Palomino mixes excellent views of city, with Mediterranean flair

10 12 2009

We’re going to try something a little different today at The Good, The Bad and the Really Crappy – a restaurant review.

While this blog is devoted to reviewing books and movies on a timely basis – I promise there are quite a few in the pipeline (Rhett Butler’s People and The Angel’s Game, as well as a fun breakdown of holiday movies perfect for any occasion) – a restaurant review is necessary because I couldn’t find any online when I was trying to discover anything about a particular restaurant in downtown Cincinnati.

Palomino Restaurant Rotisseria and Bar

505 Vine Street

Cincinnati, OH 45202

Hours: M-Th 11 am – 11 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am – 12 am, Sun 3 pm – 11 pm

CINCINNATI – An excellent view of Fountain Square, some delicious food and a contemporary ambiance all recommend Palomino Restaurant Rotisseria and Bar to the savvy diner in downtown Cincinnati. But small portions, high prices, loud music and a confusing atmosphere may keep just as many people away.

Palomino, located on the upper level of 505 Vine Street in the same building (but separate from) Macy’s, is upbeat, trendy and elegant. The menu, featuring a European inspired re-imagining of American classics, is broad enough – from the hardwood fired pizza and the fresh seafood, to the pasta, steaks, chicken and pork – for anyone to find something they’d like.

The waiter, was very attentive and even moved our table so my friend and I could both see the windows, recommended the spit-roasted pork loin with mustard apple au jus over the baked four cheese penne, which he said was good, but no where near the pork. Served on a bed of Parmesan mashed potatoes, the succulent pork melts away from the bone. The hint of mustard in the au jus, which serves to further marinate the meat, provides just enough flavor to the dish and complements the potatoes excellently.

My friend sampled the Pan seared chicken piccata which was also served with potatoes and fresh green beans. The piccata had a light lemony taste that didn’t over power the rest of the dish, while the meat was very moist.

The atmosphere is casual elegant, and while most people were wearing slacks and a nice top, there were a few that didn’t seem out of place in jeans and hoodies, and still others that took their style to the opposite end of the spectrum and came in semi-formal wear. The dining area is decorated with splashes of deep, rich colors while an entire wall is devoted to windows looking out over Fountain Square, which, at this time of year, contained the city’s Christmas tree and a bevy of ice skaters.

The bar is a different story as it was as crowded as expected on a Friday evening. With hardly any room to maneuver and even less to catch a bartender’s attention, the bar is not the place to dine unless you arrive well before 7 p.m. Wine and beer seems to be decently priced as a glass of white was around $6, but mixed drinks, even simple ones like a vodka cranberry cost closer to $11. This doesn’t make sense as their menu espouses Long Island Iced Teas and Candied Apple Drops for $8. Drink prices aside, it’s impossible to hear in the bar area as the bass from the new age music being played pounds and everyone in the room continuously raises their voices to be heard over each other. If loudness and appetizers are your thing, though, the bar is for you as it has a community feeling to it with long, shared tables and seated enclaves tucked in corners.

Reservations are recommended, though the hostess will take names and cell phone numbers so you can wander downtown as you wait – with Macy’s less than 500 feet away, this option is very useful. The hostess, however, forgot about us as we browsed the department store and we had to repeatedly remind her that we were still waiting when we returned to get drinks and check on the wait time 45 minutes later.

The most confusing and frustrating part of Palomino is not the lack of service by a hostess, but rather the fact that an all-day happy hour with $4 drinks and $6.50 appetizers is advertised if you sit in the lounge, which would be very helpful in keeping the bill within a fairly decent budget. This lounge, however, is either non-existent or is a very small corner of the restaurant that had four or five tables for two as it was we couldn’t find these cheaper drinks and appetizers, though it wasn’t for lack of trying.

All in all, our bill was about $57 for two people. While this is not outrageous, it was disappointing as a lower-priced menu was advertised.

Aside from the hostess’ lack of attention, the overpowering noise in the bar and mid-level prices, Palomino is a great experience. The food tastes wonderful and the waitstaff is friendly and attentive. Now if only we could find that lounge….

Final rating:  Good, but it could have been better

(We might need to expand our rating system from Good, bad and really crappy)

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