Damn Good Dishes (and Food)

Some of my favorite bites in 2011.
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Brie Berry Salad

Otto’s
Strawberries, blueberries, grapes, blue cheese, brie, candied pecans, and mixed greens tossed in honey vinaigrette. Girlish good looks, sophisticated flavor.
521 Main St., Covington, (859) 491-6678


Yellow Pepper Soup

Via Vite
Yellow peppers, stock, seasoning, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Proof that the concept of restraint can result in the most exquisite flavor. In the same vein, the potato leek soup and spicy cioppino (Italian seafood stew) often vie with the yellow pepper as favorites.
520 Vine St.,downtown, (513) 721-8483


Sopressata Salad

La Poste
Greens and goat cheese are prudently dressed in a truffle vinaigrette, wrapped in sopressata, and served with caramelized apple and berry coulis. Chef Dave Taylor gives it a gorgeous vertical presentation and omits the preciousness.


Gobhi Manchurian Cauliflower

Amma’s Kitchen
The humble cauliflower sings in this classic Indo-Chinese appetizer steeped in ginger, garlic, and chilies, and is so texturally beguiling it’s been mistaken for chicken wings.
7633 Reading Rd., Roselawn, (513) 821-2021, ammaskitchen.us


Chorizo Tacos

Lime Taqueria
Chorizo from Kroeger Brothers in Findlay Market, plus housemade mandarin citrus salsa and pickled radish topped with queso fresco. Sí, más, por favor.


Dragon’s Breath Wontons

AmerAsia
File these under A for Addiction: seasoned ground pork, onion, and cilantro meatballs wrapped in egg dough, wok simmered, and cloaked in spicy red pepper sauce.
521 Madison Ave., Covington, (859) 261-6121


Simple Roast Chicken

Wildflower Café
I’m a big fan of this little café, and while I love most of the menu, nothing represents Chef Todd Hudson’s farmstead fever better than his Gravel Knolls pastured chicken beautifully roasted in Burnet Ridge Sauvignon Blanc atop goat cheese risotto. Happy local chickens do taste better.
207 E. Main St., Mason, (513) 492-7514


Chocolate Pot de Crème

Honey
Problem: Your chocolate pudding isn’t decadent enough. Solution: Pastry Chef Summer Genetti will crown it with salted caramel and toffee popcorn.


Pan Seared Duck Breast

Daveed’s at 934
Perfectly—and I do mean perfectly—prepared duck breast by the master, Chef David Cook. Seasonal preparations, but I dug it one evening with wild mushrooms, truffle, and white cheddar, and with braised cabbage, kielbasa, and potato another.


Smoked Curried Trout Salad

Nectar
Partnered with frisee salad, a gorgeous burst of Maine cranberries, and crostini courtesy of Blue Oven Bread, all brought to you by the immensely talented Chef Julie Francis.


Arancini

A Tavola
Fried risotto balls. Let’s repeat: Fried. Risotto. Balls.
1220 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 246-0192


Arugula Salad

Via Vite
How is it that one simple salad can taste like it was handed down by generations of great Italian cooks? Pristine peppery baby arugula, shards of Parmigiano Reggiano, and toasted pignolis dressed in a gauzy citronette (lemon and olive oil). My favorite companion to any of Via Vite’s soups for lunch, and perfect with Chef Cristian Pietoso’s steak preparations at dinner.
520 Vine St., downtown, (513) 721-8483


Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake

Annabel’s
Moist with almond paste and sour cream, plump with blueberries….OK, STOP. This was just to reel you in good people. The truth is there may be no better concentration of great cakes in the city than at this adorable (and tiny) cafe. Yes, it’s true I’ve loved the above coffeecake this past year. And it’s a pie-eyed beauty of a cake to start with. But you’ll want more. Oh yes, you’ll want more.


Dry Pot Whole Fish

Sichuan Bistro
HolymotherofGodsweetbabyJesus is what I believed I uttered after my first bite of this whole fried tilapia served in a hot pot with vegetables. (Call ahead; this is not on the regular menu.)
7888 Mason-Montgomery Rd., Mason, (513) 770-3123


Egg Drop Soup With Wontons

AmerAsia
Better than the chicken and dumpling soup made by your Jewish bubbe.
521 Madison Ave., Covington, (859) 261-6121


Eggplant Sliders

A Tavola
Eggplant, tomato, and lemon herb aioli…good. Between miniature Blue Oven English muffins…bonkers good.
1220 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 246-0192


Fig and Gorgonzola Crostini

Europa Bistro
An Umbrian classic of sweet-tart fresh fig jam and a kick of gorgonzola, a combination every good marriage requires.


Maytag Blue Cheesecake With Port Marinated Pears

The Palace
Rarely do I find desserts that leave me speechless. This one left the entire table speechless.


Mysore Masala Dosa

Amma’s Kitchen
Potatoes and chutney rule again, folded into a crisp papery crepe as big as your forearm.
7633 Reading Rd., Roselawn, (513) 821-2021


New England Style Clam Chowder

The Pelican’s Reef
Plump with sweet clams and silky with just enough brine and smoke to cut the richness of cream.
7261 Beechmont Ave., Anderson Twp., (513) 232-2526\


Pulled Pork Sandwich

Eli’s BBQ
We’ve been singing the gospel of Elias Leisring’s love-me-tender hickory smoked pork and North Carolina–style sauce since he set up a grill last spring on Fountain Square. We sure miss our daily ’cue, but with his new restaurant, there’s more to love.
3313 Riverside Dr., East End, (513) 307-8318


Samosa Chaat

Brij Mohan Indian Sweets and Restaurant
Though I discovered this chaat room in 2007 (at the time it was in a different location and less than half the size it is now), it wasn’t until this past year that I rediscovered their glorious samosa chaat (fried potato-filled pastries topped with housemade chutneys, yogurt, and cilantro). Follow it with tarka dal (smoky black lentils), and the tamarind flavored puffed rice wonder known as bhelpuri.
11259 Reading Rd., Sharonville, (513) 769-4549


Shrimp or Oyster Po’boy

New Orleans To Go
Can I get an Hallelujah please? Because this classic New Orleans sandwich moves me to evangelical enthusiasm for its perfectly fried hot oysters or tender buttery shrimp dressed with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and pickles tucked into a toasted bun.


Whipped Lardo and Nduja

Enoteca Emilia
A combination of cured pork fatback (lardo) and spicy spreadable salami (nduja) whipped into glistening meat buttery submission and resonating like a bong hit from hog heaven. Fatback is the new pork belly folks, so embrace the lardo.


Plus, Three Products I Adore:

Caviar

Big Fish Farms
A former career server and wine director, Northern Kentucky resident Renee Koerner knew she was onto something when she taste-tested her caviar (made from her own farm-raised paddlefish) with Russian expats, who promptly accused her of appropriating Russian caviar and calling it her own. Yes, it is that good…and more affordable. You can find it featured on local menus at Jean-Robert’s Table, Nectar, and Bouquet, or order it directly.


English Muffins

Blue Oven Bakery
As if it wasn’t enough for them to add a permanent inch and five pounds to my waistline with their hand crafted Bad Boy, Miche, Ohio Grist, Cider Raisin Rye, and Tortano breads, they had to go and bake the best English muffins I have ever—ever—eaten. And in two varieties! Proof that life is too short for skinny jeans.


Caramelized Onion Bialy

Pigasus Bagels & Breads
Ahhh…there’s nothing that reminds me of a former life in Manhattan’s Lower East Side than an onion bialy, bagel’s chewier cousin (bialys are baked instead of boiled, and have a filled depression rather than a hole). Find this savory newcomer at Madison’s in Findlay Market, Picnic and Pantry in Northside, and at Northside’s Wednesday Farmer’s Market.

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