As Fresh As It Gets

By IGOR GURYASHKIN
Staff Writer

Sous Chef Seth Butkus, Pastry Chef Michelle Childers, General Manager Ned Anderson and Executive Chef Brian Curry.

Sous Chef Seth Butkus, Pastry Chef Michelle Childers, General Manager Ned Anderson and Executive Chef Brian Curry.

Napa River Grill has been serving up California inspired cuisine since 1999. In its latest location in the heart of Westport Village, the celebrated restaurant is trying something new – to launch a happy hour menu that rivals its much vaunted full menu – for quality, taste and above all else freshness.

“When I think of California cuisine,” explains Brian Curry, who has been the new executive chef at Napa River Grill since April, “I think of fresh, local and seasonal ingredients because you want a real farm to table experience going on. I really want everything in the kitchen to be fresh and everything being made from scratch.” Curry explains that nearly every ingredient is sourced locally with items such as the heirloom tomatoes coming from Ambrosia Farm, Ky., while an assortment of other produce hails from Garey Farms in Paris, Ky.

One of the first items sampled were suvee (slow cooked at low temperature) chicken wings with a Korean barbecue sauce. The benefit of suvee cooking is that meat is cooked slower, resulting in a more tender and succulent finish. Curry’s chicken wings were then dipped in rice flour for a tempura sauce and then fried for a crisp and light finish. The result was a zippy wing, with the Korean barebcue sauce that had fermented chili paste giving a sharp finish. Or as Curry explained “letting the sauce take care of itself.”

Another great example of some of the fresh fare that Curry and his team are looking to bring in, is the newly resurrected shrimp scampi. “The main difference is that under the last regime,” explains Curry, “is that we make every single one made fresh to order – which is what we’re really trying to at Napa River Grill – raise the level of freshness.”

The result is fluffy butterflied shrimp that Curry sauteed in garlic oil, with a splash of white wine and butter. Upon sampling, the freshness was evident. The small shrimpy nuggets were far from chewy, instead melting in the mouth with a little zesty help from a squeeze of lemon slice. A nice touch were the two thin crostinis that served to scoop any spare golden sauce left at the bottom. If there was a flaw, it is that there were not enough of them. A larger portion would simply have been an irresistable treat.

The highlight of the meal however was unquestionably Curry and his team’s interesting and intelligent take on barbecue ribs. This was far from anything resembling the culinary outputs of Memphis, Texas or Kansas City though. Instead, the pork ribs served up at Napa River Grill ooze in the essence of the Far East. Served with a hoisin sauce and a Japanese chili powder rub, the ribs sampled were simply divine. Roasted slowly for hours meant that when handled the ribs were sticky and juicy to the touch but simply fell off the bone when bit into. In fact they were so well prepared, the bone underneath was sand dry, as it had long ago bid farewell to the succulent baby back meat above it. The taste was equally impressive, with a tangy yet sweet flavor cut through by the Asian coleslaw on top, that consisted of Napa cabbage, shredded carrots and snow peas with a sesame oil to bind it together. It was the highlight of the meal and reason enough to come back to Curry and his bastion of freshness.

Freshness is the key and it’s something that Curry and his team will push for even further.

“This is just a start,” concludes Curry. “We’re trying to build even more relationships with local suppliers to make sure that what we bring to the table is local, fresh and tastes really great.”

Napa River Grill’s happy hour is between 4.30 p.m. – 7p.m. and features wines by the glass at 1/2 price, Absolut Martinis ($5.50), Absolut Mixed Drinks ($4.95) Grey Goose & Grey Goose Flavor cocktails ($7), Old Forester mixed drinks ($5), Well Brands ($2.95), Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light ($2.25) as well as Bacardi Mojito (Classic or Dragonberry) Pitchers ($20).

Napa River Grill, Westport Village, 1211 Herr Lane, Louisville. Phone: 502.423.5822.

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune