No chef in Cincinnati, Ohio has more cachet than Jean Robert de Cavell. His previous restaurant, Jean Robert at Pigall's carried the fine dining torch after the closing of the Maisonette, which was the longest running Mobil five-star restaurant in the country. For the New Yorkers: de Cavel was the chef at La Regence, which was awarded three stars by the New York Times and named one of the best French restaurants in the city (youngster that I am, I've never heard of this place, but three stars speaks for itself).
But now, as everybody knows, the times are trending downscale, and with it comes de Cavel's new restaurant in a former Lone Star Steakhouse: Jean Robert's Table.
Jean Robert's Table has been open less than a month, but with much fanfare and hype (de Cavel had a contractual dispute with his former business partners that delayed the opening for months). I'd been eagerly following the developments, since it was the one new restaurant I wanted to try while home for Labor Day weekend in Cincinnati. Luckily, so did my parents. Less fortuitous was our complete lack of advance planning-- a call that morning revealed them to be booked solid. We would have to take our chances at the bar.
One thing I've learned from living in New York is the secrets of obtaining seats-- from restaurants to subways-- with practiced passive aggressiveness. My skills were put to good use, and quicker than I thought possible the three of us were seated comfortably at the bar, drinks and menus in hand.
Looking around the restaurant, there are no traces of the former tenant. The bar was stripped clean and looked brand new, and exposed brick set off the main dining room from the bar area (which also has some seats). The crowd was surprisingly older than I anticipated, and on entering the restaurant some guy in front of us seemed to forget where he was and blocked the door for much longer than necessary. He was apologetic when he realized his lapse, but I jokingly told him he was a crappy doorman.
Behold, amateurish pictures from the camera on my new cellphone after the jump. This might be as close as you'll get to me taking legitimate pictures in a restaurant, so savor the framing, lighting, etc.
Mussels were served three ways. The big bowl contains the classic mussel sauce, white wine, shallots, and the like. On top is a creamy and spicy sauce which I hardly remember. The real star was the smoked mussels, which added a beguiling element to an otherwise typical plate.
Sweetbreads sat atop a mushroom and blue cheese quiche with a grape compote and port sauce. The sweetbreads were supposedly confit, but tasted fried to me. Either way, they were destroyed by my father and I.
A thick puck of foie gras hid a mound of duck rilletes providing a second fatty element to the dish. These strong flavors were balanced by the salad and plum sauce-- each adding a sharp and sour note.
A quick digression before the mains.
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is officially my new most favorite beer in the universe (move over Bud Light Lime!). I first tried it (shockingly) in Kentucky a few years ago when the brewery was just starting out. Now its everywhere in the area (unfortunately they make it in small batches, so it's unavailable outside of the Midwest). On draft, it's outstanding. Aged in bourbon barrels, the beer takes on an oak-y aftertaste (with strong overtones of vanilla) and a distinct bourbon flavor. It's also high in alcohol (but don't drink it too cold or it loses its flavor). Every restaurant worth checking out in Greater Cincinnati now serves this beer, and if you're ever around the area you would be doing yourself a huge disservice to not take a seat and sip on one for awhile.
Now, on to our mains. Duck was good (and the quality of the duck, and all the proteins for that matter, was fantastic), but was the least exciting of our three mains. Served over grits with goat cheese and a blackberry pepper sauce, it did not leave a lasting impression.
Lamb was the special of the evening and my mom never passes up a chance for rack of lamb. The meat itself was excellent and perfectly cooked, although I would have liked a slightly stronger sear. Below it is a couscous and a roasted tomato containing a sharp and spicy parsley salad (the alcohol may have gotten to me at this point, as some of the details are a bit hazy).
Trio of cochon was a huge portion. The gigantic pork chop hides the rib and red wine braised pork belly, which, with its fattiness countered by the lingering acidity in the wine proved to be the best bite of the evening. The beans soaked up the pork jus, and the heavily buttered mashed potatoes (can they ever have too much butter?). My only minor quibble is that the pork chop was slightly overcooked.
We finished our meal with a selection of sorbets and a poached peach-- nothing as interesting as the earlier courses (I've always been a front heavy diner). The whole evening, service was knowledgeable and friendly. I couldn't have asked for more (though it probably helped we were at the bar, I can't speak for the table service).
So what else can I say? Jean Robert's Table is a welcomed addition to a revitalized Cincinnati dining scene from a talented and respected chef. While the menu, which, on my last glance is incorporating the flavors of Fall, is still finding its legs, I'm excited to see how it evolves before my next trip to my hometown.
Jean Robert's Table
713 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202