On Mason-Montgomery Road, past the Fields-Ertel area, north of the chain restaurant choices of Deerfield Towne Center, past the Mr. Clean Car Wash and Tide Dry Cleaners, there’s a small strip mall on the east side of the road called the White Blossom Center.
There’s a credit union and an alterations shop and a martial arts studio; you could easily drive past it without noticing, even if you were looking for dinner.
But this small collection of stores includes three restaurants that offer some of the best ethnic food in the Greater Cincinnati area: Sura Korean; Phoenecian Taverna; and Sichuan Bistro.
You could spend days and days here making your way through menus of interesting food, exploring the authentic cuisine of Korea, of Northern China, of Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East. You will be in the company, frequently, of people speaking the languages of those parts of the world, here for a taste of home. Here’s a sampling.
Sura serves authentic Korean food. There is a tatami mat room as well as regular tables.
Bibbimbap is the best introduction to Korean food if you haven’t tried this spicy, robust cuisine before. It’s a bowl of rice with several ingredients displayed attractively on the top: steamed or sauteed vegetables, meat, and a fried egg.
These are all stirred together — by you or your server — along with chili pepper paste. The egg also helps to create a moist sauce.
It is sometimes served in a large bowl of stone that is heated to very high temperatures. It creates a little crust on the rice and keeps the dish hot. It also creates a wonderful sizzle when the dish is brought to the table. Sura uses a special red rice. Galbi, or Kalbi, is another popular Korean dish: grilled short ribs marinated in a sweet sauce — they can be pork or beef.
Korean meals are always served with lots of little bowls of side dishes called banchan; they might be blanched bean sprouts or chunks of braised vegetables, or transparent noodles. Certainly there will be kimchee; you could call it Korean’s pungent version of sauerkraut.
A Korean soup is one of the best things you can eat on a cold winter’s day: blazingly hot, spicy, flavorful and filling, whether they’re made with tofu, such as soon-tofu jigae, or the many noodle soups.
The Phoenician Taverna serves food from Lebanon, which has a healthy, delicious cuisine with much in common with other Middle Eastern styles. The Taverna does Lebanese in a refined way, in casual but upscale surroundings.
The most enjoyable part of eating at The Phoenician is ordering a selection of mezze, or appetizers, that the whole table can share, such as falafel, hummus, and the crisp salad with pita called fattoush. They make their own pita, or puffed-up pocket bread — it’s an essential part of eating mezze, and many of the entrees as well.
Kibbee is the Lebanese national dish, made of lamb and bulgur wheat, and it comes in several forms. Here it’s raw, like a smooth tartar; it also comes fried or baked. There is even a vegetarian kibbee made with pumpkin.
Sichuan Bistro is often spoken of as the best Chinese restaurant in Cincinnati. It’s certainly not the fanciest: it’s bare bones, from the improvised entrance door to the handwritten menu descriptions on the wall. But if you’re looking for good and authentic Chinese food, you can really go on an adventure here.
There is both a regular Chinese-American menu and a more authentic Chinese menu, as well as those wall specials. On a recent night here, many of the tables were taken by groups of Chinese or Chinese-American teenagers; there are both Asian and non-Asian American fans.