Let me start by saying that I think Castle Post on Versailles Road has the potential to be to Lexington what Keswick Hall is to Charlottesville, Va., or the Inn at Blackberry Farm is to Eastern Tennessee: a destination of the most luxurious sort.
If the Castle Post folks do want to become that kind of destination, and I sincerely hope they do, they need to check out those two venerable properties to see what it takes. What it takes is a commitment to a level of excellence that I don't think Castle Post has yet made.
Despite the uninviting view of the Castle from Versailles Road, the back entrance and the interior are quite grand, and now with the dining room open for dinner to non-guests, the opportunity for puttin' on the Ritz is great.
That dinner offers a choice of a three-course menu for $55 or a five-course for $65. That's an excellent price, you're thinking. But add a couple of glasses of wine and a mandatory 20 percent tip, and my bill came to $102. Still not bad for a grand-occasion meal, but a grand-occasion meal must have a grand-occasion feel, and the dining room at Castle Post just doesn't.
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Make no mistake, the room itself is gorgeous: high ceilings, chandeliers, cornices, marble fireplace backed by a silvered mirror — all of which are elegant enough for a real king and queen.
However, no king or queen would be happy about tables the size of card tables and inexpensive straight-backed chairs that don't encourage lingering. Linens and china need to be of the finest quality, and artificial flower arrangements and fake potted plants are not the way to go. Remember, you are a castle and you need to present yourself as one. If real foliage isn't in the budget, go with candles on the fireplace mantel, which, when lit, would create a lovely ambience.
Background music should be just that — perhaps soft classical strains, not blaring old disco music. The servers, while friendly and eager to please, need a bit more training in presentation of food and wine. Finally, while the website suggests semi-formal attire for dinner, many of the diners apparently thought semi-formal meant shorts and polo shirts.
Now, for the food. My dining companion and I opted for the five-course menu, each getting something different so we could taste each other's. For the first course, we tried the caramelized pork belly with beet chips and chicken pot stickers with soy ginger vinaigrette. Both were good, but a less heavy hand with the salt would have made them even better, especially the pork belly, where the fat needed more rendering so as to have a crisper texture.
The second course brought an excellent grilled Southern Caesar (grilled to perfection) and a charred jalapeno gazpacho, the consistency more that of a dip than a soup. It too was excellent, but it should have included some chips or toast points for dipping.
Our main courses were the seared beef tenderloin medallions and seared golden tilefish on bamboo rice with ginger orange beurre blanc. Each could have used a bit more searing to enhance their flavor profiles.
The intermezzo (between the second and third courses) was a mango champagne and hit the spot, as they used real mango. The cheese course, however, didn't fare quite so well. The "plate" had only one cheese, and it wasn't very interesting.
The meal ended on a high note with dessert. The bananas Foster bread pudding with homemade vanilla crème fraiche was delicious, as was the summer strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream.
I really do want to see Castle Post succeed and become something Lexington and Central Kentucky have never experienced. With such close proximity to Keeneland, Thoroughbred farms and the airport, it would be a natural draw for those who want to treat themselves and their guests to a special evening.
But just calling yourself a castle doesn't mean you are one.