Breaking bread news from OH ATE

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

My raw numbers of cooked restaurant meals must be huge. I'd try counting them, but just as 2008 has run out of gas, I feel my energy tank weakly shaking its way toward "E" too. But that's not from a lack of lip-smacking fuel.

Thus with downturned palms lethargically tilting from pinkie to thumb, I'd guesstimate that one more chowhounding year has brought me to a million new calories and 100 extra restaurants. At least.

"Have appetite, will travel" that's my motto. Well, that and "Yeah, I feel pretty full, but I'm sure I could eat a little bit more."

The point is, I get around. And while fighting off getting too, uh, round (everybody's favorite - if futile - New Year's resolution) I eat far and wide for you, dear reader (how selfless of me!), so I can report on nearby worthwhile food. Here's a yearend recap of a few (mostly) new places that created some 2008 (mostly) fond tummy-tapping memories.

I'll start with some dash-and-dine brief drives out of town, which I recommend, as they release mobile eaters from day-to-day routines.

One of my perennial favorite short cruises is the one-hour scoot west to the Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs. That casual but terrific place has been committed to seasonal, locally sourced and creative dishes for decades now, and my last visit was no exception - so check it out soon.

Heading in the other direction, quaint old Granville last year opened up a couple of places definitely worth a mini road trip. The stylish but relaxed Del Mar, run by the same folks who manage the Rossi and Club 185, provided me with up-to-the-minute comfort food consistent with its Columbus siblings.

For more ambitious fare, I trekked to Granville's excellent Short Story Brasserie. Inspired by the worldwide travels of Ernest Hemingway, the Short Story's chefs are veterans of the Refectory and L'Antibes, and it showed. Bonus: the teeny eatery sits above a Short Story-aligned wine store.

Closer to home - but not that close - I also enjoyed motoring to Chi Thai way out in Gahanna. Though a white-cloth and alcohol-serving restaurant, it's still family-friendly. Chi Thai laid out highly accomplished versions of classic Chinese takeout fare but also (and more interestingly) some of the zestiest, best and hard-to-find-anywhere-else Thai food in the area (try the Bangkok fish and Pataya shrimp).

Also worth the drive, Luce in Powell also produced some powerfully flavorful and colorful food. This just-hip-enough, seasonally minded eatery is Italian by way of its talented Puerto Rican-born chef. Expect some plate verticality, bright fruit-based sauces and excellent pork and seafood options.

As concerns Columbus proper, without question, the two best new restaurants of 2008 were DeepWood and Sage American Bistro.

Located in a somewhat expansive Short North space overlooking the Greek cathedral, DeepWood has two menus - for the dining room and the more casual tavern - offering modern upscale favorites with occasionally bold cheffy flourishes.

Same deal at Sage in North Campus, only it's much smaller, both in space and on its superbly focused, never-a-miss menu. Sage's seasonally varying list will be changing soon, and though I can't wait to taste the newest creations, I'll miss its former entrees (like a great pepper-crusted steak and a lemony sauced pretzel-crusted salmon).

BonoToGo, a tiny Short North pizzeria that hit new Columbus highs for savory tomato pies, proved to have an all-too-prophetic name - it came and went within half a year. Look for its resurrection (hopefully) sometime soon in Grandview.

I'll end with two very new little restaurants which seem especially tuned into our nation's chewing zeitgeist. Both exist as the next-door splinters of two of our city's most renowned operations, and both have trained their aims toward reworked inexpensive takes on casual American favorites like chili and Philly steaks.

Details, the Rosendales spin-off, does it with non-pandering and robust cocktails. On The Fly, the offspring of Dragonfly, does it with a high all-vegan style. Both provide timely good flavors and values.

Man, after all that, I can't wait to start eating my all-over-the-map way through 2009. Happy New Year, everybody.

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