Our regional Anglophile aesthetic, seemingly resistant to contemporary interiors, extends to restaurants. It's hard to find a soothing palette of beige and cream, much less one whose walls are adorned with whimsical, painting-size "cutouts"; whose backlit bar is simultaneously sleek, warm and inviting; and whose food doesn't allow the design to do all the work. But there's one place.
For those unfamiliar with the dining scene in Midway, Lexington's small-town neighbor with seriously sophisticated cuisine, I am talking about Heirloom.
Owned by chef Mark Wombles and his father, Henry, the restaurant came out of the gate in 2006 to acclaim. Its standard has remained high, with only occasional slips. Now, however, with Nicolas Trueblood — formerly of The Mansion at Griffin Gate — as chef de cuisine, Mark Wombles' original vision of using fresh, local ingredients to create Kentucky dishes with a global sensibility and a hint of California influence is being met and exalted.
The black barley soup ($7) would be as welcome at an Eastern European table as in a fancy dining room. It's a grain-and-rice affair, simmered in a delicate aromatic broth with savoy cabbage, topped with a chive-sprinkled dab of labneh, or Greek yogurt, beneath which is a perfect petite chou farci, or baby stuffed cabbage. My Slavic soul sings.
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Summer vegetables have waned, so you might have to wait for the return of the Mexico-inspired grilled corn salad ($9) with avocado and lime, pickled red onions (a Yucatan touch), smoked salt and crumbles of cotija, not unlike a soft feta in texture and saltiness.
Much further east, metaphorically speaking, the tempura of halibut ($13 and generous enough for two) was delicious, if a bit overbathed in a creamy sauce of citrusy yuzu and chili-based sriracha that damped the batter's delicate crunch. Lovely magenta slices of watermelon radish were stunning, and the bursts of fried sage garnish mandated yet another reason to slow down and pay attention when eating: The taste intensified with every savory second.
Fried sage also heightened the flavors in an entree of sweet chestnut and fluffy agnolotti ($19) stuffed with kabocha, or Japanese winter squash. They were tender ravioli, although just a millimeter too thick, but who would quibble when, in addition to stuffings that evoke the holiday table, there is nutty brown butter, silky salty prosciutto and gratings of Parmigiano-Reggiano? Not I.
Heirloom has spoiled me for poached chicken breast, having coaxed succulent perfection from potentially the dullest white meat on earth. The plate was a still-life, with rich yet earthy celeriac purée, crunchy emerald Brussels sprouts, ruddy chorizo to jazz up the autumnal elements, and a roasted chicken thigh for contrast — think "chicken two ways." It was all napped in sauce americaine, a cream sauce classically used with lobster. This dish is $26 and worth every penny.
Finally, there was dessert, an obscenely wonderful indulgence of molten Valrhona chocolate cake ($10). What was different, and better, about this version was the quality of the cake. It almost resembled a brownie: The gossamer "crust" was ever so slightly crisp, but the cake itself had a bit of chew versus a lot of crumb. Making it seem more chocolatey still was crème anglaise made with Guinness beer. And making it even more decadent was a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.
That last bite made my feelings about this meal at Heirloom borderline adoration.
A four-course dinner for two, including four glasses of wine and tax but not tip, was $117.13.