Critic's PickOn a surprisingly crowded Wednesday, the buzz begins as we’re seated with a perfect view of the table where Nick Lachey is dining. Our 11-year-old, Eliot, and her friend, Katie, seem excited … but a little confused.
“Who?” they ask repeatedly.
“The dude in the Cincinnati Bell commercials,” we explain.
Oh! That guy!
Even if you don’t know Nick, you’d probably recognize Tony Ricci, the owner of this establishment. He has a seductive, FM-deejay voice you’ve heard in the ubiquitous radio ads he made for former employer, Jeff Ruby. Working the room, Tony looks like he could play the smooth, well-connected manager of a high-end Vegas steakhouse in a Scorsese picture. Instead, he’s the smooth, well-connected owner of a high-end Cincinnati seafood, chops and steakhouse called, simply, Tony’s.
Located in the space formerly occupied by Bravo Cucina, the interior has been updated with dark paint, carpet and white tablecloths. Though some faux-Roman touches remain, it exudes a relaxed, luxurious aura that’s appropriate to the restaurant’s ambitions.
Eyeing the menu, I look for something I can’t easily prepare myself for a fraction of the cost. Obviously, I can light a grill and season a steak, but it’s hard to procure prime, well-aged beef. It’s not usually available at grocery stores but can be mail ordered. It ain’t cheap, though — two 16-ounce, wet-aged porterhouses are $99 from Allen Brothers online. Tony, on the other hand, offers his massive 24-ounce version for just $45. So, in a way, you’re actually saving money!
We start with cocktails as a low-key musical trio eases through Beatles B-sides.
A smooth, spicy Manhattan is perfection, but our Hendrick’s Gin and Tonic arrives sans garnish. Our waiter apologizes: He’s out of cucumbers, so my wife agrees to substitute limes. He trundles off, but the limes remain elusive until we buttonhole another less nervous, more focused server. We ask yet another employee if we can have bread, which we see on other tables. He’s back in the blink of an eye with a sliced loaf of hot, house-made sourdough.
In fact, the staff seems very well chosen; from affable English GM Ian to genial server Ryan, recently graduated from UC. They’re friendly, professional and eager to please.
We share a Flat Bread ($10) with butternut puree and Manchego baked in a wood-burning brick oven. While it seems oddly autumnal for a summer menu, it’s decadently delicious with wood smoke enhancing the sharp cheese.
Our King Crab Potato Cake ($13) is slightly less wonderful. Topped with frizzled leeks and sitting on a smear of irresistible leek pesto, it’s quite tasty, but the dish is hurt by a dollop of “Kentucky spoonfish caviar” that’s off-puttingly fishy and mealy.
Tony’s varied wine list is quite fairly priced. Always looking for oddball bottles, we order the ’07 Chevillon Bourgogne-Passetoutgrain ($45). A rare Burgundian Gamay/Pinot Noir blend, just a trickle is made and even less is exported. It’s food-friendly, with high-toned berry fruit and firm acidity, while exotic spices and minerals keep the interest level high. It goes great with roasted quail ($28) and cognac-soaked prunes in a luscious puddle of smoked grape demiglace. The referenced Manchego cheese, though, gets lost.
Later, a friend coincidentally seated nearby graciously shares a glass of ’07 Robert Craig Napa Cabernet that’s deep, dark and mouth-coating, showing layered black fruits, scorched earth, vanilla and camphor. It’s a perfect match for our crusty, chili-rubbed Porterhouse ($45), deftly cooked to the cool side of medium rare.
Steak Oscar ($40) is a meltingly tender filet that’s primarily a delivery vehicle for extravagant toppings of crab meat and complex mushroom demi. We also enjoy sides of caramelized roasted Brussels Sprouts ($8), with crispy pancetta, fried shallots and capers with a breathtaking splash of balsamico, and sautéed Broccoli Rabe ($7), with lots of garlic and an intriguing sweetness from plump golden raisins. (Most entrées are served with a good, simple wedge or Greek salad and a starch; you don’t have to get everything a la carte.)
We also try the Sea Bass ($34), which the kitchen cooks well even though it’s a touch bland. The dish simply needs a flavor infusion; right now, it’s topped with too-little corn relish, while the promised lobster oil and “Roman coriander” don’t fully register.
While the band gamely attempts a Cool Jazz version of our wedding song, the Lachey boys graciously interrupt their dinners to pose for pictures. We don’t bug them and instead dig into Tony’s Mother’s Cannoli ($6).
I ask if the crunchy, creamy morsels bursting with spicy cinnamon are from Tony’s mom’s original recipe. Tony warmly squeezes my shoulder, smiling.
“Actually,” he confides, “she makes them. She’s 75, but comes in a couple times a week to mix up batches.”
He then lifts his arm like he’s wielding a whip.
Whatever works. Just don’t miss them. They’re the perfect, simple ending to a fun, elegant evening.
Go: 12110 Montgomery Road, Symmes Township
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Entrée Prices: $22-$56
Red Meat Alternatives: Various fish and poultry options
Accessibility: Fully accessible