19 April 2014

Scarpetta


Scarpetta is Scott Conant's flagship restaurant. The Chopped judge has Scarpettas in New York, Toronto, Miami, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas. The Vegas location enjoys a picturesque view of the fountains of Bellagio, and that is the one that I visited.

The atmosphere is modern, clean and elegant. The wine list is filled with Italian trophies as well as great American, European and other international labels. The cocktails were nice but seemed expensive.

There is a vegetarian menu available each night, and a number of dishes can be prepared for vegans upon request. It's Italian - expect to eat carbohydrates.

While there was variety in the vegetarian offerings from the kitchen, the staff seemed confused about the vegetarian request at the beginning of the meal. It took two tries to have bead brought to the table without a meat-threaded calzone. Despite the initial misstep, the rest of service dealt well with vegetarian concerns.

The truffled mushroom risotto was a joy. The unctuous mushrooms added layers of flavor to the creamy, cheesy rice underneath. The execution was perfect.

Spaghetti in a tomato basil sauce sounds like a rudimentary dish. However, when prepared with this much care, it allows the talent in the kitchen to shine. The house-made pasta was surprisingly filling.

The chocolate souffle with hazelnut gelato was also well done. The souffle collapsed slightly, but still towered from out of its serving dish. The interplay between hazelnuts and chocolate is subtle and satisfying.

Scarpetta fits nicely in the stylish Cosmopolitan. The view makes it a perfect spot to take a date; however, the food is good enough to make it worth a visit on your own.



Scarpetta on Urbanspoon

10 April 2014

Mughal Darbar


Mughal Darbar occupies the old location of Taj Mahal, one of the city's original Indian restaurants on High Street in the middle of campus. One member of the family took over from the other, and the new operation offers the full bar, buffet and Indian fare that made its predecessor famous.

The menu focuses on Mughalai cusine, a North Indian regional fare rooted in the 350+ year rule of the Mughal emperors. It is related to Persian food, and like any other Indian menu, it has plenty of options for vegetarians. Vegans can also have dishes made without dairy upon request. There is a vegetarian combo platter as well as a lunch buffet for those who can't choose only one item.

The restaurant kept the multiple room format from Taj Mahal. The decor is subtle and welcoming.

At a recent visit, there was a Gujarati street food addition to the buffet because of a holiday. The bhel puri, a puffed rice dish made with onion, potato, tamarind and mint chutneys, should be consumed by the bucketful.

The other classics, chana masala and saag paneer in particular, are full of fresh ingredients and a rich spice level. The samosa has a nice thick exterior that allows the potato and pea filling to support a variety of Indian condiments.

The veggie kebabs and oven-roasted paneer entrees look great. There are many common Indian dishes on the menu, but some of the items like kadhai paneer, a hot onion sauce bathing cubed cheese, and dum aloo, cheese and nut stuffed potatoes in creamy sauce, are not found on many menus around town. There are breads from many flavors of naan to fluffier paratha and crispy roti.



Mughal Darbar on Urbanspoon

04 April 2014

Bakersfield


Bakersfield Short North is the first local location of the Cincinnati hipster taqueria with a handful of locations. Much in the style of Chicago's Big Star, Bakersfield dishes up modern takes on classic Mexican tacos accompanied by a loud hillbilly/hard rock soundtrack and carefully crafted cocktails.

Although the meatless tacos on the menu list cheese as an ingredient, vegan items may be ordered on request. Taco fillings include rajas (poblano peppers cooked in cream) and huiltacoche (corn fungus - essentially the Mexican answer to truffles).

The guacamole is fresh and bright with hints of garlic, citrus and cilantro as well as a nice crunch from the radish garnish. The tortilla chips are dusted with red and black pepper, which gives them a nice punch.

The rajas tacos have a hint of roasted pepper that is fattened up by cheese. The huitlacoche is subtly rich. Umami explodes from the taco shell.

The margaritas are excellent. They are a great value with the right balance of tartness and sweetness. They are a great deal, particularly the house margarita at $6.

Service was very good. The staff answered all vegetarian questions, even quickly double checking with the kitchen on some inquiries. 

The word is out about Bakersfield, and the wait at night, especially on weekends, can be long. The line at lunchtime is typically shorter.



Bakersfield Short North on Urbanspoon

20 March 2014

Red Brick Tap and Grill


The Red Brick Tap and Grill was thoroughly transformed by the owner of Easy Street Cafe. Walls once decorated with ghastly baseball caricatures now have been replaced by neon lights and a fun comic book montage. The cheap but limited bar has now been replaced by one with a wider selection of taps.

The bar changed through the years. The kitchen once sold DiGiornio Frozen Pizzas, advertising it as if the brand name were a badge of honor five years ago. The new menu is a big step up from those roots. 

The atmosphere also makes Red Brick more welcoming than it used to be. There are still plenty of dive bars in Merion Village if the place seems too refined for your tastes.

There is a decent amount of vegetarian items on the menu, which is classic pub grub including sandwiches, pizza, calzones and bar staples including soft pretzels that can be dipped in a rich beer cheese soup. There is a nice variety to the offerings.

The veggie burger is a grilled mushroom cap that has the perfect texture to deliver layers of smoky flavor. It is topped with spinach, artichoke, onions and mild white cheese.

The pizza, while certainly not good enough to knock Harvest off of its best pizza in the city pedestal, is certainly another excellent option for the neighborhood. The crust is a medium thick hand tossed pie available in small (12 inch) and large (16 inch) sizes as well as by the slice.

The veggie pizza is the Lisa Simpson. Topped with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, mozzarella, smoked tofu, red onions, peppers, tomatoes and black olives, the pizza has great balance. The tofu acts like a vegetarian sausage, adding a nice savory punch to the sweetness of the vegetables.

Service for the most part was excellent. Vegetarian questions were answered quickly and effectively. The floor was extremely short staffed on a recent weekend, creating a delay in seating and meal service that was inconvenient. However, this was not the case with later visits. The staff performed well even with the deck stacked against it for one evening. 

The bar can fill Red Brick growlers for home consumption. The televisions surrounding the dining room make the place a good spot to watch sports.



Red Brick Tap & Grill on Urbanspoon

04 March 2014

Club 185


Club 185 is a solid lunch, dinner and late-night dining option that I have overlooked writing about previously by mistakenly believing that I had written about the German Village pub before. I had not, and that means it was worth revisiting the popular spot that has anchored this part of the city since the 1950s.

The owners of Club 185 operate a mini-empire in Columbus with the Rossi, PhilCo, El Camino Inn and the Little Palace. There are a decent amount of vegetarian items on the menu at all of the places but El Camino. The menu at Club 185 revolves around pub fare and comfort food.

Most of the starters and sides are meatless. Most of the items on the menu contain eggs or cheese, so vegans would probably have to special request main courses.

Vegetarian appetizers include spinach artichoke dip, quesadillas and house-made chips and onion dip, as well as the salads. The cheesy black bean dip with house-made tortilla chips was tasty, although it was shimmering with a deep oily varnish that covered my hands in grease.

 Vegetarian entrees include the open-face veggie sandwich, the grilled cheese, pizza and a fried egg sandwich. The open-faced veggie sandwich is portobello mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, red onion and roasted red peppers atop melted provolone dressed in a bright green pesto that adds an herbaceous note that delivers a subtle hint of garlic. 

The grilled cheese sandwich is Havarti cheese between two griddled slices of Texas toast with a tomato. It is an elevated version of a classic dish many grew up loving.

The bar makes nice drinks and features a decent selection of beers with a few Ohio taps. Club 185 is a place that sometimes can be overlooked because it has been around for so long. With food this good in a convivial atmosphere, it is easy to enjoy.



Club 185 on Urbanspoon

25 February 2014

Lunada Mexican Grill and Cantina


Lunada is a Mexican restaurant tucked into a Hilliard shopping plaza. The menu is standard-issue Americanized takes on Mexican cuisine.

The restaurant is large and brightly lit. The decor does not immediately scream Mexican. It feels more like a corporate mega-chain eatery than an authentic South of the Border spot. 

There is a list of eight vegetarian entrees on the menu along with quesadillas, fajitas and the usual guacamole and queso appetizers. Service was slow and a little uneven. They capably handled questions about ingredients.

The guacamole was citrusy and displayed clean cilantro throughout. It was much better than the pico de gallo, which lacked white onions and chopped hot peppers to make its flavor and texture different from the standard chip-dip tomato salsa that is served free with chips.

The chile relleno had a crunchy breading that kept the molten cheese interior contained. The bean burrito and cheese enchilada were topped with queso asadero and a smoky pepper sauce. 

Margaritas were tasty and reasonably priced. The bar had a reasonable selection of Ohio beers, including one or more from Columbus Brewing Company and Thirsty Dog, in addition to the normal Mexican beer classics.



Lunada Mexican Grill & Cantina on Urbanspoon

18 February 2014

Chez du Bon


Chez du Bon is the latest project from Yavonne Sarber's Fab Dining Group, which also includes de-Novo Bistro & Bar and Manifesto Tuscan Grato and Scotch Bar. The concept at this spot is a French market with a small dining area for the kitchen to prepare sandwiches, soups and salads as well as a few other notable French classics.

There were a limited amount of vegetarian items on the lunch menu - one meatless sandwich, a few starters, salads and French toast. The dinner menu has a few additional items including crepes and veggie poutine. Nothing on the menu was vegan. Some of the desserts, like the beignets, were prepared with beef tallow. Check with the kitchen when ordering if you have specific dietary restrictions.

The green salad was topped with fantastic pickled onions, carrots and tomatoes on a bed of peppery mixed greens lightly dressed in a bright vinaigrette. It looked great and tasted even better.

The mushroom crostini came on crusty bread that was the best part of the sandwich. It was crunchy and dense on the outside but soft in the middle. The oven-roasted fungi displayed a great texture that delivered layers of rosemary and garlic flavor. The soft herbed goat cheese melted on the sandwich, giving it a nice acidity.

The restaurant was surprisingly dark and formal. The dining room perhaps could be brightened and lightened to give it a more welcoming atmosphere like the one found in the market. Service struggled to keep up with a surprisingly busy dining room. 

The drinks at Chez du Bon include fun cocktails like the other two restaurants, as well as a small selection of wine and beer.



Chez du Bon on Urbanspoon

11 February 2014

Jie's Good Tasting


Jie's Good Tasting is tucked into a shopping plaza on Grandview Avenue. The space briefly housed a few other restaurants. The unassuming restaurant turns out formidable house-made dumplings that are a can't-miss attraction.  

The small kitchen produces a large number of vegetarian dishes. While the entrees are mostly standard issue (the vegetarian ma po tofu and Sichuan tofu are standouts from a list that for the most part can be found at almost every other restaurant in the country), the appetizers more than make up for the shortcomings of some of the main courses.

The tender veggie dumplings contain a delicious filling, and they soak up any sauce introduced to them. The filling was Chinese cabbage, mushroom and tofu with delicate seasonings influenced by cilantro. An order of 16 can feed a small army. 

Pulled from the inauthentic West Coast United States Polynesian vault, the tofu rangoon is still a sinfully addictive bite. The sweet and sour sauce had visible pieces of orange peel in it, and the creamy center fleshed out the citrus base of the dip.

The ma po tofu was golden fried, and served in a brown sauce with a slow-burning spice. The carrots and pea added little to the dish.

Service in the dining room can be uneven at times. There is no alcohol license. Take-out runs smoothly. Prices are inexpensive.



Jie's Good Tasting on Urbanspoon

04 February 2014

Nong's Hunan Express


Nong's Hunan Express is a Chinese/Thai spot that serves dishes that are much more exciting than its utilitarian setting. There is seating for about 12 inside the restaurant, which shares a plaza with a medical practice. The majority of business seems to be take-out, though there is typically a small but regular crowd eating in the restaurant.

The menu has a huge cache of Chinese and Thai vegetarian dishes made with a nice variety of fresh vegetables. Both cuisines are prepared in an authentic manner.

The vegatable egg roll, spring roll and fried tofu are meatless starters. The eggroll is stuffed with cabbage, carrots and mushrooms, and green onions, and it had a nice peppery essence. 

The Thai vegetarian dishes are all made without fish sauce. There are a variety of curries and different noodle entrees. Chinese items include the typical Sichuan, garlic and kung pao tofu preparations, as well as other stir fried vegetable classics.

There was a panoply of veggies in the phad pedt tofu. Fried cubes of tofu sit in a coconut hot yellow curry with basil, water chestnuts, carrots, baby corn, mushrooms, green and white onions, carrots, celery and green peppers. It is a collection of crunchy texture and spicy citrus flavors that marry perfectly on the plate.

With so many vegetarian options, diners could mix it up at Nong's and never order the same thing twice. It's a nice option that neighbors shouldn't just drive past. 



Nong's Hunan Express on Urbanspoon

31 January 2014

Philco Bar + Diner

Philco Bar and Diner is in the old Phillip's Coney Island location in the Short North. It is a playful yet upscale take on diner favorites with a couple of delicious options for vegetarians.

The restaurant, owned by the same folks who run Club 185Little Palace, El Camino Inn and The Rossi, is stylish and modern. The bar, stocked with fun craft beer selections, pairs its metal accents with a warm essence.

The Luna Burger from Philco is a new candidate for my favorite veggie burger in Columbus. The bun has a crispy exterior and a soft interior. The patty is topped with Napa cabbage slaw, Ohio yellow cheddar and griddled onions. When paired with a basket of thick-cut fries, it's a one-plate meal.

The pickled beet carpaccio contrasts the bright, thinly sliced  sweet root vegetable with the acidity of goat cheese, the spiciness of arugula and the crunch of pecans. It is a delightful salad.

The hush puppies are a must-try side dish. They are available sweet or savory. The savory hush puppies have hints of onions throughout the crumbly cornmeal interior.

Philco is a great place to try re-imagined diner favorites to satisfy breakfast, lunch, dinner or late-night cravings. Though there are not a ton of meatless options on the menu, the offerings are strong enough to make the place worth a visit.



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