Restaurant Review: Refectory

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Here was my greedy thought: I want to eat beautifully composed, high-toned food from our city's best French restaurant, but I only want to pay sack-o'-greasy-slider prices. Here was my inspired strategy: happy hour at the Refectory, wherein a generous slew of delectables can be scored for no more than $7 apiece. Yes, haute chowhounds-on-the-cheap, that can happen.

Most people know the refined Refectory as only an intimidatingly expensive, special-occasion restaurant. Some enlightened cuisine-crusaders are clued into the great-deal bistro meals (three reasonably sized courses for $24) the Refectory offers in its lounge and patio areas. But few munch-keteers are aware of the outright steals you can tuck into while camped out at the place's handsome bar between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

So consider thisyour dinner-bell wakeup call to the upscale-snacking fact that every last sublime soup, salad and appetizer on the Refectory's menu (at last count, I tallied 16)ispractically waiting on you to knock it back for half price.

Since it's the Refectory,cutlery ceremoniously arrives on shiny silver trays even in the bar area, but the taverny mood there is decidedly more relaxed than in the dining room. Brick walls and a beamed ceiling lend a rustic note, roomy swivel-happy leather chairs guarantee comfort and tinted light filtering through stained glass windows lets you know the place is special. So does the wonderful food.

Presented as elegantly as the entrees, the impressive happy hour fare shows off artful garnishes, meticulous knifework and excellent ingredients. Currently, theseasonally appropriate, half-off offerings are teeming with tomatoes (often in concasse flourishes) and are awash in gardeny herb oils plus lighter-eating seafood. Here's a few beauties (prices are listed in happy hour discounts).

• Chilled Couscous and Shrimp ($7): A composed salad of halved shrimp capping a base of pearly Israeli couscous. Emphasizing the sweetness of the shellfish were embellishments like carrot threads, a concentrated and spectacular pea puree, crystals of coarse salt and a chervil vinaigrette. This was a little treasure chest of textures, colors and clean flavors.

• Salmon Duet ($7): Another minor masterpiece. This study of cold and hot smoked salmonpitted, respectively, ribbons of silky fish against ablocky slender plank of it. Providing foils for the salmon weretomatoes, tender asparagus, plus an airy and altogether spellbinding quenelle of horseradish cream.

• Chilled Tomato Veloute ($5): For me, this bright and peppery gazpacho-like soup with clarion-clear flavors amounted to a veritable hot-weather lifesaver. Contrasting its tart pureed tomato weretinily diced shrimp and cucumber, and the cool soup was further flattered by a fruity basil oil.

• Shrimp and Andouille Fricasee ($7): A warm, stewy, herby and hearty meal in itself. The relative richness of the delicious dish (featuring big grilled shrimp and moderately smoky sausage) was offsetby accents of wine, chili, blistered cherry tomatoes and bayleaf.

• Chicken Boudin Feuillete ($7): To call this a sausage sandwich would be a crime. Strips of buttery puff pastry contained delicate discs of poached homemade chicken sausage (lean, mushroomy) "greened-up" with sauteed spinach and gilded with a velvety roasted red pepper sauce "supreme."

• Haricots Verts Salade ($4.50): A nifty spin on the salade Nicoise had intense salami pinch-hitting for canned tuna. Really nice (yes, that's a pun).

• Roasted Goat Cheese ($5.50): A stunning presentation dynamically aligned Ohio beets (and a beet puree), a crunchy wafer, mustardy champagne vinaigrette and a shallot-crested cylinder of oozy cheese. Wow.

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1092 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side