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Best Restaurants 2011

Nectar

You may be fed up to your heirloom tomatoes with the constant chatter about restaurants practicing locavorism and sustainability. But Nectar’s entire identity hinges on the idea that it’s possible to nourish both the diner and the environment. Hormone-free meats and fish and chemical-free produce weave through Chef/Owner Julie Francis’s minimalist but imaginative menu, which lists local farms and growers. In some establishments this comes off as pretentious, but when you consider the unspangled simplicity of the room and the quiet, earthy dishes, it’s evident this is a fiercely personal choice.

Daveed’s at 934

James Brown is feelin’ good on the soundtrack that is funking up Chef David Cook’s dining room. And so am I. In fact, I feel better than James Brown after swiping the last remaining evidence from the bowl of fabulous roasted mushroom soup that was delivered as the Godfather declared “So nice! So nice!” The soup’s solid bass line of rich musky earth supports the twangy top notes of crème fraîche and truffle. The seared scallops are another wonder, atop porcelain-crisp bacon, cauliflower, and bok choy; and the beef tenderloin tartare—bounded by caramelized cippolini onions on one side and a delicate stack of toast points on the other—is phenomenal.

Honey

Where to Eat Now 2011

Best New Restaurant: Jean-Robert’s Table

The local culinary landscape is littered with Jean-Robert de Cavel’s progeny, begat in the kitchens of Maisonette, Pigall’s, Pho Paris, Greenup Café, Lavomatic, and JeanRo Bistro. Had de Cavel chosen to depart Cincinnati after his public dissolution from former partners Martin and Marilyn Wade, we would have (eventually) been comforted in knowing that his magical synthesis of detailed artistry, practicality, and skill lives on in many of Cincinnati’s best restaurants. That he chose to remain here and open a new spot downtown ensures that another generation of talented cooks and service staff will be nurtured and released into the community. In the meantime, in his new dining room, dressed in its best bistro chic—ivory linen, vintage hardwood flooring, handsome mahogany bar, exposed brick walls lined with Leslie Shiels’s vibrant, quirky “Bird Heads” paintings—we can take a culinary tour de France without going farther than Vine Street.

Orchids at Palm Court

It is a Saturday night, and even above the rhythms of the live jazz trio at Orchids I can hear the OMGs. At the table directly across from us, it’s in wide-eyed response to two plates that have just been ceremoniously delivered by vested servers. From a couple seated behind us, the benediction is proclaimed in concert. At our table, one of my companions is two bites into Chef Todd Kelly’s signature Maine lobster salad appetizer: a molded disc of chilled lobster, warm poached egg, a halo of fried tempura batter, and caviar cream. She whispers: “Oh. My. God.” In the cathedral-like opulence of the French Art Deco dining room, an organ postlude would punctuate the moment nicely.

Boca

Since stepping fearlessly into the fine dining arena nearly 10 years ago, Boca has maintained a relentless dance floor throwdown of food, service, and ambiance. Directed with bracing energy and unbridled ambition by Chef/Owner David Falk and Executive Chef Jono Fries (who oversee the kitchen run by Chef de Cuisine Chase Blowers), diners are seduced by bewitching truffle-laced pastas or chubby pork shanks braised into submission; by the hip-forward strut of artisan ham tastings (including the current darling of pigs, the palate massaging Mangalitsa), or by the modest-but-never-humble preparations of branzino (a.k.a. loup de mer or European sea bass, paired with braised mussels and baby bok choy when we last had it).

Nicola’s Ristorante

I’ve tried to replicate the moody sensuality of Nicola’s carnaroli risotto—a spellbinding dream of short-grained Italian rice, grilled lobster, and cauliflower ringed by a moat of cacciucco sauce (seafood, tomatoes, and red wine). So far I’ve been met with little more than a confirmation that great chefs have a gene that I&r

The Palace Restaurant

To describe the food that emerges from Chef Jose Salazar’s kitchen as simple is not to suggest that it is insubstantial. Far from it.

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