Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Great Food of Nashville, Tennessee

One of the up-and-coming food cities in the USA is Nashville, Tennessee.  When the casual foodie thinks of Tennessee, they think of Jack Daniels and maybe some good barbecue.  And it's true that while walking down Broadway (the main drag and tourist area) that you'll get plenty of both these things, venture a few blocks away and there is great food all around.  Two things I found consistent across the restaurants in the city were 1) Steaks are world-class and 2) Local, fresh ingredients.

Below are a variety of interesting places to eat in Nashville.  I'm still exploring the city so I'll update this post with more later!  I have to apologize to my readers... I had so many thoughts and photos over the past year I had saved through my trips to Nashville restaurants and only a fraction of it all ended up in this review. 

It's easy to walk down Broadway and get sucked into the touristy stuff.  I've yet to find any memorable restaurants but there are a few that you gotta try just to say you did:

Jack's BBQ - Claim to be famous for their BBQ.  It was good, not great.  You will leave full and happy.

Robert's Western World - Like Fried bologna sandwiches?  Come on out.  Food is cheap, weird and like most places in Nashville, there will likely be great live entertainment.  Had a bargain lunch and saw a great one-man act on a Tuesday at noon.  Can't beat it.

Merchants - We took a group of 25 to Merchants and had a really nice dinner.  The downstairs feels like a diner but the upstairs is a fairly upscale, fine-dining establishment.  Probably the best meal I had on the strip.

Off Broadway:
Etch - My favorite restaurant in town.  Can't go wrong with their Filet which is cooked Sous Vide  which I've found renders the most tender, accurately cooked steak possible.  If you are lucky, they will have a good bottle of Chateuneuf du Pape in the cellar and a great night will soon follow.  Excellent service, food quality and ambience.

Sinema - Sinema is a play on words and while there may not be any sins of the flesh being committed here, there most certainly are flavors that make you feel guilty for experiencing.  This establishment was fairly new when my group ventured forth in mid-2014, however, it already had quite a buzz.  The entrance looks just like a movie theater.  The foyer has a bar and the largest movie screen I've ever seen (playing the Wizard of Oz when I was there).  Really cool concept.  But the concept wasn't a gimmick.  The food and service were top notch and exactly what I would expect from a restaurant trying to compete with Nashville's high-end food scene.  Great place for a date!

Pinewood Social - As you walk up to this place, you'll swear you are in the wrong area. Weird, long buildings and fences have you scratching your head until you see the valet.  Walk inside and behold.  This place is the dreamchild of someone in my own brain.  It's got a great bar area, diverse, super-cool seating options, a bowling alley, karaoke, bocci ball and apparently a soon-to-open pool.  Solid people watching during my dinner and the lobster roll at lunch was perfect.  I'll be back!

The Southern Steak and Oyster - It's really loud in here.  The food is also outstanding.  Not once, but twice I had steaks that would rival any others I've had in my life at The Southern.  Oysters are fresh.  Not a great first date place because of the noisy atmosphere but highly recommended.

The Farm House - Fresh, local ingredients.  Good drinks.  Come here when the wait at Etch is too long.  Rugged ambience but still somehow stylish enough to bring a date.  Recommend the pork belly.

Husk - A sort-of "house" restaurant, meaning, I felt like I was in someone's southern mansion eating.  Unfortunately, it was 8 degrees outside and my table was by the window.  So most of my meal was focused on staying warm.  The menu was very interesting but I left disappointed.  I'm sure some readers will violently disagree with me on this place.

The Gulch:
The gulch is a growing, hip part of town with a mix of different restaurants.  Some very hip places and original restaurants exist here and as new high-rises go up, more will follow.

Moto: The restaurant is situated in the heat of a great restaurant part of town.  Loved everything about my meal and they served foie gras.  Add a glass of red and it's hard to go wrong.  Moto is in my top ten in Nashville.

Whiskey Kitchen:  Trendy, attractive crowd.  Nice outdoor patio.  Just had drinks but I've heard the food is good.

Virago - If I have to eat sushi in Nashville, this is where I'd go.  The sushi is decent but the prices are outrageous for someone who has had sushi in LA, Seattle and Japan and paid much less.  Drinks are good and the ambience is sexy.  Bring a date.  I forgot the name of the drink but they had a spicy one that was delicious.

Urban Grub - I had heard quite a lot of good things about Urban Grub before going.  What I remember is that it had a solid menu and had numerous different seating areas. For me, good.  Not great.

Mafiaoza's - Whatever night you go, it will be crowded, in spite of this place being monstrously large inside.  The pizza is awesome and they have a two-for-one drink deal which may catch you by surprise as they bring both drinks at the same time!  The covered outdoor area patio is pretty nice if the weather is nice.
Patterson House

Pinewood Social

Best Bar in town:
Patterson House - I'm not going to review bars often but Patterson House has won my heart as my favorite all-time bar.  The ambience is that of a speakeasy.  As my friend describes it, it smells of oranges and leather books.  The interior is smallish but it's not a problem because this bar doesn't pack people inside.  The bartenders are true mixologists and each drink is made with the attention to detail you won't get anywhere else in town.  Ask them how they make their ice balls for their drinks and that alone will give you an idea of how seriously they take their art.  Order yourself a beautifully crafted cocktail and some tater tots and enjoy life for a little while.

Don't miss:
Jeni's Ice Cream - Jeni's changed my life.  I completely fell out of love with ice cream when the Asian yogurt phase hit years ago.  Jeni's has flipped me completely back to the wonders of frozen cream dessert.  I really can't do Jeni's justice in words.  Go.  Sample.  Sample more.  Then enjoy the best ice cream you've had in your life. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Alpine - German Dining in Naples, Florida

I took a short trip to Naples for some fishing and my father likes German food.  I noticed a highly rated German place close to the hotel and we gave it a shot.  This was strip-mall dining at its finest.  I don't eat too much German food in the DC area but Alpine was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

We first ordered beer.  Their highlighted beer is what they say is the world's first pilsner beer - Urquell from the Czech Republic.  We then went for the stereotypical German foods.    My father went for J├Ąger Schnitzel and sauerkraut.  I ordered a potato pancake with chicken and veggies once I was certain my dad was ordering the Schnitzel as I wanted to try it.  Both mains were delicious and I enjoyed it even more because I don't get to taste the different flavors and textures of German food back home.  I would have liked a sampler menu so I could try some additional items on the menu but next time!

For dessert, we both got cappucino's and some strudel. Make sure to get a cappucino while you are there.  My father declared it was one of the best he had ever had.  The service was overall very good.  The older male waiter certainly had some character.  Ambience?   You did read the part about it being in a strip mall, right?  At least parking was super easy!

For German trip mall dining outside of a major city, Alpine exceeded my expectations.

Rating - 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rogue 24

Rogue 24

I turned the corner from my car and headed down a dark alley.... Moving cautiously past buildings that appeared condemned and falling apart.  Walking up to Rogue 24 feels  lot like how Harry Potter must have felt walking through Diagon Alley only to find miracles along the way.  Until I found the front entrance to the restaurant, I felt as if Google maps may have fatally let me down.  But there was the entrance.  The first of many practical jokes the creators of Rogue 24 play on their patrons and a lesson that looks can be deceiving.

The restaurant interior is as impressive as any in DC. The looming brick walls remind you that while you are in a five star restaurant, you have not truly left the adjacent rundown DC alleyway. The restaurant immediately relieves your anxiety from the walk there and exudes class and creates anticipation. The kitchen is the centerpiece and the ringleader of the show is chef R.J. Cooper, a former James Beard award winner.  I've always loved the idea of the kitchen and the head chef being a show and crossing over into entertainment for those few who appreciate the beautiful harmonies that an efficient kitchen-and-wait-staff-orchestra produce. 

Every great meal starts with drinks and I am always surprised at how often great restaurants are able to introduce me to an amazing cocktail or glass of wine.  In this case, at the waiter's recommendation, we ordered the Rogue 24 version of a vodka tonic.  It was one of the best drinks I had ever tasted in my life which means something primarily because I don't like vodka tonics. Already Rogue 24 had won me over, taking something I would never order ordinarily and opening my mind to it.

What made this drink unique is the process in which it's unique flavor is achieved.  The resident mad-scientist-mixologist actually mixes dirt with water and then distills the water to create an "earthy" water mixture.  It came garnished with rosemary and the drink itself had a brownish color to it.  Not the most appetizing color for a cocktail but as R24 enjoys teaching us, looks can be deceiving.    This drink is supposed to resemble a garden with the earth, water  and vegetation.  A bartender just being creative for creativity's sake or....genius? In this case, genius.

The drink on the right was the one made with "dirt"

Rogue 24 got its name because of the option of an actual 24 course dining experience.  I opted for the 10 course meal which in reality is 13 courses if you include the amuse bouche and dessert candies at the end of the meal.  There were no mains. Each course was one to three bites, each with unique appearance taste and texture.  No course was like anything you might find at another DC restaurant.  Each bite is something to savor and then discuss with your dining partner.  A true foodie adventure.

This first course was a trio of tastes.  The shot glasses had a mild broth inside.  The crackers had a bit of caviar on them and the cookies had some sort of mousse inside.  I believe it was meat based.

The thing that first jumps out at you as this is delivered is that you are eating off a slice of log.  Awesome :)
They were very cool about me taking photos but did ask that I not use a flash so I apologize that my iphone didn't do some of these dishes justice.  For example, this dish is primarily bacon.  You probably can't see it, right?  Wrong.  The bacon is the white stuff.  The server explained that they have a white chemical cooking material that somehow can be used to absorb any flavors you mix with it.  So this was white bacon fat in disguise as sawdust.
No memory of what this was, unfortunately.

This is a dish focused on peas, paired with a flavored foam and veal fiber strands.

This is a fish from Japan called Ayu.  It was fantastic.  At the top left was a crunchy piece of Ayu that I believe was skin and bones.  Surprisingly good, as well.

The protein here was rabbit coupled with carrots.  They said "soil" was also mixed into the flavor somehow.

Beets and apples.  Standard stuff?  Not when mixed with "moss powder"

A yummy duck dumpling in a broth paired with an egg yolk.

This dish won the award for beauty.  Everything you see there is a mushroom of some sort.

I think this was compressed lamb.

Dessert #1 was a tapioca based dessert with cubed cucumber.  I'm a huge cucumber fan, especially in drinks or any creative way of serving it. This dish was super refreshing and I would have enjoyed an enormous bowl of it.  I wish more restaurants would serve desserts as amazing and creative as this instead of the cliche' lava cakes and creme brulee's.

Strawberries in multiple forms with balsamic
Dessert #2 didn't do it for me aesthetically but was delicious.  It was a nice medley of berry and chocolate flavors.  I didn't let the fact that it looked like it fell on the floor and was put back on my plate stop my from eat every last dark-brown crumb off my plate.

Dessert #3 were some homemade candies that were delivered in a classy wooden box.  I appreciated the dramatic presentation and in hindsight, it made every piece of candy taste just that much better.  It was hard to pick a favorite because they were all so good.  I found it hard to believe that they made these candies in-house.  Their dessert chef is incredible.

Service was on par with the top restaurants I have been to.  The dining experience was a total team effort with numerous waiters delivering dishes to our table and offering full details about each course.  Even the R.J. Cooper himself came to our table to ask how our meal was and snuck us a few extra of the candies we raved to him about.

Rogue 24 is not for everyone.  At the risk of sounding a little douchey, not everyone has evolved to appreciate the fine art of cooking.  There are those that deny that cooking and serving are even an art at all! As such, I know many people that I would strongly advise to skip this establishment.  However, if you are someone who read this review and found yourself salivating and perhaps a little excited, you are the ones who will love Rogue 24.

Rating - 5 stars out of 5 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Proof - DC

Proof turned out to be a very solid second-tier restaurant in DC.  The food was all good or slightly better than good although nothing blew us away.  The ambience was dark and romantic and the service was 4 star, not 5.  In all, it is a place that you can say nothing bad about but you will also not be raving to your friends about it the next day either.  Proof is a spot that if I was a local, I'd probably frequent semi-regularly but with so many good places to eat in DC, it isn't a "destination".  Restaurants such as these tend to fade away which will be a shame as it is a solid dining experience.

Prices were reasonable for the quality of food.  Appetizers were in the double-digits and mains averaged around 30 dollars.  You will probably spend 60-80 dollars for your dinner and a glass of wine.

Service was good but not at the level of the top tier restaurants in DC.  Which is probably 'ok' for Proof because that's likely where they are aiming.

Rating - 4 Stars out of 5.

Their version of cauliflower was excellent.  Perhaps my favorite thing we tried.

Hudson Valley Fois Gras
Flatiron Steak over potatoes

Sauteed potato gnocchi with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

Scallops over greens

Warm Chocolate Hazelnut cake with gelato on top

This was delicious

Friday, July 5, 2013

Rogue 24 - Coming Soon

TravelZoo had an offer for a 10 course tasting meal at Rogue 24 so I picked one up.  I've heard some good things about Rogue 24 and I'm always down for an opportunity to experience a James Beard award winning chef.  Especially one that is known for creativity.  Off to book the rez!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Proof is in the pudding

Well, after a little discussion with my foodie friend, we opted to get a table at Proof for Memorial Day weekend instead of Volt Range.  So stay tuned!

And if they don't serve pudding, I will be disappointed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fiola, DC

Chef Fabio Trabocchi was one of the first chef's names I ever learned.  I stayed one night at the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner years ago and stumbled on a dinner reservation at their restaurant called "Maestro".  It was not until after the evening was over that I realized I had eaten at one of the best restaurants in DC (I believe it was ranked #2 at the time).  Needless to say that this was the first Michelin-level dining experience of my life and it absolutely changed me forever.  Sadly, Trabocchi left DC before I ever had a chance to go back to Maestro but..... he's back!

Trabocchi had retreated to NYC for years before returning to DC to open... Fiola!  And in a short time, Fiola is already rated #4 in Washingtonian Magazine.  I was super excited to head there for drinks and dinner and with a fun group of people to enjoy it with.

The bar scene is very DC yuppy with lobbyists hanging around decompressing after a day on Capital Hill.  However, the bar itself is fairly large and the service is great. It's so nice to not have to fight through a wall of drunks to get a drink at Happy Hour. After drinks, we were finally seated.  An adjustment to the size of our party meant we had to wait 30 minutes longer but the hostess team was very kind.  The ambience of the dining room is classy but not overly pretentious.  We are seeing the food in newer restaurants in DC be more of the focus than the ambience.  I never like leaving a restaurant feeling like they spent more money on the decor than they did on the ingredients and service. An example of this is while the food at Sax isn't "bad", I feel the food is well below the ambience and decor.

Our waiter was pretty much what you would expect when you are paying the prices they charge at Fiola.  He assisted with our selections with some recommendations and did not miss a beat the entire meal.  Nothing but positive things to say about the service.  We had a group of 5 so we opted to go family style with our orders so we could try more dishes.  My favorite way of eating!

Here is a run-down of what we ordered:


Heaven = Fois Gras
Tuna Carpaccio - I apologize for the lack of a photo but the picture turned out terrible and already had a bite taken out of it.  This dish is remarkably colorful and not for people who judge food by appearance because there are a million things going on.  However, it had many subtle flavors that did not take away from the taste of the raw fish.  The dish was VERY busy.

Hudson Valley Fois Gras - A couple of people in our group had never had Fois Gras before so I had to do a little convincing that we would need two servings of this to avoid a riot.  It's such a satisfying feeling to make such a recommendation and then see everyone's face light up when they try something new. My friend next to me literally moaned and said "Oh god" after tasting the first bite of Fois Gras in her life.  If you visit Fiola without getting the Fois Gras, it would be a crime.  At Fiola, it's a piece of perfectly cooked deliciousness. 

The Bucatini with really tasty prawns

Bucatini - I have very little memory of this dish except that one of the people in our group was expecting actual sea urchin, not just sea urchin flavor.  I do remember the prawns were well cooked and the fresh pasta was perfectly cooked.  It's just so hard to eat Italian food at normal restaurants after having it at places like this...

Lobster Ravioli - This is one of my favorite dishes, in general, so it's tough to impress me, however Fiola's lobster ravioli was exactly what I would expect from a 38 dollar dish.  Big chunks of lobster, homemade fresh pasta and a great flavor.
An excellent Lobster Ravioli

The tortellinis

Tortellini -  I don't really recall what was inside the tortellini as the menu appears to have changed since I went but wow, the pasta is so fresh.

Such a big difference between really good, fresh pasta and what a local Italian chain eatery serves.  Not that I eat at local Italian chain eateries any more :)  Ok, that sounds pretentious but the best way to get me to dip out of a Friday night outing is to tell me that we are going to Olive Garden.

It's hard to say "cockles" without chuckling

Branzino - A perfectly cooked piece of fish alongside some freshwater "cockles" which are like a small clam.  The chef used a liberal amount of foam in this dish.  Flavored foams are pretty cool for me but I can see how some people are a little grossed out by it.  The first time I had foam was actually at Maestro so it was interesting to see that while the rest of the culinary world has moved away from foams, Trabocchi still enjoys cooking with them.

For dessert, we enjoyed a mix of a delicious marscapone custard underneath a scoop of rhubarb lemoncello shaved ice which Italian restaurants call "granita". 

The meal was overall worthy of its #4 ranking in the DC area and I hope to return.  Let's just hope Fois Gras is still legal to be served before my next visit!

Rating - 5 out of 5 stars.  Great for a date or for foodies.  Although the food is a reasonable value compared to the top restaurants in DC hosted by a James Beard award-winning chef in the kitchen, it will set you back a pretty penny.