Maturing Volare’s star shines bright

Volare

Sunday seafood brunch is a Lucullan feast

When Volare popped up on Frankfort Avenue the summer before last, I gave it a warm if somewhat mixed review, placing it somewhere between the ’50s-style Italian-American vibe of Lentini’s and the more upscale Northern Italian ambience of Vincenzo’s. It lost some ratings points for unfulfilled pretentiousness and good-but-could-be-better food and service, but I marked it as a place to be watched and with room to grow.

Quite a bit has changed since then: A Chicago-based partner has moved on, the affable Majid Ghavami, popular proprietor of Saffron’s and a veteran of front-of-the-house years at the old Casa Grisanti and Vincenzo’s, has moved in as a partner and maitre d’, and Chef Dallas McGarrity (hey, at least there’s a vowel on the end of his name) has grown from good to better with a little experience under his toque.

Volare just recently added an expansive, seafood-rich Sunday brunch to its offerings, and an indulgent sampling today left me persuaded that this place is now offering Mr. Ghavami’s former employer, the other Big V, a serious run for its money as the city’s top Italian table.
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Danielle’s is sweet in more ways than one

Danielle's

There’s a lot to like about Danielle’s, one of a cluster of hot new spots that’s opened around town this month. Sweet! I’d like it even better, though, if only “sweet” wasn’t an adequate one-word description for just about everything on the bill of fare. More about that anon.

Danielle’s Chef Allan Rosenberg is young, but he’s on a fast trajectory. Trained in New York under iconic chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud, he served as chef de cuisine under one of Louisville’s top chefs, Anoosh Shariat, at Park Place on Main. Now he’s opened his own establishment, and it’s looking good.

Danielle’s fits in to the Frankfort Avenue scene with a genteel, upscale casual vibe, tasteful burgundy and cream walls and discreet modern art, that reflects more of a Baby Boomer sensibility than the chef’s 20-something status. Continue reading Danielle’s is sweet in more ways than one

Proof proves out

Proof on Main

First, a rant: I’ve always thought there’s something kind of needy and pathetic about the way that Louisville looks to New York to validate the things we do here. Bring in a speaker from the Big Apple to make your fund-raiser a success; punch your chef’s ticket by jetting off to Gotham to cook dinner at Beard House. Get a review in The New Yorker or a mention in The New York Times, or choose a New York architect for your landmark building … if it doesn’t earn a New York stamp of approval, we seem to think, it must not be worth much.

So naturally it comes as no surprise that the strong New York connections of the city’s hottest new item – Proof on Main – have dominated the early buzz and almost fawning media coverage about this stylish new spot on West Main Street, our neighborhood that’s often, and accurately, compared with New York’s SoHo for its impressive collection of historic cast-iron storefronts.

For the record, yes, we know Proof on Main is managed by a prominent New York restaurant firm, Drew Nieporent’s Myriad Group, the folks who operate such culinary Manhattan landmarks as Tribeca Grill, Nobu and Montrachet.
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Diamante’s a diamond, but not rough

Diamante

One bold statement may be made about Diamante Bar & Grill without serious fear of contradiction: It is surely the city’s best restaurant located in a former gasoline station.

But we don’t need to cut our definition so fine in order to praise this amiable establishment. Yes, it really is built around the original beige-tile facade of the 1920s-era Diamond Gulf Station, and once you know that, you can easily see how the big open squares that give access to the cozy bar might once have been fitted with overhead garage doors. Suddenly you wonder if a sputtering 1937 Maxwell might pull up next to your table with a happy yell, “Fill ‘er up!”

The casual, arty and urban mood of this Bardstown Road favorite is only the starting point. It’s not at all stuffy, but clearly a step – or several – up from your basic city saloon … Continue reading Diamante’s a diamond, but not rough

Sweet Peas shows promise

Sweet Peas

The Frankfort Avenue space abruptly vacated by Furlong’s last year didn’t stay vacant for long: Sweet Peas Southern Bistro, a new venture involving Christopher Seckman of the popular North End Cafe, opened last week in this location, and it’s been packing in crowds all week.

Seckman’s new spot has great potential. It’s comfortably upscale without being stuffy, offers excellent service and fine, well-prepared food. But it still seems to be groping a bit for a clear identity. With a down-home comfort-food menu that bears a close resemblance to the bill of fare at, say, Cottage Inn, it needs to come up with a way to justify prices that significantly exceed downscale diner fare. And if it plans to reach that goal with creative fusion that might be dubbed “nouvelle Southern,” it needs to take bolder steps than merely garnishing pot roast with barely cooked veggies in place of the long-simmered country custom.

Call it “good but not great” for now, but based on North End’s trajectory into one of the city’s most popular dining rooms, there’s every reason to expect this sibling to build on a good start and grow into something even better. This is one to watch.
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La Rosita: A second bouquet

La Rosita

For some time now, since a growing number of Latino immigrants has joined the tide of diversity that adds a healthy variety of ethnic accents to our region, it has become necessary for serious lovers of South-of-the-Border cuisine to subdivide this dining niche into categories.

No longer can we define “Mexican” in terms of Tumbleweed and Chi-Chi’s; not when we can choose among a delicious array of Latino eateries that range across the stylistic spectrum from upscale sit-down dining rooms to lovable “hole-in-the-wall” taquerias where English-speaking monophones are welcome but may be well advised to bring along a Spanish dictionary.

Now something new and delicious has been added: Just over the bridge in New Albany, Israel and Lidia Landin, the proud owners of La Rosita on Charlestown Road, one of the newest and best of the taquerias, have opened a second location in the Southern Indiana suburb. This one’s no mere taqueria, though. Call it “crossover” or “breakout” Mexican, it brings the Landins’ fully authentic (and delicious) native cuisine out of the taqueria category and presents it, in fluent if slightly accented English, in the bistro-style setting of a prettily renovated New Albany building that once housed a 19th century general store.

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