Saturday, January 25, 2014

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


  1. Sad to know they're now closed. We ate there once a month. I have never found any food and service as great as it was, in Nashville.

  2. Be patient and keep your eyes, ears, and mouth open - I've been in contact with one of the owners and he tells me they expect to open something new within a year. Where, I don't know.