It would be easy to assume The Summit was named for its location -- the top of a hill where the Cincinnati State & Technical College campus overlooks Central Parkway and Ludlow Avenue. But that would be missing the point.
To me the restaurant's name can only refer to the food, which is the culmination of fine dining cuisine. The Summit is the new restaurant run by Cincinnati State's Midwest Culinary Institute, a culinary training program that is giving rivals such as the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales a run for their money.
As we walk by the institute's darkened pastry training kitchen, I feel the green monster rising in my chest. I received a culinary certificate from Cincinnati State, pre-Midwest Institute. Today's students have two garde manger kitchens to practice cold food prep, a butcher shop, a fish shop, two instructional kitchens, a demonstration studio, a pastry kitchen, a cake decorating lab, an international kitchen and a bakery kitchen.
I think I hate them.
But as we take our seats in the dining room with subdued tones of blue and green and scads of vintage art prints, our server begins talking about the chef's philosophy and desire to interplay different textures as well as flavors in his dishes, and I change my mind. This guy is good -- I can't hate him.
The Summit's executive chef, Matthew Winterrowd, is a graduate of the culinary program and touts experience as the former Chef de Cuisine of Daveed's at 934, a stint at Chicago's Trio and work with the Jean-Robert Group and Boca. Other than Winterrowd and the dining room manager Donna Schmitt, who came from Mesh, the staff consists of students who are earning college credit working at the restaurant as part of the paid co-op program
And talk about sincere! These kids embody sincerity. Along with our server, who knew all the intricacies of each dish I asked about, the history of shiraz -- which he launched into when we ordered a bottle of Kay Hillside Shiraz ($46) -- and probably my middle name if I had asked, our bus people and hostess really wanted us to enjoy our experience at their restaurant. They take ownership of The Summit and it comes through in their work. And if service isn't enough to bring you back for a second visit (I made mine the very next night), the food certainly will.
We started our meal with two seasonal dishes for the first course: the Morels ($11) and the Soft Shell Crab ($11), which came with black beans and avocado. The Morels ($11) were served in a creamy sauce with shallots and Idiazabal cheese, an artisanal cheese from the Basque country in Spain that is similar to Manchego. This is the kind of dish you guard from bussers even when there's only one small bite remaining.
For our second course we had the Hamachi ($26) with spinach, coconut, broccoli, carrot and basmati rice and the Roasted Pork ($25) with chipotle, tomatillo, jicama and plantain. Both instantly became my new favorite dish. The Hamachi, also known as Japanese amberjack or yellowtail, is a firm white fish which the chef lightly saut�ed and served in a stone bowl over the rice. It was reminiscent to bi bim bop, with the rice getting that golden crust from being nestled between the fish and the surface of the hot bowl. It was surrounded by pools of spinach and coconut cream purees.
The pork, a roasted and grilled Karobuta loin served over a pool of black plantain puree and under quenelle of chipotle ice cream, was the essence of the server's description of the chef's style. The dish interplayed hot with cold, spicy with sweet, meat with fruit. I'm not sure how many more binaries could be placed on a single plate!
Finally, we hit dessert. The restaurant offers an artisanal cheese platter and homemade sorbets and ice cream combinations, but we were feeling springy, so we had the Strawberry with Ricotta, Vanilla, Balsamic and Basil ($7) and the Lemon with Pistachio, Honey and Lavender ($7). The Strawberry was a bit like an upside-down strawberry shortcake, but rather than spongy yellow cake, it was served with a thin crisp cookie.
The lemon dessert consisted of two rounds of an olive oil and honey cake with pistachio paste, tupelo honey and frosted pistachios. It's served with a refreshing lavender ice cream and tangy little piles of lemon and honey powders on both ends of the plate.
Since I initially couldn't decide between the Hamachi and the Carnaroli Risotto ($21) -- with artichoke, olive and parsley -- on my first visit, I ordered the risotto the following night when my step-dad returned to forage some more. (Carnaroli is a medium-grained rice native to northern Italy and is traditionally used for making risotto.) The risotto turned out to be a bit too rich for my taste, but it was topped with wonderful salty fried caper buds.
My step-dad's Grilled Wagyu Hanger Steak ($29), served with soft polenta and a ragout of saut�ed kale, porcini and shitake mushrooms, was phenomenal. Wagyu cattle produce Japan's Kobe beef, and while our steak was from Iowa, according to the server, it was as tender as you could hope for.
I honestly can't say I've had many better dining experiences. You certainly have to hand it to the kids!
THE SUMMIT Critic's Pick
Go: 3520 Central Ave., Cincinnati State campus, Clifton (best if you call for directions)
Hours: 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Entree Prices: $24-$29
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Many
Accessibility: Fully accessible