For those of you who read the comments on the blog, which we encourage you to do, you already know that we took a little bit of heat a few weeks ago when we recommended to a very pregnant (but no longer pregnant!) friend that Maggiano’s was the place to go if you want a delicious Fettucini Alfredo and plenty of it. So, we promised ourselves we would find an independent Italian restaurant that we liked. And now we have.
Ferrari’s was first recommended to me by a coworker, whose opinion was seconded in the comments here. It’s a surprisingly large restaurant and Italian grocery located in Madeira. The restaurant is in the back of a plaza, so you have to keep an eye out for the signs, rather than the actual building. We can prove we like this place because even though we’re just blogging about it now, we’ve already been there twice. And last time we brought friends (irrefutable proof we’re fans).
On our first visit, we arrived pretty late in the evening and the restaurant was pretty quiet. It was slightly too cold for us to enjoy the patio, but it looked like there were several parties out there. Our server was extremely friendly and helpful with navigating the menu. She answered questions about the portions and ingredients confidently and honestly. For example, she made sure we weren’t ordering grande portions of anything and even made me second guess my entree selection.
The first course for us was bread, and I was generally impressed. The bread looked and tasted homemade. There’s a poor picture below (low light), but you can see there were both sourdough and multigrain options, both of which were relatively dense and tasty. The downside was it was served room temperature and with butter. Fortunately, one of those problems was easily resolved with a request for oil. When the oil was delivered, our server had turned it into an oil/pesto/tomato mixture, which was one of the best tasting dips we’ve had in a restaurant.
Next up was the salad. The small salad was easily big enough for us to split, and it looked fresh with plenty of cheese, pine nuts, and cranberries. The dressing was very mild, but I don’t ask for much when it comes to a salad. This was far better than a few pieces of iceberg lettuce, some tomato, and drowning in oil. (If that’s your bag, try Pompilios.)
But the entree is always the most important part (except maybe dessert). I decided to go with chicken and ordered the Pollo Province--a sauteed chicken breast with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and sherry over linguini. Our server cautioned me that some people find the dish too sweet because of the sherry, and I almost reconsidered. But I’m glad I didn’t. The dish was a delicious combination with plenty of perfectly cooked chicken pieces, a wonderful sauce, and only a small mountain of pasta.
While I’m glad I ordered the dish, I became very jealous when I tried my date’s eggplant parmigiana. It wasn’t the eggplant that caught my attention, but the marinara sauce was fantastic! Fortunately, when we went back with friends I had a chance to try more of it--this time with the Spaghettini Mediterranean. It’s normally served with artichoke hearts, portabello, and a garlic and olive oil sauce, but my friend and I ordered it with the marinara--a much better option. The red sauce has a deep flavor that is hard to find elsewhere, and that’s what will keep me coming back.
Well, that and the chocolate indulgence. Here’s a picture. You come up with the 1000 words. I’ll just leave it with mmmmmmmmmmmm...
We most certainly listen to our commenters and friends! Ferrari’s was recently recommended by people commenting both on- and off-line. We had been searching for good, non-chain Italian in Cincinnati, but we struggled somewhat. We finally had a chance to go try Ferrari’s, and it certainly lived up to the recommendation! There was a brief moment of skepticism when we first walked in, because the main door is through a sort of grocery store, a counter area that functions as an Italian bakery/deli during the day. In the evening, it is simply the gateway to the actual restaurant.
Ferrari’s is several small/medium rooms, so it feels like a small, family-run place, even though in reality it is a fairly large restaurant. In addition to adding intimacy, the division of rooms also keeps the noise level down, which makes it feel more upscale than, say, Maggiano’s, which is a big restaurant that really feels like a big restaurant.
In any case, atmosphere is nice, but food is of supreme importance in a restaurant. The menu is fairly large at Ferrari’s, both in physical size and variety. Luckily, they serve bread while you peruse. The bread is good, but would be better warmed up. They serve with butter, but we discovered out that if you ask for olive oil, they will bring it out on a plate with a delicious tomatoey spice mixture that is far superior to the store-bought pats of butter you get otherwise.
We decided to start our meal splitting a salad. They have two sizes at Ferrari’s, which they call Piccola and Grande, which are in reality Big and Ginormous. We split a Piccola salad, and were shocked at how large it was. It seems that what they call “small” is a regular restaurant-sized portion. Grande is meant for sharing—if each person wants their own restaurant-sized portion! The Ferrari Salad (lettuce, dried cranberries, pine nuts, gorgonzola cheese, balsamic vinaigrette) was certainly yummy, although nothing overly thrilling.
I had eggplant parmesan as my main course, again the piccola. When it arrived at the table (in a reasonable, not too long not too short fashion), I was shocked to see how much food it was. There were two decent-sized pieces of eggplant, along with a large serving of ziti with tomato sauce. The eggplant was great. I find that eggplant parm often comes out somewhat soggy, and that was most definitely not the case here. It was deliciously crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. My only complaint was that it was too light on the cheese—but I love cheese. The tomato sauce on the pasta was great—flavorful, chunky, and there was plenty of it. Yum. About half the meal went home for a delicious leftovers lunch.
We somehow found room for dessert, especially after we had heard the waitress describe the “chocolate indulgence” to another table. (Actually, it may have been just uttering those two words together that convinced us.) It was baked and chocolatey and delicious, and really, that’s all that’s important to me in a rich chocolate dessert.
Ferrari’s is not an everyday Italian joint. It’s a little more upscale than that in both food quality (hooray!) and prices, but it’s not unreasonable or outrageous, especially for the amount of food on the plate. I can’t wait to go back!
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!