Sunday, July 27, 2014

First looks: Thai Esane and Chelsea Bistro brunch

Nashville Restaurants and Food
First looks: Thai Esane and Chelsea Bistro brunch
You can tell that you are well loved when your restaurant, open a little over a month, already has regulars that know you by name. Part of the attraction of the new Nashville restaurant, Thai Esane, is that it is run by Nina Sayasack, who worked at her parent’s place, the legendary King Market in Antioch, for more than six years.  She and her husband, Tim Singto, have taken note of what makes King Market great: spice, deep flavor and authenticity. Bringing that to the area between 12 South and the Gulch just makes sense. Many of those loyal King Market customers, she explains, come from points closer to downtown Nashville and now they are enjoying spicy Thai closer to home.
Panang curry, ordered spicy, is really hot. Like King Market, they don’t dumb down the heat. Lovingly tender pork, crunchy veggies and a flavorful thick coconut curry, put this dish over the top. Sticky rice is super-sticky. Wide Malaysian noodles also sport an adventurous, spicy flavor and perfectly cooked tofu or chicken.  You can get fun, Thai-inspired cocktails, such as a Bangkok mule with lemongrass. The room finally makes sense, after multiple restaurants. We think this one will last.
Another weekend winner is the Sunday brunch at Chelsea Bistro in Whites Creek/Joelton. This place has built a solid following for their excellent French bistro dinner and we think that the brunch is one of the finest north of the city. We had lovely quiches, generous in size and light in texture. The veggie and Lorraine versions are full of flavor and come wrapped-up in a perfectly cooked crust. The chicory (?) greens on the side are stealth: they don’t look dressed, but take a bite and find a bit of salt, mustard and something else to give them a fine flavor. Asparagus hollandaise will not only satisfy, but also inspire a mopping up of every last bit of the excellent, custardy hollandaise. Well-balanced and spicy bloody Mary’s hit the spot. We’ll be back for brunch again soon. It’s a pretty 25-minute drive from downtown Nashville. Just take Briley Parkway to Clarksville Highway and head north, to the top of the hill. They serve from 10am to 2pm on Sundays.
Thai Esane
907 12th Avenue South
Nashville
615-454-5373

Chelsea Bistro
5432 Clarksville Pike
Whites Creek
615-873-1741

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Burger Republic

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Burger Republic
420 11th Avenue South
Nashville
615-915-1943
Lenox Village is at the far southern end of Davidson County and that’s a real trek for us. So, we were pleased to see the opening of the Burger Republic Gulch location on 11th Avenue South. The burger options are creative and often messy. Chili Chili Bang Bang features their laid back Sam Adams chili, crispy onions, Monterey jack cheese and jalapenos, for a mild bite. The crunch from the onions is welcome and the chipotle aioli a nice touch, although perhaps overwhelmed by the chili. It’s an excellent burger and cooked just a bit north of the requested medium rare. The Four Cheese Garlic Bacon has a nice snap from the apple wood smoked bacon and you can really taste that garlic. The burgers are not huge in patty size, but the extravagant toppings will fill you up.
Sides are also creative. Mac and cheese is sticky and with a white cheese sauce. It goes over the top with Benton’s bacon. House made chips are thick and crunchy. I need to sample the PB and J slider with bacon jam at some point.
The shakes are perhaps the most unique offering at Burger Republic. They take them seriously. A Frozen Black Irish spiked shake features Bailey’s and espresso vodka. It must be a million calories…but damn, they are tough to resist. It’s thick and needless to say, rich, arriving in a beautiful tall glass. You’ll look like a dork drinking it, but who cares? After all, it’s spiked. They have several un-spiked versions as well: Salted Caramel, White Chocolate Strawberry and Espresso Chip, to name a few.
If you would rather enjoy a beer with that burger they have 30 beers on tap, a big selection of bottles and several locals. The vibe is fun for lunch or dinner and the patio is one of the best outdoor spots in the gulch.
Each of several burger options can be done with a veggie burger substitute, which is nice to see. There are very limited options for vegetarians for sides, although they do have a salad, tater tots, and a daily veggie side.
All this fun isn’t cheap. I spent $25 with tax and tip on each of my lunch visits.

Burger Republic on Urbanspoon 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
3110 Belmont Blvd.
Nashville
615-200-1181
Did you hear the sobbing last year? That was the sound of Nashville barbecue fans reacting to news that Martin’s was opening up a city location. We have nothing against Nolensville or Mt. Juliet. In fact, the original Nolensville location was a pilgrimage of sorts for barbecue fans. The tears of joy are well warranted because now the smoked goodness is closer to home. Pat Martin trains his staff well and the barbecue pit in Nashville is smoking juicy pork love for the masses. And there are masses. I arrive at 11 a.m. as the first customer on a weekday and by 11:30am the line is 30 people long. The crowd moves quickly and I didn’t see anyone irritated by the popularity. Just be prepared.
The spare ribs are perfectly tender, kinda like pork candy. There’s enough fat and juice to put the flavor over the top. The smoke is well balanced and the spicy paprika rub accentuates the meat, without overwhelming. I get the sauce on the side, but many folks recommend it on the ribs. You get your choice of styles. The vinegar based tomato sauce has a nice bite. In a teacup: these are the best ribs I have had in Nashville (perhaps with the exception of Jimmy Carl’s Lunchbox-RIP) and they compare favorably with the Nolensville version.
Pulled pork has excellent flavor and consistency. It goes great with the big, slightly sweet, hoe-cakes. That makes the famous redneck Taco a favorite with customers…they pile up the cake and pork with slaw and sauce. Other meat favorites include the brisket, smoked bologna, smoked sausage and smoked turkey. You can even get fried chicken and catfish.
Baked beans have a slightly Hungarian flavor to them. Other sides include the usual suspects. There are only two options for vegetarians on the menu and both of those are Kid’s Meals. I can’t imagine a vegetarian could stomach all of this pork and beef loveliness anyway. Did I mention that the light smoke from the indoor smoker is intoxicating?
The Belmont (nearly Lipscomb) location is fairly large and includes outdoor seating. It’s done up in the usual bbq roadhouse fashion, which works when the Jerry Reed is pumping on the stereo. I suspect I will be parting ways with the Veggie Eater on a regular basis to visit Martin’s, now that it is closer. And I promise: no tears, just sticky fingers and a smile.
I paid $20 with tax and tip on each of two lunch visits.

Martin's BBQ Joint on Urbanspoon 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Leo’s Sushi and Nashville Street Tacos

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Leo’s Sushi and Nashville Street Tacos
It's a packed Saturday at the Nashville Farmer’s Market. By noon the parking lots are full and the restaurants in the Market house are hopping. We order a pizza from Bella Nashville (peaches, gouda and balsamic…always a good special) and then sushi from Leo’s sushi, a new fixed location next to Jamaicaway. A super-fresh vegetarian roll features julienned cucumber, diced tomatoes, and avocado. There’s a nice fresh crunch to everything, including the al dente rice. Vegetarian dumplings with minced shitakes are also nicely done. You get a little bowl of miso soup with that. Leo’s is a nice addition to the market.
You’ll find a fixed location for Music City Crepes next door to Leo’s. Just down the way is Legato Gelato, an Edgehill store, which also has a FM location with cups to go. Madagascar bourbon vanilla and salted toffee are our choices. They’re both rich and uber-creamy as one would hope for from gelato. They make it fresh everyday and sell down at the Farmer’s Market about three or four times a week.
Sloco has taken over the location vacated by AM/FM. While we were sad to see Arnold Myint’s attempt at slightly upscale dining leave the market, Sloco provides an excellent sandwich presence. Riff’s was banging it out in the rental kitchen on this day, serving chicken and waffles and smoked salmon Benedict.
It’s nice to see the Farmer’s Market Market House doing well, although we do miss Howell’s (hot sauces) and Tammy’s (beans).
Nashville Street Tacos opened up on Second Avenue downtown a few months back. We’re always wary of Second Avenue and Broadway restaurants, but this one actually has some decent Mexican food. Thick cut and fresh fried chips go well with a complex guacamole offering or the spicy green chili queso. A machacha shredded and stewed beef quesadilla has good flavor and is huge, making this one of the better cheap eats destinations downtown. The website promises handmade tortillas and elotes, but neither was on hand for our visit. Granted, it was the day before CMA, so they may have been in battle mode. We’ll be returning to see if they live up to the promise.
Nashville Street Tacos
129 Second Avenue

Nashville

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two Ten Jack

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Two Ten Jack
1900 Eastland Avenue
Nashville
615-454-2731
The Eastland restaurant row in East Nashville is bustling at night. They’ve even added an extra parking lot to help accommodate the overflow crowds at Eastland Café, Silly Goose, Jeni’s ice cream and the Wild Cow. Two Ten Jack entered this busy area with a unique mission: to create an after work bar with quality Japanese bar food.  The style of the restaurant is called an Izakaya in Japan, but don’t worry about names, you’ll get the concept. The patio and interior has been vibrant and fun on each of our four visits. Talk and laughter are loud and the cocktails are clinking.
A “Death of Meiji” cocktail combines sake and bourbon for a tangy twist. “Black Ships” certainly gets your attention with rye whiskey, mezcal and bitters. The cocktail line-up seems to lean towards the biting rather than the sweet. That’s nice to see in a cocktail joint. You’ll also find a unique mix of Japanese, Nashville and other well-curated beers and whiskeys. And, of course, they have a wide range of sakes.
For whatever reason, it seems like small plates are ruling the day at Nashville restaurants. We have hit a number of the big new fine dining places to find the small plate menu far more interesting than the more traditional entrees. Two Ten Jack takes it up a notch by offering primarily small plates and food for sharing. Jessica Benefield is leading the charge in the kitchen. Ramen and Yakitori lead the food front.  You can find both meaty and veggie options throughout the menu. Tonkotsu features a creamy pork broth with chashu marinated pork slices. The ramen noodles come out piping hot and al dente. Don’t ask to take any Ramen home with you – they won’t do it, for fear of mushy noodles. On a couple of visits we just split the ramen between two people and ordered more apps. Soba noodles with shitake bacon have a pleasant, salty crunch. Shishito peppers are delicately cooked. Japanese fried chicken is a quality version of a chicken tender (I know, sorry Jessica). It was a big hit at the table. Wagyu short ribs were a bit chewy. The fermented pepper spread, yuzu kosho adds more of that bite. You’ll find interesting, traditional touches like that all over the menu.
Veggie Eater: I’m sure quite a few of you remember the “soup Nazi” episode from Seinfeld…there’s sort of a déjà vu feeling of this here…I find the “no take out” for ramen policy patronizing.  If I paid for it, I own it, therefore I may now do with it as I please…I assure you that I understand that noodles will not be nearly as good the next day and that’s the deal I’m willing to take (she also eats day old nachos, which is disgusting-m.e.) Next up, is that although at face value there are quite a few veggie friendly items, when you dig deep, you will find that there are few vegan or ovo lacto options as fish sauce and other ingredients are liberally incorporated into the menu items.  Don’t ask if they can omit these ingredients as you are likely to get a gentle scolding with an explanation about how the chef studied in New Jersey. That being said, I’ve managed to enjoy myself each time I have visited (think we’ve had at least 4 visits) despite the rules and limitations.  The yasai shoyu ramen is a light broth, sprinkled with corn, greens, pickled ginger, and oil-it has been exactly as it should be each of the 4 times I have had it-a perfect contrast of textures and flavors and I assure you, I would gladly eat soggy noodles the next day.   The shishito peppers are one of the few vegan items (other than the ramen) and are an interesting combination of sweet (fig and sticky peanuts, honey soy dipping sauce), along with smoky and hot (compliments of the roasted peppers).  I loved the sprouts, but must confess that they include fish sauce in the miso sauce.  There are several veggie appearing yakitori (grilled/skewered) items available (corn, shitake, eggplant), but I would again caution to ask about stealth items.  Our servers have been very knowledgeable and helpful during each visit and have steered us accordingly.  I’ll happily keep eating the ramen and then grudgingly bitch about not being able to take my leftovers with me.  In response to our discussion about how the restaurant appears somewhat stubborn and unyielding to its customers, Meat Eater brought up a valid point-there’s a true veggie/vegan restaurant literally around the corner….I just wish sometimes I could have my cake and eat it too. 
Meat Eater: Partners Patrick Burke, Jason McConnell and Jon Yeager join Benefield in this welcome addition to East Nashville. Eastwood Neighbors/East End is beginning to rival Five Points in restaurant options. We paid $55 with tax and tip on a visit for the two of us, and about $60 per visit on the other trips with friends. 
Two Ten Jack on Urbanspoon