Tuesday, June 29, 2010

When You Need to Get Away From the Cold (Which ironically was a great title when I started this post in January. However, now that I'm completing it in June, not so much.)

340 Greenlawn Avenue
Columbus, Ohio
January 19, 2010
7:30ish pm 

I had been reading wonderful things about this place for quite some time.  However, it wasn't until this last wave of bitter cold had me craving the Florida sun that we finally decided to give it a try.  The restaurant features "Floribean" cuisine.  What kind of food could possibly sound more vacationy?  That fact plus I learned Banana Bean serves plantains practically had me running there.  When my husband and I were in Key West awhile ago we had one of the best meals of our lives at a homey Cuban restaurant called El Siboney.  That was where I first had plantains and since then I order them whenever I get the chance!  I just love their sweet and sticky goodness.  Actually, we even picked our spring break destination of South Beach almost soley for the reason that we would be able to eat more authentic Cuban food and plantains! 

But I digress...back to Banana Bean.  The restaurant has semi-recently moved from their Geman Village location to outside the German Village on Greenlawn.  It looks like their new building is possibly a converted gas station due to the overhang outside.  The local is definitely not as charming as German Village, but inside the place still gives you a warm vacation feel.  We especially loved the palm tree decorated with Christmas lights and roping!  The restaurant is a pretty good size with a bar area that has a large amount of seating to your left and then a dining room up some stairs to the right.  Overall, the atmosphere is laid back and fun.

We sat down in a comfy booth and immediately began to puruse the drink menu.  Considering we were pretending to be in Florida on vacation I considered it a necessity to have a drink with rum in it.  The only problem was that I loved the idea of the non-alcoholic fancy sodas they described on their menu.  To solve this dilema I politely asked our server if a shot of rum could be added to the Key Lime Cream Soda (cream soda with key lime juice, if I remember correctly).  The bartender and server acted like this was the best idea they had ever heard of and they said they wanted to try one when they got off work!  I really hope they did because this was one of the better drinks I've had in a long time.   It had the frou frou of a vacation drink all wrapped up. 

Overall, our server was very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu.  I got the feeling that he loved good food just as much as we do. 

We, of course, ordered the appetizer of flash fried sweet plantains.  The plantains were served with a ya-ya dipping sauce which was very spicy with red pepper flakes and possibly made of Sriracha sauce.  The plantains were cooked to sweet, yummy perfection.  They were carmelized on the outside and tender on the inside.  The sauce was very spicy and on its own I liked it.  I would probably love it as a chicken marinade or with a host of various other foods.  However, I didn't care for it paired with the plantains.  The extreme sweetness of the plantains and the extreme hotness of the sauce seemed to be competing flavors rather than complimentary.  However, the plantains were so good on their own I didn't feel like they needed a dipping sauce and I was just as happy to eat them plain.   
For dinner I ordered the Calle Ocho which was a wonderfully rich sandwich composed of Cuban roast pork tenderloin, an olive and caper spread, and melted Manchago cheese all pressed on herbed Cuban bread that had been heavily buttered.  The sandwich was sensational.  The pork had a wonderful roasted and salty flavor.  I loved the accent flavors the olives and capers gave the sandwich, and due to the butter, I definitely didn't need chapstick later that evening!  I got the sandwich with sweet potato fries, not because I needed any more food, but simply because I couldn't pass them up.  And boy were they were good! 
Erik attempted to order the Keys Poacher, which was smoked salmon over poached eggs over biscuits with goat cheese grits; but was informed that the kitchen was out of biscuits.  They offered that they could serve the meal over toast as a substitute.  However, toast just didn't sound as appetizing so he went with Kacoo's Yahoo Junction (reuben).  We thought it was odd that the kitchen would be out of biscuits, since the ingredients are common and the recipe is quick to make; but whatever.  We tend to roll with the punches and were saddened by not trying the goat cheese grits, but the reuben definitely did not disappoint. 

The reuben was very good and many have said this is among one of the best ruebens in Columbus (Columbus Monthly, July 2007).  I would have to agree.  The bread was a good marbled loaf, and also nicely buttered.  Then there was plenty of layers of in house cured corned beef, saurkraut, and swiss cheese! 

Because our server felt badly that we missed out on the Keys Poacher, he brought us a complementary tres leches cake to share.  It was rich and delicious  Tres leches (three milks in Spanish) is a light sponge cake made with regular milk and then soaked in a mixture of cream, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk.  This results in a very moist, almost custardy cake.  This one had a wonderful vanilla flavor and even though we were in the middle of winter in the midwest, the strawberries that topped it tasted in season!  We were beyond stuffed from the bounty we had already eaten, yet we managed to get half of this cake down and then save the rest for later (but not much later because I ended up finishing it before I even put it in the fridge) :)
Overall, we were really pleased with the restaurant's hospitality and food.  In fact I was so pleased, that I suggested this restaurant as part of a Christmas gift for a friend who had recently gotten back from Key West and was in the mood to extend her vacation feeling for a bit longer.  

During this second visit I had to order the Key Lime Soda with rum in it again.  However, this time the server looked at me like I was crazy (her loss, for sure), but obliged.  She didn't see how the whipped cream on top could possibly go with rum.  Hello, have you ever had a strawberry daquirri??  But whatever, again.  My friend got the margarita that was on special for the night.  It was a typical good margarita. 
For dinner we repeated the plantains for an appetizer and my friend got the Calle Ocho for dinner, upon my recommendation.  Both were as good as the first time around  However, this time I was feeeling the pinch of too much holiday fare and opted to go vegetarian with the sandwich (even though from the ingredient list I was well aware that this sandwich wasn't light) :) 

I went with the Duval Street Vegatarian Monte Cristo which was composed of roasted vegetables, goat cheese, and potato pancake on egg battered sourdough bread.  This was served with tomato-chile jam for dipping.  The tomato-chili jam paired with goat chesse on the sandwich was what really interested me in this sandwich, but I must say I was supremely disappointed.  I had envisioned the potato pancake having a nice fried and battered crisp to it on the sandwich, which would contrast to the velvety goat chesse spread and then the tomato jam and roasted vegetables would add extra flavor and zip to the dish.  But there was none of that.  The potato pancake was limp and bairly had a crust.  There was too much bread in relationship to the fillings.  The roasted vegetables were good, but there was barely a goat cheese layer on the sandwich.  Also, the tomato-chile jam was also lacking in flavor in my opinion.  This is where I could have used the ya-ya sauce to kick it up a notch! 
Overall, I felt the sandwich was pretty bland and I was wishing I had gone for a repeat of the reuben or the calle ocho.  The sandwich I had in my head was a good one, perhaps I'll use this one for inspiration and try to make the sandwich in my head at home.  

Bill Total:  (for the first time) 1 Key Lime soda with rum, 2 beers, plantain appetizer, calle ocho with sweet potato fries, reuben sandwich, complimentary tres leches cake, and a good tip for the great service:  $43 (with a buy one get one free coupon from Prestige Dining Club) 

Overall Rating:  Hmmm....based on the first visit I'd give them 4 buckeyes, but only 3 buckeyes on the second visit.  I guess I'll split the difference and end with 3 1/2. 
Banana Bean Cafe on Urbanspoon

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