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.
Continue reading Sweet Peas shows promise

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.

Continue reading La Rosita: A second bouquet

Taste of Louisville at James Beard House

James Beard

The menu and wine list have been set for “Taste of Louisville” at James Beard House, a culinary event that will bring five of Louisville’s top chefs to the New York culinary mecca on April 3. Cooking as a team will be Chefs Peng Looi (Asiatique and August Moon) and Anoosh Shariat (Park Place and Brownings), who are organizing the event, joined by Chefs Dean Corbett (Equus and Jack’s), Daniel Stage (Le Relais) and Shawn Ward (Jack Fry’s).

Thanks to Peng Looi for passing along the bill of fare, which looks to be a spectacular array of some of our city’s most innovative cooking. The wines seem well-chosen given that choices were apparently limited to selections distributed by event co-sponsor Brown-Forman.

Continue reading Taste of Louisville at James Beard House

A dozen Valentine roses:
The city’s top romantic dining rooms

Voice-Tribune
This is February’s LouisvilleHotBytes dining column in The Voice-Tribune, Louisville’s suburban weekly newspaper. We’ll publish monthly restaurant reviews and wine-tasting reports in The Voice, which is available on East End news stands and by subscription.

It’s almost St. Valentine’s Day, and you want to treat your sweetie right. You’ve got chocolates and long-stemmed roses wrapped and ready, but you know you’ll put that starry-eyed gleam in her if you escort her to dinner for two at a romantic restaurant.

To help you make your pick, I’ll tell you about some of my favorite local eateries in the wine-and-roses-and-romance category.

But first, for those of you who combine your natural romantic spirit with a practical sensibility, here’s a discreet little piece of advice. Step close, I don’t want to say this loud enough for everyone to hear:

Valentine’s Day may not be the best time to fully enjoy a fine place to dine. Like Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve and Derby Day, these popular holidays are the busiest days of the year in the restaurant business. Loud, demanding crowds put waitstaff and chefs under pressure and can challenge even the best-managed eatery. Savvy diners skip the holiday in favor of enjoying a quieter, less frenzied scene a day or two before or after.
Continue reading A dozen Valentine roses:
The city’s top romantic dining rooms

Gong Xi Fa Cai at Peking City

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Chinese New Year, also called “Spring Festival” in China, is under way under the light of the crescent moon; set by the lunar calendar, the Year of the Dog began Sunday with the New Moon.

Westerners usually think of Chinese New Year mostly in terms of the colorful and traditional Lion Dance celebrated in Chinese-American communities. For Chinese families, the New Year is a time of joy, when friends and families exchange gifts in envelopes colored bright red for luck, wish each other good fortune, and – getting to the point of this report – spend much of the 15-day period of celebration eating very, very well.
Continue reading Gong Xi Fa Cai at Peking City

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