By Stephanie Wilks
February 13, 2012
A sizable culinary anchor dropped in OTR last month. Kaze, pronounced “kah-zay,” is located at 1400 Vine St. and is Cincinnati’s newest restaurant and lounge. Brought to you by Jon Zipperstein of Embers, chef/owner Hideki Harada and managers Kevin Armon, (formerly at Boca & Nada), along with Denny Bolender, (previously the GM at Via Vite), this hip eatery has unsheathed the sushi samurai on the Queen City.
Kaze’s inception is a benchmark for Over-the-Rhine’s growth and crystallizing progressive identity. Not only is this dining establishment the largest restaurant per square foot in OTR, but it’s also stand-alone in the lofty and historic Color Building, disconnected to the huddle of shops and eateries on Vine. Plus, it’s dishing up gourmet sushi — a daring specialty market cuisine for this traditional meat and potatoes town.
As an entrepreneurial investment, Kaze makes quite the statement. From the eatery’s food quality, to its drink menu, to the conversation starting wallpaper in the ladies powder room, you might get the idea, I’m not in Ohio anymore.
Upon entrance, the dining room is open and minimal, drawing your eye to the beautiful bleached red oak sushi bar and three chalkboards along the back wall, artistically sketched by some of the talented staff. The entrance to the bar is a rather different experience (and can come by use of a separate door on 14th St.), with two majestic red lanterns and detailed sake barrels catching your attention.
Spacing and acoustics are important design measures few restaurants consider; thus, I appreciate Kaze’s efforts to create an undisrupted dining experience. Once seated for dinner, I didn’t feel crowded or repeatedly bumped by waiters, and I wasn’t forced to squeeze through narrow aisles to get to the restroom either. I also welcomed the partitions that subtly blocked nearby activity at other tables.
With items like the Niku Korean BBQ short rib sliders, edamame hummus, pork buns, and sea urchin, Chef Hideki Harada has deliberately created a delectable menu of high-quality sushi staples, current Japanese trends, and inventive Japanese/New American dishes.
For dinner, I had The OTR and Nuevo California rolls along with a variety of sushi. The OTR roll comes with big eye tuna, avocado, cucumber, and spicy scallion ponzu. The Nuevo Cali has lump crab, cucumber, yuzu, and homemade guacamole, the kind that would rival a mexican taqueria. Both rolls were exceptional and fairly priced at $7 to $8 per roll. If you order individual sushi, however, note that the portions are a bit thinner than at typical sushi establishments, so the price can really add up if you intend to make nigiri your main entrée.
Like Embers, Kaze’s bar and dining room are separate, a particularly clever move in OTR considering this area’s budding social scene. Ultimately aiming to emulate a Japanese Izakaya, Kaze will soon boast a beautiful outdoor beer garden, where I’m secretly hoping patrons will engage in the rowdy tradition of sake bombing this spring.
Speaking of sake, Kaze’s menu delivers since it’s not often you’ll find sparkling sake or a delicious hot sake on the menu in this town. My party enjoyed bottles of Kanbara “Bride of The Fox,” and it was as beautiful as it sounds — crisp and easy to drink with notes of white chocolate, nuts, and honeydew.
A couple of not-to-miss highlights in the bar include the TVs exercised as art installations with looping footage of eccentric and downright funny Japanese videos, television clips, and anime. Oh and don’t skim over the cocktail menu. May we recommend the iSpyCincy?
Kaze is a place that offers an experience for any occasion, which is a testament to its ambiance, food, and drink selection but also to its management and service. From the moment you drop your car with valet or walk up from a neighboring OTR establishment, you know you’ll be taken care of and in for a night to remember. I’d say I’m already planning a return trip, but if I make it a weekly stomping ground, then there really isn’t much to plan. Banzai!
Photo credits: Steven Thomas of Photographic Memories, LLCto top ↑