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.


Lisa0007 said...

Wow, that experience sounds over the top! We have not yet dined there, but we plan to as one of your special occasioners. At any rate, I have seen The Refectory listed on a discount diners site where you can book a table at an off time in order to get the lower prices. Oh, and foie gras, I have had several times and never thought it anything less than a complete melt-in-your-mouth pleasure! Thanks for the verbal taste!

pilotswife said...

And I thought I had a good dinner last night. I am so jealous. Sounds like everything about the dinner was pretty great to say the least!

artgirl said...

I tried to post earlier, but for some reason I couldn't log on with my password..whaterver...this post makes me laugh. Your writing is just fabulous. You have such a way with words and it makes me laugh. This dinner sounded like quite the experience.