Our annual Overeating Celebration can be a glorious occasion. Yet the holidays are also notorious for bringing a myriad of logistical challenges, such as daunting kitchen projects and food-related messes, which can lead to or exacerbate family drama.
Well, it’s not too late to cut the bait and let the professionals do it all. Step into an impressive new Italian restaurant opening on Thanksgiving Day and located in a downtown landmark: Bar Cicchetti, operating inside the beautiful and historic Westin Great Southern Columbus hotel. The highly successful restaurant has a top owner – serial restaurateur Fabio Viviani, a celebrity chef and beloved alumnus of “Top Chef”.
Although Bar Cicchetti boasts an old and grand architectural setting, its dining room is a relaxed, modern space that is almost bright like a café, largely outfitted in shades of brown and beige and whose main distinguishing features are the windows offering cinematic views of the cityscape. A smaller, darker attached bar is cozier and quieter; both rooms provided excellent service.
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Traditional cicchetti (chee-KET-ee) – Venetian dialect for cheap tapas-style snacks – aren’t actually featured at Bar Cichetti. In fact, most of the dishes are expensive and rather substantial. How much does it matter, however, when the dishes are generally bold, expertly prepared and delicious?
That includes the $16 cocktails I tried, which are better values than Bar Cicchetti’s $15 glasses of Banfi Chianti Classico and its $9 Italian Peroni beers. The cucumber-flavored Pepino (“pepino” means “cucumber” in Italian) was an appealing, ginger-lime refreshment with a smoky finish thanks to the scotch and mezcal. For something creamier and sweeter — but not sweet — choose the Pistachio Smash, a refined take on a tiki drink with a nutty finish.
Next, dive into one of the best dishes I’ve had recently, Bar Cicchetti’s vibrant grilled octopus ($25). Deftly balancing contrasting elements, it was two tall, super tender and sweet tentacles playing on impossibly crunchy roasted potatoes in an intense chili oil-like sauce energized with vinegar, ‘nduja (spicy sausage) plus sweet and tangy onions. A small celery salad brought a compensating freshness.
Polpetti di Fabio ($18) rightly sounds more interesting than “meatballs in tomato sauce.” And Fabio Viviani is touting these ground beef orbs for good reason. They are heavy but tenderized with ricotta cheese and enhanced by a rich but bright red sauce, enriched with onions. Grated garlic, basil, parsley and cracked black pepper, along with crispy toasted bread heavily enriched with olive oil added a lot to the party.
Another potentially routine item – pizza – also exceeded expectations. Credit a thick, air-locked, puffy but cracked-edge crust that was reminiscent of the rectangular focaccia-like “al taglio” slices sold for take-out all over Rome.
While the mozzarella wasn’t smoked on my five-slice smoked mozzarella and pesto pizza ($17), the plentiful cheese was high quality. Add melted leeks, shallots, and lightly applied bright pesto, and you have a rich yet tangy delight.
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The pasta is homemade and it bypasses the clichés too. Value alert: Lunch diners at this all-day hotel restaurant will pay about $10 less per pasta than diners.
That made strozzapreti verde — thick-but-soft, basil-green noodles resembling cavatelli on a brisk broth with crumbled sausage, smoked blistered tomatoes, fennel and eggs — a midday deal for $16. The shrimp lumache in tomato broth was another delicious afternoon deal ($17): firm but tender pasta shells blackened in squid ink served with good shrimp, chili and tomatoes blistered.
Either pasta could be lunch for two while also sharing a big side of terrific parmesan-crusted broccolini accented with garlic and chili ($10), or a Cicchetti Cobb salad ($16) that evoked a whimsical salad with a beautiful boiled egg containing a melted yolk.
Over the phone, Bar Cicchetti confirmed that a “traditional Thanksgiving feature” will also be available on November 24. Whenever you visit, a staple dessert from the regular menu can make every day feel like a holiday: the homemade tiramisu ($12), which characteristically offers traditional flavors but in the non-cliched, reimagined form of a milk cream garnished with streusel.