To know why Orchids is the best restaurant in Cincinnati, all you have to do is take a look at an amuse bouche served one evening last fall. A bite-sized hors d’oeuvre meant to stimulate the palate for the meal to come, this small gift can mean a minimal investment of time or quality in some restaurants. For Chef Todd Kelly—the American Culinary Federation’s 2011 Chef of The Year—it’s merely the first note of a culinary symphony. With it Kelly commands your attention, then introduces dishes orchestrated with both intimacy and a highly developed sense of the dramatic. Delivered expeditiously by classically vested and well-postured staff in the gilded splendor of the Palm Court in the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, Kelly’s menu is composed of pedigreed ingredients and preparations: lardo-crusted Niman ranch rib eye with périgourdine sauce (truffle, butter, beef stock, and Madeira); red snapper en papillote with apple tzatziki and Madras curry (the dish that helped Kelly snag the ACF title); roasted palmetto squab with butternut squash and pomegranates. Instinctively spontaneous and confident, his dishes never feel gratuitous or inaccessible. Together with pastry chef Megan Ketover (whose divine desserts were also recognized by the ACF with a regional title in 2009—not to mention a solid run on Top Chef: Just Desserts last year), Kelly grabs us by the senses and consigns us to foodtopia. Oh, and that amuse bouche? A pale, dainty eggshell filled with a sleek egg custard, lanced with a fat shaving of black truffle and a shard of crisp bacon. A small gift indeed, and one worthy of offering up to the gods.
35 W. Fifth St., downtown, (513) 421-9100, orchidsatpalmcourt.com
Originally published in the March 2012 issue.