For those who mistake the Dutch people’s greatest contribution to global cuisine as the art of splitting the check, Lisse Steakhuis will surely be an eye-opener. From bitterballen to stroopwafel, there are some delicacies to discover, sandwiched in between plenty of predictable steakhouse fare—some of it well executed, some less so.
Lisse is owned by Hans Philippo, a native Nederlander who came to America and started a roofing business. For a debut in the food and wine business, it’s an overtly ambitious one. The exterior redesign, done by Cincinnati creative powerhouse FRCH, is quite beautiful. Formerly the home of beloved Chez Nora, the brick facade has been painstakingly repaired and painted a crisp white. Porches on the second and third floors offer views of Covington’s MainStrasse, and the rooftop bar looks out over downtown Cincinnati. Inside, the decor attempts to be chic, but reads a bit “fifth-grade-social-studies-report on Holland” with blown-up color photographs of tulips, windmills, and strategically placed pairs of—no joke—wooden shoes.
But despite lofty prices and a fairly elegant atmosphere, Lisse is an exceptionally unfussy sort of dining experience. I brought a restless 3-year-old along on two separate occasions, and the staff was graciously accommodating—searching out kid-size glasses, offering a colorful balloon, and then promptly replacing said balloon when it floated up to the ceiling and burst against the hot lights, at which point my son (naturally) burst into tears. So yes, we were that annoying table, and the staff handled it with grace and understanding on both nights. Such service, as any parent can tell you, is rare indeed.
This probably accounts for my son’s full-on food conversion. After two meals at Lisse, his new favorite food is bitterballen, which he describes as “half beef, half ball.” In actuality, bitterballen are crispy croquettes filled with finely shredded prime beef, crusted with bread crumbs, then deep fried. They are crispy outside with an almost soupy texture inside; mildly flavored, but quite tasty with the accompanying curry ketchup and whole grain mustard. Several items on the menu—from the root chips to the mac-and-cheese to the chocolate stout cake (ahem: brownie)—struck me as simply pub grub offered at highly elevated prices. Like most bar food, several of the dishes at Lisse are simply too rich, and beg for brightness or acidity. The seafood alfredo was seizing into cheesy peaks halfway through the meal, and the smoked whitefish pâté only tasted balanced after I retrieved the ring of lemon, buried in the cream cheese, and juiced the pâté myself.
When I asked about several unexpected Asian items on the menu, the server explained that Indonesia was once a Dutch colony and that there is a large immigrant population in modern Holland. Intriguing, I thought, but after tasting the bami, a spicy fettuccine dish with garlic, ginger, and coriander, I noticed the error of this gambit. The Indonesian flavors are utterly incongruous with Lisse’s other dishes, particularly the sides—think Brussels sprouts with pancetta. With no visible attempt to bridge the two cuisines, the Asian dishes just sit off in their own isolated corner of the menu, where I suspect they are infrequently ordered. Interestingly enough, one of the best dishes I tasted at Lisse—a salmon special, served over a sweet potato puree with wilted spinach—walked a fine line between Eastern and Western flavors, with ginger, coconut milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg all flavoring the puree. It was a delightful surprise.
Most people, though, don’t come to a steakhouse for surprises. If you are, in fact, looking for a good steak, Lisse will deliver. The Delmonico and the New York strip were both perfectly cooked, with a gorgeous caramelized char. The peppercorn sauce my companion ordered went practically untouched because the steak was already so well seasoned. The hutspot that arrives with the Dutch filet is another welcome touch. Basically just potatoes mashed with carrots and onions, the soft, slow-cooked onions deepen the flavors and imbue the mash with umami richness.
Dessert, like much else at Lisse, isn’t particularly consistent. The homemade butter pecan ice cream was decadent and spot-on one night, and the Dutch waffle cookie (the aforementioned stroopwafel) had a dense chewiness that was the perfect accompaniment. At the conclusion of a second visit, when we ordered the salted caramel ice cream, so much air had been whipped into the custard that it had been rendered insubstantial. The apple cobbler was served cold in the center on one occasion, and so hot on another that the ice cream liquefied in under a minute.
Yes, there are kinks to be worked out, but there are also much larger questions of identity. The most popular items at Lisse, I was told, are the bitterballen and the Dutch filet with hutspot—evidence that diners are intrigued to explore this unfamiliar cuisine. But at the moment, Lisse’s Dutch roots strike me as pretty shallow—several dishes are not really Dutch at all. Their “Dutch onion soup,” is merely French onion soup with Gouda subbed for Gruyère. Others have “Dutch” added to their name for no apparent reason: The Dutch apple cobbler and Dutch garden salad are both standard issue fare at best. If Lisse pushes its native roots a bit deeper, and doubles down on the items it does truly well, it could become more than just another predictable-but-pricey steakhouse. We could use something different around here.
Lisse, 530 Main St., Covington (859) 360-7008, lisse.restaurant
Dinner Tues–Thurs 4–10 pm, Fri & Sat 4–11 pm.
$8 (root chips)–$72 (Tomahawk rib eye)
“Dutch Made—American inspired” steakhouse with a bit of an early identity crisis but possible long-term potential.