We now know Nancy Miller believes Chef John Varanese is "cute" and "charming," though she fears revealing her opinion may make her seem "superfluous" and "sexist." Thanks to her Courier-Journal piece on Varanese we also learn many more things about Miller, including the idea that dessert makes her feel either "sanctimonious" (when refusing) or "happy" (when accepting). However, beyond the words "smoky" and "savory," we learn next to nothing about Varanese's food that can't be gleaned from the restaurant's menu.
Miller is no stranger to Varanese, having held an event for her book about Louisville women at the restaurant. While Miller says she feared several years back that the chef "was overreaching" and "had been bitten by the edgy young chef syndrome," she how feels Varanese's "cooking has proved his mettle as one of Louisville's most accomplished chefs."
Miller moves on from her fear of fomenting more controversy to mention the interior of Varanese, describing it as "smart" with a "lovely" waterfall helping to distract from "the feeling of sitting in a parking lot." Miller does think the restaurant's large windows help balance the outside world of Frankfort Avenu "with an interesting interior of fabrics and hard surfaces," though the "interesting" part of a combination known since the late Stone Age is not revealed. After praising her dinner service of "a couple of weeks ago," Miller begins a tale that owes much of its existence to an edited version of Varanese's menu:
[W]e vacillated between the pork and sweet potato biscuit, stuffed grape leaves and baked brie. … Since we couldn't decide, we changed course and ordered the stuffed crab avocado and one of the evening's special starters, crispy flat bread topped with slow roasted pork, smoked gouda, slaw and barbecue.
Miller describes the "pork and gouda" as "a smoky melange that made ... [her] realize 'less is more' can be so wrong," as though the flatbread, slaw and barbecue had ceased to exist. Miller "didn't know how the kitchen could go wrong with crab and avocado, no matter what it did to them," and deftly describes the idea of "frying and pairing them with creme fraiche" as "one superfine idea." As for beef tips with tortellini, we learn it is one of Miller's "go-to dishes," that she can "cajole" her dining companion into ordering it, and that the dish includes "Gorgonzola cream sauce, prosciutto and spinach." (In addition to tomatoes, Varanese also describes the prosciutto as "crispy.") She also orders "short ribs with a twice baked potato" which is "unexpectedly wonderful" due to its "savory" sauce. (The dictionary helpfully describes "savory" as "belonging to the category that is salty or spicy rather than sweet.")
Notions such as "hot," "cold," "crunchy," "light" or even "chocolatey" don't seem to matter to Miller's evaluation of dessert, just the course's binary existence:
I love to hear a server ask, "Will you be having dessert?" When I say no, I feel sanctimonious. When I say yes, I feel happy. The toffee-marshmallow bread pudding with caramel ice cream was yet another reason to be happy at Varanese.
Miller says John Varanese is "flying high and hitting hard," and she thinks it will be "fun to ride along" as she awards Varanese 3.5 out of 4 "stingy" stars. Perhaps the next time she'll share more details about the food.
· Varanese soars among culinary fliers [Courier-Journal]
· Varanese [Official Site]
· All Eater Week in Reviews [-ELOU-]