Eating Out on a Recession Budget

If your family is anything like mine, you’ve been hit fairly hard by he recession, and have had to make sacrifices to make ends meet. Rather than giving up dining out entirely, we’ve discovered some really handy resources for stretching your dining dollars in Columbus. These work for us, and may work for your family as well. I’ll also post this as a permanent page (accessible on the sidebar), and update that periodically as I get new information.

If you are aware of a deal/coupon/site/tip that I’ve missed, please comment on this post with the details.

GIFT CERTIFICATES

  • Dine Originals
    A group of local independent restaurant owners, offers (on a quarterly basis), discounted gift certificates to member restaurants. 30-50% savings for many of Columbus’ most popular restaurants. Certificates are good for six months from date of purchase.
  • Sunny 95 Online Outlet
    Which offers discounted (50% off ) gift certificates to many central Ohio restaurants. First come first served, and they are replenished each Friday morning at 9:30AM.
  • Fox 28 Good Day Columbus Dining Out Deals
    Offers discounted ($50 gift certificates for $25 plus S&H, occasionally will have certificates on clearance for $15 + S&H for a $50 gift certificate). Each Friday at 7am, 100 certificates for the restaurant of the week are released. There are always plenty of unsold certificates for previous week’s offers.
  • Restaurant.com

    Offers discounted ($25 gift certificates for $10, $10 gift certificates for $3) gift certificates that you print out on your own computer. Be sure to check the terms of conditions of each individual certificate before purchasing. There’s a special coupon code (which ends today) that allows you go get an additional 80% off the price of a gift certificate. Enter coupon code DINE at check out.

DINING CARDS/BOOKS

  • Prestige Dining Club
    Dining book & card, allows you to get buy one get one free entrees at participating restaurants (list of restaurants can be found here). Current promotion allows you to buy a single membership for $59.95, or 2 memberships for $39.95 each.
  • Save on all the things you love to do!
    Entertainment is a book that has both coupons and a punch-card. Runs the gamut from discounts on fast food to independent restaurants, to goods and services and activities around town. Offers differ with each restaurant – some may offer a free entree with the purchase of one, where others may just offer a discounted dollar amount or percentage off your bill. Their current offer, which expires at the end of March, allows you to purchase the Entertainment book for 50% off it’s normal price.

COUPON SITES

  • State Coupons, which offers discount coupons for several local restaurants
  • 360 Columbus, has a page of coupons for Columbus restaurants
  • Valpak, offers 200+ (including restaurants) coupons for the Columbus metro area

COLUMBUS DINING DEALS

  • The Refectory offers a bistro menu, where you can get 3 courses (with 2 choices for each course) for $23.95, offered Mondays through Thursdays in their lounge. Bistro menus for the current week can be seen here. Temporarily, during the winter, they’re also extending the Bistro menu to early on Friday and Saturday evenings (Friday 5-7pm, Saturday 5-6:30pm).
  • Basi Italia is currently offering a Happy Hour Deal – from 5-6:30 Monday through Thursdays, you can get half off of Basi’s dinner menu. Call 614.294.7383 to make a reservation.
  • From March 9th through 15th of this year, Dine Originals Columbus will be hosting Restaurant Week, where all 42 member restaurants will be offering either a $15 or $30 fixed price menu. A list of participating restaurants and menus can be seen here.
  • Katzinger’s is offering Recession Relief in the month of March – Corned Beef Monday has all sandwiches with corned beef (including the Reuben) discounted to $7.50 for the big one, $8.95 for the huge one; Turkey Tuesday has the same deal for sandwiches with turkey – $7.50 for the big one, $8.95 for the huge one. And make sure to get your free deli pickle with your sandwich. :) Their sandwich menu can be found here.

MISCELLANEOUS HINTS AND TIPS

  • If you tend to dine out at chain restaurants rather than at independents, purchase gift certificates beforehand at Giant Eagle. For each $50 you spend, you get .20 per gallon off a tank of gas at Giant Eagle GetGo stations.

If you are associated with a restaurant who is offering a recession special or coupon or other dining deal, and would like it listed here, please forward the details to columbusfoodieATgmailDOTcom and I’ll update this posting to include your listing.

Scott’s Quick Jambalaya

I have a confession – I’m a total sample slut. I love going to Costco because I can eat a lunch’s worth of product samples as I shop. I love Trader Joe’s because they always have something out to try, and it’s usually really good. And I’m one of those people who won’t hesitate to impulse purchase whatever it is they’re passing out if it appeals to me. They were passing this stuff out yesterday and it was so tasty (and quick to make) that I picked up all the ingredients needed to make it. And yes, everything needed to make it is available at Trader Joe’s.

Quick Jambalaya

Even though it’s resemblance to real jambalaya is dubious at best, it sure as heck hits the spot, a nice combination of flavors that just really work well together. And for those of you who hate to cook during the work week – it only takes (literally) 15 minutes or so to prepare, including prep time. The only thing I did to change this recipe was to double up on the rice, otherwise it would have been way too protein heavy.

Scott’s Quick Jambalya
recipe courtesy Trader Joe’s

You’ll need:
One bag 70/100 frozen cooked shrimp
One package andouille chicken sausage
Two bags frozen Chimichurri rice
Hot sauce to taste

Thaw shrimp. Chop chicken sausage. Heat all ingredients in saucepan on medium heat until heated thoroughly. Add hot sauce to taste and enjoy!

A Tale of Two Scallops

As I’ve mentioned before, up until the past couple of years, I’ve always been kind of “meh” about seafood. I hated all of it as a kid, but grew to like more and more as I got older and my palate developed. And it’s still always changing. A couple of weeks ago I had a culinary ephiphany and realized that I absolutely love scallops.

After this epiphany, I decided to educate myself about scallops, with the hopes of learning enough to prepare them at home. I found out that there are three types of scallops – wet pack, dry pack, and day boat.

Wet pack scallops are sold in frozen bags, and are usually soaked in water before they are frozen. This water turns them white, and makes them difficult to work with.
Dry pack scallops (or IQF – individually quick frozen) are also previously frozen (you can buy them in bulk in bags, or can usually find them already thawed in a regular grocery store’s seafood area), but these do not have additional water added to them. They appear to be off-white to pinkish to beige. These are a tad more expensive than the wet pack, you’ll want to look for the words “dry pack” on the bag if you buy them that way.

Even more expensive are day boat scallops, which are fresh (never frozen), and are shipped to vendors around the country the same day they are harvested. These are considered to be the creme de la creme of scallops, and are priced accordingly.

The price differences among the different type of scallops are amazing. I ruled out wet pack right off the bat. I was able to find thawed dry pack scallops at Costco for $10.99/lb. Dayboat scallops, at The Fish Guys in the North Market were ~$24.00/lb. Wow! $13 price difference between IQF and day boat? Is it worth springing the extra money for the fresh ones?

Chef Norman Carmichael of Maca Cafe in Powell seems to think so. He uses day boat scallops in his seared scallops dish exclusively. We had a conversation this past weekend about scallops and he seems to think that you get inferior results with IQF scallops.

But what about for your average home cook? Are the results between the two so dramatic that it’s worth a 130% premium on the price? That’s what we here at Casa Foodie sought to find out.

We bought 6 of each kind of scallop – IQF and day boat, and used identical methods for searing both. And then we tasted them alone, and then used them as part of a dish. Here is what we found out.

Appearance:
Almost identical in size. The IQF were slightly whiter, but not dramatically so. The IQF had more collected liquid (but not much), whereas the dayboat scallops were bone dry. After patting the IQF dry with a tea towel, they were almost identical in appearance, and both felt mostly the same, with the fresh scallops feeling just a tad firmer.

Side by Side Comparison of Dayboat and IQF Scallops

Smell:
Very subtle for both – the dayboat scallops were virtually odorless, and the IQF had slight fishy overtones (think ocean smell, but not overtly fishy). Again, the differences were virtually imperceptible.

Searing Capabilities:
Both seared without a problem, and did so quite well. Surprisingly, the fresh scallops took slightly longer to sear, but both sides caramelized quickly. So no real difference.

Taste:
My husband actually preferred the IQF, which were slightly sweeter and whose texture was a little less firm. I thought both were excellent.

The Winner:
To me, the fresh scallops had a slight edge, but the differences were so subtle that I can’t justify the $13/lb. price difference. Not when I get almost identical results with both. My husband actually preferred the IQF. So, believe it or not, the IQF wins this one hands down.

Can you guess which one is which in the picture below? The IQF is on the left, the day boat scallop is on the right. If I hadn’t cooked them myself, I never would have known the difference, honestly.

Scallops in Saffron Cream Sauce

We decided on a dish that would let the scallops shine, so we did a bit of wilted garlic spinach at the bottom, arranged the seared scallops on top, and then finished it with a saffron cream sauce. Delicious, and extremely low-carb (which makes this dish a winner for me!).

Speaking of saffron, man were we in for a shock when we went to Penzey’s yesterday to get some and found out the prices had gone up 50%. The sales lady told it was because drought conditions had cut into last year’s harvest. But Trader Joe’s saffron is comparable in quality to Penzey’s mid-grade, and they still have it for $5.99 per 1g. Needless to say, we headed straight away to Trader Joe’s and stocked up. If you use saffron with any regularity like we do, you may want to do the same while the price is still low.

Seared Sea Scallops in a Saffron Cream Sauce
adapted from “Big Small Plates” by Cindy Pawlcyn

For sauce:
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 to 1-1/2 medium shallots, minced
2 tablespoons Manzanilla or other dry sherry
1/2 cup white wine
generous pinch saffron, crumbled
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
Several shakes of cayenne
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

To make scallops:
12 large sea scallops
Olive oil for brushing
1-2 tbsp. canola oil
4 tbsp. butter

For plating:
4 handfuls fresh baby spinach
1-2 tbsp. butter
garlic salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to caramelize them. Add sherry and cook it down until the pan is almost dry. Add wine and saffron; cook, stirring, until the alcohol has evaporated, another 2 or 3 minutes. Add cream and cook, stirring, until sauce has reduced at least by half, another 2 minutes or so: you want about 1-1/2 cups of sauce that is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Finish with salt, cayenne, and white pepper. Keep warm while searing scallops or refrigerate and reheat before serving.

Blot scallops with paper towel or kitchen towel to remove excess moisture, then sear using the butter bomb method (video showing the process is here). Set scallops aside.

In a separate pan, melt the butter and wilt the spinach. Season to taste.

To serve, reheat the sauce, if necessary. Place a mound of spinach on your plate, then arrange scallops on top of the spinach. Top with sauce, and then serve.

Serves: 4

Restaurant News 2/26/09

So a couple of closings in the past week: one temporary and one permanent. Longtime Bexley-area favorite Sammy’s has bit the dust, at least temporarily. A note on the web site says that it should be returning soon under new management – from what I understand, the new place may not have the kosher standing that Sammy’s previously has, so if you keep kosher, you may have to start looking for a new place to eat. Hopefully the new owners will keep the great customer service that Sammy was famous for. :)

With a not so positive outlook for reopening is Trattoria la Tavola, up in Dublin. While my first experience there was less than stellar, the Slow Food/Wayward Seed Farm dinner last fall made me see the restaurant in a different light. So very sad to see this one go, because when this restaurant was spot on, they rocked. Especially with their filled pastas/ravioli. This is a beautiful location, right on the river, so hopefully this building won’t be empty for long.

And then there’s places like Verdi Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, who aren’t closed but should be! We had an unbelievably bad experience there yesterday – to explain, I’ll repost my Yelp review verbatim:

EPIC FAIL on customer service!

My husband had been here once in the past, and was really excited about taking me. However, it wasn’t clear based on their web site whether they had a separate lunch menu or one menu for the entire day, so my husband called to clarify. The owner, on the phone, explained to him that he could make anything off the menu. Really excited, and looking forward to a nice order of chicken marsala, we headed to the restaurant, 20 miles to the north.

We arrived at about 12:20 to a totally empty restaurant, save for a pathetic little buffet off to one side of the register. When we got there, my husband explained that he had called earlier. The owner asked if we had a coupon. We stated that we had a Prestige Card, and the owner said we couldn’t use it on the lunch buffet. So we said, “that’s ok, we’re not getting the buffet”, so he basically said that “well, that’s all there is right now”. Huh? What about our conversation with you about a half hour ago, where you said that you’d cook anything on the menu? His response, “well I thought you were someone special”. We were absolutely flabbergasted. This guy was refusing to cook for us, even if we weren’t using the card?

I’m in absolute disbelief that in this economy, especially standing in the middle of an empty restaurant during lunch hour, that any restaurant owner who is sane would not only turn away a paying customer, but would be so rude to them that it would virtually guarantee that said prospective customer would never return. We said as much, and left immediately in disgust. Mind you, all this transpired before he even approached us to seat us.

If it were possible to rate a restaurant with zero stars, Verdi would deserve that distinction. In all of my years of eating out, I have never been treated so poorly. Steer clear at all costs, unless you like a serving of abuse with your meal.

Also closed, although not sure how recent a development this is, is Sedeo Cafe in Powell. Shame, this is one place I always wanted to try but never seemed to get around to.

Smackie’s Smokehouse will be closed temporarily as they move to a new location. They were previously in a stand-alone building in the area of Cleveland Ave/161, but will be moving to a location in the shopping center proper at Columbus Square. They plan on reopening in the new location on March 1st.

In other closings, Nora’s Coffee Corner at 4057 Broadway in Grove City will be closing Saturday February 28th as a victim of the economy.

In opening news, it seems that a really good chain pizza restaurant, Mellow Mushroom, opened at Polaris recently next to also new chain restaurant Five Guys Burgers. Early reports on both are generally positive, with the mention that Mellow Mushroom offers tons of choices for pizza toppings.

Not open yet, but very soon now will be Barrio Tapas downtown at the corner of Spring and High (in the former Wendy’s space). I’m beyond excited about this place opening, and am absolutely drooling after reading their menu. If this restaurant delivers on what sounds like great food, there will be another gem downtown that is worth leaving the suburbs for. Any restaurant that offers migas, ropa vieja, and crab empanadas will at least get me through the door. :)

Also in the “opening soon” department is Dirty Frank’s Hot Dogs, which sources tell me is still on track for a mid-March opening. This will be opening up downtown in the former Queen Bee space. More information as it comes available.

There was also an update on the status of former Short North darlings bonoPizza on Columbus Underground, and things are looking promising in that department for them reopening in a new location in the future. I’m super excited about this, as I’ve been going through withdrawals for months now. Amazing how a shop that was open for a mere five months could inspire such as a following. If you’re wondering what the big deal is, check out my review.

One bit of restaurant news that I’m super-duper excited about is Dine Originals Columbus’s Inaugural Restaurant Week! I’ve seen this concept done in other cities and have always wondered why we weren’t doing something like this in a city with a restaurant/food scene as diverse and vibrant as Columbus’. Basically, the way it works is that all 42 of their member restaurants (all independents, natch) will offer a special fixed-price menu for that week (March 9th to 15th), for either $15 or $30. Since there are all different types of restaurants (from casual to fine dining), there is quite literally something here for everyone, and will give you the opportunity to try out restaurants you normally wouldn’t. The menus are still being loaded on to the site as we speak, so check back at this link often for updates over the next few days as it becomes available.

As the restaurant scene is changing so rapidly in these trying times (with places opening and closing almost daily), I’m looking to make this a weekly feature on the blog. So send any restaurant news (openings, closings, special events, etc) to me via email at columbusfoodieATgmailDOTcom  or comment on this post and I’ll include it in the next week’s post.

Event: North Market Fiery Foods Festival

Despite feeling a bit (understatement of the year) under the weather this morning, I definitely didn’t want to miss one event I was definitely was looking forward to, even if it was to document some of the days events rather than participate directly in them. Every year the North Market holds its Fiery Foods Festival, a celebration of all things spicy. With different events going on all day (like chili cookoffs, wing eating contests, cooking demonstrations, etc) there’s something going on for everyone, from the most casual spicy food wimps like myself to die-hard chile heads who can’t get it hot enough.

North Market Fiery Foods Festival Sign

It was already really crowded by the time I got there around 11:30ish. I initially took a few minutes to talk to resident hot foods expert and the man behind all things CaJohn, John Hard.

Cajohn (John Hard)

The Dispatch Kitchen upstairs had been turned into cooking demo central for the day, while John was getting things prepped for the hot wing eating contest to be held later that day. When I got there the Chef Chili Cookoff was also being held on the 2nd floor, but unfortunately the tasting area was so crowded that I didn’t have a chance of getting close enough to do any tasting myself. It looks like North Market Poultry and Game took top honors this year, which makes sense because they make a pretty damn good chili.

Downstairs, a few hot sauce/salsa vendors had set up shop around the perimeter of the market, like this person selling Montezuma products.

Montezuma Salsa Display

In addition, a lot of the normal vendors got into the spirit as well. Pam of Pam’s Market Popcorn was offering a Painful Purgatory Pepper Popcorn. My husband tried it, said to Pam, “you call this hot?” then ended up eating his words about a minute later as the heat finally hit him. That’ll teach him. ;)

Pam's Painful Purgatory Pepper Popcorn

Mike of Curds and Whey had a couple of different hot cheeses out, like this Satanic Goat (Ohio Chevre with Jalapeno)

Curds and Whey Satanic Goat Cheese

and also something called Lucifer (Italian Gorgonzola with Cayenne).

Curds and Whey Lucifer Cheese

Even Jeni of Jeni’s Ice Creams got into the spirit with her Red Hot Chocolate ice cream sandwiches, which paired her Queen City Cayenne and Saigon Cinnamon ice creams on a red chocolate macaron.

Jeni's Red Hot Chocolate Sandwiches

I ended up leaving a bit earlier than I liked (I was still feeling rather ill, and the constant pushing of the crowd coupled with getting run into by strollers a dozen or so times weren’t helping things one bit), so I ended up missing the amateur chili cookoff and the afternoon wing eating contests, but rest assured, based on the turnout and Twitter banter from the afternoon, it looks like it ended up being another great success for the market and a good time was had by everyone who attended. I’m looking forward to next year, when I’ll be more up for it (and will hopefully get a chance to taste some chili).

Review: Cafe Ephesus

How is it that I could have lived here as long as I have and not noticed the abundance of Middle Eastern eateries that we have here in Columbus? Recently, I became aware of a new restaurant, Cafe Ephesus, that had opened in Dublin, started by a chef who had formerly worked at Cafe Istanbul and Cafe Shish Kebab and wanted a little more creative control.

Located by the Giant Eagle in the shopping center at Perimeter Loop, Cafe Ephesus is fairly non-descript from the outside, easily missed if someone isn’t looking for it. However, once inside, it’s fairly easy to forget about the location and just settle in and enjoy one’s meal.

We were presented with a basket of complementary soft pita, along with some flavorful oil-based dipping sauce.

 Pita Basket from Cafe Ephesus

For his appetizer, my husband chose a bowl of their vegetarian Red Lentil Soup ($4), a hearty mixture of red lentils pureed with various other vegetables and spices, which turned it into a thick, flavorful soup that he thorougly enjoyed.

Red Lentil Soup from Cafe Ephesus

Since we were joined by one of his former co-workers for lunch, we opted to get the Large Meze Platter ($16), which is a selection of several different appetizers that they have on the menu. Although this selection is nearly identical to that offered by similar restaurants, it was executed beautifully. In other restaurants, there were small issues that prevented us from thoroughly enjoying every item, but that was not the case here – everything was done exactly as it should have been. The baba ganoush was exceptionally good.

Large Meze Platter from Cafe Ephesus

Since I opted to go with the lunch special ($8 for 3 courses), I had to choose a separate appetizer, and I went with the soslu patlican since it is one of my favorites. The chunks of eggplant, sauteed and then tossed with a tomato sauce, was extremely delicious.

Soslu Patlican from Cafe Ephesus

For my entree, I chose the Chicken Kebabs, mainly because I wanted to compare it with kebabs I had elsewhere. Their version was especially tender and juicy, flavorful and served without all the extraneous grilled vegetables that detract from the dish elsewhere. Instead, one gets a small “salad” that is dressed nicely and paired beautifully.

Chicken Kebabs from Cafe Ephesus

My husband went with the Iskender Kebab platter ($13), which is garlic pita covered with a mound of doner kebab (think gyros, only grilled after it’s sliced), topped with a tomato sauce redolent with Middle Easter spices, and served with yogurt on the side. He said it beat the Iskender kebab from the others hands down, and was easily one of his favorite dishes anywhere. In his mind, this restaurant requires a return trip for this dish alone.

Iskender Kebabs from Cafe Ephesus

Service was very friendly, with our needs attended to before we even a had a chance to realize that we needed anything. We left with a good feeling, looking forward to our next trip. While it is a bit of out of the way, it’s an excellent choice for those who live or work in Dublin, and a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.

If you’d like to go: Cafe Ephesus, 6720 Perimeter Loop Road, Dublin, 614.798.8091

Cafe Ephesus on Urbanspoon

Manhattan Sandwich

One of my guilty pleasures lately has been the Manhattan Sandwich at Barry’s New York Deli at the North Market. The first time I ordered it I wouldn’t think the combination of flavors would work, but surprisingly they do.

Manhattan Sandwich

So I’ve been giving my panini press here at home a workout lately – and this one is quite simple. Spread Russian dressing on both slices of rye bread (I usually use a marble rye), and then layer smoked cheddar and corned beef. Grill until browned, and then open it up and put some cole slaw in the middle. A million kinds of awesome.

So tell me, what are your favorite panini sandwiches to make? What combination of flavors really does it for you?

Valentine’s Day at The Refectory

This isn’t a review so much as a place to record one of the most memorable meals of my year so far. We usually stay in for Valentine’s Day and try to cook ourselves, but after a few years of disappointing new recipes (like the $42 worth of Bluescreek filet mignon that we ruined by making steak au poivre), we decided that we wanted to spend one Valentine’s Day where someone else cooked for us.

There were so many options this year for Columbus residents, and this was one of the more expensive ones – so just a quick note about cost – yes, it was very expensive. So much so that we blew two weeks’ grocery budget in one night. But an occasion like Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to splurge. And we at least knew that the food would be expertly prepared, which may not have been the case if we had tried to cook classic French food ourselves.

They were offering a 5 course menu (with 2 choices for each course) for $85, with the option of wine pairings for an additional $37.50.  We each chose the opposite from one another for the courses. I got the wine pairing, but my husband did not.

The Refectory was definitely hoppin’ last night. Every table filled, with people in the foyer; but despite the popularity, there was no delay in being seated at our reservation time, and the pacing of the meal itself was spectacular.

You’ll have to excuse the quality of the pictures. I can never get really good pictures at The Refectory because of the fairly dim lighting, so the photos never really do the meal justice (the exception being the Slow Food Dinner this past summer, which had natural outdoor light). So while it will give you an idea of the presentation and plating, it doesn’t make the food look nearly as appetizing as it really was.

For the first course, we had a choice of either Lobster and Crab Marble with a lightly smoked bell pepper coulis, or Ohio Pheasant Rillette with a green peppercorn vinaigrette.

I opted for the Lobster and Crab Marble. I’ve always liked The Refectory’s terrines and pates, and this was no exception. Fresh, smooth flavor, and the coulis went so very well with the flavor of the Marble.

Lobster and Crab Marble

My husband really enjoyed his Pheasant. Said it kind of reminded him of slightly more gamey (not a bad thing) chicken salad in flavor. And one thing I really like about The Refectory is that when they garnish, everything on the plate is edible, and everything is there for a reason.

Ohio Pheasant Rillette

For the second course, the choices were either Pan Seared Scallop with baby spinach and a saffron sauce or Sauteed Salmon Chop with a red onion and caper emulsion and zucchini fondue.

Begrudgingly, I chose the scallop for this course (with the trade off being that I would be able to choose the lemon mousse for dessert). I made this choice with the preconceived notion that I was “meh” about scallops, because whenever I’ve had them before I’ve been underwhelmed. Let me just say that this scallop was a gastronomic awakening for me. I now know what is meant by “perfectly cooked scallop”. If all scallops were prepared like this, scallops would be my favorite food. Screw the other three courses, just give me more of these. ;) Yes. Really. It was THAT good. Easily my favorite dish of the night.

Pan Seared Scallop

Not to say that my husband’s salmon wasn’t good – again, perfectly cooked, nice browning from the sear, and served with a very complementary sauce.

Sauteed Salmon Chop

For the third course, the choices were either Grilled Bison Loin with a confit of shallot Bordelaise, scalloped potatoes (although I think this was a potato mousseline instead), or Roasted Veal Tenderloin with a portabella ravioli and cardamom sauce.

I went with the bison. The combination of flavors with the bison, sauce, duxelle of mushrooms and potatoes was amazing. The meat, once again, was perfectly cooked and wonderfully tender. I was very happy with my choice.

Grilled Bison Loin

Not to say that my husband’s veal wasn’t equally as good in its own way. Similar flavor profile with the mushroom ravioli, but I think my bison had the slight edge in richness and depth of flavor.

Roasted Veal Tenderloin

The fourth course was a cheese course, with the choices being either Baked Brie and Puff Pastry “canape style” with leek salad and champagne vinaigrette, or Ohio Goat Cheese Cremeux with micro greens and chive oil. This was probably our least favorite of all the courses.

I went with the Brie – while it was a perfectly tasty, and creamy piece of brie on puff pastry, as a followup to the previous courses it failed to excite. In other words, good for what it was, but a nice interesting artisan cheese I’ve never had the opportunity to try would have been a bit more up my alley.

Baked Brie and Puff Pastry

My husband went with the goat cheese cremeux, which reminded us both of a really herby, really smooth cream cheese. We both feel that this would have been more successful if there had been something (baguette, cracker, etc) to spread this on. It was slightly awkward trying to eat it straight up with a fork or spoon.

Ohio Goat Cheese Cremeux

For the fifth course, dessert, we could choose from either a Chocolate Trio with raspberry coulis and biscuit truffette, or Lemon Mousse and Vanilla Fleur de sel Sable with orange sauce and fresh raspberries.

I went with the lemon, which was the perfect end to a spectacular meal. I’ve been really digging lemon desserts lately, and this one had great texture and flavor to it.

Lemon Mousse & Vanilla Fleur de sel Sable

My husband was just as pleased with his Chocolate Trio. A nice, smooth mousse and a fitting end to a good meal.

Chocolate Trio

About the wine pairings. I’m not a frequent wine drinker, but enjoyed all of them, especially the dessert wine, Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato. It’s one I see myself adding to my collection, and one I’ll seek out through my favorite wine retailers. Pours were VERY generous (they were supposed to be 3oz pours, but all were definitely more, especially the red wine served with dinner).

I’m so very glad that we went, even though we balked a bit at the expense. It really is worth spoiling yourself from time to time, as these are the small things and the memories that make life worth living.

If you’d like to go: The Refectory, 1092 Bethel Road, Columbus, OH 43220, 614.451.9774

Review: New York Deli

I’ll be the first to admit that I am easily convinced to try new restaurants in Columbus, often due to a reader suggestion or a review I’ve read in a local media outlet, or buzz on Columbus Underground. It doesn’t take much to get me in the door the first time. However, the deciding factor on whether a restaurant is good or not (at least in my book) is whether I ever go back. Today I bring you one that went from being totally off our radar, to one we visit with amazing regularity, especially given that it’s located over a half hour away from us in Powell.

New York Deli is located on Presidential Parkway, in the former Benvenuto Amici space. While Benvenuto Amici struggled, this new restaurant seems to be doing quite well. Maybe it’s a better fit for the neighborhood. In any case, in the time we were there, it filled up very quickly – to the point people were actually waiting for tables, which is almost unheard of in a deli, at least in Ohio. Non-plussed by all the hubbub, the vivacious lady who waited on us (who I believe is also co-owner) was extremely helpful and friendly, with a bit of a snarky edge.

After trying a few different sandwiches over numerous visits, my husband and I have reached a consensus that our favorite is The Todd ($9.49) – easily one of the best sandwiches in  Columbus. It’s their version of an Italian sub – with ham, salami, cappacola, lettuce, tomato, onion, roasted red peppers, oil and vinegar. In short, lots of Boar’s Head meat with extremely fresh toppings on a exceptional roll. Great value, extremely flavorful, more sandwich than anyone with a normal appetite can realistically finish in one sitting. We declared this one worth the trip in and of itself.

"The Todd" from New York Deli

The day of our first trip was extremely cold, so we opted to get a bowl of the Turkey Noodle Soup ($4.95 for a ginormous bowl). The soup was definitely homemade, as evidenced by the presence of a bone in my bowl. It had great flavor, the serving size was easily enough for two, and it was very hearty and warming.

Turkey Noodle Soup from New York Deli

The giant dill pickles ($1.50 each) that they serve here are exceptional. We’ve made trips back here for the pickles alone. They are also Boar’s Head brand, but have a different flavor than the retail version (did a side by side comparison with a jar of the same Whole Dill Pickles I had picked up at Jungle Jim’s). I’m indifferent to most pickles, but love these. They are crunchy and have a strong garlic flavor, which make these perfect to just sit down and gnaw on.

Garlic Pickles from New York Deli

My husband is partial to liverwurst, so he got The Tom ($6.99). Great sandwich construction, with lots of good Boar’s Head liverwurst, Swiss cheese and plenty of crisp sliced onion with mustard on rye.  As far as liverwurst sandwiches go, we’ve both concurred that this is also the best we’ve had in Columbus so far.

Liverwurst Sandwich from NY Deli

Not so pleasing was the bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup ($4.95). Where’s the chicken? Where’s the tortilla? Good flavor, but it’s not what we were craving or expected.

Chicken Tortilla Soup from New York Deli

In short, if you live in one of the Northwest suburbs, or are already out and about at Polaris or Sawmill anyway, trying this place out should be a no-brainer. For us, it’s worth traveling for – but bear in mind that we’d drive to Cleveland or Cincinnati if there was a good meal waiting for us at the end of the trip. It’s at least as good as any of the other delis in town, definitely more value for the price. Worth leaving downtown for, though? Only if you’re planning on it anyway.

If you’d like to go: New York Deli, 4032 Presidential Parkway, Powell, OH 43065, 614.766.1111

New York Deli on Urbanspoon

Chicken Pasta Skillet

When a Costco opened in town not too long ago, I didn’t really think I was missing out on much – after all, my trusty Sam’s Club membership had done me fine all these years, and did I really need a warehouse club membership for someplace that’s a half hour drive from home? So for the longest while I didn’t even consider a membership…that is until a bunch of people were Costco this and Costco that and I felt like I was missing out. Was I ever!

Going there on Sunday is like shopping and lunch all rolled up into one. It makes the samples at Sam’s look like childs play. Not good for someone who is really bad about impulse purchases like I am. But one of the samples they were offering was chicken strips in Prego Heart Healthy sauce, mixed with a little bit of mozzarella and Parmesan. So simple, but yum. So of course I impulse purchased both, and when I came home, searched for a recipe that would combine those ingredients. This is what I found. As easy to make as Chicken Helper, but much healthier and much more delicious.

Presto Pasta Night 100

I’m submitting this recipe to the 100th edition of Presto Pasta Nights. Congratulations, Ruth – for keeping your baby going this long. :)

Chicken Pasta Skillet

Chicken Pasta Skillet
recipe slightly modified from Kraft

1 lb. package chicken strips
1 sweet bell pepper, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1-1/2 cups water
2 cups rotini pasta, uncooked
1 jar (26 oz.) spaghetti sauce
1 cup Mozzarella cheese

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in large skillet, and then add vegetables; cook and stir 5 min. Stir in water. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low.

STIR in pasta, covering completely with water; cover with lid. Simmer 15 min. or until pasta is tender. Stir in sauce and chicken strips.

SPRINKLE with cheese. Reduce heat to low; cook, covered, 5 min. or until cheese is melted and mixture is heated through. Add Parmesan cheese to taste.