Restaurant review: Plate’s resume as impressive as its food

By Columbus Alive
From the July 4, 2013 edition

Here’s an impressive resume: Certified Master Chef, International Culinary Olympian, dean at Hocking College, worked on Presidential Inaugural Balls honoring Barack Obama.

This resume’s not too shabby either: Culinary Institute of America graduate (Napa Valley campus), Certified Master Chef Hartmut Handke’s extern, executive chef at Luce Enoteca.

Now combine them, and you get (respectively) chef/proprietor Alfonso Contrisciani and executive chef Phil Gulis, both of Plate, an impressive new place in New Albany.

Far from fancy, Plate — which occupies a huge, patio-equipped space — embraces the customized barn look taken to the nth degree by Les Wexner. Plate, which can be loud, also sports the country club-casual atmosphere prevalent in this suburb 20 minutes from Columbus.

Under the voluminous restaurant’s high-up curved rafters, you’ll see antique lanterns, decorative plates, old timey photographs, plenty of flat screens and a black T-shirt-clad staff not yet always on the same page. Fortunately, the page that matters most here is Plate’s menu — which eats nearly as good as it reads.

The beer revolution hasn’t hit Plate, so grab a glass of it’s-there cheapish vino, then get to eatin’. Both the Insalate Italian (with local lettuces, roasted peppers, sharp provolone and a perky dressing) and the excellent Julia’s Love of Caesar salad (unnecessarily burdened with tomatoes, it’s still flavored with a proper anchovy-kissed vinaigrette, and is easily one of the best around) are distinguished and good deals ($5; $3 with a handmade pasta).

Even better were starters like an inspired Portobello Carpaccio & Mediterranean Hummus, plated with an unconventional but convincing-enough Indian curry take on eggplant caponata ($10). Though the silky, “steaky” and game-changing oil-poached sliced mushrooms heavily overshadowed the oil-integrated chickpea dip et al., it’s still an elegant vegan ensemble.

Good thing I enjoyed that caponata, because it popped up often, e.g. in the characteristically busy but also characteristically attractive and delicious Olive Oil Poached Sashimi Tuna ($12), the seafood analog of that fantastic fungus-starring appetizer. Beautiful sliced ruby fish — plenty of it — was accented with fennel and leek confit, basil-orange aioli, yellow plum tomato vinaigrette and artichoke. The serial side-dishing caponata resurfaced again, backing up wonderful Polenta Frites ($6) kitchen-sinked with “micro fennel,” raita-riffing “organic yogurt,” tomato confit and so forth.

The summer-in-a-bowl Smoked Tomato Gazpacho ($5) was more focused. A carryover from Chef Gulis’ Luce days, this sensational backyard grill-scented cool soup sported synergistic embellishments of zippy sherry vinegar and a watermelon/basil salsa.

Mama Mary’s Meatball Pizza ($12) demonstrated Plate belongs in Central Ohio’s most elite group of artisanal pie makers. Its thin, crackly, puffy and triumphant crust — topped by generous slabs of spicy, cheesy and terrific sliced meatballs — was appreciably sturdier than others in Plate’s exalted pizzeria circle and bore evidence of whole wheat.

Plate exhibits formidable talent with handmade pasta too. Unfortunately, its heavy hand with garnishes overcomplicated the lovely, supple and pillow-y Gnocchi ($14, still delicious with corn, bacon, “truffle coulis” plus more) and practically obliterated silken sheets of Lasagna with cheese and sauces ($14, included bechamel-y and tomato sauces but also a ponderous nacho cheesy blanket).

The King Farms Cider and Maple Cured Griddled Pork Chop ($18) was also busy with gravy, Indian spices, mustard sauce, a nifty mushroom-y farro sorta risotto and such, but it mostly cohered and was certainly delicious.

An excellent — and refreshingly free of extraneous components — Ricotta Torte (deconstructed, Italian-style light cheesecake, $5) was eye-catchingly plated with burnt-sugar tuile wheels, graham cracker-y crumble, strawberries plus a raisin-y and chocolate-y balsamic sauce.

Photos by Tim Johnson