It always sounds so exciting — dining al fresco. Like you’re planning on doing something daring, like dining naked. Or stealing away to your favorite Italian restaurant, alone, dressed in nothing but a gamurra and camicia, Botticelli-style.
Of course, it really means that you’re just planning to eat outside, a pretty pedestrian endeavor. But if you want to put a twist on the old outdoor dining angle, there are a few places in Cincinnati that actually make al fresco as exciting as it sounds.
Gajah Wong West
Half-restaurant and half-Indonesian import shop, with handmade Congklak games and aboriginal masks, Gajah Wong West is the only Indonesian restaurant in Cincinnati. But it won’t be for long: Owner Craig Congdon is selling the Northside icon and moving to Bali at the end of September. Fortunately, the summer is still young, so there’s still time to check out Gajah’s exotic outdoor garden, where you can sit surrounded by fountains and Hindu deities and enjoy a classic rice table. Wash it down with an Indo Iguana (melon liqueur, tequila and sour mix blended together and garnished with lime)
The Wine Room
If you want to pretend you’re in Rome, there’s no better place than The Vineyard Café’s Wine Room just off of Hyde Park Square. Sit on the tiled patio, surrounded by torches, and sip some of the best wines the city has to offer, from Riondo’s Pink Proseco to Joseph Drouhin’s White Burgundy. Pair these with a mini gourmet feast of Beef Carpaccio (marinated mushrooms, pine nuts, shallots and pecorino) and beer-braised Pork Belly with caramelized shallots and carrot coulis. Call 513-871-6167.
Lavomatic’s rooftop is the perfect place to spend a hot night in Over-the-Rhine and feel like you’re in a city-city. Mingle with real, live urbanites (people who actually live downtown) and enjoy rustic, European eats. Current menu offerings include Pilaf- Style Quinoa with mushrooms, goat cheese, and candied nuts and the Swiss Chard Wrap with orange segments, seafood, rice noodles and basil. Lavo also offers one of the best hand-picked wine selections in the city. Call 513-621-1999.
Teak’s deck is a great place to take in the Mount Adams scene and enjoy some of the best Thai food in the city, including award-winning Pad Thai and Thai Curry. (Don’t forget the amazing Carrot Salad appetizer.) Afterwards, you can stroll down St. Gregory and stop at The Wine Bar or Blind Lemon for live music. Call 513-665-9800.
There’s nothing like Arthur’s outside patio on a hot summer night, lit softly with white lights. It’s a casual pub atmosphere on Hyde Park Square, but romantic for a date. It’s also cheap, particularly on Burger Madness nights (Sunday-Tuesday) when you can get regular and veggie burgers with fries and unlimited toppings for just $7. The stuffed mushrooms make a great appetizer. Call 513-871-5543.
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