Most restaurants, from meal to meal and year to year, have ups and downs. Standards slip when someone is out of town, chefs get bored or lose focus, execution falters. A few establishments, though, maintain a magical focus over time. Even with staff changes and shifting trends, such places simply don’t have offnights. From food to service, Sotto’s consistency under Chef Danny Combs has reached this almost unachievable level. If one wanted to gamble on having a single great meal at any restaurant in the city, Sotto would be the surest bet.
Perennial afterthought to Boca, its swanky above-ground partner, Sotto requires a trip down a dark set of stairs to a grand hobbit hole of a dining room. There is a kind of Old World, candlelit magic to the place. Sotto advertises its cuisine as “The Art of Simplicity,” but there is nothing simple about what it routinely accomplishes. Service is warm and knowledgeable, from the unique finish volcanic soil gives to a particular wine to friendly suggestions on how to break a luscious half-cooked egg into the polenta.
Dishes like the paccheri con pesce are perfect on every level: the freshness of the swordfish, the depth of flavor and complexity of the sauce, with its hints of mint and green olive, and the texture of the fresh pasta. You get the sense that absolutely every element has been thought about, tasted, and perfected. Many dishes at Sotto are familiar, including the crispy, hazelnut-dotted chocolate budino and the polenta, but each time Sotto puts out dishes somehow better than any previous iteration. Lots of things change in the world of food; Sotto is as close as we get to a fixed standard of excellence.
118 E. Sixth St., Downtown, (513) 977-6886, sottocincinnati.com