Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cameron Mitchell’s Culinary Empire

Each theme works, while the service shines

High Street in the Short North
     Columbus is a chain of suburbs in search of a downtown.  Its restaurant scene follows this same model.  Though there has been a proliferation of independent foodie styled establishments in the Short North and the Arena District in the past twenty years, chains are the way to eat in Ohio’s capital.  Wendy’s started there, Piada – Italian food in a cafeteria setting that mirrors Chipotle – is the most recent addition, and
any new fast food item has to pass muster in the metropolitan middle of the heartland before it goes national.

Cameron Mitchell*

     The most significant Columbus restaurateur has to be Cameron Mitchell. Originally from Upper Arlington – a northwest Columbus suburb – he’s created a number of restaurants based on cuisine types beginning in 1993:  Mitchell’s Fish Market, which has expanded regionally yet has been sold by Mitchell, with a large variety of fish in a limited number of preparation styles; Cameron’s American Bistro; M – the elegant, upscale restaurant; Martini Modern Italian – the title labels it already; and various others.

     We’ve gone to four elements of this collection over the years.  Mitchell’s Ocean Club at Easton Towne Centre (everything that counts in Columbus is related to a shopping area) had a cool vibe thanks to soundscape type music and a dining room that looked like an airport lounge rising out of Atlantis.  The Pan-Asian food was very good and ahead of its time in 1999 at least.  I’m not sure why we didn’t return.  

     Molly Woo’s, located at Polaris (another upscale shopping enclave north of the 270 outer belt), looks like a ‘60s/’70s ‘theme restaurant’ version of ‘30s Shanghai.  The interior space is open plan, but divided into different dining areas with a comfortable bar.  It’s both wry and self-referential, but avoids looking like kitsch.  We ordered take out of potstickers, which were good, but not on the level of those at Emperor’s Choice in Chicago’s Chinatown, and Wonton Soup.  OMG, it felt like a salt lick or what I imagine one would be like.  Neil called and told the manager, who kindly dealt with the bill.  I would return just to see the restaurant again.

Cap City Diner
     We’ve gone to Cap City Diner (there are a couple of locations) a number of times and the food has been a merging of new takes on traditional family fare, whether they’re soups, sandwiches, salads, casseroles or other entrées.  Every choice has been anywhere from good to excellent.  Here the interior plays against expectations by throwing pools of light on tables in the midst of a velvety darkness and by displaying a full spectrum of color in various tiles on the walls and floor.

Marcella's at Polaris

     Marcella’s seems to be the happy medium between Bravo and Brio (members of another set of restaurants originating in Columbus), though the difference is the homemade pasta.  

The Apple Salad

We shared the Apple Salad with mixed greens, Granny Smith apples, red grapes, walnuts, and Gorgonzola dressed in sherry vinaigrette.  

Gnocci Bolognaise
Ravioli Mezzaluna
Neil chose the Ravioli Mezzaluna.  Goat cheese filled the pasta pillows and the sauce included Italian bacon, cabbage, and mushrooms.  It was really good, but the Gnocci Bolognaise with braised lamb was excellent.  The sauce was almost as good as Nicola’s (and that’s really saying something).  We finished off with a subtly flavored Vanilla Panna Cotta with apricot marmalade and house cookies.  It was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked.

Vanilla Panna Cotta
    What unites the Mitchell enclave is the service.  Culinary magazines make a big deal about Danny Meyer’s New York restaurants.  Meyer has been one of his own biggest fans.  However, we didn’t have service on the level of what is regularly expected in Chicago, Cincinnati, or Columbus.  Mitchell’s staff members are always friendly, intelligent, and ready to go beyond the expectations of patrons.

*courtesy of Restaurant Magazine
Marcella's Ristorante on Urbanspoon
Mitchell's Ocean Club on Urbanspoon
Molly Woo's Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon
Cap City Fine Diner and Bar on Urbanspoon

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