Avalon

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Avalon
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />1314 Bardstown Road
454-5336

I’ve always felt that a signature of Louisville’s creative cuisine scene is its approachability in both food and atmosphere. Most Louisville restaurants welcome people in formal dress or denim, in raucous, celebrating parties or as the solo bookworm. Casual acceptance combined with great flavors may be the best way to characterize the local dining landscape, and Avalon is a shining example of both attributes.

Out is "in": early spring dining on the Avalon patio
Settled comfortably on a part of Bards-town Road where trendiness and venerability coexist (the original Bristol Bar & Grille is right across the street), Avalon’s smallish exterior actually masks a great deal of space - three dining rooms and a bar inside, plus a hopping al fresco dining area.

The dinner-only menu is advertised as ‘fresh American cuisine’ and it successfully straddles the line between the formal and the familiar. Despite stylish flourishes such as a pre-meal amouse-bouche, Avalon seems intent on providing comfort - as in ‘comfort food.’ But this down-home effect has been reimagined from several different angles and combined with international influences, upscale innovations and even some slight dashes of decadence.

The Truffle Lobster Mac & Cheese ($10) is a perfect example of Avalon’s approach. Leaving the realm of cheddar and elbow pasta, the kitchen instead substitutes Gouda and rigatoni for a tasty, buttery-rich take on a country classic. Arriving at the table in a cast-iron mini-skillet, with a tender lobster claw perched on top of shoestring fries, the delicious dish features the sharp tang of truffle oil along with the sweet seafood. While I ordinarily shun lily-gilding combinations like this, Avalon actually makes it work - indeed, makes it quite addictive.

The restaurant’s reinventions of American classics come in all shapes and sizes, including its side dishes (you may choose two for each entrZe). A charming idea is hidden, for example, in the innocuously named ‘green bean casserole.’ This side dish is actually a revolutionary deconstruction of an all-too-familiar potluck offering: Instead of bean shreds buried in salty cream of mushroom soup, you’ll be treated to bright green, crisp beans mixed with gently sautZed mushrooms. And yes, there are fried onions on top - but freshly done and feather light. The casserole will remind you of the one you had at a recent banquet, but awaken you at the same time to the dish’s true possibilities.

Other notable entrees include the tender boneless short ribs ($19.50), smartly paired with grilled tomato, or the slightly less successful buttermilk chicken ($17.60), whose breast pieces were juicy, but the flaky and flavorful breading suffers, in my opinion, from its topping of tomato sauce.

Of course, you can lighten up your meal with a dish like the chopped salad ($4 for a small, $8 for a large). Cool, fresh-tasting ‘Green Goddess’ dressing enlivens a mix of lettuce, heart of palm, red and yellow pepper, carrot, sunflower seeds and a little red cabbage. But save room for dessert.

The pineapple upside-down pudding cake ($7) scored fairly high with its dense, flavorful cake and pineapple chunks swathed in coconut cream and a Morello cherry sauce. But the absolute classic Avalon dessert has to be the apple cheesecake ($7). This is an awesome concoction - the cheesecake is more like a moist fried pie, thick with apple butter and cream cheese filling. The apple and cheese flavors are intensified by vanilla ice cream and the caramelized fried apples laid over the top. It’s sugary, it’s decadent, and it’s darn good.

Avalon is upscale but not snobbish, adventurous but not frightening. In other words, it’s a lot like Louisville - and everything is on the table.      

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