Restaurant reviewer Gary Seman Jr. gives his assessment of the 2008 dining scene
It would have been difficult to outdo 2007 on the local dining front, given the openings of Rosendales, Bayleaf India Bistro and Tasi, just to name a few.
And with the current economy, which has forced a major correction in central Ohio market, it would have seemed impossible.
And, at last glance, it was.
Still, 2008 was far from dull. Perhaps the most auspicious opening was Sage in the University District. Even with a massive road construction project in the area, the New American restaurant entertained large crowds in its cozy space. William Glover, the chef and owner, created an approachable, inexpensive menu that values ingredients over portions.
Upscale dining earned a friend in DeepWood, separated in two spaces an upscale restaurant and a more casual bar that opened in the Short North. Sophisticated but not too trendy, DeepWood dazzled us with almost all of its
Vittoria, an Italian spot in Powell, has gone a step beyond red sauce and pasta. We really enjoyed the herb-rubbed lamb chops.
But 2008 should really be known for is the year of the gastro-pub, and no restaurant better exemplifies this trend than the Lost Shepherd in Powell. We still get cravings for its lamb loin over polenta and fresh shaved roast beef on
crusty rolls and served with dipping sauce. Eleven is certainly more refined than a pub, but clearly alcohol is its thing, seeing as how it has entered the realm of "molecular mixology." The food is reasonably upscale and
surprisingly affordable, especially during happy hour, when a good number of plates are discounted. (For the record, we haven't yet reviewed Barnum's Tavern or Matt the Miller's, both owned by veteran restaurateur Craig
Barnum, but we'll get there.)
Sushi was well represented with Sushi Ting in the University District while Blue Ginger on Sawmill Road took a broader Pan-Asian approach. There's little we didn't like about Sushi Ting, which takes on a clean look and traditional
Japanese menu with many signature rolls. Blue Ginger's menu is far more ambitious, covering Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and others. It's off to an amazing start. Vietnamese and Thai also are represented at Bamboo
Caf, which recently opened on Bethel Road.
While its popularity has waned in the last year or so, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern fare is back in a big way. Caf Ephesus, a Turkish restaurant, opened in Dublin and Lavash, which has Lebanese roots, opened in Clintonville.
(The former has been officially reviewed, appearing in this edition of Fare Game.)
Fans of Greek fare had two reasons to celebrate: Feta in Pickerington and Mykonos Taverna & Bakery in Gahanna. Feta, from the well-regarded Chalkias restaurant family, is inexpensive and often an exceptional value. Mykonos
marks the return of Chris Dena Poulias, who for years operated Niki's Deli in Northland, which has been closed for the better part of a year. We had concerns about service and consistency but enjoyed it overall.
Japanese steakhouses continue their march across Greater Columbus. The best we tried this year was Kobe near Easton, certainly the most fashionable of its kind.
Richard Rosendale, the chef/owner of Rosendales who represented Columbus well in a number of international cooking competitions, opened his long-awaited Details next to his flagship restaurant. We haven't tried it yet but the
small-plates eatery looks promising.
So what's in store for '09? Many restaurateurs are naturally concerned about the upcoming year. But in an industry familiar with fading fancies and tough economies, there's a lot of optimism as well.