In an April 2016 review of hip Asian/Latin surf and turf spot E+O Kitchen, our reviewer saw glimmers of hope for the fledgling Hyde Park eatery, but concluded that it struggled to hit the mark. Now, six years, an additional Banks location, a high-end downtown Greek restaurant (OKTO), and an ESPN shoutout later, we’re pleased to report that E+O hits the mark with precision.
The ESPN shoutout was for the “E+O Famous Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Kale Salad,” which started my refreshing dinner in the sleek, sunny Hyde Park dining room. True to the restaurant’s name, the lightly fried dish combines the best of land and sea. Earthy Brussels sprouts and crispy kale, red onion, and purple cabbage, all sweetened and spiced with chile-lime vinaigrette, jalapeños, and pickled Fresno chiles, make the perfect bed for juicy white wine-poached shrimp. It was the unanimous dish of the night. I was in good company. None other than Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor expressed his love for the now-famous dish in the aforementioned ESPN article.
The article, written during the height of Bengalmania, just before the team’s trip to last season’s Super Bowl, describes the dish as the ultimate comfort food, an unexpected source of solace for a new coach in a new city, struggling to make Super Bowl contenders out of the local punchline. For E+O, coach and dish became inextricably linked after the article’s release. “We get a lot of people coming in ordering the ‘Zac Taylor salad,’ ” Corporate Chef Ben Toney says.
Like Taylor, Toney took the helm just a couple of years ago, under the worst possible circumstances. In early 2020 the restaurant, which former Beluga owner Mike Hama opened in partnership with Chicago chef and television star Rodelio Aglibot (a.k.a. “The Food Buddha”), was struggling. The Earth and Ocean Restaurant Group took over, bringing in Toney, Director of Operations Tim Weiss, and Marketing Director Tony Castelli. The new owners also turned to Aglibot, who had stepped away from direct involvement with the restaurant, to help right the ship. For six weeks, he worked alongside Toney, training him in his new role at the restaurant. Then, on March 28, 2020, Aglibot missed a meeting.
“We ended up going to his house,” Toney explains. “It wasn’t like him to miss a scheduled meeting.”
That’s when they discovered that Aglibot had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. His death sent shockwaves throughout the food world, but especially at E+O. Not only did the newly formed restaurant group lose a personality that Toney describes as “larger than life,” it also lost his treasure trove of culinary knowledge. “We were left with nothing,” Toney says. “All of Chef Aglibot’s recipes were stored on a MacBook, which none of us had the password to.”
For much of the COVID-19 shutdown, Toney—whose 20-year career includes stints at Sturkey’s, Trio, and the Golden Lamb—worked with his team to recreate Aglibot’s storied dishes. They also pared the menu down, making it easier to execute.
One of the hallmarks of E+O’s menu is fresh seafood. Toney orders fish four times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. “We’ll put our seafood against anyone in the city,” he says. It’s a bold claim, but a legitimate one. A citrusy, subtly spiced shrimp ceviche, with its potpourri of sweet corn, red onion, avocado, tomato, and more of that chile lime dressing, tasted like it had just been beamed from some Peruvian beach. It was served with crispy wonton chips for dipping, a reminder that this is Latin/Asian fusion food, which is a difficult pairing to pull off. The restaurant’s commitment to freshness and simplicity helps make the pairing a natural one. My sesame crusted tuna entrée, served with purple rice and roasted bok choy, had the velvety firmness of a rare wagyu steak, the sesame seasoning and glaze allowing the fish’s flavor to shine.
A quick flip of the menu is proof that E+O takes its sushi seriously. The sushi dishes take up the whole back side. Nigiri and sashimi are well represented, but the main draw is the restaurant’s offbeat specialty rolls. We opted for the “Hey Vinnie,” a tempura salmon, avocado, and asparagus roll topped with tuna, jalapeño, cilantro, sweet unagi sauce, and a piquant wasabi aioli. Tempura salmon, by the way, is a dish that I had never seen before, but now want to gobble up like some streamside grizzly. This colorful roll was, simply put, the best I have had in Greater Cincinnati.
The menu at The Banks location is largely the same as the Hyde Park menu, with one notable exception: “The Griddy Burger.” This monster of a burger, named in honor of star Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (known for his celebratory on-field dance, “The Griddy”), comes stacked with Sriracha cream cheese, bacon jam, and good ol’ Grippo’s. E+O’s Marketing Director Tony Castelli tells me that the group decided to open a second location at The Banks because they wanted to be part of the excitement between the two stadiums. The fact that Paul Brown (sorry, Paycor) Stadium suddenly became the hottest place to be in Cincinnati is a lucky break for a restaurant group that had to figure things out the hard way after losing its founder.
And now you can get E+O sushi inside the stadium. Starting this season, the restaurant operates two suite-level eateries at Paycor. According to Toney, the club/suite level owners approached E+O because they wanted something more healthy, unique, and refined. From Coach Taylor’s cherished trips to E+O to that delicious sushi adorning Bengals fans’ plates, it seems the relationship between team and restaurant has come full circle.
All of this is to say that the restaurant proudly carries on Aglibot’s legacy. “So much of our commitment to excellence comes from Chef Buddha’s guidance and example,” Castelli says. “I still remember him making us meals from scratch in a closed-down restaurant as we nervously planned what our next move would be.” Nervousness long gone, those moves have paid dividends. I can picture Chef Buddha beaming.
E + O Kitchen, 3520 Edwards Rd., Hyde Park, (513) 832-1023, eokitchen.com