Heading eastward via I-40 over the holidays? Or back westward after them? Resigned to eating at Cracker Barrel or Wendy's along the way?
If you're near the Harriman exit, take it and drive past the chains just a couple of miles for a pretty good Mexican meal.
Two miles or so off the Harriman exit on Highway 27 is El Cantarito 2, a cute Mexican place in an old house. The place is heaving on weekend nights, and maybe it's because nothing else in Harriman is open (but the downtown is very cute).
But the crowd might also be there for the food, because it's good. They make their own chiles rellenos, or did when we were there, and hand-slivered the beef for carne asada. Onions were cooked to the sweet, chewy stage called "tobacco onions," which is slow and labor intensive. Fresh spinach was used in the spinach quesadilla and the sauce for it was a real cream-based sauce.
I don't want to overhype the place -- some of our food was standard-issue splat-Mex. So don't drive two hours just for the food, but if you're in the neighborhood and it's dinner time, El Cantarito is worth knowing about.
Pastry chef Scott Witherow is putting the final touches on Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co. in East Nashville's Riverside Village. The newest neighbor of Mitchell Delicatessen, Sip Cafe and Watanabe, Olive & Sinclair creates artisan chocolates, starting with the beans. Riverside Village neighbors say they can already smell the aroma of cocoa billowing out from storefront, where Witherow and right-hand man David Sellers are testing out their new equipment.
A graduate of Cordon Bleu in London and an alumnus of F. Scott's, Witherow takes his chocolate seriously. He imports organic beans from Panama, then roasts, winnows and blends them with sugar and fats to make a foundation for "bars and fun candy items that reinvent good old-fashioned chocolate." In addition to selling chocolates from the store, Witherow hopes to expand into the wholesale business, to supply restaurants and local pastry chefs with his decadent wares. He hopes to have the doors open by Valentine's Day, with a line of creative candies that might include chocolate-covered smoked almonds and cinnamon candies, to name a few creative recipes.
Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co. is located at 1404 McGavock Pike.
Chef Jeremy Barlow's 15 minutes of fame are still ticking. After his recent CNN debut, when he was profiled for his efforts to "green" his restaurant, Tayst, Barlow will appear on the Style Network at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20.
The segment showcases the green wedding of Martha Stewart's executive assistant Liesl Menning, who married Kevin Haynie in September in Franklin. The couple wanted a local and sustainable menu, so they called on Barlow, who last year became the only local member of the Green Restaurant Association.
When I spoke with Allium co-owner Chris Lowry on Tuesday morning, he was still wringing his hands over whether to open yet, worrying that mis-steps resulting from a hasty launch might set the wrong tone. Apparently, Lowry and business partner Jay Luther decided to take the plunge with their long-awaited second venture, because Allium is finally open. A cautious note on the website says, "While we're not quite ready to show you everything yet, we wanted to go ahead and introduce our new space to you."
The East Nashville sister of popular Germantown Cafe, Allium serves a menu of contemporary French-inspired cuisine in the sleek new 5th and Main mixed-use development. Located at 501 Main St. (Phone: 242-3522), Allium serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday, dinner Saturday and brunch Sunday. The restaurant will begin taking reservations after the holidays.
As always, if you get there before we do, please report back on Bites.
What with the holiday cooking load, there's a lot of spatulating going on in my kitchen these days. (Just as an aside, isn't it an odd feeling to spend the afternoon cooking, then find yourself at 5 p.m. without a thing to serve for dinner? You cooked all day, but it's still gonna be frozen pizza for dinner.)
Anyway, during one hectic moment, I asked my husband to hand me a spatula.
He handed me the item on the left in the photo. What I wanted was the item on the right.
We call both items a "spatula," but clearly one of them must surely have a different name. So what do you call the black item on the left? And the white item on the right?
The countdown is on to the opening of 1808 Grille in the new Hutton Hotel on West End Avenue. Chef Charles Phillips, who recently moved from Chicago to start the hotel eatery, is putting the finishing touches on menu and staff in preparation of the Jan. 20 launch.
The 150-seat restaurant, appointed with stone and bamboo floors, a zinc-topped bar and a sculptural centerpiece of reclaimed wood, will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and will supply room service meals for the hotel. Phillips describes the cuisine as "new American," tapping into the flavors that have arrived in America, as well as locally grown and seasonal produce.
The menu starts off with small plates, such as crab-and-chive fritters ($7), house-made chips ($3.50), tamarind-seared scallops ($8), and sherry-glazed onions on grilled flatbread ($7.50).
Entrées include Arctic char with Asian microgreens and spiced peanuts ($20), rack of lamb with roasted eggplant compote ($34), and crispy gnocchi with duck confit ($21).
Sides of locally grown produce are priced at $5 and include white cheddar grits with grit crackers, Brussels sprouts with pancetta, roasted beets, house fries with garlic-parsley butter and 500-degree-roasted oyster mushrooms. All meals come with a condiment caddy that holds chimichurri, romesco and mango chutney.
The dessert course also follows a small-plate format with confections such as banana beignets, tres leches brulée, flourless chocolate wedge and peanut butter mousse with chocolate bark all priced around $5 and plated to encourage sharing.
1808 Grille is located inside the Hutton Hotel at 1808 West End Avenue, with the entrance on 18th Avenue.
Since Patrick Swayze can't always be around to save us from crappy restaurant tables--like in this bootlegged clip of Dirty Dancing, one of the greatest films of our time--I find that I'm increasingly taking matters into my own hands when the host or hostess tries to seat my party in the cheap seats.
Don't get me wrong: I certainly don't expect to be stationed with the beautiful people, just like I don't expect my dinged-up minivan to be valet-parked at the front door with the all the expensive cars that are, you know, compensating for something. But I don't want to spend a couple of expensive hours squinting into blinding sun, shivering under an over-compensating air vent or dodging the crossfire between the servers' station and the kitchen door. So I just ask politely if we could possibly relocate.
Here are my questions for you, Bites readers:
1. When there are tables open, do you ask a server to move you to a more hospitable spot, like from a table to a booth or vice versa?
2. If so, do you find the server is generally obliging or surly about the request? (Servers, chime in here, please.)
3. What do you consider the worst seats in Nashville restaurants--you know the ones, the dreary tables and Siberian dining rooms to be avoided at all costs?
In Carrington's post last week on the Joy of Cooking versus New York Times Cookbook she recalled her parents' arguing over the proper pronunciation of the cheese-and-toast dish called Welsh rarebit.
My position for a long time was that it was "rarebit" because there is already something called "rabbit." But then someone explained to me that cheese sauce on toast is what's for dinner when a Welshman goes rabbit hunting. It's a subtle insult, unless you're Welsh, in which case it's a comment on the national marksmanship (or lack of persistence--I don't know which.)
That got me thinking about other food name insults. There's the Italian beverage called "Caffe Americano," which is perfectly good espresso watered down with hot water for the vulgar tastes of the tourists.
But then I ran out of examples. There are funny names (pope's nose, hamantaschen, nun's nipples, the imam fainted) and aspirational ones (Cuba libre), but insults? Anyone come up with the names of dishes that are insults?
Cool Springs is a long way from Mother Russia, but the sprawling suburb recently welcomed a menu fit for a Romanov. Taste of Russia offers a repertoire of Russian cuisine, as well as traditional items from the Ukraine and Poland. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Sundays, Taste of Russia serves borsch, beef stroganoff, Kiev cutlets and dumplings stuffed with cabbage, potatoes and farmer's cheese. Don't miss the list of flavored vodkas, including cranberry, citron and honey pepper.
Taste of Russia is located at 101 Shingle Way, off Caruthers Parkway (phone: 472-1432). As always, if you get there before we do, please report back on Bites.
Thanks to my father's superstition that you should never give a knife as a gift because it will sever the friendship, I won't be giving any cutlery this season, and I hope I won't be receiving any either. But surely it wouldn't jeopardize the relationship to exchange knife skills.
Chef Jimmy Phillips, owner of Miel restaurant, is offering a cooking class from 5 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, Feb 22. The $125 course will explore basic knife skills, sauces and butchering, as well as roasting, braising, sautéing, grilling and water immersion. At the end of the class, participants will enjoy the fruits of their labor with a guest.
Of course, Phillips won't provide you with a knife either--maybe he has the same superstition my dad had. So bring your own pairing knife and chef's knife. Participants must be 18 or older, and the class is limited to five students. Call 298-3663 for reservations.
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