The Refectory is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, an amazing milestone for a local, independent restaurant. This is especially impressive considering that, throughout those four decades, The Refectory has maintained its reputation as the place in Columbus for French-inspired fine dining, an award-winning wine list and highly professional servers who-praise Escoffier-will never utter the words, "How is everything tasting?"

Although The Refectory's fame as the ultimate dinner-date destination in a sedate bastion of pricey, haute cuisine served in a formal dining room is well-deserved, the restaurant is more versatile than that. Sporting rustically elegant woodwork, soaring ceilings, brick walls and stained glass windows, this 19th century former church and schoolhouse also features a relaxed, handsome lounge where the three-course, $25 "bistro" meals are among the area's best deals.

Modern cocktails such as the playful Fresh-Mowed Lyon (think spiked artisanal Sprite) are receiving more attention lately. Plus, as longtime owner Kamal Boulos noted, the august establishment has become a sought-after music venue, routinely hosting special meal-slash-concert events.

But The Refectory owes its longevity to chef Richard Blondin's artfully plated dishes created through a hard-won proficiency in classical French techniques. This is the place for seafood coulibiac (springy fish terrine en croute) with a rich, saffron-wine sauce; an eye-and-palate-popping roasted goat cheese and beets appetizer; mushroom duxelles partnered with expertly seared duck magret stuffed with almost-chocolatey boudin noir. And don't forget dessert superstars such as perfect creme brulee and the spectacular warm pear tart with frangipane, homemade ice cream and a fruity-bright trio of coulis.