I recently joined the Young Professionals’ Choir Collective, and our section (altos) decided to head to Zula Bistro for its post-rehearsal food and drink expedition.
I’d never heard of this place, and that kind of makes me sad. Unlike other Over-the-Rhine establishments that have opened over the past year, which have done a really fantastic job of getting the word out, I feel like the publicity for this place’s opening was lacking. That, or I was living under a rock. Who knows.
Location: Situated in the not-so-convenient part of the Over-the-Rhine (read: northwest corner near Washington Park and not on Vine or Main Streets, where seemingly everything else is), I fully expect to see this sector to be just as renovated, thriving, and busy as the heart of OTR in the next couple of years. Parking can either be found on the street or in the WashingtonPark parking garage. I really like WashingtonPark, so I think that this location, while “farther” from the rest of the popular bars and restaurants in the heart of OTR, will bode well especially for Park-goers as the warmer months approach.
Atmosphere: As I entered Zula, I felt like I was walking into a much larger Senate. And, for those of you who don’t know, I am a huge, huge fan of Senate and its interior décor (okay, fine, its food, too). Wood floors lead you through a decently-sized (read: two entire store fronts as in Taste of Belgium, from what I recall) restaurant which boasts chair and booth seating, exposed brick, contemporary and minimalist design (both in the restaurant as well as on the menus), and a darkly- but not uncomfortably-lit ambience accentuated with candles. Very nice, very comfortable, but about what you would expect from an OTR restaurant: not a bad thing (a very good thing, in fact), but an observation nonetheless. Like I would describe most establishments in this area, Zula is “OTR Chic”, which I would describe as sophisticated and well-designed, but pretty casual and not stuffy.
Food: It took a little while for the server to take our orders, which was probably my biggest gripe about the experience. It was after 9pm on a Tuesday and some of us have to work, y’know. I digress. He was nice, nonetheless, and did a pretty great job with a party of more than 10. From what I remember, he made zero mistakes with our orders. A friend and I got way more than we bargained for, but I’m glad I got to try three different things from the menu (and all—including a pop—for $28). She and I opted for the goat cheese flatbread, house-made bread with vinegar and oil, and fresh-cut fries. The flatbread was definitely the stand-out of the meal, while the house-made bread was warm and fluffy and utterly spectacular: “the best in all of OTR,” another friend exclaimed. The vinegar and oil, however, was unspectacular, and the fresh-cut fries disappointingly (to a self-proclaimed condiment queen, anyway) showed up to our table without a condimenty sidekick. Improvising, the server provided us with a basil (read: glorified mayonnaise) dipping sauce as well as a sweet and sour (read: mostly sriracha) version for variety. While they were both okay, I yearned for an aioli or —at the very least—chipotle mayo to go with them.
I was pretty impressed yet not amazed by this place, and maybe that’s because I had zero expectations to begin with. Next time (and I hope there is a next time), I fully expect Date to get the mussels. I hear they are tops.
Overall Grade: B- [out of a possible A+]