Whoo-hoo, it's Dine Originals Week again! For the clueless and cave-dwelling, that means a group of the best restaurants in town are temporarily offering specially priced meal deals at their terrific tables. Naturally any discussion of the most exciting eateries in Columbus must necessarily include the casually elegant and elegantly casual Rigsby's.
Speaking of Rigsby's, that paragon of Short North sophistication recently hired a new chef de cuisine named William Fugitt. Fugitt, who honed his chops at formidable stopovers in France, Chicago and Washington, D.C., has also been working closely with Ohio farmers lately.
That means Rigsby's commitment to top local ingredients should be in extremely capable hands. But how would the new chef affect the restaurant's menu?
Well, glancing at Rigsby's latest food list, it appears the place's previous penchants for understatement and verbal brevity have been replaced by over-explaining. So now the menu includes a glossary of Italian food terms, and a lengthy self-description entitled "our essence."
Otherwise, most of Rigsby's delicious dishes still remain, some slightly rearranged. How much input Fugitt had with this menu sprucing up I don't know, but I can tell you his graceful touch with great food is already shining through.
For instance, a few entrees and recent appetizer specials hinted at the new chef's sensibilities. Along with a sophisticated skill set, they showed leanings toward seasonality, French technique and Italian style - which would seem to make Fugitt a cozy fit for Rigsby's.
His pork terrine starter ($14) had flavoring influences that stretched from Mexico to Morocco. Intriguingly, the starring mosaic slab of piggy meat and fat tasted almost like a carnitas taco. For contrast, there was a super crispy bruschetta and a fresh little farmer's greens salad. The latter had apricot and fig for a chewy and mild sweetness and cuminy toasted cashews to add to the depth of flavor and texture.
A refined and inspired treatment of sweetbreads ($15) was another case of an indulgent main ingredient finding balance through accomplices. Instead of fried like crispy nuggets as they often are, the sweetbreads were braised in cider, pan crisped and sliced like fat coins. This left them delicate, succulent and impressively unctuous, not at all chalky.
Counterpoint arrived via a brightly dressed arugula salad with diced, salty, sauteed pancetta. The composition found seasonal resolution in a soft and smooth puree of lightly pumpkin-spiced acorn squash and a gastrique made out of the reduced apple cider braising liquid. Wow!
A slightly refashioned Pork Scaloppine entree ($26) resembled an autumnal - and fantastic - veal marsala. Two flour-dusted, pan-fried planks of incredibly tender pork were arranged above a lovely butternut squash puree with delightful, multi-colored baby carrots fanning out. An intense, show-stopping sauce was populated with porcini mushrooms, sweetened by marsala wine, tightened by balsamic vinegar and tied together by a generous swirl of butter.
Butter also abounded in another decadently rich, new-yet-familiar menu item - Carbonara ($23). Big, fat strands of beautiful handmade tagliatelle were treated to unexpected colorful root vegetables, crispy pancetta bits, plus a poached local egg. The only thing missing from this wonderful carbonara was the traditional blast of black pepper.
Tradition was innovatively repositioned in a tremendously satisfying deconstructed Tiramisu ($7) - my new favorite. Here, lady fingers were doused in caffe corretto (the magical marriage of grappa and espresso), layered Lincoln-Log style and spackled together with a marvelous, coffee-kissed housemade mascarpone cream.
In a nutshell, I strongly suggest you use the upcoming Dine Originals week to get acquainted with Rigsby's talented new chef.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable