Review: Lavomatic (and also, Close Encounters of the Blog Kind)

Ah, Friday night. For once, I actually had an idea of where I wanted to go for dinner– normally, it’s a dance of, “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” over a drink at a bar before we actually go somewhere. Last night, we went to Mr. Pitiful’s and accidentally ran into an Obama fundraiser! It was put together by a group called “Grown Women” and catered by Ollie of Ollie’s Trolley (who has fed Senator Obama and Michelle Obama). That was a great way to start the day (though I didn’t get any of the catering– got there a bit too late).

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So we ended up heading over to Lavomatic, which was packed. There was an hour-long wait for a table, so we sidled up to the bar, where I got to talk to Burke for a little bit– he was completely swamped– but he was gracious and welcoming and very happy to see that I had made it in. Terry had a beer (something German) and I had a very generous pour of Bangin’ Red Pinot Noir.

Since both Drew and Burke had made a big deal about the charcuterie plate, we had to try it. Terry’d never had charcuterie before, so we had a lot of fun with this beautiful plate. Charcuterie sounds new to this German town, but it’s really not– charcuterie is the art of meat made into sausages and pates and all sorts of delicious things– not terribly foreign to Porkopolis! This is such a natural fit for the concept, which includes local foods, and OTR. The platter included pickled vegetables (beets, carrots, brussels sprouts, yellow string beans and onions) which were fantastic, but I’m a sucker for anything involving pickling. I love pickled beets, too, which dates back to childhood, eating a plate of pickled veg was a little bit of heaven. Also included was some Serrano ham, which is a dried, cured ham; the most exquisite chicken liver mousse– this was melt-in-your-mouth good, rich but not overly liver-y, just fabulous; saucisson (a sausage reminiscent of salami, but without the heavy spices), and pate de campagna which was spicy and heavy on the tongue, but in a very good, earthy way. Burke said that in the future, the charcuterie will all be done in-house. Very exciting!

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We were seated right about the time we finished our charcuterie platter. By that time, we had already decided on entrees– braised rabbit for me, meatloaf for Terry– so we settled in to our table. Our food came out quite quickly, and of course I took pictures– because that’s what I do. All of a sudden, I look over, and this couple next to us looks really amused. I said, “Oh, people must think I’m crazy, taking pictures like this” and the gentleman leans over and says, “Oh my gosh, you’re Wine Me, Dine Me!”

Dude.

I don’t say dude a whole lot. Let me say it again.

Dude.

The couple sitting next to me were Mark and Dorinda. Mark was the architect for both Twist and Lavomatic (and correct me if I’m wrong here, Mark, but the other JR properties as well?) and a big fan of both my blog and 5CHW4R7z‘s! We babbled during both of our dinners (they had the vegetable ravioli, which Dorinda praised as “heavenly” and the pork shank) about the Cincinnati restaurant scene, my blog, other blogs, new media, JR, etcetera. It was sort of surreal. Turns out he also designed my apartment– and looking at my space juxtaposed with Lavomatic, I can see his aesthetic in both. I told Mark I’d give him a shout out here, so hi, Mark! Comment, please! I’d love to hear from you again.

So back to the review after the minor squeeing. The rabbit was fantastic. It was hearty, well seasoned, with some delicious vegetables. If you’ve never tried rabbit, you will probably like this, as it was not “gamey” at all. However, the herbed dumplings left a little to be desired. I’ve never met a dumpling I didn’t like. This one was flavorful– very heavy with rosemary– but were absolutely dry as a bone. Aesthetically, little white balls peeking out of rabbit stew is a little comical– look, the tail too!– but I like to have a bit of a sense of humor about food. If the dumplings were moist– dense is okay, but dry is not– I think the dish would have been spectacular. I enjoyed it, in spite of the dumplings.

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Terry’s meatloaf was delicious. It was made of buffalo, stuffed with garlic, with a terrine of vegetables and some lovely sweet pepper coulis. It was moist, flavorful, and hearty– all of their food, of course, is seasonal, and this was perfect for the last day of February.

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Mark, Dorinda, Terry and I ended up chatting through both of our dinners– it’s tight quarters, but it promotes socializing and conviviality. We both ordered dessert at the same time, and had the same thing: baba au rhum and cappuccinos. This was a baba au rhum unlike any other I’ve had. Most have been pate au choux filled with pastry cream, soaked in rum and topped with a cherry. They’re darn good that way, too. This one was brioche dough, dotted with raisins, and filled with chocolate. It was a cross between pain au raisin and pain au chocolat– it was absolutely heavenly. Dorinda and I both sat back and closed our eyes — it was that good. The hazelnut gelato from Madison’s was spectacular as well: smooth, creamy, hazelnutty and delicious. I was too chatty, so Terry finished it up– but I don’t mind. Just a little was enough!

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I also got to chat with Jean-Robert a bit– he had just come from the Art of Food at the Carnegie, and could not stop talking about the Mona Lisa made out of toast. I’m going to have to stop by there– it’s free, and he said it’ll only take about 2o minutes to go through– and has some interesting art made of food. He was genuinely welcoming, a little frenetic, and obviously very proud of his work. I’m hoping we can speak again soon.

Mark and I also discussed the architecture and decor– he said that we should watch out for this place, as it’s in transition, and there were many factors beyond just concept to consider in designing the place– time, location, etc– so watch out for some changes in the future. Beyond what you see when you walk in, there’s a prep kitchen downstairs and a bar upstairs, and all of this had to be taken into consideration in a short amount of time. He also said that the bulbs that the folks on the Foodie Report were talking about are gone. I’m really looking forward to the changes that might be forthcoming. Me, I really liked the celery green walls, the broken glass boxes at the bar (JR, when he grabbed a glass, broke it– so the whole restaurant suggested he throw it in the box!), and the general brightness of the space. So many restaurants are dark and warm, and this had the warm brick contrasted with the cool celery walls and bright tables and bar. I really liked it, but again it does seem a little unfinished, so I can’t wait to see what the future brings us.

I’m so excited that Lavomatic is here in OTR. I’m sure I sound a bit gushy, but it’s so heartening to have the Wades and JR investing in the neighborhood. There were a few missteps– I don’t think the staff was quite prepared for the crowd they had, and those darn dumplings– but overall, we both had a wonderful time at a very nice pricepoint. I’ll definitely be back, and often.

And don’t be afraid to say hi if you see me taking photos of food– I love to chat!

(And for 5chw4r7z…)

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