Trompe L'oeil: Dishes that aren't what they seem

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive
Shrimp cocktail at Veritas Tavern

Q: When is a shrimp cocktail not a shrimp cocktail?

A: When it's artfully constructed by Veritas Tavern and appears to be a thin sheet of post-minimalist sculpture-until you eat into its familiar flavors

Like Alice through the Looking Glass, we're going to travel to a topsy-turvy world of crafty Columbus cooking in which appetizers mimic desserts and classic fish courses are actually pork.

The playful but formidable Veritas-practitioner of science-guy kitchen techniques-is a primo Delaware restaurant and prime preparator of the kind of trompe l'oeil dishes I'm talking about. For instance, along with that already-mentioned shrimp tile, you might also expect onions transformed into glassy chips, noodles created with maple syrup and garnishes intentionally resembling dirt (desiccated tapenade).

At M, beginning a meal with-or even making a light supper of-three delicious ice cream cones glittering with "jimmies" is not a ridiculous strategy. See, these giggly treats are on the tiny side...and filled with lobster salad, not frozen sweets.

Riffing on promethean American chef Thomas Keller's (The French Laundry, Per Se) famous salmon cornets, M's lavish little Three Cones appetizer is a trio of brittle, sesame seed-encrusted, house-made tuile funnels mounded with sweet, rich and meaty chopped lobster bound with mayo.

Alternately topping each clever cutie are caviar-ish "sprinkles" of wasabi tobiko plus American sturgeon and salmon roes. That rice cracker-looking companion on their side? It's actually a milled egg with house-made salmon gravlax.

(Tongue-and-brain-twister alert!) Fish are chips and chips are fish and fish-n-chips is a single thing when you're snacking on Moshi Sushi's addictive Red Snapper Crisps. Fabricated with pounded-thin snapper dunked in tempura batter, they're like big, crunch-tastic kettle chips with a subdued but substantial, nifty aquatic-meat chew to them. Naturally, they come with dips-tangy red tomato chili and an avocado mayo that'd be good on shoestrings.

If you're ripping into outrageously delicious, locally sourced calamari "fresh from the banks of the Ohio River," then you must be dreaming-or at Knead. That wacky description from Knead's smile-making menu I just referenced leads readers to a less fanciful place when explaining that its "squid" is really strips of local pork tenderloin sliced into "calamari"-shaped pieces.

What you wind up with are beautifully fresh, amazingly tender and juicy hunks of killer pig meat giddily knife-forced into curls and tentacles, then cooked calamari-style-and served with lemons and a wonderful aioli, of course (plus maybe a chipotle bourbon barbecue sauce and Asian-type slaw).

All around the room in Z Cucina, you'll regularly see people preparing to consume what looks like a choco-creamy Sissy-tini. When they pick up a spoon and scoop some out though, you'll soon realize what they're really oohing and aahing over is Z's famous Butterscotch Panna Cotta.

Served in a martini glass, this irresistible pudding-like dessert has a dollop of rich caramel sauce on the bottom and stripes of thick chocolate sauce along its sides and on top. In between is the butterscotch star (panna cotta is Italian for cooked cream), which, like everything else on the list, tastes even better than it looks.

Food critic G.A. Benton blogs at

Try them

Veritas Tavern

15 E. Winter St., Delaware


M at Miranova

2 Miranova Pl., Downtown


Moshi Sushi

2152 E. Main St., Bexley



505 N. High St., Short North


Z Cucina

1368 Grandview Ave., Grandview