316 West Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Chef Edward Lee of Louisville (since 2002, originally from Brooklyn) is making his mark on the city with the newly opened MilkWood in the basement of Actor’s Theatre. Last night I was lucky enough to attend the opening with ten friends in celebration of our dear friend Andy’s move to Pittsburgh. He left today at noon and, for our food loving group, it was a top priority for us to feed him the best of the best before leaving our fine northern-bordering Southern city. Opening night at Chef Lee’s new restaurant seemed like the perfect send off, and the amazing food, fantastic service and laid back vibe did not disappoint.
Chef Ed Lee’s popularity from Top Chef and Iron Chef has attracted a burgeoning clientele to 610 Magnolia, the restaurant where he has acted as Head Chef and Co-Owner for over 10 years. Chef Lee’s amazing reputation precedes him at MilkWood and marketing isn’t something he’ll have to worry about; Chef Lee’s name is PR enough.
The menu at MilkWood, is Southern soul food with exotic, Asian inspired flare. Our group started with an interesting mix of cocktails, many focused around Bourbon (as it should be in this Bourbon Capitol) and some with Sake. We then ordered up a few bottles of wine, all at reasonable price points, that paired nicely with all our food selections. For appetizers we started with Frog Legs in Bourbon Brown Butter, Pickled Fresno, Celery and Cilantro; a deconstructed Fried Chicken and Waffle with Buttermilk Dressing; Radishes, Dill and semi-dried Cherry Tomatoes; and Rock Shrimp Sausage with Texas Toast and Carrot Slaw. Holy smokies, the Rock Shrimp Sausage was one the most delicious seafood appetizer bites I’ve laid on my palate in years. All the appetizers were wonderful, but that was the universal favorite at our table.
Our group can eat. I mean, we can really throw down some food. So, we ordered every entree and side dish under the sun: Beef Brisket with Grilled Mortadella, Pickles and Biscuit Crumble; the Kobe Beef Burger on Pretzel Bun; Miso Smothered Chicken; Pork Shoulder with Black BBQ and Jicama; Collards and Kim-Chi (super yumness!); Lardo Cheese Cornbread and Ginger Bourbon Carrots. It was all amazing food perfection. The Smothered Chicken was so juicy and perfectly seasoned, the Beef Brisket was lusciously fork tender and the Lardo Cornbread was just plain, damn good.
Most impressive of all was the Crispy Skin Duck “Big Plate for Two”. I haven’t seen or tasted such lovely duck and perfect accompaniments since I was in Beijing last year. I have craved that Duck many times since, and now I feel like I have access to this perfect Asian delicacy right here in my hometown. The duck was prepared as only someone who understands Asian cuisine could prepare it.
After the delicious Duck, Beef, Chicken and Pork we moved onto dessert. Minutes after being seated that night my friend Tim gasped, “Jes! Did you see the desserts? They have Doughnut Holes!” From the beginning, we knew dessert was a must. Again, we tried a sampling of all the desserts: Doughnut Holes with Condensed Milk Ice Cream, Sorghum and Grits Ice Cream with Croissant and Berries and, the wonderfully surprising, Togarashi Cheesecake with Peanut Sea Salt Crunch and Miso Caramel. Togarashi is a Japanese blend of seven spices that always includes ground Chili Pepper – the kick of the spice against the creamy cheesecake and salty peanuts was unexpected perfection.
MilkWood’s Asian twist on Southern is the perfect addition to the Louisville culinary scene. Even better, Chef Lee, who is an advocate for the joy of cooking from home, is releasing a cookbook filled with his recipes for Asian inspired Southern food. The cookbook, Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen, a first for Chef Lee, will be released May 11, 2013. I’m greatly looking forward to snatching up this new cookbook and adding it to the volumes in my kitchen. Since my travels to China last year, I’ve been wanting to create Asian inspired Southern Food. Now I can with ease thanks to Chef Lee’s culinary innovation which is backed by a James Beard Foundation nomination for Best Chef in the Southeast, where he landed as a Finalist. A win with the James Beard is certainly due after his latest ventures.
MilkWood, exceeded my highest expectations with ease. I knew it would be very good, but it was excellent. As a bonus, the price points were very reasonable: appetizers all under $10, bottles of wine under $40 and entrees ranging from $15 to $20. As a side bit of trivia, the name for the restaurant came from a Dylan Thomas play, Under Milk Wood, Chef Lee read in college. As serendipity would have it, Jon Jory (Producing Director from 1969 to 2000) made his debut at Actor’s Theatre with that play in 1969. That coincidence seems to be a very good omen for the all the good things to come at MilkWood.