Category Archives: $$$$ Luxury ($60 and up)

French Flying: Le Relais soars

Le Relais
If you’re in the mood for a more casual experience, the rear patio at Le Relais is more laid-back and offers a bonus: It overlooks the runway and hangars, so you can watch small planes come and go. Photo by Robin Garr.

LEO’s Eats with, with Guest Critic Paige Moore-Heavin

Le Relais consistently ranks among my top five restaurants in Louisville, and on any given night, it can make the top one. Yet a lot of people are wary of experiencing this great dining room. Some fear it will be too expensive. Others sweat the potential embarrassment of being unable to read a fancy French menu.

There’s no need for concern, says LouisvilleHotBytes correspondent Paige Moore-Heavin, who recently checked out Le Relais and found the price doable (especially if you go for the special-deal prix fixe menu) and the friendly attitude entirely bilingual. Here’s her report:
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We put on that ole Southern drawl at Limestone

Michael Cunha
Limestone Restaurant chef and co-owner Michael Cunha dresses up Southern fare in a city suit. The suburban restaurant remains up there with the top spots in town. LEO photo by Nicole Pullen.

LEO’s Eats with Louisville HotBytes

Louisville, it is said, is the only Northern city that chose to declare itself “Southern” only after the South had lost the Civil War. This odd decision, some say, led directly to 100 years of stagnation, no major-league sports teams and a slow decline that eventually took us to the bottom of the nation’s top 50 media markets.

It was a hefty price to pay for the privilege of adopting an affected drawl and adding fatback, grits and greens to our culinary tradition.

I don’t know about you, but our family never ate that stuff at home. Ours was a steak-and-potatoes, spaghetti-and-meatballs, braunschweiger-and-kuchen urban household, and we liked it like that.

Nevertheless, Southern, aka “country,” fare dressed up in a city suit has become a staple in some of Louisville’s finest upscale eateries, and chefs Jim Gerhardt and Michael Cunha have been among the leaders in making it so.
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A man, a plan, a great meal at 610 Magnolia

Edward Lee
Chef Edward Lee at 610 Magnolia. LEO photo by Nicole Pullen

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes

What happens when one becomes so jaded that even the regular dinner at a culinary shrine seems routine? “Ho, hum, dinner at 610 Magnolia again!” Here’s my advice: Kick it up with a special dinner at 610.

Frankly, I don’t think I could ever attain such a level of ennui about the restaurant that’s arguably the region’s best. Chef Edward Lee’s regular menu is a never-ending series of surprises, with exciting new dishes every weekend. But every now and then, Lee pulls off something special. And these events – best tracked by signing up for the e-mail list on the restaurant Web site at – are memorable indeed.

Take last week’s Palindrome dinner.

Say what?
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Oakroom foams over the top

Culinary foam
“Culinary foam”: A mound of glistening orange white chocolate froth drooling off your Oakroom dessert is airy and succulent, but it’s not so easy to look at on the plate. Photos by Robin Garr.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes

“Culinary foam” – trendy for decades in the upper reaches of dining-as-theater – is one of the more striking “molecular gastronomy” inventions of Spanish Chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli near Barcelona. The flavored foams – aerosol squirted onto food – add subtle tastes, and they signal that the chef is “with it.”

Adrià has been foaming since 1995, and now foams have made it to Louisville, where Chefs Todd Richards and Duane Nutter and Pastry Chef Ethan Ray are making their mark with foams, smears and sauces, dispensed from martini shakers or spread in thin, colorful layers across your plate.

The Oakroom crew does molecular gastronomy very well: The white-chocolate-orange foam on a succulent chocolate trio dessert plate the other night was intensely flavored yet light as air. But much like a raw oyster (and I choose the analogy advisedly), a mound of glistening froth drooling off your food isn’t easy to look at on the plate.
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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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