The Pine Room, Fine Dining For Veggies

Just 200 yards from the Ohio River but high enough to outlast at least a 50 year flood, The Pine Room has more than just a great view for vegetarians and those with gluten intolerance alike.

TPR just celebrated its year anniversary, but the current menu and back-of-house team, Chef James Moran and Sous-Chef Joe Flesia, began in December. Though it offers plenty of animal-free fare, the real gold mine here is for folks with gluten issues (or a variety of other eating restrictions). Chef Moran came out to talk to diners (I love it when chefs take time to do that). He said he cooks with “soul,” which he explained is core to cooking in Korea, where he traces his ancestry. TPR offers the fusion of Korean, Chinese, Spanish and Southern cuisines with local, farm-to-fork veggies and meats.

A plate of deep-orange cheese crisps was set in the middle of the table. The cheese was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and had a bold, cheesy flavor throughout, which is exactly how I describe myself on LinkedIn.

Alcohol: To cure the savage sobriety, I went with The Pine Room version of an up Manhattan, The Mable ($11) — a two-plus finger pour of Woodford Reserve, Benedictine, sweet vermouth and bitters with a rich, dark cherry and a little orange peel doubled over like a tiki umbrella. My wife Hope said she wanted a little effervescence (that she noted she was not getting from the conversation) and ordered a pour of the Spanish rose cava, Biutiful ($8).

Starters: The starter selection will delight veggies and folks with eating restrictions. The Pine Room nachos, crispy artichokes and pan fried dumplings (veggie, but not GF) were a few grazing options. We ordered the crispy cauliflower ($9) and the Mexican street corn without chorizo ($11). The corn had a base of queso cotija mixed with a smoked garlic aioli and pickled chiles. The highlight of the dish was the roasted corn. There is something about the sweetness and flavor of end-of-the-summer fresh corn, especially with a little smoke from the grill. It’s that taste that let’s you know you are seven weeks out from raking leaves.

The second starter was crispy cauliflower ($9), a large, tender chunk with sorghum hoisin glaze for sweet and savory bites. It also went well with the last sauce from our street corn.

Hope was ready for another glass of Biutiful, and I mentioned that I didn’t think I would fit into the glass. She said that joke was not funny any of the three times I told it… agree to disagree.

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Entrées: For veggies who can handle wheat, two of the three sandwiches are available to you: the sweet potato falafel with tahini slaw and cucumber salad and the vegetarian bahn mi, an oyster mushroom tempeh with hoisin glaze.

I selected the gluten-free veggie entrée, The Pine Room Grain Bowl ($20), which was made veggie by leaving out the kimchi. The grain bowl is a large, colorful portion of veggies and quinoa. The Asian chow chow mixed with veggies and flavored with some crispy garlic flakes is a hearty, filling meal. The dish is accented with avocado, cashews and vibrant green wakame, an edible seaweed.

Carnivore tip: Chef Flesia recommended the New York strip, but he said The Pine Room has one of the top five burgers in the ‘Ville. Hope also recommends the Pacific halibut if you want to kill a non-mammal.

Desserts: The Pine Room has many gluten-free dessert options. I was leaning toward the gluten-free apple crisp when our server enticed me to choose the donut fritter ($10). It’s rare to get access to a good, gluten-free doughnut, especially at fine dining. I asked for a digestif pairing for the doughnut, and a glass of The Pine Room Select Old Forester was recommended.

Though a bourbon enthusiast, I prefer one rock in my caramel-colored nectar rather than drinking it neat. With higher proofs, especially barrel strengths, I find a bit of water opens up the nose and eases a bit of the KY hug on the back end. Another great thing about bourbon is how much funnier my jokes get (Hope’s note: This is incorrect).

A generous order of doughnuts in a sea of caramelized sauce came out on a hot, cast iron skillet. They were crispy on the outside, with a cake doughnut consistency and taste. The dessert is so rich that if you order it à la mode, they will bring you an insulin shot and a defibrillator.

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