Latin love at Seviche

Dear readers,

I’m sorry for being so remiss in tending to my blog in recent months…. But I just had a meal so truly transcendent, I feel inspired to share. Immediately.

I think I may have mentioned my love for all things Louisville a time or two? Well, I’ve had the privilege of spending the past few days here for the Midwest Travel Writers Association conference, and dinner at Seviche for last night’s dine-around has just taken our relationship to a whole new level.

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Seviche entrance

Chef Anthony Lamas has been bringing Latin flavors with Southern flair to Louisville since he opened Seviche in the hip and trendy Highlands neighborhood in 2005. I met him on a trip here last year for another travel conference (see earlier post about the show taping for “Secrets of Louisville Chefs” and Chef Lamas’ fabulous chorizo with grits and orange bourbon barbecue sauce demo). We’re now Facebook friends, so I get to stay up to date on Chef Lamas’ doings and dishes. In 2011, he won the title of Food Network’s “Extreme Chef,” a Survivor-meets-Top Chef-style show in which chefs are dumped in the middle of the desert or jungle with, like, a can of tuna and told to prepare a gourmet meal for 50 people. That should tell you something about how bad-ass this guy is.

We arrived last night ready to be wowed, and were ushered to a semi-private dining room in the back of the restaurant (created, along with a new lounge area, in a recent expansion). The interior is sleek, done up in rich neutral shades, and I loved the jars of pickled fruit and veg lining the shelves that served as decor. Chef Lamas kept a sweet 80s soundtrack playing in the background, which we later found out was his own iPod. This, of course, only made me like him even more.

mojito

My mojito

We started with drinks, as you do, and I ordered a mojito. Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of experience with this libation, usually sticking instead to wine, beer and bourbon, but I figured this place probably knows how to do ‘em up right. My suspicions proved correct. The drink arrived in a tall glass, loaded with muddled lime and mint. Sweet, but not too sweet. Tart, but not too tart. Totally fresh and refreshing with a big spike of sugarcane to gnaw on in lieu of a swizzle stick. So far, so good.

Chef Lamas had pre-planned a multi-course tasting menu for us, a smart move because so many things on the menu sounded delicious, we might have been there all night just deciding what to order. An avalanche of small plates soon started arriving, all beautifully presented and each tasting even better than the last. Seriously, I felt like a Top Chef judge, and found myself wondering how Padma does this all the time and still maintains such a hot bod.

First up, the starters. We received sharable family-style dishes here — a plate of grilled shishito peppers with ponzu sauce and a little sesame, and fried bison-filled empanadas with an avocado-jalapeno puree and pico de gallo.

shishito peppers

blistered shishito peppers with ponzu and sesame

Our server Daylon (I apologize if I’m butchering the spelling of your name here, dude), who ROCKED by the way, described these peppers as a Russian roulette of heat. Some are mild, some will blister your sinuses, and like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get until you bite in. My pepper was mild, and I liked the texture – sort of like a banana pepper or giardinera. It had a little toothsome bite left, and the sesame ponzu was a nice touch.

bison empanadas

bison empanadas with pico de gallo and avocado-jalapeno puree

I like making empanadas at home every now and then, although I bake mine instead of frying, and I’ve never had them filled with bison. Both great ideas. These cute buffalo meat hot pockets had good flavor, but what made the dish for me was the avocado jalapeno puree. I’m an avocado junkie anyway, and the tingly heat from the jalapeno provided a much-appreciated kick. Think spicy pureed smooth guacamole. Only way better.

tuna ceviche

tuna ceviche “Old Fashioned”

Next up was a little glass of tuna ceviche “Old Fashioned.” This was my favorite item of the evening; and a day later, it’s the one I’m still daydreaming about. Sushi fans take note, this was AWESOME. Gorgeous colors and a perfect balance of flavors – chunks of buttery soft tuna, sweet tiny diced pineapple and an orange supreme, a wee splash of bourbon, sesame, salty soy sauce, verdant cilantro, and something addictively spicy that left my lips tingling after I’d dug out every bit with my chopsticks. I very nearly tipped the glass up to drink the few precious last drops of juice in the bottom. I can’t tell you how much I loved this. I wanted to make out with this food.

halibut ceviche

wild halibut ceviche

For comparison, the next dish was a wild halibut ceviche. This fish was chunkier, soft and mild, with a little corn, onion, microgreens and garnishing sauce I couldn’t quite place. Good, but didn’t nearly blow me away to the same degree the tuna ceviche did.

swordfish risotto

grilled swordfish over mushroom risotto with crispy leeks

One member of our group had requested the swordfish, and that’s what showed up next – a small square of perfectly grilled fish over a spoonful of mushroom risotto with crispy almost onion-ringy leeks and a lobster truffle sauce ladled around the plate. This fish was so tender, it practically melted in my mouth, and the risotto was a luscious earthy complement.

scallop fideos

seared scallop over fideos with goat cheese, artichoke and asparagus

As much as I liked the swordfish, I went crazy over the grilled scallop that we received afterward. I’ve been hit or miss with scallops in the past, some too rubbery, gritty or just plain meh. This one was stellar, nicely browned and tender enough to cut with my fork. It sat atop fideos – a nutty tasting, Spanish-style pasta that looks like short strands of angel hair spaghetti — with pine nuts, goat cheese, an asparagus spear and a chunk of artichoke heart. I think the sauce had truffle in it, but I was so distracted by this sexy scallop, I didn’t care.

churrascuro

Churrascos and chimichurri, oh my.

My tummy was starting to reach capacity at this point, but there were still more good things to come. Such as a Churrascos-style bite of grilled skirt steak with garlic mashed potatoes, a dab of demi-glace, and a bold herby chimichurri sauce I had trouble not licking straight off the plate.

desserts

sweet finales

A dessert trio platter ended things on another high note. Liquid nitrogen frozen caramel corn lent a unique crunch factor. The housemade macadamia nut ice cream was rich, creamy and perfect. The bourbon butterscotch pudding smooth and decadent. But I couldn’t get enough of the avocado ice cream, another Chef Lamas trademark dish. Imagine, if you will, avocado flavored ice cream (don’t hate – it is DELICIOUS) that’s prepped to look exactly like an avocado. See the pic below – the ice cream is scooped into a thin chocolate shell with a bourbon ball truffle nestled into the middle just like a real avocado pit. All edible. What else is there to say about this, really? Genius.

avocado ice cream

Seviche’s signature avocado ice cream

Thus, our feast came to a reluctant end. Not a misstep in the whole shebang. Chef Lamas even graciously came out and spoke with us after the meal, politely answering our questions and submitting to our endless photo requests even though I’m sure the kitchen must have been completely slammed behind the scenes.

Chef Lamas

Chef Anthony Lamas himself. Rock. Star.

To stay on our event schedule, we only had about 90 minutes or so to spend at Seviche in total, so everything felt a little rushed. This was the kind of meal I would have liked to savor over three hours or so. Still, I was grateful we got to taste as much as we did, and I have a pretty good idea what I’d order again on my next visit. And bank money on it, there WILL be a next visit. Soon, I hope. I’d drive two hours to Louisville again just to eat here. So should you.

For more information about Seviche, check out www.sevicherestaurant.com.

Seviche on Urbanspoon

A culinary coup in Louisville

Tonight had to be one of the coolest overall culinary experiences I’ve taken part in. As part of the fun-filled Travel South Showcase I’m currently in the middle of attending this week, we media delegates got to attend a live taping of a locally produced show called “Secrets of Louisville Chefs.” This isn’t some crazy reality TV cooking show. This is actual demo cooking in front of a live audience taped at Sullivan University, home to a top-notch culinary arts program and the student-operated Winston’s gourmet restaurant.

starters and a Seelbach

As soon as we came through the door, we were immediately wined and dined with appetizers and Seelbach Cocktails, a heavenly concoction of bourbon, triple sec, bitters and champagne. The nosh was a fab little trio plate of a tiny biscuit laden with tender roast lamb and jalapeno mint jelly, a mini Benedictine BLT on toast, and a little hoe cake topped with roasted veggie pimento cheese. There’s a story behind the name, but I don’t know it, so please feel free to insert joke here. (I also recently had lunch in a place that advertised the unfortunate choice of “ho-made chocolate chip cookies” on the dessert menu. Swear to God. I can’t make this stuff up.)

But I digress… these starters were delish. I’m quickly developing a particular fondness for pimento cheese on this trip (note to self, seek out recipes upon return to Indy). This made the hoe cake my favorite of the three. I can hear you snickering again. Stop it. Stop it right now.

While we sipped and nibbled in our seats, the producers set up the show, featuring three renowned local chefs who each came out and prepared a dish amid banter with the host. These chefs are all quite obviously masters of their craft. Possibly the universe.

Chef Llamas plates up chorizo and grits

Chef Anthony Lamas owns a place in town called Seviche, showcasing farm-to-table sensibilities with a Latino spin. For his demo, he whipped up a plate of housemade chorizo atop chipotle cheddar grits with an orange bourbon sauce and adobo chili puree.

First course: chorizo and grits

I’m also loving the grits on this trip as well – last night at the opening party, there was a mashed potato/grits bar. Let me say that again. Mashed potato. Grits. Bar. With toppings like caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, bacon and cheese to gussy things up. Oh yeah, baby, and then some.

Chef Castro assembling the “Not Brown”

The second man up was Chef John Castro, executive chef instructor of Winston’s at Sullivan University and partner at Yang Kee Noodle Restaurant.

Second course: the “Not Brown”

Also a renowned chef, John’s brother is known for the “Hot Brown” sandwich, an ungodly good open-faced stack of bread, cheese, bacon, turkey, tomato and Mornay sauce, broiled until gooey and served open faced. Not to be outdone, Chef John created the “Not Brown,” his own spin on the classic using fried green tomatoes as the “bread” with rock shrimp, crab, bacon, spinach and the Mornay sauce. If you’re a fan of seafood and cream sauce, this dish will send you straight over the moon.

Chef Moore gives us some sugar

Finally, Chef Josh Moore, executive chef and partner at Volare, treated us to a show of sweet finesse with a recipe that didn’t actually seem very difficult to make, but looked mouthwateringly scrumptious. This guy is known for creating some of the most spectacular sugar work this side of Willy Wonka. Case in point, a glass-like sample he’d brought to display of blue horse heads with roses woven through their flowing manes. All made of sugar. Seriously unbelievable.

Third course: jam cake with caramel frosting

For dessert, Chef Moore made a Kentucky jam cake with black walnuts and raspberry preserves in the batter, and a boiled caramel frosting that had us all swooning in our seats with thoughts of licking the spoon.

For a foodie like me, just watching the show taping and the demonstrations was bliss (I even picked up a few new tips to use at home), but then we got to make our way into Winston’s and eat the whole three-course meal. Everything looked and tasted absolutely gorgeous.

the mega Manhattan

To wash it down, I did the best I could to finish a super-sized Manhattan. No joke, this glass must have held about 16 ounces, and these bartenders were not shy with the Woodford Reserve. Thank goodness I ordered it on the rocks.

Secrets of Louisville Chefs is hosted by an energetic gentleman named Tim Laird and runs on WBKI-TV, Louisville’s CW affiliate. For more information, go to www.NewLocal.TV.

By the way, our particular episode is scheduled to air in Louisville on Sunday, April 1, and will be available for viewing online April 2 at www.NewLocal.TV.