About a year ago, Shauna M. came up with the dining concept she calls Food Chain Cincinnati (firstname.lastname@example.org). Every month she puts together a group of four to six strangers to go to dinner at a local ethnic restaurant. I've had a blast at the four previous Food Chain dinners I've participated in. It seems that the type of people who agree to go out to dinner with a bunch of strangers tend to be very open-minded and great talkers.
Last week I went to Beluga, located in ever-so-vanilla Hyde Park, for my fifth Food Chain dinner. To call my core group of friends "slackers" might be a bit of an understatement. If I plan to meet them at a restaurant at 7 p.m., I don't expect them to be there until 7:15 or 7:30. So I was amazed that, when I showed up at Beluga five minutes early, I was the fourth person to arrive from our six-person dinner.
We were seated at the sushi bar for dinner, and it quickly became apparent that having a party of six at the bar isn't conducive to having a group conversation. With distractingly loud drum and bass dance music playing on the speakers, it was impossible to hear what someone was saying if they were sitting more than two seats away. Fortunately I was sitting near the middle of the group so I could be as social as I wanted to be.
The waitresses at Beluga are a strange breed for Cincinnati. I couldn't decide if they reminded me more of the women you see exercising in the Bally Fitness commercials (that rock-hard Trinity-esqe body) or the women you see working at Mitchell's Day Salon or Phyllis at the Madison (unnaturally tanned, lots of makeup, loads of highlights in their hair). When I told my dining parts this, they all got really quiet. I quickly told them that I had been to Mitchell's and Phyllis' to buy gift certificates for relatives and not to get a pedicure. I don't think they believed me.
I wasn't happy with my Chef's Choice sushi dinner. The quantity was small for the price ($25) and the quality was nowhere near what I've had at Ko-sho or JoAn. When I pay $25 for just an entrée, I expect to have to be carried out of the restaurant in a wheelbarrow.
Everyone was still hungry after dinner, so we walked around the corner to Graeter's. There's no better way to end a dinner in the springtime than with a scope of Black Raspberry Chip in a waffle cone.
A Picture of Freedom
The landscape of the city's riverfront has been evolving and changing with the erecting and demolishing going on for more than a while. Paul Brown Stadium emerged on land that I have no earthly idea what it had previously encompassed. It's now a landmark from the Brent Spence Bridge for all to ponder. While the Bengals have disappointed its fans thus far, I for one like the sweeping openness of the stadium's design from an architectural standpoint, and hope springs eternal for the sporting events it houses.
Across the way as cranes and crews disappeared we now have Great American Ball Park on the scene. The Reds battle it out under the watchful eye of smokestacks and their ever faithful fans. While it seems odd that the old landmark of Cinergy Field is now just a memory, I can't help but think having the latest and greatest in baseball field design isn't also good for the skyline of our city. I have even enjoyed a hotdog in the new ballpark as I contemplated being sandwiched between the old and the new.
Call me the eternal optimist if you must, but I have chosen to focus on the positive. I put aside mixed feelings on how all this progress gets paid for while I figured out the traffic pattern on Fort Washington Way. As I struggled with the series of traffic lights, my eye was drawn to the cranes and the copper façade on my right. Yes, this is the new home of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which will be the next landmark on the Ohio River for the world to visit and understand more local history.
It was last June, I think, when I went downtown for the Freedom Center groundbreaking ceremony. Muhammad Ali and Laura Bush were in town to commemorate the event, and the crowd gathered at the foot of the Roebling Suspension Bridge seemed to know that we were witnessing the beginning of something good. You could feel the excitement and the hope in the air.
Friday night I was again part of the excitement that the Freedom Center is generating as I attended a reception in Glendale at the home of Nicholas MacConnell at The Pillars Estate. It was an event to share the progress of the Freedom Center and to celebrate the history of this part of town that once participated in the search for freedom. Homes such as this actually had tunnels and rooms underground as the path led north away from slave ownership and captivity.
The guests crowded into the front drawing room to hear more about the Freedom Center in a relaxed atmosphere that included piano and string music as a prelude to the historical reflections by Dr. Orloff Miller, who is the Freedom Stations Director. Miller set the stage for Dr. Spencer Crew, the center's executive director and CEO who has come to Cincinnati by way of the Smithsonian Institute to lead the development. He spoke briefly on his passion to see the Freedom Center touch the lives of all people who embrace freedom.
As I looked around the room, I felt warmth and a connection to the others gathered there. There seemed to be a sense of purpose to see this vision and this place come to fruition -- not just for Cincinnati but also for all who will experience it. John Pepper took the opportunity to speak as the Capital Campaign Chair and did so with touching reflection on what this experience has taught him and the importance he feels that the Freedom Center has to educate and impassion people to care for one another.
The formal presentations ended, and people mingled around the artfully displayed food and beverages. The mood was festive and spirits high as it seemed so easy to meet new faces and chat about this or that. I found myself talking with Crew, who now was more like Spencer, about Washington, D.C. He mentioned he and his wife had been in D.C. for 20 some years and that it was his wife's home town. I felt an immediate rush to ensure both of them that they'd like Cincinnati and soon feel at home here.
As we discussed Mount Adams, East Walnut Hills and various other parts of town along with ideas on restaurant and activities for his wife and him to try, it occurred to me that this is the beauty of what growth on the city's waterfront can do. Not only does it bring thousands of people in the door of the Freedom Center, fans to Paul Brown Stadium and the Great America Ball Park and dollars and commerce beyond the downtown hotels and restaurants -- it also starts conversations and friendships in homes all over town.
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