Tuesday, July 7, 2020

New Riff's Popup "Riff Top" Rooftop:

What do you even say about 2020 at this point? It’s undoubtedly the weirdest year we’ve experienced, ever.

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Mask Game On-Brand

All my races are cancelled or moved to virtual events (though I did manage to barely squeak in a marathon in Little Rock in March), I’m singing karaoke on the balcony with an online app (sorry neighbors), and David’s sporting a very impressive quarantine hairstyle.

We’ve been extra vigilant because David is in the high-risk category as a transplant recipient under immunosuppression — indoor dining and socializing is absolutely out of the question — and we’ve got a nice mask collection in progress.

Our abundant caution means that very few opportunities to get out meet all of our criteria, so when I got a very thoughtful PR pitch (always appreciated as a fellow marketer) about the rooftop situation at New Riff, we discussed it and decided to visit.

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In the interests of multi-tasking, we were overdue for a Party Source trip anyway. Side note: we highly recommend the online ordering and curbside pickup option at the Party Source. It’s quick, easy, and if you don’t see something in the online catalog, a quick call will usually turn it up.

New Riff’s “Riff Top” has a simple, but thoughtful setup. There are no reservations. It’s a first come, first serve, model, with limited and carefully controlled capacity. Plexiglass barriers, social distancing markers and hand sanitizer are plentiful. Names and contact information are taken at the door for potential tracing needs.

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We staked out a spot at the far (far) end of the rooftop, scanned the menu from a QR code on a table tent, and went about ordering some beverages and dips.

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I wanna be ... where the people aren't

We started with New Riff’s version of a tiki classic, the Painkiller, dubbed “Everybody Hurts.” If you don’t like bourbon, this is the cocktail for you. Sweet and fruity, this reminded us of one of our favorite punches to make at parties.

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Remember parties???

I also sampled the Kentucky Mule, which is a fairly potent potable, so recommend letting the ice melt a bit in this one to enjoy fully.

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David also tried the Okey Dokey Artichokey, made with artichoke infused New Riff gin, Cocchi Americano and Cynar artichoke liqueur.  This Negroni-style cocktail was refreshing with a pleasantly heavy bitterness that worked well with the snacks.

Dips are served with a variety of Blue Oven offerings — focaccia, pretzels and chips — all up to the usual high Blue Oven standard. David liked the pimento cheese dip the best, while I preferred the sun dried tomato tapenade. The spinach and artichoke dip was also solid, and the most scoopable with the chips. We also appreciated that everything was dated with the day it was made.

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While we were on the rooftop, staff regularly were making rounds to commonly touched surfaces, disinfecting door handles while keeping their distance from patrons. Everyone wore gloves and masks (the RIGHT way, over their noses) the entire time and were very conscious of giving us plenty of space when bringing us our drinks or taking our orders.

Is this situation normal? No. But then again, this year isn’t either. It’s like a Cards Against Humanity deck version of Jumanji. We sincerely appreciated the chance to get out for the first time in (quite literally) months and the care and attention to detail New Riff has put into keeping guests and staff safe. So place a curbside pickup for some quarantine provisions, mask up, and check out the Riff Top! It will be open Friday and Saturdays through July, and if you like the cocktails you try, they even have larger formats to-go.

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Enjoy some views with your booze

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Goose & Elder:

This is an exciting post full of new ventures and announcements, and also a very important bulletin about one of the best sandwiches around. So listen up!

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One of the things we really like about Jose Salazar's M.O. is how each restaurant is a new adventure. After striking out on his own post-Palace, he opened his namesake restaurant, Salazar. Then he expanded to Mita's, a thoughtfully designed and impeccably decorated restaurant anchoring a corner of the 84.51 building. Now there is his latest (and northernmost) venture, Goose & Elder, on Race Street.

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In short, if you have not been to the Findlay Market area lately, you’re missing out. Vine Street’s resurgence has been great to watch, but there is a ton of energy happening around the market. Goose & Elder fits in wonderfully with simple food designed and executed by top talent in the city.

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Like a TARDIS, the restaurant is bigger on the inside than it appears, spanning the entire block of the building with the bar in the back. The energy is super chill - a welcome respite from the bustling market. Goose & Elder may be seriously good, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The menu is full of pop culture references that you may (or may not) get. As someone that sneaks memes and Easter eggs into every blog post that goes up, I appreciate the humor.

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It’s just my luck that Jose and I both have our newest spots within a block of each other. I’m about a month into a new agency job at Louisville-based powerhouse Scoppechio. Did I not tell you that this post would be full of announcements!? I’m digging in and making my mark (yes, the HQ offices have A SLIDE!), and it’s awesome to know that I have the option for a delicious, approachable meal basically on my way home at a great price point.

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So, let’s talk food. One of the standouts we really like is the mac and cheese, with pickled jalapenos and sweet potato chips. It gives one of my favorite mac and cheeses, at The Eagle in OTR, some serious competition.

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Gimme
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There’s also the disco fries, an ideal dish to share with friends over happy hour. Plenty of bacon, a delicious gravy and crinkle cut fries - what’s not to like?

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The cocktail shrimp are massive, impeccably fresh, and seasoned to a perfect level of ocean brininess.

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The little salad is a smaller version of the big salad (yes, that’s a Seinfeld reference) and is constructed with a variety of ingredients and textures, which we appreciate. Too often, side salads are just an afterthought and are, well, kinda boring.  This one bucks that trend with thoughtful accoutrements.

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Onto the fried bologna sandwich. The house-made sweet potato chips make another appearance here, adding a nice crunch to a delightfully messy, gooey sandwich. Getting a fried egg is highly recommended. I'm on the fence about the ratio of slaw in this early version, which pushes it squarely into fork-and-knife territory, but I absolutely adore the amount of cheese and griddled bologna.

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Goose & Elder's featured burger approaches the Platonic ideal of cheeseburgeriness - a perfect balance of beef, cheese, and fresh toppings all on a sesame seed bun.  I challenge you find any other burgers in town that achieve this level of picture perfection.

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There’s a brunch menu as well, and this is where the other very important announcement resides. Yes, yes, I have a new job and Jose has a new restaurant but more important is this:
🚨 The cubano has moved from Salazar to Goose & Elder's brunch menu 🚨

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I will fight you for this

Those that have been reading know about my affinity for the cubano. When Jose left The Palace (and by extension, The Cricket) he took this sandwich with him. It moved to Salazar, briefly was on the menu at Mita's, and then returned back to Salazar. Now you can get the best Cuban - and one of the best sandwiches in the city - at Goose & Elder brunch. I will chase this sandwich to the end of the Earth. Or maybe as far as the West Side, which to me is essentially equivalent.

Also on the brunch menu, a turkey BLT that gets cranked to 11 by being on a croissant with juicy roasted turkey, thick cut bacon, pickled onion and avocado. We also ordered the goetta hash, with crispy potatoes, more of the same fantastic bacon, savory gravy, and a perfectly poached egg. This is one of the standouts (behind the cubano, of course) on the brunch menu.

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The other nice things about Goose & Elder are that it boasts a nice happy hour, making it ideal to swing by for a drink and a snack, and it is conveniently right on the streetcar line. So stop by and join me in raising a glass to toast new adventures, opportunities, successes ... and disco fries.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Zundo:

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In general, David has been more interested in anime than I have. I mean, I did realize pretty quickly that children stare at me constantly because my hair style reminds them of a Yu-Gi-Oh! character, and I may own the Pokémon Soundtrack to the first movie, but in general I’ve only watched casually.

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In the past two years or so, that’s changed a bit. Last year for Halloween we dressed up as Tatsumaki and Genos from One Punch Man. We’ve also started watching My Hero Academia and most notably, Food Wars.

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What does this have to do with Zundo and ramen? Well, the main character in Food Wars, Soma Yukihira, dreams of being a professional chef, and is sent to a very fancy-pants cooking school by his father after working in his diner for most of his life, where he makes donburi among other things considered to be more of a working man’s dish more than elevated art. 

No spoilers, but I will tell you that it’s an underdog-takes-on-the-institution type of story. If you like food, you’ll probably find it amusing, especially when the dishes are apparently so good they blow people’s clothes off and send them on a hallucinogenic journey through various ingredients. The ridiculous sequences when dishes are tasted are worth it alone.

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So imagine our excitement when we learned that Zundo, specializing in both ramen AND donburi, was opening up. While we’ve eaten there several times and remained fully clothed throughout the process, we’ve been pleased with just about everything we’ve tried.

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First up, the ramen. There’s several different types of ramen on the menu, from miso, to creamy tonkotsu to vegetable and spicy miso. Ramen broth can be labor of love, requiring a lot of time to do well to produce a rich, multifaceted stock, and the texture of the noodles—nice and bouncy—is excellent. We’ve got some good ramen in the city, but this is among the greats. If you're feeling indulgent, the tonkostu is the way to go; miso ramen is a little more complex but doesn't beat the silky simplicity of the straight tonkotsu stock.

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I recommend getting an extra egg for a dollar upcharge in whatever ramen you choose. The spicy miso isn’t really that spicy, and don’t be scared of the pickled bamboo shoots; they provide a nice crunch and change of texture.

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Keep ramen, ramen, ramen

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Giant shrimp dumplings

Appetizer-wise, we’ve gotten the kaki furai (panko-fried oysters) and the takoyaki (griddled batter balls with octopus centers), as well as the tatsuta age (fried chicken) which was amazingly juicy and crispy, the gyoza, the soft shell crab, the chashu (pork belly bun) and the giant steamed shrimp dumplings.

They are all a bit on the smaller side (I wouldn't personally call the shrimp or the dumplings "giant") so if you are going with a group, we recommend getting a few to share. If you have someone with you who's a little unsure of what to get, the tatsuta age is probably your best bet.  Everyone loves fried chicken.

Tatsuta age

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Kaki fry

Soft shell crab

In our opinion, Kaze still has Zundo beat on pork belly buns for a few reasons. The sauce with the buns itself needs a little work, and for some reason, the Zundo cut is a little thinner and chewier. Fear not though, after impressing them with a sample of our hot pepper jams, they invited us to work with them to develop a sauce that is going to knock (at least) your socks off, Food Wars style.

As for the donburi, we’ve tried the katsudon (fried pork cutlet), katsukarē (same as previous except with Japanese curry-style gravy), the unadon (eel), and the loco moco don (burger).

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Let me see that don, da don don don

The curry for the katsudon is rich, flavorful and very comforting. Stewed potatoes and carrots also add some heft to the dish. If you opt for udon instead of rice, the springy but tender noodles have a wonderful texture as well. The loco moco don may sound a little unusual, but just think of it as a Japanese version of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  The sauce is a little ketchupy, but that adds to the meatloaf-like charm.

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Curry udon

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Zundo is simple food, done extremely well. As you can tell from all the food in this post (and the items mentioned we didn't tote the camera with us for), we’ve been at least five times now and will be back very soon as the cold Cincinnati winter sets in. We recommend you do the same.

Oagariyo!

Zundo Ramen & Donburi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato