01/02/14 at 4:22pm by Polly Campbell, Cincinnati.com
My friends often get exasperated with me when we talk about movies. “Polly, it’s a movie, don’t overanalyze it” they say. “You need more willing suspension of disbelief.” I feel, however, that many movies and other fictions don’t work hard enough to earn the suspension of my disbelief.
Same way with restaurants. I feel I’m forever being asked to pretend that I’m eating in a trattoria in Rome, an Irish pub or a small town in the 1950’s. I find this difficult.
I was struggling with it the other night when I dined at a “Napa-style” winery and tasting room but was actually in Kenwood, a quarter-mile from I-71, drinking wine made in Chicago.
This was Cooper’s Hawk, a chain restaurant that makes its own wine with grapes from California, and serves it in a large, handsome restaurant with a contemporary American menu. It also encompasses a wine tasting bar, a gift shop, a wine club, and a private dining room filled with barrels.
To me, it feels less like a Napa winery than it does a well-designed sales package. The experience is educational in some ways: if you don’t know the difference between a pinot noir and a merlot, you can try them here without being confused by who the winemaker is or where it comes from. But the approach also emphasizes some merchandisable wine affectations, such as the fancy hanging wine aerators that are used to pour bottles.
It was packed, as new chain restaurants often are, on the two weekday nights I went. The large main dining room is rather somber, quite dimly lit and decorated in dark colors; tasteful and generic.
If offered, I will always order an appetizer sampler plate ($21.49); this one, with crab cakes, chicken egg rolls, calamari and potstickers was very standard-issue chain restaurant. I had a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc with it, which had all the citrusy-melony aromas I drink Sauvignon Blanc for. I don’t think a winery that makes 40 varieties is going to do them all well, but the wine was mostly fine.
Better appetizers were the drunken shrimp appetizer ($12.99), which was a row of shrimp topped with bits of bacon and avocado in a tequila sauce. Mushrooms stuffed with chicken al pastor ($9.99), are good, too, though both those starters might be more naturally paired with beer.
The menu is lengthy, and each item is paired with a wine by bin number. We tried some of those suggestions with mixed results: the gnocchi with butternut squash ($15.99) was rich but overly sweet; pairing it with a sweet Gewurztraminer took it over the top. Pistachio-crusted grouper ($25.99) was a firm piece of fish with a nice crust, but also had a mysterious sweetness to it, especially the mashed potatoes, but the Lux chardonnay made a lot of sense with it.
I had one chicken giardiniera from the healthy Life Balance menu; a rather dry chicken breast ($15.99) covered in dried herbs with a combination of vegetables and a little thin spaghetti. It might have seemed less Spartan with a wine more lush than an unoaked Chardonnay.
I’m always happy to be given a suggestion for wine with food, but the specificity here seems to overly emphasizes the idea of rules. I would prefer knowledgeable, wine-enthusiast servers, which we did not get.
Spanish seafood cannelloni ($22.99) was delicious, packed with seafood, flavored up with chicken chorizo, and served in a wonderful tomato sauce. The short rib risotto ($21.99) was also well-made, with creamy, just-cooked rice studded with a few large chunks of tender meat.
The bannoffee pie ($6.99) for dessert was fabulous. This is a British standard: a combination of crust (in this case, a very good graham cracker crust) sliced bananas, condensed milk toffee and lots of whipped cream. I also ended one meal with raspberry sparkling wine, a bit like a Champagne cocktail.
Napa Valley, or any of the other wine-making regions of the world, is a great place to try wine and learn about it, so it makes sense to try to believe you’re there.
But an authentic wine experience is not in the trappings, it’s in the drinking. That’s available anywhere there’s a good wine list and knowledgeable servers.
Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant
Where: 8080 Montgomery Rd., 513-488-1110
When: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Wine by the glass $6.50-$12, by bottle $22.99-$47.99, Appetizers $8.99-$12.99; Entrees $14.99-$32.99; desserts $6.99
Vegetarian options: Fairly limited considering how big the menu is: several flatbreads, salads, pasta
Reservations: Taken, by phone or Open Table
Miscellaneous: Accessible to disabled, Gluten-free and low-calorie menus; tasting room, gift shop, wine club