Go: 2724 Erie Ave., Hyde Park
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Lounge opens at 4:30 p.m. daily.
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Tuna au Poivre, Chicken Marengo, Butternut Squash Gnocchi
It's hard to tell why, but some restaurant locations just seem to get bad mojo, struggling to survive while other nearby places thrive. I'm happy to report that Red, which opened earlier this year on bustling Hyde Park Square, seems to have successfully chased away the ghosts of restaurants past (former denizens of its prime location include Vince & Jake's, Café St. George, Pane e Vino and the longstanding J.B. Winberie).
If you've endured insipid, listless meals at any of these former places, get ready to leave it all behind you. Red delivers excellent, fresh, well-crafted food supported by outstanding service. It's well worth your time and money.
Behind the scenes at Red is local restaurateur Elliot Jablonsky, who has had a big influence on the local restaurant scene over the years (Vineyard Café, Tink's, Latin Quarter, etc.). At Red, Jablonsky has succeeded in creating a steakhouse is a far cry from the stodgy, testosterone-heavy menu and ambiance typical of the genre.
Instead, the atmosphere is contemporary and sleek and the menu goes well beyond the standard offering of steaks/chops/seafood. When was the last time you saw Roasted Duck Breast, Butternut Squash Gnocchi or Portuguese Cioppino on a steakhouse menu?
For starters, I tried the Tomato Napoleon special appetizer ($8).
This delicate, multi-layered creation of sliced heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella drizzled with infused oils was as good-looking as it was delicious. My companion opted for the Spinach Salad ($8). Artfully composed of roasted wild mushrooms, crisp onions, egg, blood orange purée and dressed with a very smoky bacon vinaigrette, it was interesting and complex. A lot of thought clearly went into this salad, revealing an attention to detail that permeates the entire menu.
Faced with lots of alluring choices on the thick, leather-wrapped menu, I made it easy on myself and went straight to the top of the heap, ordering the house specialty: Steak Red. This is Red's surf-and-turf offering, combining a 7-ounce, center-cut filet mignon with a half-pound, butter-poached lobster tail. Market priced, it cost a whopping $67 the night I went, but it was sure worth it.
The steak was outstanding -- the highest quality meat, perfectly cooked and soft as butter. The lobster tail was likewise incredibly flavorful and perfectly prepared. It came with a delightful shrimp and mushroom risotto and fresh asparagus. The sauce was an elixir-like truffled lobster reduction. I didn't want this meal to end.
My companion opted for the Tuna au Poivre ($32). The tuna was of impeccable quality without the slightest hint of fishiness and was perfectly prepared. Dusted with cracked pepper and seared on the outside, it was crowned by a melting, oozing lump of foie gras. I have to confess that despite a longstanding love of many things French (cheese, wine, women, movies, literature, etc.), I have never really appreciated foie gras. Until now.
The icy coolness of the tuna combined with the melting, unctuous richness of the foie gras, accented by the sharp snap of the peppercorns, made for a remarkably complex and delicious meal.
Desserts were also excellent. I went for the Molten Chocolate Decadence ($8). Our server had said that this was truly a dessert for chocolate fanatics, and she was right. Filled with melted chocolate and served with fresh berries, it was way too rich for me to finish but would make a great dessert for sharing. Another winner was the Banana Bread Pudding ($8), an inventive creation with its ingredients separated out across the plate (some bananas here, some bread there, some delicious, sweet, bourbon sauce everywhere). I really enjoyed this.
Service was excellent. Our server was knowledgeable, friendly and professional, navigating just the right balance of attention and privacy. The decor is vastly improved from what it looked like in former incarnations, with upscale lighting elements and an effective use of colored panels and cloth.
The weekend night I was there, the place was absolutely jammed. Our reservation was for 9 p.m., and at 10 every table was still full (very surprising for sleepy Cincinnati).
One drawback to Red: If you are sensitive to noise or are looking for a quiet little dinner, go early or late instead of during peak hours. A restaurant full of yammering Hyde Park diners generates noise levels that I'm sure exceed OSHA standards. Our server said she always loses her voice when she works weekends from shouting to be heard above the roar. The front of the restaurant has a nice bar/lounge area that's open until late and draws a younger hipster crowd.
Although Red is certainly not cheap (especially if you indulge yourself and order the wallet-busting, artery-clogging Steak Red), it offers great service and real quality in a sophisticated yet comfortable setting. It's a great addition to the local upscale dining scene. ©