When Karlo's Bistro Italia first opened its doors in the mid '90s, the Florence  restaurant was one of the first to introduce both northern and southern Italian cooking to Northern Kentucky.

The restaurant, a part of the Bistro Group that includes Hofbrauhaus, McAlister's Deli, the Terrace Cafe at the Cincinnati Art Museum, some 30 T.G.I.Friday's and the dining service at the Playhouse in the Park, continues that tradition.

Appetizers begin the innovative menu, and include spinach and artichoke formaggio, toasted bruschetta with garlic crostini, fried calamari, skillet roasted mussels in lemon garlic oil, stuffed mushrooms and our guest's favorite, three pepper calamari tossed with cherry peppers, roasted red peppers and hot banana peppers, all accompanied by a lemon basil mayonnaise. Soups include minestrone and a soup of the day, while salads range from the caesar to roasted vegetable and a romaine creatively adorned with marinated vegetables, feta and olives, all lounging in a delicious tomato balsamic vinaigrette. We particularly favor the lemon vinaigrette antipasto salad with its selection of salami, smoked turkey, mortadella, capacola, roma tomatoes, cucumbers and ripe olives.

Entrees include wild mushroom and chicken marsala in a rich wine sauce that ably employs gorgonzola, sun-dried tomatoes and fried spinach. What a treat. Other options include penne Arrabbiato in peppered vodka sauce, veal marsala, chicken piccata draped over angel hair pasta with a lemon-caper sauce, and eggplant and veal parmigianas.

You also can't go wrong with the Roasted Chicken Karl'™s, arriving with cherry peppers and roasted potatoes in a savory pan gravy, or the honey-glazed center cut pork chops draped over gorgonzola mashed potatoes.

Seafood lovers will quickly turn to the sauteed shrimp Danielli with roasted mushrooms, or the salmon piccata in lemon caper.

Even the pizzas here feature some unique twists: Try the wild mushroom with fontina and basil, or the formaggio topped with four Italian cheeses.

Dessert is almost impossible to imagine, after all this. But make room for the tiramisu soaked in dark rum, the authentic cannoli with sweetened ricotta, or the stand-out cappuccino pie with ice cream, caramel, rum chocolate sauce, anglaise and a dusting of cocoa.

Karlo's serves all this in an amiable atmosphere that reminds you of a vintage eatery in Manhattan's Little Italy, all fronted by a quicked-witted and able wait-staff. This Northern Kentucky treat deserves more than a single visit.

There is retro, and there is Retro. The new Vinyl restaurant in Over-the-Rhine's Main Street entertainment district deserves the term with the capital "R."

Located in a former chrome railcar straight out of the movie "Diner," Vinyl serves globally influenced modern American cuisine "designed for sharing."

The diner car has actually enjoyed many incarnations over the years, most recently as the Diner on Sycamore restaurant, and started life back in 1955 in Singac, N.J. For 28 years, it was found in Massillon as the Tiger Town Diner.

The ambience at Vinyl is art-deco edgy. Outlandish colors, most notably bright yellow, intermingle with the original silver metalwork and glass paneling. Patrons can choose to seat themselves on stools at the lunch counter, or take a seat in the main dining room attached to the railcar. Parking is no hassle, with a huge paved lot located directly across the street.

Owners Roula David and Michael Spaulding (who describe their eatery as "a groovy restaurant") have created an offbeat menu, such as duck confit spring roll with caramelized onions, anjou pear and Thai chilis. Stacked ribs are delivered in a sour orange sauce with sesame cucumber fries. The watermelon salad features melon, baby spinach, pickled onions and sweet corn, adorned in a citrus dressing. And ceviche (market price) is an ever-changing seafood each day that's marinated in citrus, herbs and spices.

Many plates are served tapas style, such as the Gazpacho Trio, featuring (A) red tomato, chipotle, onions, garlic and organic tomato juice; (B) cucumber, almond and white grapes, and (C) green tea, ginger, sesame oil, watercress and soy. Lollipops ($12) are "maple kissed" salmon suckers, shrimp with pineapple in wasabi sauce, and country fried steak in peanut gravy.

Our companions at the table, a couple of Courthouse regulars, bring governmental authority to bear when they rave about Vinyl's gourmet mini burgers. A specialty of the house, they arrive in a half-dozen varieties; we lean toward the kobe beef ($12) drenched in sweet aoili and served between Giminetti Bakery's baby brioche buns. A lobster version ($15) arrives with sambal aoili.

True to the Fabulous Fifties roots of Vinyl are the "Vinyl TV Dinners," ranging from Chicken and Waffles ($19) to the Deconstructed Tuna Casserole ($21), Crimson tuna with pasta, onion and snow peas.

Don't leave without sampling one of the restaurant's sinful chocolate desserts and brownies. In fact, they're well worth making a special trip.
-ALEX SAUNDERS

Ingredients (some assembly required)

Ingredients (some assembly required) is the new casual eatery which fronts the recently renovated Fountain Square, inside the lobby of the Westin Hotel. While it's certainly not the place to have a lengthy business meeting, the comfortable padded sofa chairs do make an easy-going place to lounge while enjoying one of the restaurant's offerings. All the items are prepared rapid-fire in a commissary setting (meaning you walk up to the counter to order).

The varied menu includes sandwiches such as Turkey & Cranberry, accented with pepper jack cheese and chipotle cranberry chutney on a seeded baguette, and the Ingredients B.L.T., featuring applewood smoked bacon with tomato and herb aoili on focaccia bread (the menu makes no promise of the "L.", or lettuce, in its description of the sandwich). Perplexing.

The signature soup is black bean, with a soup of the day added to the mix. Brick oven pizzas are personally sized at 10 inches and come loaded with your pick of tomato and basil, wild mushroom, sausage and onion, or spicy shrimp.

The salad bar is the most notable feature at Ingredients. Choose from exotic toppings that range from roasted eggplant and hearts of palm to grilled salmon and shrimp, then add vinaigrettes such as sesame ginger or roasted garlic, or try the lemon avocado dressing. All this, and a view, too. 21 E. Fifth St., 513/852-2741, www.ingredientsforyou.com.
-Alex Saunders