610 Magnolia (Louisville, KY)
Shortly after receiving an invite to a family wedding in Louisville, KY, I saw an episode of Iron Chef America, featuring Chef Lee, the executive chef of 610 Magnolia. As we had the better part of a weekend to fill with non-wedding activities, and could not guarantee we’d be back in Kentucky any time soon, it seemed the perfect reason to treat ourselves to a special occasion.
Since we are used to dining in New York City, where the restaurants are often found in the bustling commercial areas, we were surprised to find this remarkable restaurant buried on the cusp of a residential and industrial neighborhood. Even their front door was cleverly hidden from view.
The restaurant is a quaint space, probably no more than a dozen seats framed by a large bar and patio. While the menu advertises Chef’s Tastings only (traditionally meaning that you have no choice in the food courses you receive), what we found was more what we would call a Prix Fixe menu--the opportunity to choose among a few options for each of the five courses. Chef Lee focuses on local produce wherever possible, and this was evidenced by our wonderfully composed plates. We also opted for the wine pairings to accompany each course.
A simple amuse bouche course was paired with a sparkling wine from Germany, a dry Troken Sekt from Henkell; light, crisp flavors to cleanse the palate. The fish course was paired wonderfully with Argentinian Torrontes, the ‘07 vintage from Baguala. The Torrontes offered a powerful funky bouquet, with sweet flavors of overripe peach and plum cutting through both the richness of the Lobster Pie with fresh garden veggies and Tina’s Crudo of Cobia with savory and spicy sauces.
The salad course was paired with a full bodied ‘07 Pinot Noir from Baqueano, Argentina, which was a surprise. You might expect strong leather and cherry flavors to overpower powerful a salad course, but in this case, the non-traditional salad course paired well with this wine. The hearty, earthy flavors of mushroom and sweetbreads balanced well, as did the smoky, rich flavors of Tina’s farm egg and hash.
Of course, in BBQ country, even the fanciest restaurants must embrace their local roots. Tina enjoyed a rib-eye & BBQ short ribs, while I had duck and squab (and some of Tina’s ribs). The deeply intense flavors were well served by the Wit’s End Sidetrack ‘08 Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignion blend from McLaren Vale. The fatty richness of the proteins was balanced by the heavy notes of cherry and pepper in the wine. And Tina learned that a hedgehog can sometimes mean a type of mushroom. According to our waiter, many diners that week had asked about the “hedgehog” on the menu.
After a decadent meal, I will say that the desert course was a bit of a disappointment. But while the cheese plate was a bit uninspired, the port was extremely enjoyable, and taught me that I prefer the balanced fruitiness of a red port to the sickly sweet flavors of the tawny ports that I have tried in the past.
The biggest thing that struck me about our dinner was the deceptive size of it. While each course was small, five plates added up to quite the meal, even if it was spread over nearly three hours. It was a wonderful treat, and if you are passing through Louisville, we highly recommend it. As the seasons change, so will the menu, and if we ever return to Louisville, we will be certain to stop here again.