Zula Restaurant and Wine Bar Review
As I’ve stated before, I really love the revitalization of Over the Rhine. Although I’ve eaten at several of the restaurants in OTR, this is my second review (after Taste of Belgium – http://wp.me/p3jVIR-22). Zula Restaurant and Wine Bar (http://zulabistro.com/) is a new addition to the Race Street area of the revitalization. Located at 1400 Race Street, it’s a pretty good location…very close to Washington Park, the park’s parking garage, and Music Hall, along with new condo’s that are popping up in the area.
The building itself is nice…similar in brick construction to the Vine Street restaurants you are used to, but these buildings are much larger. There’s no cramped feel like in those, which is both good and bad. The supply/demand effect may not work to their favor, as there is a lot of seating. However, you also probably won’t have to wait 3 hours on a weekend to get in, either. We had reservations with another couple, and were seated promptly at our reservation time. It was a Friday night, and was mostly crowded when we got there at 8:15, emptying out when we left just before 10:00. As a side note, the table we were initially seated at was not to our liking, as it was in a high traffic area, and they were able to shortly move us to the back of the restaurant.
The menu has several selections of small plates (hot and cold) as well as rotating big plates and a mussel bar. My wife and I shared four selections: the lamb moussaka (with thyme roasted tomato, stewed tomatoes, and garlic confit), fried risotto (with shortrib), Salmon Toro (one of their big plates, which was wild caught salmon with avocado, shallots, tomato concassee, Serrano peppers, chive, lemon juice, and olive oil), and the bread basket. Our friends also ordered the fried risotto, along with the eggplant flatbread (roasted marinated peppers, caramelized onions, fontina) and an order of Napoli mussels (tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil).
When I first bit into the fried risotto, I initially liked it. However, I then realized I liked it in a junk food kind of way…it was more something I’d expect to get at the Cheesecake Factory (fried mac and cheese) in both taste and quality. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing necessarily, but at the level of dining that Zula wants to be, it needs to be more inventive and of higher quality. It should have been lighter and fresher…like yesterday’s risotto fried in olive oil with a bit of short rib on top. Instead it was more like a frozen chunk of mac and cheese thrown in the deep fryer (and freezer burned at that). The shortrib was not all that noticeable. It was a disappointment to start out the meal, but not horrible. The moussaka was in a ball of thinly-sliced eggplant…it was good, nice flavors of eggplant and lamb, with some really good tomato and garlic sauce that I dipped my bread in. The bread was good. Although the bread was supposed to come with olive oil and balsamic, the server initially forgot that part…no worries though, as the sauces made due until he brought the oil. The salmon was actually really good…served cold, it tasted fresh and had a nice spicy hit to it. My wife and I both liked it, and I thought it made up for the lackluster fried risotto. Our friends’ food looked good, and while they shared our opinion of the fried risotto, they thought the flatbread had “a good blend of flavors and was well cooked.” They thought the “mussels themselves were good quality and well cooked” but the sauce was “ok” and “nothing to write home about.” They did remark that they would like to try the classic white wine and butter sauce next time and “not let my red wine choice dictate the kind of mussels I got.” The service, other than the forgotten oil and balsamic for the bread, was solid.
Overall, Zula is decent. Not great by any means, but above average as taken as a whole (yet below average in comparison to its neighbors in OTR). I don’t regret going, but it wasn’t interesting enough to go back again most likely. If I’m dining in OTR, I’d prefer to go to Abigail Street, Senate, Mayberry, or Bakersfield. However, the bill wasn’t outrageous, and it was nowhere near as disappointing as Kaze (which also was quite a bit more expensive than Zula).