Dining Out


Traditional Japanese Cuisine with Southern Ingredient Infusion

Skewers with lemons served at Ensō
Written by Tom Wilmes, Images courtesy of Destiny Robb

In Japanese calligraphy, the circular ensō is a symbol of boundless creation. While chef Lawrence Weeks draws inspiration from traditional Japanese cuisine in his restaurant of the same name in Louisville’s historic Clifton neighborhood, his deft infusion of Southern ingredients and techniques represents a similarly fluid pursuit of flavor. “If someone of Creole descent was in Japan and they were making a dish, what would that look like?” Weeks says of his propensity for freely melding influences. “I want to connect the parallels rather than force cultures together.”

Ensō interior shot of bar

On the menu at Ensō, Japanese-style fried chicken (a dish initially introduced in Japan from Portugal, Weeks notes) is dusted with smoked Cajun spices and served with Jezebel sauce and sake-brined pickles. The meaty bite of sauteed turnip greens is a satisfying substitute for spinach when tossed with savory benne seed dressing. And pickled ginger and mayo tame the spicy tang of bulldog sauce accompanying octopus hushpuppies. Frog legs sourced from Louisiana are marinated in Worcestershire sauce and brushed with a cane syrup glaze, while the bay scallops in the creamy scallop udon—like most of the seafood served at Ensō—arrive fresh daily from Japan. (The frigid waters off the coast of Hokkaido produce scallops that are “sweeter and with a different texture than what you get here,” Weeks explains.) Likewise, Ensō’s drink menu showcases Japanese whiskies, shochu, and sake in a state best known for bourbon. Still, “there’s a touch of Southern in each of the cocktails,” says beverage director Tin Le.

In some ways, the menu is an evolution of the border-blurring cuisine Weeks first explored at North of Bourbon, the Louisiana-by-way-of-Kentucky restaurant that shares the same ownership group as Ensō. In others, the much larger 135-seat eatery is an ambitious new endeavor for Weeks, 32, whose parents were stationed in Okinawa in the 1980s. “We hope to open people’s minds so that we can bring attention to more cultures and allow other young chefs to have a voice and, globally, make food more diverse,” he says.

Can’t Miss at Ensō

Green cocktail at Ensō

Tasso Pork Katsu Slider

Generous slices of pork belly are cooked sous vide overnight with sake, soy, and mirin. Seared and served on a housemade benne yeast roll with sorghum ginger slaw, mayo, and bulldog sauce, the pork’s firm exterior gives way to buttery goodness with a touch of creamy heat.

Kentucky BBQ Lamb Skewer
Locally raised lamb from Freedom Run Farm is slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce made with apple cider vinegar and soy, then grilled and topped with shaved onion. A squeeze of lemon and a pinch of bourbon barrel-aged salt brighten the bite.

Chili She-Crab Noodles

A play on she-crab soup, a generous amount of sherry and a splash of uni-infused cream combine into a savory broth served over ramen noodles and a heap of chili crab meat topped with fried shallots, compressed pickled apple, Kewpie sauce, and scallion.

about this restaurant

  • Chef

    Lawrence Weeks

  • Address

    1758 Frankfort Avenue
    Louisville, Kentucky

    • Japanese

    • New American

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