An evening in Louisville gave me the opportunity to try a new place to dine. Decca is not just new to me, but truly new to the area. They have been open since March 15th of 2012 and are headed up by a pair of chefs from San Francisco.
Since SF is one of my favorite food places in the world I entered the doors at Decca feeling pretty optimistic.
Decca is just outside of downtown Louisville on Market street in the newly trendy NuLu section of town. The restaurant features two dining rooms on two floors and a sizable outdoor patio with more than enough room for revelry.
The inside features simple decor and high ceilings. The bones of the old building are apparent through the renovation giving the place a distinct southern charm. Cream, green, leather and wood dominate and tall windows flooded the place with natural light while I was there.
The menu speaks of focus and local ingredients. Six starters, three pastas, 5 mains and some sides comprise the whole of it. They do have a daily special, but for once in my dining life I couldn’t get past the menu items.
I started with the grilled Georgia quail. It was reclining on a bed of carmelized, puréed fennel and lightly covered with a fig gastrique. There was also shaved fennel, orange slices and hand harvested fennel pollen on the plate.
No danger of that here. The quail was perfectly cooked, married with the fig gastrique nicely and the multiple versions of fennel on the plate made me think I was on an episode of Iron Chef. Subtle, moist and full of flavor, but small enough to still have me wanting more. A nearly perfect starter.
The restaurant also served pieces of their home made focaccia. It was nicely balanced and had the tiniest drizzle of olive oil. It was complete enough on its own that it didn’t occur to me that there was no butter for the bread until I was driving off.
I was a bit conflicted for a main. I had it down to two dishes. A pasta with Moroccan lamb and preserved Meyer lemon or a poached Dayboat sole. At this point the waitress was absolutely no help. “Those are my favorite two things on the menu”, she said. Sort of like they were her children and she couldn’t bear to choose a favorite.
After some further waffling, I finally opted for the sole. It came quickly served on tiny cous cous with slices of green olives, dried apricots and pistachios with just a touch of a Meyer lemon reduction.
Oh me, oh my. The sole was perfectly cooked. Firm and succulent and the alternating sweet and salt of the apricots and olives set the whole stage perfectly. The reduction gave it all a touch of flavor contrast and the cous cous was light and fluffy. If I were forced to come up with a criticism, and this is reaching a bit, it would be that there was not textural contrast to the dish. Everything was soft and it could have used a bit of crunch or something crisp. Of course, I would still order it again in a heartbeat.
The couple next to me were friendly and chatty and talked to me about the food and the area. They started with a duck liver terrine which looked wonderful and they were equally enthusiastic about their entrees. I wasn’t quite brave enough to take pictures of their food. It seemed just a touch too creepy!
I have to say a bit about the service. It was warm and relaxed and just attentive enough without being cloying, but what was most impressive was the knowledge the server displayed of the items on the menu.
I had no idea what the purée under the quail was but she did not drop a beat before telling me it was fennel purée and commenting on how surprised she was at its sweetness. She discussed a carbonara dish with sea urchin with the couple next to me talking about the vaguely iodine flavor of the dish and finally guiding them to another dish once she established they indeed liked cilantro. She even discussed the botanical characteristics of other gins when they did not have the preferred brand for the gentleman at the next table! I was very impressed!
I was not going to indulge in desert but she twisted my arms with the sweetest of lies. “It’s small,” she said. Oh…alright..since she twisted my arm.
I settled on the affogato. This was simply a scoop of cinnamon orange gelato with a couple of shots of espresso poured over it. Here was the contrast I was craving. Hot and cold, sweet and bitter and served with these perfect little pecan sandy cookies. Such a nice ending. I could not tell you if it was truly great gelato because the espresso was melting it, but the whole effect was blissful.
Starters ranged from $10 to $13 and mains from $16 to $24 although the special of the day did weigh in at a hefty $48!
Decca is not cheap, but I also don’t think it is overpriced for the care that goes into the selection and preparation of the meals. The dining room is welcoming and airy and they enforce a no smoking policy inside and out.
Highly recommended…but take someone you love because this is a place to share.