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

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