There are people who own restaurants in Cincinnati who are so phenomenal with detail that they actually coordinate the linen napkins to the color of your clothes. If you’re wearing something dark, the napkin is black; something light, it’s white. And there are restaurants like this that aren’t any more expensive than InCahoots, which reopened in a new Blue Ash location this summer.
At InCahoots, entrée prices average $16, unless you order a sandwich ($8). So maybe that’s why we were so surprised by our experience.
First, we were seated at a table in the middle of the bar right next to the pool table. By the soft florescent glow of the Miller pool table light, we perused our menus and surveyed the scene. At the bar were a few retired frat boys and, at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday, a lot of people who looked like they’d just gotten off work from one of the nearby office parks. They looked tired and grateful for a beer.
“It’s definitely a sensible shoe crowd,” my dining partner keenly observed.
Which was fine with us. At first we were excited by the eclectic menu, which could best be described as multi-ethnic bar food. Some of the appetizers and entrées sounded delectable. Take, for instance, the Portuguese Shrimp Empanadas ($9), shrimp morsels in a rich creamy sauce rolled in homemade pastry. Or the Portabella Tempura with Crab Dip ($7), the special for the night.
We ordered both, as well as two drinks we were told were some of the best in house — the special, an Apple Martini ($4), and a Bellini ($5). They came out quickly (the service was excellent). Along with this came complimentary bruschetta.
The tomatoes were pale and mealy, there was only one tiny shred of basil and it came in a tiny white bowl in the middle of a large pale plate with some bread haphazardly tossed on it like an afterthought. And, no, it wasn’t beautiful on the inside.
Meanwhile, our drinks arrived
Ditto on my Apple Martini. Green as St. Patrick‘s Day beer, it tasted like a marriage of Green Apple Jolly Rancher and the chemical flavor you always find in store-bought drink mixes. I didn’t finish it. I ordered a Pinot Noir ($5) instead. Our waitress didn’t ask us why our half-finished drinks sat on the table as we ordered new ones, although she delivered friendly, efficient service the entire meal.
At this point, we were skeptical about the appetizers. While the Portabella Tempura was good — we finished it — when the Empanadas came, they were very pale. Generally, they’re a bit browned and toasted, but they appeared to not be completely cooked. Inside, was puréed shrimp with cheese. It was a sort of gray mixture and it made for a soggy, Dickensian eating experience.
“I’m actually kind of scared about dinner,” my friend ultimately confessed after we ordered our entrées. “I’m really not looking forward to it.”
We told our server we weren’t happy with the Empanadas. She got the manager, who kindly stopped by our table and took the Empanadas off our check.
The same didn’t happen later when our entrées came and my friend found out that her Ropa Vieja ($12.50), recommended by our server, was anything but Cuban style, as the menu and name had suggested.
“This is like a deconstructed version of my grandmother’s pot roast,” she proclaimed.
And it was. “Lightly spiced in tomato, onion and bell pepper sauce and served over Jasmine rice with a hint of fresh lime” tasted instead like pot roast. With carrots.
“I guess what made it Cuban was the rice,” she added.
Meanwhile, my Cajun Chicken Pasta ($17), blackened chicken breast on penne with chorizo alfredo sauce, was delivered. Spicy and satisfying, I wanted to take it home. And I would have if I hadn’t committed to avoiding Styrofoam takeout containers for environmental reasons.
We were surprised when we got the bill ($59) and found that the Ropa Vieja wasn’t taken off. My friend barely took a couple of bites of it and told the server about it. We also told the manager on the way out when he asked us how our experience was. He apologized and said it was supposed to be spicy. He also gave us two coupons, each for $5 off, which almost made up for the cost of the entrée.
We were disappointed, overall, with our experience, but couldn’t help wondering what would have happened had we treated InCahoots like a bar and just ordered sandwiches (The Reuben and the Veggie Philly sounded good). Also, the Brownie ($5) we ordered at the end was gooey and lovely.
Our recommendation? If you’re going to go, stick to sandwiches, beer and wine.
Go: 4110 Hunt Road, Blue Ash
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 4-10 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $10-$20.
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Several vegetarian options
Accessibility: Fully accessible