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Roasted chicken “porchetta” parmesan broth with braised root vegetables / Image courtesy of Sartre // Published: 12.15.17

French Existentialism Hits Cincinnati With Sartre, OTR’s Coolest New Restaurant

This article could go one of two ways. I’m going to choose the latter. In that case, here’s a link to Sartre’s now-famous press release. Have a read if you want your Cincinnati Refined with a side of frisson. Or don’t. As the poem makes abundantly clear, you can do whatever you want.

But that, friends, is the last time we’ll broach the enigmatic, the phenomenological, the macabre atmospherics of despair—in short, anything concerning Jean-Paul himself. It’s all restaurant talk from here.

Ready? Go.


And it’s a darn good one. Let’s begin with the spirits.

Rhinegeist has brewed a French table beer called Being that’s only on tap at Sartre. It tastes like a Belgian wit or the Hefeweizen Hugh Rhinegeist already cans. Regardless, it’s very difficult to have just one, especially during happy hour (4-5pm). Though if you’re in the mood for a different brew, Sartre can accommodate; they have two dozen taps.

Thinking about a cocktail? Well, Sartre's are among the best in OTR, which really is saying something at this point. The Other Side Of Despair (spiced gin, batavia-arrack, lillet rose, donn’s mix) comes highly recommended. As does Present Company (brugal anejo, tequila, benedictine, apple, sumac shrub). They offer absinthe service too. And if anyone’s brave enough to try it, they should let us know how it goes.

Among the wines, the Fuori Strada rosé stands out for its price ($6 during happy hour) and its dryness. Otherwise, the wine list is expansive. And that is all I have to say about that.

Now, to the food.

The charred romanesco is full of umami thanks to the black garlic mayo. The lentil falafel and “smash fry” potatoes are excellent bar bites, though I’ve heard good things about the piquillo pepper beignets as well. Meanwhile the “poisson frit” is light and crispy, the confit pork leg is perfectly moist, and the country pâté is every bit as delicious as Sotto’s chicken liver mousse (not that we're making the comparison).

As you can see, it’s French. But it’s not the traditional French of Paul Bocuse (or Julia Child). Nor is it exactly French recipes forked into modern dishes. The flavors are certainly assertive, and many of the dishes seem to spring creatively from a unifying sauce—that’s French food for you. But there’s something refreshingly direct about Sartre’s fare, something you’ll have to taste (and see!) to experience.

A word about the decor before we wrap this up. How you design a restaurant this beautiful, I don’t know. It’s at once rustic and industrial, weathered and modern. And it’s nothing like anything in OTR at the moment. Again, it’s something you’ll have to experience yourself, and when you do I’m betting you come away impressed...

...the Kantian phenomenology notwithstanding.

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Sartre is located at 1910 Elm Street, Over-the-Rhine, 45202.