Locals dabble in ethnic cuisines

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Creole Salad tossed in jerk vinaigrette at L'Appat

Frustrated by the lack of ethnic food choices in the area, Didier Alapini, owner of L'Appat Patisserie & Cafe in Olde Towne East, wanted to fill that gap.

"I love ethnic food, that's the first thing. Second, I am the type of guy who gets very bored by the same foods," says the scientist-turned-chef. So Alapini, a native of the West African country Benin, opened his bakery and bistro in 2011, using French techniques to combine traditional African and Caribbean flavors with a modern touch.

He's not alone. Like L'Appat, more Columbus restaurants are expanding their offerings to include globally inspired dishes and to give guests a chance to try new flavors without traveling far.

At L'Appat, in addition to the regular menu, Caribbean cuisine is featured every Tuesday, including dishes like Puerto Rican sopa de platano dulce (plantain and spices soup) and Jamaican curry chicken. Thursdays are dedicated to a Pan-African menu filled with entrees such as collard greens soup and Moroccan boulettes de viande au riz (almond and vegetable rice with meatballs topped with an herb sauce).

Most days, chef Dan Varga creates an eclectic menu inspired by Latin cuisine at his Explorers Club in Merion Village. But every second Wednesday of the month, inspired by his personal heritage, Varga features Hungarian cuisine on a special menu. And every fourth Wednesday he offers dishes with a Mexican flair.

To keep the experience exciting, the restaurant features a monthly rotating food theme, says co-owner Tracy Studer. "[It's] just to give our customers something different and delicious to try," he says, adding that, in March, just in time for Mardi Gras, they will serve a variety of Cajun and Creole dishes such as jambalaya and blackened catfish. April will be dedicated to Hawaiian food, and May will offer an array of Moroccan dishes.

At the vegan Portia's Cafe in Clintonville, owner and chef Portia Yiamouyiannis offers a spin on traditional American and Mediterranean cuisine. On the daily menu, you'll find guacamole, hummus and Greek-inspired Spanako Rice Wraps. In addition, Yiamouyiannis dedicates one Sunday a month to a different country's cuisine and traditions.

"I want to feature food from all over the world; I want [customers] to experience it all and give people a chance to touch that culture through food," she says. In March, be on the lookout for a Sunday night dedicated to Chinese cuisine.