7. The Refectory

Story by Shelley Mann + Photos by Jodi Miller

Alpaca and antelope. Sweetbreads lasagna and seafood strudel.

Stuffy French stereotypes be damned, I had one of the most exciting meals of my life at the Refectory.

Sitting on the more relaxed bistro side of the restaurant helped. My pal and I might have been the youngest people dining that night, but we were far from the most boisterous.

The Refectory has all the upscale touches you expect from what Columbus' finest dining experience--white tablecloths, fine china, tuxedoed waiters brushing away bread crumbs, water glasses never less than 80 percent full and, of course, flawlessly executed dishes.

Richard Blondin is the Lyon-born, Paul Bocuse-trained chef behind the delectable food, while Kamal Boulos, the owner, is responsible for establishing Refectory as the city's special occasion destination. The setting certainly can't be beat. Housed in a converted church, Refectory has exposed brick walls, neat stained-glass windows and steep beamed ceilings.

Sitting on the bistro side doesn't mean you have to order from the prix-fixe bistro menu. That three-course dinner is a great deal, but if you want to splurge, look to the regular menu served in all the dining rooms.

We started with several small plates--the much-talked-about Alpaca Terrine, a bacon-wrapped pate incorporating pistachios, black olives and cranberries; a delightful Seafood Strudel made with big chunks of fresh shellfish; and the Sweetbread Lasagna, intensely flavored organ-meat nuggets nestled between thin layers of pasta.

My main was Texas Antelope medallions, brined in bourbon, encrusted with sage and bacon, then roasted until fork-tender. They were accompanied by some roasted asparagus spears, a dollop of mashed potatoes and honey-kissed jus.

And dessert was the jaw-droppingly stunning Pear Tart Frangipane, a sunburst of thinly sliced pears ringed in rays of vanilla-almond frangipane and raspberry sauce and topped with a small scoop of pistachio ice cream.

Every single bite that night was divine.

The Refectory Restaurant & Bistro 1092 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side 614-451-9774 therefectoryrestaurant.com Hours: 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday

The Crave 10 1. Rigsby's 2. G. Michael's 3. Kihachi 4. Dragonfly 5. Basi Italia 6. Sage 7. Refectory 8. M 9. Alana's 10. Worthington Inn