It’d be easy to hear a handful of quotes from Veritas owner/chef Josh Dalton and get the wrong idea.
A rigid ideology. Fiercely-trained specs on quality control. A less-than-light dusting of profanity lacing his passionate, on-the-fly speeches about culinary excellence—in Columbus and beyond.
He cares about his staff more than he does his reputation, and now, in a move that many are already defining as “ballsy,” he’s doing once again trying to set a new tone for chefs and restaurateurs in the city.
He’s getting rid of his menu.
I don’t mean he’s changing it for the season.
It’s gone. 86’d.
From this fall on, when you walk into Veritas, you’re in the capable hands of Dalton and his talented team’s two tasting menus; the only question you’ll need to answer is: how much money and how many dishes. As much as moving entirely to a no-choice menu might seem to indicate an egotist lording power over his plebian patrons, it’s actually quite logical, coming from Dalton’s vantage point.
With each tasting menu being dictated by the season’s offerings and what’s on-hand and fresh, Dalton insists his staff will be able to care for the customer better—but not having to cater to each of their individual preferences.
Part of that is weighted in Dalton’s preference as a customer, where other restaurants, in his mind, are his chance to turn-off-and-tuck-in to someone else’s cooking.
“You have enough shit to worry about throughout the day,” he said. “What time do I need to pick this up? What time is this meeting? Why don’t you just stop, relax, and enjoy the company that you’re with and let me worry about the next two hours of your life?”
Veritas, who made their much heralded move downtown from their mini-but-mighty space in Delaware, is also partially making the adjustment after beginning this phase with an a la carte menu riding shotgun with a pricier, multi-course tasting menu. Often diners would order a la carte by the pair, and in a desire for more, would sometimes order two more, and two more after that, causing havoc in a kitchen that’s also potentially following a nine-course meal for diners at different time intervals.
“The hard thing here is we don’t really know [what] to prep for,” he said. “On one night we’ll have four tasting menus and then you start putting in ala carte and now people are waiting longer and it really wasn’t the experience we wanted to offer to people. So by taking it down and doing these tasting menus, we really get to dictate and determine what menu they want, exactly how long it should take, what kind of portions are coming out, and when to fire things.”
Translation: the new plan replaces guesswork with guest work.
“I want everything to be looked at or scrutinized,” Dalton said. “I want us to be making the decision; I don’t want the guest making the decision.”
This is where an interview with Dalton always gets fun. Some may find it a little prickly, but I often find it refreshing. He’s doing something very specific, but also something he’s passionate about sharing with a large audience. His stridency on principles and approach appear to be as much about setting healthy expectations as anything. And for those who have been, or may be off-put by such limited choice in their meal, there is a quintessential Dalton response to that, too. He gets it—but that doesn’t mean he’s prepared to change it.
“I do believe that sometimes it’s good to ‘fire’ a customer,” he said. “It’s good for business and it’s good for the morale of the team. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not in the habit of asking people to leave, but sometimes [whether] it be they don’t understand what we’re doing, or they just want to complain or they treat the staff like shit, it’s okay to say, ‘You know what? This isn’t a relationship that is going to be positive.”
He’s fielded those complaints a few times since Veritas’s opening, happy to point them in the direction of other like-minded chefs like Watershed’s Jack Moore or Service Bar’s Avishar Barua, for those wanting creative fare, but through a traditional infrastructure.
“There’s only so much space in this building that you can’t offer everything to everyone,” he said. “You gotta find what your principles are and stick to them. We know we’re not for everybody, but there’s a difference between giving everyone what they want and hospitality. We are in the hospitality business. We need to care about people, we need to consistently meet their needs. It’s not a matter of them being right, or us being right, or them being wrong, or us being wrong—I think that’s where people have that offset connection. This is the hospitality business. My business is to make sure that you are taken care of and that you enjoy your time.
“We sell experience—that’s the most important thing.”
Oh, and you’ll be sold some of the finest food anytone is serving in Central Ohio, consistently for half a decade now heralded as the best in the region. There’s no telling what the menu will be from now until the end of the year, as Dalton is clearly unafraid of tweaking his own formula. It’s about the guests and the food, equally, and if diners enjoyed the brown butter ice cream topped with caviar as much as we did, it’s an experience that will your belly with something more memorable that that clamshell you forgot about in the fridge.
In a way, increasing quality by limiting choice has already been embraced by Columbus, as evidenced by the appeal of food trucks and pop-ups that now dot the culinary landscape.
“If you go somewhere and there’s 30 things on the menu, you should probably get up and leave because how are they going to make all 30 of those things at least decent?” Dalton said. “If there’s four things on the menu—that’s where you want to eat. Those four things are going to be amazing.”