Monday, August 27, 2012

A Weekend of First Bites: Lockeland Table and Etch

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 7:49 AM

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Last weekend was a gastronomic highlight around my household, as we hit two of the most anticipated restaurants to open in Nashville in quite a while, Lockeland Table and Etch. If I just could have squeezed in a visit to Silo, that would have made the triumvirate complete, but it is definitely on my near term radar.

We had made reservations for Friday night at Lockeland fairly early, and it's a good thing because they were turning a few people away at the door who weren't willing to wait out their lack of reservations. Our party of four was seated quickly, and service was efficient all evening as we tasted our way through Chef Hal Holden-Bache's fabulous menu. I was struck by how many great details had been added to the interior space even though I had visited just a few days before their opening. The large photos of the various incarnations of the previous businesses that had operated out of the location at the corner of Woodland and 16th Street were a lovely nod to the history of the building. The tall shelves that had been added to divide the dining room from the bar area were filled with jarred preserves and pickled vegetables that were both interesting to look at and nodded to the farm-fresh locavore menu that Holden-Bache has committed to.

We started out our dining experience with some inventive cocktails from the bar and a plate of Crab and Corn Fritters served with a smoked vinegar slaw. A Margherita pizza from the blazing wood-fired oven soon followed and was even more quickly consumed. After less than a month of practice, the staff at Lockeland has certainly got their pizza technique down.

As good as those two starters were, they paled next to the North Carolina Chicken Liver Pâté that was served in a small mason jar. Made with Benton's Bacon fat and served with crispy rustic Tuscan bread and some unbelievable smoked peach preserves, it was well worth the inevitable gout flare-up that I knew would result. There was quite a lot of fighting around our table to get an extra dollop of the pâté and the preserves.

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We also shared the house special pizza of the evening, a pie topped with fried pig's ears, collards and chow-chow. I've had pig's ears before and was a little nervous about whether my dining companions would be able to handle their cartilaginous crunchiness, but these had been perfectly fried to make them crispy instead of a battle to chew. It's a challenging pizza and not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it.

Our main courses were excellent as well, with the bone-in pork loin served with delicious smoky/sweet greens and a decadent mac-and-cheese taking top honors. I can't speak to the Maple/Bourbon Glazed Trout because my dining companion inhaled it before I could sneak a forkful. I ordered the Roasted Chicken with Pepper Jam and enjoyed the dish quite a lot. The accompanying pimiento cheese grits and roasted parsnips and Brussels sprouts helped to fill out the plate, which Chef Hal admitted was a little sparse owing to the fact that the free-range farm chickens he purchased turned out to be a little on the scrawny side. Look for bigger birds on the menu soon.

We finished our meal with an order of Sweet Ricotta Doughnuts served in a precious little white paper bag and rolled ourselves out the door into the dark night with the happy yet disconcerting notion that I was going to do this all over again the next day for lunch at Etch.

Etch isn't officially open yet, but we had been invited by Chef Deb Paquette and Doug Hogrefe and Paul Schramkowski of Amerigo to come in for a trial during server and kitchen training. The space isn't 100 percent built out yet, but is already striking. When the final details fall into place between now and their grand opening later this week, Etch should be one of the most dramatic dining destinations in town.

We sat in the middle of the 14-seat chef's bar with a full view of the bustling kitchen. Chef Paquette efficiently directed a corps of kitchen workers which included some familiar faces from other restaurants around the city. She has built quite a talented squad, which is a good thing considering the complexity of the menu.

The pricing and detailed ingredients of the menu items are still being tweaked, so I won't go into too much detail. But rest assured that this will be one of the most creative offerings of lunch and dinner items in town when they print it in ink, and you should be able to get out of Etch without putting too much of pinch on your wallet. Especially when you consider that sandwiches will feature house-cured lamb bacon, grass-fed beef in the burgers, duck confit and French-style Andoullie sausage and a Wagyu Reuben Hot Dog that might just become the top dog of the entire city.

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Creative meal-sized salads will be available at lunch as well, and larger midday entrees run the international gamut from a Japanese Pork Pasta in a rich broth to Moroccan Lamb Sausage over Ginger Grits. I saw an order of the short ribs exiting the kitchen, and I almost followed the server all the way to the table to get a closer look at them. We sampled a shrimp pupusa that may have contained the two very best sauces I've eaten this year, both on the same plate. The smoked tomato made me want to finish the dish with a spoon and the creamy avocado pesto put run-of-the-mill guac to shame.

The staff was still training, but they seemed to be getting up to snuff quickly with their menu knowledge and efficiency, and the kitchen was pumping out plates at a good pace. If they do open this Wednesday as planned (inspectors willing!), the management of Etch has made the intelligent decision to ramp up slowly between now and the week after Labor Day to get their feet underneath them.

The dinner menu will feature more of Paquette's international chops in a longer list of appetizers than at lunch, and main courses that run the gamut from Turkish-Spiced Cobia to a Cauliflower "Steak" served with miso blue cheese gravy. (Are you kidding me?!) Some Nashvillians may be sad that their favorite paella from Deb's days at Zola is not on the menu, but she deserves the freedom to design a new menu from scratch and stretch her culinary horizons. And I'm betting at Etch she will excel at just that.

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