Now that the holidays are over and out-of-town friends and family are sleeping in their own beds, a relaxing dinner out is called for. The Quarter Bistro in Mariemont, with its warm and intimate red decor, answered the call for a friend and me on recent chilly evening.
For 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, the dining room was bustling. Before heading to our table, my friend discovered the Tuesday-through-Thursday happy hour at the bar, where selected glasses of wine are half off. (On Sundays and Mondays, all bottled wine is sold at retail price.)
Settling in at our table, we overheard a group explain to the server that they were in a rush to catch a movie. the Quarter Bistro is next to and, in fact, connected to The Mariemont Theater, where Bistro guests use the theater restroom. Odd, but it works.
The Quarter Bistro is suited to meet a variety of diners from moviegoers popping in for a quick bite to couples celebrating an anniversary. The menu offers a full range of casual and sophisticated choices, from pizza and burgers ($11-$13) to Duck Confit Tacos ($17) and 18 Hour Short Rib Stroganoff ($25).
Our server pointed out the “prix fixe” menu offered Monday through Thursday. For $35, you have a choice of three appetizer, entrée and dessert options. I couldn’t decide until the Grilled Swordfish on the prix fixe menu won me over. My friend went a different route — South of the Border — and ordered the Guacamole, Fish Tacos and an excellent margarita on the rocks ($7).
The Guacamole ($9) was a hearty scoop of delicious, chunky, fresh avocado served on a leaf of lettuce and had a little kick from red onions and garlic. The red and blue store-bought chips came mounded on the side and were a bit over-salted.
As we nibbled and chatted, a small dish was dropped off in front of me. I was a bit puzzled. The food-runner did not know what it was and upon inspection, I saw none of the components of a mac and, cheese. My friend speculated that it was an amuse-bouche.
Our server confirmed her guess: It was a slice of house-made spicy sausage atop a lentil purée with basil oil and creme fraiche. The sausage was good, but the lentil puree and basil oil were the stars of the dish.
The appetizer choices on the prix fixe menu were all rich. I went with Bay Scallop Mac and Cheese — unexpected yet tasty. The scallops were tiny and the sauce was more of an alfredo than the traditional bechamel. As we enjoyed our appetizers, we noticed that the ladies at the table next to us were able to make their movie and that the dining room never cleared out. New tables of couples, young and old, were seated while a few larger parties kept the atmosphere lively.
We were a bit troubled when a strong smell of fish emerged from the kitchen, but when my entrée arrived I was pleased that the fishiness was absent. I was greeted instead with the aroma of grilled fish, crispy polenta cakes and beautifully grilled escarole served with a lemon picatta sauce.
My friend was delighted with her two Fish Tacos ($13): a perfect piece of Mahi Mahi sat atop Napa cabbage with just enough citrus to make it very refreshing and a tasty cilantro sour cream drizzle completed the dish. I appreciated the full piece of Mahi as opposed to the shredded fish often found in fish tacos.
Both entrees were perfectly cooked and seasoned. The crispy, creamy polenta cakes with my swordfish served as a nice substitute for the typical starch, and the tender escarole gave tasty life to the vegetable sides. The lemon picatta sauce gave the entire entrée an acidic brightness.
Rounding out her Tex-Mex inspired meal, my friend chose the Banana Flan with a Mexican hot chocolate sauce and a chocolate-dipped plantain. I couldn’t resist, however, the apple soup and bourbon gelato with the White Chocolate Bread Pudding.
The Banana Flan ($7) was delicate and creamy and the Mexican hot chocolate sauce satisfies chocolate cravings. The fried plantain provided a salty crunch. My White Chocolate Bread Pudding was crispy on the top and moist in the middle, though the white chocolate was not apparent. The apple soup had the consistency of baby food (in a good way) and made for a light and balanced sauce for the pudding. Finely diced apples lent the sauce texture. The vanilla-tinged gelato was a cool contrast to the warm pudding, though the bourbon flavor wasn’t noticeable.
The Quarter makes a good spot for a quick bite before a film, a couple hours lingering over a great meal with friends, a cozy date or a recovery from too many holiday visitors.
The Quarter Bistro
Go: 904 Wooster Pike, Mariemont
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday
Entree Prices: $11-$32
Red Meat Alternatives: Many. Prix fixe meals can be vegetarian upon request.
Accessibility: Fully accessible; restroom accessed through the theater.