September 5, 2006

LEO's Eat 'n' Blog: We chow down (and pig out) at WorldFeast

Hungry festival-goers: congregated in the Kentucky Center lobby last Thursday for WorldFeast. Photo by robin garrIt’s not every weekend that you can enjoy the fine fare of a few dozen of the city’s most interesting eateries and wash it all down with an enticing selection of beverages from around the world, for not much more than the price of dinner at a random Bardstown Road bistro.But this past week, thanks to the one-two combination of WorldFeast in the Kentucky Center Thursday evening and WorldFest on the Belvedere on Friday and Saturday, it was possible to do just that thing, with a world of ethnic music and dancing as a bonus attraction.WorldFeast, a new venture this year, filled the Main Street performing-arts center’s lofty lobby with tables occupied by more than two dozen restaurant members of the Louisville Originals group, an association of independent, locally owned restaurants, along with a dozen drink companies ranging from microbreweries to coffee companies to importers of fine wines and liquors. Proceeds of the $50 admission tickets went to benefit Louisville Originals, the Kentucky Center’s international programs and the metro Office for International Affairs, which organizes the two-day WorldFest outdoor carnival that followed.I assume it goes without saying that with this much good food from local restaurants, Eat ’N’ Blog was THERE. I spent a good three hours at WorldFeast, where I tried to sample at least a bite of every dish from every participating restaurant. It was a glorious event that drew a good crowd, and I hope it becomes an annual event.Then, a good night’s rest and a few Tums later, I was back on the Belvedere when the WorldFest gates opened on Friday, where I admitted having met my gustatory match and looked at a lot more food than I tasted.Still, it was a gourmand’s weekend to be sure, and — with the caveat that sampling finger food and small bites falls well short of a full dining review — the twin events afforded a splendid opportunity for us to fill you in on what a number of Louisville’s most interesting restaurants can do when offered such an opportunity to show their stuff. Here are some of my walking-around tasting reports from the WorldFeast lineup, listed alphabetically to avoid playing favorites.Artemisia was serving Cajun beef tartlets, cute bite-size cups of pastry filled with tender shredded braised chuck laced with intriguing, if not overly piquant, Cajun flavors. (620 E. Market St., 583-4177, www.artemisiarestaurant.com)Asiatique kept it simple, with perfect oblongs of delicate salmon sauces with a suave French-style tomato concassé. (1767 Bardstown Road, 451-2749, www.asiatique.bigstep.com)Even more simple was the offering from Avalon, small paper cups filled with good, garlicky hummus with a tiny wedge of pita to eat it with. (1314 Bardstown Road, 454-5336, www.avalonfresh.com)Baxter Station showed off its versatility with a fine version of a Greek specialty, grilled chicken souvlaki-style, served on tender pitas with a tangy cucumber-and-yogurt tsatziki sauce. (1201 Payne St., 584-1635, www.baxterstation.com)There were no green-chile wontons, but the Bristol put out another of its popular dishes: flavorful, generous-size taco chicken bites were presented on toothpicks for dipping in a creamy, rich guacamole. (1321 Bardstown Road, 456-1702, www.bristolbarandgrille.com)Majid Ghavami: proprietor of Saffron’s, serves up chicken on saffron rice with kufta meatballs. Photo by robin garrThe rotini carbonara from Cafe Lou Lou seemed odd at first because it contains no eggs, a serious break from carbonara tradition. I expressed disbelief, and Chef Clay Wallace went into a long but interesting rant about how he hates to put eggs on the menu because people ask too many questions about where they came from, if they’re fresh, if they’re pasteurized, if they’re free-range ... OK, I get it. It’s a fine carbonara anyway. (1800 Frankfort Ave., 893-7776, www.cafeloulou.com)Beer was the thing at Cumberland Brews, but the suds vendor was joined by a representative from Bill’s Spreads, serving small cups of snappy cheddar spread with garlic and cayenne and smoky Gouda, with an assortment of raw veggies and crackers for dipping. (1576 Bardstown Road, 458-8727)Pan con Tomasa, a thin slice of savory Serrano ham from Spain spread on a thin-sliced baguette infused with concentrated tomato and garlic flavors, made a very simple but appetizing offering from the city’s only Castilian Spanish restaurant, De La Torre’s. (1606 Bardstown Road, 456-4955, www.delatorres.com)Derby Cafe’s version of burgoo (which the server pronounced in the unfortunate Frenchified variation “bur-GEW” ... it’s “BUR-goo,” dammit!) was mighty near authentic, a traditional Kentucky stew of long-simmered, tender meat and vegetables, with a distinct and slightly idiosyncratic smoky thing going on. (704 Central Ave., 634-0858, www.derbycafe.com)I could just about feel my arteries clogging, and I didn’t give a damn, as I inhaled a bowl of Diamante’s lobster bisque. Beautifully delicate, with just a whiff of Sherry, it must have had a half-cup of heavy cream in every sample. (2280 Bardstown Road, 456-1705, www.diamantebar-grille.com)Authentic Filipino adobo is a very simple preparation of pork or chicken long-simmered in vinegar and soy sauce with a hint of anise. At Equus, Chef Dean Corbett reinvents it in a remarkable fusion of Southeast Asian peasant fare and traditional haute cuisine, a long procedure that infuses pork ribs with many layers of subtle flavor while converting them into something so luscious and tender that you can eat it with a spoon. (122 Sears Ave., 897-9721, www.equusrestaurant.com)The guys over at Ferd Grisanti had carbonara, too, an outstanding rendition of the classic version with eggs, along with Italian pancetta and just a hint of spicy heat in the rich, deeply flavored cream and egg sauce. They substituted mini-shell conchiglie for the usual long pasta to make for easier stand-up eating, but it was the real deal for sure. (10212 Taylorsville Road, 267-0050, www.ferdgrisanti.com)Another local favorite that kept things simple was Irish Rover, offering a luscious salmon spread on Irish soda bread and a creamy eggplant spread (presented as “aubergine”) on thin slices of baguette. (2319 Frankfort Ave., 899-3544, www.theirishroverky.com)Jarfi’s Bistro joined the salmon brigade with a fine chunk of seared salmon sauced with charmella, an intensely flavored yellow tomato salsa redolent of aromatic cumin and cilantro. (501 W. Main St., 562-0735, www.jarfis.com)Green fire: Seviche’s aji rocoto-rubbed tiger shrimp in horseradish chimchurri. Photo by robin garrMichelle Melillo-Clem and her daughter Ashley Chesman were handing out pasta salad portions almost as big as the eye-popping plates served at Melillo’s, their Italian-American eatery on East Market. Al dente penne pasta was loaded with grape tomatoes, black olives, shredded Parmigiana and a tangy-sweet balsamic dressing. (829B E. Market St., 540-9975, www.melillos.com)Palermo Viejo showed off its Argentine chops with free-range albondigas (meatballs) in a spicy Argentine sauce with bell peppers and onions, served over rich mashed potatoes with Parmigiano Reggiano. (There’s a lot of Italy in Argentina.) (1359 Bardstown Road, 456-6461, www.palermoviejo.info)Saffron’s proprietor Majid Ghavami showed off his restaurant’s Persian style with two dishes, succulent, juicy chicken on barberry rice and kufta, golf-ball-size beef-and-garlic meatballs light enough to float up to the arts center’s ceiling. (131 W. Market St., 584-7800, www.saffronsrestaurant.com)Seviche chef Anthony Lamas and line chef Ben Lesousky presented aji rocoto-rubbed tiger shrimp in horseradish chimichurri — perfect huge swimps on top of little cups of chartreuse sauce that was piquant, not fiery, but had an amazing depth of green chile flavor. (1538 Bardstown Road, 473-8560, www.sevicherestaurant.com)Pizza, of course — mild cheese and tangy sauce on chewy, Italian-bread crusts — came stacked high in boxes from Louisville’s Mr. Pizza, Tony Boombozz. (3334 Frankfort Ave., 896-9090, www.tonyboombozz.com)Korean-style flank steak, beefy and gently spicy, made an appealing match with the accompanying tart-sweet cucumber, red onion and tomato salad from Uptown Cafe. Later in the evening Uptown brought out a truly memorable dessert, thin wedges of a rich chocolate chess pie on a short, rich butter crust. (1624 Bardstown Road, 458-4212, www.uptownlouisville.com)From Valu Market, known for its multi-ethnic variety, came a Cuban treat: thick slices of dark-purple guava paste spread over creamy queso blanco on crisp Cuban biscuits. (5301 Mitscher Ave., 361-9285, www.valumarket.com)Chef Agostino Gabriele of Vincenzo’s spotted me coming and wouldn’t let me take a salmone boconcini (salmon ball) from the service plate, insisting on reaching into the warming oven for a perfect specimen, then dosing it with a tart-sweet limoncello sauce. This VIP treatment made me feel a little sleazy, but the salmon was fine. Vincenzo’s offered perhaps the most varied and generous selection of all participants with four courses served by the white-clad chef and tuxedoed servers from an expansively decorated table: Bruschetta, cavatelli pasta with shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes, the aforementioned salmon and, for dessert, crisp, cream-filled baby cannoli. (150 S. Fifth St., 580-1350, www.vincenzosdining.biz)Volare, which may be Vincenzo’s No. 1 challenger in the battle for the Metro’s top high-end Italian spot, offered a more earthy, hearty peasant Italian dish: Arancini (“oranges”), a Sicilian treat, are ping-pong-ball size spheres of creamy risotto rice, and a few green peas, deep-fried golden brown. Volare chef Dallas McGarrity also served a rich, down-home apple-raisin bread pudding. (2300 Frankfort Ave., 894-4446, www.Volare-Restaurant.com)Yaching’s East West Cuisine showed off its fusion-style fare with Asian risottos, one featuring a vegetable stir-fry, the other shrimp. (105 S. Fourth St., 585-4005, www.yachings.com)Beverage tastings were offered by Absolut Vodka, Amarula, Anheuser-Busch, Bluegrass Brewing Company, Catalunya Wines, Consumer’s Choice Coffee, Cruzan Rum, Damm Beer, Don Eduardo Tequila, Finlandia Vodka, Plymouth Gin, Republic Beverage Wines and Tuaca. I washed my dinner down with cups of crisp, amber and hoppy American Pale Ale from Bluegrass Brewing Co., and a sweet, smooth Cream Ale from Cumberland Brews. And a little nip of Plymouth Gin for dessert. “It doesn’t taste like a Christmas tree,” the vendor said, boasting of its special blend of seven herbs and spices. By gollies, he was right! Another couple of dozen eateries lined the Belvedere’s walkways Friday and Saturday, where a diverse collection of the city’s ethnic restaurants offered typical dishes at prices ranging from $1.50-$7. Local restaurant and food-service companies, listed alphabetically, included Asiatique, Cafe Kiliminjaro, Caribbean Garden (formerly Taste of Jamaica), De La Torre’s, Havana Rumba, India Palace, Juan’s Mexican Restaurant, Kizito’s Cookies, Los Aztecas, Mai’s Thai, Palermo Viejo, Safier Mediterranean Deli, Shiraz Mediterranean Grille, Sol Aztecas, Valu Market and Yaching’s East West. Booths run by groups and individuals included the Jamaican Association of Louisville, St. Joseph’s Church, a Vietnamese neighborhood group, non-commercial individuals operating a Mexican taco stand and a Guatemalan tamale stand, a hot-sauce vendor from Barbados and commercial purveyors of fried fish, corn dogs and fruit crepes.After long and thoughtful consideration, we lunched on tacos from Sol Aztecas and from a Mexican couple; a little bowl of hot sauerkraut from St. Joseph’s, a huge and appetizing Cuban sandwich from Valu Market and a big cup of fresh-brewed and tangy-sweet tamarind drink from a polite Guatemalan gent named Señor Lopez. This is about as ethnically diverse a lunch as you’ll ever see, and we got it right here in Louisville. Bon Appetit! Contact Robin Garr at rgarr@louisvillehotbytes.com