Foodies, rejoice! Honey is a wonderful new addition to the Cincinnati dining scene. Not so formal that you can't laugh, not a stuffy, flawless dining experience, but friendly, chic and utterly delectable.
With understated pastel walls, skylights high above and tastefully framed botanical prints, the setting is not that different from this space's previous tenant, Boca. There are tiny antique apothecary bottles with a few hawthorn berries and a single chrysanthemum bloom on each table. Everything is subtle until the food arrives -- then the wow begins.
We started with a bottle of Spanish red wine. The oversized crystal glasses were a nice touch, and the fact that our server acknowledged the awkwardness of sniffing a plastic cork was genuinely refreshing. Wine prices start at $18 a bottle, and half the list is priced under $30. The wine was superb, but our appetizer almost missed the mark. Paper-thin carpaccio ($11) was garnished with wasabi caviar and fleur de sel, served with toast points. It was lovely to look at, but the caviar was a bit too strong and nearly overpowered the dish. It wasn't until the last few bites when the beef came into its own, and the trace of fennel and citrus oil had warmed enough to reach peak flavor.
Garlic bread from Shadeau Breads was wrapped in a linen napkin and served in a small galvanized tin pail. Of course, it was brilliant, and went surprisingly well with honey butter, so mild that it just added a high note to the bread. The sweetness wasn't obtrusive in the least.
Entrées were incredible. How can I begin to describe the grouper ($20)? When I tasted the sautéed oyster on top, I could have stopped right there and never eaten another bite of food in my life -- it was that sublime. Grouper has always been my favorite fish, and this presentation was superb. The almost-too-large fillet was served atop a bed of lightly fried spinach and a savory bread pudding that was heavenly. The sauce was very rich, but it perfectly complemented the fish.
And that was my companion's food! I chose the braised short ribs ($18) on our server's suggestion. He needn't have bothered to bring a steak knife, because the meat was so tender I could have eaten it with a spoon. There was also spinach in this dish -- so it was healthy, right? And mashed potatoes, with a marvelous demi-glaze reduction, made this the ultimate autumn comfort food.
We could barely manage another bite, but we shared a berry tart ($7) for dessert. All of Honey's desserts are made in house daily, and this fresh little number was simply delicious, topped with tiny whipped cream rosettes, each centered with a flawless ripe raspberry.
As my friend remarked over coffee ($1.50), "That was probably one of the best dinners that I have had in Cincinnati for a couple of years. There was nothing that I did not savor."
With a restaurant as new as Honey, I expected glitches, but they were so minor that they don't deserve mention. OK, the busboy dropped a fork. We all giggled. There was an impressive crowd for a Tuesday, an eclectic group, including a young couple with a child, an older gent alone and a table of happy women. With wooden floors and hard surfaces, you would think that the acoustics would be awful, but they weren't. Classical Music from WGUC played softly in the background.
I enjoyed Honey so much that I headed right back for Saturday lunch, where I had those marvelous oysters served up in a version of a po' boy sandwich. My husband surprised me by ordering a marinated tofu dish that was as unusual as it was delicious. We both loved the Honey fries -- shoestring Yukon and sweet potato fries, crisp and nicely seasoned and served in a galvanized pail. The bread pudding with candied ginger melted in my mouth.
On follow up, I learned that the menu will change weekly, based on seasonal availability and chef/owner Shoshannah Friedman's inspiration. I look forward to a happy future, Honey. ©
Go: 4034 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Payment: Visa and MasterCard only
Red Meat Alternatives: Fresh fish and vegetarian options
Accessibility: Ramped entry from the Northside parking lot; a unisex accessible restroom.