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Contemporary

Lexington

 

chef

Azur BJBrewhouse CafeOnThePark HollyHill Inn JulepCup Louie's MiddleFork NickRyans Palmers SageRabbit
Contemporary restaurants see themselves as 21st Century cutting edge purveyors of the culinary arts. They employ chefs who have trained, been certified, and interned elsewhere. Menus tend to be shorter, often only a page, so the kitchen can concentrate on a few items done very, very well. Presentation becomes as important as the food itself. These restaurants draw from all modern cuisines, mixing Mexican, Indian, French and whatever else they find appropriate. Portions tend to be smaller, as they try to impress with exquisite taste rather than volume. Creativity is on display, as they take common dishes and prepare them in new and unanticipated ways. Since fresh ingredients are needed for their artistry to achieve its fullest effect, they place emphasis on locally raised meat and produce, so these restaurants have worked out relationships with farms, wineries, cheesemakers, orchards, and other suppliers within 100 miles of Lexington. In many ways, these restaurants take food back over 100 years, when all restaurants bought from farmers markets and area sources the day they prepared the food. Prices tend to be somewhat higher , because these chefs demand higher pay, the locally bought food brings higher prices, and the kitchens require sophisticated equipment. The Melting Pot is the offbeat member of this group. It's fondue rather than gourmet and is not chef based but the way it reinterprets fondue cooking with a contemporary flair still places it here.
azur's Azur is the most upscale restaurant in Beaumont, with a very New York style decor and a cutting edge menu. Finest of the appetizers is the Fondue. You'll get a dipping pot with breads and fruits. The Asparagus With Crab is delicious. Six salads are headed by the Lola Rosa (lettuce, beets, gouda cheese, cucumber and buttermilk dressing) and Napolean (mushrooms, avocado, tomatoes, red onion, goat cheese, tomato marmalade). Azur's entrees are all great, but the stunners are the Roast Elk (asparagus, squash) and Braised Rabbit (smoked bacon, mushrooms, pasta, asparagus). Their Pan Roasted Scallops are among the city's best, and the Ahi Tuna (glazed and wrapped with shrimp, calamari pad thai, citrus carrots and ponzu dipping sauce) is close behind. The other entrees include Roast Duck, Idaho Salmon, Alaskan Halibut and Gnocchi (a potato dumpling filled with chicken or shrimp, mushrooms, goat cheese and herbs). Desserts rotate each day, but are almost always outstanding. If anyone in your group just wants a sandwich, Azur's Lamb Burger (roast red peppers & feta cheese, served with lemon cabbage slaw) is one of Lexington's best. From April through November, there's a great patio. This is one of South Lexington's most popular establishments, so on a Friday or Saturday night either eat early or expect a wait.
Restaurants frequently start small and expand, but B.J. Brewhouse has taken this model to its extreme. They began in 1978 as a California pizza outlet. BJ's original gimmick was a thick deep dish Pizza baked in a cast iron skillet. They still consider this their signature item, but their Pizza menu now includes 21 versions. And that's only one page of a seven page menu. BJ's has become famous for its craft beers. They operate their own breweries in five states and won awards for some of their beers and ciders. But BJ's has also developed one of the most comprehensive menus in town. Appetizers include Egg Rolls, Flatbread, Artichokes, Fried Brussell Sprouts, Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms, Wings and Pot Stickers. There are six Soups, including a great Tuscan Tomato Bisque, Piranha Pale Ale Chili and Bread Soup ( in a sourdough bowl; you eat the soup, then take knife and fork, cut up the bowl, and eat the soup soaked pieces). They offer eight creative Salads : Seared Ahi, Kale & Roast Brussell Sprouts, Chopped Asian. Santa Fe, Chicken Cobb, BBQ Chicken, Honey Crisp Chicken and Caesar. There are two Peruvian Quinoa Bowls : Roast Salmon and Chicken & Spinach. Entrees include Salmon, Chicken, Shrimp, Bison and Turkey. Ribs, Steaks, Jambalaya, Pastas, Ziti and Ravioli. If you just want beer and a bite, you can get Burgers and Wraps.
Cafe On The Park is the Radisson Hotel's ground floor restaurant, with big picture windows looking out on Triangle Park's fountains and trees. There's also a three season patio opening onto the sidewalk, seen at right. This could be the most neglected and underrated restaurant in Lexington. It's suitable for a business lunch or a romantic dinner. The food is very, very good. You MUST try the Onion Soup (four onions, three cheeses and a bowl made of French Bread). It's one of the best soups in town. Of their salads, we like the Fruit Plate (with cottage cheese and a honey yogurt dressing). They have a crossover entry they label their Rib Eye Steak Salad (lettuce wedge, bacon, blue cheese, served on an 8 oz. rib eye) that can serve as a meal in itself. The Shrimp Sausage Pasta and Chicken Quesadilla are both good, but of the regular entrees we prefer the Turkey Hot Brown (open faced smoked turkey, cream sauce, cheddar cheese, hickory smoked bacon, tomatoes). They offer an intriguing Trio Sandwich : it includes a mix of angus burger, pulled bbq pork, and grilled chicken. The Flatbread items are worth trying : BBQ Chicken (with onions, onions and white cheddar cheese), Philly Cheese, and Italian Vegetable Cheese Array. The best options, however, usually come off the specials.
Holly Hill Inn. When national championship debater Ouita Papka announced that instead of going to law school she would attend the New York Culinary Institute and become a chef, coaches thought she was joking. Now they bring their teams to her award winning restaurant. The 1812 Holly Hill Inn is an antebellum mansion 20 minutes from downtown Lexington. Most foodophiles rate it the best restaurant in Kentucky. Ouita and husband Chris Michel are chef and sommelier. They use fresh, locally grown ingredients in a fixed menu of three, four or five courses at $35, $40 or $45. Their halibut and scallops are wonderful, but when available, the rabbit and squab are the stars of the entree show. Make sure the cornbread accompanies whatever you order. And while you can order your own wine, we suggest you let Chris choose one for you. Save room for dessert; Ouita's are special. Midway. 859-846-4732. From downtown, take Broadway north to !-64, go off at Midway, turn right on 421 and immediately turn left on North Winter Street. Holly Hill Inn is at 426, a block up the hill. holly hill inn
julep cup The Julep Cup is a fine place to relax on the patio after a hard day's work. The menu is classic Kentucky with 21st Century twists. Appetizers include Chicken Livers, Kentucky Bourbon Ale Beer Cheese, Three Cheese Macaroni and oysters fixed three different ways. They feature excellent salads : Caprese, Red Wine Poached Pear, Fried Green Tomato, and Pickled Beet & Grilled Romaine. Vegetarians love the Ricotta Pecorino Romano Raviolis and Tagine Baked Winter Vegetable Moroccan Stew. There are also several of the best seafood entrees in town : Kentucky Trout, Cedar Planked Salmon, Seafood Pot Pie (shrimp, scallops, lobster, fish of the day, peas and carrots in a bechamel cream), Shrimp & Grits, and Maine Diver Scallops (with mushrooms, tomato, asparagus and garlic in lemon cream). If that doesn't suit your mood, there are Lamb Chops, Short Rib Bourguignon (slowly braised in red wine), Liver & Onions (with bacon, mushrooms, mashed potatoes and asparagus) , Pot Roast, Rotisserie Chicken and Filet Mignon. There's jazz Friday nights.
Middle Fork is in the old James & Pepper Distillery on Manchester Street. Chef Mark Jensen emphasizes locally sourced foods and creative items. Appetizers include Egg Diabolo (poached egg in spicy tomato sauce on toast), a Soup of the Day, and Terrine (braised and potted house made charcuterie with mustards and pickles). There's a delicious Winter Squash Array (varied roast squash, ricotta cheese, olive oil, and chili flakes. Somebody at your table should order Pancakes (grilled vegetables, mayo, scallions, sesame, pickled ginger and a nagaimo batter). One of Jensen's signature items is the Hog n Oats (beef, pork and oat sausage; grits, cheese, red tomato jam, confit of green tomatoes and soft poached eggs). Entrees include Sausage, Duck, Beef, Lamb, Pork and Chicken. Middle Fork itself offers such desserts as Chocolate Cake, Brown Butter Cake and Cream Puffs. Next door is Crank & Boom, an Ice Cream Lounge which also offers S'Mores, Brownies, Bourbon Balls, and Grilled Donuts. The ambience is the industrial chic now in vogue. There's a patio for good weather and a crackling fireplace for rain, cold or snow. Middle Fork is hard to find. As you drive west on Manchester Street, Middle Fork is on your left behind the big distillery (the driveway goes in just before the long low green building. There's no sign. middle fork
Louie's Louie's Wine Dive markets itself as the wine conneisseur's restaurant, a place to enjoy a fine glass of wine along with a meal. There are wine bottle chandeliers, walls of lighted wine bottles, and other wine themed decorations. They even bring your premeal ice water in wine bottles. However, Louie's does a good job with its food, too, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. The top breakfast orders are the Shrimp & Grits, served in a cast iron skillet, and one of the Omelettes, served with a large and very good Salad. The Shrimp & Grits include an avocado aioli and bacon, but are a bit stingy on grits. Even at breakfast you can order a wide vsriety of drinks, such as Orange Juice or Grapefruit Juice Mimosas. At lunch, there are chicken and shrimp tacos, pasta dishes, salads and an array of gourmet sandwiches and burgers. Dinner starts with Apple Harvest, Salmon Wedge, Crusted Tuna and Guacamole Chicken Salads. There are cheese and meat appetizers before you get to Pastas, Tacos, Fish & Chips and the Sinatra Burger. The four Signature Entrees are the Tandoori Salmon, Lemongrass Chicken, Duroc Pork Chop and a Tenderloin. The much touted wine list begins with seven Champagnes, then groups wines as Sweets, Subtles, Herbaceous, Complexes, Chadronnays, Roses, and a long list of Reds. Louie's offers four menus : weekday breakfast and lunch menus, the weekend brunch menu, and the dinner menu. The Wine Dive is in the former Saratoga and Buddy's location. For all their emphasis on wines, many restaurants in Lexington have more and better flavors. Both wines and foods are overpriced. A typical breakfast for two including entrees and drinks averages in the $40s. Wines range from $7 to $20 a glass and $27 to $275 a bottle.
Jefferson Street has become a popular strip of restaurants, but Nick Ryan's is still the anchor. It's a great place for a Special Occasion dinner, Friday night date, or out of town guests. It fills two buildings and the ambience is open, sleek and relaxing. As you would expect from a saloon in business since 1905, drinks are creative and there's a classy wine list. But it's the food you go for. They take a basic like Tomato Soup and do it very, very well. Appetizers include Crab Cakes, Shrimp Wraps, Mussels, Oysters and Ravioli. Salads are unique: Shrimp & White Bean, Beet & Goat Cheese and Tuna Nicoise. Entrees range from Southern Comfort Food to 21st Century Cutting Edge. Shrimp & Grits are a good example. It's a common item, but these are Weisenberger Mill smoked gouda andouille grits, shrimp veloute (onions, peppers and chicken broth) and free herbs. Crab Cakes come in a white wine whole grain mustard sauce on mashed potatoes and veggies. Ryans dusts their Catfish with corn meal and serves it on asparagus. There's Gnocchi, Short Ribs, Clams, Jerked Chicken, Filet Mignon and Salmon. And there's Ryan's own interpretation of Kentucky Hot Brown (country ham, roast turkey, bacon, tomato, cream sauce and cheeses). This one uses the recipe from the old Stirrup Cup restaurant down on Main Street. Some items are only available as daily specials : White Bean & Ham Soup and Butternut Squash Ravioli. On weekends, go early. After 7, you'll face a long wait. nick ryan's
palmer's Palmer's is the closest Lexington comes to a waterfront restaurant. Yes, it's only a large pond with a spectacular fountain in the middle and ducks and geese swimming around, but on a hot humid Summer evening, it's pretty classy. So is the menu. Among the appetizers, Bacon Wrapped Scalllops, Sweet Onion Hush Puppies, Chipotle Egg Rolls, and Smoked Meatloaf Minis all have cult followings, but we like the Tabasco Infused Onion Rings. Corn Clam Chowder is one of the city's best soups and there are six really good Salads. This is not advertised as a seafood restaurant, but their 12 seafood entrees are outstanding. We particularly like the Scallops, Tilapia, two kinds of Trout and Shrimp & Grits. Of the other entrees, the Pork Tenderloin Piccata, Steakhouse Meatloaf, Bone In Porkchop, Champagne Chicken and Chicken Piccata are the best but there are two good steaks and six other items. Smoked Gouda Mac n Cheese and Sweet Potato Fries are excellent sides. There are Beer Battered Cod, Cornmeal Crusted Catfish and Blackened Tilapia Sandwiches. The wine list is 95% California and French but is very good.
Sage Rabbit is Chevy Chase's Special Occasion restaurant. Chef John Foster (French Culinary Institute, formerly of Harvest Restaurant) has long been committed to locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, knows how to manage a kitchen, and plans a creative menu. The patio, especially in the Spring and Fall and on Summer evenings, is a great place to enjoy a meal. Pastas and Pastries are prepared in house daily. The menu rotates with the seasons, but we really like their Cream of Roast Tomato Soup, Mixed Green Salad and whichever Pasta they're offering each day. Among entrees, the Scallop-Shrimp Bouillabaisse is their signature dish, but the Crab Cake and Seasonal Seafood are very good, indicative of Foster's training in Manhattan. But if you're not into Seafood, the Local Organic Half Hen is exquisite. Or try the Roast Pork or Beef Tenderloin. Desserts are rich and sinful, and beverages include Earl Grey Tea, San Pelligrino, Organic Coffee, Ginger Ale and Fenterman's Cherry Cola (imported from British Columbia). sage rabbit
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