American cuisine that travels!
I’ve happily dined at La Poste in Clifton's Gaslight District many times since it opened last October. But I have always been so taken with the space and experience that I never even noticed this incredible phrase, painted in reverse on the wall of the foyer, revealed only to the most curious in a mirror above the banquette seating area.
On a recent blazing hot Saturday afternoon in July, a mere half-day after the restaurant went into “let’s roll” mode when the electricity died at 8 pm with a full house of customers, I tested my personal view that a visit to La Poste was much like taking a trip around the world without ever leaving Cincinnati. Executive Chef Dave Taylor…Wine Director and Certified Sommelier Bryant Phillips…Top Young Sommelier and Certified Sommelier Eric Faber...their eyes locked, then heads swiveled to the quote shimmering in the mirror, and in unison they said “you get it!” Whew!!!
For readers with long memories, La Poste occupies the old post office space on Telford Street just around the corner from the Esquire Theater on Ludlow. Others may recall this space as the recent home of Tinks. But in this incarnation as La Poste, well… vive la différence!
La Poste is the culmination of many dreams and considerable talent. All of this is evident on a menu featuring classic global cuisine simply prepared with fresh American ingredients and richly flavored with French cooking techniques (think butter and herbs). The menu is perfectly and easily paired with wines by the glass or bottle – gently assisted by the staff, if you wish – from an expansive and nuanced list of more than 900 bottles. There is a definite nod to French wines, making clear connections to the food, but the comprehensive list is unto itself a trip around the world. As a bonus on a busy night you might be able to find a seat at the bar to enjoy a unique cocktail crafted by mixologist Susy Mulroy.
This delightful convergence of relationships and experiences now known as La Poste is the result of a recipe for success deserving of its own signature cocktail: one part hard work and preparation, one part strategy, and one part shaken-not-stirred serendipity. With Bryant’s wife Kelly Lough and business partner Jens Rosenkrantz, Taylor and Phillips are owners/operators of La Poste. They have serious skin in the game. On any given night at least one of the partners is personally present in the restaurant.
Executive Chef Dave Taylor attributes his street cred to parents who are “exceptional cooks” and starting out as a self-taught chef who "came out of the dish tank" at a local high-volume restaurant. Dave has restaurant biz in his DNA. He worked his way through high school and college in restaurants, and after graduating from Bowling Green with a business degree, Dave pursued his first fine-dining experience at the Chocolate Morel in Mason. Next up was a defining stint at Honey in Northside, working with chef/owner Shoshannah Hafner, where he began to develop a palate for pairing wine with food and a passion for sourcing local ingredients.
That experience led Taylor to the Jean-Robert Group where he was opening sous chef at Lavomatic. At that time, Bryant Phillips was Sommelier at Chalk, also part of the (then) J-R Group. They actually met because Bryant played T-ball with Dave's wife!
Now La Poste’s Wine Director, Phillips is one of few Certified Sommeliers in Cincinnati. Like Dave Taylor, Bryant has worked with some of Cincinnati’s finest chefs over a 15-year career in the restaurant business, including Paul Sturkey (at his eponymous restaurant Sturkey’s in Wyoming) and Jean-Robert Cavel (at both Pho Paris and Chalk). His serious passion for wine started developing more than a decade ago, which led to becoming certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
By 2009, both Taylor and Phillips had reached a point in their careers where they shared the goal of restaurant ownership and sought out opportunity to test a potential partnership. The idea gelled when together they ran the Wise Owl Wine Bar in West Chester.
In a flash of great irony, they had decided that the Telford Street location occupied by Tinks was ideal for their future business. When Tinks closed in 2010, their plan to open a restaurant together fell into place in just four weeks! They had recently met Jens Rosenkrantz, a seasoned world traveler and avowed foodie who in their view, as the former owner of the Cincinnati Wine Garage, was the perfect business partner. In June the lease was signed, liquor license secured and concept finalized. La Poste opened for business on October 4. And just to add to the excitement, Phillips and Kelly Lough (who is managing partner for the front of the house) learned that their first bambino was on the way!
So wise beyond their years, Taylor and Phillips knew as young owners that they would have to work hard to earn their customers' respect by providing interesting healthy food and an excellent dining experience. La Poste is intentionally designed, top to bottom, to play to strengths. Each person has a specialty role, but is also familiar with all other aspects of the business. The owners understand that a restaurant works (or not) on the backs of its servers. The partners' core values are education and honesty (with a little happiness for everyone mixed in, especially customers!). Their philosophy is to work as a team. Tip sharing among wait staff is one example; low turnover rates among a relatively young kitchen crew is another slice of evidence.
Indeed, in less than a year their approach appears to be working well. The efficient kitchen of this busy 84-seat restaurant can handle up to 220 meals on a weekend night, and reservations are a must.
By the end of the year La Poste will have four certified Sommeliers on staff, more than any other restaurant in Cincinnati. Last month Eric Faber joined the staff of La Poste. He is perhaps better known nationally than locally for his achievement as a Top Young Sommelier for the Great Lakes Region in a competition sponsored by the Guild of Sommeliers. Eric's background continues the La Poste team’s strong theme of experience and excellence of a young staff: Montgomery Inn at age 15, college summers at the Dubliner, helping to re-open the East End Cafe in 2005. Deep knowledge in the craft beer category caught the attention of A Bottle or Two in Symmes Township. There he met Master Sommelier Ron Edwards who convinced Eric to pursue a career in wine. One year and 9,000 flash cards later, Eric was certified and studying for Level III.
Continuing a long string of personal serendipity, Eric met Bryant Phillips when paired with him at a "somm smack-down" hosted by The Art of Entertaining in O'Bryonville, and was seated with him as a judge for the Cincinnati International Wine Festival. When La Poste recently lost a top server, the next move was clear.
Faber is now helping to conduct the restaurant's weekly staff wine education program. I was a willing participant in his fast-paced "drill" comparing Italian Chianti to Spanish Rioja, Sangiovese to Tempranillo. Using the Court's professional assessment process, Eric ran the staff through the disciplined steps of appearance, aroma, flavor and overall quality rating to showcase a comparative understanding of the wines' character. Most important was the closing note: best pairing options from La Poste's current fresh menu.
For Eric, Sangiovese's benchmark character is mushroom, cigar box for Tempranillo. Other classic markers for Chianti include floral violet aromas and earthy, vibrant cherry flavors. For the Tempranillos of northern Spain, it’s plum, savory herbs and leather. Food pairings follow these profiles right down the line. Choose the caesar salad, mushroom ravioli, veal short ribs or even mussels and clams with a hint of salty grilled tomatoes to pair perfectly with Chianti. With the Tempranillo, any meat entrée will be divine, even chicken, or frankly any of the robust and flavorful dishes on the menu. But look especially to the fabulous gorgonzola burger or grilled pork chop for an ideal Tempranillo pairing.
I recently dined at La Poste with members of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs (Cincinnati Bailliage). We happily filled the restaurant on a steaming summer night, adding our own combustion to the heat of the day with conversation and wine. I chose simple, fresh items from the summer menu, including a baby iceberg salad with interesting ingredients such as pickled red onions and aged Gouda, and the salmon entrée which is served on a bed of quinoa, caramelized mirepoix and asparagus. A glass of lightly sparkling red dessert wine, Brachetto d'Acqui (from the Piedmont region of Italy), was a special treat from a special Sommelier – the perfect match with warm, crunchy bread pudding laced with white chocolate and cherries. Yum!!
If you go:
3410 Telford St. (Clifton)
Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.
(Photos courtesy of La Poste)