Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pontiac Bourbon and BBQ:





Dan and Lana Wright’s newest restaurant venture, Pontiac, opened up last week.


David and I have been excited for Pontiac since the news first went public (especially when I learned that there would be tiki drinks on the menu).

The restaurant space is a little roomier than Senate, but fills up just as fast. David and I went between 3:00 and 4:30, but there was a only few minutes wait, and seats at the bar opened up very quickly.

We started with a few of the items on the “Snacks” side of the menu. I ordered the pulled pork nacho cheese poutine and David ordered the $4 iceberg wedge. I later tried the fried pickles, which are a great bar snack.



We also ordered the biggest tiki drink on the menu, the Rumspringa Punch. Definitely a drink for sharing, it has champagne, cucumber infused rum, hibiscus and pineapple. And 151. Which they light on fire. Order one of these and be prepared for some extra attention at the bar from curious onlookers. Worth the $30 price tag? I think so, especially when you consider what a bottle of wine costs in a restaurant.


Light my bottle of wine on fire and then we'll talk


Our food came out very quickly, and it amused me to no end that David’s lettuce wedge was placed squarely in front of me. Typically when we go out, David orders a salad while I order some sort of fried cheese cholesterol-laden monstrosity. Servers almost always try to give me the salad.

Perhaps not.


Me, at Pontiac


I did try David’s salad and I thought the green goddess dressing was a nice complement to the crunchy iceberg, shredded carrot and cheese.

The poutine was everything I hoped it would be. Smoked and shredded pulled pork placed throughout, melty salty cheese, crispy crinkle cut fries and lightly pickled jalapenos that had a little bite. Do not skip this snack.

I tried two other tiki drinks, the Hawaiian punch, and the Bahama-Lana. Of the two, the Hawaiian punch is my favorite. The Bahama-Lana, though pleasant, is a little on the sweeter side.


Hawaiian Punch
Bahama-Lana

We ordered the brisket, both the fatty and lean cuts, which were perfect. Anyone who’s attempted to make a good brisket knows how hard it is, and as far as menu items go, this is one of the shining stars on Pontiac’s.

I'm taking that home to momma



Oh no, my brother, you have got you get your own

The ribs were a little spicier than we expected—challengingly so—and in my opinion, needed a little longer in the smoker to reach their full potential. While people that know good barbecue know that Montgomery Inn’s “fall-off-the-bone” ribs are way overcooked and true barbecue ribs have a bit of pull to them, the ribs we got went a little too far in the firmness direction.

The potato salad balanced out the heat from the rib rub nicely. With big chunks of potato, creamy dressing and bacon, this is another thing not to skip at Pontiac. It was David's favorite side of the ones we tried.


The bacon fat grits were also a nice side—we could taste the bacon fat but it wasn’t overpowering. It’s nice when the side dishes can step out of the way and let the main dishes be the highlights.

The baked beans are similarly understated (in a good way), and not overly sweet. The beans themselves are firm, and some onion and pork add just a little extra flavor.



We also tried the brisket burrito (which we managed to get a shot of right before the camera gave up). David liked the unpretentious combo of iceberg lettuce and yellow cheese. I predict this being a favorite of the late night crowd.


On the weekends, Pontiac serves smoked prime rib at market price. We were fortunate enough to be able to sample some and it was our favorite cut we tried next to the brisket.

Overall, when it comes to Cincinnati barbecue, you’ve got your heavy hitters. There’s Eli’s, Velvet Smoke, SmoQ and now Pontiac. Happily there’s more than enough room in Cincinnati’s culinary sandbox for all of them. As for which is better? That’s hard to say. They each have their specialties and I’d be happy to visit any of them on any given day.



Pontiac Bourbon & BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Salazar:




David and I were off the week of Christmas, and one of the things we made sure to do is go to Salazar for lunch. Why? One word.

Cubano.


Now, we all know there are sandwiches, and then there are sandwiches. The standard chicken salad you can get at the deli around the corner, some sort of generic club. And then there’s the Cuban sandwich.

This is a sandwich that I’ve loved ever since I’ve first tried it, and while the combination is being done more often and can be found at various places around town (Nicholson’s, Pete’s Cuban truck, Paula’s CafĂ©) they just aren’t the same.

I know some of you will say that you can find them all over the place in Miami, and that the ones there are the best.

I’m sure they’re great.

But guess what, we’re not in Miami, as evidenced by the fact it is negative-three-insert-expletive-degrees outside, and I’m telling you Salazar makes the best Cuban you can find around here.

Like The Gibson, this sandwich is hard to hack. Many have tried, but only Jose (in Cincinnati, anyway) has actually managed to figure it out.


Fact: Jose’s original nickname in the kitchen was Zero Cool
Photo Credit: Don Ventre

So, onto the sandwich. Similar to the one on the menu at the Cincinnatian (where Jose used to head up the kitchen), it contains mojo marinated and slow roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard and pickles. The pickles and mustard are important and often skipped. 

Ideally, this shouldn’t happen. We once overheard a Cricket bar and lounge patron asking for the sandwich without pickles. The response was a succinct “No.” Yeah, if you believe a Cuban sandwich would be good minus the pickle, then you probably also believe there’s an Olympic sized swimming pool on the roof.

Spoiler alert: There's no swimming pool on the roof and your Cuban is not better without pickles

When I asked him what made a good Cuban sandwich so hard, Jose explained that the components in the sandwich have to all work together, and you have to start with quality ingredients. “Good bread is important…take the time to marinate and slow roast the pork. Crisp the bread and get the cheese melted without burning the sandwich.” He explained.


I could go on about the cubano for quite awhile, but we ordered other things at lunch as well. Like the turkey sandwich, with thick, juicy pieces of turkey on amazing Blue Oven "Bad Boy" bread, with melted Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and just a little green olive tapenade.



Dat bread tho

The special soup of the day, a nearly impossibly creamy potato with bacon, was great for a cold day.


Of course we had to get the brussel sprouts, caramelized and served with yuzu emulsion, and the little fried oyster sandwich, which I doubt Jose will ever be able to take off the menu.




The cubano is only available during lunch, but should remain on the menu for quite some time, which makes me exceedingly happy.

One last note: Salazar doesn’t take reservations normally, but they will be doing a prix fixe Valentine’s day dinner that you can reserve a spot for.

Mess With the Best, Die Like the Rest

Salazar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pi Pizzeria:





It’s not uncommon for us in our intense negotiations about where to eat, to pull out our phones and start perusing options. Usually not five minutes into the process one of us is cursing in frustration. I bet you can guess why.

How many times have you tried to go to a restaurant website to find out pesky, teeny tiny details like when it's open, or take a look at the menu, or (God forbid) ascertain its address, only to find that information buried behind a giant flash object, or on a page that it has no business being on? I just want to know when you open for lunch, dammit. But I’ll never know because you’ve decided to bury your navigation in some sort of monstrous flash carousel that won’t load. Smooth move, ex-lax.

A good menu, much like a good mobile site, can be hard to pull off. As I mentioned, David and I have had a fair amount of experience viewing restaurant websites, and we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the unusable. While some restaurants seem to be getting wise to the fact a mobile friendly site (Nada finally figured it out this year) is necessary, it’s rare to find a restaurant that seems to get it right from the start, just like with a menu.

So we’re happy to report that Pi’s mobile site is one of the best we’ve seen, and the menu isn’t too shabby either. First, the site, designed by Boxing Clever in St. Louis.



Holy crap! Contact information right on the first page! A phone number! A map to tell me where it's located! The menu, front and center! A big button to order online! All in a nice, simple, high contrast black and white theme that is easy to navigate and devoid of clutter or dancing slices of pizza. This is how you do a mobile site for a restaurant, folks.

Now, on to the menu. We’ve tried Pi’s pizzas twice now (once for takeout, once dine-in), as well as a variety of their appetizers and sides.

While takeout is great, if you’re getting the deep dish style pizza, we recommend you dine-in. They’ve got a nice beer and cocktail selection, so that’s a plus.

Exhibit A: Dining in with a nice adult beverage

We tried the Pi Ravs, which were larger than I thought they would be and (I think) made in house. The tomato sauce on the pizza and appetizers from Pi is top-notch and we really enjoyed it.



We also got the not-so-cinis, which are like arancinis except baked, with fontina, mushrooms and kale. I enjoyed both, though the not-so-cinis are probably the healthier option of the two if you’re into that kind of thing.



We tried the kale-ifornication salad, which comes with toasted chickpeas and pickled onions. David’s had it twice now and really likes it.



I also ordered the beer & cheese soup, which was good, but more of a dip than a soup--it was a little too salty to eat on its own.


Sodium doesn't count as long as you don't know how much it has

When Pi first opened, they had a special pizza with goetta and skyline on it. While I think both on the same pie is overkill, I was very pleased to see goetta as a topping--surprisingly, it’s hard to find around here. While I didn’t see the goetta on the menu during our visit, I asked if they still had some and they’d be willing to put it on my pizza.

Our server responded “We don’t have goetta, but we have gorgonzola so that’s kinda the same thing.”

Erm, no. Busted.

After we explained that goetta was a meat and oats combo, not a cheese, and our server admitted he was from Houston and had no idea what goetta was, he went back to the kitchen to check. I got my goetta. I am very appreciative that Pi made the extra effort, and I want to ask them to take it a step farther--to place goetta on the menu as a regular topping.




If you agree, please let them know on Twitter. Together we can make the dream of goetta St. Louis style pizza a reality! Seriously Pi, you’ve already got Graeter’s ice cream as a dessert on the menu. Let’s go whole hog (pun intended) here and embrace the Cincinnati spirit.


David and I will be back to Pi to try the thin crust pizza, and I like that they have gluten free crust as well as a lot of vegetarian options. A thing to note about the deep dish pizzas--they take some time to cook, so if you’re in a rush, call ahead (or order on their aforementioned mobile site) or order some Pi Ravs instead.

Pi Pizzeria on Urbanspoon