Photograph by Marlene Rounds
Editorial note: This restaurant is now closed.
Welcome to the gaslight area of Clifton. For your safety and enjoyment, please follow our guidelines: Don’t park illegally; remember to tip the street musicians (especially the guy who rocks out on the flute while hawking incense from his book bag); and don’t ask locals where to find groceries—many remain bitter over the Keller’s IGA closing. Forgive my sardonic tone, but this neighborhood has been the epicenter of my life for more than 20 years and I’ve come to love its green spaces and walkability. But my love is the sort of resigned, protective love that an adult feels for his slow-to-change parents who still struggle with their DVR remote.
Dueling Indian take-out and passable Tex-Mex aside, there’s little to get excited about. But Angela Willett has been on a quiet mission to change that. The industry vet has long ties to the Telford Avenue space her Harvest Bistro and Wine Bar now occupies. She was a server and manager when the space was Tink’s, back in 2006, and her husband, Joseph Clark, curated owner Jens Rosenkrantz’s expansive wine cellar when the restaurant morphed into La Poste four years later.
A long stint as a specialty food buyer gives Willett a deep familiarity with regional vendors and local tastes. But it was her doggedness, not necessarily her considerable foodie chops, that convinced an eager-to-sell Rosenkrantz to offer her the keys last year, despite having other, better-funded, suitors. She scrapped La Poste’s pale decor and kept the wine, re-opening as Harvest Bistro almost a year later. Chef Justin Miller, who stayed on, has become a true collaborator. A self-described “hard knocks culinary graduate,” Miller worked previously at Red Feather, where he learned to balance weeknight accessibility with comforting refinement.
Start with a Gaslight Sidecar. Bartender Joe Carr’s cocktail list defaults to a small group of base spirits chosen for their availability, but it’s surprising how well he builds around their positives. Bulleit bourbon’s slightly acrid, cloying smokiness is an acquired taste, but here it balances perfectly with Cointreau and a sugar-clove rim. You’ve probably already guessed that Harvest’s glass pours aren’t the usual suspects. They’re also priced to move. At $9, a berry-forward Languedoc pinot noir proved delicious with charcuterie, as did a bracing yet floral $7 picpoul from the same region.
And that charcuterie? Mandatory. The smoked trout might be just a tad short on smoke, but it’s long on tenderness. The plate arrives piled high with salty lomo, prosciutto, pickles, fruits, honey, and pepitas, not to mention plenty of decadent fromage dauphinois. I might argue for a bigger plate, as there was a less-than-ideal trout/fruit comingling, but at the rate we ate, it was hardly a legitimate problem.
More selfish souls have other options. It’s difficult to resist the siren call of a generous crab cake. The lump crab isn’t bound at all, but is seasoned with the tiniest mince of red peppers, along with garlic and cayenne, which together lend a subtle background layer of flavor. For a real splurge, order the seared foie gras, served with chardonnay apricot reduction, almond honey butter, and a slice of toast—it’s the ultimate un-PB&J. Oddly enough, a popular mushroom ravioli remains on the menu by fiat. (Full disclosure: La Poste’s spackle-textured version was one of the reasons I seldom dined there.) But Miller resuscitates this dish with a smarter preparation. The sage cream sauce is cooked à la minute, and finished with a small piece of truffle pâté whisked into the sauce for a jolt of earthy flavor.
Miller’s eight-ounce burger is dedicated to a higher agenda. According to the chef, Swiss-mushroom burgers are his favorite. It’s a fine burger, with a juicy, loose texture and a side of crispy bistro fries, but a layer of soggy prosciutto gets in the way. I’ll also cop to being hungry and ordering the market-priced beef entrée, which on one visit was a 10-ounce New York strip topped with a black pepper-studded version of Miller’s crab cake. The big surprise wasn’t the fact that Miller and his staff know how to reach medium-rare, but that the steak had such a clean, grilled flavor from indoor, non-charcoal cooking. A hearty stuffed Duroc pork chop also showed profound skill—the spinach, prosciutto, and fontina cheese stuffing tasted decadent without being over-the-top. But desserts were a bit disappointing. While the challah bread pudding can easily dismiss any thoughts of a trip across the street to Graeter’s—its eggy bread is rich and soft with the gentlest hit of cinnamon—other sweets on the rotating menu felt like works in progress. A warm brownie was dry and overbeaten and a Meyer lemon crème brûlée was conspicuously devoid of lemon.
All in all, our dinner at Harvest was the rare meal that found me chuckling when the last plate was finally pried away. I swear it wasn’t the wine, just my cynical Clifton-self being reminded that genuine surprises are still possible, even when a menu consists of steak, chops, and salads. Willett says she takes pride in how she sees Tink’s regulars starting to trickle back in, and the restaurant itself gives you a sudden shock of recognition—like realizing the forgettable kid next door has grown up to be a stunner. As happy as I am for an upgrade to Cincinnati’s overall restaurant scene, I’m downright ecstatic that I have such a place 400 steps away from my front door. Come on down to the neighborhood. Just stay off my lawn.
Harvest Bistro, 3410 Telford Ave., Clifton, (513) 281-3663, harvest-bistro.com
Prices: $5 (soup du jour)–$26 (Tuscan pork chop)
Hours: Lunch Tues–Fri 11:30–2, dinner Mon–Thurs 5–9:30, Fri & Sat 5–10, brunch Sun 11–3
Credit Cards: All major
Well-executed American bistro fare, generously portioned, served with friendly poise.
Originally published in the July 2016 issue.