The last time I was in Cincinnati was my first time in Cincinnati. It was 2004, and it was the trip that introduced me to an amazing array of beers from all over the world. It was the first time I ever had Chimay Blue from Belgium and Hitochino from Japan. It opened up a new appreciation for good beers, and for that, Cincinnati will always have a soft spot in my heart.
It all happened at JeanRo's, a little French bistro on Vine Street. It's one of Jean Robert's first restaurants of his now five, and as good as the beer was, so was the food. It was rich, delicious, complex, and yet simply French. I don't remember my own dish, but I remember someone else's. He had the Coq au Vin, and it was the best version I had ever had. Everything I've had since pales in comparison.
This past week, I went to Cincinnati for the second time in my life. We went straight from the airport to JeanRo's. After 4 years, I had to admit I might have been a bit tentative about how it might have changed. With Jean Robert's expansion into 5 different restaurants in the city, I was concerned there would signs of neglect. But it certainly did not disappoint. I had my La Chouffe - Belgian for "the gnome." A delightful pale ale that's rich in flavor, with a light sweetness and served in a glass with a little colored gnome on it. I love it.
I was all ready to go with the Coq au Vin, but was convinced to switch to the Filet by the server. When faced with the options of beef or chicken, I always go with beef. This was a hard choice, but I relented. Am I glad I did. The filet was perfectly medium rare and tender as a tender could be. It was topped with a blue cheese mousse and accompanied with potato au gratin and sauteed baby carrots. Not an extra grain of salt or pepper was dispensed--it did not need any adjustment at all. It was all delicious and I was so perfectly happy. Along with the dish, I had a glass of Joel Gott's 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and smooth, a perfect companion with the filet.
Before the trip, I was counseled by many a folks who used to live in Cincinnati that I shouldn't revisit JeanRo's, but to go to the Montgomery Inn's Boathouse for their famous barbecue. Not one to miss out on an opportunity, we made plans to visit this restaurant for lunch before the trip back home. Now, maybe it's because I just reviewed Lancaster's Dan the Man BBQ, who has tremendous ribs. Maybe it's because all the pomp and circumstance led to high expectations. Whatever the reason, I was not impressed. The ribs were thin, like they came from a starving pig. The sauce was good, and that's fine, but come on. Great sauce on a toothpick is hardly satisfying.
Final assessment: I continue to love JeanRo's. It introduced me to my first love of Belgian beer. And any place that can keep up their game over all these years has my vote. And I hope to enjoy it again in the future years.