Lavomatic Café put the first fork on the neighborhood’s table and they haven’t lost their luster.
We visited Lavo on a Monday — dining’s cruelest night, when it takes some doing to find any place that’s open. The Monday in question was doused in a spring downpour, making it all the more wonderful to see a good crowd at the café spread out among the comfy tables. We brought our neighbors, who had just helped me navigate an amazing vacation in Paris. Rain or no rain, we were happy.
We started off with beverages, including a very good glass of Sauvignon Blanc ($7) and a noteworthy Off-Dry Martini ($7.51) crafted by a bartender who knows his stuff.
Then we shared a delicious appetizer: Fried Goat Cheese Dumplings ($10.29). I suspected after the first bite that this would be in the running for my “Best Bite for 2011”; after a few more nibbles, I was sure. The presentation was lovely — pretty little purses of goat cheese in crisp wonton wrappers, accompanied by tart apple slices atop a swirl of pastel pistachio wasabi coulis, flecked with black sea salt that almost tasted like licorice. We wouldn’t let them take the plate until we’d scooped up the last of the coulis sauce with our fingertips. It was a really well executed dish — worth a visit on its own.
My picky husband had the Lobster Mac & Cheese for his appetizer ($6.05 as an appetizer, $11.80 as a main course dish) and loved it.
Plenty of white cheddar and jack cheese made the sauce gooey and rich, but the lobster held its own and wasn’t overwhelmed. I had a delightful Asparagus Salad ($9.67) flavored with a superb quality olive oil, tiny grape tomatoes and bocconcini mozzarella pearls, and topped with roasted asparagus tips — an excellent non-summer caprese. Our guests shared a Beet Salad ($9.25) — one of the day’s specials — with beets that were roasted just right.
I’d been hoping to try the Pork Chop entrée ($18.59), which is smoked before it gets glazed with bourbon sauce and grilled, but they had sold out on the night of our visit. Instead I was lured by the Chicken Terrine ($19.89), which turned out not to be a terrine at all, but still packed enough porky goodness to console me. It was a butterflied breast that was filled with chorizo and goetta stuffing, wrapped in bacon, roasted and served on wild rice. That much pig can certainly save chicken from being boring.
The hit of the entrées, though, was the coffee-pressed New York Strip steak ($20.29). This was a first-rate cut of steak, dusted in Highlander Grogg coffee and roasted with caramelized vegetables — including tiny Yukon Gold fingerling potatoes — for a powerful flavor punch. It was so tender and beautifully cooked that I was sad when our friend polished it off and my visions of a leftover steak sandwich vanished before my eyes.
Our vegetarian guest was a little underwhelmed by the Chili Rellenos ($16.50), a loosely connected assortment of vegetables baked in a poblano pepper. It seemed to need some cheese or more sauce to bring it together. But the wine we chose with our entrées delighted everyone — a spicy Spanish Tempranillo ($24).
As we finished our main courses, the chef came out to introduce himself and tell me about the new menu he’s developing for summer. Turns out, someone had recognized me and the Lavomatic staff figured out that I was there to review the restaurant for CityBeat. This is the first time I’ve been “outed” (at least that I’m aware of!), but, to be fair, I don’t think they’d have been able to change the way they cooked the food or anything else that would have significantly altered my assessment. The quality of the ingredients and the attention to preparation — like the sauce and the salt on those goat cheese dumplings, the superb cut of steak and the fruity olive oil on the caprese — has got to be there anyway, regardless of who orders it.
We managed to devour some delicious bread pudding with apples and bourbon ($6.75), crme brulee ($6.25) and — our favorite — dark chocolate pot de crme ($6.50) before we rolled out into the rain, planning our next visit (and deciding where to purchase dark glasses and a wig).
Go: 1211 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Entrée Prices: $12-$25
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood, salad options
Accessibility: Accessible, one restroom on street level