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.
  • There's a professional photographer on site to take pictures of the event, check photos under "archives" on their website.
MESA, A Collaborative Kitchen
216 Pearl Street
New Albany, IN 47150
(812) 725-7691
​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.

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.