Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Refectory: 27 years of Frenchiness

To say that I am very blessed is an understatement. On a Tuesday evening, when the skies are looming with rain, I had the privilege to attend one of the top restaurants in Columbus. It is not trendy. It is not filled with blinking neon lights and techno music. It is, though, featuring the latest trends in fine dining cuisines, but with such restraint and finesse that it leaves you feeling on the edge of a culinary precipice.

The Refectory has been in business for 27 years, and it exists as a "special occasion" restaurant. However, it would seem the staff wants you to become a regular. Or maybe it was just me and my dining companion; I mean, we did look GOOOOD. Dressed in our nicest dining ensemble and the waitstaff in their tuxedos, it seems a bit upsetting to see a man walking out in shorts and golf shirt. But if that guy is accustomed to dining like that SO MUCH that it doesn't seem like an occasion to dress up, well I guess the more power to him!

I love a server who asks if you'd like to start the evening with a cocktail or glass of champagne. THANK YOU for suggesting we ease into our meals and not rush us in and into a salad or appetizer. I absolutely took him up on his subtle champagne nudge, and it was the wisest choice. My dining companion sipped on scotch throughout dinner, but of course could not resist the Wine Show that our server put on for us. Special Show. Ask for the show.

You see, I got caught. I was taking a picture with my cell phone of our first course. And man I wish everytime I got caught doing something wrong it had this result! Our server saw and said, "Do you have a blog!?" I think I must've blushed, because he came back and apologized. I was just hoping I was unique, but immediately it is assumed there is a blog. Now, he did inform me that a previous employee's wife is a blogger, and so perhaps she does the camera phone thing he is just equating me with her. The previous employee now works at Rosendale's, which I hope is next on the fine dining list. So not only did we chat about my blog, they wanted the website, the owner came over and talked about the blog, we talked about food, we had star treatment!

So onto the food:
God Bless him, he made sure we knew it was not the standard escargot, bathing in the butter and garlic. I did not mind this, as the idea it was not standard made it even better. The only thing I missed was that standard texture of the escargot, but all of the flavor still existed. Perhaps though it was a little dry, but compared to the Butter Bath, what wouldn't be? And compared to the creaminess of the second course, the escargot didn't have a chance in hell of standing up to it!
Course 2: Sea Scallop with pan seared Foie Gras
If Foie Gras is wrong, then I don't want to be right. Upon placing this interesting piece of duck in your mouth, it just "evaporates". There is no chewing, it is just setting it on your tongue and letting the flavor fill the expanse of your pallet. Adding a small bite of the seared scallop just places such a perfectly paired texture to the dish that you don't really want to swallow. And I may have said an expletive, causing my dining partner to look around to see if anyone heard, and have to decide if he wanted the check or to continue to watch my face in peaks of culinary pleasure.
Course 3: CRABMEAT AND ARTICHOKE CRUSTED HALIBUT After scooping my goo-like body off of the floor so that I could enjoy something other than this foie gras, we moved onto a fish dish. Now to call this dish 'flimsy', it creates a negative connotation. But the fish is not a firm fish! It is moist and mixed with crab meat, it is incredibly, well, WHITE! Splitting this dish between two plates was impossible, understandably, and so they brought an extra plate and two gravy terrines of the lobster butter sauce. HEAVEN is Lobster Butter Sauce. It runs out of fountains. There is of course endless amounts of bread in heaven. And the fountains are there to coat this bread in lobster goodness. One of my dining quirks is that I choose things for the sauce. This sauce stole the show for this dish.
Wines: Three Whites consisting of a California Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc of bananas, and a third that I can't think of!! grr!!
Course 4:PAN SEARED CRISPY MILD SPICED DUCK MAGRET I am a girl who had never had duck. Well I think I had a little sliver on SOMETHING somewhere, but never had a whole breast of duck. I was leaning toward a steak course, only because it had a truffled butter on top (again, with the choosing things because of the sauce). Our server said he would just bring the butter on the side, so that we could enjoy the duck. And enjoy we did. I hate to keep harping on textures, but for so many people, food is just about taste. And to me, it is every sense creating an experience. The texture of duck is unlike chicken. It is unlike steak. Perhaps most similar to a medium rare steak, when you are eating the warm red center. I didn't even notice the sauce on this, because duck just has a flavor to itself, that is complimented by the cherry sauce, but not masked. I didn't want to drown it in anything.

This course indeed was split into two plates and the portions were still large! If you've never dined like this, one entree at a time, go do it tonight! So relaxed. So peaceful.
Wines: Three reds, featuring a Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Merlot that exploded like a canoned Cab.
If your meal is a ride, I think it should start slow have a peak and then come back down. I felt going to the poached pear next would be a nice gently stop to the meal. It is not too rich. It does not carry you out with a mouthful of heavy chocolate mouse. It gently places you at the end of your meal, on a cloud of whipped Chantilly cream and a bite of light puffed pastry. (Note: I hate the cliche of a cloud and cream. I'm upset I even typed it.) But God bless our server, he wanted us to have some chocolate! And I think my dining companion was relieved. You men like chocolate just as much, if not more than some women, I swear! The chocolate dessert was good, but I think my choice of pear was better. I win!
Wine: Moscato

Wine Show: I did not order a single wine. I requested--well actually he suggested this and I beamed at the thought--the server bring a 2 ounce pour of two wines for each main course. He brought three. And with dessert, we ordered the pear, and he brought the chocolate and two tastes of the moscato dessert wine.

Before my personal experience at The Refectory, I had heard from people who had heard from people that it "isn't THAT great." I consider this to be the spouting off of morons. People who will not take the chance of the experience and therefore cope with their ignorance by pretending they are not missing much. They are missing a lot. But honestly, some people may not be ready for the experience, and to The Refectory I say, you didn't want them there anyway!

To finish, it has been nothing but stressful thinking of how to put this all into words. It is really a consistent thing for my last week or two. So to have this dining experience fit into the place that I feel I am right now, is just so, well, FITTING. And we will be returning and creating even more experiences that leave me speechless.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Porky Pink

I made something up last night!

Spinach and Spanish Cheese Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with an Maple Mustard Apple Chutney
Holy long title Batman!

Pork Tenderloin sliced carefully to make flat and rollable
Bagged Baby Spinach
Grated Mahone and Roncal Cheese
salt and pepper

one granny smith apple, diced
2T diced onion
2T butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
1t dijon mustard
1t whole grain mustard
1/4 cup maple syrup
splash of milk
1 t butter

Place spinach and cheese inside pork, and roll. Use toothpicks or twine to bind, but it is not necessary. Grill on all four sides, about 4 minutes a side.

Melt butter and add apple and onion, let saute until soft. Add chicken broth to syrup and whisk. Add butter and milk to desired thickness. Place chutney over or under pork on a serving plate.

I served this with a side of sweet potato and white potato cooked in foil, also on the grill.

For dessert, Vanilla Crepes with Strawberries and Dark Chocolate Sauce. Crepe recipe is from

Vanilla Crepe
1 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons melted butter
In a large bowl, mix together the milk, egg yolks and vanilla. Stir in the flour, sugar, salt and melted butter until well blended.
Heat a crepe pan over medium heat until hot. Coat with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan and tip to spread the batter to the edges. When bubbles form on the top and the edges are dry, flip over and cook until lightly browned on the other side and edges are golden. Repeat with remaining batter.
Fill crepes with your favorite fruit, cream, caramel or even ice cream or cheese to serve.

A couple tips:
-Pork is usually dry because it is overcooked. Do you KNOW how many antibiotics are in pig feed these days to prevent crazy pig borne illnesses? Lotsa. So eat your pork medium-medium well. A little pink makes things so much better!
-Find friends/dinner guests who enjoy your food and then say, "You are not doing anything else! I am cleaning it all up!" These people just come from a better ilk than other people. And they probably are very thoughtful in other ways too.
-Crepes are easy. Don't let the french fool you! They are tricky like that.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Fourth of July!

I feel like every July 4th for the last 6 years have been SOMETHING. Last year, it was spent with my husband, after a couple months of minimal time spent together. The year before that, it was in California. Before that, I was on my honeymoon, or at least just getting back. And always there was a bit of a struggle about going to see fireworks or not. I'm not sure why I am not always gung ho on the fireworks thing, but it has never wowed me. In fact, the owws and ahhs kinda make me laugh.

This year, it is truly an Independance Day. I did laundry, independently. I watched The Next Food Network Star Marathon, independently. I then made my standard Independent Dinner. Spaghetti, meat sauce, red wine...and I rented The Departed. Because my independent nights are generally mafia themed. Whaddaya gonna do about it??