Ryan Santos adds a dash of creativity to Cincinnati’s fine-dining scene with Please
With access to top-quality ingredients and top-flight talent, Cincinnati has never been lacking in fine dining. From the grandeur of downtown’s Orchids at Palm Court to the antique-filled charm of Grand Finale in Glendale, diners seeking special-occasion destinations have long been spoiled for choices.
In recent years, however, a handful of ambitious young chefs trained in classic techniques have kicked up the creativity, opening inventive restaurants that push culinary boundaries while staying true to the city.
Prominent among the new regime is Ryan Santos, chef and owner of Please. An Ohio native, Santos traveled extensively in his training, working at restaurants across the United States and Europe. During a summer break in Cincinnati, he decided to open his own spot in the once-rundown neighborhood he always hoped would come back.
“Over-the-Rhine was pretty rough, but it has the biggest collection of Italianate architecture in the country,” Santos says. “It’s also extremely walkable, and it has a European aesthetic that resonated with me.”
Before securing a brick-and-mortar location, Santos tested the waters with a series of pop-up dinners, honing his voice with a collection of friends that quickly snowballed. After two years, and with the financial help of a few adamant supporters, Santos leased a space on Clay Street and hung out his shingle in late 2016.
As for the style of cuisine diners will find at Please, most reviews give it the nebulous label of new American, yet Santos pulls inspiration from many sources. There are Midwestern influences “thanks to the crayon box of ingredients,” French influences (“I have a love for French sauces”) and Japanese influences “because the complex simplicity thing is big for us.” Then, there’s Scandinavian (he cooked at the Michelin-starred Relae in Copenhagen) and even “a little Mexican influence” as well.
In less capable hands, such an eclectic menu could easily go off the rails, but Santos relies on a simple test to make sure he’s found “the balance between creativity and approachability.”
“I have a rule that anybody’s mom or dad should be able to come in and think the food tastes delicious,” he says. “It can’t just be chef food for chefs, or only satisfy the intellectual side of dining.”
Proof of his success can be found not only in his many repeat customers, but in the fact that they trust him enough to order a five-course chef’s menu that changes monthly. One favorite inspired by his time in Denmark will never drop off, though: apple aebleskivers with maple and gjetost cheese. Dripping with cheese, the dish is an “homage to Cincinnati chili parlors, but also relaxes things by having finger food in the middle of the meal.”