ROOFTOP DINING AT VASO
Written by Amelia Jeffers
Photography courtesy of AC Hotel Columbus Dublin
Rising up from the banks of the Scioto at the once-familiar intersection of 161 and Riverside Drive is a sight to behold. For those who haven’t ventured to the area since the days of Carfagna’s and Tuesday Morning, developer Crawford Hoying’s megalith project known as Bridge Park is nothing short of astounding. And even if those names mean nothing to you, prepare for a near-shock and awe response to this elaborate extension of old Dublin.
Anchoring the site is a modern and massive hotel from Marriott’s AC brand of properties. Inspired by a classically comfortable and sophisticated European style, AC Hotels are marked by upscale but relaxed accommodations, food, and drink - and the new Dublin location is no exception.
Though the hotel bar is ample and offers easy small plates and cocktails from the main restaurant menu, the ambiance of the rooftop eatery dubbed Vaso (spanish for “glass”) is not to be missed. Accessible via interior and exterior elevators, Vaso is (I think) unique to Columbus in the category of “transports me to another city.” Walls of glass commandeer the space, and the remarkable elevation in this part of central Ohio offers unobstructed views of bright blue sky, the river, old Dublin, and beyond. Modern fixtures complement the effect, and brilliant placement of furniture creates an airy, open and spacious feel without seeming like you’ve stepped into a conference center. The curved bar artfully ties together a cozy couch and stand are to more conventional tables that accommodate groups of just about any size.
The star attraction, though, is the amazing outdoor patio. With multiple firepits, heat lamps, and cabanas, the glass-walled, wood-floored deck is well-planned to mitigate the brisk temperatures so prevalent in central Ohio, even into May - though I think their bigger concern will be determining the load-bearing capacity of the deck as more people find out about this hidden gem. Even in the depths of a hard February winter, we were lured out to take in the views and fantasize about sundresses and sandals, warmed by the ever-present fire that serves as a beacon to guests of Vaso.
It may be the stunning views and a hip, straight-out-of-Miami decor that grabbed attention initially, but the incredible food and drinks have kept this place hopping since the opening earlier this year. With a nod to Spanish culture, the tapas-style menu is full of traditional tastes that are exquisitely prepared and presented under the watchful eye of Executive Chef David Belknap. With stints at such iconic brands as The Ritz Carlton under his belt, Chef David co-founded L&W Oyster Co. in New York City before heading to Ohio to make his mark on the fine dining scene here. And what a mark he is making.
Ubering to Vaso with a gaggle of girlfriends, I was prepared for a quiet evening of catching up while sampling menu items for this article; but the rhythmic music and low rumble of a large weeknight crowd greeting us as we exited the elevator quickly changed that expectation. Though we squeezed around a smallish table (the management had kindly accommodated my last-minute request for a press visit), our group was growing more energetic as we took in the vibe.
My friends were good sports about helping me sample as much as possible, so selections from the extensive drink menu were varied, though we definitely stuck to cocktails. Nikki, whose house specialty is a mean Moscow Mule, was taken with Vaso’s version. Cheryl went for the sparkling sangria, festively served with a lemon slice and scoop of berries. Zibbi gravitated toward “Ships Across the Sea,” a light and refreshing tequila concoction with Banane du Bresil, lemongrass, and lemon; and, I thoroughly enjoyed the savory, sweet and oh-so-fragrant “Garden Strolls” combination of Titos, basil, eau de vie, apricot brandy, and lime. Known for their ginormous signature G&T (gin and tonic), Vaso serves them up in fishbowl-sized goblets with juniper berries and a wedge of grapefruit peel. We all agreed to be adventurous in our next visit with the sangria and order a parron (see photos).
Our server, Audrey, was more than helpful as we navigated the food menu, helping us to make choice selections across every category. Tapas are my all-time favorite way to enjoy a meal, so I was super-excited to jump in. Our first course focused on Pan Con (Bread) and Fritura (Fried). The Pan con Tomate is simply crisped bread topped with tomato jam, a drizzle of garlic olive oil and honey, and manchego. The Cheese y Charcuterie Board featured ibérico & serrano ham, chorizo, manchego, arzúa & mahón paired with grilled sourdough. One could make a meal of these two plates alone.
The Fritura (Fried) plates brought a bit of decadence to the table with a fan favorite (nothing short of dangerous for anyone on a diet): the Croquetas "Bombas.” We absolutely ravaged the Ham y Manchego. Served with date chili sauce and house-made spicy paprika ranch, these fried wonders are a super-sophisticated bar food. From the “when eating tapas, you simply cannot miss” files, both the empanadas and fried potatoes did not disappoint.
Moving on to the Bocadillos (Sandwiches) and Verduras (Vegetables), Audrey recommended the Chorizo al Vino Tinto, a rich chorizo cooked in red wine and paired with goat cheese and caramelized onion. The serrano ham and cheese grilled sandwich with gherkins (Jamón Serrano y Manchego) was a solid choice; and, everyone raved about the delicious, share-able Piquillos Rellenos, peppers stuffed with cheese. Chef David sent us the butternut bisque (Sopa de Calabaza) in shot-glass servings so everyone could sample. With crispy pepitas, chili oil, and crème fraîche, we were all left craving more.
No spanish meal would be complete without a bit of Carne (Meat) and Mar (Seafood), and I live with a vegetarian, so an opportunity to eat well-prepared meat is always appealing to me. The hanger steak (Entraña con Salsa Vizcaína) is a twist on the all-American steak and potatoes. Moist and delicious, the mellow gamey-flavor is quite tasty and paired nicely with vizcaína sauce, slow poached onion, sweet red choricero pepper sauce, and pan-roasted potatoes. Our appetites winding down, we skipped the chicken though our neighboring didn’t, and it looked very fresh with squash, peppers and romesco sauce. However, no one could resist the grilled pork loin - brined for 24 hours, grilled with just a touch of smoke and served with rich tomato confit (Filete de Cerdo Grillado con Aioli).
Though an allergy kept me from tasting the generously-portioned Calamar Frito, my friends indicated that it was simply the best crispy but melt-in-your-mouth calamari they had ever had. With sweet peppers and sherry-chili sauce, the tender morsels looked amazing, but I chose the safer (for me) and gratifyingly delicious option of Gambas al Ajillo, a serving of lightly sautéed shrimp, sparingly dressed with a little evoo, garlic, chili peppers, and sherry.
Rounding out our meal was an american-influenced apple empanada and a classic flan, as rich and dense as you would hope. Unashamedly, we also ordered the churros and a french press, an easy yes - and, we all agreed a nice take on after-dinner coffee and donuts.
With a surprising shortage of fabulous brunch options in Columbus, my friends and I left eager to plan a weekend get together to try Vaso’s. And, as the summer calendar draws near, the Vaso 4th of July celebration, with an unbeatable view of the Dublin fireworks, a DJ and an opportunity to reserve a private cabana on the deck, seems like a perfect grown-up alternative to Red, White & Boom (but since they are on different nights, maybe both!).
Vaso is offering private igloos for dining from $150/hr. For more information, visit vasodublin.com
This article was originally published in the May/June 2018 print edition of Sophisticated Living Columbus.