2333 N. High St. Columbus, OH 43202 (614) 294-6783
It may feel like the Alana’s experience begins at the door, when an abundance of sensory stimuli cascade over eager diners in the form of really cool art, wonderful aromas and hushed conversation blended with quietly groovy tunes; but it really began when Alana Shock left her house to walk to work that day. Without her forty-five-minute-or-so journey over the river and through some well-paved (but still lovely) woods there would be no menu. Alana moseys, allowing her time to receive the manifold beauties of whatever season she finds herself strolling through and to work her delicious alchemy.
She may be inspired to drizzle balsamic syrup on something by a droplet of gooey amber sap on a low-hanging tree branch, or maybe a near-miss car accident gives her the insanely scrumptious idea of slamming a black bean hummus and pineapple salsa into an avocado. Only Alana will ever know. The rest of us should merely thank whatever deity or discipline we revere most highly for the stuff of Alana’s inspiration and the magic in her head that turns it into dinner.
It’s possible that something on the weekly menu or one of the nightly specials was inspired by “Water Karate”, a huge, swirly, colorful visual manifestation of the tension, release and furious discipline of martial arts; and the soft, quiet relaxation of complete submersion. It hangs on the front wall of the building in the room to the far north. So do tens of other pieces that will make actually getting to the table take a lot longer than it would anywhere else. If the destination table is in the yellow, middle room, it will be surrounded by brightly colored and oddly shaped folk-art, insisting that sight will be equally as culpable as smell and taste in the experiencing of Alana’s own brand of delicious. The third and brownest dining room is adorned with Melissa Block’s crisp-focused, action-packed photos of at least one (and likely many) of your favorite musicians. It’s a very good idea to take a different route to the bathroom or the door every time you need to smoke or powder. A glass of Palacio de Menade, Rueda makes an excellent companion on the journey. Walk slowly, sip often and look around.
Alana will send (or more likely bring) you an amuse bouche. It’s a tiny preview of the lush, luscious flavors that are in store when the menu items hit the table. It’s just a bite to get everything started right. Loosely translated, it means smiley face, and if the artwork didn’t already put one of those on the front of every head at the table, the swallowing will. Another look around any of the dining rooms will reveal that it’s worked on everybody, including the servers. They all look like they’re happy to be there, at work. What an idea: happy to be at work. Alana really is magic. Of course, they do have a sweet gig, and even the most cursory of conversations with any of them will reveal an acute awareness of just that. Questions about wine, ingredients, preparation, artists, etc. are met with informed answers, in plain English, liberally basted with opinion and recommendation. The opinions are worth a listen and the recommendations worth a taking. A recent one was to hang onto the glass of Cantabril Cotes du Rhone that Alana’s menu suggested with the lovely venison, pistachio and wild boar pate with pickled cucumber, raspberry whiskey honey mustard and rhubarb cherry chutney, so it could join the veal bruscetta with fava bean hummus, fresh favas and pecorino pepato. Perfect, and there’s plenty where that one came from.
Terrific atmosphere and outstanding service not withstanding, the focal point of the Alana’s adventure is the food. Just as it should be. Alana chooses everything that goes into anything she’ll put on any table. Sometimes that process alone yields a nightly special. The cream of a million mushroom soup seems like it may have been one of those. But, even the “toppest” of top-shelf ingredients isn’t going to make the meal. Alana’s creative gift will. She’ll sear a beautiful Carolina black bass and serve it with ramps, spring peas, fava beans, hericot verts, and spinach in an aquivet beurre blanc. Every constituent bit of it could be eaten alone with the utmost satisfaction, but the inspired combination of it all confounds with a new level of enjoyment. The noodles with the roasted organic chicken au vin are apropos, she tells you so and that’s all you need to know. The meat loaf has enough mojo that the word ‘meat’ fell off and ‘mojo’ itself set in. One bite and it could just be called ‘loaf’, because the printed ‘mojo’ will become manifestly redundant. And, mid-bite, the love affair between Alana’s grilled beef tenderloin and the rosemary with which it’s smitten could make even the most jaded of players cry like a teenaged girl at the end of Dr. Zhivago. There will be no stopping the waterworks if the Thunder Mountain Cabernet is introduced to the mix.
Speaking of stopping… It would be a very good idea to do so before the uncomfortably-full level is reached (and that’s an easy level to reach with food of this caliber). There is no rational excuse (even uncomfortable fullness) for missing out on the creations of Alana’s pastry goddess, Kate Bates. The butterscotch brulee is on the smaller side, so keep it in the foreground. However, the smores are drunk with whiskey fudge, homemade marshmallow, banana and a chocolate-cayanne iced cream; and the banana cream pie has Bailey’s in it and all the right sauces on it. Those are huge, but that makes them very shareable.
After all that, “Water Karate” makes even more sense. It now feels like it was created by the artist in a wild, post-dessert bliss. Actually, it was created in the classroom by 8-year-old artist Alex Hatter. How did he know? Alana is magic.