It’s early Spring, on an otherwise unremarkable weekday, in the town where you grew up, and everybody you know wants to brag about the restaurant downtown that can keep up with any eatery you experience back in LaLa Land.
You’re on vacation and all you want is a decent meal. Poker-faced, you don’t let on about your doubt that a joint in a cowtown could surprise you, lest you come off as more snobby than you have previously been painted — you say you’ll check it out. A friend can recommend a bad movie till the end of time, but if they steer you towards a terrible meal, an expensive one at that, their judgement is forever suspect.
Growing up in Columbus, OH, going out to dinner usually meant you and your family squeezed yourselves into a booth at a sports bar with the plumpest wings in town. Or at a chain restaurant prone to heaping praise on a merciful deity for creating the days known as “the weekend”. Fancy dining wasn’t even an option till Senior prom, where you spent the first five minutes clueless as to why you were in possession of two forks.
But you’ve grown in those spanning years, your tastes a little more refined. Unbeknownst to you, the city you once called home went through a bit of a culinary renaissance.
Chef Josh Dalton opened a version of Veritas back in 2014, in the sticks of Delaware County. The fact that anybody even stumbled upon the place is sort of kismet. Word grew of an elegant, yet welcoming kitchen that specialized in small plates, including a crabmeat gnocchi lighter than air. But was it worth the drive out of the city?
Smartly, Dalton shuttered those doors and set up camp inside the basement of the once-defunct Citizens Building on Gay St., in the heart of the city. There were now no more excuses for the citizens of Columbus.
The layout of Veritas sits somewhere between modern minimalism and “I don’t know, let’s put flowers on every table”. The large windows allow for plenty of late day summer sun and there’s a curved bar in the middle where the 9-5 suckers unwind. On the menu is a note from management that asks for patience as they decide further on what to do with the space.
An obvious statement. The vibe doesn’t gel, but, I’m not here to eat the tablecloth. What does catch your eye, however, is the glassed-in kitchen, where mustachioed men and pixie-cut women (both adorned with tattoos) do the painstaking presentation of the small plate cuisine. This is no cut-throat kitchen. No orders are barked. Everybody seems to be moving at their own pace, yet the focus is evident.
You bypass the tasting menu in favor of going the À la carte route. First to the table were the Island Creek Oysters. Beautifully displaced inside a pebble sandbox, the oysters came roasted, not raw, and bathed in a spicy gojuchang sauce. A smooth start to our dinner. What followed was a Mushroom and ricotta toast. A rustic treat with an abundance of micro greens and edible flowers that manage to hide the ooze of the soft, creamy ricotta. The mushrooms had a slight hint of umami flavor, not too bold as to distract from the freshness of the greens.
And now the Crabmeat Gnocchi. This more than lived up to it’s reputation, perhaps offering the finest single bite in the whole city. The open secret here is that the gnocchi is made with cake flower, which speaks to it’s incredible airiness texture. There are, of course, truffles on top, not that I’m mad at that. Truffles can be tricky, too much and you’ve ruined the meal. Dalton & crew know when to hold back, so as to not overpower the richness of the sauce.
Your last course of the evening is the Shoulder Filet with farro and curry. The slices were tender, prepared rare, and complimented nicely with the twice-prepared farro (one boiled, the other toasted which provided a nice crunch). Perfectly edible, though you found yourself reminiscing about the offerings that came before.
You swear off dessert, a first, and settle up with the friendly waiter. A few texts to your friends, thanking them for the recommendation, and you’re back on the streets that you once held. As you wait for Uber, an attractive couple make their way towards the entrance. The woman stops to ask you if this place is worth it.
You smile and say “Yes”.