Sunday, July 1, 2012

Nicholson's Tavern & Pub -- Under-appreciated Chef?

Mark Bodenstein has made a splash at other area restaurants, most notably the departed (and lamentedl) Chalk, in Covington. For several months now he's been cooking at Nicholson's in downtown Cincinnati. His talent shines through despite the lackluster, pub-grub menu.
Chef Bodenstein
We dined at Nicholson's on Friday near the end of the "Taste of Tavern Restaurant Week" -- a promotion at this and the group's three sister restaurants (Polo Grille, deSha's and The Pub at Rookwood) -- offering three courses for $25.
Our server forgot to give our party the special menu, and for the first 10 minutes we pondered the aforementioned pub menu. When we asked for, and she brought, the promotional menu, all four of us knew right away that these were the dishes that came from Chef Mark's heart.
The first course was a choice between Summer Corn Bisque with pickled chanterelles (yum) and a watermelon salad; we all chose the bisque and found it delicious.
Second course: potato gnocchi with summer beans or baby vegetable ratatouille; I had the veggies and the others went with the gnocchi.I'd say the gnocchi was more satisfying if only because the ratatouille had a too-rich cream sauce that overwhelmed the delicate vegetables.
Potato gnocchi

Finally, the main course was either pan roasted scallops or beef sirloin (my choice). Again, I thought the dish that I didn't choose was the more successful. My beef was very tough, and a tiny portion.
All told, it was an interesting meal and definitely a significant value.
As far as drinks, Nicholson's specializes in a mind-boggling selection of Scotch (not my thing, alas) and a lot of beers (also not anything I would drink). The cocktail list wasn't impressive, but the bartender is quite knowledgeable; he made me a personalized Old Fashioned with a little orange flower water that rocked. Also of note, Nicholson's offers Purple Trillium by the glass for $9 -- significantly less than I've seen it for elsewhere.
The place was fairly empty during the dinner hours, which I hope is just a summer aberration. I'd like to see this chef do well, and hope also that the regular menu will continue to move more in the direction of eclectic, regional American and away from the original Scottish-pub food that Nicholson's started with.
Pan roasted scallops

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