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Dine Like a Royal in The Queen City

Dine Like a Royal in The Queen City

Sotto transports guests to a subterranean Italian wine cellar

When listing off great culinary cities, Cincinnati might not be the first place one considers, but to write it off would be a mistake. Its downtown district is experiencing a revival, and among the contributing factors is Sotto, which made OpenTable’s List of the 100 Best Restaurants in America.

The Italian eatery is by Chef David Falk, an alum of Chicago’s Spiaggia and the former Charlie Trotter’s, who also worked in Ristorante Paris in Rome, and Ristorante Dulcamara with Chef Pierre Luigi de Campo in Province of Florence.

“Inspired by (Chef David Falk’s) many trips to Italy, the food is real, handmade and authentic,” says Becca Vickery, a spokesperson for the restaurant. “Seven days a week, Sotto is filled with pasta, laughter and rock ‘n roll jamming through the speakers.”

Just looking at the restaurant captivates your imagination and kicks off your experience. The Roaring Twenties era building in which it’s located looks like it came out of one of the scenes from “The Godfather.” The slim, six-level building is two-toned ivy green and brick red. The entrance is located in an enclave, with steps leading down into a basement. It feels like a portal into the world of speakeasies. Except this time around, it’s a bit easier to gain admittance.

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Once inside the former steakhouse, the atmosphere is dark, cozy and mysterious. The antique brick-and-mortar structure reminded Falk of his trips to Italy and inspired the Sotto concept. There’s no cheesy decor or stereotypical music. It’s straightforward in a way that is associated with modest Midwest roots. That’s perhaps what led a then-single Serena Williams and Drake to have a quiet date night at the venue.

“It’s the only place I always make sure to dine in when I’m back home,” says Liza Hill, a Cincinnati native who currently resides in Chicago.

The website promises a menu of “fire, meat, wheat and above all, Italian,” and Sotto delivers. The dinner menu is simple and divided into three categories: appetizers, pasta and meat. Expect to see the skills Falk learned in upscale dining on display in his cacio e pepe, rigatoni made with lamb sausage and a porterhouse steak for groups up to six. Reservations book out up to two months in advance, but that’s evened out with a bar policy that’s always first come first served.

And when it comes to what the bartenders are serving, customers have their selections of wine from the boot-shaped country, or they can opt for an artisanal cocktail like the Il Fumo, a gin-based drink made with cardamaro, sfumato and demerara.

Sotto’s concept is unpretentious and well-thought out. It adds depth to a city that’s rapidly growing, and Falk forces people to see it as something more than the home of Skyline Chili.

“This place is made for getting together with friends and family, noshing on pasta and/or sharing a plate of grilled bread with a complete stranger while lounging at a communal table,” says Vickery. “Nothing extra serious here, except a mean Bolognese.”

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