610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY

I’ve been procrastinating writing a continuation of my trip to the Midwest – the day of Matt’s invocation, I decided to take the southern route home, and hit a couple James Beard nominees in the process.

The night before, in Bloomington, IN, Matt and I had dinner at Restaurant Tallent, a 2015 James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef – Great Lakes; on this evening, I went to 610 Magnolia (website), Edward Lee’s flagship restaurant in Louisville, KY, which was a 2015 James Beard finalist for Best Chef – Southeast. This is a deceptively formal restaurant, is prix-fixe only, and is absolutely fine dining. I was surprised to see that Tom Sietsema this week reviewed Succotash in National Harbor, nominally run by Edward Lee. Lee also has a second Louisville restaurant, MilkWood, which is decidedly more downscale and less formal. He also has published a cookbook, “Smoke and Pickles.” Lee has been a busy man – perhaps a little too busy for his (or our) own good.

I’ve held off writing this until now because I can’t find my menu (I asked if I could take a copy, and they said yes). So I wrote 610 Magnolia, and they graciously emailed me a copy, although it wasn’t quite the same – I could probably patch together the courses I had, but I don’t think that would be fair to the restaurant which was, as a whole, a lovely, elegant, civilized dining experience that really hit the spot after a long day – it was my very first evening as an empty nester. :(

I chose the four-course prix-fixe instead of the six-course, and the dinner was everything I hoped it would be, except for two things: they didn’t have the first bottle of wine I ordered (a Godello), and they had to substitute drumfish for snapper, and the drumfish – which was the main course of the meal – was overcooked to the point of being very dried out.

But there were some seasonal and regional items on my menu, such as compressed watermelon, baby red spinach, a cornmeal cake with Georgia freestone peaches and buttermilk ice cream, etc. You knew were in the South, and you knew it was the end of summer – it’s hard to compliment a restaurant any more than that. I’m not entirely convinced that Edward Lee should win the Beard Award for 610 Magnolia, especially since he’s diluting himself, but there’s no doubting the thoughtfulness and class that went into implementing this very good, refined dinner. If there’s a more sophisticated dining experience than this in Louisville, I’d like to know what it is.

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