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The Refectory - A Religious Experience

1092 Bethel Rd. Columbus, OH 43220 (614) 451-9774

There’s a century-old church by the tracks, just off Bethel Road. The airy sanctuary has a vaulted ceiling with exposed, rough-hewn beams and a feeling of some sort of otherworldly presence. A new kind of worship has taken place in that sanctuary since the traditional Methodist worship moved up the street to a more modern facility: the worship of extraordinary epicurean aptitude. Chef Richard Blondin has been practicing a deliciously unrivaled alchemy there for over ten years, and the result has been a most sophisticated and urbane dining experience. Chef Blondin’s creations meld traditional French culinary scholarship and contemporary real-world experience, which culminates in an event that should, by all rights, be the focal point of any evening even partially spent there.

A fleet of tuxedoes greets patrons at the door, while the sounds of fine silver on finer china and the scents of edible art echo off the bare walls and wooden floors. Sated and eager diners converse and laugh, likely about the tremendousness of their experience, in that familiar unintelligible mélange of rebounding voices created by any large, high-ceilinged room. Some are parked in the Bistro, which is a smaller, slightly more casual room behind the Maitre D’s roost. It abuts the bar and offers a smaller, three-course menu that is priced to encourage many a return visit. The bistro menu offers an opportunity for guests to enjoy Blondin’s handiwork comparatively quickly and with such frequency that they will ultimately become what is known in the business as “regulars.”

Even the most cursory of conversations with one of these “regulars” makes obvious the fact that, although the Bistro menu is fantastic and approachable, the true Refectory experience can only be achieved through an exhaustive exploration of the regular dinner menu and the simply astounding seven-hundred-bottle wine list. Even before anything arrives at the table the excitement is palpable, for it is not every day that one gets to read “Terrine d’escargots et shiitake, èmulsion à l’ail et persil plat” or even its more prosaic translation: “Terrine of Escargot with Shitake Mushroom.” Nor is it common or even unusual—actually, it’s virtually unheard of—to have the opportunity to peruse a wine list that has verticals of either Petrus or Chevil Blanc, especially when the vintages are from the sixties and seventies. Granted, those bottles come with their premium, but somehow their mere presence in the cellar adds an intangible element to the dining experience.

As titillating a read as the menu is, with its “Paupiette de Saumon fumé et crabe blanc à l’aneth crème legère au vinaigre et St. Jacques au citron vert” and “Palette d’autruche mi-meurette aux prunes d’ici,” and as exciting as it is to gaze at the wine list’s endless Rothschild gems, it may behoove the diner that doesn’t want to spend the entire evening reading to allow Chef Blondin to prepare a multi-course tasting menu and pair it with the appropriate wines. His manifold talents will yield a truly fascinating sensuous trip through the granddaddy of culinary traditions: the French tradition.

Blondin may sear some huge, tender diver scallops, so that the flavors are imprisoned within a dark brown shell, only to be liberated by the smooth blade of the appropriate silver utensil. When he pairs it with a gently confounding Ohio chardonnay (Busch-Harris Wineries produces Refectory Cuvee exclusively for the Refectory), one gets the impression that the tectonic plates have shifted to the point that the north coast of California, the cold water bays of New England and the rolling hillsides of Alsace have melded into one, when it’s actually our unique, indigenous soils and sunlight patterns expressed in a juice that compliments a host of different foods. Likewise, a sophisticated California pinot noir will compliment any manner of dish, from Salad de tomate, mozarella et saucisson sec, une vinaigrette au sirop d'erable (tomato, mozzarella and salami salad) to Magret de canard poelle au miel et citron, which is a nimbly seared duck breast that hovers somewhere between rare and medium rare and rests on a glistening pool of honey lemon jus.

Everyone at the Refectory knows well what dishes and what wines compliment one another, so leaving it in their hands will most certainly engender, not only tremendously complimentary pairings, but likely some interesting ones that are unavailable anywhere else. The aforementioned Ohio chardonnay paired with anything is not something that is readily available, even on menus in Ohio, but it is a fascinating, complex and subtle wine that is surprisingly native. For those who would like to try an Ohio wine, but who are eating the Carré d’Agneau de lait roti aux poivrons rouges (baby rack of lamb with red bell pepper coulis), Busch-Harris produces a cabernet that, like its whiter cousin, offers sophistication and complexity that will pleasantly confound any palate that is used to grapes grown in California or Bordeaux. This unique, full-bodied wine also makes a nifty companion for the cheese course, especially if any of the cheeses are particularly pungent, or notably creamy.

Of course, one of the many Ports, Sherries or other fortified, late-harvested or botrytisized wines could fare extraordinarily well with the pre-dessert cheeses and could easily carry over to the dessert proper. So, if dessert has any chance of being the Chocolate Bombe with Almond Tuile and Crème Anglaise, there really should be a ready glass of port awaiting its arrival. Now, if dessert is Strawberry Feuillete with raspberry sauce and crème chantilly, Bonny Doone’s Framboise will just slay. If it is Pineapple Clafouti or Pistachio Vanilla Crème Brulee, a Sauterne may be in order. The Frozen Drambuie Soufle…

Well, not to harp on one issue repeatedly, but, if you trust Chef Blondin and the good people of the Refectory like you would your priest, reverend, rabbi, imam, yogi or chakra-karmic spirit guide, you will likely see why it is so appropriate that the Refectory is where it is.