I’m sorry. I kind of forgot about this place. Mostly I just haven’t had anything I’ve felt was worth saying.
Yesterday was such a great day. It involved very good incidents with my two favorite things: food and snowboarding.
I reasoned with myself that since snowboarding season will be over agonizingly soon, it would be okay to skip class and spend the entire afternoon at Perfect North. I brought a friend along and we were on the slopes by 12:30. Since it was the middle of the week, there were very few guests. This was nice for two reasons. The first and obvious one is that there were no lines at the lifts. None. And second, no one wanted any lessons, so after I checked in at lesson call the first time, I was given permission not to come back. Having to head to the ski school every 40 minutes can be irritating. It’s something I don’t mind in the least on days when I’m scheduled- it’s a small price to pay for the benefits I get for working there. But on a day off, especially having a friend with me, it’s nice not to have to be anywhere at any time.
The snow was so amazing. Everything was freshly groomed and soft, and shredding down Center on snow like that is exactly the reason I snowboard. I wish I were a more able writer, because I’m at a loss to describe the feeling. By the way, I spent five minutes trying to find a better or more forceful word than “exactly” for that sentence but there isn’t one that really accurately describes how much stress I mean to put on it. Hitting run after run of perfect snow made me realize how much I love this sport. That each run only lasted thirty seconds or a minute, before having to take another three-minute ride up the lift (even with no lines) made me realize how much I want to move to where everything is higher.
We got through most of the slopes in an hour or two, and ran into my dad at around 2. I’m glad I saw him. He and I used to snowboard every single weekend together when I was 18, 19, and since becoming an instructor I’ve rarely had the chance. We hit a couple of runs together before taking a break to rest our ankles.
With one exception (an equipment trade with a friend last year that only lasted two or three runs) I haven’t skied in seven or eight years, since I first strapped myself to a snowboard. I was never particularly good at it, I’m sure my form is terrible and I don’t recall ever being able to hit the hardest runs. But I got it in my head a few weeks ago that I might like to try skiing again, because I’ve been wanting so badly to get more into the terrain park and I am just so uncoordinated that I’m not doing so well on my snowboard. I think maybe I’d have a much better time, and much better luck, if my feet were separated from each other. So when my friend suggested mid-afternoon that we tried skis, I was pretty enthusiastic. He had never tried it before, but then before two months ago he’d never been on a snowboard before, either, and now he’s probably better than some of the instructors, so I had high hopes. I used my guest pass to get two sets of rentals, and after half an hour of trying to figure out ski boots (equipment that has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to snowboarding boots, I’ve decided), we were ready to go. We went down the “easiest” rated runs once or twice, and I tried to give my friend a little advice and, at the same time, I was thinking to myself, “How do these things work again?” Once I felt less unwieldy, we hit some of the easier longer runs, Far Side and Backstage, and I remembered how much I really enjoyed skiing once.
Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t have a revelation and decide I should hang up my snowboarding boots or anything. But I think I might just spring for a pair of skis at the end of the season. I need to go out a few more times first and make sure it’s worth it, but I had a really good time on them.
It started to get late and my friend and I made plans to go to Tink’s Cafe, a restaurant I’ve been interested in since I was about 16 and first started exploring Ludlow Avenue and Clifton’s Gaslight district. It also happens to be exactly next door to the building where my parents first moved when they came to Cincinnati, and one block from the apartment I lived in when I was in culinary school. Why I never managed to try the place is a mystery to me. They focus on American and Southern cuisine, and my friend loves Southern food more than anyone I think I have ever met so when I first described the place to him as we passed it weeks ago on our way to Sitwell’s coffee house, it grabbed his interest.
After one last run down Center on our usual snow equipment (after which I announced aloud, “and THAT is why I snowboard”), we left Perfect’s and made a quick stop to change out of snow pants and into slightly more appropriate attire, and then made our way to Ludlow and Telford.
The entire front of the restaurant is windowed, so I had a good idea of what the place is like from walking past it all the time. Never the less, when we came in, I was surprised at how small it is– the place sits maybe only 60 people at comfortably spaced four-top tables lining the walls with two rows in the middle. It’s intimate without being too cozy, with high white walls, hardwood floors, and some abstract art on the walls. There was a duet playing last night, a stand-up bass and classical guitar, which made for very nice, unobtrusive background music.
Our server greeted us and told us we could sit wherever we’d like– there were a handful of tables taken and most of the row nearest the windows was occupied by what we soon learned was a wine-tasting group (oddly enough, my dad was just talking to us earlier that day about the prevalence of wine tastings listed in the papers lately). We sat against the inside wall and had an array of staff members come over to give us water and bread plates and dinner menus, as well as a wine list and a beer list. I didn’t bother looking at the wine list. I’ve only recently developed an interest in wine, and while I admit it is limited, I am not interested in paying nine dollars for a glass of wine of which I could get an entire bottle for less than twice that price. And I don’t think I have enough of an understanding for wine yet to appreciate how it complements foods. On the other hand, I will totally pay six dollars for a beer I know I won’t find anywhere besides other high-end bars or Jungle Jim’s. There is something probably hypocritical or narrow-minded about this. After a few minutes, our server asked for our drink orders and I got a Rogue Mocha Porter, a favorite I’ve only had two or three times and a happy discovery to find on the beer list.
After he brought our drinks, the server told us the specials including a fish I can’t remember for the life of me and a cheese plate to be ordered as either an appetizer or a dessert. He also let us know they have a lot of great desserts. I have to say, hearing him calmly explain each dish while looking us in the eye made me realize I need to work a bit on my presentation at my own job. He was very impressive, not only because he was so good but because he didn’t act like anything he was doing was impressive: he was comfortable and soft and friendly and managed to position himself as in control (as any server will tell you, that’s really what’s going on in a restaurant: the server has, or should have, control of the table and its occupants– without them being aware of it) while making me feel like he was just being helpful.
After he left us to make decisions, we agreed we wanted the cheese plate and debated its place in our meal, deciding to share the caribbean steak tartare as an appetizer and leaving the cheese for dessert. I then had trouble deciding between the grilled chicken and barley risotto, which came with green beans and cottage ham; the diver scallops, which were prepared with lots of autumn flavors with butternut squash and apples and arugula with brown butter and a cider gastrique; and the salmon, which had a corn tamale cake, avocado, and citrus flavors. I love risotto and the barley sounded like a neat idea so I decided on the first. My friend got shrimp and grits.
The tartare was pretty amazing. First of all, the portion was more than generous. It was dressed with this very nice, light but creamy spicy mayonnaise, surrounded with a mango salsa, and topped with my new favorite food ever: perfectly fried plantain chips. Mmm. Slight banana flavor, nicely salted, oh my gosh, I am in love. They went perfectly with the rest of the dish, as a sort of scooping helper.
My chicken and risotto exceeded my expectations. It smelled incredible, a smell unique to barley. The risotto was very well done, it was creamy and had just a taste of some kind of cheese, which was a nice surprise. It went very well with the crispy, salty ham and brightly flavored green beans, and there was some caramelized red onion to accompany the flavors. The chicken itself was also tastier than I’d hoped for, and had a nice juicy texture. There was a lot of it, though, three huge pieces. I would have traded one, or even two, for more risotto and ham and green beans. One small complaint I had was that either the thin brown sauce (the menu just listed it as natural jus, although it seemed dark in color to have come from chicken, so maybe I am confused) which was otherwise delicious, or possibly the risotto itself, was a bit too salty.
I forgot to mention, someone snuck a small basket of bread onto our table just before our first course, which held two slices of white and two of wheat. I was so in love with the white bread and my friend was so in love with the wheat that neither of us even tried the other. The white was warm, soft, and had a perfect crunchy, flaky outside, and it was mouth-wateringly yeasty and salty.
Before the server boxed up my two remaining pieces of chicken, he told us the desserts. Before he was finished, my friend and I both knew we weren’t getting the cheese plate. Instead, we shared the peach cobbler and a chocolate peanut butter cake torte thing, which came with a mixed berry sauce. I tried the cake first and immediately, food still in my mouth, declared that it tasted like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Which I meant as an enormous compliment. My friend’s response was perfect: “Well I love peanut butter and jelly, it got me through college”, before diving into it himself and agreeing. The peach cobbler was also delicious, everything was slightly warm and the peaches were perfectly sliced and still slightly crunchy, and it came layered with whipped cream and some nicely-spiced cobbler crumble.
As far as affordability goes, Tink’s didn’t break the bank. For two beers, an appetizer, two entrees, and two desserts, the bill was something like 85 dollars. I want to note that that our beers were only five bucks each, which I really appreciated– not that that’s particularly cheap for a beer, but it’s not outrageously overpriced, something a lot of restaurants do and get away with, and with significantly less-pricey beers than ours.
I want to go back, if only for the plantain chips. Nom nom nom.
Next week, I will (hopefully) be writing about Nada, the upscale Mexican restaurant that took the place of Bella two years ago, on Walnut across from the CAC. It was listed as Best New Restaurant in 2008 and it was opened by David Falk, chef-owner of Boca, who was once rated Best Chef in Cincinnati and named the worst local chef to work for in the same issue of the same magazine (Cincinnati magazine) if I can find someone to go with me. Or Hugo, another Southern-inspired restaurant for which I already have a potential companion (the same friend who came to Tink’s, which should be obvious by the statement that this place is Southern-inspired), if we can find time. I’m excited about Hugo. It was actually listed as a runner-up to Nada for Best New Restaurant that same year. I adore Sean Daly, the chef-owner, who I interviewed as part of a Careers in Hospitality class I had to take in culinary school. He was listed in the same survey where Falk was named as the worst local chef to work for, as a chef to watch. (In case anyone would like to read the survey, and I recommend it because it is hilarious, go here.)