Last week was the inaugural Restaurant Week in Columbus, organized by Dine Originals, a group of (currently 42) independent restaurants in the city. This could (perhaps should) have been an opportunity to try somewhere new, but for me restaurant week gave the impetus to revisit some old favorites. Each establishment presented either a $15 or $30 meal. In some cases (usually lunch), this was $15 for two people, in others it was a set menu per person. My restaurant week choices were Alana’s, Tasi and Pistacia Vera.
Dinner at Alana’s was with a group of friends and between us I think we managed every possible permutation of the menu (two choices for each of the three courses). Alana explained to us that instead of giving smaller portions of some of her regular menu items she had decided to go for simpler dishes and be able to give more generous portions. This she indeed did, and everyone went home armed with thoughtfully labeled ‘to-go’ containers.
Columbus Foodie has written a very comprehensive review of Alana’s restaurant week menu, with much better photos than I managed to take. I will defer to her post, with a few comments: Although we went later on the same evening our amuse bouche was very different, we had a taste of a garlicky mushroom tart. I didn’t love the soup as much as Madame Foodie, but I thought the salad was delicious as well as extremely generous. Both entrees were excellent and sadly we were all too full to really appreciate the desserts. The only low point was that the service was not at the level I have come to expect from my previous visits to Alana’s.
Rustichella pasta is one of my new discoveries. As well as the quality of the ingredients used (stone ground winter wheat and spring water), what sets it apart from your typical supermarket varieties is that it is pressed through traditional bronze presses. Since bronze is not perfectly smooth the bronze dies give the pasta a rough and porous appearance. This texture also allows the pasta to ‘hold the sauce’. I have to admit that I was initially skeptical, but I am now a convert. Rustichella Pasta is available from specialty food retailers and online suppliers and also through Amazon. It retails around $6 a bag, but is definitely worth trying. To prove a point, here is exhibit A:
I attended a Pistacia Vera tasting a few weeks ago, and when I heard about their Restaurant Week sampler, I couldn’t resist taking one of my friends for an afternoon treat. For Restaurant Week, there was a tasting plate of some house favorites which included three of their gateaux, a macaron of your choice, a bittersweet chocolate fudgie, a pate de fruit of your choosing and a cashew butter caramel.
We added a third companion, a couple more pate de fruits and an extra macaron (our choices were hazelnut – which tastes like Nutella (yum)- and the new apricot, orange and chamomile). I had not had the cashew butter caramel before – divine – or the flourless truffle torte with layers of chocolate ganache and apricot and orange preserves – it was also a hit.
The pate de fruits flavors had changed since my last visit but I was delighted by one of the new variations – pineapple and bay leaf. It is a surprising yet wonderful flavor combination and my new favorite. As much as I love their desserts, I also love the interior of Pistacia. It is light and airy and the perfect space to sit, chat and people watch over tea and cakes . The staff are friendly and patient as you oooh and ahh over the colorful macarons. I hope that the tasting selection will become a permanent feature – it was a great idea.
My final Restaurant Week experience was lunch for two at Tasi (two lunch or breakfast dishes, plus drinks for $15). Inspired by the now mostly dormant Sopressata blog, I ordered a Cubano Panini. It was good but a little blander than I expected.
It was at Tasi that I bought my Rustichella pasta. They have a few specialty food items, but the best thing to buy there is the Eleni Christina bread, which is some of the best in the city.
Anecdotally Restaurant Week seems to have been a success and created a lot of buzz. There are rumors of a second Restaurant Week in the fall and I think after the trial run it would be an even bigger draw. Columbus Foodie’s stamina put me to shame last week and she has a lot of great reviews and has inspired me to visit some of her RW choices.
In addition to Restaurant Week, last week also saw the opening of Encore, a new small plate bistro/bar that occupies the long empty bar space upstairs at Handke’s. We were lucky enough to attend one of the soft-opening events, so had a sneak preview of the space and tasted some of the menu items. Although we did not see the full menu, what we had certainly whet our appetites. The highlight was the country pate, made with sweet breads, fois gras, pistacios and green pepper corns. I ate way too much of it. Pictured below is the also tasty goat cheese and pear pizza and their rather unusual dessert.
Also last week was the third Columbus Underground Pizza Grand Prix. I believe there were about 60 pizzas in total – certainly a staggering amount. There were a few pizzas from the new Dewey’s on Fifth Avenue which fared well among the critical pizza palates, and seems like somewhere worth checking out.
Our offerings were a couple of specially made Bono Pizzas which just served to remind us how much we miss Bono TOGO. What a beautiful pizza. It didn’t last long.
Finally – I couldn’t resist a gratuitous photo of Pistacia Vera’s apple galette. Worth a trip to German Village alone.