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