The Foodie Report
Ruminations on food, cooking in and eating out in our area.

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Nicci King is an unabashed foodie and the Lifestyle/Food editor in The Enquirer's features department. She loves to discover new food faves, and she's on a daily quest to answer one burning question: What's for dinner? E-mail her at nking@enquirer.com.

Enquirer Weekend editor Julie Gaw tends to order the same dish every time she eats at a restaurant, but periodically ventures out to discover something new and fabulous. After living in China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand for more than 8 years, she craves tasty Asian food. E-mail her at jgaw@enquirer.com.

Food/dining writer Polly Campbell loves every quirk and secret of Cincinnati's food personality, and is on a constant lookout for something good to eat. Keep an eye out for her restaurant picks, or see how she's progressing toward becoming famous for her apple pie. E-mail her at pcampbell@enquirer.com.

Communities reporter Rachel Richardson is on a mission to prove vegetarians eat more than lettuce. She shares both her graduate work on American food culture and food-related news.. E-mail her at rrichardson@enquirer.com.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chalk Food + Wine

I interviewed the management team at Chalk today, and I met Summer Genetti and Bryant Phillips for the first time. They're young and energetic, and the space is really fun! I don't want to spoil all they have in store, but expect amusing and well-executed chalkboard paintings/drawings and other fun artwork from local artists.
The entrees are labeled by animal and seafood (Cow #1 and #2, Catfish, Duck, etc.). Pretty funny, huh. And there appear to be plenty of veggie options: grilled cheese, pita falafel, veggie tacos plus veggie-friendly sides and starters. Word is, produce is local and organic when possible, says the chef, Jared Whalen. Sounds good to me.
Prices are reasonable: $22 filet (Cow #1) is the priciest, exclusing Lamb for the shank! for two with two sides for $28.
That trio (Jared in particular) was giddier than kids in a candy store when they talked about Chalk.
They'll be open starting Wednesday for lunch, from 11:30 on. Dinner service Monday through Saturday begins at 5:30.


at 11:53 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grilled Cheese, tacos and pitas? Hardly adventurous cuisine, is it? And it's certainly not French. I think that this is going to be another mediocre effort from J-R. With the exception of his main restuarant, his establishments are starting to resemble Vince Bryant's ill-fated Queen City Restaurant Group. Now that's the Kiss Of Death for any restaurant!

at 11:58 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

The management of this restaurant doesn't inspire confidence...

at 12:15 PM Blogger Mary said...

I'll give it a try, as I like to support my neighborhood establishments, but my first impression is that it's too cutesie and seems as if they are trying way too hard. I have to agree with the first poster: the menu hardly sounds exciting. I do like the emphasis on local produce though. I wonder though how much oversight Jean Robert really gives his spinoffs?

at 3:08 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jean-Robert has very little oversight at any of his restaurants, outside of Pigall's & Twist. That's why the food at Jeanro, Greenup, the old Pho and likely Chalk is so blasé.

Grilled cheese & tacos? You've got to be kidding??

at 8:52 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hope it does really well, and i'm curious to try it, but certainly won't go out of my way to try it or bother with finding a parking space if it gets too difficult. when a menu lacks focus and is that varied, the execution is usually lackluster. and yes, the er, mgt team doesn't inspire confidence, particularly given that two are pho alumni. pho in oakley had a horrible reputation for having very inconsistent food after the first 5 months of being in business, and failed to recover.

at 10:32 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 8:52, the GM here was at Encore before this. That whole chain imploded and is history now. Plus he is the 'sommelier' at Chalk as well, a job he performed at Pho as well. Pho's wine list was a hodgepodge of a mess; it was not a very well thought out selection to complement the cuisine which they were serving.

Added with the tacos, this doesn't fill me with a great deal of confidence in the place.

at 3:19 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

just so you all have your info right the gm at chalk was before at Pho and before that Sturkeys, he never worked at Encore. He build an amazing wine list at Sturkeys, and I am sure will also at Chalk. Also even if he did work at Encore there lack of success had nothing to do with the restaurant managers it was the managment above them who force the company into the ground. These three have more passion about food than anyone I have ever met and Im sure will make chalk very successful, you really should have confidence in them

at 3:56 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me guess--the last post was posted by Jared Whalen.

at 11:43 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

shoot, everyone know's jared can't write. show's what you know...punk!

at 9:04 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bite me last poster! And I give this venture about 6 months before it folds.

at 6:48 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would gladly : )

at 4:21 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pigall's aside, Jean Robert hires young schmucks like this guy to be the sp-called 'gm' at his restaurants. He hires them because 1. They work cheap 2.they will do all of the scutt work like schedualing & ordering supplies, dealing with vendors etc. 3.they are too young & inexperienced to put up too much of a fuss with him

I give this place less then 6 months!

at 11:05 AM Blogger Mary said...

Good point 4:21. And the young managers get experience and the ability to put "I managed a Jean Robert deCavel restaurant" on their resume when they move on to other cities and other restaurants. Let me preface this by saying that for the most part I really enjoy his restaurants and though I don't know him personally every encounter I've had with him has been a positive one. I also think that he's done great things for this city. However, I'm no marketing guru, but I know that Jean Robert, in addition to being a great chef, is also a brand. With this frenzy of new openings (Greenup Cafe, Jean Ro's, Twist, the new one in OTR, the now defunct Pho Paris, the catering and banquets at Newport Aquarium, and now Chalk) I can't help but worry that he's cheapening the brand a little bit. People expect a high level of service, consistency and quality from all his restaurants and I'm increasingly hearing grumbling from friends and others that they've had mediocre meals and service. Of course, I've never heard anyone say anything remotely negative about Pigall's, the restaurant that I'm assuming receives most of his attention and time. I sincerely want his restaurants to succeed, especially since two of them are in my neighborhood, but I guess we'll have to wait and see. I'm eating at Chalk sometime this upcoming week to see and taste for myself. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

at 5:43 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cow 1 and Cow 2. Waaaay too cute for words. Possibly rethink this-fast.

at 7:58 PM Anonymous Heather said...

Well written Mary. I've heard the same grumblings from many people, especially those who work in other restaurants lately. They like to go out to eat on days off, and all of them have a huge respect for Jean-Robert. Many refuse to eat at Jeanro Bistro anymore after too many bad meals. They all like to drink at the bar there, however. It is a really, really good bar scene, in all fairness!

at 8:23 PM Anonymous Chad Edward said...

In the event anybody is still reading this thread, I posted my opinion from dining at Chalk Friday at http://www.chadedward.us

at 8:50 PM Blogger Mary said...

Thanks Chad,that was very insightful. It's nice to hear that the food is mostly good. The unpleasant server reminds me of a recent brunch experience at Greenup Cafe: Our party of five (including a 7 year old and a 4 year old) waited 50 minutes for our brunch to be served (not counting the additional time it took for the server to come back and take our order again because she neglected to write it down). When we asked our server politely if she knew how much longer it would take for our food to arrive (the children were starving) we were rudely told "Not off the top of my head". Oy vey! I was a server for years and I can't imagine responding like that. How about, "I'm not sure, but I'll go check for you." You're right: the service you receive is a reflection of management.

at 10:57 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Chad.

'Shanks for the Memories'?? That tops 'cow 1' & 'cow 2'. What's next, 'Pastabilities!'???

Service issues are unacceptable. I think I'll pass. Just too many places to eat these days to bother.

at 5:48 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always fascinating when an entity does one restaurant REALLY well; so they gotta do EIGHT! Then they all start to suffer. And life becomes a misery of stress and overextension.

When you do one well, just keep doing it, and don't let your eyes get bigger than your wallet.
Don't worry; Be happy----with what got!

at 5:16 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant to say: Be happy--with what you got!

at 5:23 PM Blogger Mary said...

We knew what you meant. Someone else on another thread posted something about Jean Robert opening all of these restaurants in order to give the Wades (his business partners) a return on their investment. I have a hunch that there is some truth to that.

at 8:14 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

2 years ago nobody would have dared to criticize anything that Jean-Robert did. How times have changed. There are cracks showing in the mighty empire.

at 4:27 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your kindness, Mary. I was horrified when I read my post and realized that I completely dorked!

at 4:36 PM Anonymous vudutu said...

Wow, what a tough crowd. How sad, I am at a loss to understand the anger here, I for one am very grateful to JR and everyone who busts their butts at his establishments. I shutter to think what a wasteland this city would be without him/them. I especially appreciate them for coming into our Covington neighborhood and providing us with two choices that rank way above anything else nearby. This is to say nothing of the new place in OTR a stones throw from my office. Comparing them to the Queen City Restaurant Group is (I have no idea what to say here) , ask anyone who worked for them and got stiffed.

Sorry to hear about Mary's Greenup experience, I have not had that serious a problem and all the server have been great to us, I don't know what to say except the server must have been channeling an old Wildflower staffer.

Do I think it is a little too cutsie, yes, do I think they are struggling to find identity in this location, yes, do I understand why if they called Chalk they don't have a chalkboard of their menu, no. I do love the art and how hard they are trying and I do like the people. Keep in mind we were/are all young once and need a break, someone once gave JR a break, lighten up. Do I "get" the menu, no but they will hopefully evolve and make changes and in the meantime I get to try some new things. So far I like the wine list and Brian once turned me on to a Port that near brought me to my knees. The beers are OK but Bud on draft? that's a waste of a tap, if you want to have a few cans around for the unenlightened who wander in fine but don't waste a tap. They need to bump up the back bar, I know the emphasis is on wine but it looks like they are running short of cash.

I never could quite warm up to Pho, I tend to prefer value for the buck and more recognizable food, I tend to not like stackage. This is why I prefer the Bistro over all his places, they could have cloned it instead of doing Chalk and I would have been happy. I for one think that eating at the bar at the Bistro with Jeannie is one of the best bangs for the buck food, drink and and entertainment wise in town. But this is a personal preference and would not have allowed them to stretch and reach for new dining experiences. I have eaten there dozens of times and the worst I can say is I had to send back some questionable mussels.

As to Chad's experience, my heart goes out to him as it appears he is a a great asset to out town and dedicated foodie. I have to apologize as we we some of the people crowding the place and it was packed. We got in and out early just as it was getting bad. I would urge Chad and all of you to give them a break, take the combo of, first week, huge crowd and couple of folks having a bad night and prime time, anything could happen.

Do I think JR is stretched thin, yes, are cracks showing? Yes just like the old buildings we locals are fighting to save from the Lan no Trust and Queen City Restaurant Group. Am I giving up on JR and company, NO WAY! Can't we be a little more positive and support the folks trying to be part of the community, bring us good food rather than tear them down? How about some positive constructive criticism instead!

at 4:25 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

First and foremost - Chef J.R. had nothing to do with Chalk's concept and menu. This is NOT his restaurant. The entire concept from the food on down belongs to Jared Whalen. His idea was to bring comfort foods up to a gourmet level, he never had the intention creating a new and wild menu. Why can't anyone appreciate the food for what it is? The menu is simple. The food is simple. Simple and tasty. All of you "foodies" seriously need to open up your own restaurants if you think you've got the bite to back up your bark.

at 8:16 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you 4:25

at 10:02 AM Anonymous vudutu said...

I'll second that amen, like I said tough crowd. In the interest of constructive criticism I will make a couple of points.

They don't yet have a way to chill wine and room temp there is like 70 plus, I like reds with a slight chill, around 60 to 65, whites 55 yo 60, they need to deal with this somehow, I hear they are working on it.

When they redid the place they took out the acoustic panels Scaleas put on the ceiling, it can get to unpleasant levels in the bar on Fridays.

If JR is not involved, he should be.

at 1:57 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think they need worry about the grumblings of those who take children to restaurants where they don't belong. Stick to Dennys and ChuckECheese, leave the real restaurants to the rest of us.

at 1:20 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of you who wrote the negative things on this blog should be embarrassed! I will say you are, because you hide your identity! You are not food critics you are great player haters! Don't worry if you can't find a parking spot there. Keep driving, they don't want, nor do they need your business. Your negativity stinks! Since you know so much about the hospitality business, create your own. Don't worry I am sure you will have plenty of parking! The tacos they serve are a simply twist on a real taco and a the same for a grilled cheese. Not like the one you are eating while you are bellied up to your computer typing your nonsense @ 4 in the morning. Morons! Where did you leave your sense of humor??? 3rd Grade? Your friends that grumble! They grumble because they have to listen to you whining about everything! They grumble because one day they know they are going to have to tell you to jump off a cliff! They are embarrassed to go to a fantastic restaurant with you and listen to you bash on people you wish you could be! Maybe one day you will grow up or maybe not!

at 1:37 PM Blogger Nicci King said...

But Anon 1:20: You're hiding your identity and voicing your opinion...

So, how can you call anybody out for doing the same thing?

at 2:25 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Friend! The difference is, I am not bashing on a Restaraunt.

at 8:31 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jared if you're reading this, congrats on Chalk!

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