Saturday, August 16, 2014

Restaurant review: Presidents Room @ the Phoenix (Restaurant Week)

We took the opportunity of Cincinnati Restaurant Week -- which runs through 8/18 -- to try the newly reopened restaurant at the Phoenix, downtown. The chef who opened Enoteca Emilia a few years ago is now chef at the Phoenix, and you can see some of the same menu items that he cooked at Enoteca.
But I think the cured meat and cheese plate, pickled dishes and such unusual pasta dishes as Spaghetti Nero actually worked better at the casual, boisterous Enoteca than at the staid -- and rather stuffy -- old Phoenix.
For Restaurant Week, as at all the other higher-end participating establishments, you choose three courses for $35 from a significantly limited menu. First course choices were a couple of salads or what they called clam chowder, which my husband and I both ordered. It was a tasty enough soup but the greenish puree included just a few tiny pieces of clam and was lukewarm. It was only OK.
Same had to be said for the entree choices -- quail, the spaghetti Nero, a vegetarian dish with polenta and a fried egg, and a pork dish. I tried the polenta and it too arrived lukewarm; the fried egg didn't add anything special to the flavor profile and all in all was rather bland.
My husband had the spaghetti, which was spicy thanks to chorizo breadcrumbs tossed throughout, but I'm afraid it was otherwise unremarkable.
Popcorn Polenta (but nothing popped--?) @ Phoenix

Another thing we didn't care for was the "fried biscuits" that they served instead of rolls or regular dinner bread. They were greasy and unappealing.
Dessert was somewhat better -- I enjoyed the sweet corn panna cotta but didn't like the (again greasy) little crullers that came with it. He had their version of German chocolate cake with a small scoop of vanilla bean gelato. The cake was cloyingly sweet and the gelato ho-hum.
Phoenix desserts: German Cake (l) and Panna Cotta

The evening started with a very good Sazarac cocktail, and (I remember this from the old Phoenix) the wine by the glass choices were nice. That's a reliable thing carrying over from the restaurant's glory days: excellent libations.
I hope this experience was just a Restaurant Week (RW) miscue, but alas, it didn't make me want to rush back.
I think many restaurants screw up RW by trying to serve the least expensive things they have in the kitchen so they can make money on the $35-for-three-courses deal. But in my opinion RW should be seized as an opportunity to gain new customers. Serve your very best stuff and make everyone want to bring their friends and family again. We've see other local restaurants do that -- for instance, La Poste and Metropole last year. It seemed to us that the new Presidents Room was filled with people who hadn't been there before, all ordering from the limited menu (even though the regular menu was available), and I can't imagine that too many fellow patrons made return reservations on their way out.
It was disappointing, but so it goes.