Review: Slims Northside
It’s really hard to write a “review” of Slim’s because every meal is different. Though the food always has a distinct Latin American flair, you will never eat the same meal there twice. The menu is fresh, seasonal, and grown– quite literally– around the corner, in one of the very first “kitchen gardens” in Northside (or in Cincinnati). Their example– which isn’t original: home cooks have done it for centuries, and the icon of the sustainable food movement, Alice Waters, popularized the concept in the 70s– has become an example for other restaurants in the area, including the Relish group. In their small, quiet way– they don’t advertise much, they don’t try to be rock stars– they’ve made a real impact on Cincinnati cuisine.
Slow food is everything fast food is not. Local, not trucked in. Individual, not standardized. From the heart, not scientifically optimized to be tasty and addictive. Slim’s also makes you appreciate the people around you– there are two- and four-top tables, but the main feature of the restaurant is the long, boarding house-style table that seats (as I learned the night I dined) 24.
There is no liquor license– it’s BYOB. There were lots of people with bottles of wine, and it felt a little odd to bring Terry’s usual Miller Lite (Terry’s. Not mine. I still have my food blogger street cred, until you get to my next review…) so we brought some Goose Island Honker’s Ale and a bottle of Tres Picos. $40 per person includes four courses. For the quality of food, it’s one of the best deals in the city (with no 300% markup on wine and beer).
The restaurant does take reservations– and I had the misfortune of walking in right after a 24-top. Another friend was dining the same night, and warned me. Service really suffered, sadly– there were spaces between courses that were uncomfortable, not leisurely; it took us about 15 minutes to get a bottle opener for both the wine and the beer. In general, it was just obvious that they weren’t prepared to serve a 24-top. I don’t know a whole lot of restaurants that small and specialized that can handle that sort of party.
I’m not going to write a whole lot about the dishes– the food I had will be different from what you have; you might have something different on Friday than you will on Saturday in the same weekend. The cuisine is Latin American, with a French and American twist. The amuse bouche was lovely and deliberate– creme fraiche, tarragon, salmon, green onions. Simple, delicious. We had dishes like mofongo (mashed plantain, deep-fried) topped with a spicy tomato sauce and microgreens. The plantain was perfect, but the sauce was just a little strong– but I’m not into super-spicy food. This didn’t play around, but it certainly wasn’t hot for hot’s sake.
Terry’s first course, some sauteed mushrooms, topped with a poached egg, was about as perfect as a dish could get, and incredibly simple. Rich, earthy mushrooms paired beautifully with a simply poached egg, on a small bit of homemade bread. It was essentially a mushroom version of eggs Benedict– and a lovely twist on it.
Salads included one with golden raisins and almonds; another with pomegranate and a spicy vinagrette. Entrees included seared fish, again with more peppers, and delicious short ribs in a rich, shallot-infused broth, and some of the best homemade tortellini I’ve ever had. Cheese plates with local cheeses and macerated fruit are brought in between courses– it’s not really 4 courses, it’s more, with little tidbits to keep you interested (as if you could lose focus!). You can almost taste the care and thought that goes into each dish– everything fits together, compliments each other, and makes for a memorable dining experience.
Though the service was, as I mentioned, super-slow, the food was all perfect. The kitchen had no trouble dealing with a large party in addition to their regular Saturday night reservations. I was impressed.
Joanne Drilling, formerly of Lavomatic, is now in the kitchen– and I haven’t eaten there since she’s been a regular feature. I’m very excited to try it sometime soon. Slim’s occasionally, on Sundays, does a dinner with a literary theme (Hemingway, for example), which I’d like to try the next time it’s featured. In the meantime, I’m going to make sure to do a Spring tasting– I can’t wait to see what’s on the menu, and what surprises they have in store.
(I’ll add that, since it was such an experience, I was almost uncomfortable taking pictures, so I only took a few. It felt somehow intrusive, like I was ruining something. I also ran out of battery.)