Under the Table

(not pictured: Curried Lentil soup)

S-vealmb350.jpg Veal meatball (oh-so-tender) with fontina whipped potatoes (lovely), a smoked tomato jus (I call that gravy) and a contrapuntally bright, raw green and slightly bitter shallot and herb salad--a really killer app special that I recently saw as an entree on the just-released new spring menu

S-ribeye350.jpg Ohio Ribeye special (half-portion shown, as we were sharing) -- expertly cooked, gloriously crusted and juicy beef served atop an all-in-one sauce and side dish of spinach, fingerlings and sauteed onions in a gorgonzola-wine cream sauce. Wowzers!

S-chocganache350.jpg Chocolate Ganache Torte. Two waiters raved about this fanciful-looking dessert (kinda like a biomorphic Miro), so how could we resist? We couldn't, and, man, were those friendly servers right on target!

The elegant, smooth dark chocolate ganache (its texture, as they say, "was like butter") sat on a vanilla/pistachio crumbly crust pointed up by a small pile of "pistachio dust". Complementing and teasing out the torte's other spectra of flavors and textures were swaths of a lovely salty caramel sauce, fresh (real) whipped cream, and dollops of chocolate sauce.

Changes are afoot in the Dispatch family of food writing corps, and this is my last This Week review. Oh well, it was sure fun while it lasted--and I got to go out on a sweet note by visiting Sage, an old neighborhood fave.

Read my final review in the next This Week.

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Last Thursday, i.e. the one nice-weather day we've had in a while, I went to our beautiful Huntington Park; before walking in, though, I smartly bought these locally roasted Krema peanuts and a bottle of water (you can carry it in if unopened) from a vendor just outside the park. The duo only costs $2!

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A night out here is cheap, but it can be stoopid cheap if you spring for the $6 seats--if so, I recommend you park it at a left-field picnic table.

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Why left field? Well, because right behind you will be your best beer bet--32 ounces (that's a quart) of terrific CBC suds for $9.75 if, like me, you cleverly show up on a Thursday (they've got Pale Ale too, but I was really digging the bitter, aromatic and grapefruit-y IPA ). Note: if you drink 3 of these--and I'm not saying you should, just suggesting it can happen--it equals 8 regular-sized beers

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Screw that water (it's free with the nuts, anyways)

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Upstairs is a full-service bar where hooch (like Maker's Mark) is $6 (note: bring your CBC beer up if you want it because only Bud products and Chicago-brewed 312 stuff are sold here)

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Plus you can cop a squat like this outfield-hanger in the bar area

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Another bar-perching bonus is that it's the only place you can score the best ballpark frank Huntington's got-- a juicy and spicy Jalapeno Hotz. This baby costs $4.75, but I recommend you upgrade to a pretzel bun for another buck. Oh yeah, and ask for jalapenos on top and that killer made-in-Cleveland "Stadium" Mustard and layer it with the nice pickles they give you.

See you soon at the old Ballgame

The Loving Hut has to be one of the most bizarre and improbable eateries I've dined in lately. I'll elaborate more on this in a bit, but inform you now that the grub did not suck.

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Love Letter From The Earth Salad--lotta flavor, color and texture; note the wacky name

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Saigon Rolls--basically Vietnamese "summer" rolls, and with more flavor than I've had from versions in some full-on Vietnamese restaurants

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Lemon Tofu--successfully (and surprisingly to me) combined Asian flavors with rosemary. In fact that blend suddenly seems inevitable, and I wonder why it's not more often encountered

Supreme Master Television: "Constructive programming for a peaceful world" was playing in the little but spic-and-span, fast-foody shop situated in a dreary Reynoldsburg strip mall. That's right, Supreme Master!

See, this Loving Hut is one of hundreds scattered all over the planet, and they are all associated with a New Age, cult-like vegan/go-green group led by the, uh, "Supreme Master," a Vietnamese-born woman now named Ching Hai (I've read her name means "pure ocean"). SMTV shows SM, a self-proclaimed multi-disciplinary artist (who sometimes sports short blond hair, sometimes long black hair) singing, reading her poetry and frequently beamed-in on a huge screen in front of an enthralled studio audience. It all seemed quite a lot like the Dharma Initiative to me...as always, stay tuned (but if you see me in the near future with glazed-over eyes spouting off about healthy eating and the spirits of animals, PLEASE SEND HELP!)

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Chengdu Soft Bean Curd--big blocks of silken tofu thrown into relief by toasted dry soy beans, all of it swamped in a perfumey broth awash in chili oil

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Lamb with Hot Pepper and Cumin--really tender meat explosively seasoned

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Diced Chicken with Pickled Chili--more sweet than pickly, and spicy from red pepper flakes

Fortune, an old go-to dim sum and Chinese takeout spot for me until its green health-code sticker turned non-green, is under new ownership (and currently bears a green sticker). The changeover has cuisine consequences as Fortune's former Cantonese bent has been replaced with a strongly Szechuan one.

I tried it out yesterday and found my dishes to be aggressive, salty and oily. Since that also describes me, we got along great. I look forward to sampling more of its flagrantly spicy fare-- stay tuned.

Fortune Chinese Restaurant 2869 Olentangy River Road (614) 263-1991 ‎

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Simply called "Grilled Salmon" on the menu, it's basically a bouillabaisse and was fresh-tasting and delicious (with a red pepper rouille--riffing on the roasted red peppers in the soup base--spread on grilled bread, itself riffing on the salmon's cross-hatched, high-heat treatment)

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Braised Pork Cheeks--they looked like beef but tasted like upscale carnitas; came with the best unfried tater tots you never had plus a lovely, super-smooth puree of truffled cauliflower and a sweet oniony sorta chutney...a real knockout dish

Sage America Bistro, one of my neighborhood faves, cooked up this wonderful food. Plus the place was hopping on a crappy Tuesday (bonus: little chat with Matthew Barbee of Rockmill Brewery, who seemed to be happily whooping it up)

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After dinner drinks at "Bar Benton"-- I brought these nice priced (both under $30) hooches, currently unavailable in Columbus (though I hear the rye is on its way soon), back from Louisville

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Then it was off to Outland for the mad, "anti-comic" stylings of the drastically UN-PC Neil Hamburger. This guy, whose meta-act skewers the stand-up form, is seriously over the top. He screeches, he snorts, he shoots out cruel (but asking-for-it, and often hilarious) arrows at high-profile celebrities. Plus he peppers his onslaught with giggle-eliciting nonsequiters. For example, after a joke that didn't quite fly, he yelled "Come on, I have cancer!"

Sage, locally rare booze and Hamburger: that's what I call a great rainy and chilly Tuesday night out in Columbus!

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When I last ate at the great 30 seat Prune in New York City, Martina Navratilova was in there, sitting about 5 feet from our table. There, after sharing a huge steak with her girlfriend, the great tennis player began openly making out with her paramour with an enviable wine-fueled abandon.

I say this as an appropriate lead-in to my whole-hearted recommendation of the newish book by Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of Prune Restaurant. BB&B is an eccentric and must read literary memoir of Hamilton's wild and "who'da ever thunk it" highly successful life.

In other words, Hamilton's circuitous path to celebrity NYC chef/restauranteur includes: a bizarre and close-to-the-earth youth spent in a way- out-in-the woods house she calls "the ruin" where she was raised by an impractical artist father and a French mom who taught her to eat bone marrow and snails at a crazy early age ; cokeheading teenage years and scary legal trouble; unstructured, broke and starving trips around the world; an MFA in creative writing from Michigan (her description of Midwestern uptightness has an all too familiar ring to it); painful, dead-end catering gigs for high-end companies (who serve,say, the king of Thailand); long term lesbianism and then marriage and children; plus a bunch of other convention-shattering stuff you should discover for yourself!

And you'll want to, given Hamilton's amusingly blunt, profane, BS-calling and utterly in-your-face writing style. That original voice is perfectly summed up by her book's title, which sounds like viscera-loosening rumbles on a bass drum-- or maybe dramatic blurts on a screeching trumpet.

For instance, Hamilton describes why she quit shopping at farmers markets in person because of people like the inevitable annoying LOOK HOW LOCAL I AM girl "on the bicycle, wandering along from stall to stall with two apples, a bouquet of lavender, and one bell pepper" who is making a big production of herself and "admiring the way her purchases are artfully arranged for all to see".

Buy this book now!

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Pork Rillettes (stellar, topped with a "thin layer of duck fat" and served with crusty and wonderful Blue Dog Bakery bread)

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Salmon Croquettes

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Oyster Fritters in Champagne Butter

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House Made Chorizo with Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard

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"The Ivory Bacon": house made boudin blanc sausage sandwich

The Blind Pig is in the "colorfully" named neighborhood of Butchertown and it embraces its hog butchering location in high old style. In fact this brilliant place was a bit of a revelation and a terrific example of what's hip in Louisville--can't wait to go back!

Not pictured are the meticulously handmade cocktails (most of them extraordinary), which included the rich and super-potent "Awakening" — Sazerac rye, B&B, coffee extract, allspice, egg whites and house made coffee bitters; a tart and powerful "Old School Whiskey Sour" — Old Forester bourbon, house made sour mix, egg white, powdered sugar; "The Count" — Hendrick's gin, Campari, rose water, sweet vermouth and orange flame; and a perfectly executed French 75.

Commonwealth Sandwich Bar

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Well someone's certainly smart out there in New Restaurant Land. And from Commonwealth's small, contemporary artsy/urban-meets-old time-farmy/industrial space to its rich, scratch-made sandwiches (chicken confit! house-cured bacon and pickled onions!) and coarse-salty sweet potato fries, I was pretty damn impressed (Skillet Jr. anyone?)

I will definitely be investigating and writing more about this place in the very near future.