Our annual look at the essential restaurants illuminating the city's dining scene

Shimmering like a luxurious thread securely woven into the fabric of the local restaurant scene, the Refectory has epitomized French-style fine dining in Columbus for more than four decades. In fact, it's nearly impossible to imagine this city devoid of the Refectory.

Sometimes, though, it's nice to imagine that more ambitious young Columbus chefs and servers will apprentice at the Refectory at some point in their careers, because in an age when goosed-up junk food and casual counter service are all the rage, it would be great to see more people schooled in the haute-cuisine rarities the Refectory offers. Here, classically trained kitchen professionals transform high-quality ingredients into art on plates, and expert servers are adept at making an evening feel special while they guide guests through the restaurant's French dishes and enormous, award-winning wine list.

The stately space sets the mood for big-night-out dinners: a former church built in the mid-1800s with soaring ceilings, stained-glass windows, brick walls and rustically handsome woodwork. The Refectory is also one of the least noisy eateries in town—talk about rare.

But that doesn't mean it's stodgy—unless your definition of stodgy is a farm-to-table operation led by a celebrated chef, Richard Blondin, that offers artisanal cheese plates with house-made charcuterie and craft cocktails shaken with local liquors, or terrines created from alpaca, duck stuffed with chocolatey house-made blood sausage, and a stunning pear tart that looks like an exploding star. Formal it is, but boring it is not.

Other perks: an in-house wine shop, plus inexpensive, instructional wine-tasting events accompanied by free nibbles; libation-themed dinners; a “dinner music series” that pairs food with (often) jazz bands; and great-deal bistro meals—$30 for three courses—served in the less-formal lounge.

Did you know?

Executive chef Richard Blondin apprenticed with Paul Bocuse, the French culinary titan who died in 2018 and for whom the Bocuse d'Or—the Olympics of cooking—is named.