When the Hilton Columbus Downtown opened in 2012, its restaurant was billed as French-inspired. You know: onion soup, mussels and steak au poivre. Since then, Gallerie has expanded beyond the confines of “French bistro,” instead offering an imaginative, Ohio-inspired motif from the minds of executive chef Bill Glover and chef de cuisine Josh Kayser. Boasting a stylish space with eye-popping white banquets and soaring ceilings, Gallerie is one of the city's biggest supporters of Ohio products and purveyors—quality Anderson Farms pork, RL Valley Ranch beef and Watershed spirits are menu mainstays. Seafood is also a highlight; the Fish Ribs and Rare Tuna dishes remain standouts. And creativity is evident throughout. Instead of a typical hotel appetizer, you get a spectacular foie gras torchon with scallops, pineapple marmalade and macadamia nut shortbread. Creative flourishes don't always pan out—a deconstruction of shrimp and grits didn't translate—but rather than playing it safe, Gallerie takes risks and honors quality ingredients. The local dining scene is better for it.***
Difference-Maker: Dessert as Art
Forget crème brûlée and massive hunks of chocolate cake. Gallerie's creative streak is never more obvious than on the restaurant's dessert menu, where the work of pastry chef Aaron Clouse made an impression this year. Clouse, who hails from Tiffin, Ohio, joined the team in March, bringing a degree from The French Pastry School in Chicago and pastry experience from The Refectory, L Brands and his own cake business. As Hilton employees, he and pastry cook Ashley Owens manage the dessert program for the hotel's events, banquets, restaurant and in-room dining. The 24-year-old's approach as a pastry chef is perfectly suited to a hotel filled with art. “I used to be a music major and have done abstract paintings and a lot of art, so for me it's very colorful, very artistic,” he says, describing his style. In one of Gallerie's biggest sellers, Vanilla & Honey, Clouse uses a glass to create a terrarium filled with a vanilla bean crème, orange marmalade, roasted almond soil and a white chocolate honeycomb “beehive.” He dreamed it up after learning that Hilton Columbus Downtown has its own honeybee colony. “During the season, we harvest the honey from the roof and then we can actually use it in the restaurant. So it's natural, organic and local. I think it's the extreme of local,” he says. To create chocolate branches for the dessert, he pipes the chocolate under water (a pastry school no-no), causing it to immediately seize up. The result is a knotty branch from which he hangs a marshmallow beehive sprinkled with sesame seeds to mimic bees (he's allergic to their stings, by the way). It's a whimsical and memorable dessert—share at your own risk.
In Limbo: We're withholding one of this magazine's perennial favorites from this year's 10 Best list. Kihachi Japanese Restaurant remains one of a kind, the most authentic example of Japanese cuisine offered in Columbus. Chef Ryuji “Mike” Kimura, a master of precision and a role model of dogged hard work, is headed toward retirement. With the restaurant up for sale, we decided to give others a chance. But, by all means, go experience an omakase dinner curated by chef Mike while you still can.