Deal-icious: Chef John Dornback

  • Jodi Miller photo
    Chef John Dornback
From the 11/18/2009 edition

John Dornback - or just Johnny to his staff - always seems to be smiling, and it's infectious. I guess you'd be smiling too if you owned the terrific Basi Italia - one of the best and most intimate Italian restaurants in Columbus.

The always-bubbly Basi, which sits in picturesque Victorian Village, delivers its charm and modern cuisine with gusto and verve and it's got plenty of fine wine deals of its own, too.

Before converting an old pizzeria into one of the city's most romantic restaurants, Cleveland native Dornback lived and cooked for 14 years in New York City, where he attended the prestigious French Culinary Institute and studied under the legendary Jacques Pepin.

Johnny Come Elegantly

Chef Dornback went the route of an artfully composed four-course meal flaunting the kind of eye appeal that could've been ripped from the pages of the late Gourmet magazine. He attractively stacked two of his beauties into impressive sculptural-type works, he served up individual pots of braised cabbage and beans in upscale-rustic style and even made souffles!

While Dornback displayed a liberal hand on the cheffy aromatic accents (lemon zest, greens and lots of fresh herbs) and rich dairy-grounded ballast (heavy cream is one of a chef's best friends), those ingredients are fairly cheap and besides, he (hilariously) seemed most proud of his carefully guarded "proprietary blend" top-secret ratio of ramen seasoning to mac-and-cheese flavoring pouch.

Man, I'd eat his deliciously silky and crunchy "Inside-out chicken pot pie" or his surprisingly clean-tasting and light tuna and beet tartare right now.

Items not used: Corn muffin mix, hot peppers, macaroni noodles