Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer Guide: A Farmer's Rebuttal

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2009 at 6:18 AM

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Well, apparently not everyone loved the Scene's Summer Guide. Tallahassee May (pictured above), for one, objected to the use of Delvin Farms as a backdrop for beefcake instead of as a centerpiece in and of itself.

May, whose Turnbull Creek Farm partners with Drury Family Farm to create Fresh Harvest Co-op, drafted a response to the Scene's cover story in a May 23 posting on her blog. You can check out her rebuttal and get a gorgeous photo tour of life on a farm during the growing season.

(Tally, you may not know this, but it's thanks to you that Yvonne Smith, a.k.a. the Traveling Vegetarian, graces the Scene's cover this week. That's because I first met Yvonne two years ago when we were both picking up vegetables at Fresh Harvest on a Wednesday afternoon at the corner of Sharondale and Hillsboro.)

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Memories Part Deux: Seoul Garden Keeps Its Doors Open

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2009 at 12:11 PM

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Like the Fox family, I had best laid dining plans that were thwarted by yesterday's holiday. In preparation for my departure, I'm not only trying to eat the stuff that tastes the best, but to visit the places that I instinctively love. One of those places is Siam Café off Nolensville. (My companion and I were trading texts about Hung Ray Curry all afternoon.)

But when we pulled up, we were dismayed to find the place closed and had to have an impromptu strategy session. We decided on another favorite down the street: Seoul Garden. We were relieved when we saw that this strip mall wonder was open for business and surprised to see that the place had been slightly remodeled--with the left section of the dining room divided up into private rooms (great place for your next birthday party perhaps?).

I ordered the vegetable dolsot bi bim bop: veggies and rice served in a scalding hot stone bowl (this one was especially piping--the rice achieved some seriously delicious crunch), topped with a fried egg and hot sauce. It's a filling, healthy meal that manages to surprise me every time with its beautiful simplicity.

The traditional Korean side dishes (banchan) that come free with every meal also didn't disappoint. And we had about eight of them! There was kimchi, marinated tofu, spicy pickles, marinated shredded beef with hard-boiled eggs, fried zucchini (delish), bean sprouts and two varieties of crunchy, spicy pickled vegetables. The place is not a "cheap" meal (my dish was around $11), but in terms of the quantity-quality-variety-dollar ratio, it's hard to beat.

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Alpha Bakery Can Do Everything

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2009 at 7:34 AM

Bellevue. The Burbank of Nashville. But wait -- something changed.

Bellevue was the whitebread commuter suburb as recently as 1998, when food writer Kay West said that very thing in print. But something happened and now Bellevue is a veritable rainbow of ethnicity, with culinary beachheads established here and there.

Take Alpha Bakery, for instance. It's been open since 1998, and has possibly the most interesting history of any bakery in town. Owner T.T. Chen was a Chinese political reporter based in Japan for 20-odd years. He loved to bake, finding refuge from the political storm in the kitchen. He was the last person to interview the Dalai Lama. His articles swayed Chinese political opinion.

So naturally, he moved to Nashville to open a bakery in Bellevue. (Well sure he did! Who doesn't, I ask you?) Bakeries have wafer-thin profit margins, so the fact that his bakery is 10 years old means he's doing something right.

Pineapple poppyseed muffin at Alpha Bakery
  • Pineapple poppyseed muffin at Alpha Bakery

And that would be .... everything. Sunday lunch yielded one delicacy after another. A chocolate croissant at the pinnacle of flakiness, every bite a shower of buttery shards. A pineapple poppyseed muffin whose unexpected flavor profile is the kind of thing you might put together by accident, then grow to love. A chicken salad with a rich chicken flavor from a balanced mixture of light and dark meat. And a still-warm cream cheese claw that oozed warm, sugary cream cheese filling from a soft shell of sweet dough.

From strength to strength, that's been my experience at Alpha. Even after I spent $32 on baked goods, there were still so many things I didn't try, and now I can hardly wait to go back.

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Urban Flats: Thanks for the Memorial Day Memory

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2009 at 6:37 AM

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On occasion, I've been known to join the bandwagon of bashing corporate-owned chain restaurants, but Memorial Day was not one of those times. We spent an hour driving around in a minivan with three generations of Nelson-Foxes looking for a birthday lunch. We passed the holiday-shuttered Jimmy Carl's, Gabby's, Jamaicaway, Swett's, Swagruha, B&C Barbecue, Zumi Sushi, Savarino's and McDougal's. We lobbed fruitless phone calls to Bombay Bistro in Cool Springs and The Best Little Catfish Place in Pegram. But it was Urban Flats that finally took us in, and for that our hungry caravan sang the praises of the Florida-based chain. The flatbread eatery in the ground floor of the Icon welcomed us into its sunny yellow pendant-lit space as if it were just any other day of the week (and, arguably, any other city in the nation, but still, we were hungry and they were serving).

This was our first trip to Urban Flats with kids, and ours were not the only children in the place--that's not even counting the leggy 23-year-olds in Urban Outfitters sundresses as children.

Surprisingly enough, Urban Flats makes a solid overture toward kids, with a coloring menu and crayons and a sturdy array of mac-and-cheese, pepperoni flatbread and PB&J for under $6 with a drink.

The adults returned to the stellar fig-and-prosciutto flatbread with blue cheese, which lived up to our fond memory of the sweet-and-salty medley.

Our new discovery was the Urban Chop salad ($10), which piled Romaine lettuce with lightly cooked shrimp, cubed tomatoes and feta crumbles in a light chili-citrus vinaigrette. A very fresh salad, the Urban Chop paired well with the fig-and-prosciutto and the two dishes made an ample meal for two to share.

So, good news, New Urban Dwellers. You can dine in the neighborhood on Memorial Day, and, if you breed, you can feed your offspring--two points that should be hammered into the marketing materials for all that gleaming Gulch real estate.

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Mamma Mia! Movies in the Park Starts May 27

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2009 at 6:28 AM

Movies in the Park kicks off at sunset Wednesday, May 27 in Centennial Park with an Abba-licious showing of Mamma Mia! The Scene's 14th annual free summer outdoor-cinema series (Wednesdays through June 24) promises to be an al fresco dining event, with food from The Dog, Moose Head Kettle Corn, Mas Taco Por Favor, Ben & Jerry's, Nashville Coffee Co., Corner Pub and Crow's Nest.

Of course, you can always pack your own picnic, or you can let ChaChah do the work for you with pre-ordered baskets, which will be waiting for you when you arrive. In addition to elotes and dips available for purchase at the ChaChah tent, chef Arnold Myint has created a menu of baskets for two, ranging from gazpacho, sandwich, chips and a brownie ($24) to lamb skewers, couscous and abuelita pot de creme ($58). The full list is available on ChaChah's website. To order, email arnold (at) chachah (dot) com or call 298-1430.

A complete calendar of Movies in the Park is after the jump.

Continue reading »

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Cantina Laredo: A Textbook Example of Service

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2009 at 6:13 AM

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A while back, I got an email from a reader who was irate about being asked to vacate her restaurant table after her group had finished their (very expensive) meal but was still enjoying cocktails. The restaurant was crowded and the server explained that her party would have to move. Now.

The subject stirred a lot of conversation among Bites readers, and while there was some sympathy for a server trying to accommodate a lot of people on a busy night, everyone generally agreed he handled the situation ungracefully.

Just how should that situation be handled? Ask the staff at Cantina Laredo, the new Mexican restaurant in the Gulch.

I dined there with a group on Saturday, when the restaurant was packed. We finished our meal, paid the bill and were lingering over our last sips of margarita and picking the cilantro from our teeth, when the manager approached our table. He greeted us very warmly, inquired about our dinner experience, then broke the news to us ever so gently:

"I just want to let you know that in a few minutes I'm going to bring a reservation for 60 into this room. I'll need this table, but I hate disturbing you. Could I ask you to join us at the bar for a free drink?" He reiterated that he hated to inconvenience us in the slightest but that, in the current market, he was in no position to turn down a group of 60.

Deftly handled, sir! Our table was far from insulted. We were already on our way out, there wasn't a chance in hell of us revving up again to take you up on that free drink, but you made us feel valued and even a little helpful.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is a fine example of customer service.

How was the food at Cantina Laredo? Stay tuned. We'll get to that later.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

What Are You Burning--I Mean, Grilling for Memorial Day?

Posted By on Mon, May 25, 2009 at 10:15 AM

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By the time you read this, a beautiful little flatiron steak purchased Saturday from Walnut Hill Farms in the Farmers' Market will have turned out like the fleshly marvel pictured here (swiped from Sizzle on the Grill). Or it will have been incinerated into a blackened shoe sole (through no fault of my own, of course).

I was warned against cooking it on the grill, as it's a thin strip of meat even without "flat" built into its name. The funny thing is, they thought I'd actually heed their advice. So what are you cooking or grilling for Memorial Day? I'll check in throughout the day and see how everyone's doing.

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Out like Trout: My Last Week on Bites

Posted By on Mon, May 25, 2009 at 6:17 AM

As a parting gift, enjoy this collage I made.
  • As a parting gift, enjoy this collage I made.

Friends and eaters, I am very sad to announce that this will be my last week blogging on Bites. I've decided to move back up to the motherland--Philadelphia, to be exact. I've been in Nashville for three-and-a-half years now, and these last few months contributing to this blog have been some of the most fulfilling.

I'll miss all you folks, with your helpful cooking and dining tips. And I'll miss providing the same.

This week I'll be talking a lot about my Nashville favorites, and saying goodbye to a culinary scene that has been very good to me.

So, where should I eat during my last week in Nashville? What things would you miss if you were blowing this popsicle stand? Why do I have so many pictures of myself eating and/or drinking? How long before I'm sick of cheesesteaks? (Never!)

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Remembering Duane Jarvis Memorial Day at The Basement

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2009 at 4:35 PM

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Nobody who met the late Duane Jarvis stood a chance of forgetting him, especially if they'd played with him. Jarvis' death last month of colon cancer at age 51 brought an outpouring of reminiscences on the web--testimonials to his good nature and much sought-after chops, memories of gigs and travels. He left behind a stellar body of music, not just his first-rate solo albums, but also his guitar work and songwriting with Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Peter Case, Frank Black and many others.

Rosie Flores, one of DJ's many friends and admirers, has helped to assemble a Memorial Day show and barbecue to honor the late musician's memory. Running from 6 p.m. to midnight Monday at The Basement, the event will feature video clips, songs and stories, along with free grilled hot dogs donated by Layla at Hot Diggity Dog. Performers include Flores, Phil Lee, Jim Lauderdale, Joy Lynn White, James Intveld, Chris Scruggs, Billy Block, Irene Kelley, Pat Gallagher, Dave Coleman, and likely some unannounced guests.

Dippin' Dandy: I LUV DIPS

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2009 at 10:32 AM

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I love dipping bread in stuff, a lot. I also love dipping chips in stuff. Oftentimes the bites of a meal that put me over the so-full-I-need-to-be-rolled-home-Violet-Beauregard-style edge feature a piece of bread picking up those last couple streaks of sauce. The other night at City House I requested a dish of olive oil for the exclusive purposes of crust dipping (plus, they had awesome, super-fruity stuff there). I have a criminal spinach dip obsession (my aunt makes a bowl of it especially for me at Thanksgiving) and a couple simple dinners I throw together are really just dips with toasted bread--roasted and squashed cherry tomatoes, spicy roasted garlic-eggplant dip and avocado+citrus+whatever herbs I have on-hand. And don't even get me started on the Allison Iraheta of dipping combos: challah in roasted chicken juices.

Now that you have that background, I can tell you about this kooky idea I've been floating for the last couple months: Dip Party. Guests come hungry and everyone brings their favorite dip (extra points for the ones that come in those crock pot things). I provide a cornucopia of dippables--toasty bread, tortilla chips, veggies--and everyone leaves full. We could even have a dip contest complete with anonymous voting, if folks are so disposed. Extra points for unusual combinations.

So, what do people think of my idea? Anyone been to a dip-focused affair? Any local places serving up top-notch specimens? And, of course, what are your favorite dip recipes? I am always looking for new ones to get my fix.

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