Romantic-ish Pre-Valentine’s dinner and drinks at one of OTR’s newest hot spots.
One of the most recent dining and nightlife hot spots to pop up on Vine Street is Japanese GastroPub and sushi bar, Kaze OTR. Located on the first floor of the former Cincinnati Color Company building, the restaurant, which is pronounced “Kah-zey,” boasts a balanced blend of hip and romantic — perfect for a Valentine’s Day dinner.
To test out the Valentine-ness of it all, my date was a person I will always love: my best friend, Heather. We decided to eat at the bar the Friday night we stopped by because not a single table was open, which was wonderful to see at a new restaurant. (It should be noted that the night we went, the full dining room wasn’t open to the public yet, only the bar area. The full restaurant should be open mid-January.)
Kaze’s interior was dimly lit (10 romance points) and featured dark wood furniture with pops of color provided by Asian accent lanterns and three widescreen TVs on the wall across from the bar. There were tables on either side of the front door, each enclosed by a huge windowpane and some curtains. It felt very open, which might not seem conducive to romance, but I liked the feeling of inviting the atmosphere of the bar into the dining experience.
Heather and I stared at the menu — and mock-longingly at each other — as we tried to think of what food qualified as “romantic.” In reality, everything on the small, light fare menu is geared toward people in love with good food … and possibly each other. We decided to be adventurous in our selection and that meant trying something called the Uni Shooter, a Japanese-inspired sea urchin shot.
Heather and I both ordered one because they were described by our efficient bartender Nicholas as tasting “like the ocean in a glass.” Heather has never been to an ocean, so we figured this was as close as she could get for the time being. The shots arrived — and we were a tad hesitant.
Accented by a slice of cucumber, the sea urchin was like a little glob in the shot glass. We looked at each other, toasted our glasses and sucked it down. It was slimy and did in fact taste like the ocean. Not bad, not spectacular, but I’m willing to concede that I’m not the most adventurous foodie, so perhaps (probably) the Uni Shooter will appeal to those who are.
We each ordered a drink, too. I got the Araki, Kaze’s take on the Manhattan, which is phenomenal. It’s named after the artist that did the artwork in the building, a friend of owner Jon Zipperstein. Heather had a classic vodka tonic, always a good choice.
We perused the menu, which will be expanded when the dining room opens, and Heather ordered the Pork Buns while I chose The OTR Roll. After we placed our order, Nicholas offered us a tour of the under-construction dining room and back garden. We grabbed our drinks and followed him over a little bridge that connects the dining room and the bar, passed the open kitchen walkway and saw what is going to be a fantastic dining room.
Kaze’s dining room is full of dark wood tables and the sushi bar is the main attraction. Positioned at the back of the dining room, we were introduced to the head chef, Hideki Harada (formerly of Embers in Kenwood) who was busy preparing a myriad of food but greeted us warmly. Nicholas then led us to the back patio, which was mostly just-broken ground, but the vision he described is one I can’t wait to experience.
Last on our tour was a stop to the ladies room, which you reach by taking an elevator to the basement. My fellow females will appreciate this: The bathroom is massive. Brightly decorated with distinctly modernist floral wallpaper and huge sinks, the bathroom is seriously one of the best in OTR. Our food arrived moments after we returned to our seats. The OTR Roll — with tuna, avocado, cucumber and a spicy scallion ponzu sauce — was great. The Pork Buns were soft and stuffed with slightly unwieldy, crispy pork. Heather’s one-word review after taking a bite: “Awesome.”
I think my favorite part of Kaze OTR was the fact that so many different people stopped in over the course of our time there. In addition to the six people that eventually joined Heather and I for our romantic night out, a number of other familiar faces were present and the open atmosphere really invited mingling and chatting. I loved it and foresee many more stops to this burgeoning section of Vine Street, especially once the full menu is unveiled and the dining room and patio are open.