Restaurant Review: Cosecha Cocina

Bailey Trask

There's something magical about the brick building at 987 N. Fourth St. On rainy and snowy evenings in particular, bright lights shine through its windows, casting a sense of warmth and permanence onto dark and wet streets. This refurbished 19th-century barn stands out among its mixed-use neighbors in Italian Village. It's home to Cosecha Cocina, the Mexican-style venture from the Grow Restaurants group that opened last spring.

Grow Restaurants is synonymous with Chris Crader, known for his wildly successful Harvest Pizzeria restaurants, The Sycamore and Curio at Harvest, as well as the short-lived Salt & Pine. These concepts serve up modern American fare in attractive and cozy atmospheres. Think: craft cocktails, trendy décor and locally sourced fill-in-the-blank. And Cosecha Cocina is no exception. This is a place where you can picture yourself becoming a regular.

At Cosecha, which means “harvest” in Spanish, Crader partners with chef Silas Caeton to branch beyond his normal fare, taking on Mexican cuisine. Caeton, who has built up a local fan base with a culinary résumé that features both wins and losses, including Veritas Tavern, the now-closed Rigsby's Kitchen and Salt & Pine, as well as a defunct apron business. His performance at Cosecha, while strong, is equally varied. Flavor is king for Caeton, especially when it comes to meat dishes. But a few texture issues keep Cosecha from rising to the top of Crader's crop.

The venue—one of the most visually appealing spaces to open in Columbus recently—is separated into two rustic rooms: a sizeable bar, complete with bar-side food service, and a dining room. On warmer days, a front patio adds to the size of the operation. The distressed brick interior, with its vaulted ceilings, has a tendency to make voices carry, and having a conversation in the dining room requires a little yelling.

This being a south-of-the-border cousin to Curio, arguably the city's best cocktail bar, it's no surprise that Cosecha's cocktail program is strong and—refreshingly—mezcal-focused. For a serious look at the agave-based spirit, try the traditional mezcal service ($5–$22): The spirit is served in a clay copita and accompanied by an orange slice and sal de gusano (aka worm salt). Five margaritas and nine cocktails are also offered, including a smoky, mezcal-based margarita called The O.G. ($10) and the grapefruit-y Si Paloma ($9), both excellent. A limited wine and beer selection, plus a house-made horchata ($4) and Jarritos sodas ($3) round out the drinks menu.

The dinner menu presents itself with a mix-and-match approach of starters, small plates, tacos, specialties and sides. While on the smaller side—aligning more with taco truck fare than what one might find at Mexican chains—most of the dishes can be shared. With a more complicated menu structure comes a need for attention to the art of coursing. At Cosecha, service on the bar side tends to bring out items at a perfect cadence, but in the restaurant, be prepared to experience a mass delivery of all the dishes at once, creating an awkward game of table Tetris.

With a menu inspired by general Mexican fare (Cosecha does not tie itself to any region in particular), the restaurant is almost always full. An actual Mexican clientele is noticeably absent from the venue. Maybe it's due in part to the fact that prices are twice what someone might pay at any number of the city's excellent food trucks, or because Italian Village businesses seem to attract a somewhat homogenous clientele. Either way, Cosecha makes no claim to being an authentic Mexican restaurant, and given its almost immediate popularity, it doesn't need to.

That said, it's not a Mexican restaurant without chips and salsa ($3), and Ohio's Shagbark Seed & Mill tortilla chips are an obvious choice to pair with Cosecha's house-made salsas. The brightly flavored (and colored) tomatillo-avocado salsa is a must-have.

Cosecha features taco options for carnivores, vegetarians and pescatarians, each served in pairs, with about half of the options served on flour—rather than corn—tortillas. Expect ample portions of both meat and vegetarian fillings in all of the tacos. There's no skimping at Cosecha.

The cochinita pibil tacos ($8), native to the Yucatán peninsula, feature achiote-kissed, tender and juicy barbecue pork. It's so juicy, in fact, that the corn tortillas come out soggy. The region's famed pickled red onions, cilantro and lime accompany the taco. As a whole, the flavor combination works well, though the red onions could be pickled a little longer.

Those aforementioned texture issues—mainly juices and grease overtaking a dish—are evident in the carne molida tacos ($8). These decadent, Taco Bell-esque, smoky ground beef tacos are the only crunchy tacos on the menu. The shell does not soak up the grease like a soft tortilla would; as a result, a bath of liquid takes over the plate. The verdict: good flavors, but keep that napkin close at hand.

The fried cod tacos ($9) deserve a spot at every table. Fried in masa (a signature ingredient for corn tortillas), two-bite pieces of cod are presented with a tempura-like texture on a bed of guacamole and red cabbage. The only downside to the dish is the chipotle aioli, a condiment that has reached a clichéd pinnacle in just about every restaurant. Skip the aioli (it doesn't add anything) and ask for extra limes instead.

Vegetarian dishes are given prime treatment and come in large portions at Cosecha. The plantain tacos ($7) are stuffed with flattened and fried plantains, cheese, guacamole and a charred shishito pepper that ties the flavors together. And the chile relleno ($7) could easily feed two. This mild, smoky pepper is stuffed with rice and two cheeses, then expertly fried (read: not greasy) and served on a bed of tangy chili-tomato sauce.

A must-have from the small plates menu is the charred octopus ($11). A symphony of textures and flavors are displayed in this dish, showcasing grilled tentacles of fresh and tender octopus meat, crispy smashed fingerlings (a carryover from Harvest's menu), nutty pepitas and tangy green olives over a stream of tomato sauce.

The side dishes are all worth consideration. The beans and rice ($4) are served side-by-side in ceramic dishes from Anfora, a Mexican manufacturer. The lime-pickled cucumbers ($3) taste strongly of oregano, and although they're sliced a little thinly, they add a tang that can complement any dish on the menu. And the esquites ($4), a sweet, smoky and tangy Mexican street corn salad, is delightfully reminiscent of a Thanksgiving casserole. Fresh sweet corn dominates the dish, which sometimes resembles more of a soup.

With Cosecha, Grow Restaurants has succeeded in moving beyond the fare that built its foundation. Crader took a risk by bringing on Caeton—who is not a native of Mexico—to build and execute a Mexican-inspired menu. And given the lines at the door, Caeton's efforts are appreciated. More authentic Mexican fare is available all over Columbus in more humble locations than Cosecha. But Cosecha fills a void in Columbus: a Mexican restaurant housed in a lovely space that treats quality ingredients thoughtfully and without a deluge of cheese sauce. Our city's taco trucks are worth seeking out, but there's room, too, for a buzzing spot like Cosecha, where you find yourself with an expertly crafted cocktail in one hand, the other reaching for the Shagbark chips.

Cosecha Cocina

987 N. Fourth St., Italian Village, 614-369-1129,

Hours: 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon–Thu, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri–Sat

Price Range: $3–$8 for appetizers, $4–$12 for entrées

Reservations: Accepted by phone

In Short: Housed in a renovated 19th-century barn, Cosecha is a gorgeous space, and its Mexican cuisine is in good hands with chef Silas Caeton. While there are issues with grease (read: soggy tacos) and the timing of courses, Cosecha's menu and flavors far outshine run-of-the-mill Mexican chains. We recommend the chile relleno, charred octopus and fried cod tacos paired with excellent agave-based cocktails from the bar.

3 out of 4 stars (Excellent)