It’s been interesting watching the progression of the Gateway Quarter north on Vine. When I moved to the Gateway Quarter (a whole two blocks from where I was off Main) there were two restaurants , only a couple of stores, and you didn’t want to go north of Venice on Vine or Suder’s.
Now, with Mercer Commons opening and a bunch of condos on Republic and near the Park (the list goes on), business development is moving north as well, and the food is becoming more diverse. One of the largest buildings, the Paint Building, recently became home to Kaze, a Japanese-inspired restaurant owned by the folks who brought you Embers and Trio.
I’ll be honest– I started out not really liking Kaze. I went in when it was just a bar and got some subpar drinks and left before even trying the food. After a few friends cajoled me, I had the food in the bar and loved it (and the drink making in the bar has become far more consistent). Then I ate in the dining room and loved it even more. Now, it’s a real favorite, particularly since they serve late and they serve on weekends. Plus, the space is beautiful and one of the largest restaurants, seating-wise, on Vine.
Asian food is pretty hip right now, with David Chang’s Momofuku heading up the revolution. Chang’s influence is felt here, if only because he opened the door to chefs like Hideki Harada (who co-owns the restaurant with Jon Zipperstein) to experiment with traditional Asian cuisine.
For sure, the star of the menu is the ramen. Up until now, I can’t think of anyone who’s done ramen in Cincinnati, so this was a welcome dish when I was feeling a bit under the weather. The rich, full-bodied broth is the best part of this dish, which is saying something as it surrounds some excellent noodles, pork belly, scallions and egg. I would even eat it in the heat of a Cincinnati summer, it’s that good.
Another dish I adore is the ‘tako’ salad. Tako in Japanese means octopus (but sounds like the Mexican tortilla-with-filling), and this salad features tender, grilled octopus and asparagus with a nicely acidic yuzu dressing. The pork buns, which are definitely a nod to David Chang are fantastic: a puffy cloud of bun, filled with nicely caramelized pork belly. The twist? Apple and mustard vinaigrette. Addictive, and particularly good bar food. The dumplings, hummus and short rib sliders are also excellent.
Sushi is another star here, and unlike many restaurants, doesn’t feel like an add-on. This is simple: more focus on the fish and some simple ingredients instead of a ton of sticky-sweet sauces and spicy, gloppy mayonnaise. I really like the OTR roll and the Boom-Boom roll (particularly the latter’s yuzu marmalade) but I’ve also gotten some very good-quality nigiri. There’s a sushi bar, too, so you can watch your sushi being made.
They have dessert, and unlike many Asian restaurants, where it’s an afterthought, this is good. Their version of s’mores were fabulous, and not too sweet.
Throw in a reverse happy hour and one of the best patios in OTR, and I’m happy to see some quality Japanese cuisine (with a twist) in the Gateway Quarter.