For the past five years, Cole Arimes has been a mainstay in Lexington dining. His eponymous restaurant, Coles 735 Main, which occupies the periwinkle blue-trimmed bungalow at North Ashland and East Main Street, has drawn both a loyal local crowd and clued-in visitors.
I include myself in the former category, dining there four or five times a year. The first dish I ever tasted, Arimes’ signature panko-fried avocado with crab salad and lemon saffron aioli, won me over, and it has been a pleasure discovering dishes that offer the chef’s take on traditional recipes.
One of the most popular of those dishes is the shrimp and grits ($27). Although it’s a staple on nearly every Southern restaurant menu, Arimes’ version — featuring roasted red pepper Weisenberger grits, truffle-infused lobster cream, Midnight Moon goat cheese and smoked Cajun honey sauce — is clearly a cut above the norm.
Arimes has said that it’s one dish that will probably never go off the menu — his regulars probably wouldn’t stand for it.
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On a recent visit, neither my dining companion nor I opted for the shrimp and grits, but we did split the shrimp tempura appetizer ($12), an ample serving of seven shrimp, dressed with creamy aioli, yuzu soy and scallions. Without a heavy batter, it was easy to taste the main ingredient, fresh and not overly spicy.
Accompanying the shrimp was bread served with a hummus-like spread, which was somewhat bland and seemed out of place. We also wished there had been a honey or herb butter to go with the very good biscuits.
My friend ordered the macadamia-crusted goat cheese on a bed of arugula with diced yellow beets ($8), and proclaimed them delicious, with a sweet rather than earthy taste, and just a hint of nuttiness.
She also loved her entree, one of the evening’s specials: wolffish, a flaky, mild white fish similar to arctic cod ($35). It was crisp, lightly breaded and not overpowered by the beer batter.
I also ordered fish, but in my case, with less success. The trout ($26) came out a bit too flaky; I couldn’t help thinking it would have been better pan-seared to give it a firmer texture, and I couldn’t really taste the horseradish that encrusted it.
We also had mixed results with our sides. My Napa slaw was delicious, but I wished for a larger portion. Three bites and it was gone.
My friend’s portion of Brussels sprouts was adequate, but she thought they were both a little too sweet and a little too crunchy.
Since my usual experience is to leave completely satisfied with my meal, I’m chalking this up to a rare off-night. All restaurants have them.
If you are really hungry, especially if there are several in your party, order the charcuterie board ($20). With generous portions of house-cured or smoked meats, cheeses, tasso jam, whole-grain mustard, house pickled onion and cucumber, it’s in the running for the best board in Lexington.
Desserts also are something special. My friend had the pecan pie with espresso cream and shortbread crust, and I had the dark-chocolate gelato with orange zest. Both were sublime.
If the dining room is full or if you are just in the mood for lighter fare, you might opt to eat in the bar, with its limited menu of appetizer-size items in the $10 to $15 price range. Cole’s décor is light and casual in the manner of a Provençal brasserie, and service is generally good, although during Keeneland, the horse sales or UK home games, the joint can get jumping, and you might have to wait longer than usual for your order.
Wait. It will be worth it.
Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel and food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.