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Review: Blackfinn Cincinnati

I got a special invitation to preview Blackfinn Cincinnati on Saturday, March 1st. The management had a live training session for their staff, and wanted guests– and who am I to pass up the opportunity?

Blackfinn, as you may know, is in the old McFadden’s space. Not a whole lot has changed, interior-wise. There is the same dark wood and brick that graced McFadden’s, and honestly, it still feels a lot like Nick and Tony’s. The decor included huge flat-panel TVs, smaller flat-panel TVs in the booths (were those at McFadden’s?) and pictures of steak houses around the country. The website says that it’s trying evoke the atmosphere of a New York-style saloon– for some reason, I was under the impression it was going to be an Irish pub– and it does have a steakhouse feel. It doesn’t feel like an Irish pub (though the owners were influenced, according to the website, by Irish pubs as well, so maybe that’s where I got the idea).

This review is tempered by the fact that this was a training night. Our server, Amanda, was very sweet and did a nice job, but it’s obvious that it was her first night serving ever. I’m going to be lot more forgiving than I would be under normal circumstances.

For an appetizer, we chose the calamari– Amanda had said it was very tender, not rubbery at all. She was right! Thick rings of calamari that were very delicate and tender, unlike a lot of calamari I’ve had. It was delicately battered and served with marinara sauce– a fairly basic presentation. However, in addition to the calamari, there were also deep fried pickled jalapenos and pickled red peppers of some sort– I’m not sure exactly what kind. I’m really not a fan of pickled jalapenos, so I didn’t eat the deep fried ones, but I actually liked the slight punch that permeated the calamari because of the jalapenos. Interesting, different, and pretty good.

Amanda then recommended the New England Clam Chowder as “the best she’d had”. I had to disagree. It was overcooked– the clams were like vending machine bouncy balls– and it had far more potato than clam. The flavor was okay– less clammy than I’d like– but we didn’t finish it.

We had a bunch of choices for an entree, but, holding with the New York tavern feel, we both chose steaks: I chose a petite filet, and Terry chose a ribeye. Unfortunately, they were out of both of those items, so we had to choose something else. I chose the catch of the day, which was parmesan crusted tilapia. He chose the salmon. The tilapia was okay– the crust was oversalted, but the fish beneath was tender and quite good. The vegetables were also done well, and lended color to an otherwise cream-colored plate. I think the tilapia could have done with a lighter sauce: the herb sauce was just a tad too heavy for the dish.

The salmon was well prepared, and the seasoning on the outside– pepper, garlic and salt, very simple– was quite good. Neither of us were impressed with the rice pilaf, which was simply buttered rice, but overall, the food was a little above average.

For dessert, we decided on the Guinness Chocolate Mousse. Well, I decided: I was the one with the sweet tooth that night. It was chocolate mousse topped with white chocolate mousse, served in a pint glass. Very cute. The chocolate mousse was not quite rich enough– this was a milk chocolate, and I expected something a bit darker to echo the stout. The white chocolate mousse was not mousselike at all, but instead frothy– almost like egg whites. It was a nice finish to the meal, and a charming homage to the Irish pub.

Overall, this place has some potential. There were definitely some quirks that I’m sure will be worked out by opening– the bar was a bit slow, as well as some of the seasoning issues discussed above– but overall, this was a nice experience and I’ll be sure to try them out again.

Full disclosure: We only paid for drinks and gratuity on this meal, as I was invited to try out the restaurant on one of their preview nights. This has no effect on my review.

Grand opening is March 14th, just in time for the pre-St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

Editor’s note 1/2/09:  I’ve revisited twice since I wrote this review in March of 2008, and won’t go back– the food is no longer the focus; it’s pretty much all bar, all the time.  Sad.

BlackFinn Restaurant and Saloon on Urbanspoon

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