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. Lots of windows make for a sunny setting before the sun goes down; later in the evening the spacious room takes on a twilight vibe with dozens of tiny tracklights twinkling like stars on the black ceiling. There’s a small, cozy bar up a small ramp behind the dining room, with cooks in the kitchen visible behind glass.
2206 Frankfort Ave.
Used for offices in recent years, this storefront dining room has a long restaurant history. In the ’80s it housed the original Lynn’s Paradise Cafe; it was briefly a Jamaican joint, then, in the ’90s, the Korean Little Bit of Seoul. The latest renovation makes thoughtful use of the space. A simple partition wall behind a hostess stand at the entrance creates a simple foyer. Two dozen glossy mahogany tables are undraped, set with textured black place mats and excellent, thin-lipped water and wine glasses, a distinct plus. You’ll get fine flatware but bad black polyester napkins, so slick that they’re constantly slithering from lap to floor.
The menu is not overly long, six or eight apps (under $10, mostly) and a similar number of main dishes from $9 (for the burger) to $23 (for the beef tenderloin); most are under $20. It’s creative, fusion-style fare that seems to reach around the world, with a touch of Mexico here, Asia there, Italy on the other side. As noted, ust about everything shows a touch of something sweet – fruit sauces, caramelized onions, port reductions and balsamic and so it goes, there’s no need to eat dessert first when there’s something for the sweet tooth on almost every plate. A little more variety, frankly, would be welcome.
The wine list is particularly well chosen, with about 80 selections at a glance, many in the $20 to $30 range and about one-fourth of them available by the glass at a slight markup, a little under one-third of the bottle price for a single glass. All appear to be American, mostly California with a few from the Pacific Northwest and in a bow to local producers, two fruit wines from Southern Indiana’s Huber Orchard and Winery, and the list includes quite a few offbeat items to add variety and interest. We were happy with a Guenoc 2002 Petite Sirah ($24), a hearty red that went well with all our dinner choices. (There’s also a good selection of artisanal American beers.)
The scene’s relatively quiet; if there’s background music I barely notice. Our efficient waiter (“I’m Zan,” he says, “The only Zan here”) had such a melodious voice that it didn’t surprise us when we overheard him telling diners at a nearby table that he’s a musician when he’s not serving our dinners.
An amuse bouche comes out, a single thin round of Blue Dog seeded baguette spread with a purplish, earthy olive tapenade and a couple of decorative pea shoots. More of the same bread follows in a napkin-lined basket, with a small white earthenware dish containing a slab of butter and a dab of apple butter. The latter, unfortunately, runs into the former and gives it all a sweet-apple taste.
An offbeat take on caesar salad ($6) featured romaine dressed with a smoky-hot chipotle vinaigrette and topped with a long, thin slice of baguette toast lightly scented with an ancho chile flavor and garnished with a couple of fresh anchovies, silvery tiny fish, not your hairy canned things; also a saucer-size crisp Parmesan round akin to the Northeastern Italian “frico.” I think it’s pretty good, but I love chipotles. My wife is slightly offended by the concept of a hot-and-spicy salad.
I loves the idea of pork spareribs ($8) with an Asian-fusion sauce but fretted that such a thing would be a starter so filling that it would leave no room for dinner. Not a problem, as it turns out, it’s a tasty but manageable portion, four short bones with small portions of fork-tender meat attached, sauced with a sweet-sour blend of hoisin sauce and a distinctly lemony shot of fresh ginger, with an odd sweet-tart red “slaw” on the side … what the hell is it? Red cabbage? No. Fennel? Could be, but lacks the anise flavor. Almost-raw beets? Not that either. It’s good, though.
Ribs were good enough that I went with another batch o’ bones as my main course, bison short ribs ($18), boneless and falling-apart tender, sweet (naturally) marinade, plated on concentric pools of pureed rutabaga and a tangy tamarind barbecue sauce, topped with a crisp, peppery mound of fresh pea shoots.
The Danielle’s burger ($9) is magisterial indeed, a baseball-size round of coarsely chopped beef, almost tartare-style rare as ordered, perched on a decent grilled grocery-store onion bun and topped with a mound of (here we go again) sweet golden caramelized onions and a chunk of Maytag Blue (ostentatiously rendered on the menu as “bleu”). It was accompanied by a gigantic paper-wrapped cone of Belgian-style frites, possibly the best French fries in the city today, crisp and hot and seductive … if they’re not fried in the traditional beef tallow, they’ve done a mighty good job of imitating the real, hellishly unhealthy thing.
Coffee, billed as “Danielle’s Blend,” is very good and had better be, as it goes for $3 for a cup, served in odd, artsy white stoneware cups and saucers that aren’t quite round. A shared dessert, Petit Fours ($6) – a sampler of four bite-size samples, plated with fruit – was slow to come out and frankly rather disappointing: A tiny tart, a small square of dense flourless chocolate torte, a stack of rather dry phyllo slices and a chunk of walnut brittle with an unfortunate hint of moldy flavor that did not invite a second bite.
That was really the only slip in the food, though, other than the relentness sweetness that infused every course, which is really more a matter of taste than quality. Chef Rosenberg definitely has the chops to put his signature on this new spot.
Dinner for two was $78.08, which seemed about right, with a $16 tip for somewhat noisy but very skilled service. $$$
ACCESSIBILITY: One small step at the front entrance, easily remediable with a simple sidewalk ramp, blocks independent access by wheelchair users and places Danielle’s in blatant violation of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. Restrooms are equipped with facilities for disabled patrons, but the long, narrow trek back could be tough to negotiate in a wheelchair.