September 4, 2007

Looking for the source of the Nile at WorldFest

Thai Taste: in Clifton had a full contingent staffing its WorldFest booth. From left, Ratunaporn Sangrung, Hammarach Nuangkhamma, Malai Nuangkhamma and Samorn Thanawattako.Dr. Livingstone, I presume?At some point during the colorful WorldFest celebration over the weekend, I started to feel a bit in common with Dr. David Livingstone, the 19th century British explorer famous for his dogged quest for the source of the Nile River in Africa’s deepest jungles.Like Livingstone but on a much smaller scale, I spent a good bit of time and energy during the two-day event on the Belvedere in quest of The Nile.The Nile Restaurant, that is. This mysterious reference turned up on WorldFest’s list of more than two dozen food booths run by local restaurants, social and civic groups, a worldwide array of mostly ethnic goodies that even extended to a couple of corn dog and funnel cake vendors. A Sudanese restaurant! In Louisville! Always eager to add another ethnic eating experience to my list, I made a beeline to Booth 144.Hmm. Nothing there. Maybe it would show up Saturday? Sure enough, during brief ceremonies following the “Parade of Cultures” that opened the day’s events, Mayor Jerry himself spoke of The Nile Restaurant as a new gem in Louisville’s growing panoply of ethnic cuisines.Alas, Booth 144 remained empty. But we’re going to be watching for The Nile ... if you find it, please send a map!In any case, there was still plenty of ethnic food action on the Belvedere to keep me busy chowing down all day Friday and Saturday, noshing internationally as we took in a world of music, dancing, arts and crafts and sports that celebrate Louisville’s growing international and refugee communities. Like most U.S. cities, Louisville is growing increasingly culturally diverse: Officials say students in the city’s public schools now boast more than 77 native languages. More than half of Louisville’s population growth over the past 15 years has come from international immigration. This has been a particularly happy development on the city’s restaurant scene, where a generation ago “ethnic dining” meant Tumbleweed, Oriental House and, well, maybe Flabby’s Schnitzelburg.Cubano sandwich: Valu Market’s Cubano sandwich is stacked with roast pork, ham, cheese, pickles and mustard on crusty Cuban bread.Now immigrant communities have brought us Vietnamese and Thai, “real” Chinese and authentic Mexican, not to mention tastes of Argentina, Central America and the Caribbean; Bosnia and Russia; Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Iran; and on to India and Africa. We’ve learned to eat Chinese food with chopsticks and Ethiopian dishes with our fingers. And some day soon, I’m sure, we’ll find our way to that Sudanese source of the Nile.WorldFest offered a splendid opportunity to taste a surprising variety of cuisines, and if the simple setting of outdoor booths with hot plates and grills and plastic plates isn’t quite the same as sitting down to a restaurant table, it’s fun to meet the chefs face to face as they pass your bowl of curry or flaky empanada or sizzling taco across the counter.Here’s my dining diary from the two-day event, reporting on quick tastes of some of the area’s intriguing ethnic eats. WorldFest won’t be back until Labor Day weekend next year, but these restaurants are open year-round. Right now might be a good time to stop by and make the acquaintance of some of your newer neighbors.I started my rounds at Thai Taste, where smiling Hammarach Nuangkhamma passed over a steaming bowl of white rice topped with a generous ration of Thai green curry ($3 at WorldFest), a piquant mix of stir-fried eggplant chunks, crisp strips of green pepper and tender bamboo shoot julienne in a spicy green curry sauce. It made a great palate-waker-upper, and a pair of tender, bite-size vegetarian dumplings ($2) on the side didn’t go amiss.Some WorldFest booths are run by folks who don’t have regular restaurants — yet — but hope to do so eventually. A couple of tacquerias, a Peruvian food operation and a family-run booth offering Guatemalan dishes fall into this category, and I’d love to see them all pop up in a storefront setting some time soon. A father-and-son team called La Nirra, for instance, featured tacos ($2) — made to order on small, doubled corn tortilla rounds generously topped with juicy, spicy shredded beef and garnished with fresh chopped onions, cilantro and red or green salsitas.Expert smokemeister Edgar Beecham and his family, having won all manner of barbecue awards, plan to open Dee’s Food Service this month on Poplar Level Road near Indian Trail in Newburg. Based on a taste of Beecham’s remarkable pork ribs ($4) — juicy, meaty, falling-off-the-bone tender, with a master’s touch on the delicate but not overbearing hickory smoke, with a thin, tangy, peppery sauce that would do credit to Escovvier — I’m heading for Newburg as soon as I hear this place is open.La Mexicanita, a Latino vendor, sets up a sidewalk taco stand weekend nights, weather permitting, near Coconuts nightclub on the Baxter Avenue strip. These are seriously good Mexican-style tacos, freshly made by cooks whose kitchen may be basic but whose moves are professional. A chorizo taco ($1.50) consisted of two just-off-the-grill corn tortillas loaded with spicy sausage, onions and cilantro, a searing salsa verde and a couple of lime wedges. ¡Bueno! I wish WorldFest could be five days long, which would have allowed barely enough time to try every eats booth. Among other highlights: Asiatique distinguished itself with a trio of small bites ($2 for one, $5 for three) that included a tender, turmeric-yellow satay (grilled chicken on a stick); a crab Rangoon pastry turnover filled with tangy goat cheese and plenty of crab; and a crisp, savory spring roll stuffed with salmon, served with small tubs of sweet chile basil sauce and a creamy, garlicky miso aioli.India Palace upheld the subcontinent’s presence with traditional dishes — chicken tikka masala or, our choice, chana masala, meaty chickpeas in a piquant red sauce — with a good portion of basmati rice and a crisp samosa turnover stuffed with onions and peas ($5 for a combo plate).A Taste of Jamaica scored with a fat, juicy Jamaican beef patty ($3), a generously proportioned, flaky, turmeric-golden pastry pillow stuffed with simmering hot and gently piquant, juicy and flavorful ground beef. This was only my second WorldFest, but one delicacy that has already become a tradition for me is Valu Market’s Cubano sandwich ($5). A standard-issue Cuban sandwich except that (presumably because of limited facilities) it’s not pressed and grilled, it builds a sturdy edifice of tender, thin-sliced pork, salty ham, mild “Swiss” cheese and the unexpected but traditional crisp dill pickle slices and yellow ballpark mustard, all piled on a snow-white, airy length of Cuban bread. Who’s cooking at Caffe Classico?In my Aug. 22 report on the new bistro-style dinner menu at Caffe Classico, I mentioned the restaurant’s genial owner, Tommie Mudd, but neglected to give full credit to the guy who’s been toiling in this Clifton favorite’s kitchen for the last few months. Let’s correct that record with a word of praise for Caffe’s executive chef, Patrick Gosden, a Sullivan University grad who boasts experience as sous chef at Z’s Oyster Bar & Steakhouse and Napa River Grill, preceded by turns at Hunting Creek Country Club in Louisville and Hilton Head Sea Pines Country Club in South Carolina. Contact the writer at rgarr@louisvillehotbytes.com