Theodore Roosevelt’s U.S. foreign policy was, “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” I feel like these words can be relevant and even critical to decoding a number of different life situations, not just foreign policy. The phrase brings to me a feeling of preparedness. Actions speak louder than words, and you shouldn’t have to announce it to the world if you’re prepared to show it to them. Not that our foreign policy has anything to do with the opening of Louisville’s newest Japanese/Chinese/tip-of-the-hat-to-the-orient restaurant, Mirin, but I definitely think that Roosevelt would dig the menu. In news that you may or may not have heard, local chef Griffin Paulin has assembled a team and opened a new restaurant in Clifton: Mirin. There wasn’t a hype video, no press release, no balloons, and I still haven’t seen a Steve Coomes article about it! Paulin wanted to open quietly and do what he does best: feed people delicious food.
The restaurant has a fast casual look and feel to it, but the menu is decidedly more than that. If you visited Paulin’s first venture, Rumplings, a joint effort with Dustin Staggers, then you remember the ramen. It was delightful. What if I told you that Mirin blows that out of the water? It’s true. And I’m not just talking about ramen. I love noodles. I love ramen. Mirin is infinitely more than ramen. It’s Japanese traditions and Chinese techniques with a sprinkling of Vietnam. It’s a carefully crafted menu that was established with flavor and quality as a foundation. It’s a place where you can try everything on the menu, and you should. Paulin is doing it differently this time around, though. He has a concept, a menu, and a space in a great neighborhood. But this time he hired an executive chef: Michael MacInnes. Michael has worked for Dean Corbett at Corbett’s, he was formerly the sous chef at 701 Fish House, and he did some time with Hillbilly Tea as well. He clearly knows his way around the kitchen.
“Michael has such a gift”, said Paulin. “His palate is bonkers! I was in the kitchen heavily for about a week, and then I was like, ‘oooooooookay, get the hell out of his way, he’s got this.'”
Paulin says that MacInnes has taken this Mirin menu to whole new level, and it’s obvious that others agree when you look at the reviews on their Facebook page. As for Paulin, he is all in this time with no partners and no financial backers. He knows that he needs a team that he trusts, and that it begins with Michael.
“I’m lucky to have him,” Paulin says about MacInnes, “I can focus on running the business.”
So let’s talk about what I had on my first visit.
Bao is a steamed Chinese bun that is filled with various toppings and has quite a bit of variation. The Bao at Mirin comes topped with cucumber, sakura cheese, and a beautifully crunchy slaw. I had the duck, but you can also get pork or tofu. The duck was fantastic. It has a nice crispy skin on it, and it’s easy to get all the flavors in one bite because of its size. The creaminess of that cheese mixed with the crunchy slaw brings a great texture balance to the whole thing, and the flavors are on point. This was a great appetizer, but you could get one of each and have a nice little dinner, too.
Tsukune & Egg
This dish was just amazing. They make these perfect, soft-boiled eggs that are wrapped in a Chinese chicken sausage and cooked in a cast iron skillet. The dish is lightly topped with hoisin tare and some scallions. It’s a play on a more traditional skewered chicken meatball dish with a scotch egg delivery. I promise that you don’t want to miss the flavors in this thing. I just ate it with my hands. It’s pretty big and there was no way chopsticks were going to work on this thing. Tsukune & Egg might be the best dish on the menu, but I will have to get back to you after I eat the rest of the menu. Awesome.
I call it special ramen because that’s what Griffin and Michael called it. Also, it’s really special. Also, it’s not on the menu yet, so the official nomenclature is yet to be defined. It sounds like it will make its permanent debut on the menu soon. This bowl of ramen starts with double soup: part dashi broth and part tonkatsu broth. The broths are made in house, and the tonkatsu broth is actually a whopping 36-hour pork belly simmer. The broth is so silky and rich and full of unbelievable flavor. Top it off with the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth char siu pork, one of those beautiful eggs, ginger tare, and some chile paste, and you have a fantastic dinner. Incredible.
Mirin is located at 2011 Frankfort Ave, right in the heart of Clifton. It’s a place that I will frequent, and you should too. Theodore Roosevelt wants you to eat at Mirin.
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