Crave 10: #3 – Veritas Tavern

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

The darling of last year's list has survived a lot of staff changes since last year, losing two out of the original three-man culinary team. Chef and owner Josh Dalton stands strong on his own, breathing new life into the modernist menu while offering flavors that are close to home. Not to be forgotten are the beautifully crafted cocktails that keep in step with innovative plates.

Dishes on the menu at Veritas Tavern read like a culinary math equation. Scallop + Mushroom + Celery Root + Smoke. Sunchoke + Hazelnut + Rosemary. Lamb + Sorghum + Eggplant + Harissa.

The descriptions give little more than ingredients away, making ordering here feel like a strange game of dinner roulette. The dish may arrive enveloped in a haze of dry ice. Or it could simply be a bowl of smoked pasta, shredded pork cheek and cream sauce. We never know quite what dishes will look like at Veritas. But we do know eating here is never a gamble because, even if unconventional in appearance, the flavors manage to be familiar and comforting.

And that's exactly the point, says chef and owner Josh Dalton. "If you can get somebody to remember, as a kid, when they had Cinnamon Toast Crunch for the first time, or if you can display something in a completely different way, but then when they taste it, it brings them back to red velvet cake or fried chicken. That's what we're trying to do here," he says.

Playing With Food

Dalton doesn't want Veritas to be intimidating. He wants it to be as fun to eat as it was for him to craft his rotating list of roughly a dozen small plates designed to share. When a new ingredient comes in to the kitchen, chefs decide how to turn it on its head by asking: What can we do to it?

Take sorghum, for example. They overcook it to see what happens. Next, they may dehydrate it or puff it. They'll steep it in stock, then in water and again in milk. "We'll take a bag of sorghum and cook it 10 different ways, and then we'll see which ones we like," Dalton explains. That's why glassy pearls of sorghum are the base of a lamb dish and also the garnish popped like tiny kernels of popcorn. The same process applies to vegetables, proteins.

Details matter. He applied the same trial and error methods to a recent order of sunchokes. To turn these tubers into a soup, they are roasted, then cooked sous vide with butter and cream, pureed and strained again and again until silky smooth. "It's a lot of extra steps," Dalton admits. "And maybe a lot of people can't tell the difference between one pass through a tamis, but I feel like we can."

Sometimes, it's as simple as falling in love with a method, like smoking, which is the secret ingredient in a homey bowl of fettuccine with pork cheeks and Alexander sauce. Dalton found that smoking flour before it's rolled into pasta not only dries out the flour, but gives noodles an extra al dente texture.

He's learned not to force it. "Some techniques we just go back to what works. Some we try to do modern technique," Dalton says. But, in the end, it all boils down to flavor. So first, it must taste good. Second, can it also look different from how the diner may have seen it before? Sometimes the twist comes from the plate or service-a bowl of sunchoke soup poured and garnished tableside for example. Other times he'll the composition of the food-sealing sauces in gel capsules, for example.

Don't forget your veggies. "Everybody wants to focus on the sous vide of the meats," he says, "but I believe vegetables benefit more than anything from sous vide. I think people overlook vegetables."