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

14 November 2012

Yazoo Brewing Company

Yazoo Brewing Company brews Nashville's most well known beers. I first heard of their smoked imperial stout Yazoo Sue as an ingredient in Jeni's Yazoo Sue with rosemary bar nuts ice cream. Tours of the brewery on Saturdays include liberal samples from their brewing lineup. 

 Located in The Gulch, the Yazoo taproom is adjacent to the brewing facilities. The most common draft around Nashville seems to be Dos Perros, a Mexican style altbier. It has a clean flavor and pronounced European hops that come off like Dos Equis' designer cousin.

 Yazoo makes a pale ale, and they also produce a brew called Hop Project that showcases different varietal and regional hop types. The tour offered a single farm wild hop brew that had interesting wax and pine notes that emerged from the toasty malt base. 

The Gerst is an amber session brew named after an old German restaurant. It is bright and drinks easy. The kitschy logo evokes America's early German brewing heritage.

The hefeweizen is much in the classic style. It emphasizes bright citrus notes that cry out for warm weather.

Yazoo Sue cannot be purchased on site because of Tennessee's curious alcohol laws. It can be bought at stores that sell high gravity beer.

Yazoo Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

13 November 2012


I checked out Fido near Vanderbilt after seeing the massive line outside The Pancake Pantry. Fido is a Bongo Java coffee shop that serves breakfast all day. It was a busy Saturday with the Florida-Vanderbilt game. Even with the booming business, the wait clocked in at about an hour.

Fido makes most ingredients in house, and sources many items locally. They make a large number of vegan baked goods, and there are a number of vegetarian items on the separate breakfast and lunch menus. 

The Hangover sandwich is made on your choice of bagel with veggie sausage and cream cheese. It makes for a nice breakfast that can be eaten with one hand. The sausage crumbles nicely, and the cream cheese adds a nice richness to the sandwich.

The baked goods look fantastic, and all ingredients are listed on each item.The vegan pecan chocolate chip cookie was an ample delight. 

The pumpkin latte displayed layers of nutmeg and cinnamon. It was a well made drink.

The decor is dog-themed. The average wait time is typically shorter than I experienced, and Fido performed well during a busy rush.

Fido on Urbanspoon

08 November 2012

Chago's Cantina

Chago's Cantina is a Mexican/Latin American restaurant in the Belmont area of Nashville. Located near Vanderbilt and Belmont College, Chago's offers plenty of options for vegetarians.

While the food is the main attraction at Chago's, plenty of people show up for the drinks. Chago's makes margaritas in all sizes and formulations. There is also a decent beer selection, and happy hour prices make the bar a destination.

While there are traditional Mexican and Central American staples on the menu, Chago's puts a fusion twist on many of the dishes. Its closest approximation in Columbus and Pittsburgh is Mad Mex

The menu at Chago's is labeled for vegetarians and vegans, including the sides. Service capably addresses dining concerns. 

The guacamole was average. It was well made, but lacked any real punch. 

The pupusas, on the other hand, were great. The traditional Salvadoran corn pancakes are stuffed with beans and cheese, then topped with white curtido slaw. It can be ordered as an appetizer, or as a main course with rice and beans. 

Chago's Cantina on Urbanspoon

06 November 2012

Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles

Las Paletas has to be Nashville's most heralded stop for dessert. Retailers all around the city sell the delightful Mexican style popsicles.

The main storefront is in the 12 South neighborhood. Flavors are grouped into fruity, creamy and none-of-the-above categories. Popsicles can also be dipped in local Olive and Sinclair chocolate.

Fruit flavors included strawberry kiwi, lime and cantaloupe. Creamy flavors were chocolate chili, pineapple coconut and banana chocolate chip.

The chocolate chili has a deep, spicy taste. The avocado, when dipped in chocolate, has a perfect richness.

Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles on Urbanspoon

01 November 2012

Nashville Farmers' Market

The Nashville Farmers' Market is a foodie's dream, with row upon row of restaurants, vendors, farmers and more available to eat or browse. If you can eat it, you'll probably find it at the Nashville Farmers' Market.

Operations rotate in and out of the market. It is divided into a food court with restaurants and ample seating, a farmers' market with fresh produce and local foodstuffs, and a flea market with clothing, artwork and assorted knickknacks. Some places operate on different days of the week; check out the website for a schedule.

There are plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians. Check with individual vendors for details.

Service runs the gamut from take-out to table service. It's easy to make a meal at many different restaurants.

AM/FM is a deli run by Top Chef Season 7 alum/Nashville restaurant impresario Arnold Myint. The table service is excellent, and it even features alcoholic beverages.    

The menu at AM/FM has a few items that remain throughout the year, and seasonal items that change regularly. The pumpkin bisque displayed the flavors of fall with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and roasted shallots.

The roasted veggie sandwich is a panini made with goat cheese, spinach, roasted red peppers, eggplant and caramelized onions. The charred veggies are brightened by the fresh creamy cheese. The chips are a perfect crispy complement.

The brownie bites were a great finish to a meal.

I didn't get a chance to sample it, but the Bella Nashville pizzeria came highly recommended by almost everybody, most importantly Josh Habinger of the much talked about Catbird Seat. Habinger worked with Dave Cuomo, the owner of Bella Nashville, at the Patterson House, the upscale speakeasy cocktail bar next to Catbird Seat. Emma Berkey, the other half of Bella Nashville, worked at the Wild Cow, Music City's foremost vegetarian restaurant.

Bella Nashville offers at least one vegetarian pizza daily. The thin crust pies bake in about 90 seconds, and it looks difficult to wait that long to eat one.

There are a number of international eateries with vegetarian options at the market. Jamaicaway makes Caribbean food, and the menu is largely vegetarian. Swagruha, a South Indian restaurant, is vegetarian friendly like most Indian restaurants. El Burrito Mexicano serves up massive portions of delicious looking food, and their beans are vegetarian to boot.  

There is an ocean of baked goods at the market as well. Whitney May runs the Sweet Stash, which makes cupcakes, cookies, truffles and other desserts. The chocolate whoopie pie was served on a colorful plate that made the goo sandwich almost jump off the plate, and bittersweet cocoa flavor was greatly enhanced by the richness of the cream filling.

The ButterCake Babe specializes in coffee cake in a rainbow of flavors as well as other pastries that taste great with tea and coffee. The Elvis cake tastes just like the King would like it, with layers of banana, chocolate and peanut butter spinning atop a buttery base.    

The farm shed merchants have a great range of fresh produce, milk, eggs, spices and gardening supplies. Like the restaurants, vendors all operate on different schedules. While there are a smaller number of restaurants at the Nashville Farmers' Market than at my hometown North Market, there is a great deal more space in Nashville devoted to local farmers. 

The market is a great way to spend a lunch break or a weekend in Music City. You could graze for days and still never eat the same thing twice.    

Am@Fm on Urbanspoon