Over the last year, we’ve gone to the Refectory for the bistro menu (best value in Columbus!) quite a few times. We kept on saying that we’d eventually go during the weekend for the regular menu, but we’ve never got around to it.
I’ve been aware that they conduct a First Friday dinner to honor a famous French cook every month, but until this month, I didn’t see a menu that appealed to me enough to consider it. But when I saw that this month’s menu to salute Cyprien Ragueneau had a Gateau St. Honore on it, I knew that we’d have to go.
For those not familiar with the First Fridays concept, for a price of $50, one gets four courses, and can opt for wine pairings for an additional $35. I did opt for the pairings, but unfortunately didn’t write any of them down. I can honestly say (and this coming from a non-wine drinker) that they were matched beautifully. I finally “get” wine. I see now how a good wine brings out flavor notes in the food, and vice versa. Lucky for me, The Refectory’s sommelier is skilled at his job.
After some of their wonderful bread and butter, we were presented with the first course – a lobster and black truffle quiche with fried leek and ‘Creme Gauloise” Veloute. The mingling of different flavor notes was balanced brilliantly – the creamy texture of the quiche acting as a backdrop to large chunks of mild sweet lobster, shiitake mushrooms, and the delicate earthy flavor of black truffles. The paired wine brought the truffle flavor to the forefront, and enhanced the earthiness of the dish. The Veloute sauce added more to the mouth feel than to the flavor, but would have been sorely missed if it hadn’t been there.
The next course I hadn’t been too sure about before we went, because it contained offal. But (and excuse the pun) the offal wasn’t awful at all. Set down in front of us was the second course – an asparagus and veal sweetbread feuillete with a morel wine sauce. Sweetbreads, for those who aren’t familiar with them, are (in this case) the thymus glands of an animal. From what I’ve read, far too often the reason people don’t like them is because they are overcooked and tough – that definitely wasn’t the case here. Two small slices of sweetbreads were presented between squares of puff pastry, and surrounded by tender asparagus and a heady morel wine sauce. The texture of the sweetbreads reminded me of nothing else than a mushroom or sous vide chicken, tender, almost buttery. Rather than having a strong flavor of its own, it picked up the flavors of what was around it – in this case, the sauce. I think offal is all about the preparation; in skilled hands, it can be amazing, as this was.
For our main course, we were served a duet of beef tenderloin and duck magret with cardamom and cassis sauces, and a celery root flan. The protein was cooked to perfection (medium rare), and the sauce was what made this dish. That’s another conclusion we came to last night – that a good sauce makes any dish better, and elevates something that’s already good to something sublime. With this course, the food brought out the tannins in the wine, a suprising revelation to me, who always thought it worked the other way around. The celery root flan reminded me of the flavor of cream of celery soup, but thicker. It all worked beautifully together.
Now, for the course I came for – dessert. The Gateau St. Honore looked like a miniature version of the one I made last year. Having done it before myself, I have a great appreciation for the work that goes into one of these. I’ve been craving it like crazy for almost a year now, but no one – and I mean no one – around here makes them. Their version is so delicate, so perfectly classic, that I had an instantaneous foodgasm on the first forkful, which went on continously until my plate was clean. I gave my compliments to the pastry chef, and suggested that this become a regular menu item. I don’t know if she’ll consider my suggestion, but a girl can hope, right?
All in all, it was easily, hands down, the best dinner I’ve had since I’ve moved to Columbus, quite possibly the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. Add into that the incredible customer service that The Refectory is famous for (who else makes follow up phone calls to make sure you enjoyed your meal?), and First Fridays at the Refectory is not something to be missed. I can’t wait to find out what’s on board for next month. In the meantime, I think I’m going to make reservations for their RMS Titanic Dinner. And don’t forget, during most of this month, they’re offering their Tax Relief Menu – 3 great courses for $35 on Mondays through Thursdays. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
If you’d like to go: The Refectory Restaurant and Bistro, 1092 Bethel Rd, Columbus, 614.451.9774.