The chef’s tasting menu is the definition of an eating adventure. You make a pact with the kitchen: they will bring you the very best dishes they have to offer, made from the fresh and sometimes unusual ingredients, combined in creative ways; and you will sample them, no matter what. Your goal is not to get full—though you will—but to experience dishes in a way you haven’t before. Along the way, you will discover how different—and delicious—food can taste than what you’re used to when prepared by expert hands. It’s the journey, not the destination.
It’s also very different than the way most of us are used to approaching a meal.
Josh Dalton, Executive Chef at Veritas, bet his business on the tasting menu model when the restaurant announced in 2018 that the chef’s tasting menu would be the sole way to order. “I’d say your average meal is between 20-25 bites,” he said. His intention was for those bites to come out in seven or eight creative courses that would surprise and delight diners. It didn’t work out quite the way he hoped.
After following that model for a year, Dalton re-introduced a la carte options. “Columbus, they need to have a say, they need to have choices,” he said. However, he’s not entirely satisfied with the hybrid approach. “The tasting menu is meant to be the things that really inspire us and the newest techniques,” he said. “It allows us to drive creativity and focus when you’re only worried about these eight dishes. It really lets you perfect them and get into details.”
The courses generally follow the expected flow of a meal, from appetizers to main meat and seafood dishes, finished with dessert; there are simply more of them. (Dalton’s team works to accommodate all special dietary requests with 48 hours notice).
Dalton’s style is to experiment, perfect, and move on. The tasting menu gives him the freedom to mix it up as ingredients change seasonally, and as he’s inspired by new dishes he samples while traveling. Further, it helps him maintain an interest and focus on his dishes.
What this means for diners is that if you love something you try on the tasting menu, odds are that it won’t be offered next time you visit Veritas. Counterpoint: there will be something wonderful and surprising in its place. But changing the mindset for why you go to a restaurant—to have an adventure, as opposed to having exactly what you want, and ceding control over your meal—that’s something Dalton is still coaxing Columbus diners to embrace.
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For all the reasons the tasting menu approach wasn’t as successful as Dalton had hoped, there are several advantages for diners that he hopes will nudge folks to take the plunge in the future. First, Dalton is confident that in the right hands, diners will discover they like foods that they think they don’t. “I’m a firm believer that if you don’t like asparagus, it’s not that you don’t like asparagus, you just haven’t had it the way you like it,” he said. “There may be a different preparation where you really love it that way.”
Second, it eliminates “palate fatigue.” In other words, every bite will be interesting. “Anybody that’s ever had a big, 28 oz. steak, the first 5 bites are amazing. I can promise you, […] that last bite is nowhere near as good as those first five,” Dalton said. “As soon as your palate is starting to get used to something, we’re trying to force it to change into a different direction.”
And finally, it lets you escape from the monotony of mealtime. For the duration of your dinner, the only decision you have to make is what you’re drinking (and with wine pairing options, Dalton’s team would be happy to help you with that, too). The time you normally spend at a restaurant worrying over what to order instead of talking with your dinner companions? It’s yours to chat about whatever else is on your mind. And with seven to eight courses, you’re guaranteed to have at least one thing on your plate that you’ve never tried before, along with a few more familiar dishes prepared in unexpected ways.
The chef, meanwhile, is using this meal to show off their skills and interests, meaning that bland and predictable food is the only thing that’s strictly off-limits. Dalton has a reputation for using gastronomy in his cooking—bringing in tools to trick your eyes and toy with your tastebuds. But as he’s matured as a chef, he’s also refined those tools to focus solely on the food. “Right now I like things to look simple, and then when you taste it you’re like, ‘oh shit, I didn’t see that coming.’”
Dalton has never been what you would call a rule-follower in the kitchen. “I never went to culinary school. I started cooking around Columbus and I got fired from pretty much everywhere that you can get fired from,” he said. He admits that he had strong ideas about how a kitchen should run that often didn’t align with the chef’s vision. “I just didn’t like people telling me what to do, and I figured if I owned, they couldn’t tell me what to do.” Time has changed his perspective a bit. For one thing, as an owner, a lot of people tell him what to do, from the electric company to the IRS. “I have more bosses today than I’ve ever had.”
Despite the daily pressures, there’s some freedom that comes with owning a restaurant that Dalton takes full advantage of. Twice each year, he closes his restaurants to allow staff time to travel. In addition to recharging, Dalton says they use the time to eat and gather influences from other places, which will show up on the Veritas menu when they return. The tasting menu format allows them the flexibility to quickly incorporate new ideas and bring the creativity Dalton craves into the kitchen. His next trip will be to Paris, London and Italy, and he anticipates the menu will reflect European-style cuisine once he returns.
But if you don’t want to go that far afield to have an adventure, an evening at Veritas will let you try new foods and bring stories back to your friends, all without leaving Columbus. If you’ve never given a tasting menu a try, you couldn’t be in better hands than Dalton’s. Veritas is an adventure worth having.
Veritas is located at 11 W Gay St. To see Veritas’ current menu or for hours and operations, visit veritasrestaurant.com.