New chef at Vito's Cafe!

Chef Romy Jung
Chef Romy Jung

I recently received a call from Chef Romuald “Romy” Jung, former executive chef of The Palace Restaurant at The Cincinnatian Hotel. I met Romy while working in his kitchens for GOURMET SENSATION and other events, and have gotten to know him well by bumping into him at frequent chef-crawls (a clandestine operation involving lots of chefs, lots of food, and lots of alcohol). We’d dined at The Palace recently, as written up in this article. Since he left The Palace a few months ago, I’d lost touch with Romy.

But I am happy to report that Romy has resurfaced at Vito’s Café in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. (The Happy Mouth Supper Club dined at Vito’s Café in November 2005.) Vito’s Café is run by Victor “Vito” Ciepiel, who ably manages the front-of-house operations. Vito occasionally takes to the small stage (which is situated between the two dining rooms, allowing great views from any seat in the house) and sings songs accompanied by a piano. In fact, all of the servers at the restaurant sing — arias, standards, and show tunes. Vito’s Café is known as the “Home of the Singing Servers”. The servers are from local colleges and universities where they’re studying vocal performance, and many go on to future success. Just ask Vito — he’s happy to tell you about their successes! The sound system is nicely managed — the volume of the music and signing never blows you away.

Vito, of Vito's Cafe
Vito, of Vito's Cafe

The restaurant is decorated in a kitchy-elegant style and the atmosphere in the dining room feels “clubby”, intimate, and relaxed, despite tablecloths over padded tables & cloth napkins. Tables aren’t too close together. Vito does a great job of circulating to all the tables to make sure everything is going well and that diners are satisfied. He also prepares one of their signature items tableside, the Wheel of Parmigiana (Fettucine Alfredo for two, prepared in a giant round of cheese).

The food at Vito’s is top-notch Italian, with a few American favorites added to the mix. Presentations are very nice, and portion sizes are not overwhelming. Prices are reasonable — entrees are in the $16-$29 price range. Vito’s is “kid-friendly” and yet manages to be a good choice for a romantic dinner as well (I’ve seen reviews where people write that they’ve gotten engaged at Vito’s — I’m sure Vito & staff go crazy over them!).

Chef Romy called to let us know that he started a Sunday brunch menu at Vito’s Café on September 21, 2008. He invited us to brunch, so we joined him on Sunday, September 28 for a lovely meal. We were greeted by name by Vito when we walked in (Vito is a tough one to miss — not only does he cut a commanding presence with his broad shoulders, big smile, and ponytail, but he does a great job of making sure you’re welcomed and seated as quickly as possible) and shown to our table near the center of the small dining room. Our server, Peter (a doctoral student at University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music), took great care of us (and sang beautifully).

We started with eye-openers — a Pomosa for Wendy (Pomegranate juice & champaigne) and a Kir Royale for me. For brunch, Wendy sampled the Vito’s French Toast which is thick slices of homemade brioche drenched in vanilla pastry cream and studded with raspberries. I tried Café Benedict: two perfectly poached eggs (last week was “Poached Egg Week” in the cooking class I teach, so they’re on my mind) atop English muffin halves with Canadian bacon and a lovely Hollandaise. A roasted tomato cup accompanied my Benedict. Both dishes were delicious — the French Toast was delicious and delicate, and my dish was hearty and satisfying. Simple presentations were attractive and not over-done.

Chef Romy visited the table a few times to chat about his new position and how much he’s enjoying putting his 30+ years of fine dining experience and French training to use in an Italian kitchen. He showed us the new dinner menu which debuts in a few days (and is not yet on their website at this writing), and it looks outstanding. A few standouts to look forward to:

  • Gorgonzola Garlic Bread with a white wine sauce
  • Celery Root Cannelloni “without dough” — celery root shaved thin and wrapped cannelloni-style around fresh seasonal vegetables
  • Warm goat cheese & pear salad
  • Wild Boar Ragu — Wendy zeroed in on this dish and would have eaten it right. now. if only Romy had taken her subtle hint (which was, “bring me some of this right. now.”)!
  • Lamb “Stinco” with creamy polenta and porcini sauce
  • Truffle Risotto… Need I say more?

As we finished our brunch entrees, Peter quietly asked if we had any room left, because Chef wanted to send something out to us. Remember, kiddies… If the Chef wants to send something out — LET HIM. This is always a good thing. And Romy did not disappoint. He sent a Bellagio Omelet which is chunks of Lobster, fresh thin asparagus tips, Boursin cheese, and diced tomatoes and a side of their house-made Corned beef Hash. Both of these dishes were truly amazing, and despite feeling pretty full we finished them both (remember: eat through that feeling of saitity!).

The brunch at Vito’s is a casual, comfortable, enjoyable affair. The music is nice without being overwhelmingly loud, the hospitality is top-notch, and the food great. And good prices, too.

Vito’s Café is located at 654 Highland Ave. Suite 29, Ft. Thomas, KY 41075. The phone number for reservations (which are strongly recommended, and should be considered essential if you’re celebrating anything) is (859) 442-9444.

International Culinary Olympics, 2008

I’ve been invited to participate in the International Culinary Olympics (http://www.culinary-olympics.com) as part of a 5-man team called the 2008 Midwest Culinary Institute Olympic Team (http://www.culinarymasters.org). We are one of 8-12 regional teams from the United States attending the world-wide competition.

We’re traveling to Erfurt, Germany for the competition. Our trip will be October 16-25, 2008. In addition to loads of culinary equipment, we’re taking a slew of computers and cameras. I will blog the events each day, data access permitting. Articles will appear in this category. If you’d like to subscribe to this category in your RSS feed reader and keep track of our journey, add this URL: https://www.drewvogel.com/category/drewvogelcom/articles/2008-culinary-olympics/feed

Meet The Team

Fire 

Team Manager
Richard F. Potter, CEC, PCEC, CCA,  AAC
Executive Chef / Owner at Stringtown Bar & Grill, Florence, KY

Competitors
Neace
Alan J. Neace Sr.
, CEC,  AAC
Culinary Instructor at Midwest Culinary Institute, Cincinnati, OH

Skibinski
Greg M. Skibinski
, CEC
Executive Chef at Western Hills Country Club, Cincinnati, OH

Assistants to the Chefs
Vogel1
Andrew Vogel
, CC
Adjunct Culinary Instructor at Midwest Culinary Institute, Cincinnati, OH

Brian Willis
Culinary Student at Midwest Culinary Institute, Cincinnati, OH

Roofing!

Not my roof
Not my roof!

After the windstorms that ravaged Ohio a few weeks ago, it became apparent that it was time to replace the roof on our house. Calling around to various roofing companies, we were able to make appointments with some, told by others that they were entirely too busy, and never called back from others.

One company, FACTORY DIRECT REMODELING, sent a representative over to look at the roof right away. We were told that he would drive over and look at the roof then contact us for the next step. So far, so good. The representative then called and told us he would not give the quote over the phone (despite our direct request for him to do so), instead preferring to come spend “a couple hours” with us going over the quote. Unhappily, we agreed, because “a couple hours” is very difficult for us to find with all that’s going on right now. Still, we made it happen, and the representative showed up (late) on our scheduled date. I was a bit miffed that he obviously had not looked at the house at all — he didn’t know if we needed a full tear-off or not — and made us walk around with him to look at the roof.

After we got done doing his job with him, he announced the number. It was over $11,000 — considerably more than I wanted to spend — and I told him so. He “crunched numbers” for a while (and hinted that he’d like a drink from the bar in our dining room). Finally, he announced the new price, which he’d dropped down to $9500. I informed him that $9500 was more than $3800 higher than another quote we’d received, but that I would be happy to add his quote to the pile we were generating if that was the best he could do. Sarcastically, he said, “I am so happy to be added to the pile! Oh, thank you for adding me to the pile!”. I said, “I don’t have to add you to the pile if you would prefer I didn’t”. He grudgingly admitted he’d like to be added “to the pile”. He proceeded to tell us that there would be no Mexicans on our job if we hired his company. Wendy & I were very offended and quickly ended the meeting. I don’t need that crap in my house; in my life.

So, we found another company who would do our entire roof — including a full tear-off — for less than half the price quoted by the racist working for FACTORY DIRECT REMODELING. So we went with the other company. They started work today and we’re impressed with most of their work so far… The got all the old shingles torn off and confirmed a problem we suspected — the “decking” (plywood layer) under the shingles was in bad shape for a few reasons:

  • The plywood was not up to code — it was too thin.
  • During the installation of the existing roof, no felt paper was used. None at all. That allowed water to seep in and rot the plywood, which increased the problems.
  • Much of the plywood, as a result, was in bad shape and had to be replaced.

I should mention that the price (less than half as much as the other quote) INCLUDED the replacement plywood.

The roof that was torn off was not the original roof on the house. The roof we are installing is either roof #4 or roof #5 on the property. I am shocked that the former homeowners would have cut so many corners when replacing their roof. This makes me wonder where else they cut corners when our house was theirs <shudder>.

A new skylight
A new skylight

The roofing team worked extremely hard today while I was on my way home from an overnight in Cleveland. After work, I came home and was washing up in the master bathroom when — BOOM! CRASH! — a worker fell through the ceiling in the dressing area right outside the bathroom. Fortunately, he was not hurt — he fell in the EXACT best spot — 6 inches in any direction would cracked his head on a counter or a cabinet. And fortunately I had clothes on (Wendy asserts that seeing me starkers would have been more damaging to the worker than any impact to his skull). But now we’ve got a man-sized hole in the ceiling of our dressing area. The foreman assured me that it would be fixed to my expectation. I trust them. Well, I guess I don’t NEED to trust them — I won’t pay them until it’s fixed properly.

They have replaced all the decking on the back side of the house. They’ll replace the rest tomorrow and expect to finish the job by Saturday afternoon. Expect a full report if anyone else falls through any other parts of my house. 😉

LOLA — Cleveland

LOLA BISTRO
LOLA BISTRO

On Wednesday, October 8, I found myself in Cleveland Ohio for a work-related event. Once that event was finished, the evening was my own, so I went to LOLA BISTRO, one of Iron Chef America Michael Symon’s places.

Despite not being able to make a reservation on Open Table, I was able to walk right in and was seated immediately. It annoys me when restaurants participate in Open Table only to lock out entire evenings, especially during the week when restaurants are slower. The dining room was not full by any stretch.

The first-floor dining room is spacious and decorated in dark, soothing colors with nicely appointed tables — padded tables, linen tablecloths, and nice, funky silverware. I especially liked that the steak knives were engraved, “Live to Cook”. A nice touch. Chef Symon was not in the restaurant. He is opening a new place (in Detroit? I don’t remember…) and was there this evening.

My server, Gina, was friendly and knowledgable without being overbearing. After discussing the menu a bit, I was torn between a couple appetizers — a sweet corn & bacon soup or the charcuterie plate. I decided on the charcuterie plate and, surprise!, Gina brought me a taste of the soup. The sample of the soup was sweet and bacon-y. Nice interplay of flavors.

The charcuterie plate contained a delicious bacon-wrapped rabbit pate with pistachios, pork salami, another type of salami, and an amazing air-dried pork. All served with whole grain mustard, pickled onions, and cornichons.

From there, I moved on to the Beef Cheek Pierogi (as recommended to me by Michael Ruhlman, who was unable to join me after all due to family commitments) and they were… pretty good. Thick dough, nicely seared on the outside, stuffed with shredded beef cheeks and smothered in a wild mushroom sauce and a horseradish creme fraiche. The mushroom sauce was overly thick and bore a striking resemblance to a jarred mushroom sauce. Everything was cooked well and seasoned appropriately, but it lacked the OOMPH and balance of flavors I’ve come to expect with meals at restaurants run by Iron Chefs (this being the third such restaurant I’ve dined in). And so begins my general complaint about LOLA: The flavors were big but one-dimensional.

The next example of this complaint came with my entree… Squab with foie gras, chanterelles, confit, sweet potato puree, dried cherries, and a wine reduction/demi-glace. Again, cooked nicely. Presented well. Obviously a thought-out dish, but the execution left it one-dimensional — the expected lift from the dried cherries was simply overpowered by the rest of the ingredients. The foie gras was “B” grade and hidden in the wild mushrooms, which I thought was a strange choice for a premier ingredient. The sweet potato puree, while very silky, was not served at the right temperature (instead it was cool to the touch). The plate was not warmed, either — certainly a contributing factor to the temps being off.

I didn’t have any desire for desserts, but enjoyed the two cookies Gina brought for me. I respect what Chef Symon is trying to do, but overall, LOLA was …pretty good… Is it worth dining at LOLA? Sure. The prices aren’t terrible — I paid $70 (before tip) for the above and a glass of wine. Is LOLA going to redefine the way you think about food? No.

Have you dined at Lola? What’s the best restaurant in Cleveland? Let me know in comments.

10/15/2008 Wine Dinner at Midwest Culinary Institute

Midwest Culinary Institute Culinary Olympic Team, 2008
Wines hosted by Joseph Carr of Carr Wines

Risotto
First Course
Risotto ala Asperges Fromage

Joseph Carr Chardonnay, 2005

Scallops
Second Course
Pan-seared Telecherry Crusted Scallops with Mussels Printaniere Style

Joseph Carr Sauvignon Blanc, 2005

Tournedos
Third Course
Tournedos Margherita

Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005

Dessert
Dessert
Mignardises and Friandises

Benjamin Port