Photo by Ron Jasin

July 4, 2012

Dress up and dine well at Henry’s Place

Want to go someplace classy for dinner and you don’t mind dressing up a bit to enjoy it? Consider Henry’s Place, which arrived last month with a “business casual” dress code in tow.

“We hope the ladies will want to dress up a bit and that the gentlemen will occasionally throw on that blue blazer that’s always handy,” advises its website. Shorts, T-shirts, ball caps, torn blue jeans and flip-flops are on the no-no list: “We would really like it if you saved your blue jeans for the more casual dining spots,” the dress code rules state, warning would-be style offenders, “Patrons who are not suitably attired will be offered space in the bar area, if available.”

Fair enough! I slipped on my made-in-Italy blue blazer and added a silk Ferragamo power tie to bolster my case. Mary and our friend Lucinda and I made reservations, dressed up and arrived on time, and damned if they didn’t send us straight to the bar.

This was kind of a downer, and the smallish round bar table wasn’t really made for elegant dinner service, either. But the bar chairs were exceptionally comfortable, and at least we could see the swells in the main room enjoying their view of the partially open kitchen, where a coordinated team of five chefs did their best to emulate the 21 formal kitchen stations of Chef Auguste Escoffier’s formal Brigade de Cuisine, albeit in a streamlined form that Henry’s Chef Charles Reed calls “American Brigade.”

The venue, the former Mike Best Meats, is now an attractive dining room with understated decor, with white draped tables placed rather close along banquettes that run the length of the room. Attractive flatware comes rolled in brown cloth napkins, not formally set, a practice that seems a bit at variance with the otherwise upscale mood.

The restaurant, by the way, is named after “Marse” Henry Watterson, namesake of the Watterson Expressway, who was editor of The Courier-Journal from Reconstruction through World War I. There is (or at least used to be) a great painting of Marse Henry in a Sixth and Broadway conference room, rising from his roll-top desk while angrily grasping a sheet of news copy as if to yell, “Who wrote this crap?”

The menu, billed as “Pan-European cuisine,” consists of nine salads and appetizers (from $6 for a house salad to $19 for a cheese and paté plate) and about 18 main courses, subdivided among duck-egg pasta dishes, “fish pots,” “bones” and “house specials.” These cover a broad range of prices from $14 (for spaghetti bolognese ragout or “Doc’s Vegetable”) to $29 (for cioppino, an iconic fish stew from San Francisco’s Little Italy, which slightly stretches the definition “Pan-European,” but never mind).

Our dinner selections suggested a white wine, and our friend Lucinda came up with a good pick from the short but interesting wine list, Chateau Freynelle ($28), a fresh white Bordeaux.

Dinner started with a warm baguette sliced and drenched in garlic butter, with a tangy Gorgonzola dip, another dish that speaks more of Little Italy than Europe, but we happily devoured it. Appetizers were excellent: Tennessee asparagus ($8) was crisp-tender and green, butter-poached and served on fresh watercress and beurre blanc with crunchy fried chickpeas.

Six crimson rounds of scarlet, marbled Montana Wagyu beef carpaccio ($10) were drizzled with fruity olive oil and plated with arugula and pea shoots in a box of white cheese, with oversized capers.

Spinach salad ($8) was lot more spectacular than the name suggests. Fresh spinach leaves were packed in three cylindrical cucumber rolls and stacked on a hot-sweet chili sauce, garnished with black olives, cornichons, a poached shallot, and tiny carrot cylinders dipped in black pepper.

Main courses, too, were consistently fine. Sand Dabs Poêle ($19) requires some translation: Sand dabs are small flatfish, akin to flounder. Poêle is fancy French for pan-roasting in butter on a bed of aromatic vegetables. The tender fish and veggies were served from their copper braising pan.

Ulvik Sole ($21) differed significantly from the menu’s description. Billed as sole and crab, it proved to be sole and shrimp, and it was served on a rich, creamy risotto, which was delicious but is really the kind of thing you’d like to know about when you place your order.

Doc’s Vegetable ($14), a pair of luscious involtini (eggplant-wrapped ricotta), seemed to be listed under duck-egg pasta dishes. In fact, it was pasta-free, accompanied by a small ration of creamy cheddar polenta and first-rate veggies including asparagus, butternut squash, shallot and roasted tomato.

A free sample of “Marse” Henry’s Chocolates delighted us but left no room for dessert. We’ll be back for the chocolate cream pot with mascarpone cheesecake another day.

Our server was excellent, a friendly New Orleans native and Katrina refugee. I enjoyed his chatty, smiling personality (and his good knowledge of the food and wine), and frankly prefer that to the obsequious, smarmy service that too often accompanies upscale dining rooms. Bussers were too quick to yank away unfinished dishes, a fault I hope will disappear with experience.

It’s hard to find a dinner and setting as fine as this, and the three of us got away for about $115, including the wine, plus a $25 tip.

Henry’s Place
4864 Brownsboro Center
690-6585
henrysplacelouisville.com 
Rating: 90

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