Just Smashing (Tomato)!

Smashing Tomato on Urbanspoon

Spouse and I wound up in the Fayette Mall area Saturday afternoon. This is a little unusual for us as I will go to great extremes to avoid the Mall and surrounding area during the evening and on weekends. Needless to say, we don’t visit the restaurants often in that area, because of their location.

It’s the roadways and parking, by the way, that causes me to avoid the location. I believe the parking and roadways were designed by a crayon in the hand of a developer’s three year old grandchild. That is the only thing that can explain the twisty turns, dead ends and endless opportunities to hit pedestrians and smash into other vehicles coming out of, seemingly, nowhere.

I feel the same way about Hamburg, by the way. Actually, Hamburg is probably a little worse.

While in the area, we decided to stop and get lunch. Smashing Tomato caught our eye.

We’ve been to Smashing Tomato several times in the past and have enjoyed their food, so it seemed like a good bet.

The food did not disappoint. Spouse had the regular-sized chopped Caesar Salad, I had a manager’s special (a choice of pizza and soup or salad), selecting the Original Chopped Salad and cheese pizza.

I am very picky about salad greens. Even making a salad at home is an adventure for me as I don’t like leftovers because the get mushy. And I don’t like wet lettuce, so it has to dry thoroughly before I put it together. This involves a salad spinner and time spent resting between two dish towels. I don’t like just-from-the-fridge cold lettuce which gives the greens a bitter taste in my opinion; nor do I like overly warm lettuce, which then can feel wilty limp and ‘blech” in my mouth. I don’t like too many textures in a salad. I believe a salad should be green, primarily, and may involve cucumber, some thinly shaved onion, perhaps some salty and sweet components – nuts, a dried berry, a cheese, or a crouton component, very rarely all of the above and certainly not “too much” as defined by me. A green salad should never have carrots or celery. Make a slaw if you want carrots and celery.

As you can see, I am something of a pain in the backside when it comes to the making and eating of a salad.

Both salads were very fresh and crispy. The regular portion Caesar was large and even the smaller portion I received with my pizza was much larger than I expected. We were very satisfied with portions and lunch carried us through to a light late supper watching the UK-Wisconsin game.

Oh them Cats!

The greens were crisp and had a great mouth-feel. The dressings were both tasty – not too oily, had a good amount of salt and seasoning (in our opinions, of course). The Caesar really was lovely. I rarely order Caesar salads because my experience has been that restaurants either serve them too cold or conversely, bury them so heavily under the Caesar dressing that the lettuce wilts under the pressure and all I taste is parmesan-y mush. I cannot tolerate an overly moist salad. The Smashing tomato Caesar was outstanding, and I really did not expect outstanding.

My Original Chopped Salad was also outstanding. Nice crisp greens, onions, walnuts, parmesan. Again, there was a good amount of dressing and it did not beat the lettuce into submission. I also appreciated the balance of oil to balsamic that can easily go badly. If this is a bottled dressing, I’d love to know the brand. If they made it at the store, then I say thank you!

The salads came with Sheet Music Bread, which looks to be pizza dough with oil and spices, cooked in the wood oven. It was delicious and a fine accompaniment to the salads.

The pizza was delicious. Evidently, Smashing Tomato has been certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) as a maker of pizza made in the authentic Neapolitan tradition. Evidently, the dough is made on site using traditional ingredients in the traditional manner. I appreciate this and I have to say, it made for one fine pizza which I shared with the Spouse.

I’d like to make it clear that this is not American-style pizza, it is Neapolitan-style. This means that if you are imagining you will get a slice of pie such as Domino’s or Little Caesar or Pizza Hut or nearly any well-known or local pizza purveyor provides, you will be disappointed. These are not the thick, saucy, heavily cheesed and topped pizzas you would expect. Smashing Tomato pizza focuses on the ingredients and is not heavy handed.

The pizza was delicious and the crust was something special.

I thought we had a fine meal for less than $20. That this was found in a strip mall store front in the maze that surrounds Fayette Mall made us very happy.

It’s COUNTY Club, not Country…

… and still, I stumble over it when I say it out loud!

County Club on Urbanspoon

Can you have a crush on a restaurant?

Spouse and I stopped at County Club last night for the “Dinner” portion of a “Dinner and a Movie Friday Night”. We’ve been meaning to go for quite a while but just hadn’t been. While poking around Lexington last weekend, we drove past the restaurant and liked what we saw. Alas, it was early Sunday and they weren’t open yet, so we vowed we would go sometime this week.

We are so glad that we did. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and Spouse just wouldn’t stop talking about the food! On and on and on and frankly, I can’t blame him. County Club makes some fine food and we plan on heading back soon for some more smoky deliciousness!

On to the food, but first, a few definitions:

Poutine: a dish originating in Quebec composed of a bed of French fries covered with gravy and cheese curds.

Gravy: Yankee gravy, light brown, probably made with beef or chicken stock. This is not the gravy of my people – biscuits and gravy “gravy”, which is really a Béchamel, if you want a classy comeback when someone calls it hick food.

Cheese Curds: a solid byproduct of the cheese making process. They are not a familiar item around here, but up in the north, Wisconsin, for example, and into Canada where there has been a strong cheese industry, they became a popular snack food. Cheese curds are what you have before the solids are pressed into cheese blocks. They are meant to be eaten fresh, within hours or days of being made. They make a squeaky sound when eaten, if they are fresh, and they have a mild flavor.

We began our meal with a classic poutine. While we have both heard of poutine, neither one of us have actually had the dish before. The fries were crisp and held their own even covered in gravy. The gravy was a pale brown color and had a mild “meaty” flavor. The cheese curds were what I expected – fresh, rubbery and mild, a little salty. “Rubbery”, “mild” and “salty” are all in the nature of the cheese curd, so this is not a put down. They tasted like cheese curd I’ve had before, but with a little less squeak to them.

The curds were white, rather than the yellow to orange I’ve had before. I’m not certain if that is an important point in the cheese curd world, but it led me to believe that perhaps they are homemade cheese curds, as they can be made on a stove top – you don’t need a factory! – and I think the process is much like that in making homemade mozzarella, involving milk and thermometers, a large cook pot and rennet.

All in all, we really enjoyed the poutine and I would order it again. I thought that perhaps the gravy could have had a little more “Zing’ to it, but to be honest, as I have no idea what a classic poutine gravy tastes like, I cannot speak to how it “should have” tasted. I dipped a few fries in one of the sauces on the table and that took care of my need for Zing. Honestly though, the mild flavor of the dish provides a nice balance against the strong flavor of smoked and pickled and spicy foods you are likely to eat at the restaurant.
I think that if someone reading this review thought “That poutine was just plain weird”, I would remind them that biscuits and gravy are considered some seriously strange food and just a bad idea in general to people not of Southern origin. Give it a whirl; poutine is another form of Comfort Food!

We then ordered the smoked beef brisket plate and a side of macaroni and cheese off the menu, as well as the bourbon maple glazed smoked Kentucky spareribs with jalapeno potato salad, that were a Special for the day.

The brisket was smoky, and there were no chemical notes as I have had before with other, obviously lesser made smoked products. The smoke was not overpowering, and if anything Spouse wouldn’t have minded a little more smoke, if anything. He wants me to make a point of saying that this is not a complaint; he thought the brisket was absolutely delicious. The beef was not overly moist and if one cared to, you could dip it in one of the sauces on the table. I did dip a little meat, mostly to sample the sauces with meat, but I liked the brisket just as it was.

The brisket was beautifully plated: it was served on a large slice of grilled artisan bread and the plate was painted with a brush of mustard sauce. The dish was topped with a garnish of shaved red onions and cornichons. The bread had a nice flavor but we only sampled it. If anything, we thought of it more as decoration that as something to eat. The cornichons tasted different that the usual cornichon. It had an almost smoky flavor that might have been part of the pickling recipe or could be attributed to the meat it was served with. I am left wondering if the cornichon were homemade. The plating makes me think this was to be eaten like an open faced sandwich, but we chose to eat the brisket with a side of macaroni and cheese instead.

The macaroni and cheese was also delicious. It was a mild dish, bringing a nice balance to the smoked meat we were eating. I know there was Gruyere in the dish, but I can’t recall what other cheeses were noted on the menu. The mac and cheese was covered with toasted bread crumbs. I can’t help it, but I strongly favor bread crumbs toasted on the mac and cheese. This is not the slap-you-in-the-face neon orange boxed macaroni and cheese we all grew up with, so if you are disappointed with the dish because it isn’t, go home and fix yourself a box.

The spareribs were amazing and hands down, our favorite dish of the evening. They were really that incredible. The portion was large – large enough for us to share – and the bourbon maple glaze was very present and flavorful. The meat had a nice crust of the charred sauce on them and the meat was tender and fell off the bone. I am not one who generally orders ribs in a restaurant – they usually leave me disappointed. The ribs I was served did not disappoint in any way! I would order again if I am there when they are available.

The ribs were served with a large side of jalapeno potato salad. This was also a very satisfying and delicious dish. I had been looking for Zing in the poutine; I found it in the potato salad. Spouse also loved the potato salad, even though his need for Zing is lesser than mine. It satisfied both of our palates, which is a little unusual in terms of the management of jalapeno and other peppers. We thought the potato salad was just perfection!

We finished our meal with coffee and buttermilk panna cotta. The coffee was made with Magic Beans coffee, which we’ve never had before. The coffee was awesome. Really, really awesome! I know I’m supposed to say something smart and descriptive about the roast – and it was rich and full bodied – but awesome just keeps coming to mind. We Googled it when we got home and heck if it ain’t local. We are going to buy ourselves some Magic Beans for home use!

The panna cotta was a wonderful end to our meal. It was silky smooth, with a hint of buttermilk tang. There was a topping of macadamia nuts and black cherry sauce.

This was not one of those enormous, overly sugared desserts you will find at some restaurants. Those desserts are strumpets, strutting around the plate in platform stilettos, promising things they cannot deliver in terms of flavor.

This panna cotta, she’s been to school! It was classy and understated, and the flavor of the ingredients was very present. And there was not too much. The serving was perfect for two people to share and enjoy over coffee, or for one to eat alone and not be embarrassed and overwhelmed by the serving size.

All in all, we were very happy with our meal and we will return! Our very favorites for the evening were the Bourbon Maple Glazed Kentucky Spareribs, the Jalapeno Potato Salad and the Panna Cotta.

I would also like to address the look of the restaurant. Instead of hiding the building’s former life as a garage, the décor embraces it while still not being kitschy and cutesy. You won’t see gas pumps and garage signs, but you can see hints that the building was a worker bee at one time. I love the industrial with a chandelier décor. The dark walls evoke the smoke of the smoked meats. The front wall is all windows which opens up what is really a small space and provides a great deal of light.

We were very impressed with the use of space and loved the bar at one end. I was amazed that the business end of the kitchen was outdoors behind the building. There was something very “smokehouse” about it without it being “rustic”. There is a patio and table out front; my guess is that the umbrellas and chairs will be set up soon (thank goodness this winter is over)! I read on their site that they plan on having live music. I hope that is so.

Also, I absolutely LOVE the County Club sign, which is an arrowhead hanging from chain. It immediately reminded me of the classic National Park Service sign. I have no idea if that sign is an intentional reference to the NPS but it made me very happy, for some reason. Go figure how the mind works!

There is a Bocce Ball court on the premises, out by the smoker. Poutine. Bocce Ball – I am thinking we have some Northern influences going on around County Club!

I would also like to say that the wait staff was very friendly. I’ve read other reviews saying that they were not. I can only address our experience and it was positive. There was not a lot of perky “Welcome to ___! Right this way!!!” attitude, but I don’t find that necessary. They were friendly, helpful and answered questions that we asked. We had water on the table – loved the bottle of water, and the sauces and cutlery were right there. The paper napkins didn’t bother me at all. Plastic cutlery would have bothered me, but they do not use plastic; the cutlery consisted of mismatched stainless in lovely old patterns. I liked this touch as it adds to the personality of the restaurant.

The County Club also has a nice selection of beer and wine, as well as other beverages.

I have to say, if you read or heard that The County Club serves smoked meats and something along the lines of one of the many chain barbeque restaurants comes to mind, you are headed to the wrong restaurant.

The County Club is about smoked meats and the unexpected use of barbecue. The County Club is not about slapping some wet, sugary sauced meat on a bun and calling it a meal.

Check out the County Club website and read the information found under “About” and “Friends”, and you will see that they are interested in serving local and “responsibly raised” ingredients and that the arts of smoking and pickling foods is being explored.

Know what you’re going there for and I think you might be very happy with what you find!

Seki Birthday to You!

Seki Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Yesterday evening, our family visited Seki again to celebrate Spouse’s birthday. Our family loves sushi; even as children, the kids were open to eating sushi so it is a good bet that someone is going to choose it for a birthday or other celebratory dinner at least once a year.

Spouse wanted to go to Seki, which happens to be his favorite sushi place in Lexington.

Remember the days when you might not make the cut and get through the front door? The original owners have been gone for a while now, but Seki still makes some fine food.

We had a table full to celebrate the birthday and between us all, made a number of different selections: Beef Noodle Soup, Tempura, Chi Chi Me, Gyoza, Agedashi Do Fu, the Alaska and Philadelphia Rolls and a Sushi and Sashimi Combo. We enjoyed a number of beers, teas, and wine, as well.

Everything was fresh and delicious, but Spouse mentioned that the tuna on his tuna sashimi was sliced unusually thin, and the salmon roe was not as fresh as he has had in the past at Seki.

The other dishes all met our expectations and were as delicious as we remembered. The Alaska Rolls were notably good and we really enjoyed the flavor. I had the Beef noodle Soup all to myself and I have to say it was very flavorful. The rice in the sushi and sashimi dishes had a perfect taste and texture.

I feel I must say something about the décor.

If one were to visit Seki after having visited other sushi restaurants in town, you would be very disappointed upon walking through the door. The most obvious comparison I can make is with School, another sushi restaurant we enjoy. Whereas School has clearly utilized design professionals to arrange the restaurant’s space – meaning it is a very pretty, inviting restaurant, Seki is “homey”.

Anyone who has been to Seki can attest to the fact that it is not only a very small restaurant, it is fairly plain Jane and matter-of-fact about this. There are no inviting color schemes – what comes to mind is beige walls and light wood, but to be honest, that might not be accurate. The décor is not memorable in any way.

Oh, and you won’t find one of those cute sushi conveyor belts here, either.

We are okay with this, and I suspect a number of diners are, as the restaurant always seems to have quite a few diners there when we visit. It looks and feels to me like a neighborhood restaurant, a quiet little gem where those in the know can expect good food. I think of it along the lines of an old fashioned diner that hasn’t kept up with modern restaurant design expectations but still serves delicious food to happy customers.

Seki has always delivered “the goods” for us. This disappointment with the thinness of the tuna cut and the freshness of the roe was a first time thing for us visiting this restaurant. We had a late reservation and perhaps supplies were running low. This hasn’t changed things for us – Seki remains our favorite sushi place in Lexington.

We highly recommend you make a reservation, or at least call first; the restaurant is small and it could be full if you were to just walk in. And keep in mind, parking can be a challenge.

Logan’s Restaurant and a Long Walk Home

Logan's Roadhouse on Urbanspoon

You know, the two of us have finally begun to actually notice that we are getting older. Not to say that we are old, but we are definitely older than we used to be.

Really though, what option do we have? You get older or you get dead. I pick older.

Logan’s Roadhouse is in much the same position: the restaurant is getting older and I think it has begun to notice.

Friday was a beautiful evening, so at the end of that long workday, we decided we would love to get out and enjoy the fresh air. We also wanted steak for dinner. We pondered driving downtown to one of the restaurants we have yet to visit. We decided to multitask instead, and turn a nice evening walk into our mode of transportation. As Logan’s Roadhouse is a mere 1.5 miles from our home and we hadn’t been there in a while, we decided to eat there.

Oh, there was a time Logan’s was the place to be!

There was a time when Logan’s Roadhouse was always crowded and there was always a wait for a table. Thank goodness there were big barrels of peanuts to keep your appetite in check as you waited the 45 minutes or so to get a table. To add to the fun, you could toss your peanut shells on the floor and no one minded a bit. Heck, they encouraged you to toss those shells on the floor and it was liberating to crunch your way across the debris on your way to the table.

When you got to the table, you would find a little bucket filled with peanuts, and nowhere else to discard the shells except on the floor. I suppose this was to make you feel you were a beer swilling, steak eating nonconformist having a big time at the local roadhouse.

This South Broadway location is the very first Logan’s and opened in 1991. Eventually, the restaurant became part of a larger restaurant chain, and today, Logan Roadhouses can be found in a number of states. I don’t believe I have ever eaten in any other than this one.

1991 – Those were the days, my friend!

In 1991, my husband and I were 28 years old. We had been married three years, didn’t have kids and no one significant in our lives had suffered and died yet. We were financially flush and ate out often, and we were at Logan’s most often, enjoying the beer, the beef and the peanuts with our friends!

Logan’s was fairly hip and friendly to all who entered – whether you were there to sit at the bar and hook up with big-haired 80’s chicks in tight jeans or a big shouldered polyester power suit, or you were there with friends to talk over dinner, or with your squirmy kids for supper on the way home from work. There was a place for everyone at Logan’s Roadhouse.

And as I recall, the food was very good. Not fancy, but solid. The menu was basic Steakhouse/American – steaks, chops, salmon, entrée salads, and sides such as baked sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, French fries, mac and cheese.

Of course, Lexington was not a “foodie” town in 1991 (believe it or not, the term was first used back in the 80’s). The offerings available included possibly two of every fast food establishment under the sun, the usual suspect chain restaurants, including Shoney’s, TGI Friday’s, Rafferty’s, and the like, and then local restaurants such as Joe Bologna’s, the Coach House, and Logan’s Roadhouse. As far as steakhouses go, what comes to mind is Western Sizzler. To be honest, I can’t recall when Outback opened.

Logan’s Roadhouse was not a fancy restaurant, but it was a nice, middle-of-the-road restaurant with a little bit of a theme. Theme restaurants were all the rage back in the day, and some restaurants that are still around have all that faux antique bric-a-brac still hanging on the walls.

Given the relative lack of options, it is possible that when I remember the food as being very good it simply means that my expectations were lower.

Our visit on Friday was fairly lackluster. The first thing we noticed when we walked in – around 8:30pm on a Friday evening – was that there was no wait. Not only was there no wait, but perhaps half the tables were empty. I’d never seen such a thing. We realized that we hadn’t actually been to Logan’s in a while, so this may not be new, but to us it was. The wait staff was mostly standing there and were very friendly and inviting, but the entry was very quiet.

We each ordered the Brewsky Onion steak with steamed broccoli and a Caesar’s salad. I’d never had the Brewsy entrée before, but the Spouse had. The expected rolls and butter came out promptly, as did our iced tea.

Unfortunately, the rolls were lackluster, as was the butter. We observed that perhaps in the past the big airy rolls and whipped butter were a newfangled concept and a wonder to behold, but today, they were merely “okay”.

In fairness, we make our own bread now and rarely eat commercial bread; perhaps that is the reason for our disappointment.

The iced tea was not bland (perhaps not enough tea) and the old plastic cups were unattractive.

We never did get our salads. The waiter was very nice but he completely forgot to bring the salads and brought the entrees out after a long wait. I expect the wait was the built in time allowed for us to eat a salad. We were given the option to take salads or have $3 removed from each entrée in lieu of the salad; we chose the second option.

This was handled quickly and without it becoming an unpleasant issue. The waiter apologized profusely and offered the choices once we pointed out the error. I have read in previous reviews that wait staff had been rude or had brushed off diners’ concerns, but I am happy to report that in our case, this did not occur.

I ordered my steak medium and the Spouse ordered his medium-well. His steak was cooked to the appropriate doneness, however mine was definitely rare, rare being bright red in the center and barely warm. I know I could have returned this steak and I trust that I would have had no problems doing so, however, I often eat my steak rare – actually more often than not – so the doneness was really not an issue to me.

There was something lackluster about the beef in general. It isn’t that it was bad, it just was not delicious. The medium steak was tough and dry; the rare steak was just not flavorful.

The onions were too salty, as was the broccoli. I did think the broccoli was steamed perfectly – not too raw, not too mushy – but it had been salted too much. I did not enjoy the onions at all and kept wondering if they were prepackaged or perhaps the “Brewsy” part of the onion was actually a pre-prepared flavoring added to onions, and that this topping did not involve any actually cooking or “brew”. It was just too salty, too overpowering and had a chemical taste.

All in all, the meal was lackluster, to the point that we regretted having walked to Logan’s to eat. This left us sad and we discussed our history with the restaurant in comparison to this experience on our way home.

We noticed there were changes to the menu – it seems like there were more items to choose from, for instance, the drink menu certainly had more mixed drink options. We also couldn’t help but notice that the floor was practically cleared of peanuts and each table had not only a bucket of peanuts but an empty bucket for the discarded shells.

This leads us to believe that Logan’s Roadhouse on South Broadway has been hit by hard times – fewer diners due to a poor economy, in addition to the many, many new and interesting restaurants that have opened in Lexington as of late.

It is no longer a given that people are going to meet at Logan’s – mostly I saw older couples and groups and families with children. The well-dressed and financially flush “twenty and thirty-somethings” we used to be were absent. My guess is they were downtown at one of the newer restaurants, having dinner with friends.
Clearly Logan’s Roadhouse needs to make changes to accommodate the reality of the new Lexington dining scene. Right now, it is tired and seems a little lost. I do hope things will improve for this restaurant. It seems there is always room in Lexington for an establishment that serves good food.

Brasabana – And the Elephant (Bar) in the Room

Brasabana on Urbanspoon

I spent the day out of town yesterday, communing with ancestors who have already crossed the River Jordan (genealogical research in Wayne County), breezing in around 6pm, with nary a though to feeding myself, let along that hard working husband of mine!

He’s the kind of guy who is okay with this kind of oversight and offered the usual, “Let’s just go out to dinner”.

Actually, what he said was “Let’s go out to dinner! I want to try that new place on Lane Allen. Brasabana. I’m hungry. Let’s go!”

It seemed to me a mighty fine plan and before then engine could cool, we were back in the car, hopping-skipping-and-jumping our way to Brasabana.

I have to say, to begin with, that I have been to this restaurant in a former life or two. The food was generally good bar/pub food. Not great, but good enough. I can’t even remember the name of the previous establishments, which is a bad sign. There is only one thing that really makes that space memorable to me, and it is…

… that damn bar in the middle of the poorly lit room.

Yes, this has been a bar-centric space for quite a long time; that is for certain.

Historically (meaning “as I recall”), the floor plan has always been much the same as it stands today. You enter along the side of the restaurant into a small space. I’ve seen this dressed up as a sitting room with sofas and I’ve seen it serve as part of the dining room. It’s an odd, clunky little space and I imagine an owner thinking “I could sell Cuban crafts or little cookbooks in this space”, to which I reply, “Oh Dear Lord! No!!”

To your left in the main room of the establishment, sits a huge bar-in-the-round. This is a big 1970-1980s bar and I am certain it cost a great deal of money to build. It entertains me to think that it was made so large and unavoidable for one of the three following reasons:

1. Aliens from another galaxy strategically planned to lure drunk and otherwise unaware Earthlings to a central area for transferring them to the mother ship for scientific assessment and experimentation;
2. A large unavoidable bar central to the room forced the partying 80’s ladies to squeeze by and rub up against nearly every man in the room on her way in and on the way out, thereby ensuring numerous “meet cute” opportunities.
3. A large bar with many stools allowed for the largest possible number of working men to sit at the bar and get lit before making their weary way home to the families awaiting their arrival in Garden Springs. Back in the mid-to-late 20th century this was still acceptable post-work entertainment.

Anyway, boy have I digressed! But did I mention the large, ugly bar in the middle of the room?

Past the bar, at the back of the restaurant, is where you would find the stage and dance floor. In the most recent restaurant or two, this has largely been filled with unfilled tables. Mind you, however, evidence of the bar was still there.

I know I’ve yammered on a lot about the ugly bar and things that have little to nothing to do with the current restaurant, Brasabana. Forgive me.

This was important time, however, necessary for you to truly understand how much the space has improved, DESPITE the fact that there is still a hulk of a bar-in-the-round (oval actually) parked in the middle of a nice Cuban restaurant.

Brasabana is a charming restaurant with very good food. The first thing I noticed was how they managed to bring much needed light to a dark space. The restaurant looks so much larger and airier; this is a much more cheerful place to dine. It is the kind of space you can sit and enjoy talking to friends and family and look around and see other diners doing the same.

They’ve placed art work on the walls. Cheerful, colorful painting that you can purchase, if you so desire. I did not walk around to look at all the paintings, but the one by our table was nice and at $150, I thought quite reasonably priced.

The menus are super-cute. I’m not joking here. I believe Brasabana has the prettiest menu design in town! It seems like a minor point, perhaps, but it is important. This is not some Microsoft Word typed menu with clip art photos. The menu reminds me of mid-century graphic art. It was a pleasure reading the menu.

I ordered the Argentinian beef churrasco steak, which had a beautiful char and was served with queso fresco salsa, chimichurri and sweet plantain. The spouse had the pork carnitas.

A lot of attention was paid to details on the plate. The rice was served in a cute little mound topped with a little flourish of peppers and onion. The queso fresco salsa was as pretty as it was tasty. As for the steak – it was cooked exactly as I requested and the spices were wonderfully garlicky.

The spouse says the carnitas were delicious. The outside of the meat was crisp, but under the crisp was tender, flavorful pork. This was served with black beans, white rice and plantains.

Rolls were served with the meal and the butter was unexpectedly flavorful – roasted garlic and guava paste, which brought sweet and floral notes to the butter. I have to admit, I cheated on this point. Spouse and I could identify the garlic, but we were at a loss as to the sweet and floral note, so we asked. We were told is guava paste, and to that I have to say “Yum”!

I would also like to note that the iced tea was out of this world and also had a floral note. I’m not certain if that was also a guava component, or if this note was integral to the tea.

Fork and Spoon loved our first Brasabana experience and we plan to visit again soon. We hope that many people will visit this restaurant and enjoy their meals as well as we did.

We hope they will go back and will encourage their friends to eat there. We hope that our neighborhood will finally have a restaurant on Lane Allen that does not require you drive through, take out, or get drunk to enjoy.

We also hope that as the restaurant flourishes, the owners will devote funds toward the removal of the bar. Perhaps they could place an attractive bar at the back, and allow the restaurant to drift toward the front, where it and the delicious food belong.

Nick Ryan Loves Eurydice

Nick Ryan's Saloon on Urbanspoon

The Spouse and I had dinner at Nick Ryan’s this past Saturday evening, then we were off to the Guignol Theatre on UK’s campus to see Sarah Ruhl’s play, Eurydice.

Before dinner, we had had a wonderful day out and about. Because the winter had been so harsh, and our moods had taken a dark turn correspondingly, we wanted to squeeze all the life we could out of what has been the gift of a beautiful day. The temperature reached up into the 60′s, the sun shining gloriously, and we found ourselves driving south along US 68 with the windows down and the radio up!

We took the new Nikon out for a whirl and ended up in Harrodsburg at the old Fort Harrod State Park, which is a scrubby little place in the late winter, sun shining or not, which is disappointing given that it is an important spot in Kentucky history.

The Spouse and I took some photographs, some of which I hope are interesting. Mostly, Spouse shot with the Nikon and I with my iPhone. There is no complaint here. I was in a free and easy kind of mood and not inclined to fiddle with knobs and turn-y things.

I always feel like a cowgirl, shooting from the hip with my iPhone.

After a quick drive home to shower and primp minimally, we were off to Nick Ryan’s. This was the Spouse’s first visit to Nick Ryan’s Saloon. I had been there once for lunch with some work friends. I greatly enjoyed my lunch at that time and was excited to finally have convinced Steven that we needed to have dinner there sometime. Who is to say why he was so reluctant? I know it isn’t the price, as it is within our dining out budget. I think he may have thought it is too hoity-toity.

We started with the crab cake appetizer, and a couple beers. The Spouse had the Shotgun Wedding from Country Boy Brewing, I had – forgive me – a very pale ale of provenance I cannot recall. I tasted his and he mine and we agreed that they were both right nice beers.

The crab cake was delicious. It was nicely browned on the outside and the interior was beautifully moist and flavorful. It was a nice thick crab cake. There was nothing lacking. The crab cake sat on a layer of a mustard sauce. I loved the grainy tanginess of the sauce; the crab cake was topped with a handful of fresh greens.

For the main course, The Spouse had the braised beef short ribs and I had the lamb special.

The short ribs were delicious (yep, I had a taste of that as well). Braised in veal stock, as per the menu, they were fork tender and very flavorful. I almost regretted that I did not order these as I had short listed them when considering my entree!

The Spouse’s only complaint was that his meal did not come with asparagus as advertised, and the substitution was not discussed with him prior to being served.

Perhaps other diners would not give the substitution much notice, however, The Spouse does not particularly care for green beans and had been looking forward to the asparagus, his most favorite of all the vegetables in the world, I exaggerate not.

In addition to the green beans being, well, not asparagus, he was put off by the mushiness of the green beans. If he had to eat green beans, he tells me he would have preferred they had not been mushy. As for this point, I would like to say that I love green beans and as a girl with strong Appalachian roots, I prefer my green beans well cooked until all the fight is gone, cooked to the bitter end with pork. These beans had little bits of pork and to my palate were wonderful.

The point of that is to let you know we hold no grudge against Nick Ryan’s for serving green beans. Just, you know, let a fellow know!

I chose the lamb special, which was clearly a deconstructed gyro and I enjoyed it immensely. The lamb was shaved thinly and plated in a nice heap. There was plenty of meat, almost too much, but I was a trooper and ate every last bit.

The meat was dressed with a yogurt sauce and cucumber shavings (there is a professional word for this but I don’t know it!) topped the lamb. The lamb was accompanied by two sides – a pepper stuffed with jasmine rice and feta cheese, as well as a hearty slice of spanakopita (Greek spinach pie).

The sides were both delicious, but the one complaint I have is that, served together with the lamb, there were too many flavors! Not that I didn’t eat the whole thing (ha!) and not that they were not absolutely delicious. I just think there was too much going on the plate. The two dishes together created a heaviness that competed with the beauty of the lamb/cucumber/yogurt sauce combination.

We should all have such problems to complain about, but there it is.

Enroute to the Guignol, I found myself considering what I thought would please me more – keeping the spanakopita or the stuffed pepper? What substitution would better replace the one that would be let go? I came to the conclusion that I would have loved to have kept the spanakopita and replaced the pepper with a roasted tomato, topped with feta and little shavings of red onion.

Good thing I don’t have to please fussy diners! And heaven knows, at my home, you’ll be happy that the food is ready on time or that I haven’t forgotten the salt. Or bread. Really, I am no chef.

So let this be known, green beans and stuffed pepper (both delicious, I reiterate) be damned – we left the restaurant with no regrets. Our food was splendid.

We also left with no dessert. The meal was just that satisfying!

We left Nick Ryan’s and struggled through traffic to make it on time to the Guignol Theatre for Eurydice, written by Susan Ruhl.

This was a retelling of the original story of Eurydice, Orpheus’s wife who dies and descends to the Underworld. In the original telling of the tale, as I recall, Orpheus, a great musician, making music so fine so as to even tame wild animals, uses his grief-driven music to convince Hades to allow Eurydice to return to the land of the living. There is one caveat – Orpheus must not look back at Eurydice until they have returned from the Underworld. Orpheus ascends, but turns to embrace Eurydice before she had fully exited the Underworld, and Eurydice has to return.

In this production, Orpheus is a great musician. He and Eurydice marry but at the wedding party, she is approached by a man (the Nasty Interesting Man) who says he has a letter for her from her father, who has died prior to the setting of the play.

We meet the father and learn that he was not fully washed of memory when he drank from the river Lethe, and so has been mourning his daughter and trying to get notes to her in the land of the living.

I won’t give away the story but will say that, in addition to the father, there are stones (big, little and loud) who play the role of a Greek Chorus, and they are wonderful!

This play was performed “in the round”. The audience was small and intimate. We sat in the front row so we were literally right at the edge of the performance.

The set involved an elevator but otherwise, was really very bare. The costuming looked circa 1940s perhaps, except for the stones who were full on Scottish punk-types with kilts and hair that would have made any Sex Pistol fan of my generation proud! I can’t express how wonderful those actors were. We enjoyed them immensely and they brought unexpected humor to this tragic tale that was not at all out of place!

I thought the actors were all very talented. Eurydice was a little giggly and pouty but I still liked her. I’d like to read the play to see how she was written; one would think it would be a more difficult decision to leave your wedding party to go to the apartment of Creepy Guy just because he said he had a letter from your father than it played out on this stage!

The actor who played Orpheus was wonderful. I felt his grief and confusion.

The young man who played the father stole the show for me. Somehow, he managed to convey grief, but also persistent hope that a parent who has lost a child (or who is lost to a child) might feel, that hope that somehow they can meet again; that there was some way, if one only thought hard enough, to work around the situation and make the loss just not so.

I thought the scenes with the room made of string that the father constructs for Eurydice were heart-rending. What parent doesn’t want to fulfill a child’s wish? It is significant that her father creates this room from twelve strands of string, which ties into to an earlier scene in the play. This room made of string recalls Orpheus’ love and music as well as remembrance. When the father dismantles the room broke my heart. It made me weep, it was played so well.

All in all, a wonderful meal and a wonderful play brought to close a beautiful day!

Billy, Billy, Billy…


Billy's Hickory-Pit Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

This afternoon, my husband and I decided to get out of the house and tool around town a bit. We weren’t up to any big projects, we just wanted to get out of the house and go somewhere, if only to remind ourselves that the snow and ice and cold does not have to turn us into hermits.

Alas, I feel like a hermit! And I wish I had eaten at home.

We decided to go to the public library and hit the Friends of the Library Bookstore and then go out to lunch somewhere nearby.

Made out like a bandit at the FOTL Bookstore – got a couple cookbooks we were looking for, a couple art books and a history of the settlement of colonial US, something that will likely be useful to my genealogy endeavors as there were some migration charts and the like.

Anyway, we then went to lunch at Billy’s BBQ in the Chevy Chase area (101 Cochran Rd, Lexington, KY 40502, (859) 269-9593). This restaurant has been operating for the past 30 years or so, and as far as I know, it has always been at the same address.

There was a time when this was something of a happening spot. It still is, but probably more for nostalgic reasons and not for the high quality of the food. Now that Lexington has become something of a Foodie town, good old Billy’s looks a bit worn around the cuffs and collar and the shoes need resoling.

Having said that, I have to admit that the food was not bad, still, it wasn’t entirely good, either.

I would say that some items were acceptable and others were merely okay. The fried pickles – my, oh my, they were fabulous, exactly the kind of appetizer that goes perfectly with a cold beer (which we should have had) – crunchy fried, with the salty tart of the pickle slices playing off the crunch. The horseradish sauce that accompanied the pickles was fine, really neither here nor there. It was horseradish sauce.

My husband had the pork dinner plate and I had the beef. The pork was a little more interesting that the beef, although both were wetter than I would have liked. I am not a fan of overly wet BBQ, especially when the sauce is so watery that you cannot taste it. The beef was worse than the pork and this wet pile of bland beef made me very sad.

The coleslaw was nice. It was the kind of good you expect from your favorite aunt at a family reunion spread. Or, in the case of our lunch, perhaps a family funeral spread. Either way, my favorite aunt and — I pray to BabyJesus they make it themselves — Billy’s BBQ make fine coleslaw.

The beans were good. They were canned, or at least seemed to be, and a little too wet, although that might have been the wet meat affecting the state of the green beans. Still, they were okay.

Unfortunately, the iced tea tasted like it was made last week. I admit that I am unduly fussy about the quality of my iced tea, but I stand by my assessment – the tea was bitter and had that “been sitting around several days too long” dankness about it that I find entirely unappealing.

The service was friendly and the place was more than half full. Given the weather and time of day, more than half full wasn’t half bad!

I’d go again, just because I have such fine memories of the place. I’m hoping these gray, cold days had simply gotten the best of Billy’s, as it has gotten the best of me.