Thursday, 9 May 2013

CCCE "Farewell" Dinner at Gallerie Bar & Bistro

Gallerie Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

I learned way back in November that a new restaurant had entered downtown Columbus and had brought with it "French dining." And despite it automatically being placed toward (if not at) the top of my must-try list, it wasn't until earlier this week that I finally made my way over there. After being prompted by my CCCE family (here, I'm specifically referring to Beth, Erik and Marilyn) to select a restaurant for my farewell dinner, I spent quite some time going back and forth between simply wonderful and consistently rated restaurants throughout Columbus. I found myself, however, returning to Gallerie Bar & Bistro. Perhaps my Provençal-theme cooking demo last Friday with Marlaine or the fact that I'll be returning to France this summer (for the fifth time) to co-lead a program focusing on language and cooking or maybe my deep-rooted attachment to French gastronomy had something to do with that. Whatever the influence(s) may have been, the point is that we found our way to the Arena District, up the spiral staircase pictured above and were seated in a more or less secluded section of the restaurant, within its smart, modern and sophisticated aesthetic which fused so well with the rest of the concurrently built Hilton Columbus Downtown hotel.

Beth and I, along with Mark and Molly, were the first to arrive, joined shortly thereafter by Erik and Marilyn who were already in Columbus for a conference earlier in the day. To kick things off, we ordered drinks, as well as a cheese board and charcuterie (meat) plate to send around the table. Molly and I began with a 2011 "Dr. L." Riesling from the Dr. Loosen estate located in Mosel, Germany. It was incredibly crisp and light, and a perfect complement to our pre-dinner fare.

As we awaited the starters, our server--Angi--brought a freshly sliced baguette, one which immediately stood out on all sensory accounts. The bread, served alongside a whipped and creamy unsalted butter, had been well toasted, as evidenced by its dark, crisp exterior. Each piece crackled ever so slightly, giving way to the soft interior. As I tasted it, I picked up on an almost buttery popcorn kind of taste, a complexity which added to its smell and reminded me of the nuances and flavour profile of beurre noisette. To the limited extent that I know bread, I wonder if David Lebovitz (1,2) and world expert on French bread Steven Kaplan would also take an equal liking to the quality of what's being served at Gallerie Bar & Bistro.

And if the bread is good, I take it as a great sign of the meal ahead. What a meal indeed! Supporting, and thus supported by, their local sources, artisinal producers and sustainable partners, quality indeed was something I tasted throughout the evening. To this point: we were presented with our cheese board, which featured a textured yet smooth Blue Jacket Dairy chèvre, a wonderfully nutty and flavourful Ludlow (also from Blue Jacket) and a full-bodied, creamy brie.

Where there's cheese, there tends to also be meat (or at least there should be). Here, the four cured meats (Italian, not French in this case) included on the board were salami, prosciutto, mortadella and capicola, all of which offered different textures and consistencies. To accompany this lot and balance out the flavours, a spicy French-style mustard, pickled onions, cornichons and cabbage (I think), and crostini were also provided as part of the tasting.

As we finished up our table's starters, Michelle arrived to complete our dinner party and joined us in ordering our appetizers and entrées. Among the many things I appreciate about Gallerie Bar & Bistro is its emphasis on regional gastronomies, as prominently exemplified by its preparation of mussels, an order of which we got for the table. At the table, our server opened the lid to the pan in which our mussels had been cooked à la Normande, the ingredients of which I felt well represented Normandy: cream, mushrooms, bacon and Calvados brandy. And while one might argue a mussel is a mussel, it's this sauce (in which I enjoyed by the shell full if not as a perfect pairing with the bread) that makes a world of difference, rich without being oily, flavour packed well developed in the broth. It should be noted that a traditional, simpler preparation is à la Marinière (white wine, shallots, garlic, parsley and butter), which is another option offered by the Gallerie.

Known in Belgium as moules frites, the French standard is moules et frites, i.e., a classic pairing of mussels and fries. At Gallerie Bar & Bistro, the fries in themselves are especially noteworthy given the fact they're seasoned with an 18-spice blend.

As the mussels and fries were being shared among those at the table, I'll note here that Molly also ordered the mixed greens salad (which she photobombed). Moreover, I went ahead and ordered the scallop & foie gras dish. Set before me was a single, large, meaty scallop, topped with a perfectly cooked, tender, delicate slice of foie gras.

Atop this perfect, savoury and sweet protein pairing was a delicious red pepper marmalade which added an amazing texture against the smooth and creamy richness of, as well as a great colour contrast for, the surf and turf bites. The sherry aioli and balsamic reduction which also adorned the plate added to the luxuriousness and aesthetic impact of the overall dish.

By this point, I thought it would be tough to top (or at least sustain) the wonderful development of flavour that had already been presented. But, oh.my.yum, did the food continue to impress. After going back and forth on the few yet equally tempting dishes, I went with the one I can never seem to pass up whenever I see it: pork belly. (Nothing's wrong with a little continuity, too, from the lardon-size pieces in the Normande sauce to a thick slab of oink.. not too big of a jump, eh?)

In addition to the great composition on the plate, the fat of the substantial piece of pork belly was well rendered out, creating an incredibly thick layer of crisped pork fat, under which was a toothy layer of pork. And underneath that was a layer of particularly melt-in-your mouth flavour and texture that I usually associate with this dish. The pork belly, accompanied by even more of the candied-like red pepper marmalade, sat atop a bed of tender asparagus, a sherry-chive jus, ginger-soy aioli, and creamy parsnip purée.

Beginning with the upper left, Erik, Michelle and Molly all got the pretzel-crusted salmon. Between the pretzel coating and the salmon itself was a layer of whole-grain mustard. And served with this were braised baby bok choy and a Yukon gold hash. [Note: the Yukon gold hash is cooked in pork fat.] Continuing clockwise, Beth ordered a medium rare, seared filet mignon, which was served with a blue cheese cream, bacon-braised red onions, and microgreens and herb salad, and a side of the house made fries described above. Just when I thought my appetizer scallop was large and filling enough, it turned out that Marilyn's plate contained four of them, each of which were topped with blackberry ketchup and sat on a meyer lemon beurre blanc. Crispy polenta and braised bok choy completed this one. As for Mark, he also received an order of the house made fries to go with his seared ribeye steak au poivre that came with red wine braised shallots, a cress salad, and a cognac veal jus to tie it all together.

To accompany this round, I went with a glass of the 2009 Chateâu Sainte-Marie Bordeaux, which had a clear, even finish to it that rounded out the flavours of the pork. [Described on the English version of the website here, this red from proprietors Gilles and Stephane Dupuch is a blend of two-thirds Merlot and one-third Cabernet Sauvignon with a tiny dollop of Petit Verdot.] Also ordered were Beth's (on the left) 2011 "Les Oliviers" Pinot Noir from Tortoise Creek in the Langudoc market town of Limoux and Mark's (behind my glass which is at the foreground) 2010 Belleruche Rouge which had coincidentally tried on Friday.

Especially for new restaurants (okay, anywhere really), I aim to keep pace and make room to try out a dessert (or two) and this meal was no exception. We ordered two desserts to pass around the table, the first of which was the chocolate torte. With a rather firm shortbread-type bottom crust, this tiramisu-looking slice was layered with a rich chocolate ganache and an airy white chocolate mousse. A quenelle of coconut ice cream was equally airy (offering a nice parallel to the dish) and paired nicely with the lightly salted crunches of pistachio. While I did like both sides on their own, for me it was the salty caramel that was the star of this dessert and brought all of the components together.

For our second dessert, we ordered Angi's favourite, the lemon poppyseed cheesecake, served with preserved lemon and a blueberry compote. Unlike more typically borderline dense cheesecakes, this one was extremely airy and made it difficult to feel any regret for any caloric intake. It's counter-texture came from the ginger snap crust which paired beautifully with the refreshing flavours from each component on the plate.

It's amazing just how small the world feels sometimes. As we finished up dessert, an "everything's connected" moment was sparked when I heard over the sound system my favourite musical artist (whom I've met twice since moving to central Ohio) singing my favourite song. And, not only were we celebrating a transition from Granville to Columbus (à la French food and culture), but we happened to be doing so in a building connected to Denison via art. Indeed, I find that in these "closing" weeks at Denison, I'm far from bidding any true farewells, and am instead continuing to be thankful for and taking in the continued support and care of all those around me. To check out Gallerie Bar & Bistro's menu and/or to make a reservation, click here. For the above photos, and the rest that comprise this truly memorable meal, click here.

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