Sunday, March 28, 2010

Downtown: Barrio Tapas Lounge

Barrio Tapas Lounge ("Barrio") is an amazing little bit of ethnic food in downtown Columbus.

Barrio is owned by the same duo of Due Amici (see previous post of hatred), but Barrio is a total 180.

Set in the heart of downtown Columbus, Barrio is actually in an old Wendy's building.  and you would never imagine that you were in an old Wendy's.  Seriously.  The renovation was beautifully done.  Deep wood, dim lights, great windows that open up to let in the nice evening air, and an upstairs seating area that would be perfect for small parties.

I headed out to Barrio with my dear friend Fancy Pants,who is also a lover of all things edible.  Fancy Pants never visited Barrio, so we picked one of the first real spring evenings of Columbus to partake in some tapas plates (don't worry, it snowed 3 days later). It also happened to be a Tuesday, and Barrio has a two-for-one tapas special on Tuesday nights.  Also, I had purchased a coupon from Fudha which Fancy Pants and I learned couldn't be used in conjunction with the tapas deal, but for a separate item. Duh, paella!

When we sat down, we were greeted with a loaf of bread and two dipping sauces. A yummy, sweet butter and an oil sauce.  Fancy Pants noted that there were hints of smoked paprika in the oil sauce.

For table bread, it is pretty tasty.

Fancy and I ordered 4 tapas plates next, and an order of paella to follow. We ordered the calamari, bacon wrapped dates, fries, and crab and corn empanadas. 

Whenever you go to a restaurant in Columbus, the calamari is usually deep fried, with some sort of dipping sauce (sometimes Asian flavored, Lindey's has a delicious remoulade).  However, Barrio's calamari might as well have been renamed "calamari soup;" in a broth, with mushrooms and some other vegetables, and calamari pieces.

It was alright.  I think Fancy Pants and I both agreed that the sauce could have been thicker. Or, it could have been billed as a soup so hopes of actual pieces of calamari you can grab with your hand and not worry about spilling on your shirt.

Fries: they might as well have been called crack.  Seriously.

Barrio's fries are in a delicious parmesan-spice-blend with this dipping  sauce that is drinkable.  I don't know how they ended up being so damn tasty but they are.  We seriously cleaned our vat of fries, and I even had to ask for extra sauce because I ran out.

Bacon wrapped dates: dates are the fruit of the gods, and well, bacon? How to qualify bacon? The versitile,  all meal mystery meat.  Here, the dates are wrapped in thick slabs of bacon, with a sweet sauce on the outside and filled with cabrales cheese.  I feel that they perhaps are the best thing on the menu next to the paella, but they may have been a little too sweet for Fancy Pants:

The empanadas are pretty good.  A fancy version of the hot pocket.  We ordered the crab and corn empanada, and it comes with a nice sized side of guacamole.  Perhaps the guacamole can double as an additional dipping sauce for the fries?

Also, on Wednesday nights (I think) Barrio does an 8 empanada for  $12 deal.

Now: the big bang deal.  The paella.

I think every nonenglishspeaking country has a form of a rice dish.  In India we have biriyani.  Paella is Spain's, and Barrio does it very well.  Barrio's paella is a mixed paella: calasparra rice, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, calamari, clams, piquillo peppers, beautifully colored by saffon.    There are even peas in the paella, which is a nice complement.  Even though we gulled like gluttons with the tapas plates, we cleaned the dish with the paella. And, it's also delish with the fries:

CONCLUSION:  Barrio has a lot of recession friendly deals out there.  2 for 1 tapas, 8 for $12 empanadas, and $2 tacos on Thursdays.  It is a place to try foods that you definitely don't get at mainstream restaurants, and it is a cool vibe and a great place to go with friends.

Also, stay tuned for a very special double blog experience with myself and Fancy Pants.  A blending of the world. Internets Glory!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Short North: Marcella's

Marcella's is an Italian restaurant in the Cameron Mitchell's family of restaurants.  If you've never been to a Cameron Mitchell's restaurant, you're really missing out, because it is truly a great dining experience every time.

There are two locations: one in the Short North, and another at the Polaris mall.  I particularly like the Short North location because:
1. it is within walking distance
2. it is prime for people watching as it is in the middle of the Short North

I've never had a bad meal at Marcella's.  The specialty is small plates: pizzas, pastas, cheese plates, and desserts.  Marcella's goal is for diners to share their meals, to not limit themselves to their entree.

Entrees are generally available; I would recommend one of the special pasta dishes, usually the risotto special is pretty good.  There is also an extensive selection of wine which can be ordered by glass, half liter, and full bottle.

Last week, Columbus had its first taste of spring, and it was a good night to go out to eat and for a stroll in the Short North.  I walked up to Marcella's and met some friends for dinner.

My favorite appetizer at Marcella's is the melted pecorino cheese.  Served piping hot in a cast iron dish, this cheesy bowl of deliciousness is served with nicely toasted pieces of bread, apples, and honey.  You also get a nice loaf of cold bread at the table with your meal,and I would recommend having this handy when you order the pecorino cheese appetizer, for the toast points really don't last for too long:

The apples and honey are a delicious complement and are definitely a palate cooler from the intense, bubbly, gooey goodness.

We then ordered the bruschetta.  This is the first time I've ordered the bruschetta at Marcella's.  Normally, when I go with friends, we get the cheese heaven, and many pizzas and perhaps a pasta. The bruschetta are made from the same bread as the table bread; a crusty ciabata that almost has like a sourdough taste.  On top of the bruschetta are tomato sauce, a nice scoop of ricotta/mozzarella cheese combo,a slice of salty and cold prosciutto, and a nice basil leaf on top to add a pretty color:

I wish that the cheese combo would have been warm or really cold, instead of lukewarm.  I guess I just prefer the typical tomato bruschetta.  The colors are great, but it needs to get a proper temperature, be cut into smaller pieces, or get new flavor combo.  Perhaps not tomato and prosciutto.  Or, just basil,tomato, and cheese (or is that too boring?).

I forgot to take pictures of the entrees.  I had the special risotto for the night, which was a Parmesan risotto topped with the house sweet sausage.   It was alright. I  think that the two together was a little much, and I probably should have just gone for the two separately, or just the risotto plain.
CONCLUSION:  If you're planning on a night at Marcella's in between 6-8pm, you definitely have to make a reservation.  And if you want to go on a Friday or Saturday, you best make the reservation way in advance. Oh, and the Red Sangria is amazing. and the shrimp and pesto pizza.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bexley: The Top Steakhouse

Today was the grand finale of Dine Originals week, and to celebrate, my friends and I decided to celebrate in style at The Top Steakhouse .

The Top is located on the edge of Bexley on Main Street.  It is totally a rat-pack feel; deep, sunken booths, a wrap around bar, and even a piano player belting out the hits while you shove your face.  Tonight, I decided to take the Dine Originals challenge, for $30:

Course 1:
-lobster bisque (i got this) or french onion soup

Course 2:
-Caesar salad (i got this) or the house salad

Course 3:
-2 5 ounce lobster tails (i got this), a pecan salmon, or a prime rib

Course 4:
-cheesecake (i got this), chocolate cake, or creme brule

On this chilly, end of winter, spring forward day, my friends Kellie (as seen before in the Molly Woo's review),  Joy and Bret decided to venture to the East Side to dig in to a Columbus staple.

Kellie and I both started with the Lobster Bisque:

The lobster bisque had a very-tomato base.  Almost too tomato-y.  Like, very reminiscent of Due Amici's tomato bisque, with lobster pieces in it.  My soup was also lukewarm, which was kind of a bummer as I feel that soup should be hot to really enjoy the flavors.  There was a nice cream flavor,but the tomato was really overpowering.  I will stick to Lindey's lobster bisque from now on.

Next, Kellie and I both got the Caesar salad:


This was your pretty typical Caesar salad.  Romaine lettuce, shaved Parmesan, croutons, and a Caesar sauce. There was nothing really exciting about it.  I love Caesar salads, but this was nothing to write home about (actually, if I told my mother i was eating out this much, she would not be very happy with me!).

Now, the main deal, big show.

I ordered the two 5 ounce lobster tails:

For the price I paid, this was a great deal.  The lobster was succulent, delicious, and melted in my mouth.  And my baked potato was perfect.  Bret explained to me how they prepare the baked potato: the potato receives a nice bath from extra virgin olive oil, is coated in sea salt, and is baked in the oven for almost an HOUR.  the skin on the potato was crispy and delicious, i was eating it plain instead of focusing on the actual meat of the potato. But wow, what a great main meal for the price.

Kellie had the surf and turf, with a filet and lobster tail:

Kellie also enjoyed her baked potato much,and said that her steak was cooked very well. However, she just told me that she received the wrong leftovers from our waiter (who may or may not have been obsessed with Joy), and that makes me deduct 10 points from the meal.

Bret also had the surf and turf identical to Kellie's except his steak was done medium well instead of medium rare.  And, instead of the baked potato, he had potatoes au gratin.  Bret also ordered a side of sauteed mushrooms, which were fantastic.  The mushrooms were in a brown sugar-soy-Worcester-some unidentifiable brown sauce which complemented them very nicely.

Both Kellie and Bret said that the onion rings on top of their steaks were delicious, too.

However, Joy switched it up from everyone and went for the crab legs.  Joy loves crab legs, and is pretty much the resident expert of my friends on seafood.

Joy ordered the pound of crab legs with mashed potatoes.  She was impressed because the crab legs were already broken for her to easily eat.  I mean, who wants to put in the work when you're trying to enjoy a dinner!  Joy was really impressed by the Frenching work that she made me take a picture of the succulent piece of meat that she normally would have to work hard for, but could easily enjoy:

I really think it is because our waiter may or may not have had a crush on Joy so paid extra attention to her our bill wasn't correctly divided and Kellie received the wrong leftovers.

All in all,everyone was pretty pleased with their entrees. I cleaned plate,as well as Joy and Bret, but unfortunately Kellie got stuck with someone else's prime rib, instead of half of a lobster tail and a filet.

Dessert: my Dine Originals dinner came with a dessert.  I chose a piece of cheesecake from Carnegie's Deli in New York City.

Carnegie's cheesecake is world famous.  The slice i had tonight was phenomenal.  It was firm, not runny, and I could get a great texture in every bite.  The cheesecake also has a nice tang, perhaps from the lemon juice the recipe calls for.

Bret ordered the Creme Brule.  I feel the best part of the a creme brule is breaking the sugary shell.  I can only imagine a pastry chef's excitement in using a blow torch on a surface of sugar, watching the sugar burn and caramalize to create the hard shell.  Bret was generous to let me crack the creme, and it was great. The surface was perfect.  The custard was was cold, and had a smooth, delicious vanilla texture. It was definitely one of the better creme brule's I've had in a while.  Also, the ramekin was a double serving, which is very rare!

CONCLUSION:  The Top is a Columbus staple, and packed every night for a reason: they know what they are doing, and they know how to serve a good meal.  Minus Kellie's leftover snafu, this was an excellent meal, and if you have $50 to blow, I would recommend taking the drive out to Bexley and having a great time.  Try to sit by the piano player so you can be obnoxious like Joy and I and sing along.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Short North: Press Grill

This week, many Columbus restaurants are participating in Dine Originals Week,  in which restaurants will feature a special fixed price menu for either $10.10, $20.10 or $30.10.  It is definitely a great way to try restaurants that you've never been to, or perhaps visit an old favorite that you haven't visited in a while.

So that's what I did tonight.  I enlisted the help of my friend Andy, aka Mick, aka Fergie, to venture to The Press Grill in the Short North.  Andy is one of my good friends from college, we worked on our first job together, and have shared many meals together.  One of my favorite memories from college and the 2006 campaign cycle would be having breakfast at the Olde Mohawk on Sundays with Andy, splitting the Sunday New York Times and devouring breakfast quesidillas.  Unfortunately, The Mohawk doesn't serve breakfast or brunch anymore; it was a real treat.

Anyway, tonight also happened to be the first real spring-like weather evening that Columbus has had (a much needed reprieve from the dismal winter), so it was a lovely evening to be in the Short North.  Press Grill is a local favorite; a very long bar with a few tables, a great view of High Street, and an open kitchen where you can watch your food being cooked.   Press offers many specials: 99 cent taco night, 40 cent wings on Tuesdays, Thanksgiving Dinner Night, and a steak meal on Sundays.  Tonight, however, we ventured for the Dine Originals Special.

Press's deal, for $10.10, gave a plethora of food to chose from:
1. choice of mixed green salad or wedge salad (Andy and I both went for the wedge).
2. choice of the Press Burger (Andy ordered the cow), the Chicken + Pesto Sandwich (that's what I ordered), or the mixed vegetables sandwich
3.  choice of mac n cheese (we  both ordered this), fries, or baked potato.

We ordered 5 wings each to start and this probably ruined the food consumption for the rest of the evening.  Press has some of the largest chicken wings out there and import the wing sauce directly from Buffalo--so when they say "Anchor Bar Wings," it's the real deal.  We were later informed that the sauce is pretty much butter and Frank's Red Hot, but fortunately we were being gluttonous that evening so it really didn't matter.

The wedge is pretty standard. A quarter sized wedge from a head of iceberg lettuce, house made bleu cheese (which is fantastic), bacon, egg, and some tomato and red onion.  I wish my lettuce wedge would have been a little more fresh--I think the salads were prepped earlier in the day, so they must have been sitting in the back, and mine was a little hard-tasted like raw cabbage-like.

Next, the big shabang.  Andy ordered the Press Burger.   It came with two patties, cheese,  lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and a fried egg on top.  He said it was similar to 185's Charles Burger, except it was on a bun and had more veggies.  I told Andy he should have ordered it plain with cheese, which is the style of our former boss (we'll just call it burger a la gray ghost for the sake of anonymity), since he removed all vegetable items (and fruit, if you call tomato a fruit) from the burger.

Anyway,  Andy worked his way through his burger and thought it lacked a certain crispiness that he enjoyed with Club 185's Charles Burger.   We got to talking for a long time and he let it sit for a while, so he enjoyed it more at room temperature.  Needless to say, Andy had a clean plate, so it was pretty tasty.   Beef lovers, what's not to love about two all beef patties with cheese? Haha!

I ordered the Chicken Pesto sandwich.  The sandwich comes on ciabata bread, with a slice of grilled chicken, bacon, cheese, grilled veggies, and homemade pesto.  The pesto was a little on the salty side.  I really do enjoy pesto, but the saltiness overpowered the natural salt from the bacon and from the grilled mushrooms.  The sandwich was pretty large, so I had half of it. Over all, it was pretty tasty.  Minus the salt on the pesto.

And now: the big deal of the main meal: the mac n cheese!!

Mac n cheese, i think, is a pretty much universal staple in American cuisine.  Rotini, elbow macaroni, shells, bowties, any shape, size, form, grain of pasta can be made into a creamy goodness of cheese, perhaps some vegetables and meat, and seasoning.

Press uses elbow macaroni tossed in a sauce made from several cheeses, then a delicious slice of American cheese melted on top.  The mac n cheese comes in sliced squares, so it is easy to dig into with your fork.  This block of cheesy goodness is tossed with pepper, and some other seasoning.  

I had to do a close up to have the full effect of the melted sliced cheese on top.  The bad thing about the mac n cheese is that it does not reheat well.  It is best to eat it at the bar, which, unfortunately was impossible because i inserted a vast quantity of food into my gullet.

CONCLUSION:  Press Grill is a great place to go with friends, on a date, or even by yourself for a bite to eat and a cool city vibe to check out.  I am definitely going to start taking advantage of the Tuesday night deal, for the "butter and red hot" sauce.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This is why Tai's Asian Bisto has the best Pad Thai


Tai's Asian Bistro is amazing.

All of this for under $7


Look how much Pad Thai that is!!!

Look how deep that container is!
I'm telling you, if you're craving pad thai, head over to Tai's.  It's well worth the trip over to West Lane Avenue.