thompson said...

There's one thing you miss though, which is "What is good Alfredo?"

Fettucine Alfredo is pasta, butter and real parmesan. It is not a sauce, not in any normal sense. There is, actually, no such thing, traditionally, as Alfredo Sauce, any more than Oysters Rockefeller has "Rockefeller Sauce".

Wikipedia even claims it as an Americanization of the italian dish Fettuccine al burro e panna, which, if you read between the lines, isn't even what Alfredo himself is reputed to have invented for his wife, as his dish has no "e panna", no cream.

Why the history lesson? Because anyone who wants to talk about real italian restaurants in this case is off the mark. Alfredo "Sauce" is about as italian as a Taco Bell is mexican or Outback is Australian.

The closest you can get to the italian dish that I've found is the Old Spaghetti Factory's "Mizithra and Brown Butter", though Mizithra is a greek cheese. It's damn tasty.

So if you strip away the false "authentic italian" requirement, who is good?

Honestly, I've not had alfredo at Maggianos, but everything else I've had there has been extremely tasty.

I enjoy eating the Alfredo at, yes, Olive Garden. It's thick, buttery, with a decent parmesan taste that completely lacks any "out of a green can" notes.

Honestly, I prefer the exact same sauce at Red Lobster, which is owned by the same company, filled with crab meat and served with the garlic biscuits.

Is this foodie cred? Nope, I make no pretensions about that. But it TASTES GOOD. I love small independant restaurants too, but I won't reject something tasty just because it's a chain and I'm trying to keep some sort of artificial "above it all".

Oddly enough I recently had an alfredo on penne with chicken at Uno's, and it was very tasty, which was a surprise because I really don't like Uno's. (But the wife and kids do.)

Who to avoid? I did not like Carabbas (Actually, I like NOTHING at Carabbas), and any of the cookie cutter "bistros", Applebees, Fridays, etc. That stuff is just gross.

Michal said...

mmm.... MUST.... TRY.... ITALIAN!!!

thank you, thank you. wiggly will be very happy, i'm sure!

Anonymous said...

Pitrelli's in old Mason is our absolute new favorite Italian restaurant! The food is tremendous and generously portioned and the atmosphere and service makes you feel welcome like old friends.

kcitti said...

You've really re-hashed a frustrated feeling that I once blogged about....complete lack of good ethic restaurants (ok-italian restaurants) in Cincinnati. Reading that you suggest chain after chain makes my heart hurt.

Has anyone in Cincinnati actually ever had authentic italian food? No, LaRosas isn't even close.

Bella Luna is absolutely the best I've tried here...and a great atmosphere I HIGHLY recommend.