Saturday, March 16, 2013


This Gateway Quarter place purrs

Zula's Über-Designed Dining Area
     The region’s most happening restaurant row is Vine Street north of Central Parkway, but there are also interesting establishments on Race Street and, among them, Zula is a winner.  With its diagonal view of Washington Park and Music
Hall and the surrounding blocks that are being renovated both by 3CDC and private funding, this has the feel of the Mission District in San Francisco, while it was hip and before it became chi-chi.  I hope a similar fate does not befall this part of Over-the-Rhine.
     Vic Silberberg is the chef/owner and he’s been around the world.  Although the menu can be described as Mediterranean, it’s not the usual hummus, olive oil, and kebabs that have become somewhat clichéd.  Instead, many of the dishes feel like the south of France or northern Italy.  The focus is on mussels and flatbread pizzas, but there are intriguing small plates and large plate specials that change regularly.

Artisian Z Bread

     Neil started, surprisingly, with a beer (Two Brothers French Country Ale) that was smooth and mellow-bodied.  We ordered the Artisan Z Bread that is made to order and could serve four.  It has the crust and consistency that is reminiscent of Poilåne or Eric Kayser in Paris.  

Overhead Mirrored
Sous Chef Station

There’s a dining area that surrounds the fireplace oven and there is a mirrored station where a sous chef prepares the salads to order.

Roasted Beet Napoleon
Neil ordered the Roasted Beet Napoleon, a beautiful salad of shaved cooked beets, layered with herb salad, blue cheese, a beet vinaigrette, and surrounded by pistachios.  It was beautiful and plentiful.

Lamb Moussaka
     Neil followed with the small plate of Lamb Moussaka, another dish that was more substantial than we’d expected.  The ground lamb, stewed chopped tomatoes and potatoes were wrapped in shaved eggplant slices and had been baked before being unmolded.  It was an original way to present a boutique version of a peasant dish.  It was complexly flavored with a number of seasonings.    

French Classic Marinière Mussels
     Katy had recommended the mussels to me after she’d visited with Dennis.  There are over a dozen variations in preparation, but I went with the old standby of French Classic Marinière with shallots, white wine, parsley, garlic, and cream making up a delicious broth.  The gold standard for me is Denver’s Le Central’s various mussel dishes, but this came very close.  Zula’s broth was as good, the fish was just as good if not a little fresher, the bread was better, and the service presumed that the shells need to be easily discarded. Zula’s portion was generous; Le Central used to go over the top – it may not now with the economy still so chilly.

Kahlua Walnut Brownies
     We had asked our server for recommendations throughout and he did not let us down with dessert.  The warm Kahlua Walnut Brownies were fudge-like, with espresso chantilly cream that was like gelato in consistency and a caramel crème anglaise.  The service was friendly without being patronizing and servers expressed genuine concern for some fellow diners with allergies.  In fact, some other staff members were brought over to ensure that those diners’ needs were fully met for an enjoyable experience.  

     I was very surprised that Zula has been open only a month because it had the ease and confidence of a place that’s been in business for a couple of years.  The diverse, intelligent staff, the original artwork detailing Cincinnati locales, the adventurous yet moderately priced menu, and the spirited sound level that does not turn into a roaring din combine to make this a must visit restaurant destination. 

Zula on Urbanspoon

Well, I'm impressed!


Carole C said...

Anxious to visit. All of your choices would be mine.

Dexter said...

Hey, it worked!!