Last evening I found myself wandering downtown Louisville looking for a place for dinner with a friend visiting from Memphis. The Ryder Cup is happening there this weekend, so you're dodging golf balls and golfers flying everywhere.
We were looking for a bistro, but the first place we came across was Vincenzo's, an Italian restaurant in the Humana building. I took one look in the door and could tell it was too high end for me (I'm a bistro kind of guy), and I wasn't dressed for it, nor my pal (denim shorts and Crocs). I was headed back out the door when a very pleasant waiter told him we could eat at the bar. I still wasn't keen on the idea, but went along.
Vincenzo's has a beautiful marble bar in the lobby. A talented pianist was playing behind us. Anyone who knows "Have you Met Miss Jones" is my kind of pianist. We were waited on by two pretty and friendly ladies behind the bar (I didn't get their names), one a short blonde in a striking blue dress, and a tall, thin black-haired young lady in black. They didn't have much to do when we first got there and we chatted with them a bit, but when the golfers started ricocheting into the restaurant 20 minutes later, they got very busy.
While we were looking at the menu, my friend ordered a Tanqueray and tonic. I asked for a campari with gin and a lime. "That's my father's favorite drink," the blonde said. Note to bartenders everywhere: don't tell patrons of the opposite sex (or the same sex; they tip well) that a drink is one of your parents' favorite drinks. But that's OK; I didn't mind. I expect they don't get many orders for quasi-negronis. And the drink was really good.
A brief digression on the food: the blonde told us that Vincenzo's is known for their veal and that it's very good. I love veal, especially veal piccata, but wasn't in the mood last night. I ended up ordering a spaghetti with South African lobster tail, asparagus spears, sun dried tomatoes, I don't know what all else. My friend ordered a shrimp dish; his presentation was very nice. The chef himself brought our entrees to us, which was very nice too. Maybe Aaron Eckhart was in the kitchen singing Puccini and the chef needed to get away.
For an appetizer we shared a split of tortellini in a cream sauce and the special, which was the seashell tightly rolled-up pasta (I don't have a chart of pasta shapes at hand to remember what that one's called) in a tomato sauce. He liked the tortellini so much that he ordered an entree-sized portion to take back to his hotel.
How was the food? Good. The ambiance was better, but that's half of any good restaurant. Our only complaint with both of our entrees (I didn't taste his) was that they were just a bit bland. I'm not saying Could We Get a Salt Shaker?, but a little lemon juice or herbs or something would have helped. Not that I didn't eat all of mine. (Though have you ever tried eating spaghetti with people looking over your shoulder? It's hard to be graceful.) Likewise with the appetizers: the tortellini was great (though, honestly, how difficult is tortellini in cream sauce?), but the tomato-based pasta, though it had some subtle heat, needed an Emerilesque kicking up a mini-notch. Pehaps a slight dusting of a hard, sharp Italian cheese would have done the trick.
The food was good, though, and even eating at the bar with mobs of golfers congregating in back of us as dinner progressed, Vincenzo's was a nice place and I'm glad I got dragged in. For an after-dinner drink, my friend ordered a white Russian. I asked the blonde her recommendation for an after-dinner drink: she said she likes a white Russian, or a chocolate martini (or maybe she said a coffee martini). Neither one really appealed to me. They had quite a collection of bourbons behind the bar, so I asked for a Woodford Reserve on the rocks with just a little water. That hit the spot.
Listening to other orders as the golf crowd poured in (most dressed not much better than us; we really didn't need to worry - and I was wearing a coral-colored cashmere sweater that outclassed any polo shirt), it's interesting how mundane most of the drink orders were. 4 Bud Lites for one group. A rum and (diet) coke for someone else. One fellow asked for a gin and tonic and specified Tanqueray 10. He knows what he's doing. Towards the end of the evening they pulled out a bottle of Basil Hayden from somewhere. I tasted that at the Bardstown Bourbon Festival a couple years ago and didn't particularly care for it; I'll have to give it another try sometime. But, anyway, my ordering a campari and gin right off the bat (and in an Italian restaurant at that) was probably a welcome change from the usual order. And reminded her of her dad.
In short: a very nice evening at Vinzenzo's, great cocktails, good food, wonderful ambiance, and my friend picked up the check. Woo hoo!