The origins of elegance can be illusive. Is it waitstaff that serves from the left and takes from the right? Bone china and Riedel glassware? Unpronounceable menu names? Expensive ingredients?
Whatever alchemy produces the grace of fine dining, Jean-Robert at Pigall's (127 W. Fourth St., Downtown, 513-721-1345) is steeped in it. Where else will you find a couple dressed in evening wear sipping a kir royale and martini and birthday parties celebrating with bottles of champagne on a weekday afternoon? It's the one place I can effectively use the only etiquette trick I know — turning my fork upside down on the plate to indicate I'm finished.
My friend and I, surrounded by all this refinement, had rushed from our respective jobs to do a little time traveling. Time slows to more civilized pace when you pass through those red curtains.
Pigall's offers several two-course and five-course meals at lunch on Fridays. All the selections trumpet the season with ingredients like butternut squash and roasted pear. As we made our choices from the two-course menus, we marveled at the servers dressed in business suit attire performing their well-oiled dance. Their eagle eyes did not miss a thing.
As we waited for our first course the server brought an amuse bouche, graciously offered "compliments of Jean-Robert," which consisted of an espresso-sized cup of an ethereal corn and leek chowder laced with truffle cream, a beggar's purse filled with duck confit, liver, peaches and cream cheese and a round of salmon cream.
My first course, a peppery Rock Shrimp Ravioli, was stuffed with finely diced butternut squash, watercress and slices of shitake mushroom and topped with tender shrimp and finished with a truffle emulsion. My friend's, the Smoked Salmon, was a ring of fresh pinkness topped with greenery that hid Kentucky caviar cream, potatoes and apples.
For entrees we selected the Sea Bass ($38) and Beef Tenderloin ($38). The delicate sea bass was served with a mushroom crust over a fondue of cabbage and spaghetti squash in a red wine butter sauce. The beef tenderloin had a grape compote and Bordelaise sauce and was accompanied by fingerling potatoes and a confit of carrots and shitake mushrooms with bleu cheese.
We paced ourselves to leave room for dessert, which was a lucky thing. Pigall's offers several house-made sweets ($8) along with an assortment of cheeses ($8) for dessert options. We chose the Pear-Caramel Tart in a Cashew Crust served with a scoop of homemade espresso ice cream — a final elegant twist to the pie-and-coffee concept. Grade: A
Southview, an urban soul food restaurant, opened Feb. 22 at Newport on the Levee. The menu offers metropolitan twists on classic Southern dishes in a city-slicker environment. Head chefs James Mossing and Veronica Maxwell's selections include vanilla bean cornbread, fried chicken and sweet potato waffles and Cajun classics like crawfish and shrimp with grits and Amish chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. The restaurant will feature locally grown produce and Kentucky-raised beef, lamb and pork as well as local wines and Kentucky bourbons. 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; late-night bar menu: 10 p.m. -2 a.m.
CONTACT LORA ARDUSER: larduser(at)citybeat.com