This post is the first in a new series on this blog where I’ll shed light on local businesses worthy of your attention, time and money. I’m calling it my Best of Columbus series, and there will be some broader Best of Ohio posts as well. This may seem like a bit of a departure from my usual niche of PR and social media, but not really – it’s me helping out wonderful local establishments with a bit of well-deserved online PR and word of mouth. I’m also adding some tips at the bottom for how Bel Lago or other restaurants could use social media to help build their business.
I’m starting the series with a look at Bel Lago Bistro, the stellar new restaurant in the gorgeous waterfront location previously occupied by the Hoover Grill. Disclaimer: I know the executive chef, Jeff Heisler, and he’s a great guy. I promise that’s not why I’m raving about this place, nor am I the only one; Columbus Alive’s G.A. Benton and City Scene‘s reviewer also enthused about it.
The first thing that strikes you about Bel Lago is definitely the location and the view. Perched alongside the beautiful Hoover Reservoir in Westerville, Bel Lago makes you forget you’re in landlocked Columbus, Ohio – especially if you time your meal for a sunset view. It’s simply gorgeous and idyllic.
A terrific view alone does not a great meal make, however. The prior incarnation of the restaurant was mediocre to good, but not exceptional. I’m happy to say the changes made by the new Bel Lago have all been wise ones. The menu features a great variety with a decidedly Italian flair.
We started with the risotto balls at the recommendation of our server, and it was quite possibly the best appetizer I’ve ever had. When I was a kid on Long Island, pizza joints used to serve rice balls – a fabulous breaded and fried orb of cooked rice and mozzarella cheese. Bel Lago’s risotto balls took me back to those delicious childhood memories but surpassed them by a mile. Served hot with three dipping sauces – pesto, red sauce and alfredo – these were crisp on the outside, chewy and parmesan-melty on the inside, and utterly delicious. My husband and I agreed we could eat about a dozen more each and then die happy.
Several of the salads on Bel Lago’s menu sounded wonderful, but a glance at the tables around us told us they were huge, so we skipped the salads and went right to dinner. My husband raved about his molasses-barbecue baby back ribs and fresh asparagus, while I devoured my plate of home-made spaghetti topped by a large and tasty meatball. As noted by ThisWeek newspapers recently, fresh pasta is hard to come by in Columbus and Bel Lago is one of a handful of places making their own.
You might think that after our delicious appetizer and entrees, not to mention the wonderful hot, cheesy rolls and garlic butter we plowed through, that we’d be content to skip dessert and simply gaze at the water. You’d be wrong. We each felt called by a particular dessert on the menu and I’m happy to report that both the chocolate cake (husband’s weakness) and cannolli (my all-time favorite dessert) were excellent. The cannolli shells were chocolate-dipped and I’m a bit of a purist, preferring them plain with a bit of powdered sugar, but other than that they were terrific.
The best part of dining at this location always used to be the dreamy waterfront view. While that’s as gorgeous as ever, the food at Bel Lago is now just as sublime. The combination adds up to a simply spectacular date night, celebratory group outing or special occasion. Better yet, you can either dress up or go in wearing nice but casual attire – your choice.
Bel Lago Bistro can’t be beat - I’ve not found its equal. While Confluence Park downtown does have spectacular riverfront city views, Bel Lago is the only place in Columbus where the view of the water goes on for miles. Bel Lago’s food is superb, service is great and the decor inside is very attractive – but sit outside if you can. There’s just no getting over that view.
How Could Social Media Help Bel Lago?
My CTO, otherwise known as my blog technical advisor, also known as my better half, just let me know that this blog post does not belong here. He said that my personal brand has to do with PR and social media, not restaurant reviews, so he didn’t like this post. I do not want to start yet another blog (two blogs and multiple social networking sites is plenty), so I’m going to enhance this post by adding some thoughts about how social media could help Bel Lago Bistro.
If this were my restaurant, I’d probably start a Twitter account to start engaging with my local community. I’d follow anyone in Columbus but especially media, food bloggers and anyone who Tweets often about restaurants dining out. I’d hook up with the Tastecasting folks and invite them in for a special VIP tasting event. I’d also host a Tweetup for all local Twitterfolk to come in and enjoy a sampling of small portions at a reduced cost or possibly even free with a cash bar.
I’d probably also start a blog to share recipes, guest posts from customers with great stories (engagements and other special occasions at Bel Lago), and tips or news from the restaurant. I’d create a presence on Facebook with a branded URL and put a profile on Majelly, the Columbus social networking site. On all of these sites, I’d engage with other members in a very human, non-commercial way to build relationships. I’d also start encouraging guests to post reviews on Yelp.com and other local and national restaurant review sites.
How about you – where’s your favorite place to dine out in Columbus? And what other ideas do you have for Bel Lago or other local restaurants?
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