We loved the restaurant but now it's closed.

Cincinnati Bites
Banh Mi from Pho Lang Thang

Posted Thursday, July 29, 2010

I generally don't do trendy or upscale. When I do, the chair squirming is palpable as you read through my recollection of every uncomfortable moment at these kinds of places. So it was with some hesitation and a healthy sense of adventure that we chose to lunch at Senate, the new, uber-trendy restaurant in Over-the-Rhine.

It's been hard to ignore the buzz about this place. After the justified fanfare of Mayberry had died down, sweet, lofty whisperings of "Senate" were all that soon fluttered off foodies' lips. Bloggers, bona fide food critics and downtowners have been nothing if not dreamily enthusiastic about the restaurant.

Senate's menu is compelling: the chef coins it "gourmet street food," a phrase also widely used to describe the myriad food trucks in town. Specialty hot dogs are emphasized, all hovering around an eye-popping $10. There are also exotic takes on other sandwich classics, like the grilled cheese ($11); peanut butter and jelly with foie gras ($11); lobster BLT ($14); and an eleven-dollar Senate burger. Want fries with that? It's another $5 for the truffle version or $6 for the fries cooked in duck fat.

Needless to say, Senate is just a wee bit overpriced. No one can meanly justify the lavish expense of these items. However, I'm apt to try any food once, especially from somewhere so highly praised.

When we first entered Senate, I was immediately struck by the dichotomy of the place: the bare brick walls and long, oversized bar gave me an initial feel of a laid-back, neighborhood watering hole in an historic venue. Linger an eye a while longer, and one comes to uncomfortably realize an air of pretension: waiters all dressed neatly in black uniforms taking themselves a little too seriously; clientele made up mostly of higher-end business people; leather-bound, high-backed chairs amid the clinking of wine glasses; and a general sense that one might be looked down upon with just the slightest hint of condescension.

As we sat down and I set my juice harp aside, water was served from a stylish glass decanter that the waiter left at our table. The water was very warm, so my co-worker asked for and was supplied a glass of ice. He was just as trepidatious about eating here as I was, but hey: hardcore foodies go the extra distance, sampling trendy, expensive food so you don't have to.

I chose the ten-dollar Poutine, french fries topped with braised beef short ribs, gravy and cheese curds. I also ordered an eight-dollar side of lobster mac & cheese. That's a total of $18. For one person. For lunch.

I've enjoyed Poutine before at a slightly less-than-upscale establishment known as Bard's Burgers. When I accurately pronounced the dish as "POO-tin," the waiter seemed bound and determined to "correct" me by immediately repeating my order as "Poo-TEEN," sounding it out for me slowly and phonetically. I was mildly annoyed, but chuckled in response. Given my past experience, I knew his pronunciation was the Toronto variant now gaining ground in America. Take a quick jaunt to Wikipedia or this site to find the original, Quebec pronunciation.

Poutine from Senate
Lobster Mac & Cheese from Senate

When the food arrived, it looked wonderful. The wispy fragrance from the poutine's pool of braised beef and gravy told the tale of slow-cooked meat lovingly marinated in what I guessed to be a dry Burgundy. The one-two punch of the short ribs and the creamy cheese curds made it difficult to put my fork down. But the eight-dollar lobster macaroni & cheese failed to impress. The few chunks of lobster were very overcooked and rubbery and the macaroni seemed too crusty and dry.

My co-worker thought his Trailer Park dog was ok, but he said it was nothing he couldn't duplicate himself for much less than $9. I nudged him into trying the poutine, which he did admit was good, but not worth $10.

While the food and service were ok overall, the high price point and upscale ambiance ensure I'll likely never return. I think a lot of people have been caught up in the hype and that's often a good thing for a restaurant, at least in the short term. I was certainly willing to be seduced. Alas, Senate's not a place I can recommend for any purpose beyond satiating curiosity. Want to know for yourself what a $10 hot dog tastes like? Stop on by. But if you only pick one dish, make it the poutine.

Senate on Urbanspoon

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars

Other Recent Reviews

  1. Sandwichy Impressions: Fond: Lunch & Deli
    -posted Tuesday, April 3, 2018
  2. Our first look at Cooking with Caitlin's restaurant
    -posted Monday, March 26, 2018
  3. Chicken Impressions: Revolution Rotisserie & Bar
    -posted Saturday, March 17, 2018
  4. Seitan Worship: Losantivill3
    -posted Wednesday, March 7, 2018
  5. Chinese Impressions: Kung Food Chu's AmerAsia
    -posted Monday, February 26, 2018
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Leslie about El Trio Mexican Grill:
    El Trio closed last week :(
    posted: Tue., Apr 3rd, 2018 @ 3:19 PM
  • From TJ Jackson about Bourbon Smokehouse:
    Best pulled pork in town: webbs bbq in Newport, open ONLY on Fridays. and cheap.
    posted: Thu., Feb 1st, 2018 @ 12:39 PM
  • From Natasia Malaihollo about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thank you for the review and background on the restaurant history! I was a huge fan of huit and super disappointed when they “closed.” Was wondering what’s going on with this musical chairs of a restaurant strategy so thank you for clarifying!
    posted: Fri., Jan 26th, 2018 @ 6:50 PM
  • From Jeff about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for the thorough review! It honestly does seem like a new restaurant is opening every other day..but the thing about the wait staff..they might be getting paid a higher hourly rate because they are only open for lunch. I’ve worked at a restaurant where I was paid $10 an hour but the owner kept the tips, it sucked but sort of made sense for the lunch shift.
    posted: Fri., Dec 22nd, 2017 @ 9:00 PM
  • From heather about Wild Eggs:
    we liked it too - things are fresh and made from scratch and high quality - good experiences all around
    posted: Wed., Dec 20th, 2017 @ 10:55 AM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for writing, Heather. I definitely like their other restaurants. Lalo's pazole and fish taco are better than Mazunte's, I think. But I agree they are definitely hit-or-miss. I'm still rooting for them, though. There's talent there. :)

    posted: Mon., Nov 20th, 2017 @ 1:30 PM
  • From Heather JOhnson about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    I tried Huit & Lalo and they were both expensive and so mixed - one thing great - another thing barely mediocre. More of the same it sounds like - hits and misses for a really expensive lunch. Nope on Dope.
    posted: Sun., Nov 19th, 2017 @ 12:41 PM
  • From TJ Jackson about Udupi Cafe:
    I do not know if it is truly a match for the product you remember, but Frostop Root Beer is sold at Jungle Jims and is a personal favorite of mine.
    posted: Fri., Sep 29th, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
  • From Jones about Haru Korean Restaurant:
    As a long time reader, I found this review to be one of your loveliest and most enthusiastically vivid. I can't wait to try this place!
    posted: Tue., Aug 29th, 2017 @ 9:48 AM
  • From Jordan about Grand Central Delicatessen:
    posted: Sat., Jun 3rd, 2017 @ 12:16 PM
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design