Re-Review: Lavomatic (Small Bites & Cocktails)


Terry and I didn’t want to travel far for dinner on Friday night.  We also had a gift certificate and thought we ought to use it.  To Lavomatic we went, as there is a distinct shortage of restaurants within a block or two of our house.

Lavomatic, the first restaurant in the “new” Gateway Quarter, is such a fantastic space.  Changes have been made since the place opened– no more broken glasses in the boxes behind the bar, no more wall of community activities covering exposed brick as you walk in– but it still feels like a place that belongs in the neighborhood. I love the modern-meets-50s France vibe.  It’s a great space.

The service is nice too– my favorite waiter from Nicholson’s, whose name I can’t remember, now works there as well.  He’s from Belfast, is charming and attentive, and keeps my cocktail glass from going empty.  His Irish lilt fits in a little better at Nicholson’s, but he does the cafe fare just as well as he does the kilt.

We started off with cocktails– I got an apple butter, which involves butterscotch, apple cider and spiced rum- that was by far the highlight of the meal.  You know how I love a good cocktail– and this is a great one.  Sweet but not too sweet, well balanced– just great.

I wish the rest of the meal was half as good.

The original menu of French bistro fare with a local twist is gone, replaced by “comfort food” with a twist.  This is a trend that is creeping up and down Vine Street (Mayberry, Senate), but Lavomatic misses the  mark.  Instead of comfort food, the cuisine comes off as clumsy.  We decided to focus on starters– someone in the neighborhood had mentioned that they had gotten feedback that they needed “bar food”.  First out were the tater tots ($7.50).  A few tots on top of some tomato sauce, drizzled with truffle oil.  The saying goes that using truffle oil is the sign of a weak chef– I disagree, generally, as I’ve had some amazing stuff that involved truffle oil– but in this case, it seems like they wanted to “upscale” something considered downscale with little effort.  It tasted exactly as it sounds: tomato, truffle oil, fried potato.  It was seriously underwhelming, and honestly, not good.

The next dish were their sloppy joe sliders.  These, too, were underwhelming– nothing unexpected or interesting– and not much different than what I might do at home.  It reminded me of the crock pot stuff my family made for big gatherings when I was a kid.  I expected a twist– something to make it outstanding– and it wasn’t there.  The sauce wasn’t quite spicy enough, the bread a little too dense.  Not inedible, but not fantastic.

Lastly, we got the beer cheese.  This was actually pretty good. Served with a chewy, pretzel-style bread, the cheese itself was flavorful, rich, and had a very distinct beer flavor (an ale of some sort, I think).  This was a definite win.

A couple of the desserts sounded good, so we each ordered one.  Terry picked the bread pudding, which, while the texture was overall dry, the flavor was nice.  It needed a sauce of some sort to really complete the dish.  I chose the trio of ice creams– three flavors which sounded really interesting:  Pepsi, Popcorn and Malted Milk.  Yum, sort of like movie snacks in ice cream form!  Unfortunately, all of them just tasted like ice cream base– vaguely creamy and sweet, but definitely no Pepsi or Popcorn flavor, and only a vague hint of malted flavor.  Very disappointing– I love adventurous desserts, and this just wasn’t.

I keep trying, folks. I really do.  But since Joanne Drilling left Lavomatic, it just hasn’t been the same.  I’ve tried for brunch.  I’ve tried for dinner.  I’ve tried for drinks.  The winner?  Grab some of their craft cocktails and some beer cheese to share.  It’s fun to sit and drink a cocktail and watch the world go by in the front window.  What they need to do is step up their game– I hope that the Senate across the street will help them do that, as right now, with no competition in OTR, they don’t have to.  I would love Lavomatic to be successful, as I want any business in OTR to be successful– but right now, they’re just skating by.

Lavomatic on Urbanspoon

24 thoughts on “Re-Review: Lavomatic (Small Bites & Cocktails)”

  • Hmmm – that is disappointing. It reminds me of my general sense of the degradation of Greenup Cafe. When it opened, I thought it would be a standing option on my menu of places to go. But with each subsequent visit, it grew more and more disappointing to the point that I will no longer even go there. Sounds as if most/all of the focus from Relish is being paid to Local 127 (commenters, please let’s not go down that road again), much to the detriment of the other restaurants in the group. Well, I haven’t been to the former JeanRo in a few months, so maybe I should not generalize so widely, but still…that’s disappointing. At least it’s still a good cocktail option!

    • Greenup Cafe used to be my favorite breakfast place– best croissants I’ve had outside of potatoes, amazing breakfast potatoes, great pain perdue. The last time I went, which was about six months ago, the place was empty and the food was completely uninspired and actually cold. It made me sad– such a great place.

  • I’ve been to Lavomatic twice now and both times have tried the mac & cheese, along with other items. The mac & cheese has, by far, been the best thing I’ve had there (besides the cocktails). In fact, the last time we went was in December and it was, quite possibly, the best mac & cheese I’ve ever had. So be sure to order some next time you go in for cocktails 🙂

  • Have you ru into a waitperson named ” Maggie” anywhere? She used to be our go-to person at Pho Paris but I don’t know whether she is still working in town. Your comment about a favorite waitperson reminded me that she was wonderful-knowlegeable, friendly and really helpful . She always made us feel special. I would love to find her again if she is still working in Cincinnati.

  • That’s the feeling that I get when I enter Lavomatic, that they are skating by, unfortunately. I’ve been there five times in the past two years that I’ve lived in Cincinnati, and have never really warmed up to their meals pre-transformation. While they had canned lunch at one point due to a lack of patrons, they reopened it on the basis that Senate across the street was coming in.

    Looks like the price points have decreased for some meals, and while I can afford good, fine foods, what you obtained there for the buck wasn’t a lot. I may go back and see what has changed. Thanks for the review.

  • I prefer Lavo’s previous menu over what they have now. I thought they had a unique product in their urban wine bar concept with very good food quality. The new more pubish kind of food comes off awkwardly to me and seems like a desperate attempt to take on their competition (Senate) before they even open. I tend to think this strategy will fail.
    .-= Randy Simes´s last blog ..Madison Road getting $5.76M makeover through Oakley =-.

    • Yup, agreed. I preferred their previous menu too. It seems like they’re trying to compete with both Senate and Mayberry. I’d prefer if they found their own voice– like their urban wine bar concept. Give me some good charcuterie, good cheese, good wine, good cocktails– perfect.

  • Some price points have gone down, yes, but beer/wine/cocktail points have stayed (too) high. Also, $7.50 for that pedestrian order of tots (yes, I have had them) is way out of line. Same goes for the “pigs-in-a-blanket.” It’s too bad, really. They could really have something there, but they’ve never committed to doing it right, instead listing in the wind due to the fickle tastes and changing whims of ownership. Also, the re-imagined interior decor has a lot of just plain bad art…and don’t obscure the windows. That view was one of the best things going.

  • That’s a bummer! We never really had the chance to stop in for dinner.

    I think the server you are referring to is named Duncan. Does that sounds familiar? He used to work at Nicholson’s and we have not seen him there in a while.

  • You started this off correctly Julie. Sigh. We have given up on Relish Group totally. Stick a fork in em, they are done, actually don’t even bother, they are overdone. Lavo ran off Molly, one of the best barkeeps in town recently when she suggested that perhaps tater tots and hot dogs did not go with craft cocktails. Jeanie is gone from JeanRo. Greenup is just sad, we joke they are channeling the old Wildflour in their last days. The embrace of local seemed a late and last ditch gasp, Chalk and 127 are the only ones that seem worth walking into, I wouldn’t know as I haven’t been in for months. I really feel for the remaining employees and especially Mark at Chalk and Geddys at 127 but the last round of lawsuits against JR and their PR person running around trashing him has prompted us to boycott Relish until JR is open. Sigh.

  • I was very excited to go to Lavamatic for our girls night out. The wine, pinot noir, was perfect. I, too, ordered the Beer Cheese Pretzel to share and it was fantastic except large pieces of onion. I just picked them out. Detracted from the creaminess. I got the teeny tiny grilled cheese sandwich, which tasted pretty good I think, but the bread was so tiny that most of the sandwich was crust the cheese hadn’t even touched. We had to ask for napkins a couple of times and water over and over. We were definitely an afterthought because they put us upstairs away from the crowd. I’m going to stick with Chez Nora’s for now and my currant fav. I wanted them to be great.

  • Relish & Wade are simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic at Lavo & Greenup. I like the craft cocktails at Tonic, but due to Wade’s shabby treatment of J-R I will no longer spend my money in any of his establishments. Did anyone hear about the blowup that Wade had with Greg Hardman of Christian Moerlein? As a result all of Hardman’s beers have been pulled from Wade’s restaurants. The guy just can’t get along with anyone. I have passed by Tonic on Fri/Sat nights for weeks now and the place always seems empty, even on nights when other downtown nightspots are rocking. Anyone else noticed if other Relish spots have been busy or not?


  • My wife and I went there for lunch last week. Newly arrived in Cincinnati we went there after a recommendation from a friend. On a weekday around 1 pm there were two servers and one unkempt guy in the kitchen. There were two tables with people at them – a handful. We ordered soup, sandwiches and beer. The soups – tomato bisque and mushroom – were average, the beers were flat, the grilled cheese sandwiches stingy on the cheese and accompanied by a limp and minimal salad. The waitress – new and a classical music student (or so she admitted to a guy at a nearby table – was utterly incompetent and had an attitude. We were overcharged well above the high prices and she begrudgingly adjusted the bill with still more of a nasty edge. This was our second and last visit to Lavomatic. Awful!

  • Duncan is his name! He and my brother (who works in the kitchen at Via Vite) know each other really well, and I’ve had him at Nicholson’s a few times. He’s a great guy.

  • Seems like a lot of hate for Lavo these days. I had such a great time there recently; I feel obliged to write. Several of my friends and I went to Lavo for a girls night out and it was wonderful! Our server, Jonathon I think, was super cute and helpful. We all enjoyed our cocktails and the food. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

  • I went to Lav-o-matic for the first time the other night, and used this review as a guidepost. We went with the beer cheese, and you’re right… pretty good.

    I also sampled the “special” appetizer, a rolled mozzarella cheese with pesto and crostini. It was okay, but for 15 dollars, they were a little skimpy with the crostini. Also, I LOVED the pesto part of the dish, but it wasn’t proportional to the huge amount of cheese.

    My date loved her Lavender Martini, and the rest of the folks we were with seemed to like the stuff they ordered mostly (especially the cocktails), but I was underwhelmed, I guess…

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