Now in finer digs, the chef-driven restaurant continues to wow with precision and modernist cuisine.
Dining at Veritas, Latin for truth, is about the experience. It's about dishes that bring back memories, about flavor combinations that wouldn't make sense at the hands of another chef, about the juxtaposition of sophistication and playfulness. Executive chef/owner Josh Dalton relies not only on seasonal produce, but creativity, scientific techniques and kitchen equipment fit for a gearhead.
Veritas first opened six years ago in historic downtown Delaware and immediately turned heads. Its move last winter to a larger space in the Citizens Building at Gay and High streets in Downtown Columbus marks a big development for both Dalton and the city's dining scene. From its midcentury modern furniture to menus that resemble wedding invitations, the attention to detail at Veritas goes far beyond the glass-walled kitchen. Each dish and piece of glassware are thoughtfully selected. Despite these nuanced touches, there's no disguising the basement restaurant's origins as a former dentist's office, complete with low ceilings, exit signs and fluorescent bulbs peeking from behind soffits.
The service at Veritas remains obsessively attentive and team-based, with servers watching over one another's tables with care. The wait staff recites stanzas about each ingredient in Veritas' intricate courses as well as the flavor profiles of the wines and cocktails that accompany them—displaying an impressive every-server-as-sommelier mentality. Above all, the servers here are masters of timing. Courses are served two seconds before you realize you're ready for the next. No dirty plate sits on a table. No dish is served without the correct utensils. When the restaurant is not full—typically late evenings and lunchtime—the service may seem a bit overly attentive. As problems go, this is a good one to have.
Lunch is a new venture for Veritas, and it's clear the kitchen is still feeling its way around the midday meal. The menu features small plates and a series of five shared hummus dishes. While it's exciting to see more Middle Eastern-inspired fare in town, it's tough to imagine a business lunch where your colleagues take turns tearing off pieces of the focaccia-pita (fantastic) and dipping them into shared plates of rich, roasted-carrot harissa hummus ($11). More successful is the wonderful mushroom toast ($11)—an interesting selection of mushrooms, ricotta and edible flowers that rest on perfectly charred bread.
Veritas continues to demonstrate its cocktail expertise Downtown with two full bars: one in the bottom-level restaurant plus one upstairs (named The Citizens Trust). For those who want a taste of the tropics, the Short Leave ($13) is a refreshing start, with mango juice, rum, a touch of chile de árbol and jerk salt to finish. Also praiseworthy is the restaurant's increased emphasis on wine and Champagne, overseen by the restaurant's sommelier, Gregory Stokes.
Navigating the dinner menu presents two distinct directions and one big question: whether or not to order the chef's tasting menu. The à la carte offering provides reasonably priced starters and mains, presenting some of Dalton's more show-offy moments. But the eight-course $80-to-$90 tasting menu (with wine-pairing flights that start at $50) turns a meal into a one-of-a-kind event in this city. In both options, the kitchen is capable of transforming a meal into a cerebral experience that hearkens back to childhood, paying homage to things like cottage cheese, cereal and Kool-Aid.
The Shishitos + Parmesan + Everything ($8) appetizer on the à la carte menu is a prime example. A miso cream cheese transforms a pile of shishito peppers into its own version of nachos, dusted with a light snow of finely shredded Parmesan and everything bagel topping. The mental gymnastics of combining nachos, an Asian pepper and a bagel makes the dish delightful.
Dalton takes joy in teasing customers with food preparations and presentations. In the Scallop + Kimchi + Crispy Rice ($16) dish, for example, Arborio rice is flattened and fried, resembling chicharrón in texture. Visually, it mimics neither chicharrón nor rice, as a touch of charcoal makes it as black as the plate on which it is served. Two perfectly cooked scallops with microgreens and kimchi complete the ensemble.
Gnocchi + Deep Sea Crab + Spinach + Truffles ($18) takes a mainstream ingredient combination—heavy cream, spinach and truffles—to a new level. A few pieces of tender and fluffy gnocchi—cake flour is the secret ingredient—swim in a slightly salty bed of cream with spinach commingled with rich bites of truffle.
Caramelized puffed farro steals the show in the Shoulder Filet + Farro + Curry ($18) main. Ample slices of sous vide beef shoulder join a warm carrot purée, pickled red onions and a poured-at-the-table Thai coconut curry sauce. The farro dots the rim of the bowl, and when they join the sauce they resemble breakfast cereal in transition, with some grains soggy and some crunchy.
The whimsy continues on the dessert menu. Banana + Brown Butter + Rum ($7) takes warm and crispy bread pudding and pairs it with cold ice cream and a banana-caramel-rum purée. Within seconds the dish transforms into a cereal-milk situation that tastes like banana-laden Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The thoughtfulness that goes into the preparation of the dishes extends to the cadence and order of the courses of the tasting menu, which varies each night.
My experience started with an amuse-bouche of a tiny breakfast radish topped with elderflower and served with a dashi-infused butter squiggle, presenting a two-to-one butter-to-radish ratio, which is mathematically correct.
The second course was Cottage Cheese + Tomato + Balsamic, which amounted to a deconstructed caprese salad, complete with basil microgreens. The cottage cheese, freshly made over a high-end induction cooker, combined with tomatoes macerated in a 3-year-old balsamic vinegar, is the definition of summer joy.
Every ingredient of the pork belly steam bun that followed—an old Veritas favorite—was scratch-made in the kitchen, from bun to hoisin to the bread-and-butter pickle. That said, it felt a bit out of place on the tasting menu. The next course—a halibut with asparagus in a pesto bath—resembled a garden on the plate thanks to a delightful mélange of fresh pea shoots. While the dish was beautiful, the halibut was blandly flavored and unmemorable overall.
Timing is everything, and the following course—duck confit over a pile of handmade angel hair pasta topped with shredded truffles—was the perfect dish to fill up the belly just as the effects of the alcohol pairings (four wines and a sake) were starting to kick in.
The final savory course was an artfully plated sous vide lamb with a Kalamata sauce, labneh, a dusting of dehydrated herbs and a pile of freekeh, a wheat grain. Strong in umami, this dish provided plenty of lamb.
The dessert course, a panna cotta with blueberries and biscotto crumbles, resembled a summer crisp but was uninteresting compared to the final dish, simply named Fruit Punch. This playful trick of Dalton's was a white-chocolate-encased sphere of bright fruit punch—a soup dumpling of the dessert world. Like a grand finale of fireworks, it closed an ideal evening. And like fireworks, the delicate orb brought on a certain risk. The server issued clear instructions to eat it in a single bite, lest cherry-red juice explode all over one's lap.
At the time of this writing, the Veritas team was taking a week off forresearch and development at such far-flung locales as Havana andCopenhagen. So don't besurprised if chef Dalton blows up the menu upon their return. That's just the kind of chef he is. There was a time when meals like the ones served at Veritas required a trip to the airport for a visit to New York City's Gramercy Tavern or Berkeley's Chez Panisse. And while Veritas has not yet risen to the level of these world-class dining experiences, it's a much shorter commute and a bragging point all our own.
[Editor's Note: Following the publication of this review in our August issue, Veritas ended its lunch service.]