*****Update: Bootsy's is now closed, and is slated to re open in the new year, sans Bootsy. ********
I’m getting a reputation around the office for being a chowhound, and I’ve been asked a couple times if I’ve tried Bootsy’s (or Bootsy’s as Produced by Jeff Ruby).
When my Mom wanted to go there for our weekly happy hour, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out.
My Grandmother was Puerto Rican, and she passed a lot of her recipes onto my Mother. Rice and chicken, or Arroz con pollo, was always a mainstay in our house. My mother also has made Maduras and Tostones, plantains prepared different ways. All of these things are available at Bootsy’s, which has sushi, main plates, and Latin inspired tapas.
Bootsy’s is right next to Nicholson’s, where Uno’s/za used to be. Look for the purple building. It has two floors. I walked in at around 5:15 and it was very quiet. The bar upstairs and the lounge area are first come, first serve seating. I chilled at the bar for about 40 minutes, sipping on a Hurricane Mary made with light and dark rums and raspberries ($8.00) and taking pictures of the bar.
One of the first things I noticed was the amount of décor on the walls. There is tons of stuff to look at. There are lots of little rooms and lots of shiny things on the walls and lots and lots of bright lights.
The whole place has a sort of morrocan-spanish-bourbon street/vegas feel. Also, there is a very nice outdoor patio with heat lamps overlooking the street, which I would have ventured out too if it was not so cold.
The third thing I noticed was the lounge waitresses’ uniforms.
I’d be interested to know who was behind that decision. Someone that likey the cleavage, apparently. I was surprised the servers weren’t freezing—the uniform consists of a black mini-skirt and pink ruffled halter, dropped low in the front and open in the back, black tights and heels.
I really hope the lounge waitresses are getting paid well for being ogled on a daily basis.
My mother, brother and David joined me at around 6, and we took a seat at a table by the bar. This is where the pictures end, unfortunately, because many of the tables at Bootsy’s are semi transparent plastic with red lights inside them.
Nifty, yes, but all the food was surrounded by a red florescent glow. We tried color correcting for the red, but it just turned all the pictures green. I gave up trying to photographically document the meal and instead decided to enjoy my dinner and company rather than curse under my breath about the light level.
Our waitress brought out bread for the table, which was grilled. Points for Bootsy’s on grilling their bread. We all know how I feel about toasting. It was served with some sort of Plantain paste that complemented the bread very well. I’d be very interested in knowing what’s in it. It looked orange, but then again with the table, everything did. It had a nice, nutty flavor that complemented the crunchy bread. I liked it a lot.
David wanted the Ruby Roll ($16.00) with Tuna, Salmon, Yellowtail Crunch, Spicy Sauce and Avocado. He liked the sushi and gobbled it up, especially the crispy soy instead of seaweed wrapping.
I was curious to see how the Calamari ($10.00), prepared with Candied Chili, Cilantro, Black Garlic Aioli stacked up. When it came out, I tried a few and found it pleasantly different than what I’d had before. I picked up on the candied chili immediately. I liked it well enough, but after a few bites, I’d had enough. It’s a good thing I was sharing.
What I really was after was the Braised Pork Belly (11.00) – served with Ulmo Honey, Onion Marmalade and one Tostone. It was delicious, and I’d say it was my favorite dish of the night. It was buttery and rich and I shared it with everyone…though I wanted to eat it all myself.
David also got the Duck Tacos ($9.00) including Fresh Corn Tortillas, Queso Fresco, and Apricot-Mango Salsa. I liked them and so did David.
My Mom wanted to know how the Arroz con Pollo ($19.00) cooked with Sweet Peppers, and Garlic was, so she ordered that to share. The chicken was a little on the dry side, and there was definitely plenty of garlic in it. The rice was well cooked and we all liked that. Sorry Bootsy, my Mom wins the Arroz con Pollo showdown.
We had done our research and saw that the Plaintains three ways-- Tostones, Maduras & Mariquitas ($8.00) were highly recommended.
Since we had made both Tostones and Maduras often at home, we were curious to see Jeff Ruby’s take on them. Tostones are Plantains sliced and fried, then smashed and fried again.
They were pretty good, but I think they had spent a bit too much time in the fryer the second time around, so they were a little dry. They’re pretty tricky to make. The Maduras, or sweet Plaintains, were very good. The Mariquitas were Plantains sliced longways, nice and crispy. I’d recommend this dish—it would be pretty difficult to dislike.
My brother got the Ropa Vieja-- Pulled Cuban Short Ribs, Arepa Cake and Queso Fresco ($9.00)
It was pretty good. I only tried a little, so my findings are still in limbo.
As for drinks, David and I must warn you, Bootsy’s has no beers on tap. They only have bottles. I saw some Chimay red on the list, but David stuck with two Bass beers that were 4.50 each. Ouch. That’s as bad as Mortons, Bootsy. Minus points.
I got a grasshopper martini, ($8.00) with mint, crème de cocao and crème de menthe in it. I liked it well enough, until I realized it did not go with any of the food on the menu. A mint martini with Spanish style tapas? Blargh. I set it aside and stuck with water.
I should have gotten the white sangria, with midori in it, but I didn’t see it until it was too late. My mom got the red Sangria ($6.00), and she liked it.
For dessert, my Mom got the Flan ($6.00), and David wanted to try the Keylime pie tart ($6.00). The Flan had some different flavors of lemon in it. David, ever apt, said it reminded him of the way a urinal cake smells. Mom and Jimmy agreed it was “meh”.
The Keylime pie was better, though. I liked it and it was big enough to share.
There was some sort of Manager in a suit wondering around and he noticed us struggling to put the leftover rice and chicken in a box and took it back to the kitchen to box it for us. He was also clearing tables and talking to patrons. I was very impressed by that. I’d say the service at Bootsy’s is above average. Our server was excellent…. Though right before we left there was the following exchange.
My Mom asked our waitress a few questions about the menu, and also inquired if the Chef was Latin.
She thought for a moment, and then shook her head. “No...” she said. “He’s from Spain.”
We must have all looked sufficiently puzzled because she caught herself.
“…I sound really blond right now, don’t I? I was horrible at geography.”
A new challenge I discovered with tapas is that having about 12 dishes on the table results in a very crowded space. Getting to the dish I wanted without knocking anything over or dunking my elbow in vieja was a little like one of those little cheapo puzzles with the plastic blocks in it—you know, where you try and complete the picture by moving the squares around. That just comes from tapas territory, though. There's no avoiding that.
So, Booty’s first round—service is good, bar feel and restaurant feel is fun. Lots of flashy flashy lights and interesting dishes. Yay for Pork Belly.
Not so good—some of the dishes are still in need of a little tweaking. They really need to get some taps in there and cut out beer bottle price gouging. My Mom’s chicken and rice beats up theirs and takes its lunch money. Lounge waitress uniforms belong in cheesy strip club.
David and I both agree that tapas style restaurants are an excellent concept, and we encourage more restaurants in Cincinnati to open and follow that model.
We both like getting little dishes of interesting things to share. I think Bootsy’s will succeed and that a lot of people will really like it. I really like the lounge areas with open seating—they encourage large groups to gather their after work and would be great for a couple drinks with coworkers after 5. I think David and I might go back in a couple months.