Ho hum, it’s New Year’s Day, or mighty close to it, anyway. Shall we do another boring end-of-the-year wrap-up on the Louisville eats beat?
Hmm. NuLu, NuLu, Nulu, small plates, locavore, snout-to-tail, Food Network, tapas, noisy, trendy, comfort food. Naah. Been there, done that, over and over again.
Let’s try something a little different! To mark the cosmic calendar’s flipping over to 2014, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the dishes I’ve enjoyed over the past year in restaurant reviews – along with a couple more picked off in casual dining expeditions over the holidays.
It’s fun to go for Chinese on Christmas afternoon, so we headed out for a perennial local favorite, Oriental House, and found it jammed with hungry, happy crowds. We went directly to the authentic menu, of course, and enjoyed two favorites: The eggplant with garlic ($7.95) was savory and rich, silken chunks of stir-fried eggplant and scallions swimming in a thick, garlicky, sweet-hot sauce. Mongolian lamb ($9.95) piled high bite-size chunks of flavorful, gently gamey lamb stir-fried with scallions, julienne carrots and onions in a gently hot-and-spicy brown sauce over rice noodles. A happy Santa “Ho ho ho!” and two thumbs up for both. (Oriental House, 4302 Shelbyville Road, 502.897.1017, www.orientalhouselouisville.com)
Mussel & Burger Bar has become one of Louisville’s most popular eateries since it opened before Derby. You’ve almost got to order both mussels ($8 to $11) and a burger ($9 to $12). Moules Basquaise with chorizo and piquillo peppers is a winner, although it’s always hard to resist the traditional Meuniere simmered in white wine and butter. The Local Burger ($12) is made with Sherwood Farm grass-fed beef and Kenny’s Kentucky Gouda; the others are made with Black Angus beef. In season, don’t miss the memorable Elotes Callejeros ($4), crisp roasted corn on the cob with chile spices, Mexico City-style. (Mussel & Burger Bar, 9200 Taylorsville Road. 502.384.4834, www.facebook.com/pages/Musselburgerbar)
I still get little shivers of anticipation when I think about the fried pizza at Boombozz. Based on the Neapolitan-style “Montanara” pizza, it’s a thin base fried shattering crisp, topped with fine tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella and fresh basil, and finished with a quick pass through the pizza oven. (Boombozz, 3400 Frankfort Ave.. 502.896-9090. www.facebook.com/boombozzfamouspizza)
Vietnam Kitchen’s famous noodle dish, “K8,” wins fans with its simple but memorable combination of flavors and textures and its $10 price tag. It starts with soft rice noodles and bean sprouts, then loads on a thick brown saté and lemongrass sauce, your choice of meat, poultry or tofu, and a punch of heat. (Vietnam Kitchen, 5339 Mitscher Ave., 502.363.7535, www.VietnamKitchen.net)
One of my favorite newer local restaurants is Chef Dallas McGarity’s Marketplace Restaurant at Theater Square. On our last visit I was smitten by the golden-fried green tomatoes ($9) with spicy Sriracha aioli; the house-made ricotta gnocchi in mushroom truffle cream ($19) and the savory lamb meatballs appetizer ($12) with Greek-style tzatziki. (Marketplace Restaurant, 651 S. Fourth St., Theater Square, 502.625.3001, www.theatersquaremarketplace.com)
I wish I had a thousand tongues to sing the praises of every spot I’ve visited for Voice-Tribune reviews this year, but I encourage you to get adventurous and go out and discover the wealth of fine fare that Louisville has to offer, including such outstanding new arrivals as MilkWood at Actors Theatre and longer-running destinations like Mojito and Napa River Grill.