Terry and I have been trying to get to Hugo for dinner since my birthday in November. Either we’ve been too busy or they were out of reservations that weren’t at 5:30. This past Saturday was another one of those nights. I suggested we try Red— I’ve had several friends say they were the best steak in the city, so we decided to try it out.
We were a little early for our 8:00 reservation, so we sat in the bar area for a bit. The restaurant is named for the bar, which glows red and is a pretty cool effect. The restaurant is dark– really dark. So dark I needed to use a flash, but not so dark that you can’t see the person across from you. I had a glass of wine– a pinot grigio– and Terry had a beer. They took us in a little bit early for our reservation, which was nice .
As you walk in, you pass a really fantastic looking raw bar– oysters, shrimp, crab, lobster, you name it– before you hit the dining room. The thing that got me about the dining room is that sitting there, in the low level lighting, the sounds of plates and utensils and the hustle and bustle of the waitstaff is that it didn’t feel like Cincinnati– it felt more like a really hip, east coast restaurant. That’s pretty unique for Cincinnati.
Now, onto the food. We decided on the Heart Healthy tasting menu– at $35 and $50 with wine pairings, this was a steal, and part of the proceeds went to the American Heart Association. However, to start, we decided to try their foie gras (which is not terribly heart healthy). Terry has always been a big foie gras fan, and I just really discovered it when we were in Paris, so when given the opportunity here, we go for it. Red’s was pan seared, with a fig crostini, dried cherry compote and a plum gastrique. Words do not adequately describe how good the foie was. It was pillowy, smooth, and velvety on the tongue, and the rich, yet fresh-tasting fruitiness of the gastrique and compote were excellent compliments to the richness of the foie.
For the first course, I got the Red salad– greens, sherry vinagrette, amaretto almonds, charred onions and a single waffle chip. The portion was petite and perfect, the vinagrette well balanced, though I couldn’t find the charred onions for the life of me. Terry got the lobster bisque with sherry cream, which was rich and creamy, but, as he said, “not as good as the foie”. The foie would be the gold standard by which the rest of the meal was judged.
Our entrees came out shortly after we finished our first course– the waitstaff had the timing down very well. My entree was salmon, served with lentils, tomatoes, and herbed cream. The portion, again, was petite but perfect (I hate overlarge portions) and the salmon was prepared medium rare, which was perfect. I really liked the lentils (and ought to cook them more often), and they were an earthy compliment to the salmon. It was, in a way, surf-and-turf, in the most literal sense.
Terry ordered the ribeye, which was again, a small cut. It was prepared as he liked it (rare), and well seasoned, but he prefers the steaks at Jeff Ruby’s. I pointed out that he generally orders a different cut at Ruby’s, and he was thoughtful for a second. “I still prefer the steaks at Jeff Ruby’s.” I think it’s a seasoning thing– Ruby’s are highly seasoned, which creates a crust that Red just doesn’t have. I agree– I’m a big fan of the burnt bits (though I like my steaks rare to medium rare).
Now, for dessert. I ended up with the chocolate decadance cake, which is essentially a chocolate lava cake, and a glass of port (I love port!). Terry hadn’t tried port, so I let this be his introduction: I had him take a bite of the chocolate decadence, then take a sip of port. He, too was converted to the delicious things that port does to chocolate… or chocolate does to port. Whatever. It’s good stuff. Terry ended up with the banana bread pudding, which he really liked, though he said that the best part was how the bananas, caramel, and ice cream mixed like Bananas Foster– the bread pudding part was negotiable.
All in all, a great place– but nothing was quite as impressive as the foie gras. We may go back and do something off the regular menu to broaden our choices. This is a great place to take a date, or just go to pretend you’re in a big east coast city and eating at a trendy restaurant.