I usually like to stick to NYC foodstuffs on donuts4dinner, because anything anyplace else has, NYC has it ten times better, right? Well, not when it comes to food tours, specifically the one I enjoyed with Columbus Food Adventures while visiting my family in Ohio earlier this month.
Not only did we have a progressive meal that started with snacks, dabbled in small plates, and then finished with a full-on entree and dessert, but it was clear with every stop that the company has a real connection to and love of the Columbus food scene. Unlike the NYC food tours I’ve been on, where we were stuck outside while the guide nabbed food from the stores and restaurants for us, we went behind the scenes and into the kitchens of some of the big players in Columbus. I walked away feeling like my podunk hometown is actually pretty savvy!
We started in the North Market, where this sign that really belongs in my Brooklyn bedroom greeted us:
After a brief overview of the tour and an introduction to our guide, we were given a salty, chewy, stretchy, buttery pretzel from Brezel, which was everything I want NYC street cart pretzels to be but never are:
Inside the Market, we strolled along the upper level to take in a rare view of the stalls below, which range from fresh lobster ravioli you cook at home to Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi in Ohio!) you eat right at the counter they’re prepared on to waffles topped with fruit and chocolate that are best enjoyed on a picnic table on the Market’s porch. We have all of these things in droves in NYC, of course, but in Ohio, they seem more special somehow. It’s so easy in Ohio to eat at chain restaurants and to drive your car to chain grocery stores to buy meat cuts from whoknowswhere that it warms my heart to see people shopping here and supporting these things.
The Greener Grocer:
North Market Spices Ltd., with homemade mixes called things like Blabbermouth:
After a stop at The Fish Guys for samples of both New England and Manhattan clam chowder (little, ol’ tomato-hating me actually loved the Manhattan version!), we walked up the street to Knead, a kind of upscale diner using all of the local ingredients it can get its hands on, for a frittata that looked pretty standard but had this cheese that seemed to bloom with flavor in our mouths:
Next was Le Chocoholique, which has only been around a couple of years but has apparently become THE chocolate shop in Columbus. We tried a lavender chocolate and a salted caramel, but the store was just littered with the most beautiful and tempting selection of chocolates with flavors I’ve only seen in NYC’s highest-end restaurants:
A short walk along Goodale Park took us to Eleni Cristina Bakery, which supplies bread to over twenty of Columbus’s restaurants. We smelled their 25-year-old sourdough starter and all agreed to come back later this month, when they’ll open the bakery as a retail location and begin selling bread to the public.
At Tasi, we bypassed the scores of people waiting in line for Saturday brunch and went straight to the kitchen to eat a steaming bowl of the most flavorful chicken soup:
Then it was on to Rigsby’s Kitchen for a dish of gnocchi bolognese with big, fluffy gnocci, enough meat that it actually deserved to be called a meat sauce, and thick slabs of shaved Parmesan. The dining room was dark and romantic (excuse the grainy picture), but we were allowed in with our jeans and our dirty faces and grubby hands, and no one gave us a second look:
Finally, we ended up at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, which began in Columbus but is now so popular I can buy it in my grocery store in Brooklyn. People I know who aren’t from Ohio and therefore have no nostalgia for it even talk to me about how great this ice cream is, and I’m always like, “Yeah, how ’bout that?” Because I’ve never thought Jeni’s was really all that great compared to my Ohio favourite, Graeter’s.
But Jeni’s is that great. And the tour lets you try three scoops and all the samples you want, so I tried four kinds and chose:
• Juniper and Lemon Curd, which tasted like pine trees and all of the sourness of a lemon condensed into a marble-sized curb blob
• Bangkok Peanut, which is peanut butter and honey with a cayenne kick
• Brown Butter Almond Brittle, which is just what it sounds like and crunchy
I’m officially a fan.
Such a great time, such great food, such a great guide who didn’t bat an eyelash when certain people on the tour felt like they should step in at every stop with extraneous information just to show off how Columbus-y they are, and such a cool new way to see a city I used to know so well. My friends and I can’t wait to try the dessert tour! And the taco truck tour. And the German Village tour. And . . .
My best friend‘s husband is one of the pickiest eaters I know. He claims an allergy to all vegetation, likes all of the most boring items from chain restaurants (the Mr. Misty at Dairy Queen, chicken nuggets at McDonald’s), and so has to be in the mood to eat that his favourite chocolate bar is kept in the freezer because the mice would feast upon it in the months it takes him to consume it all.
But he loves Caffe DaVinci in the Upper Arlington neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. Every time I go back to my home state to visit my best friend, she and I try to convince her husband to come to Olive Garden with us (what?), and he instead tries to convince us to go to Caffe DaVinci. I’m used to underwhelming Italian food in NYC, so I usually suggest that he stay home by himself and eat his chicken nuggets, but one night, he finally got his way.
And that night, my life was forever changed. Because amidst the everyday spaghetti and chicken caesar wraps were the glorious words “Chicago Style Meatball Pizza”. I grew up on my mom’s thick crust pizza and took years to finally appreciate the floppy slices associated with NYC, so my mind immediately went back to Friday nights at home rolling out the dough and slopping on the sauce and piling on the cheese and pulling pepperoni out of bags and mushrooms out of cans (we were classy). But this ain’t yer mama’s pizza.
It’s a pizza bread bowl, people. And it is loaded with toppings. So many that the bowl split open in front. And having once asked for a bread bowl full of chicken salad instead of soup at Panera Bread despite public shame, bread bowls are kind of my thing.
Unlike the unseasoned marinara sauces of NYC, this sauce was rich with herbs and what tasted like hours simmering on a stove. The crust was just crusty enough to snap apart but just chewy enough not to flake all over me. I added the pepperoni to up the gluttony, and I’m not dramatizing when I say I’d be perfectly content if this was the only pizza I could eat for the rest of my life.
I mentioned in my review of the chef’s omakase at Yasuda that despite my overall excellent showing in an all-seafood meal, there was one slip-up that night. My boyfriend was taking notes at Yasuda because he’s an encyclopedia of fish names, and I was no doubt going to be writing down things like “Motown shrimp” instead of “botan shrimp”. Well, at this point in the notes, he writes, “Katie loses her shit.”
Let me explain first that I’ve been having trouble with oysters since about my second one. The first time I tried one, at Momofuku Ko, I didn’t even think about it; I just gummed it a little, swallowed it, and put a gold star on my shirt. Every subsequent oyster has given me pause, though. I actually like the flavor of them, which is the really maddening part, and I don’t consider their texture snot-like or anything along those lines. Something about them, though, just subconsciously goes to work on me, and I have a hard time keeping them down.
Well, at Yasuda this night, I actually didn’t keep mine down. We told the chef to give us whatever he wanted, and he started us slow with progressively finer tunas and then moved into some more adventurous clams and shrimp. I’d heard that the oyster Yasuda serves is this giant, sprawling thing that they slice smaller pieces off of, but I didn’t think that bothered me. And the actual appearance of my oyster was like a nice, creamy alfredo sauce. There were some black, stringy parts, but it’s not like I haven’t seen that before.
So I downed the thing like usual and immediately knew it was going to give me trouble. I gagged a little but told myself, “You ARE going to eat this oyster.” Like there was any alternative. So I took a swig of water to force it down, and instead, a bunch of rice came back up. It felt like all of the rice from all of the previous pieces of sushi, each grain still fully intact. I buckled down and again told myself that I was going to swallow it again, laced with bile as it probably was.
And then I just full-on vomited into my napkin.
I held it to my mouth in an attempt to disguise what was going on, but I’m sure it was pretty obvious to everyone as I abruptly stood up, all wild-eyed, trying to remember where the bathroom was from my only other visit years before. A server rushed over to pull back my chair for me, and I’m sure I looked like an idiot still holding this napkin up to my mouth as I ran to the back of the restaurant. I felt like all eyes were on me and that they all saw the creamy oyster bits dribbling down my chin.
It was such a traumatic event that I can’t remember if I threw my napkin in the bathroom trash or if I tried to salvage it and nonchalantly bring it back to the counter with me, but I hope for everyone’s sake that I didn’t carry a bunch of vomit back into the restaurant. My boyfriend just told the sushi chef that I must not have liked oysters as much as I thought, and I felt up for anything again once it was out of my system, but for the rest of the night, the chef would ask, “Is salmon roe okay? Is eel okay?” before serving us anything remotely adventurous. And I felt like a dumb white girl from the Midwest.
I thought the experience might ruin me completely for oysters and was really troubled to imagine a life in which I not only don’t ever get to enjoy that briny, fresh flavor but in which I also have to annoyingly ask that chefs leave the oysters off of my dishes. Luckily, I’ve had two since then and have just learned to chase them immediately with a glass of water. Which sort of defeats the whole purpose of eating them for the flavor, but hey, at least I’m eating them.
I truly, legitimately thought on my way to my boyfriend’s from work a few weeks ago that I was about to come face-to-face with super-studly chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin fame. I realized I had no idea what to say to him and quickly started trying to think of some food-related witticisms. “Don’t tell him you don’t like seafood!” I reminded myself.
It turned out to be some other super-studly man with gleaming hair, and I was off the hook, but it got me thinking about how weird it is that even I get a little excited about food celebrities. Understand that I don’t care about movie and TV stars at aaaaall. I keep a list of celebrities I’ve seen while living in NYC on my personal blog just because I like the stories behind my interactions with them, but I don’t read celebrity gossip magazines, I’m scared that shows like “TMZ” exist, and I have no idea why anyone (my boyfriend!) would watch a single moment of the Oscars or the Emmys, especially to look at the clothes.
I got off the bus at 14th Street on Monday to walk the rest of the way back to my boyfriend’s apartment in my quest to work off some of these tasting menus, and a few blocks later, I came upon wd~50′s Wylie Dufresne with a little boy sitting on his shoulders. (I assume it was his son, but you can assume whatever you like.)
I immediately pictured myself marching up to him, hand extended, and saying, “I named yours my absolute favourite NYC restaurant the other day. Your foie gras filled with passion fruit still comes up in conversation between my boyfriend and me about once a week. I think you’re the most inventive chef in the entire world. Here’s the link to my blog. Do you do wine pairings? I suggest your dessert tasting to new foodies all of the time. Do you hate the word foodie, too?”
And then I realized that wow, Wylie Dufresne does not care about any of that stuff. So I kept on walking. But of course I immediately called my boyfriend and squealed.
I guess I react toward chefs like most people react toward moviestars. And I guess it’s little sightings like these that make my boyfriend’s tiny Manhattan apartment and what he pays for it worthwhile.
On my last night of Christmas vacation in Ohio, my best friend, Tracey, and I invited my cousin Bethany and our friend Michelle over to her house for cards, videogames, boytalk, and other things girls in Ohio do. Tracey and I decided to make brownies for the occasion, and by that I mean we poured a box mix into a big bowl and added an egg.
Tracey kind of hinted that she wasn’t entirely interested in actually cooking the brownies, because like cookie dough and oysters, brownie batter is best eaten raw. I said, “Well, maybe we can separate half the batter and only cook a small batch.” And she said, “. . . or we could not cook it at all.”
And so we didn’t. We scooped the batter into sundae glasses, put them in the refrigerator to chill, and decided not to tell Bethany and Michelle what it was until they’d taken a bite, lest they think us gluttonous freaks and not give it a chance. Of course we got too excited in the end and had to tell them it was brownie fetus, and they reacted to it quite well, considering. We all sat around Tracey’s kitchen table for hours, playing Euchre and watching the batter stick to our upside-down spoons.
Referring to it as “pudding” made three of us feel much better, but Tracey had no shame, and neither does Faith of An Edible Mosaic, who shares her recipe here.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)