Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Alana's and Pattycake Vegan, Columbus OH

As my list of "Must Visit" restaurants in Columbus has dwindled through the past few years one name stood at the top of the list for some time - a glaring omission in the places I'd visited already - that name was Alana's. Hailed by many as the best restaurant in the city and by others of at least being a truly unique and great dining experience I decided to correct this in celebration of the end of a long month of inpatient medicine. Accompanied by two attending physicians and a medical student who is vegetarian Alana's veg-friendly menu with focus on local/seasonal produce and close location to campus made it an ideal setting.

Getting out of work early I made a quick stop to Pattycake prior to Alana's to pick up a couple of sweets - namely a strawberry shortcake, chocolate peanutbutter, and carrot cupcake - all of which were excellent and re-confirmed my belief that Pattycake is not only the best Vegan bakery in the city, but possibly the best overall (at least on par with Pisachia Vera and Piece of Cake.) I then made my way back down to Alana's where I was still the first in my party to arrive. After snapping a few pictures I entered and spoke to the host for a bit before taking my seat and waiting for my group to slowly filter in - after ten minutes all members were accounted for, water was poured, and menus were delivered.

Chatting for a short while before ordering I was impressed by the lack of pressure from the waiters as I've found this a problem at many Columbus fine-dining establishments in the past - at no point did we feel hasseled, rushed, or pressured - a definite plus. With my colleagues opting for wine and beers (an appropriately named Delerium Tremens was particularly notable on the list) we first ordered some appetizers for the table - namely the cheese plate and fried green tomatoes. Beginning with the cheese plate, for $14 we received three anemic portions of relatively common American cheeses, a basket of boring baguette slices, and some raisins - compared to Luce I couldn't have been more disappointed and would certainly not order this again.

The second appetizer, originally intended to be sharred with our vegetarian student, was the tomato dish - unfortunately my attending forgot until 10 minutes after ordering that it contained chorizo and asked if the order could be augmented to which received a flat "no." While I found this strange as it took another 10-15 minutes for the dish to be delivered and I do suspect the server could've been a little more accomidating, I will admit the dish was excellent and I didn't mind having more to myself. Described as fried green tomato with chorizo, chihuahua cheese and corn vinaigrette the tomato was very well prepared with a delicate snap on the outside yet smooth and sweet inside. Adding to the dish was a spicy yet understated chorizo that contrasted well with the mild cheese and sweet yet savory corn studded dressing.

Following the appetizers my colleagues each opted for a main course and another drink while I selected a salad and a water refill. Arriving shortly after we finished appetizers the tomato stack with lump crab, shaved vidalias, greens, chopped amish egg cheddar and cabernet buttermilk dressing was an absolute knockout of a dish - both in presentation and in taste. Incredibly fresh heirloom tomatos that could very well have been picked immediately prior to service were stacked 4 slices high with layers of fresh and delicate crab, crisp and textural greens, and pungent yet well tempered vidalias. Mellowing out the sharper flavors and pulling the whole dish together was the mild and aromatic egg cheddar (a cheese far superior to any on the cheese plate in flavor and texture) and the absolutely divine buttermilk dressing with mild alcoholic base notes.

For our mains one of my attendings opted for the 4oz tournedo of beef topped with roquefort potatoes, broccoli, and bacon vinaigrette while the vegetarian amongst us ordered the rustichella spaghetti with zucchini noodles, shaved golden zucchini and basil pesto and noted that he'd have trouble going back to eating "normal" pasta any time soon - it certainly looked and smelled excellent. For myself and one of my attending's the order of the night was Alana's nightly risotto - this time featuring sun gold tomatos, sweet corn, goat cheese, and lump crab. Enormous in portion and toothsome yet smooth in texture I must admit I found the risotto to be quite excellent and the creamy cheese and mild crab proved an excellent foil to the sweet and 'al dente' corn and tomatos. Accompanying our mains was a basket of white and rye breads plus a fairly generic and boring olive oil - thankfully there was plenty of sauce to be sopped up from the risotto.

After a meal prepared with such skill dessert was a no brainer - and true to the form of (seemingly) every other restaurant in Columbus the accompaniments to each dessert was a no brainer as well - Jeni's Ice Cream. While my companions decided on the Vanilla Lavender Creme Brulee and Chocolate Zucchini Pound Cakes accompanied with Wildberry Lavender and Kona Stout, respectively I decided to go with the Peach Plum Frangipaine Tart with Honey Vanilla Bean. Served in large portion I found the almond based tart to be quite tasty and well paired with the ice cream selection, but I rather wished the peaches and plus had been a bit sweeter given the fact that we are in the midst of stonefruit season.

All in all I must admit I was quite pleased with the food at Alana's in terms of quality, quantity, and skill of preparation. Service was adequate if not overly friendly - something that clearly is table dependant as we saw our waiter as well as the chef herself visit a table of older "regulars" frequently - and the setting is quite attractive, secluded, and intimate. As a fan of natural/organic/locavore approaches to food I'd certainly not hesitate to recommend Alana's amongst the ten best dining options in Columbus - and certainly moreso than I'd recommend the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley in terms of price, attitude, and quality of the produce. While not every dish was a smash success, the dishes that shined did so brightly and those that didn't certainly didn't fall flat - more attention to details such as the bread basket and cheese plate plus a tad more accomidating service (the tomato dish) could definitely make Alana's a 5-star Cbus experience.

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