This article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
“Pleasant” describes so many things: the silkiness of a smooth terrine; silverware cutting into a softly braised beef cheek; the just-full-enough feeling one gets after a good meal. It’s also a word I’d use for Decca, one of the newest additions to Market Street’s NuLu restaurant row. Not overwhelming, not amazing, but quite good.
Chad Sheffield says the idea for the restaurant can be traced directly to San Francisco, where he and his Decca partners, Kelsey Norris and his sister Amy, were servers in the fiercely competitive Bay City scene. When family responsibilities demanded a return to the Louisville area, they left their jobs — but not before Sheffield enlisted his former boss, Loretta Keller, as a consultant for reinventing the 1870s-era building formerly occupied by Wayside Christian Mission. Preservation issues and the unfortunate passing of Jasper, Ind., designer/architect Charles Gabhart caused Decca to be delayed. But, Sheffield says, “Two years later (Keller) stuck to her word, stuck her neck out, packed her bags and came out here to open it.”
After menu design, another Keller decision was to install Annie Pettry, who had been her sous chef at San Francisco’s Moss Room, as Decca’s executive chef. Pettry told me Keller designed a menu that is kind of “California-Mediterranean,” and part of that philosophy includes modifying the menu in a gradual way. “I try to find things that go well with ingredients that may only be around for a few weeks,” she told me. “I’m constantly changing….I like to be inspired by the season and the things around me, so my dishes evolve.”
This seasonal inspiration didn’t intersect that well with my shaved market-vegetable salad ($13). The kale used as the primary green was a little tough and fibrous for my taste and the creamy Niçoise vinaigrette an unappetizing purplish-gray color. Fortunately, Keller left Decca a year-round signature dish (thanks to Creation Gardens hydroponics): slow-braised beef cheeks ($21). A cool, snowy-white dollop of tangy horseradish crème fraîche melted over a soft-yet-crusty grainy mustard crépinette of marinated beef cheek, with vinaigrette-drizzled green watercress adding a bit of cleansing tartness. Pettry also brought a wonderful duck-liver terrine ($10) along from San Francisco, a dish, she says, “I played around with a lot when I worked with Loretta.” My plate of buttery, slightly gamy terrine came with grilled focaccia slices and a pile of pickled ramps, each component so good I almost forgot to enjoy them in concert, which made them spectacular.