About a week ago, I set out to find a classy yet affordable new restaurant for Valentine’s Day. After plenty of research, I stumbled upon SOW Plated, a regal, modern restaurant that feels a little out of place at The Shops on Lane Avenue. To me, food is a very intimate thing to share, so I feel that the restaurant you experience with your Valentine should, of course, be as special as the person you love.
After spending time in Los Angeles throughout the past four years visiting my sister and going on innumerable food excursions, I’ve come to realize there are two types of new-age restaurants. The first has genuinely good people who make genuinely good food. The second is full of sharks who relentlessly jump on food trends and end up making something that’s pretty, yet hollow. SOW showed me there might be a third type.
As I approached SOW, I immediately noticed its nameplate sits on a towering, domed rotunda crowning it the Camelot of the plaza where it humbly resides. Despite looking out of place, it had its own charm, and I could easily picture myself taking someone’s hand and walking in. Fantasies of a Valentine’s date threw a hazy lens on the establishment that made it seem like a carefully constructed scene from a Disney animated movie.
The fairy tale seemed to carry on as I walked through the large door and into the dining room. The transition from the cold and rainy day to the eclectic, spotless dining room was jarring. It certainly didn’t feel like I was in Columbus, Ohio, anymore. Its spotless floors, white brick walls, perfectly arranged furniture, mood lighting and modern living room decorations transported me back to LA.
It all seemed too good to be true, and sadly, it was.
I was snapped back into reality when I was given an odd look by the less than enthusiastic hostess after seeing that I was dressed in jeans and a jacket. Suddenly, the lens fell away and I realized I was being presented with something similar to the shark part of LA food culture.
As I sat down in a gray leather booth so pristine it looked like no one had ever sat in it before, I started to scan through the menu. That’s when my suspicions were confirmed and everything came together. It seemed the visionaries behind SOW think they are missionaries, trying to bring trends reminiscent of LA casual fine dining to Columbus. The menu looked like items were cherry picked from a BuzzFeed top 20 most popular foods in LA list. Options ranged from Wagyu short rib to tacos to pad thai.
For a starter, I ordered the Breads and Spreads for $14, which consists of grilled pita and french bread served with cashew pimento cheese, kale guacamole and hummus. All of it appeared to come straight from a Tasty recipe video on Instagram. I took my first bite with great anticipation and stopped mid-chew. The taste went straight from my tongue to my mind, where I started to rethink my initial judgments. My entire perspective shifted, and I knew this place was more than its branding. I started to see the genuine part of trendy food culture come through.
My eyes and stomach became hopeful, and I looked to the future: the entree. I placed my order with a quick and kind waitress who made me forget about the look I got from the hostess. I soon began to realize the point of the interior design was not to front a disingenuous culture, but work in tandem with the food. The atmosphere removes you from Columbus and makes you forget all about the stress of the real world, so you can focus on the most important thing on Valentine’s Day — your partner.
With that, the waitress promptly brought my pasta and I had to pause and admire it. It was beautifully constructed, with layers of penne pasta topped with pumpkin seed pesto, almond truffle ricotta and roasted seasonal vegetables for $17. It’s almost enough to make you take your eyes off of your date.
As pretentious as the ingredients might sound, it all worked. The dish was good; easily the best pasta I’ve had in Columbus, period. With every bite, my grievances with their seemingly arrogant branding drifted away. I could tell there is a kitchen staff that really cares about its work. This was the good part of the restaurant’s LA inspiration: a genuine craftsman who takes the time to make genuinely good food.
I believe if any place has good food, all of its other offenses can be forgiven. I also believe that with good food comes good conversation, and that’s all you can really ask for on Valentine’s Day. SOW isn’t LA, but it’s also not Columbus. It’s part of a new wave of restaurants forging their own paths.
If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale and special for Valentine’s Day, I’d recommend making the trip to SOW Plated at 1625 W. Lane Ave. It’s a taste of Los Angeles trendiness with casual fine dining, good food and a comfortable place to sit and talk that’s reasonably affordable. I’d hurry and make a Valentine’s Day reservation before all the wannabe foodies do it first.