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VEGGIE FRIENDLY IN MEMPHIS AND ANNIVERSARY IN LOUISVILLE --- NEED RECS!

c
CindyS Oct 19, 2011 08:20 AM

I am so excited to be traveling through this gorgeous part of the country for the first time --- driving from Austin to Louisville, KY to sing with Kentucky Opera. We're planning on making it to Memphis or possibly Jackson on Day One, We're looking for a good, hot, relaxing dinner at a nice local restaurant., no chains, vegetarian friendly (seafood is fine); also a good breakfast rec along I40. And although it's not chow, if anyone can offer suggestions for decent hotels in Memphis or Jackson, I'd appreciate it. We're only going to be stopping over one night, so we're not looking to stay someplace fancy like the Peabody; just a good value, comfortable, quiet, and clean.

I'll be in Louisville for a month and we'll be celebrating our 11th anniversary there, so I would love recommendations for a vegetarian-friendly yet upscale place to have a celebratory dinner. In fact, any recs about local sights and eateries will be much appreciated. Thank you!

  1. c
    CindyS Nov 20, 2011 12:18 PM

    We ended up going to Le Relais for our anniversary dinner. My husband, who is French and a vegetarian who eats fish, was attracted by both the menu and the location.

    First, what was excellent: the service (not counting the guy at front-of-house, who was friendly but lacking in finesse), the cocktails (highly recommend the Touch and Go and the Pear Martini), and the bread (hubby went nuts over it; he's very picky about baguettes). The decor and location are charming. Sort of Art Deco, and it was a very convival place.

    I should qualify my rating and review by saying that my husband really liked everything he had very much. It was basically French comfort food, and he was happy with it all. I guess I'm just picky; but I found the menu to be lacking in creativity and the food, while good, to be vastly overpriced. There is nothing wrong with comfort food and good basic cooking, but if you're going to charge that much for it, it should be elevated in some way, and this was not. Our tiny $11 onion tarte was served lukewarm, and the pastry was overdone. The salad special would have been lovely had the persimmons been ripe (they were not). Hubby had the stuffed sole, which was tasty but exactly what you'd get at Legal Seafood; the side dish of gratin dauphinois was indeed a standout and better than what we make at home.

    I had the veal shank and it was good --- I especially liked the lemon gremolata --- but it wasn't a standout dish in any way. I've had better for half the price at my favorite neighborhood Greek restaurant. I didn't care for the accompanying white beans, which were mushy and didn't have much flavor. To give credit where credit is due, my husband did like them very much, so perhaps it's an issue of taste. I was so disappointed in the whole meal and in the boring dessert menu that I passed on dessert, but my husband did like his profiteroles.

    Overall, this was just not the experience I was looking for for a celebratory meal, and for the price I expect much more creativity and better execution. This may just be a matter of taste, so make of it what you will, but I feel pretty bummed to have spent so much money and not enjoyed our anniversary meal.

    -----
    Le Relais Restaurant
    2817 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

    1. h
      hootch62 Oct 23, 2011 06:34 AM

      In Memphis

      DeJaVu is a newer restaurant that has a vegan menu and several vegetable sides. It's always a good idea to ask if the sides are vegetarian.

      http://www.dejavurestaurant.org/

      Fuel is not mainly vegetarian but has options available. It's a good place focused on sourcing sustainable and natural ingredients.

      http://www.fuelcafememphis.com/

      I wanted to add a couple of fish centric places:

      Restaurant Bari focuses on Southeast Italian cuisine which focuses on seafood without a lot of fuss.

      http://www.barimemphis.com/2009/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=2&Itemid=7

      A few blocks south on Cooper is Tsunami.

      http://www.tsunamimemphis.com/

      5 Replies
      1. re: hootch62
        c
        CindyS Oct 23, 2011 04:18 PM

        Thanks, Hootch! We're in Louisville now but I hope we can hit one of those places on the way back. :)

        1. re: CindyS
          Lightsuprooms Oct 25, 2011 10:45 AM

          Do tell where you've eaten so far

          1. re: Lightsuprooms
            c
            CindyS Oct 25, 2011 02:45 PM

            You bet! My hubby, who's French and loves airplanes, really wants to go to Le Relais, but it wasn't open on Monday night, so instead we took the advice of our maestro and visited Proof on Main. We almost didn't stay. I'm no prude and no Philistine, but I am also not a big fan of modern art; and there was some art in the main dining room that was so distasteful as to be off-putting. I really don't want to eat dinner, especially an expensive and hopefully artistic dinner, looking at a giant tiger-scorpion thing being attacked by hundreds of huge bugs. It was revolting. The other wall had a long line of animal heads to which various things had been done. They weren't particularly appetizing either but they weren't as offensive as the bugs eating the tiger. Why on earth would you put something like that in a restaurant? Long story short, we stayed, and I spent most of the time trying to avoid looking at that thing. It definitely cast a pall over the meal.

            However, I AM really glad we stayed, because the food (with one small fault) was very good and special, and the service was excellent. We shared the butternut squash soup and the octopus bagna cauda to start. The soup was buttery and smooth; the bagna cauda was tender and very flavorful. My hubby couldn't get enough of the excellent bread --- he said it was just like what you'd get in France, and he rarely finds that here, so he gets excited about a good baguette. Our waiter, Ray, told us it came from the Tribeca Bakery in New York on Mondays, but the rest of the week they bought from the local Blue Dog Bakery, and that bread was even better. (More about Blue Dog in a moment).

            For main entrees, my husband had the sturgeon with kohlrabi kraut, pumpernickel, apple pear, and Riesling, and ordered a side of rosemary fingerlings. I ordered the Iowa Berkshire pork with sweet potato mustard, honey crisp apples, rye beignets, and pecan, with a side of bitter greens. The sturgeon was amazing, perfectly cooked with delicate flavors. My pork was warmish, but not hot, when it arrived. I asked whether it was supposed to be served lukewarm, and the waiter replied that it was not. He replaced the dish, and it still wasn't what I would call hot,. However, the flavors were very good, and to make up for it, Ray kept pouring the wine. (I think he privately thought "just get the !#$#!$ drunk and she'll be happy ... good call, Ray!). The fingerlings, for $7, weren't worth it --- they had no rosemary flavor to speak of, and were quite ordinary. My bitter greens were very good, though.

            For dessert, we shared the cheese plate, which was FABULOUS, and the olive oil citrus sponge cake with mascarpone gelato which was also just divine. Overall, the food and wine were excellent, the service was superb, and we'd go back ... I'd just ask make sure I checked out the art in each of the dining areas before requesting seating. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive and other people wouldn't care --- there certainly were plenty of people there!

            Today, we went for lunch to the Blue Dog Bakery and Cafe. It's a charming location and space. We shared the cheese plate --- very different from Proof's, with delicious warm homemade fruit bread and red pepper jelly --- and a beet, haricots verts, and arugula salad, both of which were wonderful. Hubby had the Artichoke Hearts, Boursin, Eggplant, Red Bell Pepper, Tapenade, Mozzarella, & Mayo tartine --- if I go back , this is what I'll order, as it was perfect. The bread was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and the combination of veggies was super. I was enticed by the Bocadillo Trio – Assorted Housemade Salamis with Provolone, Aioli, Walnut Pesto & Greens, which was served on pieces of baguette, and very much like what you'd get in France, meaning you got ONE thin slice of salami and ONE thin slice of cheese on each. Flavors were great but it's just too much bread for me. I ended up taking the fillings out and giving the baguette to my hubby, who happily devoured it. We had to get Hubby to the airport, so we grabbed pastries and coffee to go. Excellent Illy coffee. Hubby had a blueberry muffin, which he said was good but not special; I got a cherry pecan scone to take to the conductor (he pronounced it "delectable"), and I got the maple morning muffin which was basically a cinnamon roll, and really good.

            And now, I am off to run along the Ohio as partial payment for my many unregretted and delicious culinary sins. :)

            -----
            Proof on Main
            702 W. Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202

            Le Relais Restaurant
            2817 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

            1. re: CindyS
              c
              CindyS Nov 5, 2011 12:28 PM

              More good eats in Louisville! After a visit to the Jim Beam distillery, a Korean friend and I stopped at Hiko A Mon. It's a sophisticated atmosphere, a really nice We sat at the bar, where my knowledgeable friend ordered by the piece. At her recommendation, we shared the buta-kakuni, pieces of meltingly tender pork belly served in a flavorful broth. I ordered a kakimaki roll, which features delicious fried oysters, and a sashimi/sushi combo plate. The plate was plentiful, with generous slices of fish, and came with a really delicious miso soup. I found it a little lacking in imagination; it was the usual tuna, salmon, and yellowtail. But all were good. The menu here is extensive and has plenty for those who don't care for sushi. My Korean friend adores the place for sushi and would eat there every day if she could.
              www.hikoamon.com

              Another day, I had the opportunity to try Mojitos. It's a tapas place in a strip mall, but don't let the location fool you --- this is artistic, amazing food with plentiful portions. If you're with friends, order a pitcher of the classic mojitos, which are the best I"ve ever had --- not too sweet, thank goodness!

              The table shared an order of guacamole, which comes with thin, fried plantains. As a native Texan I know good guacamole --- this is good guacamole, and the plantain chips are amazing, so light and crunchy.

              I can't pass up a good sandwich cubano, and this one was dripping with delicious tender pork, ham, and cheese on a panino- type thin, crusty bread. But what really elevated it is this smoky honey mustard that comes with it. Fantastic. It came with a choice of sides --- if you're a sweet potato fry fan, don't miss these, and ask for garlic aioli to dip them in. You'll be a happy camper.

              One of my tablemates got the short ribs, which come topped with bleu cheese and looked amazing. Another got the scallops ramisco. Everyone was very happy.

              We shared desserts --- you absolutely cannot miss the goat cheese flan or the trio of homemade helados (chocolate, dulce de leche which is also made with goat cheese, and coconut). They had us licking the plates. On top of everything else, the service was fantastic. www.mojitostapas.com. Highly recommended.

              -----
              Hiko A Mon
              1115 Herr Ln, Louisville, KY 40222

              1. re: CindyS
                c
                CindyS Nov 20, 2011 12:15 PM

                I want to like Hillbilly Tea, I really do. I've been twice now and it seems a place with great potential; but unfortunately the execution doesn't quite live up to the potential, not yet.

                It's a really cute place. Great decor. I love how open and uncrowded it is. The menu is interesting and creative. Service is friendly if not always prompt.

                The first time, I went on an uncrowded Sunday morning. Our food was very slow in arriving and wasn't always right; items were forgotten, items weren't properly heated; and in the end, we had to chase down the waiter in order to pay and get out. The waiter did apologize and say that they were understaffed that morning and getting used to their new space.

                Food one trip one was hit or miss. I find it pricey for what it is; you're paying for concept. I don't mind paying for good food but then the execution better be close to perfect. I had a mug of the smokey mountain chai --- expensive at $4.75 but I've been fantasizing about it ever since. The succotash was delicious, and the corn pone was just okay. A bit too charred for my taste, and I make better at home. The barbecue pulled pork "sandwich" was tiny, not hot enough, and just average. For dessert, we shared the bourbon bread pudding --- a real treat, but next time I'd ask for them to skip the gooey and entirely unnecessary marshmallow topping and bring a little cream instead.

                Trip number two also left me with that hit-or-miss feeling. Service was MUCH better in terms of speed, and just as friendly as last time.We split a biscuit to start. The local honey was quite good, but the biscuit itself was small, a little stale, not at all fluffy, and hadn't even been heated. $3 for a single biscuit? I expected it to be amazing, and I've had better at hotel breakfast buffets.

                I ordered the skillet pancake. Now, for $9 I don't expect to be handed a single burned pancake. I sent it back and the second one was better. But honestly ... for $9, I think you could put a little more on the plate. It is not a hearty serving.Also, I abhor the practice of sprinkling powdered sugar on pancakes, especially when the batter is already sweet, but that's just a personal preference. Once a properly cooked pancake arrived, it was very good.

                So what can I tell you ... I really like the concept, I like the menu overall, but it needs work. The kitchen needs to be a little more attentive to preparation and they need to rethink either prices or proportions. I'd give two and a half stars if it were possible.

      2. Lightsuprooms Oct 21, 2011 09:14 PM

        I'm just going to post a few places here that are either veggie or veggie friendly.. and welcome to Louisville...

        Roots • Heart & Soy (asian fusion)
        1216 Bardstown Road
        452-6688 • 452-6678

        Harvest Restaurant (localvore)
        624 E. Market St.
        384-9090
        www.harvestlouisville.com

        Mozz Mozzarella Bar & Enoteca (make their Mozz fresh every hour
        )445 E. Market St.
        690-6699
        www.mozzlouisville.com

        Seviche, A Latin Restaurant
        1538 Bardstown Road
        473-8560
        www.sevicherestaurant.com

        Holy Grale (good food, good beer
        )1034 Bardstown Road
        569-2337
        www.holygralelouisville.com

        Funmi’s Café (Nigerian
        )1043 Bardstown Road
        454-5009
        www.funmiscafe.com

        Queen of Sheba Authentic Ethiopian Cuisine (the tilapia is to die for
        )2804 Taylorsville Road
        459-6301
        www.queenofshebalouisville.com

        Bistro Le Relais
        Bowman Field
        2817 Taylorsville Road
        451-9020
        www.lerelaisrestaurant.com

        That should help you a little...

        -----
        Le Relais Restaurant
        2817 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

        Queen of Sheba
        2804 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

        1 Reply
        1. re: Lightsuprooms
          c
          CindyS Oct 22, 2011 07:11 PM

          These are all fabulous --- my mouth is watering already. Thank you so much! :)

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