At Zen Garden, many of the Asian dishes sound familiar, with adjectives like "orange," "sweet ‘n’ sour," and "kung pao." However, rather than tossing chicken or beef in with these classic flavors, the kitchen has adopted a meat-free credo. Chefs mix masterfully seasoned bites of tofu and other meat alternatives with fresh veggies, creating entrees such as green beans stir-fried with mock duck and the barbecued-soy sandwich. Noodles tangle around shiitake mushrooms in both the udon-noodle soup and the shiitake mushroom lo mein, and curry sauce imbues eggplant and shredded tofu with a spicy kick. Guests can pair their meal with a cup of green tea, prepped hot, iced, or in its purest form: emeralds that have not yet been juiced.
Though the chefs at Mandarin revere classically prepared Chinese dishes, they aren’t afraid to add a dash of inventive flair with internationally inspired twists. Hawaiian-style preparations of sweet-and-sour chicken join other Chinese comfort food, such as Chinese- or Singapore-style me fen, a mix of thin rice noodles with vegetables and meats such as pork and beef. Rice and noodle bowls from the Tour of Asia menu cull flavors from Osaka, Seoul, and Hong Kong, and traditional Chinese dishes such as chicken with snow peas and sesame beef round out the menu. Staffers pour martinis into curvy-stemmed glasses or help guests pair wines amid the dining room's mandarin-orange walls, bamboo placemats, and geisha statuettes.
Maritime munchers can lounge in the soothing ambience of the Ohio River and passing boats while perusing the tasty sights of the menu. Sun-gazing feasters can grab a table on the expansive summertime outdoor patio to properly enjoy a three cheese burger ($9.50) or one of many sandwiches, including the oven toasted Mediterranean vegetable sandwich with zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, mozzarella and parmesan. Indoor diners can sit in the stone-walled lodge while satiating an appetite with a delicious medley of New York strip steak ($29), glazed salmon ($18) or a platter of fried or broiled cod, shrimp and scallops served with cole slaw and steak fries ($19). Thirsty sailors can cure a dry throat with one of four draft beers or more than 20 bottled selections, as well as a vast listing of white and red wines and specialty cocktails such as Captain's Lemonade, which is shaken up with Three Olives Citron, triple sec, sweet and sour mix and a splash of lemon-lime soda. Captain's Quarters Riverside Grille also regales guests with occasional live musical entertainment and tales of nautical adventures hunting mythical sea creatures such as the Lochness monster and Hulk Hogan.
Bred on Louisiana-style cooking, local restaurateur Grant Gieseler was dismayed by the lack of quality southern fare in the Cincinnati area. He and his business partner Blake Gieseler founded Bayou Fish House to introduce the area to fresh fried fish and hearty gumbo. Diners can grab meals to go or kick back at the bar or seating area and tell exaggerated tales about the biggest fish they ever ate. The eatery's walls sport a paddle, a life preserver, and various aquatic tchotchkes to remind fish of their home.
Succulent aromas and a symphony of sizzling meat emerge from Cast Iron Steak House's kitchen, where sirloin, rib eyes, and T-bone steaks sear inside of cast-iron skillets. For each of these steakhouse favorites, the staff personally ages, cuts, and rubs slabs of USDA beef in house. Though it's their specialty, the chefs expertise extends beyond just steaks and steak-related mythology.
For more than 60 years, KingFish Restaurants have been grilling, broiling, and frying a bounty of sea-dwelling edibles. Lobster tails, tilapia fillets, and freshly shucked oysters punctuate a menu of more than 25 seafood selections that adorn plates breaded in a golden crust or blackened in Cajun seasonings. More terrestrial morsels arrive in the form of fried frog legs and 10-ounce rib-eye steaks, which are grilled to order and taught to swim before arriving to tables.
The flavors aren't the only things inspired by the majesty of the water, though; two of the restaurant's locations are perched directly on the banks of the Ohio River. Diners can gaze through expansive windows or breathe fresh air on a covered patio as they savor their meals amid sparkling waters framed by the Louisville skyline. The understated sound of rushing water is periodically interrupted on select nights, when live bands entertain dinner guests and provide a soundtrack for the underwater ecosystem's endless Disney auditions.