When I was invited to go on the Experience Columbus: A Diverse and Delicious Culinary Tour I wasn’t sure what I was in for but I knew it would be fun. Let me tell you, Columbus is jumping and will surprise you! We had three days packed with wonderful people who love what they do, talented artisans whose curiosity shows in every gorgeous plate they produce, the beautiful people and architecture of the Midwest and being with other bloggers who understand my passion for food and writing about it. It was like finding a whole new family of fun people to celebrate life with.
Columbus has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years leading up to their bicentennial in 2012. What a fun, exciting and vibrant city life there is in Ohio’s capital! Scioto Mile is a beautiful area on the bank of the Scioto River, complete with an urban green space, a wide promenade for strolling, bronze sculpture fountains and the new Bicentennial Park. At nearly 5 miles, it is an expansive area with an amphitheater, stadium-style seating, an interactive fountain with over 1000 jets of water that children love running through and which are programmed with lighting effects, and an architectural beauty of a restaurant, Milestone 229, where our welcoming reception was held.
With a towering ceiling, wrap-around bar and expanse of windows facing Bicentennial Park and the river, it is the perfect place to meet for cocktails after work, relax with friends, have a bite to eat and enjoy the spirited atmosphere. Chef Christian Hattemer has designed a family-friendly menu that draws from many cuisines and styles of cooking. We quickly devoured the Skillet Mac n’ Cheese, studded with double-smoked hickory bacon, diced tomatoes and scallions, the succulent and spicy Bacon Wrapped Shrimp and the Judith Pointe Fried Calamari which were playfully spilling out of a Chinese Take-Out container.
I had one of their Blueberry Hill cocktails (recipe in yesterday’s post), a delightful combination of blueberry-flavored vodka, muddled fresh blueberries and honey lemonade that made me wish I could linger there for hours. We introduced ourselves to one another and started chatting, sharing our stories and exchanging business cards. What a delightful group of people! Then we were off to have dinner at one of Columbus’ best Italian restaurants.
Basi Italia is located in a little house in the quaint Victorian Village. It has an intimate dining room and a covered patio in the back where we settled in for our first meal together. Chef Johnny Dornback came out to welcome us with an infectious smile and winning personality. Plate after plate of his favorite appetizers were delivered and we sampled each one with glee. First out was his famous Zucchini Pronto, a delightful dish made with batons of zucchini sauteed lightly with olive oil, garlic and toasted almonds. They are draped with paper-thin sheets of pecorino-romano cheese which looks like a delicate wrapper.
Taking advantage of the last of the summer tomatoes, we had a Mozzarella Caprese salad and a seasoned tomato water “shooter” with a bite of Gorgonzola cheese in the bottom and micro greens on top. Next came the Honey-Pistachio Flatbread topped with crisp prosciutto, fresh spinach and fontina cheese. But the highlight of the apps for me was his Parmesan Creme Brulee. A bite of savory cheesy custard served on a Chinese spoon and drizzled with a balsamic reduction that took my breath away.
The Secondo offerings all looked amazing but I chose one of the nightly specials, Braised Pork Cheeks served over Steamed Kale and Swiss Chard and napped with Espresso Barbecue Sauce. At the recommendation of our server, we shared a bottle of 2007 Palazzo della Toree Ripasso from Verona, Italy. It was an outstanding meal and the perfect way to start our adventures in Columbus!
The next morning we headed to Skillet Restaurant which serves some of the best breakfast foods I have ever eaten. While everything on the menu was tempting, I decided to try Chef Kevin Caskey’s Ohio Sweet Corn “Hoecakes.” The mildly sweet yet savory corncakes were topped with house smoked pulled Berkshire pork shoulder, pepper vinegar and tomato chow chow. OMG were they good! I couldn’t stop eating them and didn’t want to share them with anyone, LOL!
One of Columbus’ most famous restaurants is Katzinger’s Delicatessen which was voted Best Sandwiches 2011. Run by the enthusiastic and energetic Diane Warren, it is a breath of New York City in the middle of Ohio. Almost overwhelming when you walk in the door, it has floor-to-ceiling shelves in the center of the large room, stocked with specialty food items. As I wandered around I wanted to buy a basketful of the products and carry them home on the airplane! Around the perimeter are cases filled with dozens of freshly made Jewish Deli-style foods, freshly baked loaves of bread, a huge selection of cheeses and everything else you would need to create a meal for any occasion.
I had received a message from a friend who told me I had to try their pickles and German Potato Salad. Far be it from me to ignore a direct command (wink), so that is exactly what I ordered. Another blogger and I shared one of their enormous sandwiches, a tasty slow-cooked brisket slathered with sweet and tangy BBQ sauce, coleslaw and Swiss cheese on a Kaiser roll. It was another OMG moment for me!
That night the group broke up and went to three different restaurants. It was Ladies Night at Rigsby’s Kitchen, a lovely establishment with lofty old-brick walls and white linen-covered tables with Kent Risgby at the helm. After a full day of eating, I wanted something light and I chose the Risotto Caprese made with fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and slivered basil. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly and was just what I needed to accompany the wine. A lot of laughter and jokes were shared and we left the restaurant fast friends.
The other bloggers went to G. Michael’s Bistro and Kihachi. Based on the comments shared when we all got back to the hotel, everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals and would absolutely recommend both restaurants to family and friends.
Everywhere we went the chefs came out of the kitchen to meet with us, sharing their stories, philosophies and the universal obsession with quality ingredients. The focus was always on utilizing locally sourced, seasonal products and presenting them in creative ways.
One thing that was very different from California was the attitude toward organic products. The food producers seemed more concerned about the quality and flavor of their ingredients. While they all appreciate the purity of organic produce, it was tempered with the knowledge of the challenges presented to area farmers by huge agribusinesses. It is expensive to convert to organic farming and unless you buy directly from the farmers, you cannot guarantee that the organic and non-organic products aren’t being mixed together. (Read Michael Polan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma for an eye-opening examination of the American way of eating.)
One of the chefs, David MacLennan of Latitude 41 Bar and Restaurant, has come up with a unique solution. He has his own organic garden on the roof of the Columbus Renaissance Hotel which houses the restaurant! Chef David utilizes everything he grows and showcases it in his inventive versions of classic dishes. There is nothing tastier than vegetables picked fresh in the morning and we enjoyed them in the dishes that emerged from the kitchen.
With a passionate dedication to using seasonal, locally sourced artisan ingredients and naturally raised meats, poultry and seafood, Chef David creates some of the most inspired dishes in Columbus. We all delightfully dug into the Greek Gyro Flatbread topped with merguez, tzatziki, romaine, grape tomatoes and kalamata olives. We felt like royalty when we dug into the Lobster Mac & Cheese made with orechiette, mascarpone, truffle oil and garnished with a Parmesan tuille. In a salute to Southern cooking, we had fried chicken served on waffles (the same sweet Belgian waffles from North Market) with corn pudding, edamame and baby tomatoes. The most interesting dish was the “Pork and Beans” made with a pig’s head torchon, black lentils, cherry motarda and crispy cracklings. My favorite was the chef’s version of surf and turf. It was superbly sauteed scallops with incredibly tender braised short ribs served over shaved potatoes and garnished with brussel sprout leaves. It was outstanding!
Each incredible dish was paired with a custom cocktail created and presented by the mixologist. It was enlightening to see how the same ingredients used in cooking were also utilized to season the beverages. I definitely want to investigate this creative practice in more depth, tee hee!
One of the latest trends that is popping up all over the country is talented chefs turning away from brick and mortar restaurants and selling their meals from food trucks. The last evening we went on a really fun Taco Truck tour. We gathered at one of the city’s favorite food trucks, Fresh Street Takoyaki. They serve Japanese ball-shaped dumplings that are made from a savory pancake batter in a special pan. The vegetarian version was made with Ohio’s sweet corn and scallions, but the most common variety are stuffed with chopped octopus.
Fresh off the fire they were screaming hot and we all scorched our mouths because we couldn’t wait to eat them. I had never had them before and am now addicted to them. What a sensational treat! If you ever have the opportunity, don’t be afraid of trying the octopus version, they are fabulous!
With mouths on fire, we piled into the mini van and off we went on our Taco tour. Led by the entertaining Bethia Woolf, the owner of Columbus Food Adventures, we sampled some incredible Mexican foods from 5 different trucks. Everything from Tacos al Cabeza (made from the head of a cow) and Pollo al Carbon to spit-roasted Tacos al Pastore. Growing up in California, I have eaten some amazing Mexican food, but these taco trucks are in the running for the best I’ve ever had! I especially loved the al pastore, a huge football-shaped chunk of compressed, sliced pork, skewered on a vertical spit and slowly roasted until tender. It looks like Greek Gyros or Shawarma with a whole pineapple basting it from above and is sliced with a huge butcher knife. Served on soft tortillas with onions, cilantro and freshly squeezed lime juice, I could have eaten a dozen of them.
We wrapped up our trip with a visit to M Restaurant for a nightcap. Chef Jay Cotrell runs one of Columbus’ finest restaurants and has made sure that his patrons are happy by hiring the award-winning mixologist Cris Dehlavi. Running the bar since 2002, Cris is the winner of the Columbus Iron Bartender Competition 2010, 614 Magazine’s Best Bartender in Columbus 2010, and the Columbus Chopped Competition 2010. She is a USBG member, BarSmarts certified and a member of the online Cointreau Experts Group.
Cris loves a challege, so we each told her the type of alcohol we liked, what we were looking for in a cocktail and let her create something out of the blue. It was fun to see what she came up with for each of us and there was not one misstep – everyone loved what she made for them. I had a couple of Black Orchids, a blend of Belvedere Black Raspberry, St. Germain Elderflower, White Cranberry juice and Fresh Lemon Juice. It was a light, refreshing drink that was made spectacular by the addition of a black orchid flower frozen in a cube of ice and floated in the martini glass. As it melted, the aroma of the flower enhanced the flavors of the drink. In my humble opinion, Cris deserves every award she has ever won!
One of the fun things about traveling with a group of bloggers is that everyone wanders around with their cameras shooting everything in sight. You quickly realize that no one can take a bite until everyone has photographed each plate. This can be frustrating to non-bloggers, but we all appreciated the desire to capture each offering. We also acted as hand models for each other, adding a human touch to the shots. The best part of traveling with other foodies is that everyone is happy to share bites of all the food on the table!
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Columbus and a lot of that was due to the wonderful members of the tour group. It is rare that you can combine ten people from totally diverse backgrounds and have everyone get along. I loved meeting everyone and getting to know a bit about their lives. If you want to read some incredibly talented writers and learn more about the cities they live in, check out this amazing group of food bloggers:
A Thought for Food – Brian (Boston)
Blue Kitchen – Terry (Chicago)
Cincinnati Nomerati – Laura and David (Cincinnati)
Eat the Love – Irvin (San Francisco)
Hounds in the Kitchen – Rachel (Columbus)
The Hungry Dudes – Joe (Detroit)
Vanilla Icing – Michelle (Pittsburgh)
Wine Me, Dine Me – Julie (Cincinnati)
If you are in the Midwest, I highly recommend a trip to Columbus. It is now one of my favorite destinations and I can’t wait until I can go back to discover more of its treasures!
Disclosure: While Experience Columbus paid for and sponsored this trip, I am not being compensated for this post, nor was I asked to provide any type of review; the opinions expressed here are strictly mine.
- 3 lb very ripe tomatoes
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 3 cups French bread, crusts discarded, centers torn into small pieces
- 3 cloves garlic (remove any green sprouts)
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 medium red pepper, roasted, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably from Sicily
- Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
- Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and remove the peels. Cut them in half horizontally. Set a wire sieve over a large bowl. Gently squeeze the seeds and juice out of the tomatoes, letting the sieve catch the seeds while straining out the tomato water. Discard the seeds. Roughly chop the tomatoes. Add the vinegar to the tomato water, stir to combine, and then add the bread, tossing to moisten the bread. Set aside.
- Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic with the salt to form a very smooth paste. Place the paste in the bowl of a food processor with the bread mixture and some of the chopped tomatoes. Process until very smooth, then transfer to a large, nonreactive bowl.
- Process the remaining tomatoes with the cucumber, red pepper and water until very smooth. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil. Combine the pureed vegetables with the tomato/bread mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill for at least two hours.
- Garnishes can include avocado, crème fraiche, hard boiled eggs, pinenuts or green olives stuffed with pimentos. Also, chilled lobster, shrimp or crab.
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- Roasted Cornish Hens
- 3 Cornish Hens
- 2 tsp garlic puree
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/8 tsp onion powder
- 1/8 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp minced fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Pinch Kosher salt
- Pinch black pepper
- Dried Cherry Glaze
- 2 cups dried cherries
- 2 cups boiling water
- 2 cups port wine
- 2 tsp chopped rosemary
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 1/2 tsp soy sauce
- Prepare the Hens: Split hens in half or have your butcher do it for you. Place them cavity-side down in a roasting pan.
- Combine the garlic, turmeric, onion powder, paprika, thyme, brown sugar and oil in a small bowl; whisk until smooth. Pour over the chicken and marinate 3 to 4 hours, covered, in the refrigerator, turning occasionally.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Uncover the chicken and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Roast at 400°F for 20 minutes, the reduce heat to 325°F and cook for 10 minutes more or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Remove from the oven, cover, and set aside for 15 to 30 minutes to rest. This gives the juices time to be reabsorbed by the chicken.
- Prepare the Cherry Glaze: While the hens are cooking, rehydrate cherries in boiling water until softened, about 20 minutes.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, reduce the port, rosemary, honey and ginger until thickened. Add soy sauce and half the cherries. Use an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth. Stir in remaining whole cherries.
- To serve, place the chicken on serving plates and drizzle with the cherry glaze. Pass any additional glaze at the table.
- Miso-Soy Vinaigrette
- 1 oz shiro miso (white soybean paste)
- 4 oz rice wine vinegar
- 1 oz soy sauce
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 1/2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 bunch scallions, chopped
- 1/4 bunch cilantro, minced
- 1/2 tsp sambal (an Asian chili-based condiment)
- 1 tsp honey
- 12 oz olive oil
- Vegetable Fried Rice
- 1 tbsp canola or peanut oil
- 1-1/2 cups mixed vegetables such as daikon radish, bok choy, red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, red onions, Napa cabbage and carrots
- 2 cups cooked sticky rice, prepared a day ahead and left uncovered in the refrigerator to dry out
- Stir-Fry Sauce
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sambal (an Asian chili-based condiment)
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp finely minced garlic
- 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
- Grilled Salmon
- 4 salmon steaks
- Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish
- Make Vinaigrette: Put all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a blender and puree well. While the blender is still running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream until the sauce emulsifies and is thick enough to coat a spoon. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference.
- Make Stir-Fry Sauce: In a bowl, combine the liquids with the ginger and garlic. Taste and adjust to desired seasoning – add more orange juice if you like it, more soy if you’re going for Umami. Set aside.
- Prepare Vegetables for Fried Rice: Chop the vegetables in a uniform julienne cut. A mandolin slicer is ideal for the daikon and carrots. Cutting everything the same size will ensure that the vegetables cook uniformly.
- Prepare the Stir-Fried Rice: Toss the oil and vegetables into a blazing hot sauté pan. Add the rice and toss together with the vegetables. Cook for about 1 minute, tossing ingredients constantly. Add the stir-fry sauce and cook briefly until the sauce is reduced and distributed into the rice.
- Prepare the Salmon: Heat your grill to super hot. Grill the salmon until the muscles begin to separate, while the interior of the fish is still translucent, or to your preferred doneness. Don’t forget to pay attention to the grill marks. Pull the salmon off the grill and let it rest, tented with aluminum foil.
- To Serve: Place a generous pile of rice onto the center of a plate. Drizzle some of the miso-viniagrette over the rice (or use a squirt bottle if you have one), top with the salmon and garnish with sprigs of cilantro.
- 2 tbsp high-quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups zucchini batons (about 1 medium)
- White pepper, to taste
- 8 to 10 paper thin 3 inch slices of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese or enough slices to cover 2 servings
- Heat a large cast iron pan over high heat. Add olive oil and heat to just below the smoking point. Then layer almonds, garlic, and zucchini in pan.
- Heat for one minute and then flip sections with a spatula. Keep heat on high to sauté, not stew.
- After two minutes, when zucchini is heated through, pile into a shallow plate or bowl. Zucchini will still be firm and not limp.
- Cover immediately with cheese. Allow it to melt with the heat of the zucchini for approximately one minute before serving.
- Yield: 2 appetizer or side dish servings.
- If you want to increase the number of servings, make in batches or use more pans. If you pile more zucchini into a single pan it will stew and the juices will run instead of the quick sear/sauté that is key to the success of this dish.
- 24 thick spears green asparagus, tough ends trimmed and bottom 1/3 peeled
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 farm fresh eggs
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp wine vinegar
- Small block of Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the asparagus until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Place in ice water bath to stop cooking. When cool, remove with a slotted spoon and pat dry with paper towels.
- In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Season with salt and the wine vinegar. Reduce heat to barely a simmer.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil in until just below the smoke point, and then add the butter. When foaming subsides, add the asparagus and toss in the hot oil for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, and then divide evenly onto four plates. Do not clean the pan.
- While you are heating the asparagus, drop the eggs into the simmering water. When the eggs begin to set up, carefully remove them with a slotted spoon, tap the spoon on paper towels to remove excess water and place on top of the asparagus.
- Heat the remaining olive oil and butter until the butter starts to brown a little. Remove from heat and pour in lemon juice. It will bubble and sizzle, but the butter will stop cooking and not burn. Pour this over the eggs and asparagus. Grate the cheese liberally over each plate and serve.