Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cincinnati, part deux

Just got back from the city that brought me Belgian beer. This time, I waltzed my way around the corner of my hotel to JeanRo's, as I am wont to do. At 9PM, I knew they closed late, so I didn't give it a second thought. But then they denied me. I couldn't believe it. They said the night was so slow they shut down the kitchen. Say what? So instead of making a scene, I thought, you know, I should really try something else. After a few go arounds with the JeanRo's staff, I was either going to have nouveau Mexican or a good ol' steak. That's always my backup. Rarely have I found a landlocked state (Ohio!) without good steakhouses.

Nada, the "nothing" Mexican joint, was on the way to Ruby's, the Steakhouse. If I didn't like the nothingness, I could keep right on walking. Open just 8 months ago, Nada had a new, fresh facade. Its interior was nothing short of contemporary and convivial. Great light colored wood and orange accents - I decided I was going to try out some of this nouveau Mexican.

Sitting at the bar, I ordered an Oyster Shooter, the Squid and Shrimp Ceviche, and their Cazuela Sampler. I need to go step by step here.

The Oyster Shooter is presented as the "Mexican Flag." There's a shot of tequila, a glass of the raw oyster marinating in Sangrita, and a lime juice chaser. Get it? White, red, green - the colors of the Mexican Flag? You're supposed to shoot the Tequila, down the oyster while taking just enough time to savor the flavor and texture, then follow up with the lime juice. Takes having a shot of tequila to another level entirely. To be honest, I could have done without the pomp and circumstance. Just give me the oyster in the Sangrita! Delicious. Now, Sangrita should not be confused with Spanish Sangria, which is a red wine based cocktail. Sangrita is a tomato puree with garlic and shallots or onions. It's like Gazpacho's little sister, and it's really delicioso.

The Ceviche was amazingly good. It had a really nice poblano flavor to it, with some orange and lime juice to cook the seafood, and some roma tomatoes and chives to bring out the flavor. Really nice portion, too. Love it when you get a good value.

Lastly, I had the Cazuela sampler. Tinga Poblano Chicken, Pork with Green Chiles, and Lamb with Mint. These are stewed and served in these mini-Le Creuset pots with Poblano rice underneath the stew. Originally, I opted for no lamb. It's shocking, but I don't like lamb. I don't like the gaminess of the lamb, and I can smell it a mile away. I'll tell you the lamb story of the Turkish restaurant with the obstinate Chinese waitress in LA one of these days. It's a classic.

These bad boys are salty. They really are. And if it weren't for the rice, I would really have been in trouble. The chicken was stewed with chorizo in a spicy tomato sauce. Probably the best seasoned out of all of them. Really a rich and tasty dish. The pork was stewed in green chiles, and was WAY too salty. I swear I thought my blood pressure was reaching its max. The lamb was surprisingly less gamey than I thought it would be. While I'm sure a lamb lover would enjoy it, he or she would still think it was too salty. At least, that's what Dan Dell thought.

Earlier in the evening, another guy sat down at the bar a few seats down, and he was clearly known there. The bartender gave him whatever he wanted and wanted to know what he wanted Chef Mike to make for him. He's this regular-looking guy with a lot of attention being lavished on him. He's Dan Dell, the owner of the Buddhakan 2 blocks away.

It's an interesting lesson in how the sub-culture of chefs/owners works. They've got their own little fraternity going on and it's all about quid pro quo. Craig, the bartender is going to take care of him, because when he goes to the Buddhakan later that evening, he'll expect to be taken care of. As does Chef Mike when he comes out to find out how Dan likes the food, because Dan's the one who got me the extra pot of lamb, and hence, he's sharing all of my food. Then again, he's also getting Chef Mike to pitch in chips and guacamole and other small eat items. So it's all good and fair, in my eyes.

The best is when Dan starts saying, "Man, this stuff is SALTY. I can't even EAT it, it's so SALTY." To which Chef Mike is appalled and keeps sending more food out in the hopes that Dan will like SOMETHING. It's a crazy world.

Afterwards, Dan invited me to his bar. He wanted to give me a tour of his Thai/Americana Classic Rock bar. He says he couldn't decide what he wanted the place to stand for. It used to be a Thai restaurant, and he likes Thai food, but he also loves Classic Rock. So he's got these Buddha statues and tons of Thai sculptures on the wall, on the bar, on the tables. But then weaved throughout all that are old school record covers. Stuff like Rod Stewart when he was young and handsome. Bruce Springsteen's first album. Fleetwood Mac in the 70's. Eclectically neat.

That night, I had something other than JeanRo's. As far as food goes, I wish I had JeanRo's Coq au Vin. I was really hankering for some that night. But when it comes to experiences, I couldn't complain about my first brush with the Chef underground. I feel like I'm part of some secret society now. Just call me Bond.

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