Salazar – Cincinnati, OH

Do you ever walk or drive by somewhere often and always say “we really should go there”?  Salazar New American Restaurant has been THAT place for over a year now for me.  Fortunately, I finally made it to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood specifically to have dinner there.  And I am happy to share that they did NOT fall short of the rave reviews and high expectations.

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A farmhouse-like setting in a historical building in downtown Cincinnati, there is a comfortable feeling when you walk through the door.  It’s cozy, and I mean small, but not loud or overcrowded.  As we looked at the menu, our server approached us with specials and recommendations.  What I love is that she told the story behind the restaurant, the local vendors they procure their food from and why they do what they do.  I love when you get an experience vs. an in-and-out meal.  She made a recommendation of a delicious wine and we made some selections from the farm-to-table menu.

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We began with simple warm marinated olives and manchego cheese, which were a perfect compliment to our wine.  Next, the duck leg rillette with pickled onion and jalapeño jam on Blue Oven toast.  The richness of the duck was expertly balanced by the acidic condiments.  Finally, the starter du jour was Blue Oven toast spread with spring pea puree and topped with cured meats, pickled vegetables and edible flowers.  It was almost too pretty to eat!

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I had the roasted sea bass with spring peas, potato puree and hazelnut butter.  My artistic plate was rich, tasted of summer and somehow tasted like everything was separate and perfectly combined at the same time.  My fellow guests all had the steak special which was a hearty portion of local beef.  We finished dinner and could barely utter the words fast enough that we wanted dessert.  The warm chocolate cake with coffee cremeux was a decadent treat!  And how could you not love the berry fry pie with chocolate ganache and lemon buttermilk ice cream?  Every day, I want to eat it every day…

Chef Jose Salazar makes this experience one that you’ll want to relive over and over again.  Local ingredients, beautifully prepared and served by passionate experts.  This is everything I had hoped it would be.  Find out more and make a reservations at salazarcincinnati.com.  Dig in!

FireLake Grill House – Minneapolis

On a recent visit to Minneapolis we spent a night at the Radisson Blu at the Mall Of America.  Given a fun weekend of the State Fair, grill-outs with friends and probably a little too much indulgence all the way around, we were ready for a quiet light dinner.  Luckily, the FireLake Grill House in the Radisson Blu was close and offered a ton of options.

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Modern and rustic, the atmosphere is warm and comfortable.  There’s seating for small parties and large groups, but it all seems to fit together perfectly.  The aroma of wood-grilled meat and sweet cornbread swirled as we sat in a puffy leather booth.  The menu is pretty extensive heavy on the grilled/smoked meats.  There are beautiful small plates and salads as well with a focus on fresh local ingredients.  We started with the Chicken & Minnesota Wild Rice Soup and Heirloom Tomato & Buffalo Mozzarella Salad.  Both were some of the best versions we’ve ever had!

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Looking for lighter options for dinner, we ordered the Minnesota Salad (a wonderful blend of greens, bacon, corn, cranberries, tomatoes and rotisserie chicken) as well as the Asparagus Risotto (with asparagus, roasted tomatoes, herbs & mushrooms).  The fresh ingredients really were stars in these dishes.  Carefully crafted combinations created by the chef gave you mouthfuls of summer and happy bellies.  If those weren’t enough on their own, the CornBread Skillet made with heirloom polenta and served with honey butter made from their own bee hives on the hotel roof was a special treat.

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Everything coming from the kitchen looked ridiculously good!  I can’t wait to make another trip and get my hands on there 12-hour smoked brisket and a bourbon on the rocks.  Whether you’re near the Mall Of America or in downtown Minneapolis, you should make it a point to have brunch, lunch or dinner here!  You can take a look at their menu at firelakerestaurant.com.