Al Fresco: Alana's
Alana's rhythmic name is merrily spelled out in the fencing that separates her restaurant's outdoor seating from a High Street sidewalk. That seems fitting, considering her audacious personality is stamped onto all of her boldly delicious and fiercely creative dishes.
Oh, and it's quite a festive al fresco scene there, too. And why wouldn't it be? With really great seasonal cocktails (like an A-1 Pimm's Cup or hooch with fresh watermelon juice) and a super-fabulous wine list (which easily features many of the best vino deals in town) it just makes carpe-diem sense to watch the sun go down while lifting your spirits (pun intended).
Charmingly, it's a randomly landscaped two-level affair outdoors at Alana's - there's both a plant-enhanced patio and porch. The pavered patio takes optimum advantage of its abundance of shade trees to help shield it from the sun and the bustle and barrels of High Street. The porch gleans maximum scenic effect from hostas, ivy, hanging floral baskets and simple strings of white lights that blithely twinkle in the settling twilight.
To this perky party-time lineup, add Alana's winningly world-beat cuisine and you wind up with a teeming crowd of summer-loving revelers even on an otherwise humdrum Tuesday evening.
And they were all loving Alana's food. Her restaurant - which just celebrated its 10th year of existence - has consistently been in the forefront of the seasonal and locavore movements. Add that to the fact that she cooks to the beat of her own imagination -and what she finds freshest in her endless market ruminations - and it's obvious that her menu will change every single day.
But for now, expect refreshingly bright chilled soups ($6-$7), like a nearly fat-free Grilled Tomatillo Gazpacho with a mild chili bite and background sweetness, plus smashed-up tortillas for a little contrasting crunch.
Or a custardy-textured dark orange Avocado Mojo, with roasty notes, pumpkin seeds and an unexpected tangy mandarin orange salsa.
From the starters, our table loved the deep-toasted corn flavor of the Sweet Corn Arepas with Spicy Pinto Beans and Fiery Pepper Paint ($8). Looking a bit like crab cakes atop a rich meatless chili, it ate like beans and cornbread given a Latino haute cuisine treatment. G.A. says get 'em while they're hot.
And the locally sourced Toad Hill Greek Chop Salad ($7) was one of the best of its kind I've had in a while. Its earthy heft of garbanzo beans was leavened by salty kalamatas, feta, onions, tomatoes and a lively and lemony zatar dressing with real verve. It was a truly unboring salad (rare) and a crunchy and summery delight.
As were well-named selections of "from the grill on summer succotash with sweet and hot mustard zabaglione," in which the diner's high-quality beef cut of choice is buoyed by a thyme-scented, corn-led zesty veggie mix ($18-$33).
By staying in the risky restaurant business for 10 long years while staying true to her risk-taking aesthetic, Alana has proven that her sophisticated yet playful style of cooking will always be in season with the clever restaurant insiders, hipsters and academic types who frequent her great restaurant.
2333 N. High St., North Campus
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog Under the Table at ColumbusDiningGuide.com