Restaurant review: Soul at the Joseph

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive
Hamachi Crudo

While sitting in a vestibule containing works by some of the best artists in Columbus and enjoying a tune by French provocateur Serge Gainsbourg, I polished off a delicious plate of beautiful and sophisticated fluke crudo.

When the guy next to me began going on about the $42 shot of Patron Platinum tequila he just sipped only to scratch off his bucket list, the spell of refined contentment was broken. Welcome to Soul at The Joseph, where dinner can be an equally rewarding and curious experience.

In a nutshell, it often involves food with a "wow" factor - and not just from the gulp-inducing prices - served with a side of confusion at a bar in the art gallery-slash-lobby of the snazzy Le Meridien hotel in the Short North.

Why confusion? Soul shares the kitchen and chefs of Cameron Mitchell's excellent The Guild House, to which Soul is attached. But, apparently due to a business arrangement between the hotel chain and Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, I was told Soul isn't considered a Mitchell operation. Furthermore, Soul claims to offer its own menu, even though there seems to be conspicuous spillover from The Guild House.

Thinking about this can make your head hurt. The cure: one of Soul's inspired craft cocktails made with its deep collection of booze bottles (that collection includes an expansive wine selection).

For a lively, fruit-based concoction that's polished and not cloying, try the London Calling ($12), which is made with Hayman's Old Tom gin, strawberries and balsamic vinegar. For something strong and spicy, the chili-infused Rye & Thai ($11) shaken with mezcal, rye and curacao plays fiery heat off soothing orange notes.

Soul's menu is small, but its prices aren't, so I'll start with relative bargains such as that fluke crudo ($15; crudo is Italy's answer to sushi). Black sesame seeds, impeccable dill fronds, bitter citrus and what tasted like fruit pickles (the out-of-date menu, which misidentified the seafood as hamachi, wasn't always helpful) brought a lot to the table for fresh-flavored pinwheels of "meaty" fish.

Other impressive raw ocean protein arrived via hefty red slabs bearing an attractive salt-and-pepper-flecked crust in the Seared Tuna Salad ($16). A riff on salade Nicoise, the entree teams tuna with sourdough bread plus arugula flattered by a semi-sweet dressing, chunks of flawless hard-cooked egg and fruity cherry tomatoes. Sadly, the advertised haricots verts and avocado were missing, but this was nonetheless delicious.

Because The Guild House offers a terrific $8 Brussels sprouts dish, I figured Soul's similar-sounding Sautéed Brussels Sprouts (both preparations enhance roasted-to-crinkly sprouts with cheese, mustard and nuts) was $10 because Soul's menu description included bacon. Because I didn't get any bacon, maybe I deserve a $2 rebate.

The Ricotta Gnocchi ($17), another nice-sized dish, is an elegant highlight. Pillowy, ricotta-accented pasta nubs - a lot of them - rest in a silky broth marrying wine to butter. A generous flourish of delicate snipped greens and radicchio provide contrast.

Tipplers and travelers often like to unwind simply, so it's all but essential for good bars and reliable upscale hotels to offer a distinguished burger - such as the Soul Burger ($16, served with top-notch fries). Although modest-sized, it's alluringly chargrilled and adorned with zucchini pickles, manchego cheese, tender greens, crisp bacon, lemon aioli and a toasted brioche roll.

In a similar vein, Soul elevates something potentially mundane - chicken - into something memorable: A conveniently deboned, tender half-bird prettily showcased by a light mushroom sauce, parsnip puree and dainty asparagus tips. Was that $26 Gerber Farms Chicken a few bucks pricier than a similar Guild House chicken dish - and inaccurately described on Soul's menu? Yes. Was it delicious anyway? Absolutely.

Soul at the Joseph

620 N. High St.,

Short North