Monday, September 21, 2009

Restaurant Week

The Refectory
September 11, 2009
8ish pm

Dine originals puts together one of the best events in Columbus. For one week many locally owned and operated Columbus restaurants (read between the lines and this means non-chain and excellent) have special 3 course prix fixe menus for $20.09 or $30.09 (depending on the restaurant). This gives people a chance to try out restaurants they may have considered, but were never willing to take the plunge on because of potential price or perhaps one bad comment they have heard that has kept them away. It also gives chefs an opportunity to showcase some of their specialties. Win win for everyone.

Love for me!

In the business of beginning the school year I almost missed this week until a friend happened to mention it around Wednesday of the week. Once alerted I ran (and yes I literally mean ran) to the computer to see what our options were. I was immediately struck and ecstatic that The Refectory was a part of this deal. I knew that this would be a strong contender, but I had no idea how so many of the menus would tempt me. Checking out and comparing each menu was definitely part of the fun of this week. If only I had known this was restaurant week earlier! I for sure would have broken my deal of going out to eat more than one time a week. However, groceries for the week were already bought and I didn't want things to go to waste. But some of the tempters included pan fried chicken breast with black truffles at Bexley's Monk, heirloom tomato salad and strip steak at the Burgundy Room, and prime rib and a funnel cake at The Top Steakhouse . However, all in all we decided we couldn't pass up an opportunity to experience 3 courses at The Refectory for $30 a person.

I had Erik call and make reservations immediately and Erik was struck by how polite and welcoming the man making the reservation was on the phone (my guess is that it was the owner). Erik actually remarked that it was the nicest anyone had ever been on the phone while making a reservation. We only hoped this was a good omen for our dining experience.

And I can definitely say that it was. As you walk into the restaurant you feel a little as if you are going back in time to a period of more refined elegance. The owner is at the reception welcoming you in and the restaurant has a feel of an old club, but in a comfortable way, not too stuffy. It's always welcoming its members back, but is just as gracious to meet someone new. Erik and I had a seat on a soft love seat to await our table. We waited less than 5 minutes, which I didn't mind at all since it gave me a chance to get a feel for the restaurant and take the experience in.

We were then seated in a portion of the dining room that I believe was the old church. Wood beams were exposed in the ceiling which gave a feeling of warmth and contrasted nicely with the overall more elegant feel of the restaurant service. Drink orders were taken and I opted for a dirty vodka martini made with Kettle One. I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered the option of bleu cheese stuffed olives (my favorite)! Erik went with a gimlet.

After drink orders were taken we had a few moments to look around the restaurant. Erik remarked that the restaurant seemed to have a quiet hum of a bee hive or an orchestra working together. As you look around you see couples enjoying an evening out and friends celebrating a special occasion. However, if you look at things on a deeper level, all around the diners is a quiet buzz of the servers doing there job and doing it superbly. Everyone looks like they know exactly what they are doing and always look busy, but there is no confusion or no one getting in anyone else's way. At the same time, no one is overbearing and you never feel like the servers are intruding on your experience. This is what serving as a profession, rather than an extra job is all about.

Soon after our drinks arrived we were given an amuse bouche that was similar to a bruschetta, only with much finer ingredients than your typical tomatoes and basil. However, unfortunately I don't recall what those ingredients were. I only remember it was yummy and all the flavors on the plate melded together seamlessly. You will have to forgive my explanations of the food as blogging is fairly new to me and I forgot to immediately write down the specific names of the different dishes (and for this one we didn't even take a picture). As you can see, I'm writing this a couple of weeks after my experience and the memories are starting to fade! I promise only to get better! However, this has made me learn that as the exact ingredients, textures, and thoughts about a dish fade quickly after the eating. The feelings of the moment stay with you and that is what truly makes a dining experience memorable.

On that note, our appetizers came next and Erik and I both got the same thing. Again, I cannot remember exactly what dish was named (but at least I remembered to take a picture this time)! It was a cold soup with a red pepper base, a pesto swirled into it, and a bit of shrimp in the middle. The soup was good, with strong flavor but nothing too memorable to me. No complaints, but no raves either.

Next up were our entrees. I ordered a strip steak done medium rare and Erik went with the salmon. My steak was perfection! The presentation was beautiful and showed the steak perfectly medium rare. The steak was very tender and obviously of high quality. It gave new meaning to the phrase "It melts in your mouth". The sauce had a velvety texture that reminded me of a very refined, yet comforting reduction of a pot roast gravy with possibly the addition of red wine and butter. Each vegetable was done tender crisp and offered a nice crunch in contrast to the softness and tenderness of the steak. The whipped potatoes were done well and added to the comforting feel of a very upscale pot roast.
I am not a salmon lover, but gosh I wish I was since it's so good for you and Erik's looked divine. But since I'm not I have nothing to add about this dish, but a picture and a few words from my husband. Erik noted that the fish had a nice flaky texture and the sauce was a tomato white whine sauce that was not overpowering. The asparagus was tender crisp and the pasta had a tomato flavor. The other piece was a stuffed tomato topped with anchovy. Overall, Erik enjoyed the dish very much, but felt it was not unlike other salmon dishes he had tried. He said that he was much more impressed with the service of the restaurant than the food. Nevertheless, he still enjoyed the food very much.

I must say that my personal dining experience just got better and better as we went (possibly because of the effects of 2 martinis, but I do think the quality of the dishes had something to do with it also) :) and my dessert might be the best I've ever had.

I ordered a chocolate charlotte bombe that made my heart skip a beat as I tasted it. The centerpiece of the dessert was chocolate mousse like, but lighter than any other mousse I had ever eaten before. However, at the same time as achieving lightness there was still a strong, rich chocolate flavor. Sometimes it seems that the extra air that is incorporated into a dessert to achieve lightness results in less flavor coming through. But luckily, this was not the case in this dessert. The mousse was on top of a crisp chocolate cookie/biscotti base and topped with a chocolate wafer. Covering the plate was a raspberry sauce. Raspberry and chocolate is a favorite flavor combination of mine, but the Refectory has elevated this to new levels. The velvety texture and sugary sweetness of the sauce, combined with the light airiness of the mousse, and then the crunch of the thicker cookie base created pure joy in my mouth. It was a perfect melding of flavors and textures, but with a strong pure chocolate flavor always shining through. I think a tear of joy may have rolled down my cheek after my first bite.
Erik ordered a dessert that is hard to name (when you don't write down what was written on the menu), but I'll do my best to describe it. It was plum based with a moist dense filling similar to a custard, but with a slightly more cake like/granular texture than a pure custard. This was topped with a vanilla bean ice cream and a creme anglaise on the plate. This dessert was equally high quality, but I kept getting the feeling that I made the better choice of dishes during this meal! But, when you're a chocolate lover it's very difficult to beat a chocolate mousse. With this dessert, instead of every flavor melding together, each flavor stood out. The vanilla ice cream had a strong flavor of vanilla, likely due to real vanilla bean. The creme anglaise also had a pure velvety vanilla flavor and then there was the sweet/sour flavor of the plum custardy dessert. (I know you are all astounded by my creative foodie vocabulary such as "plum custardy dessert".) But in this dessert, instead of a melding of flavors each flavor had its own distinct note.
Ahhh.....what a great ending to a satisfying evening out. There is just nothing that compares to a dining experience in a dining institution that so obviously has an old world style that never needs to be changed, but still can lead in food quality and creation. Overall, I think it's the contrasts in the restaurant that makes it so appealing. Elegant decor is contrasted with rustic exposed beams in the ceiling of the dining room and a mismatch of fine china. The building has a history and the food stays true to its roots, but with contemporary takes on classic dishes. There is an air of relaxation, comfort, and being truly taken care of as you dine; yet there is still a constant buzz of organized business from the waitstaff going on in the background. Even the dishes speak to the harmony that comes with contrast. Velvety steak contrasts with tender crisp vegetables. Tart plums contrast with sweet sauces.

On top of all this, someone even called us on Monday just to ensure we had a good experience. That was definitely a first for me and just showed how top notch the place and the service truly is. If you ever get the opportunity, this is a restaurant not to miss.

Another thing not to miss is restaurant week. I know I definitely don't want to make such a close call again! I've already highlighted March 7-13, 2010 (the next C-bus RW) in my calendar and think you should do the same.

Bill total: 2 3-course dinners through Restaurant Week ($30.09 each), 2 Ketle One martini's, 2 gimlets, and tip:$120 (yes, alcohol really ups the bill)

Overall Rating: 5 buckeyes

The Refectory on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I love The Refectory and have been a couple times, including taking a Refectory Virgin (friend and coworker) there for Restaurant Week.

I highly recommend going back for happy hour (before 7) and all apps are half off. Their preparation is so classic and always perfect; sometimes we are overwhelmed by overly complicated things. The Refectory just isn't that way.

And the tomato, with the salmon, had an olive tapenade, not anchovies. And I think it was a roasted red pepper pasta.

(it wasn't letting my sign-in to my google account to it is anonymous)


Annabelle said...


Thanks for the "fixes" on the salmon dish. I didn't try it and it was like pulling teeth to get my husband to explain what he tasted a week or so after eating it (even with a picture). He enjoys going out to dinner with me, but he is definitely not the descriptive type,or apparently the accurate type either :)

I'll definitely have to try out the Refectory for happy hour.

Thanks for commenting!