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Restaurants Have Their Ways and Means

As much as I want people to cook at home, sometimes I eat a bite of food a trained chef prepares and realize, "This is the reason to eat in restaurants."

Bistro Meal salad at Holly Hill Inn, October, 2015.

Bistro Meal salad at Holly Hill Inn, October, 2015.

Holly Hill Inn recently added Bistro Meals—$18 plates of excellence on the weeknights when they are open, generally Wednesday and Thursday, I think, and probably not during racing season. When I tried my first Bistro Meal last week, I asked for an added salad. The plate of succulent Two Shakes Ranch lamb, perfectly crisp-tender tiny green beans and caramel-browned red-skin potatoes lived up to every expectation. But before I got to that plate, the salad had stolen all my superlatives.

What made the salad extraordinary? At first bite, texture and flavor. Mixed textures, actually. Toothy greens, many of which proved to be tender outer leaves of Brussels sprouts. Their al dente nature, the see-through thinness of the crispy tart apple slices and aged Italian cheese (Parmigiano? Romano?), the crunch of (again) extremely thinly sliced toasted almonds: texture party in the mouth.

While strawberries in December or tomatoes in January never tempt me, I cherish a few exotic foods "from away," non-local ingredients that make the rest of our ingredients shine. Citrus, coffee, vanilla, salt (though we could and undoubtedly will have Kentucky salt at some point). In this case, lemon, the workhorse citrus, permeated a light, indefinably complex dressing. One I know I will never reproduce at home, just as I will never replicate those chic, ultra-thinly sliced salad add-ins.

I asked my good server to ask the chef what they called the dressing. "Romano Old Time Lemon." (Or maybe that was "Old Thyme"—I didn't think to check.) The lemon flavor and the crunchy texture made this salad seem fresher than any fall salad has a right to be. The Inn should rename it: Younger Than Springtime (admiring bow here to UK Opera Theatre's weekend production of South Pacific.)

Later I learned more reasons to love the salad, whatever its name. The cooks at the Inn remove the outer leaves of the Brussels sprouts and blanch them ever so slightly—and so, the perfect texture in the salad. They use the tender inner sprouts in many ways: roasting, braising, heightening their distinct, mysterious veggie sweetness for use as sides and more.

No waste. So many ways to goodness.

Sponsors included in this post: Holly Hill Inn. Thank you!


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