Under the Table

A chronicle of gastronomic adventures by G.A. Benton

Aug 2

Restaurant Week: Till

Last week, Till’s $20, 3-course dinner special beckoned to us like icy beer on a sweltering evening

Speaking of which, Till’s beer-tail — the almost Saison-y Old Porch Swing — was pretty refreshing on the place’s packed little patio. Still, I preferred Till’s bracing and thoroughly terrific martini riff called the Martinez, made with Ransom, that great “Old Tom”-style, scotch-colored gin

Fried green tomatoes with shiitake melon seviche was a beautiful first course that popped open eyes with color and propped open palates with astringency 

Homemade sausage and biodynamic cheddar biscuits was a different, more comforting type starter that gently massaged the mouth into awakeness

This loaded Lamb burger on a homemade bun rules Columbus right now

But the Vegan Mac & Cheese with blackened tofu brought a lotta unexpected meatless fun to our tongues too — and reminded us how high Dragonfly could make uninteresting-sounding, hippie-ish food really soar

This potent and pretty Watershed Sling was refreshing and a very capable “intermezzo” 

If this heavily adorned brownie-like “Mexican Hot Chocolate” looks kinda melty from sitting in the intense July heat, it was. Fortunately it was devoured so quickly it had little chance to further disintegrate

Even better was this re-imagined goat cheese tiramisu with poached peaches. Yeah, it might sound kinda over-thought, but it was light and lively and actually unforgettable.

On another finishing note, I was glad to see Till so busy last week that I had to wait for a seat. See, I was too ignorant to make reservations (like everyone else there, I suppose) yet the friendly Till folks still managed to sneak me in. On the downside, it was a drawn-out and protracted dinner service — good thing I had nothing better to do than sink deep into the late summer evening and slowly enjoy the growing night. 

Jul 27

Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza

No, this is not a pizza from Harvest, though it might easily pass for one. Actually, this beauty came from a soft-opening tasting at the soon-to-be Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza in lower Worthington. (Head’s up folks: I expect Natalie’s to instantly become an elite pizzeria).

Baked at around 800-1200 degrees in (I believe) the city’s only anthracite coal-burning pizza oven ever (a la some of the oldest and most famous East Coasters, such as NYC’s venerated Lombardi’s), it had a lovely, thin crust that terminated in a puffy, charred edge. In other words, it’s the kinda pizza that gets my juices flowing.

Owned by some of the great people responsible for Columbus’ legendary Aardvark Video (who brought John Waters to town, and where movies were categorized by “Ozu” and “Bertolucci” more so than “action” or “comedy”), Natalie’s will also be a live music club — expect alt-country, blues, jazz and singer-songwriter “Americana.”

Natalie’s is planning to open next weekend, with Ricky Barnes (former owner of the Explorer’s Club and a terrific musician who used to play semi-regularly at another groundbreaking classic Columbus spot — Stache’s) and his band “The Chickens” will help kick things off on Saturday night (i.e. August 4th).

I’m guessing you can tell I’m pretty excited by this place’s potential.

See you at Natalie’s…and expect to see my review of it in Alive as soon as it works out its opening jitters and settles on its liquors/ wines and beers lists.     

Jul 24

Pies & El Camino

Pies Gourmet Pizza Bistro is restless chef Bill Fugitt’s latest destination. It’s located in the unglamorous suburb of Reynoldsburg —  which means, as a good 20 to 25 minute cruise from my Clintonville house, it is a destination. So is it worth the drive? You bet. 

On the left is Pie’s creative take on the Bloody Mary. Not so bloody, huh? That’s because muddled heirlooms stand in for tomato juice. This makes it a much lighter cocktail with blasts of spice and citrus arousing garden-y garnishes such as that fresh dill sprig and those bobbing ’maters. 

To the right is the almost pie-like (not pizza pie, from whence this place gets its name, but dessert-y pie) Peach Sangria with lotsa flavor from cinnamon and cantaloupe.

In the background are the terrific free macadamia nuts they ply you with in the upstairs bar — my preferred place to dine here. 

Up close and personal with that not-so-bloody cocktail

These meaty charred dates were popular and earned raves from every table near me (they were recommended by the waiters, who, BTW, would eagerly engage in conversation with diners over menu items and ingredient sourcing)   

The Brussels sprouts were also widely lauded — check out their enticing color. 

Below is the veggie pizza, which I liked fine, meaning I think Pie’s other stuff is actually more interesting 

El Camino Inn was my other story this week. It’s another Corbin project, and like other members in that restaurant family (The Rossi, Club 185, Little Palace), it’s built for fun.

EC’s decent-enough tacos son muy barato (only $2!) and buddy up great w/the place’s cervezas

I’m a sucker for fried masa, and this gordita (L) and tostada (R) werepretty fun to munch on (especially the gordita) and also stoopid cheap ($3 apiece — you cannot go wrong w/ that price)

If you’re really hungry, go for the mess-tastic Cubano torta (note: Cubano is shorthand for “throw everything in there!”) which, weighing in at $8, is the most expensive thing on the menu 

This dark (obscura) beer is from a newer Mexican brewery and its one you don’t run into often. As I recall (I drank it during that crazy 4th of July weekend) it had dark chocolate and even coffee aspects to it.

Jul 3

Wandering into NoMad and the year’s bar-setting meal

Holidays are kinda made for inventory-taking, right? Well, with that in mind, I figured since tomorrow is that grand All-American midsummer’s holiday, it might be a fine time to update this truant blog with “What I Ate” on the traditional beginning-of-summer holiday — BTW it was crazy-great.

When I read that the NoMad restaurant in The NoMad Hotel (note: NoMad stands for North of Madison Square park) was the site of a newer, cocktail-ier, “more casual” restaurant headed by super-brilliant, Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm, I knew I had to dine there while in NYC for a Memorial Day getaway.

Do you know about Humm? He’s the top toque at fabulous Eleven Madison Park (NYT 4-stars, Michelin 3-stars, i.e. the highest possible honors in the entire world); I happened to be lucky enough to dine at EMP last summer — and I couldn’t have loved it more.

Anyway, Humm’s been in the news recently as this current NYC topdog cook just won the 2012 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. Believe me, he deserves it. Here’s a look at our Memorial Day lunch: 

NoMad’s (free!) bread service is a rather husky and lavish affair which stars this mammoth, warm and crustily seductive potato-crested loaf. Yeah, it coulda been the veritable meal-in-itself, but we were on a mission 

Egg Poached with asparagus, quinoa and parmesan — delicate yet explosive and a carnival of textures

Tagliatelle King crab, Meyer lemon & black pepper — I’m a pasta whore and I would gladly hit the streets for weeks for this deceptively simple ensemble. It was especially unusual because, at first glance, it was in essence sauce-less. One bite into the sublime handmade noodles, though, told me they had to’ve been cooked in a bright Meyer lemon sauce which the pasta had completely soaked up — and which detonated off the insanely fresh shellfish. A more artful application of cooking basics — salt, pepper, butter — would be hard to imagine 

Halibut Slow-cooked with spring peas, saffron & lemon-thyme. This butter-bathed dish was one of those deals where you taste every single, super high-grade ingredient in its pristine and individual state while you simultaneously taste it synergizing with its platemates into something different and even more special 

Working with NoMad’s sommelier, we paired our courses with cocktails — fun!

Here are the superior cocktails we enjoyed that day — some of which rhymed with the food, some of which drew brash counterpoints with it, all of which we marveled over (note the glasses, ice, garnishes…). Believe me, we can’t wait to go back to NoMad!

Haymarket Suze, cucumber, lime, pale ale

Satan’s Circus Rye whiskey, Thai bird chili-infused aperol, cherry heering, lemon

Velvet Cobbler Amontillado sherry, Riesling, Lemon verbena

Panamericano Pisco Acholado, Cocchi Americano, Dolin de Chambery Blanc Vermouth

Jun 28

Yeah, I’ve been neglecting this blog lately, I know. But it’s so ridiculously hot out now that I’ve got nothing better to do. This brings me to one of the strangest “restaurants” I’ve been to in a while — which is saying something. It’s Taco Dan’s in Granville, which shares its “this old house” space with a vintage clothing store and is where patrons order food and adult drinks in the kitchen then hang out on the porch. Think the Andy Griffith show meets Northern Exposure… with margaritas. 

(Click on the photos for captions)

Jun 7

This racy and fun stuff all came from the small but spotless Ena’s Caribbean Kitchen, a locally beloved homey and family-run Jamaican place that does a steady take-out business out on Cleveland Avenue. Stay tuned for a review in an upcoming Alive.

May 23

Last Saturday I was so inspired by “I’ll Have Another” winning the super-exciting Preakness Race that I went out and honored that champion horse’s name by “having another” over and over at the annual and always super-fun North Market Apron Gala. Good thing I was as hungry as a horse (and equally thirsty for chilled Albarino and refreshing Summer Teeth beer)!

Click on the pics for info. 

May 11

Curious about Curio? You should Be!

Last night after the ToDO bash, I accompanied some friends to Curio, the new bar owned by and attached to… 

   Harvest Pizzeria. Check out the cool, low lighting—it and the overall vibe reminded me of modern, noveau speakeasy-type clubs I’ve enjoyed in NYC and DC (i.e. the kind of no-sign, uber-fancy cocktail joints where you have to “know” something or someone and still might have to wait in a nearby dive until some guy— often a dubious English dude even more dubiously claiming to be named, like, Nigel—calls your cell with permission to enter).

These Magrittean chapeaux provoked some knowing smiles

This kind of wacky animal head thing (a la Freeman’s in NYC) is also emblematic of the genre…

…as are the kind of “artisanal/specialized/form-fitting” ice cubes seen in the above intriguing Curio cocktails (the green curiosity is a most unusual margarita made with—prepare to gasp—kale and ginger; its partner, a summery Italian-style refresher called the Silver Dollar Pony, reminds me a lot of something I drank in Venice).  

May 8

Happy Taste of Dine Originals!

To hell with silly and chilly New Year’s Eve, I think most chowhounds around town observe the significant passage of time with the annual arrival of another wonderful springtime Taste of Dine Originals party. Since this must-attend, May-staple event is happening again Thursday, that means local farmers markets are now up and running and patios are buzzing as we all warmly welcome—with open arms and “opener” mouths—the most delicious and fun time of the year kicked off by the most delicious and fun soiree of the year.

Here are some of the official details (ticket info is at the end of this post): The 2012 chapter of ToDO (featuring fabulous food from our fifty best restaurants!) is taking place this Thursday, May 10, from 6-9:30pm at its new location, Capital University’s Capital Center. Once again the very worthy beneficiary of the proceeds is The Buckeye Ranch.  

Here’s a peek at some of last year’s delectable treats    

Deepwood’s take on carpaccio

Basi Italia’s Polenta

Basi’s Peas & Parmesan

Pistacia Vera Macarons

Hungry yet? Get your tickets here and remember, the dough goes to a really great cause! 

See you there (FYI: the weather’s gonna comply with clear skies and temps in the mid 60s).

May 3

Dining Ideas For Cinco de Mayo, Knead, Alterna-Mai Tais and an outbreak of Blue Teeth, or, just another weekend in Columbus

I’ve had a bumpy couple of weeks. Don’t ask!

Anyway, I’ll spare you the gories, but suffice it to say—and heed this warning!—a shady youth spent addicted to fancy pastries will come back to haunt you. But prior to this recent excruciating period (of swallowing—almost exclusively—smoothies, soups, and pain pills) I had some fun. Here’s a look:

I once got wobbly drunk at a bullfight and gobbled a pork rind the size of my hotel pillow (if I had a peso for every time I said this…just kidding, but heavily imbibing was the only way I could survive that odd yet riveting ritual of casual brutality). Anyway, that massive, sun-drenched snack was conjured back in my head when I spied these gigantic chicharrones at La Plaza Tapatia—an amazing Mexican supermarket that can provide hours of wide-eyed fascination.   

Even shopping for laundry detergent is more fun and colorful there.

Also fun and colorful: the daily buffet ($10) at the restaurant located right in the store. While that food is far from fancy, it’s worth an authenticity-seeking pilgrimage because some of the fare there is a lot like what I’ve eaten in Mexico City in diner-style restaurants. And heck, its steaming and supple homemade tortillas alone would make it worth a visit.

I wrote about La Plaza Tapatia in this week’s Alive (Hints: if ordering off the menu, try the enormous—and enormously delicious—molcajete; and pass on the uncharacteristically disappointing margaritas in lieu of, say, micheladas (sorta beery Bloody Marys) and/or Mexican beers w/sides of tequila. 

Another real-deal market/restaurant is La Favorita, a dinky place (next to Anna’s “A Taste of Greece”—I laugh every single time I think of that quote-yoked self-description) that, again, makes great diner-y Mexican vittles.

Above is a knockout bowl of soulful lamb soup that makes me shake my head and pound on the table when I greedily slurp it up (note: the menu says it’s made with “chivo,” or goat, but that’s not usually the case). It’s kinda like posole—a gloriously intense meat-laden broth studded with hominy and self-detailed with chilis, lime, cilantro, onions and so forth. This stuff is awesome! 

Continuing in the key of awesome was this powerhouse version of pasta carbonara fashioned with perfect homemade noodles, a local egg plus killer house-cured “lambcetta” and more raciness from chili flakes. I ate it with extreme relish at Knead, where I and some friends also enjoyed…

…one of Knead’s terrific burgers—made with great Pat LaFrieda beef, of course!

Not being a group intimidated by a swarm of food, we likewise eagerly dug into Knead’s spicy and satisfying chili relleno.

But wait, there’s more! Like Ray Ray’s at Ace of Cups sucked back with a gin-based Mai Tai starring the dynamic duo of Ransom Old Tom (love it!) and (cucumber-y) Hendricks gin (more love), along with homemade orgeat syrup. This delightful drink is what happens when kitschy tiki gets taken seriously—and I applaud it thoroughly!

WARNING: the next photo contains graphic and potentially disturbing images! 

With this bit of cotton candy-fueled hubris, we circle back to the dangers of a misspent youth. Yeah, its all sugary fun and games now, but in a couple of decades…well I guess some people just have to find out for themselves why dentists often own yachts.

For those more open to the hard won lessons of others, though, I present this loony blue picture as a cautionary tale of reaping what you sow!  

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