It had been a few years since hubby and I had eaten at 610 Magnolia in Louisville, so when it got close to our anniversary and we hadn’t planned anything, hubby mentioned that he would really like to go back. The last meal we had there was one of the best we’d had in the Midwest, so we were excited to try it again. Chef Ed Lee’s cookbook, Smoke and Pickles is a great one, although somewhat complicated to actually cook from.
The way the menu is set up, you can get either a 4 course for $75 per person or a 6 course for $95 per person. The 6 course is the same as the 4, but just adds a couple of extra courses. I was really intrigued by the specifics of two extra courses, but we knew from our last experience that the 4 course was more than enough for us, so that’s what we went for.
They first bring you a little amuse—it has been the same both times we have been, and I think its their classic—it’s a little “BLT” but with roasted tomato and bacon mixed in with the the “L,” which stands for liver—as in foie gras. It’s on buttery, toasty bread and is just a little bite (or two) of perfection. We joked about how hard it would be to work in that kitchen and not want to just snack on these all day long.
For our second course, we both had the charcuterie salad with shaved Brussels sprouts and endive mixed with pork threads and shaved foe gras, black radish bottarga, and Concord grape. It was topped with charred orange vinaigrette. I liked this salad a fair amount, particularly when you got a bite with the rich and creamy foie gras, but I can’t say I was over the moon about it. It was a good and interesting salad, but didn’t have any one thing that made it really stand out for me. Normally hubby and I get two different items for each course to try as much as possible—this was the only one we doubled up on as the other option was gazpacho, of which neither of us are big fans.
The next course though, we were back to trying two things and got one of each of the options offered here. Both were outstanding. Looking back, this was probably our favorite course of the night. The first was a seared scallop with uni, broken Carolina rice, pickled seaweed, grapefruit, pumpkin seeds and miso cured egg yolk. I loved this dish not only for it’s intense flavors—richness from the uni and the egg, acid from the seaweed and grapefruit and the perfectly cooked scallop—but also because it was a flavor combination that was very unique. The ingredients were all familiar, but put together in a way that made it seem like something you’ve never had before. The pepitas for instance mixed into the seaweed—a nice little crunch in the salad. The seaweed reminded you of a sushi taste, but the blast from the grapefruit changed that too. Really well done, even for a girl who sometimes feels like she has been overfed with scallops.
The other fish dish in this course was the “fish fry,” which was just as delicious, but totally different. There were four or five pieces of perfectly tempura-fried white fish mixed with super thin sliced and fried vegetable chips. Nothing was greasy at all, and all had the perfect crunch factor. The whole thing was drizzled with remoulade and chili-citrus hot sauce, giving it all the right amount of creamy/spicy/acid. It was perfect sharing both of these because I don’t think I necessarily would have wanted the whole fish fry to myself, but with the completely different seafood dish, it was just right.
The next course was the heavier protein course, and there were three choices here. We went with the pork dish and the beef dish. Of the two, the beef was the better one. It was called “steak and eggs” on the menu and consisted of a nice hunk of steak that was cooked nicely medium rare with vegetable hash on the side—it had nice crispy buttery tasting potatoes with squash and mushrooms mixed in on top of a Chimichurri sauce. And there was a perfectly poached egg sitting atop the potatoes. The steak itself sat on top of a Bordelaise sauce. I loved the hash—not sure what they were cooking it all in, but it tasted decadent. Maybe something like duck fat was involved? The steak was also good, but after cracking that egg into the potatoes, I was in love with that side of the plate.
The pork dish was not as exciting and the pork loin part of it was a touch on the dry side. The pork belly part was nice. It had that silky fatty taste without feeling gelatinous, the way pork belly sometimes can. It was served with sweet corn grits, Concord grape mostarda, grilled figs and candied beets. Something about this dish just didn’t let it get past the individual parts of it for me to turn it into a cohesive dish—although the grits and pork belly together were delightful.
For dessert we chose the cheese plate and the cornmeal cake. The cheese plate was the other highlight of the meal. It was simple as far as the amount of cheeses—but all the accompaniments made it into something really special. Just the super thin toasted slices of walnut raisin bread alone were great with it. I love it when a restaurant takes the time to make the bread with a cheese plate special. I also love it when it’s cut really thin so you can really appreciate the cheese flavor without being overwhelmed with bread that’s too, well, bready. There was also fresh fruit—pomegranate, apples and figs, but also a lovely jam. We ended up needing some extra bread to eat it all, which they happily brought us. Superb.
The cornmeal cake was unique, and good, but just didn’t stand up to the strength of the cheese plate. It was small course though—which I appreciated because by the end, you’re feeling pretty full. The cake was small pieces that were very tender—they were accompanied by peaches, berry pudding, corn and buttermilk ice cream. Loved the rich, but with just a hint of sour, flavor of the ice cream.
We also enjoyed the wine pairing, which they do a really nice job with as far as what they choose. Our only complaint is that depending on your server, your pour size may vary. Our server was very light on the pours—so small that it was hard to make it last through to the course (because they poured it as soon as you finished the course before). We finally just asked for an extra glass of one of the pours to share so that we could have enough to sip on while we waited for our next course. They didn’t end up charging us for it, so I guess it worked out. Speaking of service though, one of the things that we loved about this place the first time was how friendly our server was. He was just chatty enough and always smiling. This time our server seemed like maybe he was having a bad day or something. A little gruff and a little rushed at times, even though the restaurant wasn’t super full when we first arrived. We didn’t see Chef Lee milling around this time either, but since our last visit, he’s had lots of good press and is busy opening other new restaurants so he probably wasn’t there.
All in all, it’s still a great restaurant, with a great homey atmosphere and we still look forward to returning, even if this visit wasn’t quite as spectacular as our first. Maybe we just set our expectations too high. One of these days I want to get over to Milkwood (Chef Lee’s other restaurant in Louisville) and try it as well. It sounds delicious.
Lousiville, KY 40208