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Sunday, 2 February 2014

Encore! Restaurant Week Round 2, and My Return to The Refectory

The Refectory Restaurant and Bistro on Urbanspoon

A few days ago, I posted a review of my first experience at Basil, as part of the January 2014 iteration of Columbus's Restaurant Week. 70 restaurants participated this time around, and with that many choices and delictable menus, there is in theory a limit to just how far our time, wallets, and stomachs can stretch. Cue then RW encores, whereby restaurants elect to carry on the same (or at least a similar) prix fixe menu for dinners to experience. Last Monday, Brianne asked if I'd be interested in spending $35 on a meal, and upon hearing those words I knew exactly what she was implying. I had practically drooled over the menu proposed by Orsi- and Bocuse-trained Chef Richard Blondin the first time around, and so I was more than ecstatic at the thought of not missing it altogether. With each passing day then, we approached my return visit (Brianne's first) to The Refectory Restaurant & Bistro (located at 1092 Bethel).


In preparation for this post, I took a look at my first Refectory review and the memory of that meal flooded back. That being said, I can't believe it's already been nearly two years since I first stepped foot in this wonderful place, the smells and stylings of France immediately reminiscent of my most recent visit to Paris and Lyon this past summer. Nothing looks as if it has changed since my last visit to this top-rated Zagat restaurant, consistency in ambiance, service, and overall gastronomic experience remaining as "gracious and unpretentious" as their website claims.


As soon as we were seated, Brianne and I were asked if we were celebrating anything (a bit forward, in my opinion, but at least they care). We couldn't really think of anything; though, in the end we settled on our 22nd day together (which in itself was a surprising revelation, seeing as how it feels like we've been dating for much longer). Shortly thereafter, we were presented with our menus by Casey, our enthusiastic and friendly server for the evening. Brianne started off with a drink called Bad Angel, whereas I got The Legacy, a bourbon-based cocktail that at least in theory should cut through the richness of my anticipated first course.


After much deliberation (again despite our familiarity), we were eventually able to vocalise our choices. Brianne's first course came in the form of a baby frisée salade, the curly endive (no, not the Belgian on-deev, but rather the N-dive) variety complemented by thin curls of crisp carrot. Dressed with a sweet corn vinaigrette, the salad was also accompanied by slices of flavourful venison sausage and roasted pumpkin seeds.


Of the seven options on the menu, my eyes quickly went to the lobster bisque velouté (cf. this classic Escoffier text, note 663 on pg 236 regarding lobster bisque and the note [N.B.] at the top of pg 239). While the seafood coulibiac and mushroom feuilleté [version] were equally tempting, I couldn't let go of what I envisioned to be a rich, creamy, and warming soup. Not only was I not disappointed, but as I told Brianne if I could, I would swim in an entire pool of it. The blue crab meat that punctuated each bite also offered an al dente-type texture that was pleasing and cleanly refreshing against the clarity of the smooth bowl of joy in front of me.


For our second course, we were offered eight options, each just as decadent-sounding as the next. Among our choices were a marinated and grilled Ohio pork tenderloin with fourme d'Ambert (one of my favourite bleu cheeses) and a pale ale mustard sauce, and pan seared poisson du jour meunière (which, if I remember correctly was either sea bass or flounder). Brianne settled on the roasted beef shoulder tenderloin, which had a beautifully seared exterior pressed earlier with pepper and cocoa, and a Szechuan peppercorn sauce which sat underneath.


I, on the other hand, went with the roasted spiced duck magret [version]. Despite the chef's recommendation for medium rare, I asked for mine to be cooked rare; in France, at least, I have always ordered my duck breast saignant and at the hands of Chef Richard and his crew, I had no issues trusting their abilities. With a great sear on the outside, and a tender and pink interior, I think I can say that was perhaps the best preparation of duck I have ever tasted. Completing this dish was a serving of Minnesota wild rice (which I found to be a tad too toothy for my liking), crisped tastes of duck bacon, and an absolutely wonderful cassis bordelaise (cf. Escoffier's text again, note 32 on pg 24) which worked deliciously well with each bite.


Finally, for dessert, three options were available (as is the case with the other courses, an extra option was also available, for an additional price). Neither of us went for the nonetheless tempting classic tiramisu with caramel sauce. Instead, Brianne went with a vanilla crème brûlée, which I found to be perfectly brûléed. The creamy base was utterly decadent, its relative smoothness a counterpoint to the crisp citrus sable that accompanied it.


Rather than the chocolate bombe which was unfortunately no longer offered during this second go-around, I went with the chocolate bread pudding. Light-handed in terms of any sense of cocoa (arguably my only issue with the entire meal, other than the fact that I finished my soup too quickly), I enjoyed its perceived warmth when contrasted to the caramel drizzle and vanilla bean ice cream.


To conclude our meal, Casey offered us a wonderful dessert wine, in the form of the Andrew Quady red electra Moscato (2012). A perfect level of sweetness and depth of flavour (which truth be told I was anticipated from dessert), I have every intention on purchasing bottles upon bottles of this in the future (did I mention I live about less than five minutes from The Refectory?).


With sincere thanks to Chef Richard, Casey, and the cook and wait staff of The Refectory for another enjoyable dining experience, I sign off, once again filled, fulfilled, and looking forward to my next foray into the world of food. For these and additional photos from our experience at The Refectory, click here.

Have you been to The Refectory? If so, what's your favourite dish and/or drink? Do you have any suggestions for other French/French-inspired restaurants I should try out? Comment below!

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