An interesting fine-dining menu is well executed in a casual, inviting setting inside a classic Downtown building
How's the turkey? And those side dishes that seemed so easy to make online? How would you describe the state of the kitchen? Are there enough holiday-appropriate beverages on hand to assuage such issues?
One last question: Do you know The Keep is open on Thanksgiving?
Well, it is, and the refreshingly distinct new restaurant also has the good fortune to be located inside the beautiful LeVeque Tower, that art deco jewel brightening the Columbus skyline.
A self-described “modern French brasserie and bar,” The Keep makes the most of its largely brown, modest-sized space. Some of its lovely lighting emanates from flickering gas lanterns which, with other period touches such as vintage-looking windows, seamlessly mesh with contemporary elements like bar-seating encompassing the theater of an open kitchen.
Other perks in the trendy, high-energy space are an interesting, well-executed menu; notably personable servers dressed in jeans and white button-down shirts; plus plenty of beverages appropriate for a holiday — or a night on the town.
France is well-represented on the good wine list, and cocktails merit attention. Bourbon fans should target the terrific In Brasserie Fashioned ($12) — an elderflower old fashioned with a bitters-infused ice ball and Luxardo cherry. For something refreshing and food-friendly, try the fizzy and citrusy LeVeque 75 ($11), a dry-yet-balanced French 75.
It's a nice match for starters such as the velvety Butternut Squash Bisque ($6) with spiced pumpkin seeds and house croutons. Another nice partner is the warm-and-seared, deconstructed Beets Salad ($12) with crunchy pistachio granola, pink peppercorns, roasted grapes, frisee, supremed citrus segments and an apt autumnal palette.
The Melted Eggplant ($10) isn't as odd as it sounds. Resembling fruit-kissed, coarsely textured baba ganoush with caponata-style accents of raisins and fried pine nuts, the addictive and smoky dip even swayed the eggplant haters at my table.
And it demonstrates that chef Jonathan Olson, a veteran of several Ritz Carlton restaurants, isn't afraid to dodge cliches. Ditto for one of several menu items curiously garnished with Corn Nuts: the “meaty,” Thai-influenced Halibut Ceviche ($14) drenched in coconut milk. (I preferred the coconut-free salmon ceviche, though.)
The starter eliciting the most “oohs” during my visits was the super-tender Braised Short Rib ($13), served atop soothing cheese grits. An apple stick, radish and olive salad supplies the counterpoint in this near entree-sized medley.
Among many seafood dishes, the Bronzini ($30) with crispy skin, delicate snow-white meat and lashes of a mild, XO-type sauce, is the most dramatic. Fried and presented whole, the fish is posed as if it were still swimming. Playing a small but loud second fiddle: a tangy and gingery squash-and-cabbage salad.
Steak lovers should gravitate toward the thick, tender, juicy, sear-crusted Grilled Filet Mignon ($36). It's sided with OK truffle-scented roasted cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli, plus duck-fat-fried potato wedges so good I wanted more than just three.
Two recommended entrees evoke upscale “bowl” meals: the Guajillo Pork Cheeks ($24), uncommonly presented in lobes rather than pulled meat; and the meatless Lentils and Legumes ($16).
Spiced more by diced andouille sausage than guajillo chili, the succulent pork is accompanied by black-eyed peas and vinegar-splashed collard greens as if this were a “lucky” New Year's Day dinner. The lentil dish, which includes smoked mushrooms, offsets its earthy veggie notes with mint, yogurt cheese and a lively, broth-like “tamarind vinaigrette.”
For a sweet ending, the just-fried Beignets($7), presented in a to-go-style paper bag and with bitter chocolate and vanilla (creme anglaise) dipping sauces, were a tad chewy. The Filled Crepes ($7) enveloping ricotta cheese, draped with poached fruit and garnished with candied nuts, were lighter and brighter. I preferred the crepes, but both desserts generated smiles of thanksgiving at the table. And it wasn't even a holiday.