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Spagio - Perfect Ease

1295 Grandview Ave. Columbus OH (614) 486-1114

Sometimes, when a place is around for a while, people start to take it for granted. They don’t think of it when they are trying to think of which hip, new place has the tallest food and the craziest ice cream flavor. All too often, the well-established place is overlooked by those who have just read the Weekender or any of those other newsprint magazines that come out on Thursday. It’s just sort of the natural order of things. Well, let us put things out of order. Spagio is still (after 25 years) on the top tier of Columbus restaurants. The food is extraordinarily tall and served on really long plates and in really deep bowls, as is currently fashionable in all of those upstart, newcomer restaurants. There are fruit sauces with fish, chutneys of hot peppers and lacquered, crusted and spit-roasted treats of the sky, water and land. All that crazy and innovative stuff the weekly restaurant rundown says the new place with the hip young chef and the DJ in the dining room is doing… Spagio is doing it better.

Ordinarily, it is recommended to mingle at a bar or in a lounge with a martini or a Manhattan in hand before heading to a dinner table. At Spagio, you can skip that step, considering it’s connected to one of the better wine shops in town and they have a superb wine list. So, although the aforementioned cocktails and their younger, more pomegranate-laden cousins are readily available at Spagio, the wine list is a better investment. Cold weather demands richer and fuller-bodied wines, even when the drinker is in a white mood. The Pinots Gris and Grigio should (along with the Blancs, Sauvignon, du Blanc, etc.) be dismissed until the leaves come back on the trees, and in their place, the white wine lover should try a great expression of Chardonnay. There are many to choose from, but one of the best is juice from Chablis. Spagio has Boudin’s La Chantermerle, which proffers all of the body one expects in an over-oaked and buttered California wine, but without the oak and butter covering up the grassy subtleties and flinty finish. It’s a perfect companion piece to the clawmeat-laden Lobster Bisque or the marinated eggplant on Spagio’s traditional antipasto platter. The Antipasto includes fresh mozzarella, prosciutto de Parma and Genoa salami, which are, coincidentally, among the most appropriate of all cured meats for Chablis.

Chablis just plain kills with salad dressings. The sherry dressing on Spagio’s house salad is no exception, and, when it is introduced with toasted almonds and Manchego cheese to a recently Chardonnay-washed palate, the recipient can feel every taste bud scramble to get some of the lively flavor. The whole white anchovies on the Caesar salad can be used as an antidote to overactive taste bud syndrome. They lull the buds back to a blissful passivity with an almost electric tartness and a warm pervasive hint of fish that mingles with crunchy Parmesan and the always-satisfying crunch of hearts of romaine. Repeat the whole procedure until all the Chablis is gone, but be careful not wear out the taste buds. They still have much work to do.

At this juncture, one could go in several pleasing directions. If one is hell-bent on maintaining one’s “white mood,” one could then select something Alsacian or German or Austrian – something with a little sweetness, a huge body and a lot of straw and other food-friendly finishers. The Strub Riesling Bruckchen from 2001 would do the trick. It’s slightly brightly sweet and full of differing opinions. Some say it’s apricot; some say chamomile. But whatever the opinion, those in the know pair it immediately with the seared tuna. The shockingly pink tuna has that cooked micro-layer on the outside, which has trapped all the sweet umami (Japanese for the savory flavor of meat and rare tuna) inside. Three seared squares are neatly stacked and presented next to two other snack-sized stacks of plum marinated eggplant, wakini, sesame greens and a soy-wasabi drizzle.

There is the possibility that one’s “white mood” only made it to the salads. In which case… short ribs. Short ribs need red. Most of the time they have already been braised in it, so it is usually a good idea to go with a big red. The Bordeauxs always come to mind, but so does Zinfandel. This unique American grape can produce giant juice with bold tannins and spicy finishes, just like the kind you will need to take on the robust flavors of braised red cabbage and pureed butternut squash. At Spagio, they don’t cook the short rib until it is falling apart; they do it until the meat is firm and tender. Once married to a glass of Frog’s Leap Zinfandel, the resulting bliss should keep you warm and fuzzy through the long winter months.

It is no secret that there is a counter up front at Spagio full of extraordinary pastries, chocolates and desserts. It looks amazing. You probably saw it on the way in. Be sure to order something from it, no matter how full you’ve inevitably become. If there’s any red left, get a Chocolate Royale. If it’s the Riesling you have left, get the Key Largo Key Lime Tart. If you’re out of wine, get a cup of Spagio’s illegally good coffee and both desserts. You might even want to consider ordering one to go. That way, when you wake up, you can pick up where you left off.