Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sliding into The Slider House

It never hurts to walk into an eating establishment with low expectations, and mine certainly were on my first visit to Midtown's The Slider House. It rests on the ground floor of the building that houses the much larger Soulshine Pizza Factory, and shares an owner. I might not have made it in, at all, but my friend Rose Laycox, of What the Pho? had a MySceneDeal coupon so I was happy to be guest. It wasn't long at all before I returned as a paying client.

For apps Rose chose "Border Bites," fried onions & jalapeño peppers, and I ordered up the "Champagne of Beers Cheese Dip." I chose the wiser, as the queso was yummy and came with house-cut potato chips. The fried dish was nothing to write home about and its contents would probably have been more enjoyable sauteéd.

The sliders were a pleasant surprise for the most part. I opted for a Shotgun (cheddar on beef, with chili on the side), Muchacho and "Fanci Grilled Cheese" (smoked gouda, Swiss, cheddar, jack, and goat cheeses). I was expecting typical not-much-flavor burgers but these little guys actually did have the beef. It showed especially well on the Shotgun, but got overshadowed and overpowered on the Muchacho, which just had too much going on with habañero Jack cheese, pepper action, and avocado. Also, in most cases, the burgers weren't so well done there was no pink to be found in the middle.

On a subsequent visit, I added the Black & Blue and Old Hickory burgers to my palate. Both were enjoyable, with the B&B adding zing without overwhelming the burger. Old Hickory is reminiscent of Burger Up's "Woodstock" ie, adds bacon & bbq sauce.

 The grilled cheese consisted of a cleverly inverted bun and the four cheeses. It was mostly what I'd call "interesting" until getting to the center, where the goat cheese was prevalent enough in the mix to add strength to the bite.  The fries were a mixed bag. Fine the first visit, but on the second, I felt like I'd been given the bottom of the batch.

Approx $15 per person w/o alcoholic beverages

1907 Division St Nashville, TN
The Slider House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Burger Republic: Resistance is Futile

All photos © 2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved.
When I moved to Nashville no one would have conceived of Nolensville as any kind of foodie test market. It was completely rural: housing was sparse and you could drive from a strip mall just below Old Hickory Boulevard, on the city's south side, and not see a red anything until you got to the stop sign at Highway 96, 14 miles later.

Twenty years later, I'm sitting in Burger Republic's first satellite franchise restaurant in Nashville's Gulch, and it makes perfect sense that developers who took some of the greatest chances on area real estate for the 'work hard/play harder' crowd would seek eateries putting well-researched, high end comfort food on the local map.

Like Martin's BBQ, aficionados have been telling Nashvillians about Lennox Village's (a high density, mixed use development that sprang up in Nolensville a decade ago) Burger Republic for a few years.  BR didn't make it into Bon Apetit and other gastronomic authority publications, though. With one major change, they could easily join the undisputed Nashville burger kings. It just happens that change would also mean disrupting the marketing of their main product, and possibly their franchise ambitions. I'll come back to that after the breakdown:

Juiciness: 6. As you can see from the photo, not much there there.

Attractiveness: 10. OMG well it's beautiful. The brioche bun gives it a distinct look among Nashville burgers.

Flavor: 6. I made two visits to Burger Republic, because on the first occasion I ordered a burger that had various gourmet elements that I thought might be overshadowing an otherwise boring burger. For the second visit, I stuck to American cheese & lettuce to let the taste of the beef come through. It didn't. Really, it's the condiments — gooey cheddar, thick bacon and special sauce — that brought the action on my previous visit and this score is based on basic burger flavor, of which there isn't very much of, on its own.

Atmosphere: 7. It's a very neutral look inside. Dark booths, white walls, large screen TVs and a wall of taps. Good sized patio.

Digestivity: 10  One hour later, feeling good.

Overall: 7.

First, Burger Republic lovers, before you start thinking I'm cray-cray, know that the overall score is actually higher than the numbers add up to and average. That's because the sides, Truffled Tater Tots and Mac & Cheese, were delicious. I have no doubt the spiked shakes are also wonderful.

So ... about the beef. Burger Republic makes a big deal of its source, in Certified Angus Beef. There's a big sign on the wall outside the door. There's Certified Angus Beef swag, in the oversized steak knives. True hamburger lovers know, though, Angus doesn't matter in the burger world. Most connoisseurs would put it well behind local organic grass-fed anything, local grass-fed anything, and organic anything. In that order. In making that one switch, from a beef chosen for flavor and local freshness, rather than its ability to taste the same in Tennessee as it should in Vancouver, Burger Republic could transition from being a great place for a burger to being a great place for a great burger.

Burger Republic - The Gulch -
420 11th Ave S Nashville, TN

Burger Republic on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Treehouse: Late Night Playspace

All photos ©2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved
At first, it's difficult what to make of Nashville restaurant The Treehouse: the building has a decades-long history with a well-known musical family in Nashville. When the house was undergoing the transformation from fiddle wizard Buddy Spicher's living quarters to nephew Matt's late-night fine fare, there was a lot of excitement generated for the coming East Nashville opening.

Opening in the fall of 2013, The Treehouse restaurant has now had several months to work out its kinks and establish itself as the East Nashville equivalent to Firefly Grille in Green Hills: a place where many creative people will feel right at home in its funky surroundings. The interior is mostly reclaimed wood, floors and tables both. Lighting is low and warm; seating is a mix of small and large, communal dining, with a few chairs left at the bar which separates the kitchen from the diners. There's also a back patio that I didn't get a good look at because of a passing storm.

My understanding is The Treehouse started as a mostly tapas-style restaurant, so it's no wonder the opening course was the favorite for both myself and my companion. I went for the Home Fries, while she chose Plantains. I'm not a huge potato fan because of texture-to-starch issues or something, meaning, more often than not, potatoes in whatever softish form - french fries, baked, mashed, etc - don't feel good in my mouth. But these potatoes did and whomever hit on this particular formula for prep and cooking deserves applause, and that's not even about the additional seasonings.
The Plantains were also a winner. Prepared with black beans, crema and, hot sauce the bowl had a lot going on, sweet and hot, spice and mild.

From there, though, things went downhill. At the left is fried chicken served with summer veggies and pepper jam. The best thing about it was that the chicken had a perfectly golden, crispy skin. The flavor was just okay, and the overall impression I had, as an eater, was that this was a  rushed dish. In fact, for both myself and my dining companion, who was unimpressed by the Ratatouille, it was worth noting that the entrees came out within about 10 minutes of ordering. I don't expect freshly-made Ratatouille to come out for every order, no, but the veggies in the chicken dish were still hard, and not very flavorful.

For dessert I ordered a tray of marinated cheese that offered parmesan chunks in a light coating of citrus and spice, with Marcona almonds. The cheese was intriguing at first, but after 3 or 4 pieces it seemed less like dessert and more like someone's kitchen experiment.

My companion went back to the snacks menu and had molasses-covered pineapple that was tasty.

Overall impression is this: people who go to The Treehouse for the cool vibe and stick to the tapas-type fare are going to come away thrilled. People whose idea of fine dining includes a full meal, at prices that match the quality, will be dissatisfied.

 $$-$$$ 1011 Clearview Avenue Nashville, TN

The Treehouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Gringo Taco #2 - Chago's Cantina

All photos ©2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved
UPDATE: Nashville Scene is currently running a "MyScene Deal" with 50% off certificates. Click here to buy.

Chago's Cantina has to be one of the more quietly intriguing of the Gringo Taco series restaurants. First, its location alongside the heart of the Belmont College campus is enough to keep many Nashvillians away. On top of that it's a little hard to define; owner Chad Head unashamedly chucks authenticity out the garage door windows in favor of the multitude of flavors he picked up in Southern California, New Orleans, and various parts of Latin America. In so doing, he goes beyond the typical tacos/enchilladas/etc., and offers wider treats; the top two spots on the menu are given to Ceviche (raw fish, cured by citrus juices — think of it as Latin America's answer to Sushi)  and Salvadoran Papusas. For this trip, though, I stuck with the traditional ... after all, the main point of the Gringo Taco series is leaving the comfort zone one baby step at a time.

I started with Chago's Cantina Dip sampler. Although the initial chips and salsa that were delivered to me, upon being seated, would have been just fine as an appetizer (the smoky, red, house salsa is excellent and unique), I wanted to taste what else was up for grabs and am glad I did. The pico de gallo was okay; queso better than the average; guacamole was on the bland side for me, even after I tarted it up with some additional lime juice; the green sauce was stellar and had a kick, the waiter told me, that comes from the addition of ancho chiles.

As I was dining solo, there was no way I was able to finish all the sauces but what was left of the green sauce did come home with me, in a little cup.

For my main treats, I ordered a simple chicken taco and quesadilla. Both came with Chago's grilled and seasoned meat, the taco adding truck-style onions and cilantro, the quesadilla utilizing more of the yummy cheese dip.

 Of the two, I preferred the latter. Could be because I like cheese dip, or it could be that the flavors in it played better off of Chago's Cantina seasonings than the taco did.

Overall, I like the place, it's solid — although I didn't have anything that knocked my socks off, the food tastes very fresh. If it were closer to my neighborhood I'd be here more often, and would definitely play more with the international menu items. At Happy Hour prices, the margarita is fine.

Service was initially shaky. At one point, my waiter went missing for too long and I had to get up and leave the patio to find him inside. After that he shaped up and was much more adequately attentive for the rest of the meal.

Chago's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Chago's Cantina - $$ - 2015 Belmont Blvd Nashville, TN 37212

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Etch: ADD for Your Tastebuds

All photos © 2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved.
 Confession: I never made it into Zola. That restaurant, long loved by many Nashville Scenesters, offered something so hard to find among this town's more high-priced real estate — genuinely good, no-slouching, well-prepared, fresh food — that I failed to believe it truly existed. Likewise, when Etch first opened at the base of the Encore on Third & Demonbreun, and I saw chef Deb Paquette's partners included the owners of a West End place that never knocked my socks off, or probably any NY eater's for that matter, that didn't exactly scream "OMG must go!" to me. Now that I've finally been to Etch (it opened late in 2012), call me a late convert to the table. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I waited this long.

The first thing to like about Etch is the free valet. No messing around with $10 parking. There will be better things to spend your money on, and you will, trust me.

While I waited for my dining companion to arrive, I hopped into a seat at the front-of-house bar and ordered a Happy Hour cocktail ($6). The Bitter Lemon was exactly that. Tasty, though I was hoping for something more refreshing after a hot day at work; next time I'd try the Model T or hold out for one of the cocktails from the extended menu in the dining room. In there, I had one of Etch's "Smashes," a muddled-herb drink with cilantro, lime & tequila and was much happier with it. Ecstatic, really.

 The Happy Hour menu also included a number of appetizers priced at $8. We passed and waited to be seated. The restaurant features a modern theme, a lot of black and grey and muted shades. Muted light, too; window walls that meet a Southwestern exposure on a 90+ degree day are regulated by thick white shades. An open kitchen runs about 2/3 the length of the room, with bar seating for diners to watch all the action. I also spotted a private dining room behind more glazed window walls.

Not everything is muted. The photo above is of what must be the world's most talked about cauliflower dish. If not the world's, then Nashville's. Me and bitter veggies never got along well, but when you interact with a dozen or more people visiting Nashville as tourists or on business and the first thing they mention about a restaurant is its amazing cauliflower, you have to at least try it. I mean ... who the hell ever talks about cauliflower, who isn't a nutritionist?

And it's everything they say. Bitter? Can't taste any of that. If cauliflower is something that's always been on your hate list, even without the condiments there's nothing to purse your lips over. But with .... oh, my. Peas is another thing. If my mom had ever served peas the way Etch does, turned into pesto with truffle oil, I'd have eaten a lot more over the years. Also included is what would become the evening's other ubiquitous ingredient — red pepper pesto —and creamed goat cheese. My companion and I were both entirely wowed.

Your parents and grandparents would call it insane to have to order bread and butter as an appetizer, but this isn't your folks' butter. A sampling of four doctored butters was served with both slices, and rolls. The favorites were the sea salted/truffled (by now, you should get the idea that truffles and/or truffle oil is an Etch go-to) and peanut brittle/ginger butters.

 Our third appetizer was Tuna & Shrimp, which included a couple small but healthy portions of grilled tuna, a few pieces of large shrimp, greens, and a number of flavorful things to dip and smear each with, including a tamari sauce and blue cheese puree.

 Unadorned, the shrimp were fine and well-seasoned on their own and I would have liked this dish even more had the portions been reversed.

 One last bit of shared sampling before our entrees, we had Etch's charcuterie salad, a wonderful mashup of tempura mushrooms, duck sausage, and a couple different prosciuttos. All simple ingredients  in this dish, but toyed and tinkered in ways to bring out amazing flavors. Smoked things, pickled things, dehydrated things all packed a huge punch, especially when they were combined with the various purees.

In a lot of ways, it's Etch's condiments that make the meal so memorable. What starts out as already good food is made spectacular by all the things going on in your mouth as you munch away. 

Katafi pastry: spaghetti squash mixed in with 4-5 kinds of goodness, especially the barley mixture over the top. This item is not on the new summer menu. Etch keeps at least one vegetarian entree on the menu any given time.

Meat and potatoes? A tender, flavorful seven ounce filet sits over red wine gravy, with shredded asparagus over the top.

Unfortunately (?) we filled too much up on gotta-try appetizers to have any room left for dessert. But there's going to be a next time.

Etch on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Gringo Taco #1: The Local Taco

All photos ©2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved.
(In case you're wondering, the four month blackout is because my new day job — driving sedans for Metro Livery and doing Uber runs — comes with insane hours and there hasn't been proper time to sit down at the computer and bang stuff out.  But I have been out on new dining adventures and keeping the blog in mind; here's my first attempt at picking the pace back up:)

One of Nashville's many blessings is its immigrant community. Mexicans, Africans, Middle & Far Easterners, Slavs ... all contribute to our diverse offerings. Due to the state of class politics, however, many of the best ethnic restaurants in Nashville are contained to strips overly-polluted with billboards, used car lots, high-interest loan shacks and XXX shops that ward off many of our more image-conscious residents. As a result, there are a handful of what I call "gringo taco" restaurants around town, in the more fashionable areas where clientele and management/ownership are pretty strictly European/Caucasian types, fusing ethnic foods with Nashville sensibilities (ie, top shelf Margaritas & BBQ).

Some of them are worth going to, simply because they happen to be near where you live or work or play and you want cheese dip and a Margarita without having to drive far at all; some are worth a 10-20 minute "destination" trip because there's something they do very well and you're jonesing. The purpose of this series is to let readers know what the various Gringo Taco joints do well — or not.

Up first is The Local Taco, my personal favorite of the bunch. The Murphy Road location has a very casual "neighborhood" feel and I'd be comfortable here whether I was in sandals and cut-offs or business attire. Upon its initial opening the decor was a rustic white and blue theme, but the original location has since been repainted to follow the earth tones of its out-of-town offshoots (and perhaps to avoid confusion with an older chain that recently opened in Nashville, with those same colors).

What TLT does very well is their namesake: tacos, often made with locally sourced ingredients. I've had most of the tacos on their menu with the exceptions of fish and mushrooms, and just about all of them are abundant with memorable flavor. The biggest complaints you'll hear about TLT is they aren't packed enough with fillings. For lunch servings, particularly the basket deals (two tacos and one side for $7.50), I'd have to go along with that assessment although I would also reiterate: the small portions of meat are countered by plentiful flavor. Dinner portions seem to contain slightly more meat in the filling.

The pic at left comes from a lunch basket filled with delicious chorizo and Buffalo chicken tacos. The latter is one I'd heavily recommend. The blue cheese, cayenne sauced-chicken, and celery all play against each other with terrific results.

Other faves include Tequila Lime Chicken tacos; tangy and tender, with salsa verde and marinade juices dripping all over. 

The Local BBQ taco starts out with a tangy bite, then heat from chipotle sauce sets in over the smoked pork. You should also try the Smoked Brisket Taco.

The enchiladas don't look like much but again, flavor wins.

TLT is one of the restaurants that started an unwelcome trend: chips and salsa aren't a given, here. You order and pay for your choice: roja, verde, smoked black bean & corn, or pico de gallo. There's also a thick queso w/minced peppers you can lay into. Of the the five, the roja and the queso are most worth having but overall the salsas aren't something to write home about.

The other menu item that is, is their margaritas. House margs are made with Sauza gold and go down easy and tasty. On Mondays you get a dollar off, all day. Another plus is you get several dining options: indoor tables or bar, covered patio tables or bar, and uncovered patio. Pick your favorite atmosphere.

Nashville has two locations and another coming. Murphy Road in Sylvan Park, Pewitt Drive in Brentwood, and rumor has it an East Nashville shop is in the works, on Fatherland St. TLT serves "fast-casual" style: order in front of the house and get your drink, and they'll give you a numbered placard to put on your table. When the food's ready, the server will bring it out to you.

The Local Taco on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Burger Coda 7: Table 3 "You Can See Me On a Wednesday"

all photos ©2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved

At one time, not even that long ago, when we didn't yet hate suburbs with a passion, Green Hills was an acceptable destination for Nashville restaurant dining. People seemed happy with Shalimar, Indian food right on the Pike; Chinatown in one of the little side plazas; F. Scotts towered over it all as the grand dame and foundation of much good that got spread around town. As that long-loved haven prepares to shut its doors, Green Hills should be thankful the team is staying on with  Table 3.

I've eaten there a handful of times and always been pleased. On the occasions where there may have been a slight misfire, the overall experience showed a sincere effort to get things right. When you find yourself eating in a bistro that's serving up dishes with an average entrée price of about $21, the last thing in the world you want to be is that guy/girl who goes cheap for the burger.

Unless it's on Wednesday. Then you can go seriously cheap. No, like crazy cheap, and get one of the best burgers in Nashville — freshly ground, grass-fed, local, cooked to order — for an Abe. Not even Twin Kegs can top that.

Juiciness: 10 Well, just look at that plate! Moo.

Attractiveness: 6  Enough of the pretzel buns, already. On a good burger, they're a distraction from the main feature. I want to look at a burger and go, "wow, this looks like it's going to be really good," not, "oh, what an interesting bun."

Flavor: 8 This was the second time I've had Table 3's burger. Last time, it was much more medium and not at all rare, but both times, the flavor had a subtle brawny something going on underneath that pleases the tastebuds without overpowering. But if you like, ask your server to switch out the accompanying aoli for some mustard (Dijon, of course) and your burger almost becomes Sunday roast with horseradish.

Atmosphere: 8 Busy, casual upscale restaurant. Hard to argue with that. On one side of me was a mother and her ready-to-hit-the-half-pipe son, on the other, a pair of women who look like they got lost trying to find the theatre district, speaking in French. Yes, I know we don't have a theatre district. We don't have a half-pipe, either.

Digestivity: 10 No backlash or sluggishness at all on this puppy.

Overall: 8.5 ... BUT. On Wednesday, when you can get it (at the bar) for $5, the value added makes it a 10. Flat out.

p.s. - the Onion Soup would make a Canadian logger melt from homesickness.

Table 3 Restaurant and Market on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Monell's: It's About the Vibe, Stupid

All photos © 2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved
There is a handfull of Nashville restaurants that baffle fine diners, who can't understand how an eatery with so-so food ever wound up on the must-eat-there lists of anyone. Today I decided to give my take on my favorite of those, Monell's.

Monell's seems like the quintessential "old Nashville" restaurant but it opened in 1995, a year after I moved here. Because of its pub-style seating, meat-and-three menus, and family style serving it's easy to imagine Monell's with a history stretching back much further than it does.

When you go to Monell's, if your party has less than eight people, expect to be seated with someone or someones who are about to become your new friends. The tables are big, and they like 'em full. This is not the place to choose for an intimate dinner.

It's a great place for diners who don't want to spend time debating over a menu. Each day you'll have the option of fried chicken and whatever other meat-du-jour is out there. Same with the veggies.

My most recent lunch visit featured the ever-present chicken, along with pulled pork and meatloaf. Veggies were green beans, some sort of rice casserole, some sort of potato casserole. Additionally, there was some stuffing out,  and potato salad and biscuits for starters.

 As you can see from my plate, to the right, I'm not much of a veggie eater to begin with. Southern-style veggies, aka "gooey mush" to me, even less. As Oscar Wilde said, "for those who like that sort of thing, it's the sort of thing they like." The biscuits are about on par with what the Loveless Cafe offers. The fried chicken ... well. I've had mixed experiences. What comes out at dinner time is a touch more moist than what we get at lunch. As you also can tell from the photo, the parts are on the small side. Really on the small side. Breasts not much larger than a biscuit. On the bright side, if it's really the crispy, fried skin you like, there's plenty to be had. The pulled pork was insanely tender, though, with just enough smokey flavor.

My favorite things to see at Monell's come dessert time are their bread and banana puddings but today we had strawberry shortcake. Spring fever, I guess. If the strawberries were fresh and not frozen, I'm sure it would be more enjoyable; for now it was a tease of things to come.

So .. why? What's so great about this place? It's totally the atmosphere. The northeast has restaurants in historic homes all over the place, and I guess Monell's reminds me a little of that, with it's varied, high-ceilinged rooms and straight-backed chairs.

It's that you and your friends can find yourself sitting down with someone else and their friends, and you all could be on a first-name basis when you stand up.

There's something about Monell's that feels like a great Southern tradition, even though it never happened before 1995. Perhaps that's what makes it so quintessentially Nashville. In a town that's constantly re-inventing itself, you're experiencing what could be as much as what is.

Monell's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Epice: Quietly Epic

    Although the subtitle of this blog has to do with cheap eats, and Epice, the new Nashville restaurant from Kalamatas' co-owner Maher Fawaz, isn't, that's not going to stop me from sharing my first experience at the 12 South eatery.

    Recently I joined a few friends for a meal to scope out the place and we all came away happy. I had a feeling it was going to go that way; a couple weeks prior, I was wandering 12 South, saw Epice for the first time and was drawn right away to the clean line geometry of the restaurant's front window and patio. I decided to step inside just to get a quick peek and immediately noticed the smell of the place (wonderful) and still more geometrics. The overall vibe is rustic, but elegant, simplicity.

     A group of seven on a Saturday night, with reservations, went like this: four of us ordered appetizers to share, 3 ordered desserts to share, and everyone took care of themselves inbetween.

     I ordered Tabouleh. It was freshly made, and very heavy on the lemon and parsley sides. To the point where I felt like I was mostly eating lemon-flavored parsley and that was pretty much the consensus. This was the only disappointing dish of the night.  

    Another ordered Fatayer - a trio of stuffed cheese, beef, and spinach pies. These were savory treats in mouth-watering crusts, that immediately won over everyone involved.

     Companion number three ordered Sfeeh, which the waitress explained by describing it as 'Lebanese Pizza.' Of course, when you put it that way, everyone nods and goes, 'yes, I'll have some of that.'

      Basically, it was flatbread with beef bresaola, herbs, and cheese and we all pretty much loved it. Companion #4 ordered Al-Raheb; a savory roasted eggplant puree with tomatoes and spring onions and a surprising sweetness of pomegranate seeds thrown in. That, too, was a hit.

Up next for me was the Roasted Red Pepper soup. Silky smooth texture with just a little heat, this went down perfect in the winter chill. The dollop of cheese on top was a nice touch.

Someone else got the Adas Be-silik soup, with lentils and lemon. I didn't get a taste of it, but everyone who did was impressed.

Entree decision took weighing advantages/disadvantages. I knew I wanted Epice's seasoned chicken and was initially drawn to Tawoo, sort of a kebob. But, because their entrees came with a side of Peasant Salad, which consists of seasonal veggies, and because winter veggies aren't exactly my faves, I opted instead for the house's signature Epice Salad, and had the chicken thrown in. The Epice Salad consists of your basic, quasi-exotic greens, with roasted peppers and goat cheese, smothered in a fig & balsamic reduction. Oh. My. Goodness. Now,  Hattie B's could teach them a thing or two about how to cook chicken to perfection for max tendernesss, but it was wonderfully spiced and overall the dish is something I will return for, along with the red pepper soup. It was just a wonderful combination of sweetness from the dressing, spice from the chicken & peppers, and everything else was added texture and flavor nuances thrown in.

When it came time for dessert, orders of crepes (Katayef), yellow cake (Sfouf), and a chocolate mousse (Pots de crème) made it to the table.

The cake was moist and über-dense and sweet, the chocolate was insanely decadent, but my favorite of the three was the crepe. Like the cake, orange blossom played a small role but the variety of flavors going on from different fruits and the creamy filling won the show for me.

Now, a word about the service at Epice: it is _so_ not the typical Nashville restaurant experience where you get ushered in by the host(ess), then you see your waiter/waitress when they inquire what you want to drink; when they bring you your drink; take your order; bring your food; ignore you until they decide you're ready for your check.

Praise the lord. Real service. Finally. From the time our party was seated, until two or more hours later when we walked out the door, not one person, not at any time, did we have to look around for and flag down a waiter, busser, or host. All three of those units worked together to see that we always had something to drink, plates were cleared when they were finished, and no feeling of being rushed at any time. Between that, the freshness of the food, and that wonderfully clean, peace-bringing design of the building itself, Epice restaurant is a place I want to make a regular habit of.

App+soup+entree+tea came to $32.

Epice on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Another Burger Coda + Sushi Starter: PM Restaurant

    A few months ago, I came very close to starting a post titled, "How I Found Sushi — Or It Found Me," to join my quest for the best burgers in Nashville but scratched it, because I'm still such a sushi neophyte that I felt it would  look beyond pompous to try to review Nashville's offerings. Especially when there are so many decades-long addicted adherents. But ... so what? I've decided that rating sushi is actually a lot easier than rating burgers: either the food tastes fresh or it doesn't, and it's memorable or it isn't. If it's memorable for the right reasons, it goes to the 'good' column.

    This afternoon I managed to combine both burger and sushi at PM Restaurant, one of the Arnold Myint family in Nashville. The sushi was an uncomplicated Spicy Tuna. Rice; tuna; cucumber and various sauces. It was very enjoyable but to be honest, I can't remember much what it tasted like, flavorwise. The amount of tuna in the roll was fairly small. What I remember most was how the cucumber gave it some crunch. That I bit my own tongue about 3 pieces in, didn't help. I mean, it really didn't help. So I'm just going to have to go back there ...

     The burger was more memorable. On the menu it's listed as "Char-Grilled Buger" and it is; what it wasn't was the medium-rare I ordered, but it was so interesting that I opted to finish (most of) it rather than send back to the kitchen. Here's how it rated:

Juiciness: 5. When it came out, I saw a splash of red on the bun and thought "oh, this is going to be awesome," but it turned out to be an anomaly. The unevenly-cooked, but mostly medium-well burger was comparatively dry except for that one little almost kinda pink section.

Attractiveness: 10. It's gorgeous, though, isn't it? A totally charred, beautifully rounded patty. The bun's soft, sweet and chewy, has enough "give" to show it's not factory-made perfection, but also enough body to keep it from looking like someone sat on the bag.

Flavor: 7 Hmmm. A mixed bag, this one. The innards of the patty tasted like what I've come to think of as typical Angus. A lot of places use it for the brand specialty but honestly, what it gains in texture is offset by the bland flavor. What separates the PM burger from, say, Hard Rock Cafe's or Ruby Tuesday's is the marinade (brown sugar-based bbq sauce?) coating, more caramelized than charred.

Atmosphere: 8. Like most of the other Belmont bungalows-turned restaurants, PM has character and instead of being in one big box of a room, the tables are spread about in several difference sections. It adds a feel of casual intimacy to the dining.

Digestivity: 9. No trouble with sluggishness, beef pangs or all-day-burger-taste in my mouth. But it was probably about an ounce larger than needed (okay, the sushi didn't help), so I was left with a little bloat. Side note: one of my dining companions noted that Americans are the only people in the world who complain portions are too big. The UK is the only place I've ever been outside the US and except for one colossally huge steak at a Rick Stein restaurant, the portions everywhere there WERE smaller — so of course no one complained. And who's going to moan about having to bring home a helping or two of marbled Prime? The problem is, no educated eater wants to bring home a box of leftover frozen Sysco nuggets.

Overall: 7. Pretty good. You could do a lot worse for burgers in Nashville, but with all the other interesting items on the menu, it's not the first thing I'll look forward to when I return. If I have it again and it's overcooked, I'll definitely send it back next time. By the way - the fries on the side were wonderful.

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