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Review: Brown Dog Cafe

Everyone from my company’s hubs seem to be in my office this week, including my manager (she’s not based in Cincinnati, so I don’t see her very often). We went to dinner, and of course, she asked me to choose.  I had originally wanted to do Wildflower (again), but they weren’t answering their phone for a reservation. Oops. We didn’t want to go far from my office, but we also didn’t want anything that was a chain. My choice? Brown Dog Cafe.  I warned her “This is in a strip mall. Please don’t be afraid!” — I’m always a bit nervous with strip mall fare, myself– but we had nothing to worry about.

I’d been to Brown Dog many times, but it’s been a while. It was the first place I took myself to a high-end lunch. I remember I had duck ravioli in a sage-brown butter sauce. This was ten years ago– and I still remember that meal. It was one of those watershed moments in my foodie life.

I didn’t take any pictures– but I assure you, dinner was fantastic.  It was, of course, restaurant week, so we were presented with a prix fixe menu that had more choices than I expected– three salads, two soups, seven entrees and four desserts.

I started off with a popcorn salad, which sounded too interesting to ignore.  Baby arugula, cranberries, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and a sweet and sour caramel vinaigrette.  This was the perfect combination of sweet, savory, tangy and spicy– the caramel vinaigrette was subtle, the cranberries were whole and raw (I’d never eaten them that way– usually dried or cooked), and along with the pomegranate seeds, cut the sweetness of the caramel.  The pistachios and popcorn were crunchy and salty.  All on top of spicy arugula, it was the perfect salad.  I’ve never had any better or more inventive, yet still approachable.

Next up: scallops with boar bacon, browned butter, and shaved brussels sprouts on top of gnocchi.  I somehow had skipped the brussels sprouts when I read the menu (I saw “scallops” and “bacon” and “butter” and “gnocchi” and just went for it) and I don’t normally like brussels sprouts– they’re often too bitter– but these were great, almost sweet and caramelized.  The scallops were just a touch overcooked, but this was, all in all, a great dish.  Boar bacon, by the way, is usually from wild boar– big, hairy pigs.  It honestly tasted just like regular bacon, but a bit meatier (you can tell in this D’Artagnan photo that it’s much leaner than pig bacon).

For dessert, the perfect portion of apple tart, with a curry glace. I love curry, but it was subtle and sweet.  The apples were still firm.  I need to use more spices that I traditionally think of as savory in my sweet dishes– it’s such a great pairing.  Both my manager and I got this, and we were both tempted to lick the plate.

My manager got the panko breaded goat cheese salad, and has been talking about it for two days– it was beautifully presented, and according to her, quite delicious.  She ended up with a vegetable turrine [sic] made of roasted vegetables, tomato sauce, and fresh buffalo mozzarella.  She liked it, but it was far cheesier than she had anticipated.

We also shared a side dish of asparagus with Parmesan cheese– tender yet still firm, well seasoned, and quite good.

All in all, both of us enjoyed our dinner– and our restaurant week experience– immensely.  We ate a bit early (around 6) so the restaurant wasn’t crowded, but by the time we left it was starting to bustle.  Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s in a strip mall: it’s as good as anything you’d get in comparable restaurants in the city.

Brown Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon

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