Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Week in Reviews, Episode 4: Urban Flats Flatbread & Wine Co.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 5:22 AM

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(This is the fourth is a series of mini reviews published in this week's dining column.)

Urban Flats Flatbread & Wine Co.

Among the cleverest restaurant names around, Urban Flats alludes to the citified lofts in the soaring Icon apartment building, where this newest link in the Florida-based restaurant chain occupies the ground floor, as well as to the menu of brick oven-fired whole wheat flatbreads piled with combinations such as steak with blue cheese and fig with prosciutto. While the creative roster of thin-skinned pies is the menu's mainstay, a diverse list of seasonal appetizers and entrees (don't miss the chicken en papillote with roast vegetables) and a sprawling wine list make Urban Flats more than a cheesy pizza joint. 610 12th Ave. S., 254-0454.

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Meaty and Creamy Soups Take the Sunday

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 5:08 AM

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Thanks to Lee for breaking down the rules of soup as ascertained at the weekend's Soup Sunday. I had never been to the fundraiser for Our Kids, and I second Lee's praise for the festive event, which is a really fun--and filling--family outing on a cold day.

As a soup judge, I tasted about 24 of the recipes--everything from porcini-miso consomme to barbecue chili--that came from 60 generous restaurants.

Lee pretty well summed up what makes a good soup, but, as I learned yesterday, those things aren't necessarily what make a winning soup. Apparently, winning soups--as determined by a panel of Charles Davis, Debbie Arnold, Frank Sutherland, Miss Daisy King, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Chris Sanders, Rudy Kalis and me--are made of cream, cheese and meat.

The award for most creative soup went to the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the American Culinary Federation for Swamp Hog, Mud Bug & Gub-Mint Cheese soup, a rich, cheesy medley of what I can only assume were crawfish and maybe chicken or alligator--which tastes just like chicken. SHMBGM soup was one of those recipes bordering on dip, like a bayou-born cousin of Rotel.

The award for best soup overall went to Aquarium restaurant's Loaded Seafood Chowder, a creamy, spud-studded catchall of mussels, crab, shrimp and other ocean dwellers, which, I like to think, did not actually come from the 200,000-gallon underwater ecosystem at the family-friendly Opry Mills eatery.

The People's Choice award, determined by a secret ballot of attendees, went to Monell's for a strawberry-cream soup, which I did not get to try, but which was a beautiful red color like a melted sorbet.

I would like to extend my own honorable mention to Primm Springs Foods' organic lentil-apricot soup, whose brothy texture, punctuated by finely minced vegetables, stood out among so many over-stuffed concoctions. I found myself returning to this subtle, soothing soup after every few creamy-meaty samples, as if to gird myself against the lacto-carno flood of flavor.

Congratulations to all the winners and to the Our Kids folks for organizing a remarkable party. Despite the soup hangover and the temporary spike in sodium and cholesterol levels, Soup Sunday is an all-around feel-good event.

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Recession Rant: Save the Cheese

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 5:01 AM

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Last Friday, I spent a little bit of time at the Whole Foods cheese counter. This is usually a place that makes me giddy and over-stimulated--if a little anxious about over-spending--but this time I found myself feeling slightly melancholy (an unheard of occurrence when I'm clutching a chunk of cave-aged gruyère in my mitt).

There are so many sad things about this recession, and that little corner of heaven filled with all those artisan cheeses made me think of the folks out there who devote themselves to cultivating simple, beautiful, socially responsible foods. Yes, there is plenty of middling stuff lurking out there, but there are also beautiful examples of hand-crafted products made with love, in tiny batches, by dedicated people. These are farms, families and small businesses that love their animals and their land and remain dedicated to tradition and innovation. Plus, their shit tastes good.

It makes me sad that many people (myself included) will recoil from the idea of splurging on a chunk of wonderful cheese and settle for something slightly less delicious and nuanced, but significantly more affordable. It feels like a responsible thing to do.

These days everyone is talking about value--how to get the most for the least amount of money--but maybe it is also about buying smaller amounts of quality stuff, food that makes you smile, that makes your life feel richer. (Disclaimer: I am not feeding a family, which makes my choices different.) And either way, its still less expensive than eating out.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Hail to the King: Whole Foods King Cake Demands Fealty from Sugar Junkies

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 6:11 PM

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Want to ensure that absolutely nothing gets done in your workplace on Fat Tuesday? Drop a time-release sugar bomb on your office in the form of a Whole Foods King Cake.



One of these mysteriously turned up last Thursday in the Scene's breakroom. After tunneling through a crust of Day-Glo gold and purple sugar crystals, followed by successive layers of icing, croissant-like pastry and cream-cheese filling, our glassy-eyed staff would have dozed through the sacking of Troy.



The king cake is a Mardi Gras staple, a treat also associated with the coming of the three biblical kings and the celebration of Epiphany. The cakes often contain a plastic baby hidden in the dough.



The lucky duck who receives the piece with the baby gets to provide the next king cake. He also gets a one-way ticket to Root Canal City if he chomps down unsuspectingly on the hard plastic trinket--one reason the babies are often left outside the cake, as with Whole Foods' version.



Though the box says the Whole Foods King Cake originates at a bakery in Roswell, Georgia, we were all surprised by how fresh and moist it tasted. The snowdrifts of fluorescent sugar produced instant guilt pangs in all who partook. But the bread-like cake was pleasingly chewy, and the cream-cheese filling was just enough to provide a cool, toothsome center without turning mushy or messy. It reminded me of an unusually good coffee cake.



So for $14.99, you can slow work to a crawl, decelerate your office's metabolism to sloth-like inertia, and subvert your daily routine with idle behavior and laissez-faire indolence. It'll be just like New Orleans!



Be sure to post if you find other king cakes and Mardi Gras specials hidden throughout our own Big Easy on the Cumberland.

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New Hill Center--and New Publix--for West Nashville

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 12:49 PM

Moving off the drawing board and onto the ground, the old H.G. Hill site at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and Annex Avenue will be transformed into another Hill Center anchored by a Publix supermarket, according to a story on NashvillePost.com (story available to subscribers).

It's not the pedestrian village that Hill Center at Green Hills is--more like an expanded version of what's already there, with an entrance shared with the Costco. But check out the site plan. You'll notice there's a possible spot for a restaurant or retail in the "mixed-use" building. Neighbors, what would you like to see move in?

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Don't Tell Anyone: I Went to Mall-Wart

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 10:58 AM

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I'm corning beef myself for St. Patrick's day -- it's epic and I want you to try it  -- and I had to buy two whole uncut briskets and also about 60 chicken wings for a party and soft drinks and stuff. So I went to MallWart. Y'all shut up.

OMG it's cheap. That's not exactly news, but there were items that were even more deeply discounted than the standard 30 percent usually associated with the store. There are many reasons I don't usually shop Wal-Mart except for party supplies. But this box of cereal? When is the last time a big box of cereal cost less than $3?


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Sea of Soup: I Try Over 50 Soups and Live to Tell the Tale at Our Kids Soup Sunday

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 9:42 AM

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Soup is a funny thing. As witnessed by me--and my weary taste buds--in dramatic 50-soups-in-two-hours fashion, the definition is broad and the execution varied. (One way to disengage from the whole issue is to adopt my man's perspective: "Soup is bullshit.") I happen to really love soup, when it's done well, and yesterday's Our Kids Soup Sunday festivities had some standouts, some admirable risk-takers and some colossal failures.

Unlike certain high falutin' food critics who shall remain nameless, my friends and I were down with the common folk. We didn't get to sip mostly pre-vetted masterpieces--we tried them all. (Well, until the end when I passed on a couple; you can only try so many versions of tortilla soup.)

In the end, I came up with a couple rules of thumb for successful soup making. Here we go:

Continue reading »

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ChaChah Hosts Monday Chef's Table

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 6:30 AM

A centerpiece of ChaChah, Arnold Myint's new Spanish-flavored tapas bar on Belmont, is the long tall table at the core of the fabulously renovated house. Starting March 2, Arnold will put it to use on Monday evenings when he hosts a chef's table for the culinary adventurous. With items not always found on the menu, a ChaChah chef's table might include six courses with small plates such as spicy gambas toast with quail egg; bacalao-and-chickpea brandade; squid ink fideos; pig ear salad with mango, dill and chili; bison marrow with cardamom braised shank; and Moroccan spiced lamb and yucca pie.

"If this goes over, I'd love to add sucking pig, sardines, tripe and razor clams," Arnold says. "I may have been Spanish in a past life."

Call 298-1430 for reservations or email info (at) chachahnashville (dot) com for menu and prices, which will range between $35 and $65, depending on the tasting. Menus will be available on ChaChah's website a week in advance.

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Mint Condition

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 5:44 AM

As a former Girl Scout who holds a badge for cookie sales above and beyond the call of duty, I'm going to come right out and ask: Does anyone else think the cookies taste different this year?

I know the packaging and size of cookies have changed so we're getting less cookie for our money, and frankly, I applaud the Little Brownie Bakers' nimbleness in these hard times--so long as cookies sizes go back up if transportation costs ever go back down, that is. But have the recipes changed, or do the altered sizes just make things seem different?

I've been trying doggedly to figure it out. It's the kind of research I'm prepared to do. My first Thin Mint of 2009, by God, tasted different from last year's batch. Then again, I could have just brushed my teeth or something. The next few seemed a little off, too, but by the time I finished the first tube, I was thinking they seemed pretty familiar.

Meanwhile, am I off base here, or are the DoSiDos a whole different animal? They seemed to have lost that intriguing crumbly sawdust finish, which was almost enough to make them a viable fiber supplement. Now they're textured more like ginger snaps. They behave entirely differently when dunked in milk.

On my honor, I am not trying to complain. I love me some Girl Scout cookies. I just want to know if anyone else has noticed a change.

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The Week in Reviews, Episode 3: Zavós

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 5:13 AM

(This is the third in a series of mini reviews published in this weeks' dining column.)

Zavós

After months of driving by the former Niko's bar across the street from the Family Wash, East Nashvillians are rejoicing on their listserv and in the blogosphere about the recent debut of Zavós, a Greek restaurant run by brothers Niko and David Gehrke. With a succinct menu of fresh Mediterranean specialties, many of which land in the $5 to $10 range, Zavós has earned early reviews that recall the same exuberance surrounding Marché. Meanwhile, the cosmopolitan yet laid-back vibe has evoked comparisons to places in New York, Portland or Chicago. Menu highlights include the beefteaki plate (baked, chopped Angus beef with seasonings and Greek-style potatoes, $5); the beefteaki souvlaki (the same beef served in a pita with tzaziki sauce, shallots, tomatoes and a side, $6), the traditional Greek salad ($6) and the Mediterranean platter (tzaziki, eggplant salad, red pepper salsa, hummus, feta cheese and warm pita, $8). If all goes well, the Gehrkes hope to expand beyond the dinner hours to offer breakfast and lunch. For now, kitchen hours are 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The bar stays open later. Beer is currently available with a liquor license on the way. 1115 Porter Road, 258-4637.

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