Thursday, April 22, 2010

Value Lunch Quest: Chinatown

Posted By on Thu, Apr 22, 2010 at 7:36 AM

Isn't it awful when the nearest, most convenient restaurants to you aren't good, or aren't your type of food? My friend Todd lives literally around the corner from Sylvan Park, but he doesn't like meat-and-three.

That's how I feel about Chinatown (3900 Hillsboro Road). It's great that there's a Chinese place so near our neighborhood. Such a pity the food hasn't been impressive.

Circumstances put me there for lunch last month and I wasn't looking forward to it. Pretty much however good the food was, it was going to be better than I expected, because my last meal there (Valentine's Day 2005 — don't even ask) was subpar.

We heard that a new family bought the place. Their economic calculations must be different from their predecessors' because the prices were so low, we thought we were looking at a lunch-only menu, or a menu from the 1980s.

And you wouldn't believe the volume of food that arrived: soup, eggroll, rice and an entree for $5.50.

At this point in a write-up I'd like to say that the food was great, but it's still very uneven. The eggrolls were stuffed with fresh vegetables and minced meat, but the soup was phoning it in, probably from an institutional package. Of her chicken teriyaki, my daughter reported, "Of all the chicken teriyaki I've ever had, this is barely one of them."

And I should not have ordered ma po tofu because my homemade version is boffo, and Chinatown's includes the loathsome frozen peas and carrot mix. Still, it's searingly spicy and loaded with 8 to 10 ounces of tofu, so it's filling.

Ma po tofu at Chinatown on Hillsboro Road
  • Ma po tofu at Chinatown on Hillsboro Road

If I went back, I'd get the Szechuan pork, which was better than anything else. And it's at that intersection of cheap and tasty that Chinatown is worth visiting.

Wherever you are, there's a so-so place near you. Do you eat there or not?

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wine Wednesday: Bandwidth is cheap — Chateau d'Yquem is not.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 11:11 AM

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I don't know if I've ever told you before, but I love being on Hoyt Hill's Village Wines email list. I'll admit that some folks think Hoyt can be a little brusque, often sitting at his desk in the back of the store reading the paper while shoppers scour the cooler for some sangria wine. Hell, I was that shopper once.

But the first time that I screwed up my courage to ask Hoyt for some advice, darned if he didn't point me to a great affordable bottle of Garnacha that I still go back to whenever I want to mix up a batch of that crimson Spanish devil punch. Of course, he didn't look up from his paper when he answered, but that's ok. It wasn't a tough question.

However, if you ask Hoyt (or in fact any of the employees at Village) specifically what you're looking for and give any price point you will almost invariably receive good advice. Don't be afraid to say you only want to spend $10 on a bottle; they've got great finds at many price strata. Hoyt has also been very helpful at educating me about some of the esoteric, expensive wines that I've only read about and wanted to try.

Me: Do you have a good Amarone for less than 30 bucks?
Hoyt: There isn't one.
Me: Oops, sorry.
Hoyt: But if you want a great Italian that is made in a very similar style for $22, try this one.

That's what I'm talkin' about!

So back to the mailing list...if you do sign up here, prepare to be bombarded daily with multiple offers from Village Wines. But hey, bandwidth is cheap, right? The reason they send out so many offers is so that their email list can be informed of the hot deals that Hoyt has negotiated before the wine ever arrives at the store.

If you want to give them your credit card in advance, they'll bill you and set bottles or cases aside for you to pick up to ensure that they don't sell out. If you don't want to give up your payment info, just tell them what you want and they'll still set some aside for you, subject to availability. And don't forget to pick them up promptly!

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Great Scones at Fiddlecakes Make Bad Jokes

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 9:45 AM

The pastry case at Fiddlecakes (photo by Eric England).
  • The pastry case at Fiddlecakes (photo by Eric England).
What do you call a cake that goes real fast?

Scone.

It's a joke that requires telling in person, see, because when you tell it you make a racecar sound — as in, "That cake was going so fast it's gone now. Vroooooom!" And you slur the words "it's gone" so they sound like "scone." Of course, the joke also really only works when British people tell it, because they pronounce scone with more of a short "o" sound.

OK, so the joke's lame. But the scone at Fiddlecakes, the vegan- and celiac-friendly bakery featured in this current dining review, is out-of-this-world delicious. Zoooooom!

Made from owner Lindsay Beckner's grandmother's recipe (hint: the butter has to be real cold), the pastry straddles the line between sandy and moist, evaporating in a mysterious vapor of sweet butter. Poooooof!

On my visit, the scone was about the size of a kite and laden with brie, figs and apricots. It was supposed to be my dessert, after a panini with ham and blueberry mustard, but I couldn't wait. I took one tiny sneak of a pinch. Then another. Then another. Then....

Scone. 'S gone. Vroooooom!

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Barbecue in the Real World at Rick's

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 11:05 AM

Ricks barbecue sandwich
  • Rick's barbecue sandwich
Ideally, I'm a barbecue purist: dry-rubbed, with a smoke ring and some bark. Preferably made on someone's home smoker or by a competent professional pit master.

But in the real world, I eat all kinds of 'cue. A friend bought me a Rick's barbecue sandwich. Without any real smoke flavoring (and I'd rather have no smoke flavoring than fake smoke flavoring), It's not so much real barbecue as roast pork with slaw, pickle and mayo. No less an authority than frequent Bites commenter ulika called it mediocre. Compared with real barbecue, that's true, though for a roast pork sandwich, it was good.

It's a shame there aren't standard guidelines for the term "barbecue." It worked for "organic" — now maybe it's time to lobby for "barbecue."

Lunch Quest: Cascades American Cafe at the Opryland Hotel

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 9:43 AM

Let's play a little Q & A.

Q: What does it cost to park at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center during the day?
A: $18

Q: $18?! Are you shitting me?
A: No.

Q: But what does it cost if you eat at any of their four main signature restaurants?
A: Nothing.

Q: Do any of them serve a decent lunch?
A: Oh yeah. And how.

If you're like me you may have a major phobia of parking at Gaylord, even if it is free after validation. But after all, who couldn't use a little validation? If that IS the case, you can always park at the far edge of Opry Mills lot and take a two-minute nostalgic stroll over to the resort along the concrete creek that was the old Opryland Grizzly River Rampage. This will drop you off at the Delta section of resort where you can walk through the middle of the hotel to the Cascades. Take your time and remember that thousands of folks save all year to take their vacations right where you're headed for lunch.

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In the middle of the atrium, along the banks of the indoor river and fountains, is the Cascades American Cafe.

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Chef Forrest Parker has put together an inventive menu based around hard-to-get fresh seafood from around the country and creative takes on Southern classics. Start your lunch with a glass of this beautiful Lavender Tea. The lavender adds a floral aroma without making the drink too syrupy sweet. I'm told it's also excellent with the addition of vodka, but it was lunchtime when I tried it, and I was working ...

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Good Seats and Eats at Donut Den

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 7:37 AM

The new window seats at Donut Den
  • The new window seats at Donut Den
You know how, at some restaurants, there's something about the layout that just isn't comfortable or just doesn't work for you in some way? Call it feng shui, maybe, or chaos theory, or just plain functionality of design.

Whatever you call it, that used to be the case with Donut Den's seating arrangement. Sterile, slightly uncomfortable chairs and tables, and the only choices were four-tops and two-tops, and all were in the middle of the room. No cozy corners, and if you were solo, sitting at them advertised that you were alone, or worse, that you were monopolizing a four-top by yourself. It was usually an easier choice to take the doughnut and leave.

And that meant that all those people lounging around the place, creating a sense of community, the kind of buzz that money can’t buy, were leaving.

In the ongoing spruce-up of Donut Den and its neighbors, this problem got a fix when DD added a counter at the window, facing the street, with soda-fountain swiveling stools. It's a good place for singles and pairs to sit with a doughnut and read NashvillePost on your hand-held while you watch cars bottom out pulling onto Hillsboro Road from the strip.

Good restaurant seating isn't an afterthought — if you subscribe to chaos theory, it's as important as the food itself. Does your favorite spot have good feng shui, or does it need a makeover?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Aussie-Themed Spa on Music Row Recruits Chef Tully Wilson

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 6:55 PM

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In this week's issue of The City Paper, I devote part of my weekly Food Biz column to Corroboree, an intriguing new biz on Music Row. (Click to get the whole scoop.)

The name is said to mean “a place for celebration, music, dance, food and celebrating the body, adorning the body with paint and color” in traditional Australian culture. This new joint is a luxurious spa, an event space and a gallery for viewing and buying works by Australian Aborigine artists. Oh, yeah, and there's food, too, crafted by Tully Wilson (the Culinary Institute of America grad behind the restaurant Tully's Bistro in Hartsville, Tenn.).

Who Was That Guy? Recapping Nashville's Minute With Fieri

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 4:41 PM

From left: Carmelo and Maria Savarino, Guy Fieri, Corrado Jr., Corrado Sr. and Francesca Savarino
  • From left: Carmelo and Maria Savarino, Guy Fieri, Corrado Jr., Corrado Sr. and Francesca Savarino
It’s been a week or so since the Guy Fieri furor died down, and we can now give a full accounting of all the restaurants that the chef and his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew are known to have visited. Arnold’s, Athens Family Restaurant, Café Rakka, Martin’s Bar-B-Que and Savarino’s were the first round of local eateries the spike-haired Food Network star and NBC game show host descended upon. Later we heard about two more: the excellent Jamaicaway in the Farmers Market and the venerable Bro’s Cajun Cuisine on Charlotte Pike.

As polarizing a figure as Fieri is among foodies (some chafe at his “regular guy who just likes to stuff his gut” image and theatrical trappings like the aforementioned blond-on-black Sonic the Hedgehog hairstyle), he seemed to have made a good impression around town.

At Savarino’s, he tried to keep up with chef-owner Corrado Savarino’s deadpan sense of humor and generally charmed the whole family, including Corrado Jr., who got an autographed hat and a Guy Fieri wristband. Scene editor Jim Ridley, who chatted with Fieri during that shoot, said the super-chef seemed genuinely interested in Nashville and asked a lot of questions about the Hillsboro Village neighborhood and concentration of restaurants.

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Time to Acknowledge the Folks Who Make You Look Good

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 9:41 AM

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  • http://departments.bloomu.edu

Administrative Professionals Day is April 21. This is not merely a Hallmark holiday; this is your chance to recognize the hard-working men and women who regularly bail our asses out of trouble and make our work life easier on a daily basis. And if you're not lucky enough to have one of these angels (like I don't), maybe it's time to print this post out and shuffle it in with the boss' mail.

If you're looking for a unique setting to celebrate this day, consider the Administrative Professionals Day Luncheon at Scarritt-Bennett Center. I told you about this little gem a couple of months ago, but they're opening the doors to everyone on Wednesday as a treat for the folks who actually oil the engines of commerce.

Menu:
Spinach Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Eggs, Red Onions & a Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Boursin & Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast with Mushroom Sauce
Sundried Tomato Polenta with Basil Drizzle
Broccoli & Cauliflower Mornay
Key Lime Raspberry Trifle
S’more Trifle
Regular and Decaffeinated Coffees
Iced Tea

Chef Jennifer Wood has put together a special menu which you can enjoy in the impressive gothic Susie Gray Dining Hall at Scarritt-Bennett.

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Earth Day Blooms with CSAs

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 8:12 AM

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At the pretty wonderful Earth Day celebration in Centennial Park, I picked up community-supported agriculture forms from a couple of farms, because now is the time to sign up for the weekly batches of locally grown produce a CSA provides.

I like all the different ways that CSAs distinguish themselves. Eco-Gardens (ecogardens@bellsouth.net) has Hendersonville pickups as well as Crieve Hall and Belmont and discusses its farming methods in a lot of detail in its weekly newsletters. The late, lamented Sylvanus Farms included recipes for some of the less familiar foods, and for using the sometimes-astounding amounts of seasonal produce. Real Food Farms (realfoodfarms.com) supplies local restaurants as well as individuals and offers seven pickup locations.

Speaking of which, Delvin Farms, the CSA powerhouse, has added a pickup point at the West Nashville Farmers' Market. And while we're on the topic, the West Nashville market begins its regular Saturday operations in May, as does the Wednesday farmers' market in East Nashville at the Free Will Baptist Church at 10th and Russell. Buying at the markets is a good alternative to a CSA if you just can't commit to all those vegetables each week.

How do you buy produce: supermarket, CSA, roadside stand, farmers' market or home garden, or a combination?

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