I come from the school of reviewing that says that I should give a bit of where I come from so that you can better understand what I mean and how you might apply it to your own opinions. I'm a bit of a foodie so I'm guessing it was only a matter of time before I decided to go ahead and increase my * of the Moment series to include semi-frequent Restaurant reviews. Because this is the "first" forgive me if I over divulge...
I was having a bit of a disagreement on what constitutes a great meal or a "gourmet" meal with a friend of mine. I was troubled that there seemed to be such a wide gulf in our opinions when both of us had somewhat similar amounts of knowledge of food and food preparation. The closest I have come to explanation is that ultimately I'm something of a student of the East and he's something of a student of the West. Forgive any generalizations in my analogies, but basically he's a by-product of French Culinary Snobbery. Don't get me wrong, the French did a lot for standardized restaurants and the business of food preparation, but I think there are a few ideas they promulgated alongside their business acumen (and power of conquest) that I disagree with. First is the attitude that vegetables and fruits are mere accessories to a meal. Most gourmet Western food uses vegetables sparingly and generally only in side dishes, salads, and sauces; very rarely do you see a vegetable-centric entree. Western dishes so often focus on meats and cheeses to the detriment of balance and variety.
The second idea, and I find this seems to come directly from the business side of the expansion, is what might be called the "Gourmet Ladder of Food". There is such a focus on "better". A more expensive dish is a "better" dish. The more particularly prepared and exhaustingly detailed a dish the "better". The fancier the acoutrements in a restaurant, the "better"... et cetera. My friend always seems to be sizing up a restaurant and placing it somewhere on his personal ladder, and at times I find that sort of thing nauseating.
My own philosophy on food is a simple "Zen of Food", if you will. For me, "The best meal in the world is the one on my plate". I've eaten in a wide variety of places and I know the difference between studied chef and quick fried food shop, but why can't I appreciate both the tender flakiness of a lovingly fried whitefish and the delicately prepared dish at a five-star hotel. They each have their qualities that make them stand out and beg to be eaten and I don't see any reason that one should necessarily be better than the other.
On the topic, today's fortune cookie:
It is not the person who has too little, but the person who always craves more, that is poor.
Combine that with a natural tendency to love new things and doing something different from what I did yesterday and I'll take the opportunity to explore new eateries and new cuisines... Luckily here in Louisville I have an extremely long list of places to eventually explore, much less revisit.
Zen Garden is Vietnamese-influenced mid-scale Vegetarian restaurant on Frankfurt Ave. The Vietnamese-American owner is quite conscientious and portions of the proceeds are dedicated to charity. I'm not a Vegetarian myself, but I certainly can appreciate the ideals of those that are. I've certainly considered Vegetarianism as a possible diet plan for good health, but haven't. I generally try to at least eat as much vegetable and fruit as I eat meat.
The food was excellent. Louisville has a strong Vietnamese-American population (one Catholic parish here holds mass in Vietnamese), and I love a good Vietnamese meal. I had a Spring Roll appetizer and a Crispy Shiitake dish. The Shiitake mushrooms were very lightly fried to add a bit of a crunch without sealing the mushrooms from the sauce. The sauce was a mildly spicy one that was in a good proportion so that the mushrooms didn't get too soggy. Carrots, green peppers, and a few other vegetables accompanied the mushrooms. It was tasty and wholesome and I look forward to trying some of their other dishes.
Next door to Zen Garden is the location of the soon to be opened Basa. I actually had read about Basa in a news article recently and happened to ask my server what he thought of it as I was eating. Basa will be a (non-vegetarian-only) Vietnamese restaurant in the mid-to-high scale with an eye towards Fusion without completely abandoning the traditional cuisine. The two gentlemen running it are both from out of town (Boston), but have relatives in Louisville and have relocated for the project, feeling that Louisville is a perfect place to start a restaurant of this style. When I asked what he thought of the restaurant opening he turned the question around and I rambled about how much I like Vietnamese (and Asian styles of food in general) and I think that even though the city has several existing good Vietnamese restaurants I think that a higher scale, more accessible one might be a great addition to the scene. He was excited that I recognized the restaurant name and game plan from that article and that I was hopeful for the restaurant and then reminded me that I should have recognized him from that article. It turns out my server today was one of the two guys creating the restaurant. His Aunt owns the Zen Garden and she helped influence them to open the restaurant in Louisville. It's a neat thing that they'll be next door neighbors and he hopes that it will help build some good cross-over traffic between the two.
I love local restaurants.