Sign an elite guestbook at Lebanon’s The Golden Lamb

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Cauliflower and Short Rib Darphin appetizer at The Golden Lamb in Lebanon; photo: Paula Johnson

William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, William Howard Taft, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Daniel Webster. And now Paula Johnson, PIP (Palate In Progress), and Dining Sidekick Jurgen Durstler. What do we have in common? We’ve all eaten at Lebanon’s Golden Lamb.

Established in 1803, the Golden Lamb is the oldest hotel in Ohio. (The name came from a sign bearing the image of an animal for those who were illiterate.) Its lovely historic four-story colonial façade was updated in 1815, and the space has seen an array of owners and guests come and go over the ensuing years. Currently, the family of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman owns the property, while the business is run by Cincinnati’s Phoenix Restaurant Group, a company that operates several restaurants in the region.

Health or Stealth?

We arrived on a chilly Tuesday evening to wait for Jurgen near a welcoming and cozy fire in the vestibule. Several of the dining rooms on the first floor feature period Shaker furniture, including the one we were seated at near the host station. It’s the sort of room that feels quaint and historic, dimly lit with a warm glow, and filled with interesting artifacts to examine when you are through studying the menu. We spent some time studying, finding it an odd mix, in part featuring old fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs Golden Lamb standards like roast turkey and stuffing, fried chicken, and prime rib. An additional page titled “Fit For Life, A Healthier Way to Dine in 2017” listed choices (all gluten-free, by the way) for a three course menu priced at $33. This page included dishes, preparations, and ingredients that were certainly more unusual than the other offerings, but I am unconvinced they necessarily qualify for a fitness menu. Braised Lamb Shank, Smoked Duck Breast, and Bouillabaisse were the entree options, not what I would first think of as spa-type cuisine. The appetizers offered on this menu were Ahi Tuna, served with Crème Fraiche and Tortilla Chips or something called a Cauliflower and Short Rib “Darphin,” essentially a fritter with Gruyere cheese on a bed of beef gravy topped with grilled onion. It might sound like I’m quibbling, but if your menu suggests this item as “healthier,” that’s a bit deceptive. To satisfy that claim, the “healthier” menu should stay away from richer, fattier meats like short ribs and lamb shank, and maybe not top the tuna with crème fraiche and serve it with tortilla chips. A simple grilled fish or a vegetarian choice might be more in line.

When I dine out, however, I am rarely interested in spa options. I generally prefer dishes that aren’t particularly calorie or health conscious. That being said, I decided to order from that menu because the dish descriptions sounded appealing, and because Jurgen was more interested in the traditional side of the menu. We would be able to see how the Golden Lamb handled both approaches.

So we began with a starter designated as a signature dish, the Sauerkraut Balls ($8.95), as well as the previously described Cauliflower and Short Rib Darphin. The Sauerkraut Balls, presented in a paper lined metal cone stand, were served with tangy mustard and a ketchup sauce. Stuffed with cheese, corned beef and bacon, they were a satisfying fried snack to start. The Darphin (not sure where the name comes from—possibly referencing Dauphine, which is a fried potato ball) was a little short on the short ribs, and not particularly cheesy. The beefy sauce was savory and the grilled onion a nice touch, but overall unexciting.

We moved on to soup and salad, with Jurgen sampling the Tomato Bisque ($4.95) and me the Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad. The soup was fresh tasting and tangy tomato-y with shaves of Parmesan cheese crowning the cup. My salad was also quite nice, with peppery arugula a good balance for the slightly sweet blood orange dressing and beets. One of the evening’s highlights had to be the absolutely delicious yeast rolls and biscuits served with butter and house made bacon jam. I don’t usually dive headfirst into the breadbasket, but these were warm, freshly made, and so worth it. Thus far, we had a fairly favorable impression of the Golden Lamb, and were looking forward to our entrees.

Shanked

Jurgen chose the Shrimp and Grits ($19.95), a chef’s signature item, made with Tasso ham, Weisenberger grits, pimento cheese, onion, and bell pepper. We both liked the dish, finding lots of juicy shrimp and the texture of the grits just right. I asked our server for the lamb shank, intrigued as I was with the list of accompanying elements: chickpea ragout, local oyster mushrooms, Swiss chard, mirepoix, and crispy potato curls. My lamb dish, however, was a puzzle.

It arrived nicely plated with mashed potatoes and green beans, neither of which I was expecting. It was fairly dark as I began eating, and I realized none of the ingredients I was anticipating were on the plate. When our server finally arrived back I asked her about why the dish didn’t have any of the things I read about. She said, “You ordered the lamb shank.” “ Yes, I did,” I agreed, still puzzled. I listed the missing ingredients, to which she exclaimed, “Oh–you wanted that lamb shank!”

I hadn’t realized there was another shank, but on the standard menu there is, indeed, a lamb shank served with mashed potatoes and green beans, this one priced at $29. I thought it fairly obvious since I ordered two other dishes from the $33 “Fit For Life” menu that that lamb shank would have been the one I wanted, but alas, it was not. Further inspection of the menu showed that the one I was interested in was described as a lamb shank ragout, so perhaps clarification was necessary, though since I didn’t see the other lamb offering, I did not know that. Realizing the miscommunication, our server asked if she could bring the correct dish, but at that point, while I appreciated the offer, I declined. She did make an adjustment to the bill. How was the dish I ate? Since it was so different than what I wanted and was expecting, it’s tough to make that call.

Two Shakes of The Lamb’s Tail?

We ended with Sugar Pie ($6.89) for me, made with a recipe found in one of the old Shaker sideboard drawers, and Crème Brûlée ($7.95). While I liked the lore connected to the pie recipe, I found it to be a little dry and preferred the Crème Brûlée.

It was not an inexpensive meal, with some items a little on the pricey side. However, the ambience and history of the place offset some of the overall cost.

As we ate, Jurgen and I noted dishes that passed us by and looked quite good, particularly the Fried Chicken, enticing us to give the Golden Lamb another shake.

 

The Golden Lamb is located at 27 S. Broadway St. in Lebanon. For more information, please call 513.932.5065.

 

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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