Cincinnati was recently named one of the “six small cities with big food scenes” by USA Today
. I’m sure there are people here who don’t think of us as a small city, but why quibble? Once upon a time, Cincinnati’s food scene wouldn’t have gotten a mention. And one of the best things about our dining scene now is that it’s so rich, it’s spreading beyond the highly concentrated city center into the outer neighborhoods.
One of those new neighborhood gems is Ash American Fare in Hyde Park. Ash is a renewed incarnation of another successful restaurant, Cumin, but has an easy charm of its own, with sophisticated, tasty, affordable cuisine.
A friend and I visited Ash on a quiet weeknight, but it was one of the first where the weather showed just a hint of spring. Consequently, the restaurant’s patio was packed, and we pretty much had the interior dining room to ourselves. The black, grey and white décor is crisp and cool, and the servers are casual in black T-shirts and pants, with long grey aprons.
When my friend arrived before me, with a file folder and her iPad, the Ash staff graciously led her to a four-top so she’d have room to work while she waited. We had a lot of chatting to do while we looked over the menu and I nursed a cocktail, but never felt rushed. The drink, from their house specials, was the Traskwood ($10); a nice variation on an old fashioned, made with Bulleit bourbon, brown-sugar simple syrup and orange bitters over muddled blood orange, with Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat beer and a torched orange peel. Beer cocktails have that little bit of effervescence that’s welcome as the weather gets warmer.
Our server suggested her favorite dishes, and then left us to decide.
On her suggestion, we tried the warm mushroom salad ($9) and it may have been my favorite dish of the evening. A flavorful mix of mushrooms — shiitake, cremini and portobello slices — were perfectly roasted and served with a buttery goat cheese sauce, sprinkled with toasted pistachios and topped with shaved Brussels sprouts. I had the leftovers the next day on a sandwich with pot roast on multigrain toast. It may have made me just as happy the second time around.
My guest declared that her wedge salad ($9) was the best she’d ever had. We were intrigued by the dressing, with a distinctive touch of fresh herbs, over crisp iceberg with crumbled blue cheese, bacon and sliced hothouse grape tomatoes. The salad’s cornbread croutons were a nice surprise. Our server brought us an order of beet salad ($9) by mistake, then graciously let us keep it. I’m a big fan of beets and this pretty salad, with crunchy candied walnuts, was a treat.
We could have stopped right there and called it a meal, but we had to taste more food for CityBeat’s faithful readers. From the eight burgers on the menu — oddly named “Two” through “Nine” (sans “Eight”), plus “Cole’s” — we picked the Seven ($15), topped with truffled egg, short ribs, candied bacon and fonduta cheese. Rich? Oh yeah. And with its tall brioche bun, it was imposing; it would make a great meal on its own. The shoestring fries that accompanied the burger weren’t much beyond a delivery device for Ash’s house-made ketchup. It’s very salty and smoky, but we — both Heinz loyalists — were completely won over after the first few bites.
One of the biggest surprise tastes of the night was the Pecan Encrusted Trout ($20). It was so sweet that I kept tasting pancakes and maple syrup when I was eating it. Part of that came from the bourbon butter and the celery root purée that was swooped across the plate, but it was a really intriguing flavor mystery.
We slowly sipped coffee and promised each other that we’d have only one bite each of our desserts. Our server had warned us that the ricotta mousse ($8) was quite thick, and it certainly was — heavy, almost like chocolate chip cannoli filling. I preferred the pecan shortbread crusted tart ($8), prettily topped with glazed orange slices.
Next visit, I might try more dishes from the “Share” section of the menu. All the dishes there are $9, and they sounded interesting, but we just couldn’t manage another mouthful of food. I was really intrigued by the Cincinnati Pate of chicken livers with brandy, bacon and walnuts; and the Short Ribs + Fries, which sounds like Ash’s take on poutine. A reason to return!
Ash American Fare
Go: 3520 Erie Ave., Hyde Park
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday; 5 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday