The Hilton chain has gifted one of our city's most talented chefs, Bill Glover, with a spacious, fully loaded kitchen and a lot of culinary freedom at Gallerie, the restaurant inside its splashy new Downtown Columbus hotel. Glover seemingly came out of nowhere to wow Columbus with Sage, an intensely personal north-of-Campus restaurant.

From the March 2013 issue of Columbus Monthly

Ho-hum hotel dining is so expected, it feels rare and special to find a hotelier that entrusts a chef to create a notable restaurant-sometimes at the risk of allowing the restaurant to outshine the hotel itself.

Hilton hotels seem to have a knack for this. In Cincinnati, Todd Kelly's Orchids at Palm Court is regularly named one of the city's top spots; celebrity chef John Besh heads up Luke, a well-regarded brasserie inside Hilton's New Orleans business district hotel. Gallerie, the restaurant inside the chain's splashy new Downtown Columbus hotel, with a plum location adjacent to the Short North and the Arena District, is on track to do the same.

As with those other hotel restaurant standouts, much of Gallerie's appeal lies in its chef, Bill Glover, whose face you may recognize from Sage American Bistro, where he still pulls double duty as executive chef.

Glover seemingly came out of nowhere to wow Columbus with Sage, an intensely personal north-of-Campus restaurant named after his daughter. His imaginative approach to food is refreshing in the sometimes stuffy realm of fine dining, and is a nod to his self-taught background-Glover skipped cooking school to soak up inspiration through travels, and honed his technique at country club gigs.

The heavily tattooed, chatty chef knows how to cook, and also how to have fun-this is the guy who once pulled off a seven-course "monochromatic" wine dinner in which each course stuck to a single color.

With Gallerie, Glover and his team, including Michael Mejia, former general manager at Martini, have established a restaurant that's just as appealing for out-of-towners hankering for an impressive Ohio-style meal as it is for locals looking for a fancy night on the town.

The restaurant makes its unconventional location an asset, essentially borrowing the hotel's atrium for its 12-story dining room. A few half-walls carve the dining room into separate sections, and give brightly lit white leather booths the illusion of privacy-despite the fact that windows in every room provide guests a peek at the diners below. In that way, Gallerie is the near opposite of Sage, a cozy, low-lit, brick-walled space.

But at its heart, this new restaurant feels just like Glover's original spot-the menu reflects his preference for seasonal, locally sourced bistro fare, right down to the blackberry scallops that put him on the Columbus dining map.

That dish ($28) is just as quirkily irresistible as it was back in 2008, when Glover first started serving it at Sage. Four giant seared sea scallops are adorned with dollops of the chef's signature sauce, a sweet-with-a-bite blackberry ketchup. The scallops soak up an intriguingly salty Meyer lemon beurre blanc, making a seafood dish so decadent, it feels almost like dessert. Crispy-edged polenta planks add some pleasing geometry and crunch to the plate, though wilted bok choy makes an anemic vegetable counterpoint.

Another carryover dish from Sage, the Flintstones-esque Bone Marrow starter ($14) feels even more visceral at Gallerie. Two thick beef bones weren't even fully stripped of cartilage before being split lengthwise and heaped onto the plate. Nestled inside each open-faced bone is roasted marrow, a silky, buttery delicacy meant to be spooned onto grilled bread, topped with a bit of bacon-braised red onions and arugula salad, and eaten. Each bite is pure primal bliss.

I raved about the Duck Duet ($24) for weeks after first digging my fork into its crackly lacquered skin. That skin hides succulent confit leg and thigh meat, paired with a quick-seared breast that's nearly as juicy. On top, a glistening red cabbage marmalade adds a kiss of something sweet.

Other favorite entrees: a hearty braised rabbit stew ($29) served over thick ribbons of pappardelle and a nicely braised veal shank ($29) that gets some crunch from a flurry of shaved raw Brussels sprouts.

Gallerie Mussels were a bit of a letdown. The beloved bistro snack has no connection to Ohio, and maybe that's the problem. For $18, you get one-and-a-half pounds of Prince Edward Island mussels served in a heavy cast-iron skillet. Six traditional preparations are offered; we chose Basquaise, steamed with white wine, bell peppers, shallots, tomatoes and herbs. Still, the dish lacked punch; roasting those veggies first could've gone a long way in deepening the flavor.

A charcuterie board ($30 for a crowd, or a smaller $15 plate suitable for two) is a better starter-the beautiful composed platter of cured meats and cheeses with seasonal accompaniments resembles a work of art, especially appropriate at this hotel, where artwork from local artists adorns nearly every wall.

In short: Hilton has gifted one of our city's most talented chefs, Bill Glover, with a spacious, fully loaded kitchen and a lot of culinary freedom.

Rating: 4 stars

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