Saturday, 12 January 2013
Just Another Saturday in Columbus
Ever since my first movie going experience in France four years ago, I was convinced American theatres weren't as serious about the experience as their European counterparts. Well, earlier today, the Gateway Film Center, located on High Street within the University District, proved me wrong. The theatre room, in which I saw the limited release of Chris Colfer's screenwriting debut Struck by Lightning,contained a modest 22 chairs (all sold out by the way) arranged in three rows and a large movie screen. The anonymity one could have in solo movie watching was close to impossible--not that I was intentionally aiming to be incognito today--as the door into the theatre faced the audience, as if to be a welcoming experience into the cinematic cluster that will be spending the next hour and a half or so with a host of characters on the screen. In some manner of speaking, such was this familial movie going experience that in retrospect it would seem that many gatherings include some form of group dynamic and a shared activity of some kind. Of course, here I will always tout food as that shared activity, an activity to which I leave an empty chair for the next dinner guest to walk through the doorway. For this post, though, I'm the self-invited diner as it was. And the familiar spaces I walked into after the film were both located further down on High Street in one of my favourite areas of Columbus, the Short North.
First up was my Short North staple, Da Levee. Perhaps it was the time of day or the weather or just the increased word of mouth, but I don't recall Da Levee ever being as busy as what I experienced. And by busy, I mean with a steady stream of customers and diners at nearly every table. When I got to the register, I asked Justin if there was anything new on the menu that's especially worth trying. I took to his recommendation then of the chorizo and chicken étouffée; for the other half of my half-and-half combo, I went with the sausage gumbo (because you need protein in as many ways possible, eh?). I also noticed on the menu (perhaps this is a new thing? or I wasn't as hungry as I usually am to recognise changes to the menu) there are now options for ordering food in larger quantities. Seriously? A quart of chili cheese étoufée sounded pretty good.. okay, maybe I was as hungry as I usually am.
As I waited for my food, I noticed two things (technically, three) as I listened to the Motown playing in the background. First were a pair of portraits that I hadn't seen before. I'm not sure what the story is with them but I suppose there's another reason to head back over to Da Levee. The second was an analogy that just seemed to work: Justin and Da Levee are to Cajun/Créole cuisine in Columbus as Chuck Hughes is to Québécois cuisine in Canada. Maybe it's a stretch? I think it works.
Anyway, back to the food. I started out with Justin's recommendation and as expected it was quite tasty, with just enough heat from the chorizo for my palate. The rice was cooked perfectly and offered a great texture against the shredded chicken. While the rice was a reminder of how good rice could taste, the sausage gumbo immediately reminded me of home and Filipino cooking which I was not expecting one bit. For quite some time I kept tasting mongo beans (alt., monggo, mung bean; 1, 2) and for a brief moment thought of lentils, before realising I was tasting okra and sausage. What this says about my taste buds, I have no idea, but I'll have to say that while good, and great for this weather, my personal aversion to the flavour profile of mongo beans may (very unfortunately) keep me away from this one. (Then again, I might very well enjoy this if I give this another chance.)
But the star of the plate, as is typically the case when I eat at Da Levee, is the Magic Bread. I'm sure it's something really simple but for now I'm not going to worry about recreating the deliciousness that is that bread. It's so light with a toasted, crisp exterior; the herbs and flavours fill your mouth with an insatiable happiness that you may stop and think: why have I never had this before? Okay, before I get too dramatic, the point is it really is worth it, and it's awesome that you get two pieces with each order. And of course, it acts as a great vehicle for your food.
From the heat to the cold, I made my way down to Le Chocoholique. The last time (i.e., the only other time) I was there, I had seen a photo of their frozen hot chocolate. This was to be a great dessert to cap off a wonderful lunch time Short North visit. Of course, though, my sweet tooth was acting up again and the foodie in me wouldn't let me get away with not trying a few more of their flavours. Having only previously tried four chocolates, I know I have my work (and bank account) cut out for me. To add to that collection, and inspired by the green pants I happened to be wearing, I zeroed in on three (quickly passing over the temptation of buying chocolate covered bacon in the process).
Advised between the Dark Mint Medallion and the Mint Julep, I went with the former. Within the first two bites (it was a struggle), I could taste a strong fresh mint infusion in the smooth dark chocolate ganache that was encapsulated by the crisp exterior. The flavour carries throughout the entirety of the bite, leaving behind a refreshing, unartificial after taste.
Pretty much for style points alone (random: the lime green against the dark chocolate is one of my favourite colour combos), next on my list was the Key Lime Dream. The filling had a slightly tart taste to it that I enjoyed, but texturally it took me a while to understand the granular quality it had. Intentional or not, I associated this with a pie crust, as if in this one piece of chocolate I was eating a full out slice of key lime pie.
What was also particularly delectable about this part of the dégustation was the moment of my third bite when I recognised what I love about chocolates such as this. It's that satisfactory bite as you crack into the chocolate's exterior, the process of which gives way to an unknown interior. There's an uncertainty of what to expect. Is it a solid bite? or do I need a napkin ready? Will I be greeted by a gelée? a cream? a custard? a liquer? If taken seriously, I would argue this conflict of the curiosity of seeing the interior versus eating this all in one go adds to the tasting experience as a moment in time where eating and enjoyment is not rushed and a conversation with the senses is encouraged.
And after that revelation, I ended with one of the more intriguing choices, the Lucid Absinthe Truffle. For those unfamiliar with absinthe, I'll share that absinthe was once banned here in the States and only within the past five years or so has a "barely legal" version been created. Known as Lucid, I emphasise this version comes from New Orleans (an ironic full circle to this dining experience, no?). In any case, this strangely paired well with the ice hot chocolate (which is wonderful, and strangely tastes like graham crackers were blended into it), in such a way as to affirm that chocolate and alcohol can and should mix (when done carefully as exemplified here). There is certainly an absinthe bite with this one; as expected, the alcoholic content dissipates rather quickly, leaving behind a smooth chocolate finish. Speaking of finishing, I'll end here and note that in the evening, I joined many of my colleagues at Denison's annual Support Operating Staff recognition dinner. To see those, and all the other photos I took today, click here.