24 November 2012

The Catbird Seat

If you have only one meal in Nashville, The Catbird Seat should probably be it. Chefs Josh Habinger and Erik Anderson have worked at practically every heralded restaurant around the globe. Habinger spent time working under Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, Tom Colicchio at Craft New York City and Grant Achatz at Alinea. Anderson spent time under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and Rene Redzepi at Noma. The beverage director/front-of-house manager Jane Lopes also has a resume that includes a stint at The Violet Hour. The pedigree shows in the performance here.

The restaurant is located next to the stylish Patterson House. This cocktail bar is run by the same company as The Catbird Seat. The house-made ice and bitters are ingredients in cocktails that like the Roman god Janus look to the past while also seeing the future.

The Catbird Seat is a small restaurant. Seating surrounds the kitchen area, allowing diners to watch the chefs prepare each dish. Dinner was a 10 course degustation with a few extra amuse-bouche thrown in for good measure. The kitchen can accommodate any dietary restrictions with advance notice.

 Vegetarian courses tend to mirror the standard chef's menu. There are two levels of beverage pairings, and bottles of wine may also be ordered.

The amuse-bouche was a savory cheese cookie that looked like an Oreo. It was similar to a classic dish that Grant Achatz made at Trio in Evanston. Achatz's savory parmesan ice cream sandwich looked and tasted like this teaser at The Catbird Seat. The conclusion of the meal was a sweet version of an identical cookie.

The first course was a trio, with a smoked root vegetable and cheese bite, a shiitake Cracker Jack corn, and a seasoned radish flavored to taste like the Nashville classic Hot Chicken. The Cracker Jack and "Hot Chicken" exploded with flavor. It was paired with a dry Riesling by Stock and Stein.

The second course was made with grated burnt bread, an off-the-wall ingredient that worked way better than it should have. There was also a fennel blossom salad with ramp capers, juniper, quince, lychee and almond that had a bright, clean citrus essence. It was served with Delheim Gewurztraminer from Stellenbosch, South Africa dosed with a mint tincture.

The kimchi was  cabbage, avocado, kiwi, watermelon rind and shaved coconut. The greens atop the slaw added an earthy layer to the dish. The slightly sweeter Airfield Estates Riesling was a bracing palate cleanser.

The plating on the grilled vegetable course was spectacular with perfect cross hatches on the squash. The layers of peas and cheese bring understated vegetal touches to the dish, and the Depeuble Beaujolais brought in subtle tobacco notes.

The dish that was the vegetarian equivalent of the beef course featured house-made seitan with a perfect texture. It had cleaner taste than packaged wheat protein. The Portuguese red wine added nuance to the mushroom flavors of the dish.

The cheese course was Jasper Hill Harbison cheese, an oozing cow milk cheese with hints of flowers and pine. Dried hibiscus, blueberry and gingersnaps bring different flavors to a luxurious cheese, as did the Tripel Karmeliet, a Belgian abbey ale.

Dessert was split into three courses. The first was a peach sorbet with walnut ice cream, Fernet Branca gel, walnut pudding and a cardamom crisp. While many of the elements worked well on their own, the Fernet Branca is such an overpowering flavor that it obliterated the taste of anything else.

The maple custard was served in a cracked egg with a crisped candied carrot and a sprig of thyme. It was rich and luxurious. It was served with a Sawa Sawa sparkling sake that was off dry with a faint vanilla base. The bubbly sake complemented the dish while also clearing the palate. 

 The final course was a playful take on pineapple upside down cake. The vanilla cake was topped with pineapple gel, smoked oak ice cream, cherry peanut crisps and a bourbon gel ball. Different pairings of ingredients yielded entirely different experiences with a surprise around each corner. 

Reservations at The Catbird Seat are a little tricky, but it becomes easier if you keep a few tips in mind. Reservations open 30 days in advance on the website at midnight Central Time. Reservations disappear quickly, although last minute cancellations sometimes allow diners to procure last-minute seats. Check Twitter or email directly for details.     

The Catbird Seat on Urbanspoon

No comments: