Traveling during the holidays can be a “treat” and I had a feeling our trip back to the East Coast would be particularly interesting after we started our day with an hour plus delay. Fast forward to a rocky landing, sprinting to our connecting flight only to find our flight had been cancelled, and realizing that we were stranded in Cincinnati for the night. My premonition had come to fruition and would further be compounded once we found out the earliest flight we could get on wasn’t until 11:30am the next morning. We’d never make it to D.C. in time for the football game we planned to attend for my sister’s birthday.
However, after hearing horror stories, such as a woman who wasn’t able to make it home to say goodbye to her ill father in time, we decided we were fortunate and to make the most of our unexpected stop. In the chaos leading up to the holidays, we had not seen much of one another, so this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to have an impromptu date night.
I wanted to go some place convenient and close to our hotel, especially since it was pouring out. Many of the restaurants in proximity to our hotel closed around 10pm, which didn’t give us many options to work with. Just as we were about to settle on something, Jake came across an Italian restaurant in Downtown Cincinnati and convinced me to go. Little did we know at the time what a gem we had stumbled upon.
At first, we had a hard time finding the restaurant, but we eventually found a simple door tucked down a flight of stairs with “Sotto” prominently displayed. I was immediately struck by the understated elegance. As we stepped inside, we pushed aside a curtain and walked down more steps before being greeted by a bustling restaurant dotted with chandeliers and exposed brick walls. The cozy escape had European flare laced with prohibition-style vibes.
Somehow, we managed to get kitchen seating and I couldn’t help but nerd out as I watched the kitchen in action. The staff was friendly and radiated Midwestern warmth. We learned from him that there had been a fire involving their wood oven a few weeks prior, so they had to completely revamp their menu. He lamented that some of the aesthetics were lost as a result, but I thought they did a great job of making limoncello out of lemons by subbing in candle sticks for a roaring fire. The fire would have been nice, but the candle sticks offered a soothing environment after the day we had.
During the meal, we started talking to someone in the kitchen and were surprised to learn we were speaking to the Chef de Cuisine, Danny Combs. He was inviting and gave us more background on the restaurant. Sotto and Danny don’t take Italian food lightly— he takes his sous chefs to the Piedmont region of Italy once a year to ensure their cooking is as authentic as possible. “I want them to think, ‘If we were a restaurant in Italy, what would the food really taste like,” he told us.
We started with beef tartare and I exclaimed to Jake that the olive oil tasted as good as the EVOO we had on our honeymoon in Italy. When I recounted this to Danny, he explained that they source all of their olives from Italy and hand press them in house. We split short rib cappellacci for our main course and Danny mentioned that the pasta was made in house as well. He went on further to tell us that Sotto sources all of their meat from Hungary and France.
None of the dishes we had were over the top, but they were absolutely delicious. This really underlines the importance of fresh ingredients, something that was impressed upon us on our honeymoon in Tuscany and Sotto absolutely nailed.
Sotto offered one of the best overall dining experiences I’ve had in awhile. Both Jake and I felt like we were back in Italy with the simple, yet mouthwatering dishes and the wine list was impressive (notes on the Super Tuscan we paired our meal with are below). We later found out from Jake’s cousin who lives in Cincinnati that Sotto is one of the top restaurants in the city and was recently named a top 100 restaurant in the country by OpenTable— she was shocked we were able to get in. Guess good things (and eats) can come from flight cancellations!
Thank you to Sotto and its staff for welcoming us to Cincinnati and reminding us what’s important (especially during the holidays)— the people you care about, good food, and a positive attitude.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy
This Super Tuscan was comprised of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 20% Sangiovese grapes, and 5% Cabernet Franc grapes. It was full bodied and had hints of cherry, baking spices, and cinnamon flavors. The wine took awhile to open up, but once it did, WOW. If you like earthy and mildly dry wines, this wine is for you. The wine was a great pairing for our beef tartare, short rib cappellacci, and surprisingly, the chicken liver mousse we also started our meal with.
(Top photo via: Cincinnati Magazine)