Saturday, July 30, 2011

From the Ashes Rises a Phoenix Party

The Phoenix Party Hosts, Karen and Tom

      We had plans to meet Karen and Tom for dinner back in April.  The night before we received a call saying that they would still like to get together, but they'd like to get Chinese take out from Red Pepper and meet at the Residence Inn.  What did they have in mind?  It turned out that their garage had burned since we were last together and they were having to stay in the hotel until the smell left their home.  The take out was wonderful as we enjoyed one another's company in the hotel breakfast area.  

      All was going well when Tom announced that they had a proposal.  After thinking about their misfortune, they had decided to throw a party to celebrate the reconstruction and they wanted to hire me to come up with a theme and the decorations.  My mind started to drift to visions of flames and Atlanta burning in Gone WIth The Wind.  We were in the South (Kentucky), but I don't think that was what they had in mind.  I blurted out "the flight of the phoenix" and the four of us thought it was something to work with.  And so —we had a theme!

Phoenix Party Entrance
      I met with Tom about a month later to go over the design concept.  My proposal was to use Chinese silk kites in a phoenix shape along with paper lanterns.  They had been thinking of a caterer and had decided

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Couple of Summer Salads to Consider

I'm poking around the garden looking for some things to use in our salads.

      Summer is a great time for salads because there are so many fresh vegetables in season and because you can usually avoid a lot of hot food, especially this summer when most of the country is experiencing the worst heat wave in thirty years.

      A couple of weeks ago, we were at Lisa’s for dinner and she served this salad:

Lisa’s Golden Beet & Squash Salad

      (I’m guessing a little on the amounts of the ingredients – you can adjust to your taste)

Set the oven to 350 degrees.

  2 yellow squash (quarter and then slice the squash in half inch pieces)
  2 – 3 golden beets (either quarter and then slice in quarter inch pieces or dice about ¼ - ½ inch)

Place the squash and beets in a pan.  Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and drizzle some olive oil over the vegetables.  Roast in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes.  Check for fork

Monday, July 25, 2011

Harry Potter Ends (RIP Thank God)

Or Is It Four Heroes...Four Hallows?  Dexter!!

      “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” is already making bazillions of dollars and we thought we should see it because everyone would be talking about it (and certainly almost everyone with kids is doing so) and because we’d seen the other seven films, so why not round it out?  Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon and it is important because it encouraged so many children into reading incredibly long, adventurous, complexly detailed, and well-written books.  I read the first one and liked it, but it wasn’t something that I thought

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The National Exemplar Sets a Fine Example

      I have a confession.  I've been having an affair for 25 years this month and it's time to let everyone know.  Who's my silent partner and why expose us at this point?  It's The National Exemplar inside the Mariemont Inn and it all started with our first meeting.  I've come to fondly call her "The Inn" for short.  Why is she so special? Because I not only consider her a neighborhood gem, but also a Cincinnati gem!  She's beautiful inside and out.  She has gone through two major facelifts since our first liaison and perfectly complements the English Tudor architecture of the planned Mariemont community.  As a service to the hotel, she serves food and libations all day long.  I've shared her willingly with family and friends over the years, and Eric and I even had a ménage à trois with her on our first date!

Entrance to the National Exemplar inside the Mariemont Inn
      Her morning and lunch menus may look familiar if you are a patron of the many First Watch restaurants in the area.  Both are part of the Phoenix Restaurant Group and many of the National Exemplar offerings were used as the basis for that venture when they first opened.  (The Phoenix, downtown, is another sibling as well as the Golden Lamb in Lebanon.)  However, that's where the similarity ends.  The National Exemplar is a traditional, fine dining

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Tavola: A loud gem in the Gateway Quarter

      A Tavola (to the food table) Bar & Trattoria is the latest restaurant in the Gateway Quarter, which is basically Vine Street north of Central Parkway to around McMicken Street.  It’s turning into a major gentrification project for the city and has been about fifteen years in the making, initiated because of Lynn Meyers’ incredible efforts through the Ensemble Theatre.  It’s reminiscent of the 1980s Soho in New York before it became so chic that the diverse personalities that gave it life could no longer afford it.  Hopefully, that doesn’t happen here.  

The "Kitchen" at A Tavola
      It opens at 5 p.m. and patrons were lined up outside at 4:45 and it was packed by 5:15 p.m.  The reasons for this are the food, the service, and the vibe.  It’s a long, narrow restaurant with a brick wall on one side and wood everywhere else.  It’s both rustic and sleek, but it’s LOUD.  According to a gentleman we spoke with on the way out, a sound engineer has worked with the owners on taking the noise level down because there are apartments upstairs.  Once this happens, A Tavola is going to be pretty unbeatable.

Stuffed Dates
Watermelon and Feta

      Lisa joined us and we each ordered the house made ginger beer as a non-alcoholic version.  It was potent and spicy, just as it should have been.  There is a large collection of libations offered table side or at the popular bar.  We decided to try a couple of antipasti dishes.  The first was the dates stuffed with house sausage, wrapped in

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Takes on “Bedroom Farce” and Delivers

      Bedroom Farce by Alan Ayckbourn is a good summer choice for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company because it is a lighter script with real meat requiring a strong ensemble.  Ayckbourn’s writing style and tone is somewhere between the original British version of The Office and the original British version of Death At A Funeral.  He’s written over 70 plays since the early 1960s, though he wasn’t imported to Broadway until the 1970s.  At that time, he was compared to Neil Simon.  However, the comparison is not apt.  Simon deals mostly with Jewish and gentile New Yorkers wrestling to understand each other amid a callous urban landscape through

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chipotle Sets the Standards and We All Benefit

Eric and Neil were in the mood for a little Mexican. 
Sometimes, I like some Mexican mole myself...sí, sí!  
(I'm talking about the sauce, of course.)

      Steve Ells, the founder and CEO of Chipotle, attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and moved to San Francisco to pursue his career.  Visits to little taquerias in the Mission District put him on a slightly twisted track.  The peasant food inspired him to open the first Chipotle Mexican Grill 18 years ago this month on

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Horrible Bosses" Coins a New Term—

      It’s both a non sequitur and a euphemism.  It’s foul, hilarious, and doesn’t quite make sense and that might describe the movie.  The bosses are Kevin Spacey, doing his patented psycho creep thing very well, Jennifer Aniston, who returns to her medium-dark brown satirical roots as a manipulative nymphomaniac, and Colin Farrell as the coked up, sexed up, contemptuous twerp son of the owner who inherits the business and decides to gut it.  I didn’t see In Bruges, though after this I’d like to, but his range is pretty extraordinary when considering his earlier leads and the subtle performance he gave in Crazy Heart where he seemed to be playing a version of Brad Paisley very convincingly.

      The three buddies who decide to try the switcheroo murders so they’ll have alibis in the manner of Strangers On A Train or Throw Momma From The Train, since they’re not able to decide which one themselves, are Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day.  Bateman plays the straight man in this comic trio with great generosity.  It’s similar to what he did in Arrested Development, but the script isn’t as wild as the situations in that series or the long form gags that built on each other over a number of episodes. Sudeikis is wildly confident and never seems to be playing anything sincerely.  It’s like what Bill Murray did back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  In fact, Sudeikis’s character has the potential to be a horrible boss himself.  It could be an idea for a sequel.  He’s a horn dog who admits that while hating his boss, he doesn’t really have any compelling economic concerns.  Day steals the movie probably because he gets the best situations – Aniston is a terrific comic foil as the dentist he assists while she violates male patients and sexually harasses him  – and plays the honest, desperate whiner with virtuosity.  

      We’re not certain why they’re friends or how long they’ve known each other.  Another character, who really is economically desperate and willing to prostitute himself on the cheap, implies they’ve known each other since high school, but Bateman and Day seem too far apart in age.  On some level, it doesn’t matter because it’s a plot convenience.  I wish the script had gone even darker and let the buddies flail around more after being suspected of murder.  There are some short cut contrivances that lead to the denouement, but they don’t take away from the laughs.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Arthur's Second (Third, or Fourth?) Chance

      It's NEVER a good idea to join a friend at an establishment where she once had an ill-fated dating experience, even if it was umpteen years ago.  That was the situation I placed myself in when I asked Jan if she would like to have lunch with me at Arthur's off of Hyde Park Square.  Although billed as a café, it's better described as a bar with food.  I've never had a memorable dining experience there, but it's rated as one of Cincinnati's favorites, so we were there to put it to the test.  It's another burger joint, but I'm not one of those people that has to have a burger every time I dine out.  I've found my favorites in the city (Gordo's and Terry's Turf Club) so why spend more time to continue the quest?

      Arthur's has a lot of history (over 60 years worth) and some of it could be smelled as we entered the door.  We both looked at one another as we were seated in one of the original booths.  It was before noon and there was already a line up at the long bar.  They looked like regular patrons that had been gathering there for much of the 60+ years.  The scent lingered and Jan best described it as dirty dish rags that had been sitting around for a few days.  Not exactly welcoming!

Caricature Wall Mural at Arthur's
We looked over the menu and the caricatures that were painted on the wall mural.  Many of them were patrons from decades past.  Some were from when WEBN was broadcasting from Hyde Park Square and

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Super 8 – Super and 8+ on a 10 Scale

Thank goodness Eric and Neil aren't into making movies.  They'd probably want me to play the monster!

      Super 8, directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, deserves to be a blockbuster hit with the excited attention that used to surround such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, and E.T.  Yes, I realize that Super 8 also pays homage to or steals, depending on your point of view, from these late 70s early 80s works.  (However, I haven’t read any review that points out that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series owes

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Breaking Bread at Broken Rocks Café and Bakery

Interior of Broken Rocks Café and Bakery

      I decided to take a little detour to Wooster, OH on my way home to visit my cousin Tom and his partner Rolland.  They suggested meeting at Broken Rocks Café and Bakery, an urban chic spot in the center of town, which felt like it was in the middle of a major city.  The look was industrial with exposed brick walls and vents with lots of wood being

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thyme Restaurant Hits All the Marks

Thyme Restaurant in Medina, OH
      I continued my venture further north to visit Cindy in Medina, OH.  On the second day of my visit, we decided to treat ourselves to a fine dining experience.  We looked at several menus online and decided that Thyme Restaurant in town fit our tastes for that evening.  Cindy said it had morphed from a Red Barn fast food restaurant to Chinese and then to its present form.  There are still minor traces of its earlier history, but certainly nothing too distracting or jolting.  In fact, if I hadn't been given a cue I probably would have only thought it was a little quirky with the architecture.  We dined inside but the patio was filled and looked quite inviting.  The interior is pleasant and calming with a divided floor plan allowing for fairly private dining and conversation.

Thyme Interior

     We started with the House-Made Porcini Gnocchi with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, parmigiana cheese and a
House-Made Porcini Gnocchi
porcini cream sauce.  The gnocchi was tender and perfectly cooked (not an easy feat).  The sauce was packed with flavor and I wanted to sop up every bit of it with the home-made bread.  It's also available as an entrée.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Columbus' Franklin Park Conservatory is an Overdose for the Senses

A Chihuly Sculpture in the Victorian Palm House

      Franklin Park was the centerpiece for Ameriflora, an international horticultural exhibition in 1992 to commemorate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.  The Victorian conservatory, originally built in 1895 and modeled after the Glass Palace of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was renovated and expanded to host the garden extravaganza.  When Ameriflora became a financial disaster, the future of the Franklin Park Conservatory was in jeopardy.  WIth a handful of dedicated staff and volunteers, the institution began a rebirth.  In 2003, Dale Chihuly at the Conservatory became a blockbuster exhibition increasing attendance substantially.   Many of the pieces were purchased afterwards making it the largest collection owned by a conservatory or botanical garden.  The works are throughout the display houses adding organic color.  Since then, the Franklin Park Conservatory has become a showplace and major attraction for the city.

A Chihuly Ceiling in the Himalayan Collection
The Monstrous Chihuly in the Pacific Island Water Garden

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rusty's Wharf Conjures Up Recipes From the Sea (And Land Too)

There's the stereotype that all cats like fish but I really don't care for it.  I much prefer chicken...and lattes!

      My niece's family had recommended Rusty's Wharf so when I recently visited them in Columbus we decided to all go there for lunch.  It opened in November of 2010 in a small strip center in Pataskala.  Owned by Lisa, she also created the recipes and makes all of the food with the help of her Mom and family.  Arthur Treacher's and Long John Silver's were the influence here since Lisa worked previously at both.  But her recipes are lighter and more flavorful than theirs and she also adds her talent to the desserts that are offered.  

Rusty's New England Interior
      The interior is definitely rustic New England with lots of accessories to enjoy while dining.  The menu is simple (although still expanding) as was the case of the new offering of Baked Fish the day we were there.  Orders are placed at the counter and then delivered to the table of your choice.  There were seven of us dining

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Road Trip to New England? No, It's Granville, OH

      Granville is one of those towns that upon crossing its border, one immediately feels transposed to another place.  It seems miles from the surrounding countryside of rural Ohio, and best described as an affluent New England village.  

Swasey Chapel
at Denison University
      I was visiting my family for a few days in Columbus and had suggested that we take the short road trip (25 miles) to the town as I had not been there for a few years.  I remembered it as the home to Denison University (Michael Eisner's alma mater) and the cozy Buxton Inn.  Other than that, I didn't recall very many other reasons other than to just drive around and enjoy the restored homes and gardens and the sleepy picturesque town center.  

Winding Through Denison University
Eclectic Cottages in the Village
New England Architecture
of Granville, OH

I was pleasantly surprised to find a thriving town of