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.

PM on Urbanspoon

Lonely on the Northwest Front, Chelsea Bistro Brings Cheer to the Neighborhood

All photos © 214 Mary Brace
    Early summer 2013, there was much head-scratching as word started getting around that someone in Nashville was doing the unheard of: opening a traditional French Bistro out in the hinterlands of Whites Creek. That someone turned out to be Basha Satin and her son Josh Rew, along with chef Garrett Pittler, who they lured to the obscure side of town.

    Opening any restaurant in Northwest Davidson county is a risk right now, as the population is paltry compared to other parts of Nashville, but French? Few French restaurants have been able to exist anywhere in town. The last one to close its doors was Bicyclette Cafe in Hermitage. Over two years ago.

   When blogs started leaking out Pittler & Co were planting their own garden, interest picqued and I was among the early travelers to follow my curiousity up Clarksville Pike, just shy of Old Hickory Blvd, to check the place out with a small group of fellow foodie adventurers.

Beef Marrow

     Chelsea Bistro had been open for less than two weeks, I think, for this visit and our group of six had a mixed experience, foodwise. The clear winners on the menu were the Parisian gnocchi with prawns; the goat cheese & caramelized onion tarte, and duck confit. The escargot profiteroles had a mixed reception, with one of our company disappointed there wasn't as much garlic as she was expecting. It was later explained to us, a customer on the previous night complained they were too seasoned, so the kitchen backed off a little.

Onion Soup Gratinée

 I had the tarte & confit. The tarte crust was melt-in-your mouth, buttery-soft, with an interior more subtle than I was expecting. The duck confit was everything that could have been asked: super-crispy skin to munch on, moist and salty underneath.
   The other dish that got negative reaction at that time was Meat & Potatoes, sliced brisket & gravy over potato croquettes. I tried a bite and what was really off-putting was that meat  didn't seem to have the moistness and texture that seems pretty standard with brisket. That it was sliced thin and wide, rather than high and narrow, may have had something to do with that.

Sous vide Monkfish with winter veggies
     The second time around we hit Chelsea Bistro for the winter menu and this time, I found the Meat & Potato dish improved exponentially, although, reaction did vary to some extent. The person who ordered it this time liked it for the most part, but found the gravy too sweet for his taste.
     I skipped the tarte for the onion soup this time, and was again rewarded with the subtle flavor that comes from excellent preparation.

    My entree this time was sous vide Monkfish. Monkfish is a North Atlantic treat my mother used to cook on occasion, when I was a teen. She had to tell me its nickname is

Cassoulet: meat, meat, and more meat

"Poor man's lobster" to get me to eat it, as I couldn't get my palate around non-crustaceans, and she was right. Normally it's boiled and broiled, but a few years ago, sous vide experimenters started playing around to great results. Chelsea Bistro's version was a little firmer than I remember Mom's being (I never mastered it, myself) but the flavor was dead on. My companions who sampled it instantly understood why it had that nick-name, and best of all, a shell-fish allergic was delighted she could have a bite without a trip to the emergency room. 

Meat and potatoes

      Some companions' notes: the diner who ordered the bone marrow appetizer was already a proud carnivore, but now, moreso. I tried to get a small sample but by the time I was able to get to it, there was less than 1/4 gram's worth of scraping to be had. The cassoulet also proved to be a little too much meat (duck confit), meat (lamb sausage) and more meat (pork belly) for some. Another diner was less than thrilled with his steak; he ordered medium well, and received a pretty rare — but he didn't send it back. In our previous excursion one person did send a dish back and the restaurant went the distance to see he left happy. The frites lean heavily on the salt, so be warned.

   In most Nashville restaurants, I can easily pass up dessert. With the relaxed pace of Chelsea Bistro dining, there's enough time between courses — and the portions are normal enough — that having the room isn't difficult. Most of us got either the creme brulée or chocolat pot du creme. One day I'll get to the pain perdu. What I like about Chelsea Bistro's creme brulée is that kitchen lays back on the torched topping and doesn't turn into a single layer of hard candy. It leaves you free to  enjoy the vanilla custard without distraction.   This time, I ordered the chocolat cream pot, though, and was delighted with something that reminded me a lot of chocolate pudding, only richer.

  Overall, the verdict most of my companions, on both trips, and I have is this: Chelsea Bistro offers up some of the best-prepared, pretty slow food you're going to find in any Nashville restaurant, at a very reasonable price. Not everything that's put in front of every person at the table is going to be to their liking, but what they get right, they get really, really right. Bon apettite.

Chelsea Bistro on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Update on the Nashville Hot Chicken Odyssey

© 2014 Mary Brace all rights reserved.
   Since I started on my Nashville Hot Chicken quest in July, I've hit almost all of the major places at least once. Pepperfire, twice. Tenn 16 twice. But I keep returning to Hattie B's Hot Chicken. And returning. To the point where, if I can go more than two weeks without a fix, either there's a ton of stuff going on, or I'm flat broke.
  More than any other Nashville Hot Chicken restaurant I've been in — and you are free to spit from the peanut gallery, because I still haven't gotten to Prince's — Hattie B's is consistently tender, consistently moist, and consistently flavorful. In all probability, I'll crown them champs, if only because it takes about 20 less minutes to get to Hattie B's midtown location on 19th (and soon, Sylvan Park) than it does to North East Nashville.

Just sayin' ...

Do at Home: Sautéed Japaños

There's a Mexican restaurant with Mt. Juliet and Smyrna (or is it LaVergne? I'm always forgetting) locations, called Margarita House. They've got a nifty little side I haven't seen anywhere else in the Nashville area: jalapeños, sautéed with lime. What I really like about them is the tart lime initial taste, and the heat that comes after.
       When I decided to try it at home, a Google search turned up a YouTube video for the sautéeing part, but left it at that. My solution was simply to, when they were nearly done, throw in maybe 1/4 teaspoon or less garlic powder and when they were really, really, nearly done, a couple teaspoons of fresh lime juice. The juice evaporated within seconds, but left a carmellized coating on the fruit that outweighed the capsacin. I'm thinking perhaps I let the pepper cook a little too long. Still yummy, but when I try it again, I'll add the lime a little sooner and wrap.