Brunch at Via Vite a weekend affair

viavet-12-2014In Greater Cincinnati, Fountain Square is the epicenter…where you’ll find Via Vite restaurant and a weekend brunch like no other.

Via Vite’s brunch is special in many ways, being offered Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m…two days, and longer hours than most. The real distinction is to be found on the menu of this popular Italian restaurant. The selections allow for modest appetites to hearty eaters, all with an Italian twist.

“Via Vite prides itself on being the most authentic Italian experience available in Greater Cincinnati,” says Shawn McCabe, private events manager at the restaurant. “We utilize the absolute freshest ingredients, we have a scratch daily kitchen with the finest culinary talent, directed hands-on by Chef Cristian Pietoso, as well as Joel Werner, chef de cuisine.”

So what will you find on this remarkable brunch menu? The standout favorite, according to McCabe, is the Tuscan breakfast: a plate of pork belly, fagioli (beans, Italian style), fried egg and grilled bread. Now that’s Italian!

Another dish in the hearty category is the goetta hash, combining deeply Cincinnati (the goetta) with especially Tuscan Italian (the hash). The hash is near and dear to Chef Cristian Pietoso’s heart, he having grown up on it in his native Tuscany.

Dining at Symphony Hotel harkens America’s gilded age


Back in the 19th century, there was an element of grandeur to be found at upscale dining scenes, especially if situated in “hotels.” Elegant settings, fine cuisine, special service: a real experience. You will find that at the Historic Dining Room of the Symphony Hotel near Cincinnati’s iconic Music Hall and magnificent Washington Park.

Dining at the Symphony Hotel differs from the average restaurant experience. You’ll need to reserve a table, and the best way to do that is by email—email is easiest and encouraged. There are three evenings that dining is offered at the hotel: Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Also, there is a Sunday brunch.

Wednesday diners experience a 3-course offering, while a 5-course meal is served on the weekends from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. The menu options are limited, but each evening, there are entrée options featuring: beef, fish, chicken or vegetarian. When you make the reservation, you will be asked to select one of the four entrée options, so your entrée is set before you arrive. The five courses served on weekends include: soup, salad, sorbet, entrée and dessert.

“Every meal is hand-crafted and we take special care with every aspect of the preparation that way,” said Colleen Iles, GM of the hotel. “We are able to keep food costs down and to serve a really special, elegant meal to our guests by approaching the meals in this way (arranging for the patron to choose the entrée at the time of reserving the table). I receive the email and I confirm by email the reservation and the entrée choices made by the guests in the party.”

Along with the 5-course Friday-Saturday dinner, there is live music from 8-11 p.m., styled and toned for the dining experience. The Sunday brunch is offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and features entrée options that range from $8.95 to $12.95.

Part of the elegance of these meals is the setting. The hotel is one of a handful of boutique hotels scattered around the country. There are nine guest rooms in all, each named after a famous composer of classical music. Rooms are fitted in period antiques. Each room carries a composer sobriquet such as the Beethoven, Schubert, Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Mahler, and so on.

“We do package stays for guests spending a special time with us, an anniversary or birthday or maybe part of a get-away weekend,” said Iles, speaking of the 24/7 hotel operation she manages. The package may feature a bottle of champagne in the room, along with arrangements for a special dinner in the Dining Room.

“Many times, we have had groups for bachelorette parties stay here after their celebration (also at the hotel) because the guests don’t want to chance driving home after a night of partying,” she said. The hotel offers party services, such as the bachelorette party, along with other special events such as wine dinners, wine, bourbon, or tequila tastings.

There is a rooftop deck at the hotel, and many guests take a bottle of wine up there to enjoy the weather and the view. The Symphony Hotel and Restaurant… a must see!

Ambar India Restaurant Group celebrates 20 years

classicchickentandooriIn Greater Cincinnati, being in the restaurant biz for 20 years is a milestone few eateries reach. Those doing so are pleasing customers with good, quality food and consistency in the kitchen. The Ambar group of restaurants is doing just that, according to Jesse Singh, founder and owner of five locations of Indian eateries in the Greater Cincinnati area.

So what’s the secret to his success? “We are celebrating 20 years and there is no secret recipe or anything. The secret is quality, and consistency. Nothing frozen here (except spinach); we use all fresh ingredients. Our chicken is fresh, not frozen, and that costs more (about $40 more, per crate, he said). But it is better quality, giving you better flavor and a better dish.”

He mentioned other ingredients, too: “The same with our rice, basmati rice; higher quality than regular. Some Indian restaurants use basmati, but cut it with cheaper Asian rice. When you do that, there is a big difference in food cost, but the quality of the food is not good. We want the quality and the consistency, and that is why our customers keep coming back.”

The Ambar group includes: Ambar, the original, in Clifton near University of Cincinnati; Baba India, in Oakley; Akash India, on 6th Street downtown; Kanak India, in Montgomery; and Guru India, off Buttermilk Pike in Northern Kentucky.

The cuisine at Ambar’s five locations is Northern Indian in style, flavor and taste.

That means a heavy emphasis on vegetables, and the use of more cream and butter than in Indian food from the southern region of the country. Many believe that the British had the greatest impact on Northern Indian foods. Not so, says Singh: “Actually, the cuisine of Northern India was heavily influenced by Central Asia before the British came. Central Asians were meat-eaters, and before those peoples came, Indian cuisine was primarily vegetarian. Not many animal products at all.

“What the British did was send the tastes of India around the world,” he said. At that time in their history, Englishmen were proud of saying the sun never set on the British Empire. Wherever British influence was present, so too were some of the cultural influences Imperial England brought with it from other parts of the world. A taste for Indian food was one of those.

So the cuisine of Northern India is the specialty of the house. Ethnic Indians favor Ambar over other Indian eateries because the food is authentic, and because there are many vegetarian selections, according to Singh. “Vegetarian food is healthier for you—that’s the common perception in India. Garlic and ginger are good for you, and we use it in our cooking. And if you want to enjoy all the flavors, don’t overdo the spiciness. We can do each dish as spicy as you want it—one to six (six is hair-on-fire hot!). I recommend a three or four at most, because you want to taste all the subtleties of the flavors.”

“At Ambar, we highlight what our customers like to eat. Spinach dishes are very popular; chick peas, lentils, rice dishes—all very popular. Also, popular are the chicken, lamb and fish dishes.”

Among the most ordered dishes is the chicken tikka masala, featuring lightly broiled chicken, cooked in a savory tomato, onion and butter sauce. Eaten with fresh-made naan (Indian style flatbread), and this dish will wow you. But there are dozens of dishes on the Ambar group menu. We at Key are betting you’ll enjoy any one you choose.

See you at one of Ambar group’s five locations.

Savor summer with Palomino “Save & Taste” offers


August is THE month to visit Palomino Restaurant & Bar overlooking Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati.

Why? Because there are summertime specials you can enjoy all month long, according to Nelson Castillo, GM at Palomino. He related three deals in place for those who visit Palomino during August.

“We wanted to create excitement for the summer, so we have the $10 lunch special for all our guests,” he said. The $10 luncheon special includes these choices: the bianco pizza; the salsiccia fresca pizza; the pollo e spinaci pizza; any soup and salad combination; and the pasta with soup or salad combination, which must be accompanied by the purchase of any beverage. The $10 lunch special will spill over into September as well.

The “Play of the Day” Happy Hour is another summertime deal at Palomino. Anytime the Cincinnati Reds play a home game, head to the Palomino lounge and enjoy $2 draft beer, $4 bloody Marys, and $5 artisan pepperoni pizzas all day. The special game-day pricing is available before, during and after the games, and the lounge at Palomino is a great gathering place for socializing. So game-day, head to Palomino’s lounge.

A third opportunity to enjoy a great deal at Palomino is Greater Cincinnati’s summer Restaurant Week. The week is August 11-17, and participating eateries generally offer a special meal deal. Palomino has taken that deal to a higher level, according to Castillo. “We wanted to make our offering something really special, really top notch. So we included a diner’s choice of a glass of house wine or draft beer to the fixed-price 3-course meal. And also, we created a special Chef Selection menu with a variety of entrée items on it, so that our guests can pick from a variety of meals rather than just one or two,” he said.

The Chef Selection menu includes two steak features, along with seafood and other options. Palomino has raised the bar even farther for Restaurant Week by featuring USDA prime steaks. One is an 8-ounce New York strip with creamed spinach and herb-roasted redskin potatoes. The second is a 12-ounce rib-eye, lightly blackened, and served with Yukon mashed potatoes, caramelized onions and mushrooms.

The Palomino Restaurant Week entry is a knockout, based on what we at Key magazine know about this annual event in Greater Cincinnati. Combined with the $10 lunch special and the Play of the Day Happy Hour, visitors and area residents alike have three delicious ways to experience one of Cincinnati’s finest fine-dining restaurants for less.

You can learn more about Palomino specials and other happenings on Facebook social media or check out the full menu at

Barresi’s Italian cuisine pleasing crowds

Remember 1963? Few do. Here in Greater Cincinnati, that year saw Barresi’s Italian restaurant come on the scene.

In the restaurant biz, being around for 50+ years is staying power. Visitors looking for exquisite, authentic Italian dishes, both northern and southern regional specialties, will find them and more at Barresi’s.

Veal (vitello) is the house specialty at Barresi’s. “It is so hard to find good veal dishes in this town (or perhaps outside the Big Apple and Philly and a few other enclaves of Italian ethnicity), pounded perfectly thin, melt-in-your-mouth, treated the right way, cooked the right way,” says owner and chef Sarah Wagner. “I’d say those (veal) dishes are what locals know us for and come here for time and time again.”

There are five veal entrée specialties in all: classic marsala, the mushroom sauce with pine nuts and marsala wine; a hospital nutrition endorsed heart-healthy piccata al limone, sauced in butter, white wine, lemon and capers; francese, the veal dipped in seasoned fresh egg, and sautéed over gentle heat in butter and lemon; sentino, finished with asparagus, mushrooms and crabmeat in a cream and cheese sauce; and parmigiana, in marinara sauce capped with parmesan and provolone cheeses.

Of course, you could choose pasta, such as the lobster ravioli in sauce Cardinale, and topped with lump crabmeat: or gnocchi in pesto ala Barresi, which is a creamy pesto with a touch of Alfredo sauce added to the basil-oil base; or chicken alla panna, done up over fettuccine and in Alfredo sauce, the add-ins including sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and scallions.

Or try what Wagner characterizes as Barresi’s biggest crowd-pleaser, the chicken & crab gorgonzola. “People may have the impression of gorgonzola cheese being strong and pungent, but our sauce is mellow and mild and absolutely bursting with flavor, and we have guests, regulars, who come here and never look at the menu and that’s their dish, every time,” Wagner said.

Dinner salads are a showcase feature at Barresi’s as well. The fried calamari Caesar tops the list, and is a mainstay. A special heart-healthy selection is the Mediterranean grilled tuna, featuring a bed of spring greens, mixed with kalamata olives, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, capped with sear-grilled medium rare wild-caught tuna, and accompanied by prosecco vinaigrette

Riverfront Pizza: Big eats for small bucks

Visitors looking for good, simple meals at very friendly prices will find all that at Riverfront Pizza.  Nothing fancy, mind you, but one of those places where “locals go to eat.”

“We’ve been here for 31 years, and the way we go about it hasn’t changed,” says Randy Gearding, owner.  “Do the food part right, keep prices low, and give people what they want.  That brings people in, and I like a full house.”

Notice from the size of the burger and hoagie in the photo that there is no skimping on portions at Riverfront Pizza.  With fast-food bigwigs less than a football field away selling their burgers, Gearding did not think a burger would sell at his place.  But oh well, he decided to add burgers to the menu, and even he cannot believe how many he sells, especially while in the veritable shadow of the Fast-food Giants.

What does that tell you?  To us at Key magazine, it says better food, more of it, and at a very attractive price.  And the burgers at Riverfront Pizza are hand crafted and actually look appetizing, instead of looking like they were thrown together assembly-line fashion by someone who is double-parked.
Same goes for the hoagie sandwiches.  Hoagies give pizzas a run for top billing at Riverfront Pizza, even though pizza has always been the anchor. “People like the hoagies because they make a great sandwich—a meal really, and we make them fresh when you order them,” Gearding said.  So that means your sandwich is not pre-made and sitting under a warming lamp, waiting for you or someone else to come along.

The hoagie list is 12 deep, and favorites include: a steak, with pizza or mushroom sauce, onions and cheese; a 4-way, with deli meats, pizza sauce and cheese melted on top; meatballs, halved, with sauce, pickles and cheese; roast beef, kitted out with mushroom sauce and cheese, or lettuce tomato and mayo; a tuna salad and chicken salad version.