York Street Cafe is an old favorite of mine, and it hasn't lost its charm. The recent addition of Chef Curtis Paul, a veteran of La Normandie and the Maisonette, seems to have tightened up the existing menu and promises some new twists soon.
Our visit on a very busy Friday night was slow-paced, but I found several things that made me very happy. The first was the mushroom bruschetta ($8) in the "tappas" (sic) section of the menu. (Presumably during the menu re-write they'll get rid of that extra p.) No mere grilled cheese on toast -- the mushrooms were sauteed to perfection. The Prince Edward Island mussels and the selection of "toasties" are also wonderful. You can stay with just appetizers and have a wonderful meal.
On Wednesday nights, York Sreet features $1 bottles of wine, but since it was Friday, we decided to order by the glass, starting with an Aston Vale sauvignon blanc ($7.50). Our delightful server, Tara, took us at our word when we said that we weren't in a rush and dashed off to serve several big parties while we sipped our wine, nibbled on our bruschetta and relaxed in our comfortable chairs. She nearly had to shake us awake on her return, so we shared a mid-meal espresso ($2) to revive us.
On a cooler night we might have had soup, since a recent cup of split pea with ham ($3) stands out in my memory as absolutely like green velvet.
Instead, we shared a side salad ($5) piled high with lots of fresh greens and light vinaigrette.
Then we gave Tara the acid test. York Street's menu features an Amish Chicken Breast ($22) stuffed with applewood smoked bacon, gorgonzola cheese and onions. Every time we visit, we ask if it can be made without the bacon since my husband loves chicken but doesn't eat pork. We know that the answer will be no, since the breasts are stuffed ahead of time. But this time, Tara said, "I don't see why not." And on a very busy night, the chef agreed to cook a plain breast and top it with gorgonzola and onions.
The heavens opened and the angels sang. Actually, it was an oldies station on XM radio, but we were so happy that we sang right along. We ordered two more glasses of wine -- a Red Belly Shiraz ($7.50) and a Rancho Zabaco zinfandel ($7.50) that was our favorite of the night. Zinfandel, which was probably the first red I ever drank, fell out of favor for a few decades, but now has reappeared and is really my new go-to wine choice.
After careful consideration, I chose the halibut catch of the night ($25) over the delectable-sounding hand-cut filet mignon. The halibut presentation was lovely, with a colorful m�lange of veggies, and I polished off every bite.
At York Street, all desserts are homemade. I enjoyed the rum bundt cake ($4.95), but hubby's slice of chocolate cake ($4.95) was a bit dry and could have used a little a la mode.
On follow-up, I learned that Chef Paul will be introducing new menu items within the next few weeks. They're retaining the halibut, since it's become their No. 1 seller, as well as the Asian marinated pork tenderloin and the beef filet. New additions might include handmade manicotti, but everything else is still under wraps.
The fact that they were willing to accommodate our request for an un-stuffed chicken breast -- and trust me, we've asked the question at least 10 times before -- means they're headed in the right direction.
York Street regularly tops the "best place for a date" categories in CityBeat's Best of Cincinnati lists, and there are many reasons why -- all of them valid. First, the food is good and the wine is reasonable, important elements to the success of any date. Next, the menu has a lot of easy-to-share items, which helps to avoid that "He had garlic, she had none" issue. The seating areas, both indoors and outdoors, are charming. The upstairs nightclub offers full evening-out options, including Wit's End improv comedy on the last Friday of the month and Big Band music on the first Saturday.
And last but not least, you will never feel that there is nothing to talk about at York Street. There were dozens of conversation starters within easy sight of our table, including a pretty impressive troll doll collection and a politically incorrect Mammy cookie jar that might make a good date litmus test.
York Street has character, and it's getting better with age.
YORK STREET CAFE Critic's Pick
Go: 738 York St., Newport
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Prices: $17-$33, lower for tapas, conversation boards and sandwiches
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Many
Accessibility: Accessible through front door