Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Food-Lover’s Guide to A Weekend in Columbus

Decadent breakfasts like this from Fox In the Snow will have me returning to Columbus very soon.

Columbus, Ohio is quite a place; home to Ohio State University's Buckeyes and some interesting food culture. While on a recent trip to visit my younger sister, a college student in Columbus, we made it our mission to find the best eats in the city. From local beers to fine dining french cuisine, we certainly tried a bit of everthing in this city. With the most restaurants per capita Columbus has something to offer every palate, here are my top picks for your perfect weekend meals.

Breakfast: Fox in the Snow Café
Walking through the doors of this establishment, you may look around and think you're in Brooklyn. With the building's exposed brick walls, garage door exit, and outdoor patio, you are immersed in a hipster vibe. The menu has all the qualities of a trendy coffee bar as well with decadent Danishes and a line of funnels dripping coffee. My personal favorite for breakfast was the oatmeal; yes, the oatmeal. It may seem like a simple —maybe even boring — dish, but when it's done this perfectly it needs to be mentioned. Here, the staff uses steel cut oats instead of rolled, along with butter, milk, and brown sugar. The right proportions of all of these ingredients made this so delicious, I was tempted to lick the bottom of the bowl. Paired with one of the restaurant’s larger-than-life cinnamon rolls I was ready to take a nap afterwards; if it wasn't for the pick-me-up I received from the coffee. I am in no way a coffee drinker; when I informed the owners of this, they nodded and ordered me a New Orleans iced coffee. It was sold to me as “the perfect cup of coffee for beginners.” Sweetened iced coffee diluted with milk, still made me shudder at the thought of the bitter taste I had in store. It is an understatement to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this.

If you're ever in this historic area of the Italian Village you'll want to stop in at Fox in the Snow, if only for a New Orleans iced coffee.

A perfect stop for college students and anyone else who a fan of good Mexican food, this casual operation is actually housed in a small 100-year-old gas station! Don't let the strange setting deter you; it may be tiny, but the food is memorable. One dish I was told to try by my little sister, a student at Ohio State University, was the pancake balls. This take on pancakes is what Katalina's has come to be known for in the college community and for good reason. When ordering, I was asked if I wanted sweet and spicy bacon with my pancakes. Of course I wanted sweet and spicy bacon with my pancakes! First let me talk about that bacon: It was thick cut and the glaze did not overpower the meat, but left a light heat on your palate. More importantly, the glazed bacon wasn't too sweet to be served with the fried cake I was about to dunk in syrup. The pancake balls come in a few different variations including dulce de leche, Nutella, and pumpkin-apple butter. I asked for the most popular filling and was served the Nutella. How delicious this was, especially when served with local maple syrup and an orange juice.

If you're willing to share, I suggest getting a basket of pancake balls for the table and ordering a Ms. Katalina's Migas: five scrambled eggs, crème fraîche, ranchero sauce, crushed chips, topped with queso fresco, and green onions. All of this is served with a side of avocado toast and costs just $10.75.

A little taste of Lebanese cuisine can be found on North High Street. This restaurant was a must-stop for me, as I have recently been craving a Middle Eastern spice palate ever since my sister returned from Jordan. It's true that Lebanese restaurants are not a prominent feature in Ohio, but this food stands out for another reason. The suggested menu pick was a salad with as much as I could pile on. A salad didn't sound too special to me — after all it doesn't take much to toss a protein and vinaigrette together with some greens. Brassica does it a bit differently, though. When you first walk in, you are greeted at the counter to order in assembly line fashion (much like how you would at Subway). First a mixture of lentils and rice are spooned into a bowl; I can only assume that some kind of za’atar seasoning was added to this to create the involuntary mouthwatering I experienced. Top this with greens and then I chose to add falafel, babaganoush, grilled cauliflower, and roasted beets. There is nothing quite like freshly fried falafel and smoky babaganoush. Get a side of Brassica fries and its special sauce for an all-around great meal. The added bonus for locals? Brassica features local breweries and growers.

The North Market is an ideal place to spend an afternoon for any food-lover. New Yorkers would associate this with Chelsea Market, with an equal amount of flair. Cuisines ranging from Vietnamese to Polish are represented here, along with any kitchen gadget you can think of! While nosing around in the Thai section, I found lychee gummies that have long been a favorite of mine, but I have not been able to find since my time in culinary school.

Local favorites, and my favorite, like Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream have storefronts here and are well worth the wait. Walking past Jeni's, you are immediately hit with an intoxicating aroma of fresh waffle cones. Here, you can get sundaes and mix in fresh “gravel” toppings. However, I have to admit I have yet to try any of their toppings. The ice cream itself is an indulgence all on its own, and I find myself too enthralled with the delicious flavors to consider anything else.

There is something for everyone at North Market — a definite must-stop when you're in Columbus!

When you think of taverns in a college town, sticky floors and buckets of hot wings probably come to mind. Well The Pearl is raising the bar. I would have to describe the crowd here as the graduate students who appreciate a good beer and the beautifully crafted food being served. My table, by the open storefront, was a perfect place to spend a warm evening.

The menu features many local breweries and countless items made from scratch. I drank the Pearl Oyster Stout by North High Brewing Co. After inquiring about this delicious stout, I learned that this beer is brewed exclusively for The Pearl, so you'll have to stop in if you want it, and oysters really are involved in the brewing process! This accounts for its briny flavor that offsets the rich body of the beer. Pair this with some oysters on the half shell and that could be the ideal meal! But there are other items on the menu that deserve recognition, too, like the jalapeño corn spoon bread. This bread is served with whipped butter, resembling a cloud, with a pool of local honey in the well. The flavor combination of rich butter, sweet honey, and spicy bread can only be described as balanced to perfection.

However, dessert is always the part of the meal I look forward to most. The selection of sweets offered here are four kinds of pie; including a fruit, a butterscotch, a chocolate, and a brown sugar pie. Such a modest menu, right? Every slice of pie was prepared beautifully. Something so simple must be executed to perfection and The Pearl did not disappoint.

If you're looking for elegant French cuisine, The Refectory is the hidden gem you have been searching for. This was not one of my original stops planned when I decided to venture to Columbus, but at the urging of my sister, we stopped in for dinner.

We started with the chef's Mussel Soupe, which we were assured was a crowd-pleaser. In my attempt not to understate my experience, let me say that if I had the money I would hire the chef to come to my house and make this for me every day. The creamy texture was not too heavy, as some cream soups are, and the mussels hidden at the bottom of the bowl were equivalent to a succulent treasure. This would have been the highlight of the meal, if it weren't for the dessert that brought the meal to a close. Dessert wine pairings, I have found, are difficult to pull off correctly. Dessert wines are usually sweeter to accompany the rich food, which can be attributed to the dosage (an addition of sugar) that is added to the wine. Often, the wine can overpower the already sugary dessert. At The Refectory, you must try the classic crème brûlée, paired with an orange cognac and a dry muscat. Yes, two wines for one dessert. If you start with the cognac, then a spoonful of your crème brûlée, then finish with the muscat, the flavors complement and enhance one another in a satisfying finish. If you need another reason to stop in to The Refectory, you can always check out its wine tasting or live music. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Beauty & Essex Review : Overrated






I have been a waitress, bartender, pastry chef, as well as an executive chef; and I can say with certainty that my meal at Beauty & Essex fell short on many levels.
Upon entering under the brightly lit sign, you are first ushered through a pawn shop, then behind a closed door is the actual restaurant. This lends a certain charm to the atmosphere and gives one the feeling of entering a 1920s speakeasy. I’m sorry to say, however, that this is where the charm ends.
Having a reservation and waiting for my other guest, I was not invited to sit at the bar or relax at my table (even though the restaurant had plenty of empty ones). So I, as well as other guests, was forced to stand awkwardly around the hostess. It may seem like a small detail, but this truly set the tone for the night.

Once seated, it was evident that the waitress had limited knowledge of the menu. The meal started with tapas including tuna poke wonton tacos from the raw bar and crab rangoon. Both delicious and beautifully crafted, but the entrée portions seemed to be completely out of sync with the tapas ‘theme’ the waitress had promised. The burger was massive and served with a heaping portion of barbecue fries (it’s important to note that this was mouthwatering at first glance and did not disappoint). The burger was served with a delicious garlic aioli and feta goat cheese. The herb ricotta ravioli was MUCH smaller in comparison and in my opinion should not have been listed as an entrée portion next to such a monument of beef.

As a prior pastry chef I find myself overly critical of desserts more than anything. There in mind, this mistake takes the cake. To finish the meal, the waitress suggested the chocolate semifreddo, which was served tapas style as three small cylinders on a long plate. When cutting into the chocolate shell with my fork, I found no resistance from the semi frozen dessert, because it was room temperature mousse. The mousse was nicely balanced with salt and a simple shortbread crust underneath, but it should have been sold as a decadent chocolate mousse, not the delicious frozen treat that the restaurant failed to deliver.

Overall I would say that this restaurant has been way too hyped up and details like these build on top of one another to create a displeasing meal. If you want to experience a change of pace with Beauty & Essex’s interesting real estate then by all means make a reservation, however I will not be returning.