Monday, May 20, 2013

Road Trip - Sotto - Cincinnati

Hubby and I took a quick road trip to Cincinnati recently to see a band we like.  The purpose of the trip was the concert, but naturally as soon as we decided to go, I started figuring out where we could eat before for dinner and lunch the next day.  So we had a very early dinner at Sotto, which is the new, more casual, restaurant from the same people who own Boca, which we loved

Boca has recently re-opened in the space that used to house the Maisonnette, which was the old school “best” restaurant in Cincinnati. When the Maisonnette was open, there was a casual French restaurant run by the same owners called La Normandie.  Now Boca is up top and Sotto is below (a very cool thing is that hubby and I had the opportunity to eat at both places before they closed as well).

I love the atmosphere of Sotto—it is basically underground, and full of brick. The first thing you notice is how dark it is, especially when you come in from full daylight.  Think lots of wooden chairs, weathered looking walls and one of my favorite things—a big pillar candle on each table.  I loved the wine pit that they had created out of the former fireplace. There was also a great soundtrack playing. 

Anyway, the menu looked great and we had a hard time choosing—we decided to get something from each different course and share.  The first thing we had been from the bruschetta menu (i.e. grilled bread with different toppings).  We had the oil packed tuna with hard boiled egg and chili oil ($10). A perfect portion to split between two—it was one toasted piece of bread cut into two pieces. Ours was topped with a thin layer of caper mayo, the super tender tuna, slices of hard boiled egg and drizzled with chili oil. It was delicious.  I have had similar preparations and never liked it as much as I did this.  I loved the addition of the chili oil (and the sprinkles of salt on top) to give it an extra dimension of flavor

At the same time we were also served our antipasti course, which was polenta with a fried egg, lomo, brown butter and parmigiano. Oh. My. Goodness.  This was amazing.  The polenta was soooo fine and creamy, the egg was perfect and runny in the middle and the lomo (a very thin sliced cured pork tenderloin) was so tender but had a lot of flavor, but wasn’t overpowering.  And brown butter and parm? How can you go wrong?  We both loved this one. We split it exactly down the middle and scraped the dish clean with the bread that they bring to the table.  Speaking of which, the bread was great as well. It is from a local (to Cincy) bakery called Blue Oven.  It was an Italian country loaf that was cut into wedges. It had just the right amount of tender middle and chewy crust.  They serve it with a great grassy olive oil.

For our primi course, we went with the housemade tonnarelli pasta ($14).  Tonnarelli is a thicker long pasta (like spaghetti)—it is more of a square shape though and is textured a little so it holds onto the sauce pretty well.  There were only two housemade pastas which surprised me a little.  The sauce on the pasta was a simple creamy butter sauce with salt and pepper. Lots and lots of cracked black pepper. We enjoyed it, and it really kind of grew on us, but it was probably our least favorite item of the meal. I think I would have enjoyed it more as a side dish with my main dish, instead of on its own, but it was still good.

For our main dish, we shared the salmon with anchovy white wine sauce ($19). It was served on a bed of cooked spinach.  It was also perfectly prepared. The fish was grilled and was at the perfect medium rare—the center quite rare.  The sauce though—it is what made the dish.  You probably wouldn’t have even known it had anchovy in it if you hadn’t seen it on the menu—it just gave it a depth and slight saltiness that was so good with the slightly acidic wine sauce. I loved the sauce. I could have just dipped bread into it all night long.  

We still had a decent amount of time, and since we were having such a good meal, we decided to split a dessert as well.  We had the ricotta doughnuts ($6) with three dipping sauces.  These little fried doughnut holes seem popular these days, but these were unique in that they were made with ricotta so they were really moist inside.  They were served with dark chocolate, pistachio cream, and salted caramel sauce. Loved that salted caramel sauce. Loved it with a little bit of the chocolate and a lot of the salted caramel.  Hubby really liked the pistachio cream. Actually, hubby won't stop raving about these doughnuts.

The service was very good. Our server was attentive but not annoying. He knew a lot about the menu and made great recommendations. They were great about bringing the right silverware and dishware with each new course.  It was polished but not stuffy.  The whole dinner was a great experience, and I look forward to returning. Although I feel like I have to try the new Boca first. We poked our nose in there and it was a cool atmosphere too—very different from Sotto—light and lots of upholstery with a giant chandelier. Definitely a “fancier” feel.  But Sotto is a really great value for truly excellent food.

118 East 6th Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Sotto on Urbanspoon

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