Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Birthday Lunch at Jean-Robert's Table

Neil’s birthday was this week and Eric got a wild bug to take him out for lunch.  He ran through a list of places, but Neil hadn’t been to one and Eric had so that was their choice.  Neil gave me milk foam this morning, though he was ticked with me (whatever) and then let me out.  So I had some fun while they had some fun.  Here’s their conversation:

      Ooh La La!  I took Neil to Jean-Robert’s Table on 8th and Vine downtown.  Jean-Robert de Cavel is our Cincinnati superstar chef.  We first saw him when he had to get Bistro Gigi off and running in the summer of 1999 for the Comissar Brothers (former owners of a restaurant empire that was crowned by The Maisonette).  Bistro Gigi did not work out for them though, in its next incarnation as Latin Quarter and then The Quarter on Wooster Pike in the center of Mariemont, it’s been successful and is a capstone (i.e. no longer hot, no longer talked about much, but with a large and committed following).  All I remember from the night we ate there was Jean-Robert running his hands through his hair continually and sweating, all while we could see him in the glassed kitchen.  Ugh!

      He split from the Comissars and was chef and co-owner of Jean-Robert at Pigall’s, a restaurant that could compete with any top nouvelle restaurant in major American cities, but it closed amidst acrimony and a “Rashomon” explanation of events. J-R’s Table is most reminiscent of Jean-Ro, a bistro he started in 2004 across from the Westin Hotel.

J-R’s Table feels like a casually elegant French country bistro.  I think the decorations look a little like that late 70s – early 80s brass, blonde wood, tablecloths, and potted palms.  Neil didn’t see it that way; he thought it was more charming than that.  The food is really good and the prices are very fair, which wasn’t the case with Jean-Ro by 2007.  The best elements were a French Country Soup – a rich vegetable tomato based broth with al dente white beans and duck confit sausage, which was perfectly seasoned.  It was robust without being overbearing or so filling that you didn’t want anything else.  However, it would be enough with a salad.

Neil had the selection of seafood crepes, mixed with mushrooms and spinach and covered in a béchamel sauce.  The presentation was nice, but not beautiful.  It tasted really good, though.

I had the smoked trout BLT, which was a really good portion and a nice combination of textures with steak frites that were golden, crispy, and delicately salted.  They were like super McDonald’s fries.

We asked Heather, our waitress, for her recommendation for dessert.  Whenever you do this, you pretty much should order that choice.  We did – the Macadamia milk chocolate Tart – and it was the right thing to do.  The caramel sauce was perfect and the balance between the small, whole nuts and the chocolate cake bar tart – somewhere between a cake and chocolate bar, but not a molten or lava type dessert – was just right.

This is worth a visit.  Lunch on Monday at 1:20 p.m. meant the restaurant was about a third full.  Evenings are busy to packed; it’s still the buzz restaurant right now.

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