Each year in the fall, I traditionally do a few restaurant reviews in Louisville Kentucky and they typically fall the week after their annual Taste of Innovation, a foodie event which draws a few dozen restaurants, vendors, bourbon makers and more.
Basa Restaurant, one of our picks for this year, wasn’t at Taste of Innovation however I heard about it from a local friend who is in love with food — and she’s a vegetarian. In other words, they have enough delicious options for vegetarians as well, although that isn’t their specialty – Vietnamese fusion is.
Below is their organic tofu dish with crisp egg noodle, mushroom, bok choy, watercress, bean sprouts, red cabbage, eggplant and yellow curry sauce. The dish is served over noodles with a soy ginger sauce and cilantro.
They feature local ingredients while infusing modern cooking techniques and the menu is eclectic as is their list of cocktails. I tried the Basa Signature for hoots, which is made with Finlandia Vodka and natural aloe vera. Yum! Their presentation is stunning as well and it’s clear that this brother tag team put a lot of effort and time into the details. They also tout a list of eclectic teas and premium wine labels, all of which are driven by the food that they serve.
Originally from South Vietnam, chef Michael Ton and brother Steven Ton have been running Basa since 2007, a reflection of their lifelong passion. Steven wanted me to try the tuna tartare with cherry tomato, mixed lettuce, micro green, cilantro avocado cream, sesame oil, wonton crisp and soy vinaigrette and so I did. Who am I to argue with an owner about what he thinks is delicious? This is always a wise choice and let’s say that I’ve never been disappointed.
My veggie friend Holly and I then tried the sweet lemongrass yellow curry marinated rib eye stirfried over udon noodles with mushrooms, onions, brussel sprouts and two tempura tiger prawns. They serve with a sweet soy ginger sauce, apparently one of Michael’s specialties. It includes cilantro, lime and crispy shallots. She skipped the meat.
While everything was amazing, my favorite had to be their seared scallop, served with Hawaiian purple sweet potatoes (gotta love the South for these varietals), Imperial rice, shrimp, goat cheese mixed mushrooms and a deep fried ravioli with sherry porcini mushroom. OMG!
Apparently a favorite with locals is the mussels with yellow curry, although you can also get them in a coconut or lemongrass sauce and they’re served with a French baguette.
Every year, I hear a lot of the same restaurant names over and over again and frankly, while I have tried all of the recommendations from that list except for one, and had incredible meals, some of the less talked about gems don’t get enough credit. Basa is a notch above most of the classic favorites of locals – they’re fresh, their menu is unique, they offer a wide variety of light dishes and their cocktail and wine menu is diverse.
The other thing to note which doesn’t get said often enough, but it matters, is “Attitude!” I love Michael and Steven’s attitude. I genuinely felt that they weren’t there to “impress,” but just dish up what they love because they were so eager to share their special kitchen creations. Sous chef Blake Pascua who we spoke to on more than one occasion, was also genuine, warm and passionate about the menu.
From tenderloin and green papaya salads, crispy shrimp and pork rolls, to deep fried jumbo oysters, salt and pepper prawns, pan seared ahi tuna with coconut and a carmamelized catfish claypot with smoked bacon and tamarind broth (yum!!), there’s enough variety to come back countless times and never be bored with the menu.
Food talent and passion extends through the family I learn as I chatted with Steven about their history, their family and how they got started. Apparently, their aunt runs a place called Roots, which is her answer to the lack of upscale vegetarian dining in Louisville. Her tagline is mindful, compassionate cooking, and if her approach is anything like Michael and Steve’s, then it’s definitely worth a try.
They also run and manage La Coop Bistro, Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse and Rawbar in the historic Whiskey Row of downtown Louisville on Main Street and Union Common Steakhouse, a social concept steakhouse featuring shared plates paired with an extensive wine & whiskey selection in downtown Nashville.
We love these guys — two thumbs up!
2244 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
Our second pick this year is Rye on Market, which has been getting rave reviews by local friends for a couple of years now. Like I did at Basa, I opted to sit at the bar, largely because I always learn more than I do at a table. It’s also great for picking up on what others think of a place, seeing the dishes and drinks others are ordering and feeling the pulse.
A little different than the Vietnamese fusion spectrum above, Rye has a lot more traditional dishes, many of which have southern flavors and style. For small eats, you can get a meat plate (house smoked bacon, pork rillette, broadbent country ham and duck liver mousse), a cheese plate (Beemster XO, Bucheron, Kenny’s KY Rose and Kenny’s KY Bleu) or oysters, which of course I had to try. While they may not have had the variety that our friends in Massachusetts did over the summer, they did offer Wellfleet oysters from Cape Cod with the other choice being Misty Point from Pope’s Bay in Virginia, which I had never tried before.
Oh so delicious was the Roasted Delica Squash, which they served with fig, spiced yogurt, walnut, sage, brown butter vinaigrette. The flavors were incredible — would have loved a dollop more of the spiced yogurt however as it was a bit on the dry side. Head chef Andrew McCabe and I chatted about the flavorful yogurt later in the evening — he uses szechuan pepper, corn and a touch of cinnamon.
Out of this world and a must try if you go to the restaurant, is their Squid Ink Fettuccine. Sadly, the photo we took of this delicious gem is a bit blurry, but suffice to say, don’t let that deter you — just order the dish. It is served with frog legs, black garlic and parsley and will have any foodie in culinary heaven for hours.
Andrew is beyond a little passionate about his cooking – it’s something you can see in a chef’s eyes when you talk to them. You know…that fire! He has it. According to the bartender, executive chef Tyler Morris is big on garlic, big on salt (black volcanic sea salt that is) and simplifying things. I did notice volcanic sea salt in many of the dishes and have to admit, I love it! They even use it in the butter.
Andrew wanted us to try a duck dish, which wasn’t on the menu. Your mouth is sure to water as you think about a tobacco roasted duck breast with Weisenberg grits, beer pickled pear, chestnuts, smoked duck jus and black lava salt. Oh so southern and oh so delicious!
My favorites? Besides the fettucini which had me at hello, two others stood out! Their Kale & Heirloom Pumpkin (it was seasonal, so they may not have it on the menu depending on when you go), which is served with Buttermilk Cheese, Pepita, Mint and a Champagne Vinaigrette and the Pastrami Spiced Beets with horseradish cream, pumpernickel, mustard greens and chives, a dish that was still on my mind two days later. Note how fabulous their presentation is below.
Another southern-infused style preparation is their Saltwater Catfish, served with Gooseberry, Bacon Butter, Dandelion and Braised Cabbage. Freshly and uniquely prepared, we loved this dish!
Since I played around with both fish and meat dishes, I tasted the Charles & Charles Chardonnay from Columbia Valley in Washington and the Domaine Vocoret & Fils Chardonnay/Chablis, the latter went perfectly with the oysters. Then, I danced with the Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Oregon and while I’m not a huge Pinot fan, this one had lovely body, although it still felt a little flat. Favorites on the list (although they didn’t pair well with all the dishes I tried), were the Hayes Valley Cabernet from Central Valley (2012) and the Leesefitch Zinfandel from Sonoma (2011).
If you’re not into wines, they have a great cocktail list. The ones that jumped for me are the Skeleton Key (served with Reposado Tequilla, Fig (yes eally :-), Rosemary, Orange, Lime, Tiki Bitters and Ginger Beer. The women to my left raved about the Bonfire (Mezcal, Allspice Dream, Grapefruit, Lime, Demerara and Bitters) and the couple to my right tried a very unusual drink they liked called “How Do You Like Them Apples?” It is made from peanut rum, apple caramel, apple juice, spiced apple shrub and baked apple bitters. Also sounds like an incredibly seasonal drink given that it was early October.
They also have a couple of brandy focused drinks on the menu, which is fitting given that Rye is in the heart of Louisville. Their Schnitzelburg is made with Bourbon, cardamaro, Fernet and Maraschino (and no I didn’t try it but it sounds delicious) and a Kentucky Coffee drink, which they make with Bourbon, Sunergos coffee, sorghum, vanilla cream and bitters.
We love this restaurant and I love Andrew’s passion. Kudos to the Rye on Market culinary team for giving me culinary orgasms on my last night in Louisville.
900 East Market Street
Louisville, KY 40206
All photos credit to Renee Blodgett.
See our write up on Taste of Innovation in Louisville Kentucky, an event I go to as part of the Idea Festival which I’ve been going to now for around five years now. And, each year, I pick some of my favorite foodie experiences in this gem of a southern city, which is usually a mishmash of top picks from Taste of Innovation and restaurant reviews. Be sure to see my top five picks from last year (Top Restaurants in Louisville), our write up on last year’s Taste of Innovation, from 2012 Taste of Innovation and 2011.
Other restaurants we’ve taken a look at include Proof on Main at the well renowned 21c Museum Hotel, where I stayed this year, Seviche Restaurant (loved their seafood bisque – hats off to chef Anthony Lamas, Lilly’s (I love Kathy’s approach to cooking, her sweet potato gnocchi with country ham, kale and bourbon mustard cream sauce from a previous year was to die for as was this year’s portobello mushroom soup, although we have yet to review Lilly’s), Milkwood, Decca, Game (for every kind of game imaginable), La Coop Bistro, Mayan Cafe, Harvest, and Jack Frys.