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200 W. Nationwide Blvd. Columbus, OH 43215 (614) 221-9060

The arena district is shaping up nicely these days, in spite of all that Hockey nonsense.  There’s five or six restaurants and as many bars within a five minute walk of each other.  If you are willing to walk ten minutes, you’re in the Short North, so start in the Arena District and work your way up, maybe even gradually.  Make a night of it.  Actually, you could start in the Arena itself…

Cotter’s just opened a couple months back, in the space that used to be the Blue Jacket Bistro.  It’s a pretty, vaulted space, interrupted by grand pianos; huge, leafy houseplants, easy-on-the-eyes art and a little bit of chain mail.  The bar sleekly moseys down one wall, pointing patrons towards those crazy, free-standing arches left over from the train station, which are actually better enjoyed from the vantage point of Cotter’s newly-opened patio.  More on that later.

There are some great wines-by-the-glass to try while sidling and waiting for that one friend that always needs a waiting for.  And the entire staff seems to know what they are talking about when it comes to wine.  So, tell them what you like and they’ll hook you up.  Cotter’s has nimbly executed martinis and mixed drinks, too, which is good, because the bar is worth a five or ten minute sit.
The raised, round table in the middle of the room is the one to get, once the late guy arrives.  It’s got a chain mail curtain that rises an easy fifteen feet to the ceiling and (coincidentally?!?) a booth shaped like a giant red “C”.   It’s royal feeling, with velvety cushions, a great vantage point for scoping the entire dining room and, of course, chain mail.  If that table’s not available, or if it is a really nice evening, the patio is the place to be.  It holds as many or more guests as the inside dining room, and offers breezes and people watching that no indoor joint could ever match.

Again, the service pros at Cotter’s really know their wines.  There’s almost certainly something cool that isn’t on the list, and plenty cool that is.  A brief conversation about tannic structure and fruit forwardness will yield some interesting results.  We got a twisty bottle of Gattinara to begin; shortly thereafter we had to get another.  The menu offers all character of food, so a brief consultation therewith is highly recommended before deciding on wine.  The Lobsters Rangoon and Salad probably don’t want to be anywhere nearer the Lincort Pinot or the J. Lohr Cab than the Steamed Mussels or the Flash Fried Calamari steaks.  However,   The Chilled duck breast wants to be as close as possible.  Have them put the Salmon with Brie next to the Chalk Hill Chard., or the Campaccia, Terrabianca next to the Roasted Duck Breast with leek slaw or the smoky-sweet Center Cut Pork Chop.

There’s just so much that can be done with Cotter’s widely varied menu and wine list.  Outside, while arena football fans or concert-goers or movie fans who want a beer with their flick file by, the Giesen Sauv. Blanc goes great with the cool evening air and the surprisingly spicy and perfectly creamy Chilled Cream of Gaspacho.  It’s a block party of fruits sweet, once-sweet and savory that perfectly prepares the palate for Creole Crab Cakes with the King Estate Pinot or Steak Delmonico with a huge Cab. From Stags’ Leap.  If there’s some of that left over after the entrees, a little should be swished around in the mouth with Cotter’s unique and delicious take on Tiramisu.

Chef Brandon King has spent most of the time he’s not bowling or driving sprint cars in the recent years of his life learning and experimenting about and with food.  He’s got a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and a host of experiences that include five years with Cameron Mitchell and a couple as executive chef at the Malibu Grill.  A brief perusal of his menu indicates a thematic reworking of some of contemporary culinaria’s best sellers.  Brandon’s Caprese salad, which he calls the “Caprice,” is the good ole mozzarella, basil and tomato thing, but it comes on a bed of baby greens with herbed vinaigrette.  The Crab Cakes come with a black-bean-and-spice-laden polenta cake, the duck breast comes with leek slaw and the Pork Chops have heaps of apple butter.  It’s like Brandon has figured out how to take the stuff we all already agree is good and make it better.  Again, like the Tiramisu.

When the desert plates are cleared, it’s the perfect time for a Sambucca or coffee drink, or something, and, even if dinner wasn’t on the patio, these last drinks should be.  Many of the places that might play host to the rest of the evening can be seen from there, so strategies can be made to avoid later collective action problems.  The car can stay parked where it is, and everyone can find something they want to do within hoofing distance.  There’s dancing around the corner, live music across the street and some cool décor on the other side of the arena.  Or, there’s always more Sambucca behind the bar and plenty of stars in the sky.