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For 20 minutes or so, the warm rumblings of the person seated behind me in the Equus dining room had been quietly teasing at my memory. His voice had the unlikely texture of silky smooth gravel, and one I’d been listening to for years, but focused as I was on the menu, I couldn’t quite bring the memory to the surface. Then he started talking about “L.A. Law” and I realized that I’d landed, for the first time in my life, next to a bona fide celebrity: John Spencer, formerly of shows like “L.A. Law” and the “Patty Duke Show,” and a veteran character actor with decades of movies and TV shows under his belt before he became a star playing Leo McGarry on “The

Beef short ribs with creamy risotto and veal jus, one of many entrees available at Equus. (photo by brian bohannon)
West Wing,” was sitting no more than three feet away from me.

Although I tried to avoid eavesdropping, I do know Spencer knows who’ll be elected president next season on the show. And I can also report that he’s not saying. Moreover, I can report that from his table talk, Spencer knows his way around Louisville restaurants as well as most permanent residents of the city.

And as nearly as I can tell, he and his party were as delighted with Equus as Mary and I were on our recent visit.

I won’t report on his meal (except to note that he happily observed to one of his dinner companions that “every time we come to Louisville, we eat like pigs”), but our meal was fabulous (and though I’m sure he wanted my autograph as much as I wanted his, both of us tacitly agreed to let the other eat in peace).

Mary started with a luscious bowl of lobster bisque ($6.95) as smooth and comforting as a cashmere sweater. On the surface, it was as unobtrusive as could be, a pale beige that barely commanded attention, but a spoonful seemed to contain the very essence of the sea, a brilliantly focused cascade of lobster flavor with just the barest hint of Tabasco-inspired heat.

For me, the meal was opportunity to disregard the animal rights lobby and indulge in a little wedge of foie gras ($10.95) served atop a puff pastry tart along with caramelized shreds of onion and a decorative compass of succulent figs. Though it wasn’t a particularly novel approach, it was nicely done; the foie gras had a remarkable surface tension that had it nearly popping out of itself.

The Equus menu and wine list are available on the Web (://www.equusrestaurant.com/), so I won’t recount it in detail here; suffice it to say that the restaurant offers a full range of entrees including duck, grouper, steak, sea bass, lamb, pasta, beef and the like in the $23-$32 range.

Mary was hooked by fresh trolled king salmon ($25.95), seared, then perched atop an Asian vegetable terrine (a boldly flavored, brilliantly verdant conglomeration of vegetables that could easily serve as a wonderful entree in itself) doused in a ginger-miso broth. The salmon itself was perfectly cooked, moist and full of flavor, but we thought a more judicious approach to the broth would more deftly serve these fine ingredients, which barely require more than an accent to bring out their brilliant character. Mary’s dish was plated with crisp-tender carved carrots and gleaming, slender haricot verts.

I opted for pork tenderloin ($22.50), decadently encrusted in strips of pancetta, then pan seared and touched up with a suitably rustic Pinot Noir veal glace (oops; well, I’d already eaten the foie gras, you see, and I might as well get all my sinning out of the way at once …). A creamy, snow-white cylinder of cauliflower flan gave my plate a distinguished look that seemed perfectly at home in the amber glow and careful lighting that make anyone look like a star in this white tablecloth restaurant.

And as for feeling like a star, service seemed to us to have just the right touch of sincere care and efficiency. It would be a simple matter to linger a few hours at Equus, lulled by the light, comforted by the paintings and photos on the walls, and lingering seems the right approach to this kind of food. But we never felt neglected, and except for an unwarranted delay in bringing bread to the table, we were impressed by our server’s extensive knowledge of the menu and wine list. We wanted a single bottle of wine that could serve both of us, and the server offered us three or four options, describing the merits of each in useful terms, before we settled on a bottle of Melville Pinot Noir (“Estate,” Santa Rita Hills), which set us back $55. Served at cool room temperature, it was a lively wine with a lovely garnet hue and enough energy to match up with our meals.

A shared Equus chess cake, moist, yellow, topped with melted chocolate and almonds, and served on a lovely zig-zag bed of raspberry cream, made for a wonderful finish.

Equus is at 122 Sears Ave. Hours are Monday-Saturday 6-10 p.m.; smoking is permitted next door in Jack’s Lounge. The restaurant appears to be completely accessible for people using wheelchairs. Major credit cards are accepted; reservations are recommended. Call 897-9721 for more info.

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