Even executives on unrestricted expense accounts are being more choosy these days about how often they dine out with co-workers and clients, from working breakfasts and lunches to seal-the-deal dinners. Cincy’s 2nd Annual Silver Spoon Awards helps point you in the right direction on restaurants. Whether you’re “on the clock” and need a safe choice with visiting customers, or ready to unwind and get adventurous on the weekend, this guide’s for you.
 
By the Editors
 
 
Justin Dumcum
Executive Chef and Operating Partner
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
 
To Justin Dumcum, it’s all about serving the freshest seafood he can, while still realizing that preparing dishes is as much an art form as a kitchen science. “Some foods need a little more love and guidance than others,” notes Dumcum, “and I think it’s important to understand the difference.”
 
Dumcum’s culinary career has been varied and far-ranging. Before becoming executive chef and operating partner at Downtown’s Oceanaire Seafood Room this year, he served as executive chef at Palomino Euro Bistro on Fountain Square and as executive chef at Jeff Ruby’s South Beach Grill at the Waterfront. He also has worked as sous chef at The Saint Paul Hotel, North Oaks Golf Club and Kincaid’s Fish, Chop and Steak House, all in St. Paul, Minn., and as executive chef at Kincaid’s in Norfolk, Va.

A graduate of St. Paul Technical College’s hotel and restaurant program, Dumcum is known as a stickler for detail. Each morning, he has fishermen from across the world e-mail him photos of their freshest catches. He then makes his choice of which fish to purchase based on those pictures.

Aside from a dozen varieties of oysters featured on The Oceanaire menu, Dumcum has been offering fresh crab caught in the Bering Sea off Alaska from one of the boats featured on The Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. His menu also includes a wide variety of unusual — and unusually prepared — fare such as grilled Cape Neddick sea scallops with lobster sauce, crispy fried whole arctic char with citrus soy glaze, and pan-roasted skate wing with brown butter vinaigrette

His philosophy as chef? “To have an understanding of the food you are using,” observes Dumcum.

QDescribe what you might consider to be a signature dish, something that stretched you creatively and that both you and customers were exceptionally pleased with.

A
I am quite pleased with our panko crusted halibut cheeks with a mango slaw and sweet Thai chili beurre blanc.

Q What do you think is one of the most underrated ingredients?
A
I have always been a fan of simply using a little salt, and now, with all the different flavors and textures available, salt can completely change the dynamics of even the simplest dish.

Q What is a kitchen tool you cannot live without?
A
I’ve always felt comfortable with my 7-inch Japanese chef’s knife (about $90).

Q What’s your favorite comfort food at home?
A
I don’t think it’s called comfort food, but I would say either lime Doritos or chocolate ice cream.

Q Do you have a favorite cookbook or cooking show?
A
I really enjoy The French Laundry Cookbook, simply because Thomas Keller is one of the most innovative chefs I’ve seen. Cooking show would have to be Top Chef (airing on the Bravo channel).

Q If you could teleport yourself to anyplace in the world to select any meat, seafood, vegetable, fruit or herb to cook with this afternoon, what would it be, and from where?
A
I would love to go back to Missouri, when I was 8 years old, and pick apples in my back yard, or berries from the neighbors’ yard, or tomatoes from my mother’s garden.
Felix Winternitz


 
Julie Francis
Owner and Chef
Nectar
 
With the natural eye of a photographer, Julie Francis has a talent for presenting food that is visually appealing. But what stirs her the most about cooking is the details that may escape the eye, but stimulate the palate: the substances that compose a dish.
 
“The challenge for me is to create something with the fresh produce that I buy locally,” explains Francis, owner and chef of Nectar in Mount Lookout Square. “Recently I had local baby beets, turnips, carrots and spring onions. I needed a second salad on the menu, so I roasted all the vegetables and combined them with a creamy vinaigrette made with local eggs and tarragon that I bought from another farmer. We garnished that with pickled red onions and capers. I think our regular customers like to try new things on the menu, and they enjoyed that.”
 
A native Cincinnatian, Francis was studying photography at the University of Arizona when she took a restaurant job. “I was working waiting tables, and one day I said, ‘I hate this. I’d rather cook.’ So they invited me into the kitchen.”
 
That step led her to a variety of culinary experiences in some of the more innovative restaurants in New Mexico and Colorado — including standout work at Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and Galiesteo Inn — and a turn as stagiaire (apprentice) at Montrachet in New York City.
Francis entered the world of cuisine having learned to appreciate good food and wine from her family. Her father, Dr. Herbert Francis, has chaired the Cincinnati chapter of the Society of Bacchus for more than 30 years. Her grandparents helped instill in her the notion that simple recipes with good ingredients can result in exceptional eating.
 
In 1999 she returned home as chef de cuisine at Trio restaurant in Kenwood. The following year, she took the bold step of opening her own place, Aioli. Over five years at that Downtown spot, Francis earned strong reviews for her creative dishes and established her forte: dishes that change with the seasons, in tune with fresh, organic products.
 
With the move to Nectar in 2006, she’s continuing that tradition, looking for exceptional items at Findlay Market, purchasing meats and eggs (hormone and chemical free) from area sources such as Turner Farm and Greenacres, and organic produce from local growers such as Nancy Ogg, Bob Porter and Sallie Ransohoff.
 
“Beginning with Aioli, I wanted something different, and to work with the seasons,” she explains. “It’s more fun for me, and for someone who’s really into dining. People respond to the freshness and the difference.”
 
Q One of the most underrated ingredients?
A
Local eggs.

Q Kitchen tool you cannot live without?
A
A good sharp knife, Sabatier brand ($80).
 
Q Favorite comfort food at home?
A
Grape Nuts with soy milk.

Q Favorite cookbook or cooking show?
A
Deborah Madison’s Greens Cook Book.
 
Q If you could teleport yourself to anyplace to select anything to cook with today, what would it be, and where?
A
I would love to be on the Mediterranean coast of France, shopping for fish and vegetables at the market to make a bouillabaisse.
Greg Loomis


 
John Lee
Executive Sushi Chef
Apsara

 
Apsara’s Executive Sushi Chef John Lee trained in a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan for 15 years before moving to Cincinnati, where he began working at Teak Thai Cuisine and Sushi Bar in Mount Adams. He worked at Teak Thai for about six months before he was hired at Apsara when it opened in August 2007.
 
Lee says sushi tastes are much different here than on the East Coast. He’s learning what Cincinnatians like, and adjusting his creations accordingly. Currently, the most popular specialty roll at Apsara is the “The Playboy” (spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, mango and asparagus, topped with cooked shrimp, sriracha, mayonnaise and furikake, finished with eel sauce, wrapped in foil and then barbecued tableside).
 
“I like to take typical rolls and do a twist to them,” says Lee, who enjoys working with ingredients such as mango, cilantro, jalapeno and cream cheese. Americans seem to prefer “fusion sushi” which incorporates familiar tropical and South American ingredients.
 
Years ago, Jennifer Lopez came into his Manhattan restaurant, and at her request Lee came up with a made-to-order roll with smoked salmon, mango, cream cheese and yellowtail, deep fried in tempura batter, finished with his original eel sauce, sriracha and almonds. “She loved it! I asked her if I could name this after her, and she said yes.” Lee brought this composition to Apsara, and the “J Lo Roll” is now called the “Blue Ash Roll.”
 
Q Your dishes vary often according to market ingredients available at different times and seasons. Given that, could you describe what you might consider to be a signature dish, something that stretched you creatively and that both you and customers were exceptionally pleased with?
A
Salmon Nuta, a roll of salmon, radishes, and nuta sauce wrapped in rice paper. The nuta sauce consists of miso paste, rice vinegar, cooking wine and sake. The customers love it.
 
Q What do you think is one of the most underrated ingredients?
A
Yuzu sauce, based on juice from the Japanese citrus fruit, yuzu, which is similar to a lemon. I’ve developed a twist to the typical yuzu sauce by incorporating wasabi.
 
Q What is a kitchen tool you cannot live without?
A
That would be my Honyaki knife. It is almost like (a part of) me. (The knife costs more than $1,000, so it’s easy to understand why nobody handles the knife but the chef, and it’s only used for cutting sushi and sashimi.)
 
Q What’s your favorite comfort food at home?
A
Udon noodle soup. At home, I make my own style using seafood, usually clams, and vegetables.
 
Q Do you have a favorite cookbook or cooking show?
A
Nobu: The Cookbook, by sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
 
Q If you could teleport yourself to anyplace in the world to select any meat, seafood, vegetable, fruit or herb to cook with this afternoon, what would it be, and from where?
A
Paris. (Note: Never having traveled there, he’s not sure which ingredient he’d select. In the future, he hopes to work in the City of Lights for a short stint, learning new techniques.)
Michelle J. Smith


 
2008 silver spoons awards winners
BEST VIEWS
Celestial Steakhouse, Mount Adams
The Chart House, Newport
Primavista, Price Hill
Sky Galley, Columbia-Tusculum

BEST OUTDOOR DINING
Quarter Bistro, Mariemont
Via Vite, Downtown

BEST RENOVATION OR REOPENING
Blackfinn, Downtown
Primavista, Price Hill

BEST DINNER ENTERTAINMENT
Dave & Buster’s Murder Mystery Theatre, Springdale
Funny Bone Comedy Club & Restaurant, Newport

BEST TRENDY SPOT IN THE CITY
Lavomatic, Over-the-Rhine
Twist Lounge, Downtown
Via Vite, Downtown
Seny, Walnut Hills

BEST TRENDY SPOT IN THE BURBS
mesh, West Chester
Quarter Bistro, Mariemont
Brown Dog Café, Blue Ash
Before and After…

BEST “WOW” APPETIZER
Boca (“Prosciutto San Daniele con Mozzarella de Bufala”), Oakley
Pleasant Ridge Chili (French Fries with Gravy and Cheese)

BEST SALAD
Polo Grille (Citrus Salad), Mason
Dewey’s Pizza (Candied Walnut and Grape Salad), multiple locations

BEST DESSERT IN A FUN PLACE
York Street Café (Butter Rum Pecan Pudding Cake), Newport
Getting Down to Business…

BEST PLACE TO IMPRESS A CLIENT
The Celestial Steakhouse, Mount Adams
Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Downtown

BEST PLACE TO CELEBRATE THE CLOSE OF A BIG DEAL
The Palace, Downtown

BEST “WOW” CLASSY DECOR
Orchids at Palm Court, Downtown

BEST JAPANESE FOR BUSINESS CLIENTS
Jo An Japanese Restaurant, Erlanger

BEST DINING IN A PRIVATE ROOM
Chalk Food+Wine, Covington
Oceanaire Seafood Room, Downtown
Soho Japanese Bistro, West Chester
Teller’s of Hyde Park, Hyde Park

BEST BUSINESS BREAKFAST
Daybreak, Hyde Park
The Echo, Hyde Park
First Watch, multiple locations
Hathaway’s Coffee Shop, Downtown

BEST NETWORKING IN THE BURBS
Jag’s Steak & Seafood, West Chester

BEST SUBURBAN LUNCH FOR SERIOUS BUSINESS
Trio, Kenwood

BEST CASUAL WORKING LUNCH, CENTRAL
Arnold’s, Downtown
Arthur’s, Hyde Park
The Coffee Shop on Madison, O’Bryonville
The Cricket Lounge, Downtown
Nicholson’s, Downtown
Pike Street Press, Covington

BEST CASUAL WORKING LUNCH, SUBURBS
Panera, multiple locations
Tazza Mia, West Chester
Dilly Deli, Mariemont
BBQ Revue, Madisonville

BEST LUNCH DELIVERED
C’est Bon, Downtown
Fred and Gari’s, Downtown
Leboxx Café, Downtown
Off the clock…

BEST BRUNCH FOR FAMILIES
Chez Nora, Covington
Parker’s Blue Ash Grill, Blue Ash
Polo Grille, Mason

BEST BRUNCH FOR SINGLES
Teller’s of Hyde Park, Hyde Park

BEST “RAT PACK” 1960s ERA VIBE
Steak and martinis at Maury’s Tiny Cove, Cheviot

BEST DON CORLEONE VIBE
Trattoria Roma, Downtown
Scotti’s, Downtown

BEST OFFBEAT DELI
Otto’s Deli, Covington
Talking About Special Dishes….

BEST ECLECTIC-FUSION CUISINE
Cumin, Hyde Park
Nada, Downtown

BEST BIG STEAK
Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Downtown
Morton’s, Downtown
The Precinct, Columbia-Tusculum

BEST CREATIVE STEAK
Eddie Merlot’s, Montgomery
Carlo & Johnny, Montgomery
Red, Hyde Park

BEST BEEF OVERDOSE
Boi Na Braza, Downtown

BEST CRAB CAKE
Oceanaire Seafood Room, Downtown

BEST WILD ALASKA SALMON
McCormick & Schmick’s, Downtown

BEST HALIBUT
Mitchell’s Fish Market, Newport and West Chester

BEST BLUEFIN TUNA
Mount Adams Fish House, Mount Adams

BEST FRESH OYSTERS
Oceanaire Seafood Room, Downtown
Washington Platform, Downtown

BEST OSSO BUCO
Barresi’s, Deer Park

BEST POLENTA
NuVo, Florence
BEST MODERN TIRAMISU
Nicola’s Ristorante, Downtown
Vincenzo’s, Sharonville
 
BEST ITALIAN COMFORT FOOD
Scotti’s, Downtown

BEST WILD GAME
Daveed’s at 934, Mount Adams

BEST ORGANIC, LOCALMARKET INGREDIENTS
Nectar, Mount Lookout
Slim’s, Northside

BEST CREATIVE BURRITOS
Javier’s, Downtown

BEST MEXICAN COMBO
Abuelo’s (Bacon-wrapped grilled beef tenderloin and shrimp), Crestview Hills

BEST LOCAL WINERY
StoneBrook, Camp Springs
Vinoklet, Colerain

BEST CREATIVE SOUTHERN CUISINE
Hugo, Oakley

BEST CREATIVE SUSHI
Apsara, Blue Ash
Beluga, Hyde Park
Green Papaya, Hyde Park


BEST BURGER
Anderson Township Pub
City View Tavern, Mount Adams
Zip’s, Mount Lookout
Arthur’s, Hyde Park

BEST CAJUN
Knotty Pine on the Bayou, Cold Spring

BEST PIZZA
Adriatico’s, Clifton
Dewey’s, multiple locations
Fratelli’s, West Chester
The Works, Loveland
Pomidori’s, Montgomery and Clifton

BEST VEGETARIAN
Amma’s, Roselawn
Brij Mohan, Sharonville
Indigo, Hyde Park
Melt, Northside

BEST INDIAN CURRY
Ambar, Clifton
Amol, Clifton

BEST DIM SUM
Uncle Yip’s, Sharonville

BEST CLASSY CHINESE
Grand Oriental, Mason
 
BEST EASTERN EUROPEAN
Iron Skillet, Newtown

BEST LAMB KABOBS
Andy’s Mediterranean Grille, Walnut Hills

BEST KOREAN
Riverside Korean, Covington

BEST INDONESIAN
Gaja Wong, Northside

BEST FRESH THAI
Wild Ginger, Hyde Park
Lemon Grass, Hyde Park

BEST THAI FISH
Teak Thai, Mount Adams

BEST SUBURBAN THAI
Foreign Exchange, Anderson Township

BEST GYRO
Mythos, Downtown
Sebastian’s, Western Hills
For Your Comfort…

BEST CINCINNATI CHILI(independently owned)
Dixie Chili, Newport
Price Hill Chili, Price Hill
Blue Ash Chili, Blue Ash
Camp Washington Chili, Camp Washington

BEST AUTHENTIC ROADSIDE MEXICAN
Taqueria Mercado, Fairfield

BEST SMOOTHIE
Dave & Buster’s, Springdale
Silverglades, multiple locations

BEST SOFT-SERVE ICE CREAM
Putz’s Creamy Whip, Mount Airy

BEST CAFETERIA
IKEA, West Chester

BEST HEALTHFUL TREAT
Yagoot, Norwood

BEST GATOR (AS IN ALLI-GATOR)
Allyn’s Café, Columbia-Tusculum
Libations…

BEST HAPPY HOUR
deSha’s, Montgomery
Palomino, Downtown

BEST SIGNATURE COCKTAIL
Palomino (“Lavender Cosmpopolitan”), Downtown
Below Zero Lounge (“The Metro”), Downtown

BEST BIG BOOK WINE LIST
Morton’s, Downtown

BEST SUPRISING WINE SELECTION
20 Brix, Milford
Dilly Deli, Mariemont
Vineyard Café, Hyde Park

BEST WINE BY THE GLASS
Trio’s, Kenwood

BEST BEER SELECTION
Nicholson’s, Downtown
Molly Malone’s, Pleasant Ridge
Mulligan’s, Hyde Park
The Pub, Norwood
Service Counts…

BEST SOMMELIER
Bryant Phillips, Chalk Food+Wine, Covington

BEST MAITRE D’
Richard Brown, Jean-Robert at Pigall’s, Downtown

BEST SINGING WAITERS
Vito’s Cafe, Fort Thomas