Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel’s Bar a Boeuf offers dishes reminiscent of downtown Cincinnati dining and the iconic Cincinnati cottage
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
You can take the French chef out of a gastronomic environment, but you may not be able to give him a gastronomic orientation. Not completely anyway.
Case in point: after closing his more upscale restaurants L and Table in 2020, chef Jean-Robert de Cavel had two relatively casual restaurants in his portfolio. The French Crust Café, adjacent to the Findlay Market, is a colorful establishment resembling a Parisian bistro and is the perfect place for lunch or brunch. And Le Bar a Boeuf, which opened in 2015, emphasizes unusual burgers and several bourgeois French dishes featuring ingredients like snails and veal liver.
Located on the ground floor of a condominium in Walnut Hills and attracting customers largely from neighboring neighborhoods, Le Bar a Boeuf has a large patio with a view of the river and one of the smaller kitchens imaginable for a full service restaurant. The somewhat out of the way location and the menu’s emphasis on minced meat prevented me from dining there often.
Recently I heard that de Cavel had moved with a basic Table staff into the aforementioned compact kitchen. As a result, the Bar a Boeuf menu became more interesting as de Cavel and his young colleague, Chef Jordan Brauninger, introduced a variety of dishes reminiscent of the Table – and the Maisonette, where de Cavel wowed the palates of our city. for the first time in 1993..
“It’s my place, I own it, but I’ve never really spent time there,” de Cavel said of Bar à Boeuf.
At the start of 2021, he took a few weeks off after the closure of his other restaurants, then started working at Bar à Boeuf with Marilou Lind, longtime Table manager, and a few other Cavel loyalists.
“We were lucky that some of our team at Table wanted to help (at the Bar à Boeuf),” said de Cavel. CityBeat.
“It’s a very comfortable place, a family restaurant, really,” he added.
While he did not seek out any publicity or promote staff and menu changes, de Cavel says word of mouth led to more diners, at times almost crushing the kitchen and staff at service.
My friends and I had a choice of the first or second seat on Saturdays: the first seat was 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. and the last one started at 7:30 p.m. a table on the terrace. “It depends on whether we have enough servers,” Lind said over the phone. The patio turned out to be too hot by this time, but a few people found tables there by the time we left around 8pm.
As happens pretty much everywhere these days, the service is sometimes slow, but most of the time we didn’t notice it. Our waiter, a Table veteran named Darren, said it was his first night at the Bar a Bœuf after he arrived on short notice when de Cavel called. We got lucky with Darren, not only because of his knowledge of all the culinary touches of the kitchen, but also because of his long history with de Cavel. I learned a lot from Darren.
For example, he told us how the featured neighborhood salad ($ 12) – a collaboration of the two chefs – came together, and it was a doozy. A slice almost as thin as sweet watermelon foil formed the base of the salad, topped with a crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce and a tangy, thick blue cheese dressing. The dish included two or three thick, crispy slices of fried green tomatoes, making it a very filling first course.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
We shared a few other appetizers: crab cakes and “Shrimp Maisonnette Style” ($ 16 each). The shrimp blew me away with its garlic butter and white wine sauce sprinkled with chunks of fresh tomatoes and sliced mushrooms. The abundant and perfectly cooked shellfish benefited not only from this salty bath but also from slices of toasted brioche. I could have settled for a whole order and probably wouldn’t have needed much else. Darren said it was a recent addition to the menu, and well done for it.
Compared to shrimp, crab cakes have disappointed in a way that I have found more and more common since the price of crabmeat has skyrocketed this year. These were better than some I’ve had, but the breading / filling-to-crab ratio still favored breading.
For our entrees, a halibut special was delicious although it was lukewarm, but we sent back an overcooked rack of lamb; we ordered it rare. When Darren brought back the solution, apologizing profusely and bringing the hungry diner an extra glass of wine to the house, the dish was perfect. My friend ate her lamb with “oohs” and “ahhs” after each bite. Accompanied by flageolet beans, sautéed asparagus and a mushroom, pepper and herb sauce, it was an exemplary preparation of rack of lamb ($ 38).
I also loved my main course: Table salmon ($ 28), cooked with fish wrapped in bacon.
Everything on the plate matched the quality of the fish, and I enthusiastically ate the wild rice, spring peas and shiitake mushrooms assembled in creamy soy sauce. It was a large enough portion that I took half of it at home and finished it for lunch the next day.
In a subsequent phone conversation, de Cavel told me he was continuing his treatment for a rare soft tissue cancer diagnosed in 2018 and spoke wistfully about his impending 60th birthday. Retirement or even the downturn doesn’t have much appeal, he said.
“I’m having fun,” de Cavel said of his role at Bar à Boeuf. “We have a young and inexperienced team and it’s fun to be with them, to try to teach them what I know.”
He said he intended to reopen Table in a new location at some point, but didn’t want to rush anything.
“I am surrounded by people that I love, it is a treasure,” he said.
“A treasure,” he repeated with a sigh.
Le Bar a Boeuf, 2200 Victory Parkway, Walnut Hills, lebaraboeuf.com.
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