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The Worthington Inn, Columbus Ohio.

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The Worthington Inn, Columbus Ohio.

uhockey | Apr 13, 2008 08:35 AM

Looking at a list of Columbus' best Restaurants, one often sees "The Worthington Inn," yet it is rare to meet anyone who has actually been there. Similarly, walking down the streets of Worthington, one sees any number of beautiful old houses and unique shoppes, but if you aren't paying attention you won't even realize that one of the city's true gems is sitting in an old home right on High Street. While many gush about Cameron Mitchell's offerings or whatever new Steakhouse has most recently chosen to open its door on 'The Cap' or near a mall, The Worthington Inn stands as a relic of the past in a city that has grown up too fast. The food, however, is anything but 'old.'

Walking in the door, note the sign. "This property has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the US Department of the Interior," and be prepared for creaky floors, low lights, heavy interior design, black tie servers, and a simple air of class and elegance without a hint of pretense like you receive at M or Rosendales. Also be prepared to be one of the youngest people in the building as the average age of patrons is likely somewhere around 65. Wooden chairs, white tablecloths, tiny candles, and solid silver service pieces only add to the class.

In such an old building with clients that have clearly been dining there for years, one might expect a menu of the expected.....alas they would be wrong. With a focus on local greens and ingredients plus light sauces instead of heavy flavors, the menu runs from tried and true steaks and tenderloins to Poke style Ahi, Blue Crabcakes, and Lobster Ravioli in citrus broth.

To begin, the breadbasket contained a crusty white bread that was served with the most delectable butter I've tasted outside of Rosendales Citrus and Saffron. Garlicy with a hint of tart, the spread was soft enough to put a thin layer on the crusty bread and absolutely wonderful. I ate way too much bread, but honestly, I don't regret the choice. Best bread basket in Cbus? Quite possibly.

For appetizers, my family and I opted for the Blue Crab Cake with Spicy remoulade sauce, arugula, blood orange and Cajun shoestring potatoes and the Poke Ahi Hawaiian-style with soy-ginger marinated tuna tartare, avocado salad, local micro greens, sweet peppers and wasabi.

The Crabcake was a hit with my mother and Aunt, but seemed a tad too bread-laden for myself. What truly made the dish shine was the incredible blood orange remoulade sauce. Spicy yet sublime and just strong enough to picque the taste of the crab; it was only the first of many suprises from the incredibly talented sous-chef. The Tuna tatare was presented very uniquely, but unfortunately just couldn't stand on its own when compared to similar offerings at M at Miranova or Bobby Flay's Mesa Grille (the two best of the multitude I've tasted.) While tasty and fresh, the avocado salad and microgreens simply overpowered the tuna.

For our mains, my Aunt and I selected the Lobster Ravioli with grilled half Maine lobster tail and petit vegetables in a citrus-basil broth, my mother ordered the Local Pork Tenderloin with Dried cherry and Marsala sauce, braised red cabbage and spiced sweet potato salad, and my sister chose Herb crusted rainbow trout with crab, pancetta and fingerling potato hash with arugula and sweet pepper-champagne coulis.

In a word, the Lobster Ravioli was mesmerizing. "Better than the version at Il Mulino in NYC" is not something I say often about any dish, but I say it with no reservations in this case. The lobster was cooked perfectly and fell from its shell while the raviolis (stuffed with a light cheese and more lobster) bathed in a citrus broth that tasted so good I asked for a 3rd basket of bread to soak up the rest. The peas were fresh and the tomatoes yesty. I would go back for this dish alone.

While not a big pork fan, I also sampled my mother's dish and was awed by the complex taste of the root vegetables and the sweetness of the tenderloin. Once again, the sauce made each component of the dish stand out boldly and enhanced the composition without hiding anything about the myriad of flavors.

The one flaw of the evening, however, was my sister's bland and relatively uninspired trout. While a plain fish by nature, the dish simply lacked much taste, and even extra salt didn't help too much. Well presented and once again with a marvelous accompanying sauce, I think the dish could use a tad more zest and a little less potato.

With the incredible sauces and unique presentations, dessert was a must and once again the Worthington Inn showed a flair for fusing the old with the new and creating a masterpiece.

Spiced Carrot Cake with Brown butter cream and grilled pineapple sorbet was my aunt's option and given that it was her birthday the cake was served with a simple candle and well wishes from the staff. While i personally do not like carrot cake, my aunt loved the dish and the brown butter cream was great. The Pineapple sorbet, IMO, was bland and certainly not on par with anything Jeni has done with fruit recently.

My sister, still sad with her trout having tasted my Ravioli, opted for the Flourless Chocolate Torte with carmel and chocolate sauces, fresh raspberries an house-made caramel-coffee ice cream and hit the jackpot. The cake was dense and moist while the sauces brought out the undertones of bittersweet dark chocolate in perfect balance. Strangely, as good as the cake was, it was only the second best item on the dish. While the pineapple sorbet may not have met Jeni's quality standards, the Coffee icecream has now replaced both Jeni's and Wolfgang Puck's Spago option as the best coffee icecream I've yet to encounter. Sweet yet bold, creamy yet not heavy.....amazing.

My mother and I, both indecisive, opted to order and split the Warm apple crepes with roasted cinnamon apples, butterscotch-caramel sauce and bourbon-pecan ice cream and the Foster's Cheesecake of House-made vanilla cheesecake with macadamia nut crust, caramelized bananas and a banana-rum sauce.

Simple in presentation, yet unique in flavor, the cheesecake was far lighter than any I've tasted recently and sweet without being overdone. The bananas were perfectly fresh and coated with a brulee topping while the rum sauce's bitterness brought everything to a sharp point. While delicious, my only complaint about the dish would be that there was too little banana and that the banana's definitely stole the show.

Similarly to the cheesecake and the torte, the apple crepes were presented simply yet flavored boldly. Strong cinnamon and butter permeated the plate and the whipped cream evened everything out nicely. Again, like the torte and cheesecake, the main item was not the star of the show.....the icecream was incredible. Salty pecans and a buttery burbon undertone, especially when eaten in a bite with the crepes were perfect. All things considering, perhaps the Wothington Inn should consider a small icecream shoppe next door? Its certainly better than Graeters across the street.

Service was perfect, reservations were simple, and the whole evening was wonderful. Noise was not an issue, nor was attitude or pretense like at many of Columbus' well thought of options in the Short North. Service was prompt and attentive and the atmosphere was great. While I wouldn't consider it a great choice for a loud or very large group, this is the kind of restaurant that deserves more than 5000 words; its the kind of restaurant where you feel welcomed and special and a place where you could be comfortable dining with your mother, your best friend, your grandparents, or even proposing to your girlfriend. These sorts of places are rare and definitely overlooked far too often.

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