Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rigsby's, Columbus Ohio

Having completed a hectic month on the hospital wards, my intern, medical students, and myself decided a celebration was in order. Hailing from different states, countries, and cultures (two of them arriving in the states only months ago) with the additional caveat of a vegetarian in the group, Italian seemed a safe bet and while Lindey's is certainly more "Columbus," we settled on Rigsby's based on its long history of positive reviews and focus on local/seasonal ingredients.

To sum up the experience in a word? Fantastic. Finally I've found an Italian place worth getting excited about in Columbus. As a matter of fact, without overselling, I can honestly say there were moments of this meal that rivaled the mighty Babbo in quality, taste, and texture and while the service wasn't the best ever, it was certainly on par with anything I've found in Columbus outside of M at Miranova.

Arriving at 7:00pm on a Friday without reservations a table was quickly preparred and we were seated immediately. Arriving at the table there was already 3 delicious breads present as well as ice cold water. Per usual, three breads is the perfect number and all three were superb: a soft yet crusty italian, a sweet yet salty basil poppyseed, and a hearty and lucious whole grain with raisins and walnuts. The butter was unremarkable, but smooth and warm enough that spreading did not tear the bread.

Our waitress arrived shortly and after declining wine service we were told of the nightly specials, 5 in total, all sourced from products bought that day locally, and all sounding delicious. For an appetizer I selected the Squash Blossoms stuffed with Ricotta and topped with Arugala with Tuscan Tomato Sauce. While the dish was pricey at $8 for a mere two blossoms, the flavor was intense and the dish was wonderful in flavor. In retrospect I wish I would have opted for the freshly cracked black pepper, however, as the dish could have used just a little more oomph.

For our mains a number of dishes were selected including the Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage (great per my student,) the Basil Ravioli with Tomato and Parmigiano-Reggiano (mmmmm, wow per another student,) Spaghetti D'Angelo with Sundried Tomatoes, Garlic, and EVOO (kinda plain per another student) and the Free Range Chicken alla Mattone, Panzanella, Buttered Scallions (Awesome according to my intern, notably not a fan of 'fancy' food.)

As the biggest (IE only) foodie of the group, I opted for the half order of Tagliatelle with Pesto Genovese, Fingerling Potatoes, and Green Beans and half order of Potato Gnocchi with Prosciutto di Parma, Basil, Tomato, and Balsamico. While the Tagliatelle was flavorful, perfectly al dente, and a great contrast with the crispy potatoes and clean/snappy greenbeans, the show was entirely stolen by the BEST Gnocchi I've ever had in my life. Toothsome, hearty, thick yet completely cooked, and covered with a perfect tomato and balsamic sauce while complimented by a thin piece of perfectly textured only complaint is that I didn't get the full order. Better gnocchi than the mighty

After a meal like that dessert was a no brainer and like many other Cbus standards, Rigsby's does it right by pairing their complex desserts with Ms. Jeni's stellar icecreams. As two of my colleagues had never experienced Jenni's, this was a treat in and of itself. While others opted for Lemon pannacotta, Molten Chocolate Cake w/ Jeni's Vanilla (noted by one to be the best chocolate cake ever,) and a Cookie plate with espresso semifredo and Jeni's Salty Caramel, I chose the seasonally inspired Blueberry, Plum, and Peach Crostatta with almond clusters and Jenni's Honey Vanilla Icecream......once again, better than Batalli with a crispy yet airy purse of dough lightly cupping a generous serving of fresh berries and berry puree served along with crispy almond clusters and that glorious icecream.....amazing.

Admittedly the TVs in the bar were slightly offputting and the kitchen was a little slow with the meal taking well over 2 hours for only three courses, but bread and water were refilled rapidly and repeatedly throughout the evening and the conversation was good so I've certainly no complaints there. Noise level was pleasant for conversation and certainly not the roar or Tucci's or Trattoria, which was a welcome suprise for Cbus Italian, as well. Regardless of these minor flaws, the food MORE than made up for any atmospheric shortcomings and the meal was stellar. I'll certainly be back as the winter squashes come in and will hope that the oft-raved pumpkin ravioli makes a return.

For now, 4.5 star food and 4.0 star atmosphere......and the best Italian in Cbus, by far.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Deepwood, Columbus Ohio

Good is good and great is great. What Deepwood restaurant is right now is good with flecks of great. What Deepwood could become is great. Clearly there is talent in the kitchen and the staff, but that talent has yet to be realized in many respects. As someone with no relation to the restaurant or care for its staff's roots, I went into Deepwood with the same expectation I would for any ~$50pp restaurant and what I got was a three star experience with a notable brush of five star flavor that pushes my review ALMOST to a four overall.

Beginning the the decor, all I can say is boring. While it is certainly a restuant with a lot of dark and deep wood, the lack of art on the walls combined with mirrors and stars that look direct from Z-Gallerie create for a relatively drab appearance. Admittedly the routunda style ceiling in the early day was pretty with lots of natural light, but as the night drew on the restaurant got somewhat drab despite the growing crowd. Seating was comfy and drinks were refilled quickly, as expected. With regard to our waiter? He was alright, but I seriously doubt "everything is delicious" was truthful, in fact I know it wasn't. While I'm glad to see he loves his job, when I ask for what is best, I want a real opinion. Additionally, if you want to be a fancy place, unfold the lady's napkin for her and when people get up to use the restroom please refold the napkin. Leaving breadcrumbs on the table and finally scraping pre-dessert is also a faux-pas.

Onto the food. For an amuse we were served a microsalad of grapefruit, olive oil, and fennel. Flavorful but not overpowering, yet a tad too oily for my palate. Next up we received the bread and butter. Three breads is just right, in my opinion, and the butter with granulated red sea salt was very flavorful. The sourdough was a tad dry, but the cranberry walnut was excellent and hearty while the flatbread was buttery and crisp.....yet a tad too crumbly given the lack of scraping.

For appetizers we selected the Scallop Wellington described as a scallop wrapped in spinach & pastry on a bed of wild mushrooms, foie gras buerre blanc as well as the Boston Baked Beans with spiced pork belly, maple crème fraiche, and dough dads.
First off, the beans: While the maple flavor was hearty and the pork belly appropriately fatty and supple, I certainly detected little smoothness from the creme fraiche and the beans were simply undercooked and hard. The dough dads? A fried mini-donut without much flavor. Skip the baked beans.

Next, the While no visible foie was seen on the plate, this incredible dish was a knockout with a perfectly cooked tender scallop wrapped in dainty spinach and phyllo crust with mushrooms intermingled and an amazing sauce that tasted like grade A foie dissolved in butter. Simple in presentation but explosively complex in flavor....possibly the best appetizer in Columbus.

For mains we selected the Roasted Chatham cod with potato risotto, Napa saute of cabbage, grapes & spring onion, the Gnocchiette with petite hand rolled gnocchi, spinach, citrus prawns and vanilla-saffron cream, and the Roasted Chicken with honey glaze, crisped mashed potatoes, glazed baby carrots, and natural jus.

While the cod was relatively basic, as cod usually is, it was certainly driven up a notch by the incredibly rich potato risotto and cabbage/grape slaw. While the slaw wasn't hit with everyone, I found it to be a fresh take on an old dish and definitely think it would serve as a good salad served solo.

Regarding the gnocchi, it is my opinion that this is a dish by which one can truly gauge a chef's talent since it is so hard to do well and so easy to make poorly. Cheers to the chef, the Gnocchi themselves were wonderfully toothsome yet delicate and perfectly cooked through. The prawns too were fresh, tender, and hearty. With regard to the sauce, I personally believe it was somewhat too thick and would be better served either thinner or on a less dense pasta, but the flavor was excellent. More vanilla and less saffron may have helped to tone down the citrus of the prawns, though.

As I did not try the chicken, my second dinner companion merely noted that it was "okay" while the carrots and potatos were very well done.

Plates were gathered quickly and dessert menus were served, yet once again our waiter failed to commit and continued with the "everything is made in house and everything is good" theme. For dessert we selected the Chocolate Souffle with creme anglaise, the Blueberry Brioche Bread pudding with rosemary-thyme anglaise and blueberry icecream, and the Chimay spice Cake with plum ice cream and candied kumquats.

Souffle, like gnocchi, is a risk for the chef and this one not as well calculated as the other. While the cake was indeed warm, dense, and large, the flavor was rather generic even with the addition of the creme anglaise. Having had other souffle's in the past, this one was below average and one of my dining partners remarked "it tastes like that cocoa cream of wheat, but a little better." I'd say that was pretty accurate.

For myself, I tried the bread pudding (as usual) and much like Lindey's was quite disappointed. The blueberries at Meijer are fresher at this time of year and the anglaise here tasted precisely like the Anglaise for the Souffle, but was served in a much smaller portion and as such left the bread pudding relatively dry and without a lot of flavor. I must note, however, that the icecream was tasty and helped when I mashed it into the bread pudding. If the pudding had been served warmer to melt the icecream or with more creme it could have helped.

I did not taste the spice cake, but was told it was very good.

All told, Deepwood is alright and has potential to be great....there is clearly talent here, the location is great, and the menu is off to a good start. More professional servers, better desserts, and more artful execution of both the interior and plating should be made a priority and I'm certain will get better as the restaurant ages. As I said in my intro, this is ALMOST a 4-star review, but as it is not yet on par with Lindey's, BoMA, Rosendales, or Spagio (and lagging far behind M, Worthington Inn, and Dragonfly) it will have to settle for three to three and a half.