On our vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains earlier this year, we spent a couple nights in Cincinnati to get reacquainted with the Queen City. It had been quite sometime since we'd been there and we decided to try and find someplace to eat in the downtown area. I read up on a place that had contemporary Mexican food by the name of Nada and decided to give that place a try.
Nada is part of the Boca Restaurant Group headed by chef David Falk. Falk, a Cincinnati native, was schooled at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and continued his on-the-job education in the kitchen at two of the all-time best restaurants in Chicago - Charlie Trotter's and Spaggia - before he made his way to Rome to work at Ristorante Paris, an elegant and traditional Italian restaurant.
At the age of 26, he made his way back home to Cincinnati and opened his first restaurant - Boca - in the Northside neighborhood of the city in 2001. Boca was an immediate hit with its patrons serving a mix of traditional Italian foods with an European flair. (Boca has since relocated to downtown Cincinnati.)
In 2007, Falk opened Nada, a funky and whimsical contemporary Mexican restaurant in downtown Cincinnati. A second Nada location opened in Columbus, OH in 2014 and a third Nada is planned for Indianapolis sometime in 2016. (Falk and the Boca Restaurant Group also runs Sotto, an Italian trattoria located in downtown Cincinnati.)
It was around 9 p.m. on a Saturday night when we found Nada at the corner of Walnut and E. 6th St. in downtown Cincinnati. (see map) We found a parking spot over on E. 7th St. and walked over to Nada in a light drizzle. When we got into the restaurant we found it to be very busy, even at 9 p.m. We were told that it might be 45 minutes for a table. Since our body clocks were still on Central time, we decided to stay and have a seat at the bar and get a couple of margaritas.
The bar area was right next to the hostess stand and we were able to squeeze into a couple seats that just opened up. The decor of Nada featured a sort of contemporary cocina look to the place. It had large glass windows that looked out into the plaza in front of the place. High ceilings and wooden floors helped raise the decibel level in the place to a somewhat uncomfortable setting. I don't care much for having to yell at the bartender to make a drink order.
We both had a Herradura silver/Cointreau with lime juice margarita. The bartender gave us generous pours and it was a good margarita. We hadn't finished our drinks halfway when the hostess came over and said that they had a table ready for us. We hadn't been there 10 minutes.
The hostess took us to a small table next to the stairs and dropped off a couple menus for us. Our server for the evening, Jacob, came over to greet us. We immediately ordered two more margaritas and a single serving of guacamole. The chips were fresh and had a sort of a salty seasoning on them. The red salsa had a smoky chipotle taste to it and it was very good. But the guacamole was pretty interesting - in addition to the fresh avocado it had lime juice and chopped tomatillo's along with crudite chips consisting of radish, cucumber and jicama. (Jicama is a Mexican turnip that can be eaten raw.) The different tastes going on with the guacamole made it some of the best we've ever had.
The menu was interesting with a grilled salmon entree, a grilled adobo-rubbed pork chop with a potato purée, and a chile-rubbed grilled chicken breast served with charred green beans, caramelized cauliflower, chayote (a Mexican squash) with a citrus habañero. They also had a number of taco plates including grilled salmon tacos, pork belly tacos, a vegetarian taco platter and barbecue/beef short-rib taco plate. The only problem was that there were so many different choices of tacos, but they didn't allow you to pick and choose different ones to go onto your plate. And the other thing was - the tacos weren't cheap with most platters running between $15 to $19 dollars.
I ended up getting the pastor - a chili-marinated pork topped with cilantro, pickled onions and lime cabbage. (below left) The marinade was sort of interesting. It had a bit of a spicy bite to the taste, but the overall taste was salt. It was VERY salty. I don't eat much salt and anything that even has a hint of too much salt is very heightened. But this was way too much of a salty taste for my taste buds. After a bit, I couldn't discern anything I was tasting because of the abundance of salt with each bite.
Cindy ended up getting the Arrachera taco plate - seared marinated sirloin chunks that were topped with avocado and a corn cider salsa. (above right) Unfortunately, her tacos were also very salty. She can tolerate salt a lot more than I can and if she says something is too salty, well, it's too salty. It was too bad - the salt overpowered the overall taste of our food. I really couldn't get past the taste of the salt to enjoy anything about the tacos at all.
One of the interesting features of Nada were the number of Robert Anderson prints that adorned the walls. The late artist was famous for his "pulp" Western paintings and they had a number of them on the walls in the upstairs area of Nada. I took some time to look at some of the prints before we left.