Subito is a term usually used in classical music, indicating that something happens suddenly—for example, when a section becomes abruptly loud or soft. In the case of this new restaurant in the new Lytle Park Hotel, the name is appropriate; things certainly changed suddenly. On the cusp of opening in March, the pandemic rose to its spring peak, and Subito had to quickly hit the pause button. In the three months before the restaurant finally opened in June, Assistant Manager Kyle Goebel says the team continued to refine its recipes and focus on training its staff.
The time, it seems, was well spent. Cincinnati might not seem like it needs any more high-end Italian restaurants, but Subito carves out its own worthwhile place in the landscape. The menu focuses on Northern Italian cuisine, where butter is used more commonly than olive oil, the tomato is less central to most sauces, and beef is more prevalent than other meats.
Nonetheless, most of the items on the menu—from pizza to risotto to various pastas—will be familiar. At Subito, the offerings may be straightforward, but the focus on proper execution and quality of ingredients—along with a few delightful surprises—makes for a wonderfully satisfying meal.
Let me begin with one of those surprises. One doesn’t expect, at an Italian restaurant with a focus on steak, to rave about the vegan offering, the torta di ceci. At the base of the dish is a wonderful farinata—a griddled pancake made out of chickpea flour. Called socca in neighboring France, the ones I have bumbled my way through cooking at home have been dense and a bit oily, but Subito’s is light and flaky, topped with an herbed tofu ricotta, and covered with roasted ribbons of beet and carrot. The whole dish is rounded out with a touch of astringent tartness from preserved lemon oil. I ordered it with a great deal of skepticism—tofu ricotta?—and was surprised to find it one of the highlights of the meal. When a restaurant is paying this much attention to the vegetarian entree, it’s usually a good sign.
In all of Subito’s best dishes, a number of different flavor elements are held in just the right balance. The prosciutto and bleu salad is built on a base of bitter chicory greens, with the funky notes of a cave aged blue cheese, but they are balanced with the sweetness of dates and candied nuts, sour cranberries, and the salty prosciutto. The burrata salad is just as good, with a beautiful cascade of alternating red and golden beets, a lovely balsamic dressing on the greens, and a surprising touch of peppery peeled oranges. Another sign of care is how carefully the restaurant packs its takeout orders, maintaining presentation and standards even in this non-ideal format.
Everything at Subito is done with intelligence and a light touch. Rosemary, for example, is one of those aggressive flavors that can destroy a dish or, in the right proportion, make everything around it sing. This herb appears throughout Subito’s menu, beginning with the bread course, and is used to particularly wonderful effect in the pasta dishes, where it appears in the angel hair pasta served with the chicken breast saltimbocca and the linguini with clams. The latter, a simple butter, garlic, and white wine sauce, with the wonderful lemon-pine savor of rosemary throughout, is one of those dishes that you could go on eating forever, and try to duplicate at home without ever quite getting it right.
Aside from pizza and a raw bar, the restaurant’s menu is divided along the traditional Italian categories—antipasti, primi, and secondi. The most atypical feature is the bistecca section at the bottom, which seems to exist largely because hotel diners like to have steak options. Subito certainly executes these items to a decent standard, but there is a definite drop in inspiration in this part of the menu.
The NY strip was overcooked and, on the edges, oversalted (the only seasoning issue I encountered at Subito). All of the vegetable sides, meanwhile, felt like an afterthought. Stick to the actual Italian offerings, though—which are plentiful and generally excellent—and you will be very much rewarded.
Beyond the food, part of the experience of Subito is soaking in the atmosphere of the hotel and the restaurant. Still deep in the midst of COVID dreariness, it felt good to watch life going on—a couple getting married on the beautiful rooftop, with heaters blazing, and people on the patio by the fire. Subito, and the entire Lytle Park Hotel, feels like an oasis from pandemic life. I hadn’t heard live music in months, but here is a singer, Cybele McGazi, at the grand piano next to the bar of the restaurant. The fire was roaring in the four-season room, which opens up to the outdoors when the weather is nice (it was too cold for the porch when we went). Many of the diners at Subito are out-of-town hotel guests, but quite a few of them, Goebel told me, are just Cincinnati residents who are looking for a break. Except for the masks, you could almost believe that, here, life was back to normal again—a feeling that all of us will probably need as this drags on.
Some things will have to wait—the tableside charcuterie and the exposed raw bar, for example—but Subito and the Lytle are a nice reminder of all we have to go back to.
Subito, 311 Pike St., downtown, (513) 621-4500