Impeccable service is undervalued these days. It's not expected or even appreciated at most restaurants-even those considered fine dining establishments.
So when you've become accustomed to leisurely waits between courses and servers who are overly chatty-or, worse, completely inattentive-it's a bit of a shock to dine at a place like L'Antibes, where the oft-lost tradition of serving hasn't been forgotten.
At this cozy and romantic oasis in the lively Short North, the waitstaff is attentive and gracious, but never overbearing. Plates are cleared quickly and efficiently, glasses are kept full, and conversations are never interrupted. An entire team of servers is dispatched to make sure your every need is met.
It's nice to be pampered. It makes any meal feel like a special occasion, and that preferential treatment is the perfect backdrop for Matthew Litzinger's very special food. The L'Antibes chef and owner employs modern takes on classic French that make for some of the most consistently exciting dishes in the city.
Take his escargot ($9). Usually this hors d'oeuvre is little more than succulent snails swimming in a pool of butter. Delicious, but hardly interesting. Here, they're given an infusion of citrusy flavor thanks to an herb-flecked lemon-leek beurre blanc. That lemony essence gives the dish just the kick it needs to feel fresh.
Litzinger's salads are equally original and quite beautiful. In one, a cheery green avocado is fanned out and sprinkled with coarse fennel-thyme sea salt, and it accompanies a pretty little pile of shaved fennel and organic greens dressed in decadent white truffle oil ($11). In another, a small arugula salad ($13) rests atop the main attraction: a crispy fried potato pancake topped with fantastic smoked salmon and a bit of crème fraiche. The peppery arugula cuts through the richness of the latke quite nicely.
In the main course, however, Litzinger's skills really shine. His Crispy Duck Breast ($29) is perfectly cooked, with crackly golden skin and a lovely medium-rare pink hue. The juicy, dark meat is sliced into medallions and matched with little discs of purple and white fingerling potatoes plus sautéed spinach.
If you've never tried sweetbreads, a culinary delicacy adored by adventurous foodies and often avoided by wary diners, this is the place to do it. Sweetbreads are tender, almost creamy nuggets of the most intensely flavorful meat you'll ever try. They happen to be made from organs-namely the thymus gland and pancreas-which is what scares some away. It shouldn't. Litzinger's straightforward preparation (sprinkled with pepper and then roasted until charred) lets the meat's fantastic flavor shine through. This is a dish to be savored.
Accompanying these sweetbreads ($27) is a half-moon of potato mousseline, a luxuriously light and creamy version of what can sometimes be a too-heavy side.
For dessert, you could try the obvious option-a masterful Creme Brulee ($8), with a perfectly brittle burnt-sugar exterior yielding to creamy custard. Or, you could go for the slightly more fun Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Crepes ($11). Bittersweet chocolate mousse is wrapped up in two delicate pancakes, served with a small scoop of coffee ice cream and a hefty drizzle of raspberry coulis.
If the weather's right, try to snag a seat on L'Antibes recently unveiled small outdoor patio area with popup seating. On a special menu served out there, Litzinger gets even more creative than usual. His small plate offerings feature fun combinations like ahi tuna tartare with seaweed salad ($14) and adorable mini lamb burgers made with Bluescreek Farm meat ($14).
Not surprisingly, the service is just as exceptional outside as it is inside.
Shelley Mann is the editor of Crave, Columbus' new glossy dining magazine.