Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Refectory (Columbus, OH)

My first dining experience at The Refectory was senior prom back in high school. I went to one of the preppiest high schools in the city and hung with folks who put the word 'high' in high-maintenance. Needless to say, I didn't think twice about Chef Blondin's cooking at the time. All I remembered was that it was 'good' and that our prom group was placed in the wine cellar. Talk about a teaser.

Fast forward a few years. Now with a more refined palate (I think!), I've come to truly appreciate the mastermind behind the restaurant. Having been in twice this summer, I can honestly say that The Refectory is not only sterling in its cooking but in service and ambiance as well. Inside this former church are dining rooms -- each with its own feel and its own character. Every staff member is welcoming and courteous without a hint of pretentiousness. Perfection achieved at every level.

Ancillary things (yet every bit noteworthy!) aside, the food is impeccable. Each dish is prepared with meticulous care and with attention to the minute details. Coming in twice in one summer allowed me to have the best of both desserts worlds and to, obviously, sample more of the cooking.

My first appetizer was the Marble of Escargot. Prepared with Shitake mushrooms, the two ingredients blended harmoniously -- with the escargot providing a firm chew and the shitake lending an earthy flavor.

The second time around, I opted for the Alpaca Terrine as my starter. (*Note: this and the infamous sweetbread lasagna are no longer offered.) I vowed I'd garner good karma after eating this simply because having alpaca-anything in Ohio is considered a treat to good to pass up. Served pate style, the terrine itself was wrapped in bacon and topped with sour cherry in brandy. The picture does not do justice to this exquisite appetizer.

As for my main, I unhesitatingly chose the Grilled Bison with horseradish burgundy sauce. My server recommended a medium-rare preparation, but I went with medium to be on the safe side. Despite the generous cut, the pinkness was preserved in the center, as well as the distinct robust flavor. Easily my favorite bison dish ever, I could come back and order this every single time.

I wanted something different, so for my second entree, I went with the Beef Shoulder Tenderloin "aux 3 poivres" style. Like the bison, I went the medium route and was quite satisfied with my choice. The peppercorn sauce subtly enhanced the dish without being too overwhelming.

One dining companion ordered the Dover Sole -- which we were told was only available on the weekends -- and I deemed it necessary to mention such delight of an entree option. Deboned and deftly prepared tableside, it was more captivating than a hibachi show with a lemon caper sauce to boot.

No meal is ever complete without dessert. The pistachio creme brulee was rich, creamy, and scrumptious. While plucked from the current dessert menu, pistachio lovers must order this while at The Refectory (or the next time it's on the menu.)

Though visually arresting, the Pistachio Dacquoise Mousseline did not stack up to the Pistachio creme brulee nor the following Pear Tart Frangipane. I blame it partly on the fractionally dry cake part of this dessert. However, the pistachio mousse was light and fresh and paired quite nicely with the accompanying raspberries.

Ordered also by another dining companion is the Pear Tart Frangipane. Not a fan of desserts with fruits other than berries and having had a less-than-stellar poached pear dessert in a not-so-distant memory at another restaurant, I had my uncertainties as to how this would turn out. Aesthetically pleasing and tastefully delightful, this easily made my list of Top 10 Desserts in Columbus. The pear itself had a nice crunch but when soaked in the vanilla almond frangipane, it was a match made in heaven.

I point folks into The Refectory's direction for milestone dinners, as well as when folks want to try something out of the ordinary and adventurous (e.g. Arctic Char, Escargot, etc.) Why? Because I am 100% positive that Chef Blondin will set them at ease with his culinary skills. Moreover, diners will leave with good impressions of what a solid rendition of "that odd sounding fish" or "that organ" should be like.

Rating: *****

The Refectory
1092 Bethel Rd
Columbus, OH 43220
(614) 451 - 9774

The Refectory Restaurant and Bistro on Urbanspoon

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