Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sammy's—Not Just for Burgers and Beer

The Lunch Crowd at Sammy's
      Sammy's was on my list while working in the Blue Ash area so Karen, Melissa, and I headed there for lunch one day.  We were seated at a corner booth and offered menus.  Hmmmm...all of our menus had Lenten Specials listed on the cover and this was August!  We were confused.  I asked our server for confirmation to which he replied, "Yep, 212 days 'til it starts" and walked away.  OK...was he serious?  When he returned, I pursued the

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are Women The New Men? Part One – The Debt

      The Debt is a remake of the 2007 Israeli film and I have no idea whether it is very different or not, but the performances cannot be topped.  Three Mossad agents kidnap a former Nazi death camp medical experimenter in 1965 East Berlin.  In present 1997 Tel Aviv, they deal with the consequences of that mission, which did not turn out as they’d planned or as they later characterized it.  Helen Mirren is the contemporary Israeli heroine idolized for her part in the operation, Tom Wilkinson is her estranged, disabled ex-husband who seems to be running the Israeli Intelligence Service, and Ciarán Hands is their former colleague, mysteriously reappeared, and the enigmatic embodiment of

Monday, August 29, 2011

Come To The Cabaret!

      Below Zero has always been one of the most interesting bars in town because of its space, the diversity of the clientele, and the relaxed, multimedia vibe.  We’ve usually dropped by during the Fringe Fest in June and the Mid-Point Music Festival in September (yes, it’s going to be here soon—September 22 to 24—and it is not to be missed) and have always been impressed.  Well, lemme tell ya, they’ve stepped it up another notch by hosting The Cabaret upstairs and it’s the best drag show this region has ever seen.

M.C. Penny Tration
      Penny Tration is the M.C. and entrepreneurial force behind The Cabaret and she delivers like a LISTSERV with free coupons.  She’s the epitome of the drag artiste.  Sassy yet somehow elegant, both witty and

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Melt—The Spirit of Northside

Melt Eclectic Deli

     Melt Eclectic Deli has that Granola/hippie/ethnically diverse/Womyn’s Festival vibe going that linked with its tasty, upscale deli menu, is the soul of Northside.  We went for lunch and it was an eye-opening experience.  It’s a smart, but unprepossessing storefront on Hamilton Avenue with

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

“The Help” Works

      I love Viola Davis because she was an Upward Bound and Student Support Services student and she’s publicly said how those experiences transformed her.  This does not lead to a sentence with a clause beginning with but.  Instead, she’s been incredible in everything in which we’ve seen her and she is again in a major role in The Help.  Kathryn Stockett’s novel was what has become a rare thing:  a mainstream, literary historical novel that has been liked by readers and respected by reviewers.  It’s a page-turner, but it feels important.  It’s the epitome of a successful, liberal minded middlebrow work and in this context that’s a good thing.  This will sound like a contradiction, but it’s a memorable work that may not

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fall 2011 Restaurant Week is Coming September 9-18

      Clear your calendars now!  It's time for another amazing Greater Cincinnati Restaurant Week running from Friday, September 9 to Sunday, September 18 and encompassing two full weekends.  Each establishment creates a prix fixe 3-course menu of either appetizer, entree and dessert or salad, appetizer and entree for $26.11.  Check out their website for the list of the participating 25 restaurants and some sample menus.  Treat yourself by supporting some of our area’s finest culinary establishments and enjoy what they have to showcase for the autumn season!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Traipsing Through the Garden for Our Lunch

      Angela introduced me to Through the Garden when we were working together a few years ago.  I've recently been consulting in the area so when Karen, a fellow designer, asked me to join her and her sister and brother-in-law there, I was more than ready. 

The Inviting Interior of Through the Garden
      It had been a while since my last visit, but nothing had changed.  It was still the freestanding square building that sits back from Kenwood Road—easy to pass by with its slanting oval sign on the building. The interior salutes the 80's with dining at the counter or at tables, and a bar in the back.  It's a pleasant space, being nothing more than it needs to be.  There's also seasonal outdoor dining in the back with the adjacent garden of fresh picks for the kitchen.  

The Backyard Garden
      We were there for lunch, seated ourselves, and proceeded to peruse the extensive menu.  Actually, the lunch and dinner menus are pretty much the same (including prices), with some added

Friday, August 19, 2011

What We Don’t Talk About: PTSD

      There are a number of taboos in contemporary American culture.  One of them is male-on-male rape and another is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  There were a number of American movies that dealt with the issue for Vietnam veterans in the late 1970s, but usually the vet turned out to be psycho and tried to kill civilians at home like in “The Park Is Mine”.  We’d taped “Waltz with Bashir” a 2008 Israeli animated film, written and directed by Ari Folman, and it nails the after effects of war for soldiers.  In this case, that was the 1982 Lebanon War when Israel invaded southern Lebanon because of continued conflicts with Palestinians living close to the border.  Israel was tacitly supported by both

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Orange Leaf Dispenses a Fun Time and Frozen Yogurt

The Happy Interior at Orange Leaf
      Entering the Orange Leaf frozen yogurt store in Kenwood felt like walking onto the set of a kid's TV show.  The colors and glitz pack a punch as you're drawn into the world of creating your own dessert.  The flavor stations line up across a shimmering tiled wall offering single flavors, or twists that have been paired to aid in the decision-making.  

      We were greeted by a staff member and directed to the back wall for bowls and yogurt dispensing.  Eric opted for a bowl with a waffle cone shell.  There were assorted flavors from the traditional vanilla and chocolate to cotton candy and fruits.  The intensity of the flavors also had a wide range, especially with the fruits.  They all tasted natural, lending themselves to the topping bar made up of fresh fruits, candies, nuts, syrups, and more.  Also offered were bobas: tapioca pearls filled with fruit flavors that explode in your mouth. 

Our Very Own Creations
      One note of caution: the bowls come in two sizes, large and extra large.  They fill up fast and since the price is per ounce (currently 49¢), your final amount could be a shocker.  Also, Eric usually likes a waffle cone, but felt that it didn't really add anything in this instance.  Fortunately, it didn't weigh much either.

      It's a fun place and a good escape...if only while you're finishing your very own creation. And, it's open until 11pm daily for when you need something sweet as a nightcap.

I wouldn't mind a visit to Orange Leaf before I hit the sack at night.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” Doesn’t Work But Some Others Do

      Crazy, Stupid, Love has one of the best casts in recent memory but, without a coherent script and clear direction, it’s a Lexus stuck in neutral.  I’m late in the game reviewing this since it’s done very well with reviewers and is a box-office hit, but I’ve got to chime in because it’s been extremely over-rated and there are other films out there that deserve much greater or renewed attention.  

      The story is seemingly about middle-class divorce and reconciliation.  It’s been marketed as a smart comedy (maybe comedy-drama) for the discerning viewer that will still take a chance on a mainstream movie without sci-fi effects or Hollywood hardware in the middle of the summer.  Woody Allen’s name has been invoked as well as the specter of anything involving Tom Hanks and/or Meg Ryan.  So already, it’s pretty much all over the place in terms of its precursors and it plays out

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Skinny Pig Fattens Up East Walnut Hills

Sorry, THE SKINNY PIG is permanently closed.

      We've always been attracted to DeSales Corner in East Walnut Hills.  Its outward appearance reminds us of a Washington, DC neighborhood.  The recent activity with housing, galleries and retail shops popping up there has been encouraging.  Our guess is that it will only get better with the promise of a casino downtown and many adjacent areas being polished up for its arrival.  

The Skinny Pig Interior
When we heard that there was a new restaurant called the Skinny Pig a couple of blocks from Madison Road, we checked out the menu and decided to try it out.  The premise is a simple café with the twist of bar-height granite countertop tables and chairs.  The space is sparse, but warm and inviting, with brick exposed walls and original wood floors. The kitchen sits fully in sight at the back of the restaurant.  

      This is the second restaurant venture for Chef Joshua Campbell, the downtown Mayberry being his first.  He was there the night of our visit overseeing his three month old creation.  We were immediately acknowledged upon entering by the  server.  The menu was simple to go with the surroundings with various flatbreads featured.  The outdoor grill was in operation that night with BBQ baby back ribs, flat iron steak, and portobello mushrooms being offered also.  We were intrigued by the interesting combinations of ingredients on the flat breads, so that was definitely going to be our pick.  

Adobo Pork Tenderloin Flat Bread
Herbed Chicken Flat Bread
Our server recommended the one with pork tenderloin, chile cilantro peaches, red onion, and lime avocado sauce.  Eric thought the herbed chicken, ricotta, artichoke, roasted red pepper, and orange saffron basil spread sounded like a winner.  We shared—with the pork being Eric's favorite, and the chicken being mine.  The other listings of ginger apple turkey, garlic beef, and two vegetarian flat breads sounded equally satisfying.  

The Sweet Flat Bread
Our server was brisk and friendly and didn't miss a beat in suggesting the sweet flatbread, which was made up of cinnamon sugar, Belgian chocolate, peanut butter, and bananas.  It's become a common combination, but it seemed to succeed better here as we worked our way through the delicious and generous serving for two.  Unique drinks were a Mexican version of Coke and Fanta Orange made with pure cane sugar.  The restaurant is also BYOB, which was being widely observed by guests  

      Chef Campbell has a sense for current culinary trends.  The Skinny Pig feels like a work in progress so we look forward to it growing and changing with the neighborhood.  They have a lovely patio area at the side that had the look of expansion.  Put all those things together and you have a winning combination that has all the ingredients of a neighborhood gem.

Maybe I should open up a restaurant and call it The Fatted Cat!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

World Class Tennis In A World Class Setting (See Cincinnati), then eat at Courseview Restaurant

      One of the signature events in the region’s annual calendar is the Western & Southern Cincinnati Open.  It’s the 112th year for it and we saw Caroline Wozniaki, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, Elena Jankovic, James Blake practicing as well as many other players competing to qualify for the tournament.  It’s a nine-day tournament that went co-ed about seven years ago.  It may not be a Grand Slam event, but it’s one of the top world tournaments for men and women players and a great warm-up for the U.S. Open.  

Main Entrance and Champion Gardens

Friday, August 12, 2011

If only the U.S. Senate operated as well as Senate in Cincinnati

The Long Bar and DIning Room at Senate
      We hadn’t seen Theresa and Chip in a while and asked them for their recommendation where we could get together.  They’d really liked Senate in the Gateway Quarter (i.e. the part of Over The Rhine that’s undergoing a major transformation – a euphemism for gentrification – and hopefully won’t get destroyed like what happened ten years ago with the riots) and thought we’d want to check it out.  Its hook is that it serves gourmet, extensively accessorized

Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Evening in Chevy Chase at Clyde's and Bethesda's Redwood


      We made plans to meet a friend of Eric's from college, Kristen, for the evening in Chevy Chase, MD.  We were taking the Metro from Washington so she made arrangements to meet at Clyde's, which was adjacent to the Friendship Heights stop.  Clyde's is a DC institution with beginnings in Georgetown circa 1963.  They now operate 14 restaurants in the area (including Old Ebbitt's Grill-reviewed by us on 5/26/2011) with differing themes for all.  

The Orient Express Dining Room
This particular establishment is centered around "yesteryears travel" with trains, planes, and steamships in the upstairs dining rooms and vintage race cars (including a D-Type Jaguar) featured around the downstairs Race Bar.  We were seated in one of the main rooms with an Orient Express theme that had a miniature train traveling on a track above us.  

D-Type Jaguar in the Race Bar
It is a beautiful restaurant that is reflective of a strong and long-term connection

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Three Washington Gems for the Arts

The guys like exploring more that I do!  It's always good to hear their stories when they return home.

      There are enough museums, memorials, and cultural venues to fill a multitude of visits to our nation's capital.  Among them are three examples of historical interest that continue to promote the arts: the Library of Congress, Ford's Theatre, and the Kennedy Center.  

The Library of Congress

Court of Neptune Fountains at the Library of Congress
      We walked to the Library of Congress for an early morning tour.  The Beaux Arts building is arguably the most beautiful in Washington.  (By the way...a life-long resident and friend of ours informed us

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We Love Lucy

Happy Birthday to Lucy 
who would have been 100 today!

Dexter Helps Lucy in the Chocolate Factory
Dexter, Neil, and Eric

Graffiato Hits the High Notes: Score Mike Isabella

Graffiato Entrance
      Mike Isabella was a high scoring contestant on season 6 of “Top Chef” and returned this year for “Top Chef:  All-Stars” where he was named the runner-up.  On the show, he mentioned that he was going to open a restaurant in his hometown of DC and that he had backers already.  He could be somewhat full of himself on the show, which made him both charming and annoying, sort of the type you hate to love.  Neil was trying to find a moderately priced restaurant when we were going to visit Washington last week and he ran across Mike Isabella and Graffiato online.  He chose this after reading the menu.  It sounded good, though I thought it was a little like A Tavola, a local restaurant we liked and reviewed a couple of weeks ago.  

     Problem 1:  we could reserve at 5 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night.  Problem 2:  Isabella is a rising celebrity in the chef world and this was in his hometown.  Problem 3:  It had been open five weeks.  We were ready for an ambitious noisy mess of a place that wouldn’t quite deliver the food or the service.  We were proved far wrong in these assumptions/prejudices.

Downstairs Bar and Dining Area
Mike Isabella Chatting with Guests
     Graffiato was hopping at 5 p.m. with many attractive locals lined along the bar and open kitchen downstairs.  Mike Isabella was already chatting with the crowd, especially the twentysomething women in

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Two Washington Galleries: Paris—American Style

Eric and Neil were off to Washington, DC again.  I stayed back to guard the house, a job I'm very good at attending to.  Steve and Lisa dropped by to say 'hi' and tend to my necessities. Merci beaucoup!

      On a recent return visit to Washington, DC, it became more obvious than ever that the city is indeed an American version of Paris with its layout, architecture, and cultural offerings.  It was Thomas Jefferson's request that Washington be an "American Paris" with low and convenient buildings on light and airy streets.  With L'Enfant as the French-born city planner, the city was designed in 1791 in the Baroque style incorporating avenues that radiated out from rectangles providing room for open spaces and landscaping.  He also envisioned a one mile long grand promenade lined with public gardens.  Today, that area is the National Mall flanked by monuments and museums. 

      Two purely American museums that compare to those in Paris are the National Portrait Gallery and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.  The former has a massive collection on the scale of the Musée d'Orsay, while the later is a more manageable visit for a morning or afternoon.

Donald W. Reynolds Center 
for American Art and Portraiture

Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery
      We visited the National Portrait Gallery on an earlier trip this year (see DC Museums and Memorials: DAY TWO, 5/25/11), which left us wanting to see more of their impressive permanent collection.  We headed to Gallery Place on the Metro, which deposited us directly at the museum.  The Gallery is more formally known as

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Deserves the Regional Tony for Triumphs like “Clybourne Park”

      Bruce Norris’s “Clybourne Park” has been produced in New York and London, winning the Olivier award and this year’s Pulitzer, but I cannot imagine a better production than the current re-staging at Woolly Mammoth in Washington.  The same one ran last season to great acclaim so the company found a slot to repeat it and it’s resulted in a sellout.  We were able to snag two of the very last tickets by dropping in the theatre the night before the performance we hoped to see.   Only the Arena Stage has been recognized with the regional Tony award – the first one – in 1976.  Chicago is a great theatre town (five companies have won the regional Tony), but Washington presents extraordinary productions at a half dozen gems.  Woolly Mammoth has always emphasized new work and those plays have been produced nationally and internationally.  This is a great company working with supreme power in this show and it deserves national attention.

Entrance to Woolly Mammoth Theatre
      The company moved into the $9 million space in 2005 and I mention the price because they got a lot of bang for the buck.  A large corner Victorian brownstone on the outside turns into

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mormon Sex in Chains & Woman Clones Her Dog = Joyce McKinney

      Errol Morris’ new documentary “Tabloid” examines the life of Joyce McKinney, former Miss World Wyoming beauty queen with a high IQ who happened to abduct her one true love Kirk Anderson, a Mormon missionary, in England in 1977 and manacled him to a bed for a long weekend of what he claimed was rape, but what she claims was