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 CafÃ© in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. (The Happy Mouth Supper Club dined at Vito’s CafÃ© in November 2005.) Vito’s CafÃ© 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 CafÃ© 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.
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 CafÃ© 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 Vitoâ€™s French Toast which is thick slices of homemade brioche drenched in vanilla pastry cream and studded with raspberries. I tried CafÃ© 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 CafÃ© 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.