Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Fun Playing With Food In Louisville, KY

Our travels this summer took us to Louisville for the July 4th weekend and the annual American Mensa National Convention at the Galt House. Some marvelous (and not-so-marvelous) fun was had playing with food in Louisville!

Our first stop after a long drive down I-71 was Chef Edward Lee's casual restaurant MilkWood, which is located adjacent to Actors Theatre. The Theatre, though dark for the summer, looked like a fun place to be entertained in its season. 

We arrived too late for the regular menu, but Milkwood continues to serve a limited bill of fare after 9pm. We actually arrived a few minutes before 9, but experienced some technical difficulties with the wheelchair lift (needed to accommodate a scooter-bound member of our party). After some prestidigitation, the lift was prevailed upon to deliver Brian to the dining room, and we prepared to tuck in. The restaurant treated us to two appetizers, probably because of the delay and hassle in getting us to the table. All of the food was delicious, and Brian and I enjoyed the beer selections. 

Pimento Cheese w/Spoonbill Caviar, on Pork Rinds with Ham Salt and Scallion Pesto

This was true "playing with your food" food - stuffing the chiccarone with spicy pimento cheese, making salt out of ham and topping the whole darn thing with caviar. Did I mention the Scallion Pesto (you can see it hiding under the two rinds at the far right end of the plate)?

Smoked Chicken Wings: Chili Lime Sauce, Scallion, Sesame Seeds.
These were a little hot to handle, but so tender and tasty!

Pork Burger (Organic Pork), Napa Kim Chi, Cracklins, Havarti, Remoulade, Cilantro

Simply delicious - another inspired ingredient pairing (and another pork cracklin).

Mazeman Ramen: Egg Yolk, Parmesan, Pancetta, Mint

I'd never had this "dry" style of Ramen before, and eagerly looked forward to trying it. I think the noodles were imported to KY from New York's Sun Noodle and they were lovely. The cheese was a bit incongruous with the Asian flavors, but it all worked. 

We started our first full day in Louisville at Proof on Main, an easy walk from the Galt House. Bob was experiencing use of a scooter himself for the first time (though he walked to MilkWood), which limited our mobility somewhat on this trip. The restaurant is the "house" restaurant for the 21C Hotel and Museum and the gallery behind the restaurant is pretty cool; you have to walk through it to access the restrooms. 

I especially enjoyed the iced tea service at Proof on Main:

Unsweetened tea is served with a ramekin of simple syrup, to allow the diner to sweeten the tea to taste in a manner that will actually bind with the cold tea.

"Hot Fried Chicken"
The Chicken was resplendent atop a bed of White Bread, and accompanied by Hot Pepper, Corn Relish, Bread and Butter Pickles. Finger-licking good, but a little spicy.

Hog Neck Farfalle

House-made Pasta, Locally Sourced Pork, Fennel, Pecorino, Arugula. The pasta was just a tad underdone in the very center (the folded part), but perfect otherwise, and this plate popped with porky goodness. Fun food at fair prices! And a little friend who works his/her way around the restaurant seemingly at will, but probably from a little help from the friends:

These guys show up on the top of the hotel attached to the restaurant also.

Later that evening, we hopped the free Zerobus to The Mayan Cafe, which features Mayan cuisine with a farm-to-table emphasis. We started with these refreshing beverages.

Dark & Bubbly: Paul Cheneau cava brut | Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum | Carpano Antico Sweet Vermouth | maple syrup | lime | mole bitters

Grapefruit Soda
Sikil-pak: pumpkin seed dip | roasted tomatoes | cilantro | corn tortilla chips
This appetizer resembled a hummus, made with pumpkin seeds rather than chickpeas, and packed just a little heat. We cleaned the bowl. 

The entrees were a mixed bag; Bob's rabbit dish pictured below was perfect.

Oven-roasted rabbit | pipian rojo (pumpkin seed mole) | fried plantains | grilled cactus. 
 My plate had beautiful flavors, but was served ice cold - as in not made hot and allowed to get cold, but probably never heated much over 100 degrees in the first place. The corn tamale was especially stiff and chalky.

Cochinita Pibil: slow-roasted pork | achiote sauce | pickled onions | tok-sel lima beans | brazo de reina (Yucatec tamale with tok-sel lima beans & queso fresco)
The service of cold food that was supposed to be hot became a repeated phenomenon as the trip progressed. As with most restaurant issues, the key is not whether something is served incorrectly, it is how the restaurant handles it. In this case, we had a hard time getting any servers' attention and no one had stopped by after the plates dropped to inquire. Once we got a server, the plate was hastily remade as follows:

This Cochinita Pibil was served hot, but elements were missing from the plate and the flavors didn't pop, worse, they recycled the beans from first plate, which got mushy in the reheat. I ate less than half of it. Still, I would be willing to return to Mayan, because notwithstanding these issues, they took this item off of the check with a smile. And that rabbit dish was absolutely worth the price of admission!

On Thursday July 2, we indulged in a combination food-sight seeing tour with City Taste Tours of Louisville. That will be covered in a separate blog entry, but a tasty and fun time was had by all. We were pretty well sated after the tour, and enjoyed a sausage dinner in the convention Hospitality Suite.

A lot of schedules changed over the long holiday weekend - some places closed for all or part of the weekend, and no service was available on the Zerobus on Saturday. So we took advantage of the bus on Friday to visit Harvest, A Locally Grown Restaurant for lunch. Harvest was recommended by every food board and advice-giver consulted and for good reason - this was probably the best meal of the trip!

This hearty stew of chicken, pork, turkey, new potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and green beans was accompanied by pretzel croutons. Plate-licking good!

The sandwich options all came with one side of choice, and we both chose well.

Bob's: smoked brisket, mustard glaze, creamy slaw, bun, side of housemade potato chips.

Mine: southern fried chicken confit, roasted shallot, neufchatel, candied pickled jalapeno, bun, side of three cheese grits. Those were some of the finest grits I've ever tasted - toothy texture, corny taste, creamy cheesiness all perfectly balanced. Then there was the confit, which melted in the mouth. And that may look like a small portion of jalapeno in the center, but a little went a long way. We would have liked to try Harvest for dinner, but they'd be closed our last two nights in Louisville, for the holiday.

Cleveland exported its cool, dreary, wet summer weather to Louisville for the July 4 weekend (I understand it was lovely in Cleveland), so by dinner time on Friday, we didn't feel like dodging the rain and ran across the street from the office building connected to the Galt House back to MilkWood, during their "regular menu" dinner hours. Good thing we did, because I'd planned on going there Sunday for Dim Sum - but learned that they decided on Friday to close Sunday! Though this would be our second encounter with a cold dinner plate, the food overall was fabulous and the service warm.

Bob's: Organic Beef Burger: Umami Ketchup, Aged Cheddar, Bacon, Comeback Slaw. This is also on the late night menu; our friend Nora had it on Tuesday. My bites (one each time) were juicy and full of flavor without an excessively grass-fed taste.

Pork Shoulder

This lovely plate should have been perfect, but it was too cold to really enjoy. As at Mayan, it didn't seem to suffer from neglect at the pass; the components just never got up to temp before plating, The pork was accompanied by Black BBQ, Coconut Rice, Roasted Okra, and Curry Oil - the okra was perfectly cooked (though cold, like the rest of the dish).

The second try was much better, except for the okra, which was tough and stringy.

The tender shoulder was dressed in an umami-drenched BBQ sauce that matched well with the creamy coconut rice. Adding more contrast were several strips of jicama and tender green beans, which were like small soy beans. Highly recommended.

Saturday July 4 would be the toughest culinary nut to crack, because so many places closed. Though we could have taken the car, or a cab, we wanted to stay within walking distance of the Galt House. We'd enjoyed Proof on Main so much that we decided to try their brunch; being in a hotel themselves, they are reliably open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

Bob's: Proof Benedict. Corn meal biscuit, County Ham, "Red-Eye" Hollandaise. Not my favorite, but since "red eye" gravy = coffee, this is not a big surprise. Bob enjoyed it very much.

Mine: Duck confit hash, potatoes, Sunny Egg. Well, it was supposed to be a sunny side or runny egg. My eggs were a little overcooked. Once we got someone's attention, they immediately made and brought over another egg with a runny yolk. How could duck confit hash be anything but delicious; the eggs were really a bonus. Loved Proof on Main both visits!

Hot Brown
Of course, one cannot visit Louisville without sampling at least one Hot Brown. We had ours at the Troll Pub Under the Bridge, and it was enjoyable. Toasted Sourdough Bread is topped with sliced turkey breast, Mornay sauce, bacon and tomatoes.  I mean, it has cheese sauce and bacon - what's not to like! I can't say I loved the way the bar was run; we had to wait a while for a table and getting a drink became a project. But our server was terrific.

The last meal served at our convention was Sunday lunch of Chili Mac. Bob made it his own by accompanying the chili-mac with not one, but two, powdered donuts. Breakfast of champions. Or lunch of lie-a-beds, I'm not sure which.

Our next meal illustrated brilliantly the proposition that some restaurants just shouldn't open on a holiday weekend. We'd had a bite from the Bristol Bar & Grille during our food tour, and it impressed enough that we decided to try it if the place was open on Sunday (they were closed on Saturday). Since it was indeed open on Sunday, we trundled in (I trundled, Bob scootered). We asked where they wanted the scooter parked, and got deer-in-the-headlights looks. A server came by to take our orders, then realized that he'd not given us any menus. He got us menus and fixed the wobbly table.

I was intrigued by a menu item called "Hot Brown Mac and Cheese." But first, a glass of wine. It became painfully obvious as we watched the server handle drink glasses that he was, at best, inexperienced. Since it was a holiday, though, there was no one helping, training or supervising him. When he delivered the salads with a thumb plunked into the lettuce, the deal was sealed. They shoulda just stayed home in bed.

The pre-dinner, Sysco-bag salads were pre-made and chilled on their plates to an almost sub-zero temperature. I didn't want that part where the thumb landed, anyway. But then, it got worse.

The bread was incredibly stale and not edible. Probably left overs from Friday (Bristol was closed Saturday and no one was delivering on the holiday Sunday, I'd wager).  But if that was the case and you were the manager - wouldn't you have at least toasted the bread before serving it (or skipped the bread service altogether)?

Bob's $25 Charbroiled New York Strip with Henry Bain sauce, ordered medium rare, was incinerated into shoe leather. He ate it anyway.

Hot Brown Mac N Cheese
This should have been delicious and a great play on the classic. Locally raised Marksbury Farm smoked chicken was tossed with whole wheat penne pasta in a parmesan & cheddar cream sauce, topped with diced tomatoes & bacon. For the third time this trip, the dish was served cold. Not only cold, but the dairy elements of the dish weren't even cooked; it was a sea of loose cream and cold pasta and chicken (and darned tasty chicken, for the one bite I took). I flashed for a moment on a recent episode of "Mystery Diners" where a restaurant is doing so poorly that the chef quits and the owner puts the dishwasher in charge of cooking. Who was that in the kitchen this holiday weekend? 

The manager limped over on a bad hip (we had great sympathy) and tried to make it better. Did I want something else. After tasting Bob's tough, sinewy meat, not really.

This side of cheesy grits (the manager said they made it a larger than normal portion) was the only menu item that looked remotely desirable after tasting the overcooked beef and under cooked pasta dish (our server, after checking with the kitchen, had already disclosed that the shrimp that normally goes with the grits came from Sysco). These grits were actually very good, and a suggestion of what Bristol Pub is capable of delivering when it isn't a holiday weekend. Check out my post to come on the food tour to see a really tasty bite we had from them. 

I wish that I could report that our last Louisville meal was better, but it really wasn't. After checking out of the Galt House and getting the car, we headed for the Highlands neighborhood and Jack Fry's. Actually, our first choice was quaint bed and breakfast Gralehaus, which is adjacent to Holy Grale a block from Jack Fry's. But Bob could not get up the steep stairs into Gralehaus, and the accessible entrance from Holy Grale was locked at 11am and there was no one around to help (I wasn't crazy about those steep steps either). Bad decision by that establishment.

Jack Fry's felt like it was trying to project the casual elegance of a New Orleans restaurant. We were a tad underdressed in shorts and t-shirts, and the server seemed just a bit stiff. The ice tea was infused with something I didn't care for (Constant Comment and its orange peel?) and it took way too long for lunch to be served. 

The bread service was good.

But once again, food was served cold, to both of us. After the long wait, I can't even try to explain it.

Feta, reggiano, mozzarella, red pepper coulis, zucchini, squash, olives, tomato, fried basil. Bob's entree, which tasted house made all the way with great ingredients, would have been amazing if served hot. Even the remake was just tepid.

After passing on shrimp and grits at several restaurants, the promise of Gulf Shrimp proved irresistible. Accompanied by red eye gravy, shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes, country ham, parmesan - this plate tasted as messy as it looks. I should have known when the server didn't know where the shrimp came from that it'd be dicey (the kitchen supposedly told him Gulf of Mexico, but the phosphate smell and taste were unmistakable). The plate was served ice cold on top of lousy shrimp and overall lousy dish. I sent it back.

Bourbon louis dressing, pickled carrot, arugula, tobacco onions, white cheddar. This plate was served hot, but it simply lacked profundity. A disappointing end to a mostly fun playing with food vacation in Louisville. But this was the first work day after the long holiday weekend, so mileage may vary.

Overall - we had lots of fun playing with food in Louisville! Food tour post to come!

No comments:

Post a Comment