31 August 2009

Taj Palace

Taj Palace is a delicious Indian restaurant hidden in the hinterlands between Hilliard and Upper Arlington. Like most Indian eateries, Taj Palace is heavy on vegetarian options, providing plenty of choices for those looking to reduce or avoid meat consumption without sacrificing flavor.

The menu features vegetarian starters like samosas, vegetable pakoras and vegetarian kebobs. There are also 18 vegetarian entrees on the menu as well as a few scattered biryani dishes and a vegetarian combo platter. There are also many bread choices.

The menu runs the gamut through North and South Indian cuisine. Also of note for vegetarians is Tuesday night's vegetarian buffet, featuring 25 different hippie-approved items for a grand total of $11.99.

A la carte diners start off with papadums and chutneys. The mint chutney is exceptionally flavorful, possessing a bright, clean finish that brings out the taste of the flatbread.

The chutney also pairs well with the samosas (but in reality, a better question would be what doesn't pair well with samosas?). The order of three samosas was very filling, and easily could be split between two people.

My entree was paneer kadai. Paneer, a mild, cubed Indian cheese, is prepared with curried tomatoes, green peppers and onions. The dish is mildly seasoned, and it provides a great introduction to paneer, a staple of the Indian vegetarian diet.

The breads were also great. The bread basket comes with naan, onion kulcha and aloo paratha, a potato- and pea-stuffed bread.

Prices at Taj Palace are slightly higher than average for an Indian restaurant. When the quality of the fare is considered, Taj Palace is very much worth the price of admission.

Taj Palace

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25 August 2009

Rigsby's Kitchen

Rigsby's Kitchen has been a fixture on the Columbus dining scene since about five years after Columbus discovered the new world. While that sentence might seem like a complete fabrication (they actually opened in 1986), Rigsby's has been a fixture on the Central Ohio dining scene, packing the house for decades.

Rigsby's is definitely a family-helmed operation. Kent Rigsby is the chef/co-proprietor of Rigsby's along with his wife Tasi, whom he met when she was a ballet dancer. Forbes Rigsby, their son, is also the restaurant's sous-chef.

Rigsby's specializes is Italian food, although there are a few items sprinkled on the menu that have a more international flair. The staff was very receptive to my questions about vegetarian dining, and they offer a number of choices for the meatless diner.

The lunch prices are fairly reasonable for an upper-crust eatery. The one downside is that the blue plate lunch special consists of dishes not acceptable for vegetarian diners. However, it's pretty easy for a vegetarian to eat lunch at Rigsby's for about $30 per person, tip included.

I started with the apple, watercress, endive, walnut, and gorgonzola salad. The presentation was great, with the apples, nuts and blue cheese combining to make the whole a whole lot better than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, the sweetness and acidity of the dressing sometimes overpowered the more delicate elements of the salad. All in all, though, it was a solid dish.

The single biggest winner of the lunch was the bread basket. The Rigsbys' empire includes the Eleni Christina Bakery, where they produce this delicious bread. There was a white bread, a sourdough bread and a darker bread (rye, possibly?) with walnuts flecked into the dough. It was accompanied by a tub of delicious butter, and every slice of bread was better than the next (other fans of Rigsby's cuisine can also sample their wares at the sandwich salad and soup stop Tasi, another part of their empire).

My main course was a whole wheat spaghetti in a tomato eggplant sauce. The pasta provided a rich, grainy backdrop to the vibrantly bright sauce, which was topped with shaved cheese and herbs. It was tasty, looked great, and it followed the number one rule of pleasing me: it was labeled as a vegetarian item on the menu.

There were a couple of other vegetarian items on the menu. There was another salad, as well as a chevre sandwich and the spaghetti d'Angelo. They also offered to make the risotto dish to-order without chicken.

The service at Rigsby's was excellent. The wine list is solid and heavily weighted towards Italian choices.

Lunch at Rigsby's is noticeably cheaper than dinner. Although you would never expect high quality food to come cheap, plan on spending twice as much for dinner, especially if wine is included.


Rigsby's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

24 August 2009

Jeni's Mojito Sundae

I've been on a little bit of an ice cream bender lately. After lunch yesterday, I was walking past Jeni's in the Short North. I saw the specialty sundae, and I knew instantly what I was having for dessert.

One of the seasonal flavors at Jeni's is backyard mint. It is made with organic mint from Jorgensen Farms, an Central Ohio operation, and organic cream.

The sundae is a mojito sundae. While it doesn't exactly taste like a mojito, the clean mint flavors mix perfectly with the mint leaves, a waffle cone chip, butter caramel sauce and hand whipped cream, making it a deliciously refreshing treat.

I don't know how long they'll be offering the mojito sundae, but I assure you that I will have it again before the end of the summer.

Jeni's Mojito Sundae

22 August 2009

Top Chef Masters hearts vegetarians

I just plowed through my TiVo and finished the season of Top Chef Masters, Bravo's new reality cooking show featuring some of the country's top culinary artists. I enjoy the show, partly because I like to imagine competitive battle situations as the way to determine the champion of most situations in life, including in the kitchen.

This season featured a number of vegetarian highlights, including an episode where the chefs prepared a vegan, gluten- and soy-free meal for actress/singer/hottie Zooey Deschanel. Some chefs (namely Art Smith, former kitchen bitch for Oprah Winfrey) were convinced that the dietary restrictions were part of an evil communist conspiracy, while others (Hubert Keller, Rick Bayless and Michael Chiarello) met the challenge head on.

I have never eaten at Chiarello's restaurants. However, I can attest that Keller is a wizard with vegetarian fare, an area in which he specializes. And Bayless, although less noted for his vegetarian preparations, nevertheless brings a great approach to meatless dining.

The last time I ate at Topolobampo, Bayless articulated a philosophy much like he did on Top Chef Masters. Instead of viewing vegetarian dining as a nutritional approach based on carbohydrates, fats and proteins, Bayless approaches vegetarian dining from a flavor perspective. He uses mushrooms to add an element of umami to vegetarian dishes. His approach yields some magnificent results, including the above-pictured empanadas.

Bayless' artistry led him to win the Top Chef Masters competition. Although his success on the show comes from a series of accomplishments, in my heart I will continue to believe that he won because he knows how to thrive in different situations (including Vegetarianville).

Instead of viewing vegetarian dining as a quirk, Bayless sees it as a new arena in which to showcase his gourmet muscles. Bravo for Rick, bravo for Bravo, and bravo for food programming that understands that the audience can create culinary inspiration no matter their appetite (or lack thereof) for flesh food.

21 August 2009

Johnson's Ice Cream at Brown Bag Deli

I trekked over to the new Johnson's Ice Cream in the side entrance of the Brown Bag Deli. Now that Bakery Gingham features Hartzler ice cream, German Village is awash in sweet Ohio dairy products.

I wrote about the cheese sandwich at Brown Bag almost two years ago. During that time period, purveyors of desserts have come and gone. It started with Bakery Gingham, which has now moved south to Thurman Avenue. It was followed by Belle's Old Timey Donuts. Those are the places I remember, although there may have been other vendors there.

Johnson's Real Ice Cream is made in Bexley. The main location features 70 flavors, while the German Village outpost offered about eight. Flavors included chocolate, three bean vanilla, black raspberry chocolate chip, cookie dough, and the delicious banana fudge ice cream as well as cappuccino yogurt. The flavors are more traditional than those at haute outlets like Jeni's.

At $2.50 a scoop, Johnson's should do a decent business cooling down Village residents at the end of the long, hot summer (also, MyColumbusOhioBlog wrote about Hartzler ice cream at Bakery Gingham, so you can get the scoop on their offerings over here).

Johnson's Ice Cream

18 August 2009

Ali Baba Mediterranean Cuisine

Ali Baba is a new Mediterranean eatery located in the hot spot that used to house Moe's and Jimmy Guaco's. I read a post on Rosie's Kitchen about Ali Baba, and my natural affinity for the food of the Middle East drew me to the new campus eatery.

The decor and the set-up of the restaurant are similar to that of Jimmy Guaco's. Ali Baba is owned by one of the original proprietor's of Pita Hut, another popular Northside Mediterranean spot.

Like other Mediterranean establishments, Ali Baba features vegetarian options in spades. The appetizer options include the traditional (hummus, baba ghanouj and grape leaves) and the more interesting (mama ghanouj, which is a zucchini dip, fool m'damas, which is a cooked bean salad, and fried eggplant and cauliflower salads). Many other options, such as tabbouleh, are also available as sides.

The hummus was excellent. The smoothly mashed chickpeas are drenched with olive oil and harissa, and then sprinkled with mint and whole chickpeas. The hummus had a nice hint of garlic, and the harissa adds a hint of spiciness that makes the dip sing.

The falafel sandwich is vaguely reminiscent of the falafel sandwich at Pita Hut. The pita is cut at the top, and then stuffed with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and disks of deep-fried chickpeas. It is lightly dressed in tahini. If possible, try to get some of the harissa to add a little fire to the sandwich. The fries were fairly average.

It looks as if there are plans for a salad bar. I was unable to tell if there is an alcohol license. There was a tasty-looking case of rice pudding and baklava avaiable to quell the after-dinner sweet tooth.

Prices are fairly inexpensive. Ali Baba is open Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 12 am, Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 4 am, and Sunday from 10 am to 9 pm.

Ali Baba

Ali Baba on Urbanspoon

11 August 2009

Deli Boys

I've been in a little bit of a sandwich pickle since the Deli in the Alley closed earlier this year (it was replaced by the new, less vegetarian-friendly Sandwich Stop). While there are plenty of good sandwich operations near Downtown (Katzinger's and Cafe Corner), these establishments aren't immediately available for an hour lunch break when working around the capital.

There are plenty of Subways and Quiznos and Potbellys. But some people (myself included) prefer giving their hard-earned money to the little guy than the big guy. As a result, I made my way into Deli Boys.

Deli Boys is a small independent sandwich spot on Long and High. The menu, like most delis, features limited vegetarian options. In addition to the obligatory veggie sandwich, there are also plain cheese and veggie flatbread pizzas as well as salad and chips.

The veggie sandwich is prepared on an Italian white bread roll. Green peppers, onion, artichoke, roasted red pepper, lettuce, tomato, melted provolone and mayo are stuffed into the roll. The artichokes are well prepared and add a full flavor to the sandwich.

Although the flavor is great, the sandwich is somewhat small. The closest comparison I can make to a corporate sandwich operation's sandwich size is that of Potbelly. I would definitely recommend chips to flesh out the order. The price of the sandwich ($4.95) is very reasonable.

There are other options to build your own sandwich at Deli Boys. Carbohydrate options include wheat, rye, pumpernickel, and wraps. Cheeses include American, Swiss, provolone, cheddar and pepperjack. Deli Boys also offers limited breakfast options including bagels.

Deli Boys

Deli Boys on Urbanspoon

06 August 2009

Luna Burgers at the Hills Market

I headed up to the Hills Market to check out their outdoor grill The Veranda. I heard good things about locally produced Luna Vegan Burgers, which are featured in the store and on the outdoor grill.

The Hills Market is a great outlet for the finest food from Ohio and other points on the globe. They offer a great beverage selection, a tremendous amount of cheese and the freshest produce.

The Veranda is open during the summer for lunch hours. The menu features vegetarian selections that include a Luna Veggie burger and a grilled portabella sandwich with roasted red peppers and provolone. The burger comes with a choice of lettuce, tomato, onion, Swiss, pepperjack, Cheddar and American cheese, and condiments. I wussed out because the Veranda was busy and because my home grill is far more meatless than the Hills' grill. I instead enjoyed a Luna Burger in my own living room.

Luna Burger makes three different vegan patties. There is a classic patty, a farmhouse chili burger and a garden thyme patty. The texture is crispy and crumbly when grilled. The farmhouse chili patty has subtle Southwestern spices that come out nicely on the grill.

Luna Burgers are also available at a few other retailers and markets, including the Clintoville Farmers' Market, the Westerville Farmers' Market, the Bexley Natural Market and the Clintonville Community Market. They are also available from Columbus' finest vegan hot dog cart Rad Dog.

Luna Burger-Hills Market Veranda

01 August 2009

Caffe Daniela

Since Caffe Daniela is opening soon in Downtown Columbus, I bit the bullet and checked out the original location in Worthington in order to get a feel for the place. Caffe Daniela features inexpensive pasta, pizza, sandwiches and salads in a fast casual setting that should appeal to the working class in Columbus (and Worthington, for that matter).

The most similar place to Caffe Daniela currently Downtown is Isabella's Cafe Italia. The menus are similar, but Daniela makes pizza and Isabella has a salad bar.

Nothing on the menu is more than $7.95. The portions are reasonable rather than ridiculous.

One of the easiest ways to generate a variety of vegetarian options at Caffe Daniela is to mix different combinations of pasta and sauce. For $7.50, you pick a pasta (there was fusilli, linguini, a medium spaghetti noodle and two other options that are currently slipping my mind) and a sauce (marinara, alfredo and pesto are all vegetarian-safe).

Daniela also offers daily specials. I sampled the roasted red pepper pesto. The whole wheat fusilli was well cooked and flavorful, but the sauce tasted more like roasted red peppers and less like pesto. The sauce wasn't bad; it was just poorly named. It was served with a soft bread roll.

The side salad consists of greens and shredded provolone in a house-made Italian dressing. The salad was nice, but it could have used more veggies.

There is also a vegetarian sandwich with tomato, mozzarella and pesto, as well as a margherita pizza, a white pizza, a caramelized onion pizza and a plain cheese pie. Those with a sweet tooth can also fill up on a variety of gelato flavors.

The prices at Daniela are reasonable based upon the quality of the food. It's hardly four-star cuisine, but it's fairly easy to fill up on pasta for less than a Hamilton.

Even though the roasted red pepper pesto wasn't my favorite, Daniela still seems to be slightly more vegetarian friendly than Isabella's. I also preferred the quality of the food at Cafe Daniela to that of Isabella's. Cafe Lola across the street also provides a few similar items to Cafe Daniela. I imagine that Downtown is plenty big and busy enough to support them all. Perhaps when Daniela opens, I can skip from Daniela to Lola to Isabella in order to keep more variety in my lunch hour.

Caffe Daniela

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