Category Archives: Restaurant

Jiu Thai

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Chinese
787 Bethel Rd, Columbus, OH 43214
614.732.5939
Hours: 11:30-9pm (Closed Tuesdays)

Lets not beat around the bush – we love Jiu Thai. We’ve been going there for years, and it’s absolutely criminal that we haven’t written about them until now. Our list of favorites dishes is long, and yesterday we found yet another one.

Specifically, the stir fried lamb ribs. The name is a bit deceiving, since it’s clearly a riff on the cumin lamb found in most restaurants with a Sichuan menu, but for us it’s now the benchmark. The chunks of lamb are thick enough to showcase the flavor and quality of the meat, and their relatively dry stir fry char is spot on. They, along with green peppers and onions, are covered in a Sichuan spice mix that was both instantly recognizable and clearly preferable to previous renditions. With a little spicy heat and a little Sichuan peppercorn zing, it made everything on the plate sing in a way that was almost startling. In a very good way.

We’re not going to get into the details of the rest of the dishes, since it isn’t really the essence of this exercise. Just understand that thick, rustic hand made noodles and dumplings are a mainstay, and that we enthusiastically vouch for the following:

Biang biang noodles (our most frequently ordered dish)

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Pork with picked cabbage or Lamb & onion dumplings

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Xi’an steamed cold noodles

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Big Guy Noodles (and the other noodle soups with hand made noodles)

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Cucumber Salad

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Delicious pork sandwich

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The skewers are fun too.

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Menu is online via postmates. They do a lot of delivery via Ricepo and Amazon Restaurants too.

PS: Here’s the skilled hands in the kitchen at Jiu Thai making handmade noodles.

Enjoy!

 

 

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China House (Westerville)

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5860 Westerville Rd, Westerville, OH 43081
(614) 899-2882

A theory: the further a Chinese restaurant is from OSU, the harder it is for the proprietors to believe that non-Chinese guests could appreciate their traditional preparations. China House is about as far from campus as any restaurant in Central Ohio with a Chinese menu could be, and, well, yes, yes we can use chopsticks. Honestly! We would like to, too. 

Please?

With the sustained application of polite insistence, the desired menus and utensils were acquired. Further efforts yielded these 4 dishes: Broccoli with Lily Bulbs, Seafood Longevity Noodles, Beef Stew Radish, and Wen Chang Chicken. 

We eat a lot of green vegetable preparations in Chinese restaurants, and none have been better than China House’s Broccoli. It’s Chinese broccoli, of course, and the minced lily bulbs made for an intriguing water chestnut-like accompaniment, but the real trick was of a goldilocks nature – not too oily, not too dry, not too salty, not too bland. And, the broccoli wasn’t over cooked (or undercooked!). Just right.

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Beef Stew (with) Radish is a common sight on menus geared towards a Chinese audience. China House’s version was entirely in keeping with previous experiences, featuring tender beef, beef tendon, large chunks of radish, some veg, all in nice thick gravy redolent of Chinese 5 spice. Those of us who enjoy the traditionally assertive 5 spice flavor and are comfortable with the texture of tendon gave it a solid thumb’s up. 

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Seafood Longevity Noodles were a bit divisive – everyone appreciated the flavor and enjoyed the generous portions of shrimp and scallops within, but the mushy texture of the noodles was both argued to be typical of the genre and, to several of us, thought unpleasant.

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The Wen Chang Chicken confounded. It was half a chicken, butchered whole and bone-in, plus head! So far so good – jibes with previous experiences. But, it was covered with what we’re pretty sure was egg roll dipping sauce. There was lots of excessively polite discussion regarding this curiosity at the table, but when we left it was largely untouched. 

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In summation: Four dishes – two hits, two misses. The menu is large, and more exploration would likely yield more gems. Help us!

Menu:

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Does Columbus have any ‘real’ Chinese food?

This question finds its way to us with increasing frequency, both online and in person, from dismissive newcomers to Central Ohio as well as jaded locals. We have plenty to say about it, but first, lets talk about this idea of what’s ‘real’. 

‘Real’, in this context, is almost always used as a synonym for ‘authentic’. To the extent that anyone has the authority to categorize any Chinese food as authentic, it certainly isn’t us. 

What we can do, though – with a little help from our friends – is to distinguish the restaurants that are cooking menu items for the Chinese palate from those that are not. In other words, while we’re not fools enough to believe that we can measure any given restaurant’s success in maintaining absolute fidelity to Chinese culinary tradition, we do believe that our merry band of grazers can discern the intent to appeal to a Chinese audience. And, we can share our thoughts on what we enjoy.

OK, so back to the original question. We have to admit that it evokes a mild sense of indignation in us, as we’ve been enjoying the fruits of many of the city’s delicious Chinese kitchens for years – often with Chinese dining companions – and have felt some measure of pride in the range of options available to a city of our size. I mean, ‘Are there any?’ Of course! How many? 

Time to make a list. 

This was a process full of surprises. Once we made our initial list, and then continued searching, we were astounded by how much it grew. There’s an awful lot out there, and far more than we’ve had the opportunity to experience.

Sounds like a new food adventure to us! Over the next year, we’re going to visit/revisit each one of the restaurants on the list (linked below), and we’re going to try them with as many people as is practically possible so we can try as broad of a range of dishes as possible. We’ll post a brief accounting of each here, and hopefully put that pesky question to rest once and for all. 

The List:

Well, almost there. Please bear in mind that while we’re trying to be complete, we may not have caught everything. If we missed something let us know! Also, please understand that some of these restaurants will only have Chinese-American offerings shown on their website. You have to explore their broader menu in person to get the full story – which is exactly what we intend to do.

After the full list (which also includes markets and bakeries), we’ve taken our first stab at categorizing restaurants by their specialties. This will be refined as our adventure progresses, but is intended to illustrate the breadth of regional and culinary specialization found among the city’s Chinese offerings.

Columbus Chinese Food Guide 

Lotus Grill

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Crosswoods Commons, 150 Hutchinson Ave, Columbus, 43235
614.781.8883

The best reason to go to Lotus Grill is to get the salted pan fried pork. The second best reason is to encounter him. Adorned with bolo tie, long-sleeved country-western button up, and long black hair, he takes customer orders with an economy of words that evinces an Eastwood-esque stoicism, then abruptly punctures this facade as he barks orders back at the kitchen in a furious volley of rapid fire Chinese.

He is in possession of a Chinese menu, written entirely in Chinese. Our first visit to Lotus Grill made it clear he had not given much thought to the idea that anyone who is not Chinese would be interested in this menu. Acquaintance of ours have kindly translated it, and he now possesses that menu as well. We encourage you to ask for it.

Should you do so, you’ll likely be seated. To order from the posted English language Chinese-American menu is to receive counter service, to do otherwise often means full service. He’ll give you time to assemble your order, than he’ll return to the table to take it. Should you have questions, he might or might not have answers. No need to push it, or to sweat it too much – just about everything we’ve tried has been very good, and from our perspective there’s little risk in letting the food answer for him.

For example, ‘salted pan fried pork’ is at best a very incomplete description of our favorite dish, the aforementioned pork cooked with leeks, sliced hot green peppers, and Chinese black beans. With the nice sear on the pork and the pungent kick of black beans, savory doesn’t even begin to describe it. Delicious gets closer.

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‘Pork meatball soup’ translates better; it’s a bowl of comforting broth with noodles, tender Napa cabbage, and an abundance of tasty pork meatballs bearing a seasoning not unlike breakfast sausage. Nicely balanced, and perfect on a cold day, this has been another repeat crowd pleaser.

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Their stir fried seasonal vegetables are an exceptional riff on a common Chinese dish, featuring all of the expected garlic sauce flavor but a small fraction of the oiliness. Possible vegetable options include bok choy, Chinese broccoli, and ‘a choy’, and all play well with the sauce.

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If you’re open to the idea of eating unshelled shrimp (and in Lotus Grill’s hands, you should be) then their salt & pepper shrimp are a must. Battered and fried to an almost tempura-like effect, the shells were far less tough than expected and added a distinctly edifying intensity of flavor. A plate of these disappeared quickly.

Previous visits led to encounters with red-cooked beef, mustard greens with pork shreds (pictured below), kung bo fish, stir fried dry string beans, and more. All were solid, most were significantly better than, and our aggregate experience leaves us eager to explore even more of the 28 item menu.

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On our last visit, he was wearing a Star of David bolo with matching belt buckle. Struggling to put it all together – Chinese background, country western garb, conspicuous Jewish iconography, all one person – I finally had to ask.

“I like confusing people” was the reply.

I smiled. As you can probably gather from his prominence in this write up, a bit of harmless confusion suits me fine. Also, I really enjoyed Firefly.

Tốt

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3108 Kingsdale Center
43221 Upper Arlington
(614) 456-7519

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“There’s a lot to be said for experiencing crappy versions of food before you get to the good stuff. It makes the moment of realisation so very much better.”

So said Jay Rayner, perhaps one of the most outspoken and opinionated food writers around. I read his quote at a fortunate moment, shortly after having eaten at Tot and shortly before writing this review.

Point being, there have been enough new ‘bringing Vietnamese to the masses’ restaurant openings lately that it qualifies as a trend, and a trend that hasn’t produced much success. Having endured more than a few disappointing experiences in this vein, Tot surprised by how distinctly it delivered.

Generally speaking, we’ve found that there’s almost an inverse relationship between the amount of effort put into the image of restaurants serving immigrant cuisines and the quality of the food – basically, the better it looks, worse it tastes. Tot looks slick with professional logo and menu design, and an of-the-moment light & bright minimalist interior. Forgive us for thinking it felt like a familiar set up.

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One that led to the need to quickly recalibrate: with the first taste, Tot’s banh mi easily became one of the top 3 in the city. The baguette was toasted, the fillings hit the sandwich’s signature ‘how does something so rich taste so fresh?’ notes, and as I was later told, the pate and the mayonnaise were both made in-house. They’re also getting a nice char on their grilled pork, and it pays off. Good start.

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One that continues with the bun (cold rice noodle bowl).  The first thing you’ll notice is how beautifully it’s presented. Traditionally the elements of the dish are layered – vegetables at the bottom, covered with rice noodles, then meat on top – but Tot composes them so all elements are visible. Since the general idea is to mix them up anyway, there’s no discernible compromise to this approach. Clever, and tasty. We went with grilled pork option again, and not only did it satisfy, it evoked fading memories of the brazier grilled street side versions of this dish when I tried it in Hanoi.

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But what about the pho? Truthfully, we weren’t big fans. The broth was on the thin side, and the flavor seemed to lean a bit too heavily towards the star anise. Everything else seemed right, but the broth is why we get it. Bearing in mind that the restaurant has been open for all of a week, it’s entirely possible that they haven’t worked the kinks out yet.

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A point worth re-emphasizing, especially in light of how much they’ve done well. Even at this early stage, Tot is the first of its kind I’d happily return to, and, have.

 

 

Yemeni Restaurant

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5426 Cleveland Avenue
Columbus, 43231
614.426.4000
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11am-10pm

Yemeni Restaurant is just 3 months old, and they’re in the 161 & Cleveland avenue area, so the usual mixed bag of immigrant restaurant quirks is in full evidence – unavailable menu items, limited menus to look at, and perhaps understaffed on the service side (but very very kind). The space is spotlessly clean and a bit austere, all soothing greys and wood tones, and the dining room is divided into quadrants. The effect is curious, more that of a tech startup workspace than a place to eat.

Make no mistake, though, the eating is good, and in some respects unlike anything else you can find in the city.

“It’s hot”, the server said, as he rested the cast iron pot of bubbling stew on our table. it was held in a charred wooden box. “Even the box”, he elaborated, and he wasn’t being cautious. Two baskets mounded with flatbread followed, as did another stew and a lamb platter.

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We tore bread and dipped pieces into the first pot, called fahsa, and ate. Within a bite, our understanding of the word ‘savory’ was redefined. A bit of googling explained that the dish is primarily meat – often lamb but in this case goat – cooked in its own broth. And, cooked to the point that it lies somewhere between a stew and a porridge.

It has to be said, that even with the wide variety of eating experiences we like to pride ourselves on, we found it strange. We also thought it unreservedly delicious. It’s the kind of fizzy moment worth seeking out – with a taste we’ve experienced something truly new to us, and our world is made ever-so-slightly larger and better off for it.

The other pot contained ‘foul’. Both the dish and the name are common throughout the Arab world, though most we’ve experienced amount to cooked fava beans with accompaniments, while the Yemeni version was closer to a thick chili. We’ll take the slightly spicy and more complex Yemeni style anytime, especially coupled with the flatbread.

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The lamb dish, called ‘haneeth’, felt perhaps most familiar – bone-in lamb rested atop basmati rice and trimmed out with spaghetti and potatoes. This was very similar to any of a number of Somali-style platters, with small differences discernible in the flavor of the rice (I’d guess saffron), and the addition of sultanas. The lamb was flavorful, and perhaps just a bit overcooked and under seasoned for our tastes.

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Add a clover-forward Adeni-style milk tea and a surprisingly satisfying frothy avocado juice, and that was our meal – which leaves over 80% of the menu unexplored, a percentage we intend to work down. Given our experience, we’d like to suggest that you should, too.

Estilo Brazil

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Cuisine: Brazilian
5818 Columbus Square, Columbus, OH 43231
(614) 269-8990
Open Monday-Saturday
The last time we visited Estilo Brazil at it’s old location on Cleveland Ave., we were charmed by the flavors of the cuisine and the tropical vibe of their small side patio. We also could clearly see that the tiny back-of-the-market space just wasn’t up to the task of producing much food or accommodating many guests… especially in Central Ohio’s temepramental climate.

With the opening of their new, larger Columbus Square location, the seating’s better, the menu’s expanded, and the concept is clearer – alongside the bright, clean market sits a Brazilian PF, or ‘prato feito’, a popular traditional style of Brazilian dining.

PF is described as the working man’s meal, and as such we’d say that the working man has it pretty well off. The fundamentals are straightforward – beans, rice, a starch or two (usually fries), salad (potato or lettuce), and a rotating roster of proteins. For us, the proteins are what makes the concept shine.

Currently, two options are consistent – the linguica calabrese and picanha. The linguica, a spiced pork sausage reminiscent of a Filipino longaniza sans sweetness, makes for a pleasant and generously portioned accompaniment to the beans and rice, but the picanha, strips of beef sirloin rump cap, steals the show. Picanha is sliced so that each strip features a small knob of gristle-free fat at one end, and cut against the grain so that a reasonable degree of tenderness compliments the deeply beefy flavor of the cut. First timers can opt for half longaniza and half picanha, which makes for a good overview.

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A rotating third meat option is also available, and as of both visits it was described as a Brazilian version of a chicken stroganoff. Tempting though it was, the picanha and linguica won out for us both times.

Ordering is simple as the entire operation is structured as a cafeteria line. Once you’re at the beginning, lids come off of all of the food and it’s as easy as pointing to what you want. With small quantities of food being staged, the kitchen seemed busy with preparing refills for the steam table and as such freshness was consistently high.

One of the consistent sides is Paçoca de pilão, dried beef that is mixed with toasted cassava flour and ground until very fine.

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All of the dishes we tried were almost entirely devoid of spicy heat, but the remedy awaits, should you desire it, in the form of a variety of bottles of hot sauces on the counter. Beverages are limited to cashew fruit and passion fruit juice, though a wide selection of bottled and canned drinks are available in the market.

Portions are generous, and a run through the line will set you back $11, which strikes us as a bargain. In the context of Columbus Square offerings, Estilo Brazil may not feature the most exotic or adventurous range of flavors, but it’ll undoubtedly provide a damned good square meal at a reasonable price.

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