Third and Hollywood has the goods and they don't come cheap.
Central Ohio has fallen in love with Northstar Cafe, and for good reason.
The food has come to symbolize purity and goodness, uncomplicated and uncompromising.
Founders Kevin and Katy Malhame have launched a second theme, Third and Hollywood, which riffs on the same sustainable, largely organic principles held so dear by the two Northstars, one in Clintonville and the other in the Short North.
The one big difference between the two concepts as many Northstar faithful have noted is the pricing structure. Yes, Third and Hollywood is more expensive, sometimes demonstrably so. In our current penny-pinching culture which won't last, if history is any indication it might seem difficult to justify spending $13 on a cheeseburger with fries. It is spectacular, layered with traditional condiments, mayo and Thousand Island dressing on a sesame bun. Does it matter that the hormone- and antibiotic-free beef is ground fresh daily? You be the judge. A bean burger if you consider a veggie burger a real burger topped with a scoop of guacamole accented with diced red onions, is just as scrumptious. At $14, it seems a little steep.
When you're dining out, you're paying for more than just food. You're paying for a variety of things, among which, in this case, are the gorgeous fixtures: An open kitchen, stone and brick accents, thick butcher-block tables, chairs with woven leather (very comfy) and thick seat covers in the booths.
It's understandable if there are diners who remain unimpressed by the accouterments. But they're there, they add to the ambience and they don't look cheap.
The menu does not try to be all things to all people, a definite plus. The smoky grilled artichokes ($11), served with an herbed mayonnaise dipping sauce, require some digital involvement, but are well worth it. Still, there are some darlings of the local dining public that could never escape a menu, such as a 10-ounce ribeye ($27), cooked beyond medium rare and entirely too fatty. As for the smashed potatoes: too much and too oniony.
Third and Hollywood makes a point to let customers know it does not serve fish on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch "avoid" list. Whether that's of significance to most diners isn't clear, but the kitchen is skilled at handling seafood. Arctic char ($23), with a similar profile as salmon, simply is seasoned with salt and pepper, and served with lime cilantro rice. Ubiquitous seared tuna, dashed with robust seasonings, is served alongside a colorful and nicely composed salad of frisee, arugula, slivers of red bell pepper, juicy tomatoes, roasted fingerling potatoes, fresh corn, onions and crunchy green beans dressed with a sharp caper-Djion vinaigrette. But a skeptic might say: "A few pieces of fish and a salad for $19? Yeah, right."
There's a good selection of wines, artisan beers and signature drinks (try the minty "rogue" mojito with ginger, $10). And desserts are happily limited to a couple of choices. One that fits the laidback attitude of the restaurant is the lemon square ($8) bright, citrusy goodness with pecan-graham cracker crust and a topping with fresh whipped cream dotted with chopped-up nuts.
Team coverage is the philosophy on service, which results in pretty efficient support. Servers seem truly enthusiastic and proud of their assignment.
Those who try to make endless comparisons between Northstar and Third and Hollywood are doing themselves a disservice. They are two different restaurants and deserve separate appraisals. Complaints about prices are legitimate, especially from diners who are unmoved by expensive furniture and more costly ingredients. But those who value atmosphere and more wholesome elements, the place makes quite an impression, and a good one at that.