You ever have one of those days where you just can't bring yourself to drag a pan out of the cupboard but you know you desperately need to eat something? Yesterday was one of those days around the Chamberlain household, a domicile in chaos as the result of our return home Tuesday after six months of remodeling.
Boxes were everywhere. (OK, they still are.) Just finding cooking utensils was more than we could bear. Luckily, I remembered an email I had received from my friend Tom Lazzaro about a new treat he had just gotten in at his excellent shop in Germantown, Lazzaroli's.
Apparently Salumi Artisan Cured Meats in Seattle makes a special Smoked Paprika Salami for a local pizzeria to use as a topping. You may have heard of Salumi's as being the Italian grocery importer and butcher shop owned by Armandino Batali. You know...Mario's papa.
The weeks of festive food and overflowing drink are reaching their peak as the days are growing ever-so-slightly longer. Symbolic foods like rich cookies, steak and Sister Schubert rolls, sumptuous cheese trays, green bean casserole make their yearly appearance. Or was something more unusual on the plates and platters where you are? Did a new food, dish or tradition strike your fancy? Or were you and yours comforted by old favorites?
For Bites readers in the business of restaurants and food sales, have the holidays been what you expected or hoped for? Did the crowds arrive, wallets open and hearts generous?
And did anyone spot bourbon balls this year?
The menu at Athens Family Restaurant on Eighth Avenue just grows and grows -- recently added are lamb chops, sea scallops, crab cake, and zucchini omelet. The takeout menu is now an eight-page treasure chest.
The plaki and pastitsio are always good. But lately, there's been so much more to love. Remember the "Seinfeld" episode (The Betrayal) where George finds Clams Casino on the coffeeshop menu? Athens has added cheese-topped dolmathes (in the upper right corner of the photo), with a suzukakia spiced meatball below it. It was hard to decide between and the lamb mytilini (lower left corner), a sweet-and-savory, Zola-esque stew of lamb chunks, onions, walnuts and raisins, and the day's smoked grouper sandwich.
The smoker has been cranked up for days now, in preparation for a Christmas Day smoked meat fest. Prime rib, smoked ham and smoked turkey, plus all the Southern sides, like green beans, sweet potato casserole, corn pudding and more. Dessert includes homemade pumpkin and pecan pies. The feasting starts at 10 a.m. Christmas Day and all night. Make reservations at 383-2848. $16.99 per person, kids under 7 free.
Wow. Brent Rolen, in our weekly Morsels mailing that's on its way to your inbox (if you're signed up) noted Athens was open, but who knew the spread was so opulent? Other Christmas Day options include Sitar, Shalimar, Sperry's, brunch at the Hermitage Hotel's Capitol Grille, and 1808 Grill.
What other good, preferably local, eating spots are open Christmas?
In Nashville beverage news, we have some new neighbors making splashes. Soon-to-be residents of Marathon Village, Corsair Artisan Spirits just got back from the World Beverage Competition in Geneva, Switzerland and are bringing home some hardware.
Even more surprising was Corsair's platinum medal in Geneva for their experimental Rasputin Whiskey, distilled from a Russian Imperial Stout beer. We can't wait to have these guys as neighbors in Nashville and to try their new products.
My mom used to go ballistic when she couldn't find the kitchen shears. They were just too handy for little people to grab when something needed to be snipped. And they were always conveniently located in the same drawer.
My mother-in-law used to complain that her pie servers always went missing. Her theory is that she would take along the pie server with a pie to potluck and someone would notice how useful it was, or, more charitably, assume it was theirs.
Now the Wood family meat fork has similarly disappeared. Not to be found. Dumped out the utensil drawer -- the fork is MIA. A meat fork is like a pipe wrench -- you don't need one often, but when you do, nothing else will get the job done. The upshot is that the giant, greasy country ham has to be turned with hands.
As if to compensate for missing meat forks, though, the bottle openers have reproduced. There were two, and now there are four, along with two corkscrews.
What kitchen gear comes and goes in your kitchen, and is it worse during the holidays?
Bites' sister site, Nashville Post, reports on a new study by the restaurant consultants at Baum + Whiteman in New York. These restaurant biz pundits say that in the wake of the recession, customers are turning inward, seeking comfort, friendship, a local connection and authenticity in their food.
Touching on one of my hot-button topics, the study says print food journalists are losing the attention of diners, and food bloggers are becoming more important as tastemakers. (Being both a print journalist and a blogger, I feel weirdly conflicted on this issue.) But the interesting result of this trend, the authors say, is that local opinions are becoming more trusted, helping to level the playing field between chain restaurants and independents -- at least in marketing.
The report also says fried chicken will be a massive food obsession in 2010. That's gotta be good for Nashville, right? Well, the loudest crowing is about Korean fried chicken, which as far as I know, we don't have yet. (Atlanta does -- what a bunch of trend-sucking chicken cluckers.) Check out the report and all its dramatic conclusions (forget surf and turf -- how about tongue and turf!) at the Nashville Post.
One of the really good meals of the past year was an all-Bites excursion to City Cafe on Lebanon Road. Good gumbo, spicy corncakes, crisp fried fish with homemade tartar sauce -- the food and logistics hit high notes all the way down the cafeteria line.
Which explains the line out the door most days. Waiting in the line gives you plenty of time to examine City Cafe's logo on the front window. I never figured out what the devil it's supposed to be. Not that it matters, but it's kept me scratching my head for six months.
What do you think this logo represents? Tastebuds supressing golf clubs? A cheese biscuit conquering a family sedan? Let's hear the theories.
A recent visit to Cha Chah on Belmont revealed a slight course correction on their small plate offerings. In place of several of the various dips that used to populate the menu is a new Charcuterie and Queso Board. As much as I'll miss that white bean and fennel dip, I was impressed with the new additions.
The Cha Chah team of Arnold Myint, Sebastian Silbereis and their secret weapon in all things porcine, Larry Carlisle, the Sausage Guy, have created a mix-and-match platter of house-cured meats and dynamite cheeses for $3 per portion.
Never fear, fellow procrastinators! Even if you missed out on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it's not too late to still give a thoughtful gift to your loved ones. Plus you might still even get a discount or a kickback for yourself.
That's right, Bitesters. We're talking gift cards. A gift certificate to a restaurant can be a great way to share your culinary finds to friends and families or to offer them an opportunity to visit a place they wouldn't or couldn't afford to go to on their own.
Several local favorites are offering deals for your late December shopping pleasure.
If you had asked me 17 years ago what Bellevue restaurants would still be in business, I would have included Porta Via for its friendly owners and meticulously made food.
Don't call them "just sandwiches" -- the layers were crafted from ingredients obviously carefully selected for pairing, calibrated for flavor profile, and hand-chopped for proper distribution. Olives were minced, sun-dried tomatoes cut into slivers, basil was cut julienne.
Porta Via has been revived by Mehrdad Alviri, brother-in-law of founder Stefano Hugh, and moved to White Bridge Road. The finishes have been upgraded to granite, there's table service, and critically, wine.
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