Category Archives: Downtown, NuLu and Butchertown

QuickBytes: Konnichi-wa at Caviar

Caviar

Komban wa,” I told the sushi chef, bowing politely and doing the best I could to get out the Japanese words for “good evening” with at least marginal fluency.

He gave me a friendly but very puzzled look.

“I guess I just can’t speak Japanese,” I said, switching back to English.

“No,” he said. “I can’t speak Japanese. I’m from Korea.”

Whatever. He was a heck of a nice guy, and over the course of our first dinner at Caviar, the sleek new Japanese spot next door to the Seelbach on Muhammad Ali, he would fashion us more than $50 worth of sushi, all of it creditable and much of it splendid.
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Has Vincenzo’s lost a step?

Agostino Gabriele
Chef Agostino Gabriele presides over Vincenzo’s table at last summer’s WorldFeast. Photo by Robin Garr.

Service gaffes mar dinner for our anonymous critic

One of the toughest challenges that faces the long-term food critic is that, eventually, most of the players in the local restaurant business figure out who you are. Even when you keep a very low profile, it doesn’t take the sharper cookies long to figure out who’s covering the eats beat.

There are plenty of ways for a savvy critic to minimize the damage, but sooner or later you’ll know the game is up, usually when you sneak into a white-tablecloth eatery and find the proprietor greeting you on bended knee, offering to shine your shoes to a high polish. Let’s be frank: You may still be able to carry off a competent review if you’re recognized, but there’s no way a proud restaurateur isn’t going to ramp things up for your delectation. A little extra service, a single server assigned exclusively to your table; extra attention to preparation, a bit more care in selecting the best cut or adding a little extra “bam!” to the presentation … all just for you.

For this reason, while I’ve enjoyed many a meal at Vincenzo’s since this posh Italian spot opened downtown in 1986, I have never been able to enjoy an anonymous meal there. On my first visit, a server recognized me and outed me to the man himself, Vincenzo Gabriele. Now whenever I dine at Vincenzo’s, I know I’m going to have a four-star experience. No extra charge for the shine.

But how about an anonymous civilian? Would Vincenzo’s deliver the same level of suave, sophisticated service and top-tier Italian fare to a truly anonymous customer as it does for a recognized dining critic? Just to make the test more interesting, how about a pair of young, unaccompanied women?
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Nothing succeeds like excess

Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse
Jeff Ruby’s: Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse at Fourth and Main is one of several upscale restaurants that opened here this year. Photo by Robin Garr.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(2006 wrapup and Jeff Ruby’s review)

History may record 2006 as the year that the Louisville restaurant industry finally shucked the post-9/11 attitude that eschewed upscale, pricey dining.

Two of the year’s biggest downtown restaurant success stories are the arty, glitzy Proof on Main, and the very pricey Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse. It’s easy for a diner to blow past the $100 mark for an evening meal at either of these fine spots. Said diner will go home stuffed and happy.

Nor did these two stand alone in the year’s march back toward more conspicuous consumption: From the upscale RAW sushi bar downtown and the classy Danielle’s in Clifton, Nio’s on Baxter and Stratto’s in Clarksville to the lovable Bistro New Albany, the upscale (if not necessarily expensive) restaurant hits just kept on coming. And we’re glad.
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The Fixe is in: English Grill on a budget

Brown Hotel
English Grill: The Brown Hotel’s English Grill is worth a trip, but try the regular menu. Photo by Ben Schneider.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(English Grill’s pre-theater menu)

If you want to create an impression of class in your restaurant, just drop in a little French.

Unfortunately, some French words aren’t easy for English-speakers to handle. Take “prix fixe,” which means “fixed price” – a full meal of several courses offered for a set tab. Neat concept. Not easy to spell and pronounce. I’ve seen it rendered as “prefix” and pronounced as “pricks fix,” but nooooo: Make it “pree feese,” and you’ll hear no snobby Frenchmen snickering at you.

Whatever you want to call it, we invited Eat ‘N’ Blog correspondent ANDREA M. ESSENPREIS to try it, sampling the pre, er, pri, um, fixed-price dinner at the Brown Hotel’s English Grill on the company tab. Her conclusion: You get what you pay for. Continue reading The Fixe is in: English Grill on a budget

Chili today, hot tamale

Flabby's chili
Flabby’s chili is a simple, classic preparation – coarsely ground beef in chunks with tender red beans and just enough short strands of spaghetti to make it Louisville-style. Photos by Robin Garr

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Five noteworthy bowls of red; Karma Café)

Tomatoes or no tomatoes? Beans or no beans? Chopped meat or ground meat? Chile powder or dried chilies or fresh? And by the way, is it “chile” or is it “chili”? Gimme a break! This is almost like listening to the Kentucky legislature arguing about whether evolution or intelligent design should be taught in our schools.

Much of the chili debate centers around the argument that chili is a historic dish with a long tradition that started in the Texas-Mexico border country and was spread across the heartland by cowboys on the open range, and that it must be a pure, unadulterated combination of beef and chile peppers, nothing more, without adulterants or fillers no matter how delicious those additives might be.
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Fast food follies

Corn dog nuggets
How does A&W get those little dogs to roll around in corn? Photos by Robin Garr

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(A&W’s corn dog nuggets, White Castle’s chicken rings; also Primo and more)

The life of a food critic is not all white tablecloths and fawning service and foie gras for breakfast. Take it from me, folks, sometimes I do these things so you won’t have to.

Occasionally it becomes necessary to follow a food trend wherever it takes us, even when it takes us down a road that I would just as soon avoid.

Let us consider, then, the corn dog nugget.

As I reported in our State Fair feature in August, I feel a once-a-year craving for corn dogs that can only be satisfied with one, annual dog-on-a-stick. OK, maybe two.

But what if these crunchy, fatty delights were available year-round, as close as a familiar fast-food spot?
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