We Live in a Culinary Wasteland

Jen and I started watching food-related reality programs about ten years ago. We saw amazing chefs from all over the country preparing spectacular meals in timed competitions. None of them had a restaurant in Cincinnati. The one and only local contestant to ever appear on BravoTV’s Top Chef was eliminated at the beginning of the first episode of the season. Local restaurants tend to be chain places like Olive Garden and Applebee’s, as well as every fast-food chain you can think of. I have taken to calling Cincinnati a culinary wasteland™.

In recent years, however, a four-block section across the northern border of downtown, known as Over-the-Rhine (OTR), has had a restaurant Renaissance, with several upscale eateries opening in close proximity to each other. Our perception of the drive-to and the parking in the neighborhood has kept us away—until last night.

It was dark and 23ºF when we began our adventure. After a 20-minute drive we looped around the district once then found a lone parking place a 1 1/2 blocks from our restaurant of choice for the evening, Zula. Without a reservation, we were seated at a community table that had space for 12 diners. That wasn’t bad for among other reasons, it allowed us to see what others were eating. The hallmark of the menu is that its Mediterranean cuisine consists of plates meant to be shared.

pot of musselsIt didn’t take long to decide we wanted the seared Scottish salmon with avocado, scallions, and egg, and a big pot of mussles in a marinière broth.

We loved every bite of everything.

Now that we’ve gotten our feet wet and found that it’s not so scary, there are 19 other establishments within that few block radius we’re anxious to try. At the rate of one or two per month I guess I’ll be writing restaurant reviews for awhile.

Cincinnati is still a culinary wasteland™ and will continue to be so until eateries that approach the level of Zula make their way outside of OTR. But it’s a start. When the natives realize Skyline Chili is not haute cuisine, maybe we’ll get more upscale dining options pushing out toward the ‘burbs. In the meantime, we’ll make our occasional trips to our new favorite neighborhood.