Category Archives: Ohio

Cincinnati | Far Ridge Trail

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When I visit Sister in Cincinnati invariably we wind up on some hike, be it urban or rural. This time we visited the Cincinnati Nature Centre and she recommended we hike the Far Ridge Trail. The Nature Centre has a dozen or so trails, all branded under the umbrella name – Rowe Woods. The trails vary in distance and difficulty. You can collect a map of the lot from the Nature Centre. Or you can download the map from the Rowe Woods Website. Far Ridge is one of the “difficult” trails but its relatively short, 1.5 miles. However, what they don’t tell you is that you’ll walk 2 miles to get to Far Ridge.

Condition
The Centre and all of the trails, benches, picnic tables and bird-watching ledges are in immaculate shape. There are ample, clearly marked signs everywhere directing you to trails (color coded even), all of them include distances, in case you want to double think before you venture down a trail that is too long for your time restrictions.

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Difficulty
The difficulty in hiking Far Ridge is due to a steep incline about half way through the outbound trip followed, naturally, by a steep decline on the return.  Personally I found the decline more difficult since it’s harder to see depressions in the trail surface coming from a higher angle of view, which makes your footing tentative.

Since the trail surfaces are in great shape you shouldn’t have to worry about navigating around dangerous spots. A few boulders and roots on the path are not stationary nor stable, as always,  test those out first before assuming. There is one stream crossing but there was so little water (in June) you could walk straight across if you don’t mind soggy shoes. Me, I did boulder hopscotch across to keep my feet dry.

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Duration
From the Nature Centre itself you’ll spend about 30-45 minutes walking to Far Ridge; more if you want to stop to take in the scenery. Really, its a beautiful setting filled with clear lakes and a wide variety of trees and flowers. In the lake just behind the Centre, I watched fish making depressions in the sandy bottom for what I assumed was egg laying.

Once reaching Far Ridge, you’ll want another 45 minutes to an hour to complete the circuit. In total, about 2 hour return from the Centre, stops notwithstanding.

Gear
You shouldn’t need much more than a water bottle and of course, your camera. You’ll want some shoes more sturdy than tennis shoes to navigate the boulders, tree roots and stream crossings; basic trail shoes should be fine. If you want but forget to bring snacks, water or an umbrella those are all for sale at the Nature Centre.

Fees
There is an $8 park entry fee for non-members however when we arrived there was no one there to collect the fee, so there’s that.

I can recommend Far Trail for anyone who finds themselves in the greater Cincinnati area and wants a beautiful, briefly challenging hike.  I’ll probably do the other Rowe Woods trails on return trips

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Dewey’s

Sister and her family moved to Ohio quite some time ago. One of our first trips to visit them resulted in an addiction to this Cincinnati-born pizza joint. Sure, pizza is pizza but some that do the pie better than others; Dewey’s does it better.

Atmosphere
Branches can be found all over the city but we continue to go to the Oakley Square location for its bohemian neighborhood feel. Its not a big space but they did recently renovate to add 8  feet to it’s width. The interior is pleasant and warm with comfortable tables and booths; definitely try to snag a booth. The glass front facing Madison Rd. creates a connection with the density of people combing the area’s quirky retail offerings.

That said, you should still be aware that  the Cincinnati crowd  descends early for dinner, like grandma early at 5p. The waiting list starts then and continues until about 730p.

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Food
People always ask me why Dewey’s is better. Its personal taste of course but to me it starts with the sauce which is bold tomato, very little salt and a hint of herb – basil and oregano. Its simple. Complex sauces lead to obfuscation of all other ingredients. Layers of complexity are added by the toppings, that is if you order one of the named combinations rather than build-to-suit. The toppings will always include something salty, vinergary and creamy. For example the Green Lantern includes Monz, Goat Cheese, Garlic, Pesto and Artichoke. No meat but ingredients work well together to create an incredible, toothy bite with a balance of seemingly opposing flavours.

To be honest, the other pull for me at Dewey’s is the seasonal Strawberry-Hazelnut salad. Also simple and delicious with just field greens, fresh strawberries, roasted hazelnuts, Gorgonzola and light hazelnut vinaigrette.

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Service
Excellent. Knowledgeable and helpful in case you go into overload scanning the number of choices available. Even at peak hours we have never waited more than 20 minutes for a pie, however you might wait 30 minutes to actually get a seat. Dewey’s has an open view to the kitchen where you can watch the hand-tossing and assembly of your pie.

Price
Moderate. Salads $6-8. Large pies $15-20

If that’s not enough to make you try Dewey’s then you at least have to admire their many tag lines. My favourite is the homage they pay to The Ramones – ‘Hey Ho, Let’s Dough!’.

Dinner: June 2014

Dewey’s Oakley Square | 3014 Madison | Cincinnati, OH

Emanu

There is something very appealing about Ethiopian and Eritrean food; the little dollops of spicy stews served atop injera and of course, eating with your hands. While I  look for Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants in my travels, they are usually sparse save NYC or SF. So, it surprised me to find that sister had booked an Eritrean restaurant for her birthday. In Ohio.

Atmosphere
Emanu is a casual  venue located in the Pleasant Ridge area of Cincinnati. Inside is polished up for a place serving East African fare, which in my experience has typically been tantamount to eating in someone’s house. Comfortable wood tables and chairs are spaced widely about the soft modern space; floor to ceiling windows creates a pleasant connection to the park across the street. Make no mistake that soccer is front and center; the flat screens will be airing the games and the big poster on the wall will be keeping track of the scores. Those boys about the bar, they are not talking about women, they are reliving highlights or lowlights depending on the fate of their favourite teams.

Food
The spicy stews here are  vegetarian, chicken, lamb and beef. All were good but the veggie versions were better than the meat, particularly the yellow lentil misr wot – thick, creamy and the Berbere spice came shinning through without obfuscating the delicate, nutty flavour of the lentils. One might almost think the owners are vegetarians themselves.

The injera was light, moist without being sticky and slightly sour. I’ve tried repeatedly to make injera at home with absolutely no success, so I totally appreciate folks who can make this spongy, fermented bread to perfection.

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Service
Its possible our experience was an anomaly but the owners continually brought out items for us to try on the house. The magic words seemed to be ‘I’ve never tried …’ which resulted in the item appearing. Very knowledgeable  and extremely personable without becoming intrusive.

Price
Reasonable. 6 mains, 2 apps, 1 cheesecake, round of coffee/tea – $120

Niece and sister were so impressed with Emanu that they secretly scheduled yet another birthday celebration there later this year. I can see why and I’m likely to secretly crash that party if only for the yellow lentil misr wot.

Lunch: June 2014

Emanu | 6063 Montgomery | Cincinnati, OH

Oakley Wines

I give Sister a hard time about living in Cincinnati but the reality is that Cincinnati is a full-service city and she can do just about anything I can do in Houston, just on a smaller scale. Now that paved roads, electricity and running water are available almost everywhere in Cincinnati, it makes it easier to have specialty wine shops, such as Oakley Wines.

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First impression – I loved it. You simply have to love a place that offers drinking lessons for free!

There was a wine tasting in progress and it was packed with happy samplers when we stopped by after lunch. Oakley Wines is very small which  made it a little challenging to navigate with the large crowd but everyone in the store simply moved aside unprompted as we browsed from shelf to shelf. Nice people those mid-westerners.

Despite its small size, it packs an impressive variety into its shelves. We were on the hunt for Rose and poof, there were many interesting options aside from requisite French variety. We picked a French – Bieler Pere et Fils and an Italian – Riecine, both around $15. The Italian was good:  very dry, floral and herbal which is typically the French style. The French was also good: more residual sugar, very fruity leaning heavy to the strawberry/cranberry.

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Next time I’m in the Cincinnati area visiting Sister, I’ll be sure to request a return visit to Oakley Wines, I sincerely doubt there will be any objection.

Oakley Wines | 4011 Allston St   | Cincinnati, OH 45209

Seasons 52

IMG_1119Memorial Day weekend seems to mark the beginning of events season in my life: weddings, birthdays, graduations, bbqs and even some quite spectacular divorce parties. Most of these require travel on my part; I know,  the horror of escaping the oppressive Houston summer for a weekend.

This time I traveled for a birthday celebration to Cincinnati, OH; birthplace of one of my favourite bands, The National, and … well, I’m sure there’s some other stuff.  The birthday venue was Seasons 52, which opened a location in the Galleria area of Houston 2 days before leaving for Cincinnati. It seems life is not without a sense of irony.

Atmosphere

Even though Seasons 52 is a national chain, it is highly polished and it appears to have deflected the typical stigmata of chain restaurants. Both inside and out, Seasons is conservatively modern without clinging to any specific trend. What registered with me was the attention to customer experience. The interior is big and open but it has both floor and ceiling sound proofing, the groups of tables are spaced such that all groups can be seen but not heard; a feeling of intimacy while still maintaining a crowd connection.

In Cincinnati it was obviously an event destination and while very crowded, with a line of drop-ins piled up at the front, it maintained a sense of upbeat calm and I never felt pressured to hurry up and out.

Service

This is obviously their calling card, since our service was flawless and the birthday was played up with a personalized card, group photo in a nice insert and a gratis selection of mini desserts.

Also, I have to give them a huge thumbs up for creating specific menus for vegetarians and vegans, we had some of both. This made the vegetarians/vegans very happy because they had many options for apps and entrees rather than the usual ho-hum side salad and grilled vegetables, which are really more of an afterthought than a premeditated menu item in most places.

Food

The vegans and vegetarians raved but alas, I am a carnivore.

All wins

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Strawberry Basil Martini: Clearly they need to make a reversal in the name since this was strongly a basil martini with strawberry accents. But what’s in a name, it was still fantastic! A strong basil simple syrup probably mixed with an handmade strawberry infused vodka since I did not detect the fake strawberry flavour typical of off-the-rack flavoured vodkas.

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Lobster & Shrimp Spring Roll:  Seasons has a regular menu and a seasonal menu; the seasonal menu changes weekly and this was from the seasonal side. I loved it. Done Vietnamese style, cold-wrapped in a rice paper with large chunks of both suspects from the sea, sprouts and possibly some jicama sliced impossibly thin.  Crunchy and toothy with the bonus of three different dipping sauces. My favorite was the Thai Chili. No, wait, the Lemongrass Kefir Lime, scratch that, the Thai Chili. Definitely.

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Copper River Salmon: Also from the seasonal side. Lightly seasoned and grilled atop fingerling potatoes, caramelized onions and grilled asparagus & corn. Incredible, eye-popping color in the salmon, a very deep, rich flavor which paired well with all of the other members on the plate. There really was no need for the accompanying dill bearnaise sauce but I tried it anyway – super rich, I used it more on the asparagus.

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Mini Pecan Pie: Wow, feel the caramelized sugar coarse through your veins, the pecans, the butter, the crunch, the gooey. Good thing it was miniaturized, otherwise I would have needed a crash cart followed by an Epi stick. Absolutely a must should you be in the mood for a mini dessert. Note: I finished mine before I could take a picture so the photo is of my niece’s mini rocky-road.

Price

I found it odd that there were no prices on the online menu since, to me, this is one of Seasons advantages. My salmon was the most expensive thing on the menu and it was $27. Our table of 5 with drinks, apps, entrees was $170, which I considered very reasonable.

I hear tell that Seasons 52 is an expense account venue, where the business types take their accounts for “serious discussions” and deal signings. I think the reason it has this rep is that it has great food, polished atmosphere and maintaining excellent service is a crucial aspect of their brand’s identity.

I’ll look forward to test driving the Houston location to see if it measures up to Cincinnati but so far, I like.

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