The buzz surrounding José Salazar’s eponymous new OTR bistro could have powered the imminent streetcar for a week. The anticipation was only amplified by the construction delays, which pushed the opening of the intimate, 45-seat dining room into early December. But when the chef finally threw open his doors, diners were beguiled by its marble bar, lime-green banquette, and vintage-inspired gray and orange tile floor.
Salazar, who last helmed The Palace, leads a kitchen worthy of his tenure with Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Those experiences gave him a solid French foundation and inform his improvisations—both in flavor and technique—that have won him the respect and admiration of diners and peers alike. Case in point: His chicken thighs à la plancha are a study in the mastery of flavor balance. The cast iron plancha produces a deeply browned skin, while the broccolini retains a bitter bite, cutting through the richness of the dark meat; figs soaked in Riesling provide complex sweetness while pillows of mustard-infused spaetzle add depth and heft. It’s a culinary high wire act, yet Salazar makes balancing look easy.
Salazar’s wine list is eclectic and clearly chef-driven, with bottles chosen explicitly for their food friendliness and high acidity. Glass pours are anything but traditional and include a floral yet nutty Spanish Viura, an excellent foil for the richness of the chicken thighs. Thus far, Salazar has succeeded in living up to the hype.
1401 Republic St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 621-7000, salazarcincinnati.com
Originally pubished in the March 2014 issue.