Chef Dean Corbett, who made his mark on the Louisville food scene with his excellent restaurant Equus in St. Matthews, has created one of the most outstanding restaurants in the region with this latest venture. Corbett’s “An American Place” opened in the winter in the far-east end of Jefferson County, in the growing Brownsboro Crossing shopping center east of the Snyder Freeway. It has already joined the ranks of the region’s top tables.
Housed in the 150-year-old farmhouse that was originally home to the Von Allmen dairy operation, Corbett’s has been renovated from cellar to ceiling, the gracious lines of a prosperous country estate now girded with every high-tech restaurant bell and whistle imaginable, from special air-conditioning for the comfort of chefs on the hot stations to a 21st century television system that allows, among other things, guests in the private “chef’s room” to interact with kitchen staff while their dinner is being prepared ($150 per person) and later receive a souvenir DVD recording of the experience.
Although the building is situated smack-dab in front of Costco, which hovers into view long before you reach the restaurant on the drive back from Brownsboro Road, the shopping center sprawl is not visible once you’re inside the restaurant or its shady outdoor dining areas. A new patio on the east of the building is cleverly walled off from the Costco view. For those who choose alfresco, misters run in warm weather to cool things off out there on a muggy evening.
Inside the restaurant, polished hardwood floors, creamy woodwork and walls sporting simply framed black-and-white photos, large bright windows and generous white-robed tables give the main floor an airy feel, superbly suited to leisurely and gracious dining. With many hard surfaces, though, it’s not exactly quiet, and the night we visited, a low din of chatter added to the atmosphere.
But Corbett’s is almost two restaurants in terms of ambience. Down on the lower level — originally the cellar level of the farmhouse — thick stone walls and heavy rustic beams (the joists for the flooring above), old brick floors and dove-grey colors create hushed seclusion for diners who want a less noisy, pared-back setting. With its various chambers connected by a central hall, this floor is ideal for those who want a private meeting room for their meal.
We joined friends at Corbett’s on a recent sunny summer evening, and waited with drinks at the bar, looking out onto the sunlit lawn bordered by zinnias, before we were ushered to our table. As we were led to the lower-level table that had been reserved for us, we realized that we hadn’t been asked about our choice of seating area. If you have a preference — upstairs amidst the chattering tables in the evening sun or downstairs in the quiet shade — best to state it when you make reservations.
Our large round table for six was roomy, set with heavy white linen, and quality flatware and china. “I am always struck by the service at Chef Dean’s establishments,” our friend Jay said. “There’s an air of professionalism, care about the guest, and an ease with which the servers operate that belies the difficulty of the job. I think the wine service at Corbett’s surpasses anything in Louisville.”
Later, Jay told us that at our dinner, he’d liked the way sommelier Todd Ritchie gauged the interest of the table in discussing and choosing wine, and “when he sensed interest, he asked about specific preferences.
“It’s a nice touch, too,” added Jay, “that he brought his various options to the table and described them, even subtly addressing the price point of each. He could have just pushed the highest-priced stuff.”
We settled on a 2004 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Italian red and a 2005 Hofer Gruner Veltliner Austrian white to go with our dinner selections, which included the “Halibut, Tomato-Orange Marmalade, Poached Asparagus, Lobster Broth, Ham Dumpling” ($36); the “Duncan Farms Rabbit & Whole Grain Mustard Raviolis, Braised Collard Greens, Natural Broth” ($28); the “Tanglewood Farms Chicken, Vegetable & Reggiano Terrine, Grilled Asparagus, Truffled Velouté” ($27) and the “Berkshire Pork Chop, Cannellini Beans, Savoy Cabbage, Beets, Braised Belly, Chorizo Sausage” ($35).
Our friend Karen ordered the “Spring Pea Soup, Garlic, Kentucky Country Ham, Crème Fraîche” appetizer ($7) and described it as “velvety” (it was a gorgeous green color) and thought the texture and saltiness of the country ham that topped the soup added a depth of flavor.
My wife (and co-author of today’s report) described her “Chilled White Asparagus Soup, Tomato Granité, Shrimp Seviche” ($7) in a single, predictable utterance. She scraped the soup bowl clean before coming up for air — upon which she described the dish as “luxuriously smooth, rich and the essence of asparagus.” No fan of crustaceans, she passed the perfect chilled shrimp over to me.
Jay’s salad, described on the menu as “Romaine, Anchovy-Caper Vinaigrette, Parmesan Torte & Crouton” ($9), was a Caesar salad deconstructed, then reconstructed in a unique and appealing way with what Jay described as “extremely fresh, crisp greens.”
I started my dinner with the “Prime Beef Carpaccio, Roasted Peppers, Lemon Gelée, Parmesan-Black Pepper Wafer” ($12). Paper-thin slices of raw beef (yes, it’s raw, the beef-ish equivalent of sashimi) were cool and delicious, nicely set off with the peppery wafer. Our friend Todd expressed my sentiment, though, when he said the dish “was wonderful, even though I never quite understood the value of the lemon gelee that accompanied it.”
The pork chop entree included a thick, tender, juicy chop; braised pork belly and chorizo sausage (we love pork fat!). The friend who ordered the dish said he only wished he “could get a pork chop to turn out like that at home.” The rabbit ravioli was prepared perfectly, with a center of delicately flavored ground rabbit meat. The collard greens on the side were smoky with a good bacon flavor — a nice contrast with the tartness of the greens. The only off note was the lack of any discernable taste of the advertised mustard.
The halibut was fresh and flaky, but the “ham dumpling,” while interesting, didn’t really seem to contribute to the dish — and our friend found it an odd pairing. The Tanglewood Farms Chicken (billed as “all natural” and “better than free range” on the Tanglewood Farms website) was juicy and robust, with flavors that might surprise diners used to Tyson’s industrial product. Here the roasted quarter was paired with a vegetable “terrine,” a nicely melded stack of eggplant, squash, pepper and cheese and the asparagus du jour, grilled to a turn.
Desserts are just as creative as the rest: We shared a tongue-in-cheek “Almond Joy” ($7), a round of intense dark chocolate topped with a quenelle of light coconut sorbet and sliced toasted almonds. Best candy bar I ever ate.
With nary a lapse on the food side, and service up to a high standard throughout the meal, Corbett’s earns a 90-plus rating, the equivalent of four stars. It’s highly recommended. But remember to ask in advance if you prefer the elegant upstairs or the dark stone walls of the lower level.
Dinner for six came to a rather eye-popping $345, but breaking out shares for each couple brought it back to rational white-tablecloth standards: Our dinner was $115.01 plus a $25 tip. If you’d like to try Corbett’s on a tighter budget, consider going for lunch.
Corbett’s “An American Place”
5050 Norton Healthcare Blvd.
Robin Garr’s rating: 93 points
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