J.R. Tolkien

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mesa, A Collaborative Kitchen: Bringing Chefs to the Table

If you're looking for a place to eat in Louisville and southern Indiana, there's no shortage of great restaurants to choose from.  However, if you're looking for a culinary experience, there's very few places like Mesa, A Collaborative Kitchen.  This recently opened kitchen-classroom and cookware boutique in historic downtown New Albany creates a homey kitchen space that brings diners and chefs together for an intimate dining experience.

As soon as we entered Mesa, we were greeted by the owner and seated around a modern kitchen along with 20 other guests.  The space is designed to emulate the feel of coming over to a friend's house for dinner.  Behind the counter is chef Josh Weise, executive chef for Brown Forman who once cooked for president Bush and vice president Cheney on their visit to Louisville.  As chef Weise prepared dinner, he interacted with guests, explained where the food came from, shared personal stories and answered questions.

Chef Josh Weise interacted with guests as he prepared dinner. Photo: Mesa
Chef Weise preparing dessert
The chef for each event comes from well known local restaurants like The Exchange, Asiatique, Con Huevos, Brooklyn and The Butcher, or has certain area of expertise.

All the ingredients for our four course dinner ($75) came from local farmers, except for the mussels.

1st : Drunken mussels in a heirloom tomato broth with grill sourdough
2nd: Bibb salad, strawberries, candied pecans, caramelized cippolini onion & Kenny's smoked blue cheese dressing
3rd: Sweet tea brine fried chicken served with Kenny's white cheddar grit cake and Alabama white sauce
4th: Bourbon peach cobbler, vanilla whip and caramel sauce
The dinner took a total of 2 hours but time went by quickly as the whole experience was interactive and the food came out at the perfect pace.  

I won free tickets for dinner at Mesa through a Yelp Elite giveaway contest (Learn how you can become a Yelp Elite for cool prizes and events in the future) so am refraining from writing an actual review.  The short of it is: I came away full and happy with this unique experience.  I would recommend this for those looking to break away from a traditional dinner for a special occasion.

If you're interested, here are some additional details:
  • 23 tickets sold per session 
  • Prices range from $35 - $99, depending on whether it's dinner, breakfast, brunch or a special demonstration/tasting
  • Price of ticket includes a drink (including wine and cocktails)
  • Check their event page for dates, description, and prices.  Tickets are booked online only
  • 18% gratuity is NOT included and will be added at checkout & will show up as a tax
  • Join their mailing list for specials.  If seats are not filled, special discounts (usually 25% off) are offered on the day of the event
  • Mesa is available for private events such as wedding rehearsal dinner, birthdays, retirement, etc.
MESA, A Collaborative Kitchen
216 Pearl Street
New Albany, IN 47150
(812) 725-7691
info@mesachefs.com
​Tuesday - Friday 10:30 am - 6 pm
​Saturday 10:30 am - 6 pm

After dinner, check out the other half of the facility for unique cookware, local food products and gifts. 


If you are there on a Friday summer night, walk a block south on Pearl Street to the Bicentennial Park to enjoy the summer concert series free outdoor concert.

Historic New Albany, IN
Bicentennial Park, New Albany, IN
For other unique dining ideas, check out these places in Louisville.  I'm hoping to try them out in the future and will share reviews.
  • Cooking At Millie's Learn how to cook from local chefs and enjoy the fruit of your labor after, ~$95 for 2 people.
  • At The Italian Table Chef Gina spent 13 years in Tuscany and is now bringing the Italian flavor to Louisville via a communal style 5 course Italian meal at this establishment in the Frankfort Ave neighborhood.  She also offers demonstration cooking classes on certain days of the week. 
  • The Culture Club Presents There are many ways to enjoy international flavors with chef Sunshine Flagg: eating a communal dinner at her home with 12 other guests ($20), learning to cook at her workshop or bringing her to your house for a private cater meal ($250/12 people). 
  • My World Travel Co - Travel agency owner Katie Kubitskey and chef Colin Oliver host a monthly three-hour cooking class or a three hour dinner focusing on international food.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Asian Sweets and Treats

My husband and I were born and raised on opposite sides of the world.  As a result, our food preference is also a world apart, especially when it comes to sweets.  He grew up eating cakes and cookies for desserts, so has a huge sweet tooth.  My sweet tooth is practically non existent.  My desserts were bananas right off the tree in our backyard after each meal.  It was one of my fondest childhood memories growing up in Vietnam, as expressed by the excitement on my face when I saw this nostalgia inducing banana stalk.

Bananas at a Hawaiian farm.
Asian desserts in general include a lot of fruits and are not very sweet by American's standard.  Many are influenced by former European colonial rulers & traders (also not as sweet).  French pastries, for example, are very popular in Vietnam.

If you're like me and don't like your desserts overly sweet or just curious about Asian desserts, here are three places in town you can check out.

JW Cafe & Bakery | Korean
2301 Terra Crossing Blvd, Suite 105
Louisville, KY 40245
(502) 907-5248

This brand new Korean bakery just opened two weeks ago in East Louisville, the first of its kind here.  My foodie buddy Mia texted me yesterday morning and I was literally there in 20 minutes.  Grab a tray and fill it with pastries displayed on a small table, then head to the counter for cakes, a croissant sandwich or salmon salad.  Pair your sweets with some coffee, tea or bubble tea.  I thoroughly enjoyed the flaky croissant, with the perfect amount of sweet glazed on top.  The owner brought us a complimentary piece of cake that's light and soft.  The mango bubble tea was good, though not the best in town.





Complimentary of the owner
Photo Source: Mia


Mango bubble tea
Those used to larger Asian bakeries in cities such as Atlanta and Houston will be disappointed by the smaller selection, but can still appreciate the delicious and beautifully made desserts.  I'm hoping once the business is more established, the selection will grow.  The cafe itself is bright and cutesy, perfect for a coffee break with your buddy.


0 Degrees Ice Cream | Thai
5000 Shelbyville Rd
Space 5820 (Inside Mall St. Matthews by Cinnabon)
Louisville, KY 40207
(646) 736-8173

If you've seen videos of rolled ice cream made in the streets of Thailand, you know what this place is all about.  If you haven't, here's a quick version.




This extremely popular ice cream trend is well established in large cities but just made its way to Louisville last year.  First, choose a suggested combo or create your own, next the ice cream is made right in front of your eyes.  What makes this different is that the finished product is rolled into smaller rolls and topped with additional goodies.  The selection here is small and is a bit pricey ($6.59), but it's fun to watch and eat.  My matcha ice cream was okay, I recommend the Pink Lady.

Matcha
Pink Lady
Menu. Source: 0 Degrees Facebook.

DaLat's Gateaux & Cafe | Vietnamese
6915 Southside Dr
Louisville, KY 40214
(502) 368-9280

For French inspired Asian pastries and Vietnamese desserts, head to DaLat's in ethnically diverse South Louisville.  The pastries are not as sweet, decently priced and plentiful.    There's also a good selection of bubble tea, coffee and smoothies. My favorite here is the bacon onion buns.  They also have a good selection of Vietnamese savory snacks, such as snail sausage, banh mi, jerky, etc.

Pastries. Photo Source: Shelley S.,  Yelp
For special occasions, you can pre-order cakes too.  Due to language barrier, be very specific with your request to avoid any confusions.

Our wedding cake from DaLat's

The picking is a bit slim here because of the smaller Asian population in Louisville, but I'm hoping that will change soon.  I also found desserts from other ethnic eateries to my liking as well, check out the paletas (ice cream bars) at Panchito's and Bosnian pastries at Jasmin's Bakery.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dress Like a Cow for Free Chicken at Chick-fil-A

One of my favorite days of the year is finally here, Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-A.  It's one day out of the year where you dress like a cow to get free chicken so you can eat like a pig! :)  

I've heard about the event for a few years but felt weird coming in to ask for free food, so never did it.   But after such a fun and easy first experience 2 years ago, we kept coming back.  Many of our friends even joined in.  It's a family friendly event and many come in large groups. 

All you have to do is dress like a cow, go to the counter and choose your free entree.  The staff is extremely friendly, everyone at the restaurant is there for the same reason (so it's not weird at all), and they accept anything remotely cow looking, no questions asked.  Chick-fil-A even has a kit you can print on their website.  Or draw some black dots on your white t-shirt and you are set.  As you can see our costume was very basic!


It was you've never done it before, here's a quick guide.  

When?
  • Date:  Tuesday, July 11, 2017 
  • Time: from restaurant opening until 7 p.m.

Where?

These are the Chick-fil-A locations in Louisville

University of Louisville
2100 S Floyd St, Louisville, KY 40208

Bardstown Road
3420 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40218
6:30 am - 10:00 pm

St. Matthews
5001 Shelbyville Rd, Louisville, KY 40207
6:30 am - 10:00 pm

Mall St. Matthews
5000 Shelbyville Rd Ste 1630, Louisville, KY 40207
10:00 am - 9:00 pm

Dixie Hwy (KY)
6630 Dixie Hwy, Louisville, KY 40258
6:30 am - 10:00 pm

Jefferson Mall
4801 Outer Loop, Louisville, KY 40219
9:30 am - 9:00 pm

Stonybrook
2350 Shane Dr, Louisville, KY 40220
6:30 am - 10:00 pm

Jefferson Commons
4925 Outer Loop, Louisville, KY 40219
6:00 am - 10:00 pm

Springhurst
10501 Westport Rd, Louisville, KY 40241
6:30 am - 10:00 pm

Glenmary
7901 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40291
6:00 am - 10:00 pm

Middletown Commons
13313 Shelbyville Rd, Louisville, KY 40223
6:00 am - 10:00 pm

What can I get?
Spicy deluxe sandwich, fries and frosted lemonade
Free meal for two (2 years ago)

Official rule from the website states that you can choose from the entrees below.  But we got the whole free meal last year and this year, which includes an entree, fries and a drink (Stonybrook location). 
  • Breakfast Entrée includes:
    • Egg White Grill
    • Chick-fil-A® Chicken Biscuit
    • Chick-fil-A® Spicy Chicken Biscuit
    • Sausage Biscuit
    • Chick-n-Minis™ (3 or 4-count)
    • Chicken or Sausage Breakfast Burrito
    • Chicken or Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Bagel
    • Bacon or Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit
    • Greek Yogurt Parfait
    • Fruit Cup (any size)
  • Lunch/Dinner Entrée includes:
    • Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Sandwich
    • Chick-fil-A® Chicken Sandwich
    • Chick-fil-A® Chicken Deluxe Sandwich
    • Chick-fil-A® Spicy Chicken Sandwich
    • Chick-fil-A® Spicy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich
    • Grilled Chicken Sandwich
    • Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich
    • Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap®
    • Chick-fil-A® Nuggets (8 or 12-count)
    • Chick-fil-A® Grilled Nuggets (8- or 12-count)
    • Chicken Salad Sandwich; Chick-n-Strips™ (3 or 4-count)
    • Small hand-spun milkshake (Operator discretion), Small Iced Coffee, Small Frosted Coffee or Small Frosted Lemonade
    • No salad this year
  • Kid’s Meal:
    • Chick-n-Strips (1 or 2-count) Kid’s Meal
    • Chick-fil-A® Nuggets (4 or 6-count) Kid’s Meal
    • Grilled Nugget (4 or 6-count) Kid’s Meal
How many can I get?
You can go through the line once, but hey if you're up for it, you can visit as many restaurants as you want!

The restaurant is more crowded than usual but it's fast food so the wait is not long.  Be sure to be there at the counter by 7 p.m.  The cut off time is strict.  

This year is extra special for us because we got a new friend to join us on our foodie adventure (also the reason for the brief blog hiatus!)

Monday, March 6, 2017

7 Louisville Ethnic Restaurants You Probably Haven't Heard Of

My husband’s favorite complaint about me is that he never gets to go back and eat at his favorite restaurant more than once.  Well sir, how else are we supposed to sample all the 2,000+restaurants in Louisville?!  So most of the time my husband, being the supportive man that he is, gets dragged all over the city to try out places that makes him nervous and occasionally wreaked havoc on his digestive system (my stomach is a lot stronger!).  But from those adventures, we found some amazing places to eat in Louisville that’s under the radar and uniquely its own.  I’m proud to say that my Kentucky born and raised meat-and-potato-husband is now a lover of Japanese sushi, Mexican grocery store burritos, Mediterranean gyros, Cajun crawfish, Peruvian chicken and other food he would not have touched in the past.

I’m hoping my blog posts will get some of you out of your geographical and gastronomic comfort zones as well to try something different.  You might not like everything, but once you find something you do like, it opens a whole new world of culinary joy. Let’s start with these 7 ethnic restaurants, some more familiar than others.  But all will make your culinary adventure more interesting.

Nahyla's | Venezuelan
12220 Shelbyville Rd
Middletown, KY 40243
(502) 822-1808

This newcomer is the only Venezuelan restaurant in town, so you're in for a treat.  Even though the menu is small, it contains a treasure trove of items you won’t find anywhere else.  Start off with the tequenos, Venezuelan cheese sticks, the crusty fresh dough is baked with cheese on the inside and comes with a side of light lemony cilantro sauce.  My husband ate most of my portion!

Tequenos, Venezuelan cheese sticks.
Arepas are Venezuelan specialty and a must try for those new to the cuisine.  These Venezuelan corn cakes are made with ground maize dough or cooked flour then grilled or baked.  They are thin, crunchy and filled with your choice of meat, cheese, plantains, beans, and other combinations.  Eat it like a burger and you’ll enjoy the combination of familiar flavors in a different way.

Pabellon Arepas
Pabellon Criollo
Also not to be missed is the Carribbean Lemonade, it’s sweet and made with real sugar cane.

Caribbean Lemonade

What I enjoyed the most here is the newness of all the dishes; my husband is the true fan, he loved everything.  My absolutely favorite part of the meal was the warm soft and gooey brownie topped with the ice cream (not sure if this is a traditional Venezuelan dish), check in on your Yelp app and get this dessert for free.

Kathmandu Kitchen and Bar | Nepali
3825 Bardstown Rd
Louisville, KY 40218
(502) 276-1527

Kathmandu Kitchen and Bar is also the only one of its kind in the city, introducing Louisville to the rich spices and flavors of Nepal and the Himalayas.

A safe choice and everyone's favorite is the fried vegetables mo mos, a type of fried dumplings with a side of garlic chili sauce.  It's crunchy and delicious.  For lover of spicy food, the sukuti chili is a nice treat, it's dried meat (like jerky), mixed with lemon, cilantro, green chili and onion.  I love jerky so enjoyed the tough texture, seasoning and spice.  Beware, you'll be sweating in places you wouldn't think can sweat.

Sukuti Chili and Fried Vegetable Mo Mo
My favorite on the menu is the samosa chat, a tangy salad like mixture of onions, chick peas, tamarind and mint sauce, chat masala, and samosas.  It's an explosion of flavors that'll sure to delight to your taste buds.


The chicken thukpa, a noodle soup, has a mild flavored broth, so I would recommend a skip on this.  The chicken fried rice has lots of spices, which can be overwhelming for some.

Chicken Thukpa
Chicken fried rice


I highly recommend Kathamandu for the adventurous eater and lover of spices.  The staff is definitely new to the American restaurant scene, so don't expect American style service.  You probably will have to flag the waiter down when you are ready to order or to pay, get your own drinks from the fridge in the front corner and complimentary water bottles will be brought out in place of tap water in a cup.

Jasmin Bakery | Bosnian/European
2205 Steier Ln,
Louisville, KY 40218
(502) 458-0013

After a visit to Kathmandu, head a block south on Bardstown Road for some delicious European pastries and gyros.  I don't like my desserts overly sweet, so the desserts and pastries here is a perfect fit.  I suggest grabbing whatever you see in the pastry display; mine was a satisfying flaky concoction with a slightly sweet cherry filling.  I came around 2 o’clock on a Saturday and there were only 3 items left.  The owner said to come at 9 a.m. so you’ll get your pick.

Cherry Pastry

If you still have room, the gyro here is among the best in the city.  The menu is a picture of 4 items on the wall, no prices and no description.  Your choices are: the little ($3.50), the big ($5), the burger or the sausage.  Order at the counter and grab a seat (you pay later). It’s a European/Bosnian style gyro, so the meat and toppings are inside soft European bread.  Behind the counter is an assortment of fresh baked bread, perfect to take home.  The service is a bit slow, but the food is worth the wait. 

The menu and bread selection.
The Little Gyro

Baraka Restaurant | Samolian/Asian
519 W Oak St,
Louisville, KY 40203
(502) 822-3046

Baraka is a true off the beaten restaurant but one worth making a detour some for delicious Somalian/African food.  The menu offers an interesting mix of food from all over, chicken wings, spaghetti, rice, curry, Philly steak, goat, etc.  A sure bet and a favorite of mine is the chicken suqaar (saute chicken cubes) with chapatti (like nan or roti bread) or the wrap form is equally delicious.  The portions are huge and the prices are reasonable.  Ask for the green and red sauce for added spice.  As with a lot of small restaurant, some items might be out and service a bit spotty, but all will be forgiven when you try out the food.

Chicken Suqaar Chapati

Safari Grill | African/Mediterranean
328 W Woodlawn Ave
Louisville, KY 40214
(502) 915-0943

The owners are from Somalia and Kenya, so you're getting a mixture of African food with some familiar Mediterranean favorites.  The restaurant is simple, more thought is put into the food than the décor itself.

The owners are extremely friendly and welcoming. You order at the counter from the menu on the wall.  Choices include vegetarian plates, gyros, suqaar plates (saute cube of different meat options and with vegetables), chapati (unleavened flat bread or roti), breakfast items, salads and a few African dishes. Most items are under $10.

Gyro plate
Our gyro and suqaar plates are large and delicious. Our favorite was the flavorful gyro meat with a large portion of rice and assorted vegetables.  The plates all come with a side salad.

Time 4 Thai | Thai
2206 Frankfort Ave
Louisville, KY 40206
(502) 996-7899

What I love about this place is that the food is good (fresh, lots of flavors and spices), the portions are big, the prices are reasonable, the menu has a huge variety of curries, salads, entrees, and special dishes.  The owners are friendly.

Chicken wings
To start, I recommend the Thai wings, it came out hot, crunchy with the right amount of sweetness to make us want at least two more plates. For fans of sweet and sour, the papaya salad is a refreshing tangy start. The Tom Kha soup was savory, spicy and hit all the right flavor spots. I like the pad woonsen but would've preferred more noodles.  A bit of a warning though, the food might not be consistently good.  After my first visit, I couldn't wait fast enough to bring friends back to share my discovery, the food for that visit was a bit disappointing (we did order completely different food).  I would still recommend a try so you can judge for yourself!

Victoria Mexican Restaurant | Mexican
2918 Hikes Ln
Louisville, KY 40218
(502) 709-5178

With so many Mexican restaurants in town, it's hard to keep track of all the new ones that opened up.  I'm happy to stumble on this one in particular.  The shrimp tostadas is my go to appetizer at any Mexican restaurant and Victoria did not disappoint.  The shrimp is succulent and further enhanced by the tangy freshness of the lime, onion, tomatoes, cilantro, and avocado.

Shrimp tostadas
My taco carne asada was meaty, charred just enough to be crunchy and deliciously seasoned.

Taco Carne Asada
My husband raved about the burrito, made even more special by the cheesy sauce on the side.


For fish fans, order the Mojarra, a large fresh fried fish with all the toppings to make your own wrap or taco.  You’ll need to add the house hot sauce to give it more flavor.  For a slightly healthier option, try the chicken azado, the skin was gold crisp and the meat tender.

Mojarra
Polloazado
The staff is friendly and the service quick.  Also free chips and salsa! We ordered a variety of items on the menu and enjoyed them all, even our 4 year old diner mate approved!

If you are looking for more ethnic places to try, check out an earlier post on 10 meals around the world for under $10.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Yoki Buffet - A Notch Above the Rest

It’s been a while since I’ve had great Chinese buffet, so when I discovered Yoki Buffet and all its delicious offerings, it’s hard not to tell everyone bout it!  So here’s a flash review, since we all know what to expect at a typical Chinese Buffet.

Location
1700 Alliant Ave
Louisville, KY 40299
(502) 267-2277

Yoki is located in the old Hometown Buffet right off of Blankenbaker Parkway, next to Ruby Tuesday.  The restaurant is spacious so plenty of space if you’re coming with a large group.  The sitting area is sectioned off into different rooms so you don’t feel too crowded.
A section of the buffet area

The Food

Confession: I come to Chinese buffet mostly for the seafood because they are expensive elsewhere and you really don’t get a lot of it.  Trust me, most Asians do this :) So that’s my first priority, everything else is your typical Chinese fare.
  • Seafood: The winner for me here is the blue crabs; they are large, meaty, fresh and lightly dusted with flour, seasoned and stir fried.  The best part, on a busy night, they bring it out constantly.  Craw fish is fresh but on the small side (I think because it's the beginning of the season), a little light on the seasoning so you might want to make yourself a dipping sauce.  I don’t do raw oysters, but they were piled high by the sushi bar and fresh looking.  The saute shrimps were large and delicious. 

My favorite, blue crabs.
Craw fish and clams.
  • Sushi: On a busy night, the sushi is made right in front of you, so ingredients are fresh and the rice soft.  Yoki offers more varieties than other places and my husband heartily approved.
    Sushi freshly made
  • Mongolian grill and noodles: Have your Mongolian stir fry or noodles made on the spot.  Lots of fresh ingredients to choose from.  I skipped this section to make room for more seafood in my belly.  
    Mongolian grill bar.
Everything else is good, a notch above all other Chinese buffets in town.  Even the chicken tenders, which we find to be dry in most places, are actually well flavored, tender and moist. The best thing is that everything is fresh and plenty.
A bit of everything to try.
Fresh selections

The Price
  • Weekdays: $11.99
  • Friday, Saturday and Sunday: $12.99
  • Lunch (11 a.m.  - 3 p.m.): $8.49
*note that the seafood (crabs, oyster, craw fish, clams, and a large portion of the hibachi bar) is only available at dinner time.  Crabs is available at dinner time, Friday - Sunday.

The Service

They have a young service staff that’s eager and friendly, quick to refill drinks and clear the table.

Foodie Buffet Tips

Come at peak hours, usually dinners on weekends, and the food is made fresh and your favorite items replenished quicker.  The downside, there is a bit of a wait before you are seated.  Or come right when they’re open, so you know for sure the food is fresh.

Don’t fill up on carbs, such as noodles or nice, unless they are amazing.  That way you have room to try a little bit of everything at the buffet line!

Come check it out while it’s still new and eager to impress its customers.  Sadly at most buffets, the quality tend to go down after the first few months, the now closed Umai Zushi Buffet out east is such an example.  Yoki is my new go to buffet and I hope its quality stays consistent long after the opening period.