Finely done fish
Michael G's formal atmosphere complements appetizing selection of seafood

BY POLLY CAMPBELL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's always hard getting a new restaurant up and running, but Michael G's on Kellogg Avenue has had more to deal with than most. Four months after it opened, the March flooding filled the dining room with 8 feet of river sludge.

Michael G's
***

Food: Good.

Service: Good.

Atmosphere: Excellent.

Value: Good.

What: Fine dining on the river, focusing on fresh fish and seafood.

Where: 4601 Kellogg Ave., Columbia Tusculum, at Rivertowne Marina.

When: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner: 4:30-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. Early-bird menu 4:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday.

Recommended dishes: Chilled blue point oysters, smoked Norwegian salmon, blackened swordfish, sauteed scallops over angel hair pasta.

Vegetarian choices: No entrees on menu.

Prices: Appetizers: $3.95-$7.50. Entrees: $11.95-$19.95. Desserts: $3.95.

Paying for it: American Express, MasterCard, VISA.

Reservations: Taken.

Sound level: 72 decibels on a Friday night. (Most restaurants range from 60 decibels, a dignified calm, to 90 decibels, a din).

Miscellaneous: Full banquet facilities; private dining room, kids' menu, live jazz weekends, wheelchair accessible.

Phone: 533-3131.

It's hard to believe now, stepping into a lovely, sophisticated dining room. In the subdued lighting, the white table linens and servers' uniforms gleam. The walls are dark wood, soft sofas sit in front of a stone fireplace near the grand piano and wide windows overlook a swimming pool and the Rivertowne Marina. The river is a little out of view, but the wooded hills of Kentucky are a pleasant green backdrop. The atmosphere is marred only by a TV above the bar, visible from some tables, and the bathrooms, which are small and (I know this is an odd criticism, but I wasn't the only person to notice) too quiet.

Fish is the mainstay of the menu. Though prices are not notably high, Michael G's has put itself in the fine dining category by creating a style of service and decor leaning toward formal.

Sometimes, service crosses the line between formal and fussy. Valet parking, for instance, seems a bit much when there's a huge parking lot. Bringing fresh silverware on a clean napkin does, too. It seems especially hard for young servers to rise to the requirements of formal service without coming off a little awkward. It's also difficult to do the pre-ordering spiel about fish being flown in daily, etc., and make it seem natural.

Soup or salad included

Nevertheless, the fish is cooked well and served simply. An appetizer of smoked Norwegian salmon ($7.50) is case in point: rolls of salmon decorated classically with chopped hard-boiled egg and onions, served with triangles of rye toast. Chilled blue point oysters ($5.95 for six) are absolutely fresh, clean and quivery. Like a lot of people, I can barely stand to look at an oyster if it isn't fresh, but I could have eaten a dozen of these. Fried calamari with sweet chili dipping sauce ($6.25) looks pale, but not cooking it to a crisp keeps it tender and tasting more of squid than of breading. Crab legs, sold by the ounce ($1.95) are never easy to eat when trying to live up to elegant surroundings, but if you can wield a shell cracker and pick with aplomb, these offer a sweet return on your effort. A good non-seafood appetizer is grilled portabella ($4.50), served in a dark soy-touched sauce.

Soup or salad comes with dinner. The house salad consists of lovely bibb lettuce, carrots, a generous amount of blue cheese and a way-too-sweet raspberry vinaigrette. If you choose soup, black bean is good; conch chowder and clam chowder are too creamy.

A selection of 12 fish, flown in daily, makes up the bulk of Michael G's menu. Most are familiar, from yellowfin tuna, the most expensive at $19, to freshwater catfish ($14.25) and halibut ($18.25). All are served unsauced and unadorned, except for a lemon half decoratively wrapped in yellow gauze.

I tried something I'd never had before, wolf fish ($11.75), described as an ocean catfish. I ordered it sauteed, but I believe it came blackened, as it sported a lightly salty and spicy crust. Inside, the mild flesh was flaky and white.

Swordfish steak ($18.50), also blackened, was cooked through to the center, just right unless you like it rare.

Rainbow trout ($14.25) is offered char-grilled or sauteed. It was grilled maybe a minute too long, dry on the thin edges. No dryness problem with the scallops, served on garlic and butter-sauced angel hair pasta ($15.95). With a golden crust, they were succulent and bright white inside.

All entrees, except pasta, come with boiled new potatoes tossed in a Thai chili sauce, just a little sweet and spicy. It's an interesting change of pace, though an additional choice, such as pilaf or pasta, would be welcome.

Map Because the restaurant is so close to the marina, I imagine they have many regular customers who would appreciate some variety. The vegetable does vary night to night. Once it was green beans, cooked just crunchy. Another night it was bright green snow peas, also treated well.

Contrasting entrees

The non-fish section of the menu includes chicken fettuccine alfredo ($11.95), rack of lamb ($19.95) and two steaks. Filet mignon ($18.95), ordered rare, came rare. The juicy red meat and charred exterior couldn't have been more of a contrast to the delicate fish dishes.

Desserts ($3.95) are basic and just about foolproof -- Graeter's vanilla and black raspberry chip ice cream, Bonbonerie's opera cream cake and cheesecake. Again, I think regulars would appreciate more variety.

When finished eating, order coffee or an after-dinner drink and linger at Michael G's. On weekends, the Herb Kirschner trio plays jazz as the sun goes down.

Reviews are done anonymously at Enquirer expense. Ratings take into consideration quality of food, service, presentation and atmosphere, balanced against price.

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