Thursday, October 23, 2014

What's Really Happening With Dino's: We Talk to Miranda Whitcomb Pontes

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 6:26 PM

The Internets have been ablaze with rumors about what will happen to legendary East Nashville dive bar Dino's since word got out that restaurateur Miranda Whitcomb Pontes (Josephine, Burger Up and soon-to-be opened Prima) would be taking over the lease. This morning, Pontes and her business partner, longtime associate Alex Wendkos, signed a purchase agreement with current business owner, Rick Wildeboor.

Pontes and Wendkos will take over the spot on Nov. 25. The venture has been months in the works; Wendkos left her management stint at Josephine's earlier this year to focus on finding her own place. She stumbled across the Dino's listing on a real estate site several months ago and immediately notified Pontes. Though they had a couple of competitors fighting for the lease, Pontes and Wendkos were victorious.

"We want people to know how much we love and respect Rick," Pontes says, pointing out that the whole process started with a handshake deal with Wildeboor, one that was fully realized when the papers were signed this morning.

"We wanted to make sure he's taken care of," Wendkos adds.

The duo is quick to say that Dino's will remain a dive bar. Yesterday local musician/promoter Carter Hays, who books shows at Dino’s, asked Pontes via Instagram, “How much are you changing about Dino’s?” Pontes responded, “Keeping it as is. Love Dino’s. Respect you and the neighborhood."

However, there will be changes to the smoking policy, and a lot of additions to the bill of fare.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thai Esane: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 1:15 PM

Papaya Salad
In this week's Dining column in the Scene, Nicki Pendleton Wood reviews Thai Esane, the new Thai-Lao restaurant in the former At the Table/12 South Bistro location at 907 12th Ave. S. near Edgehill.

She's wonderfully impressed:

Esane serves foods from Thailand, Laos, China, Japan and Malaysia, using complex and labor-intensive recipes executed adroitly and with confidence. From wonton soup to Malay noodles to spring rolls, everything that comes out of the kitchen proudly wears its own distinct, cobbled-together personality.

Wood notes that the name of the restaurant, Thai Esane, refers to Lao-speaking people in northeastern Thailand, and the food reflects that. "It's roughly equal parts Thai and Lao, with flavors and textures honed to suit the tastes of the Sayasack family over the years they've cooked and served at the very popular King Market in Antioch."

She mentions that the comfortable interior features warm woods and soft lighting, along with a bar where you can enjoy a beer or a Bangkok Mule cocktail and chat with the friendly staff.

Thai Esane has already made quite a splash among Nashville's food lovers. What do you say, Bites Nation? Have you checked it out? What are your thoughts?

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sinema: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 4:23 PM

Seaweed appetizer at Sinema
In this week's issue of the Scene, restaurant critic Carrington Fox visits Sinema, the high-profile dining spot in the former Melrose Theater, under the direction of marquee chef Dale Levitski.

The restaurant's swanky Art Decor glamour is unique, whether you dine downstairs (with a view of Levitski and his team at work in the open kitchen) or snack upstairs in the lounge with clever cocktails.

From the valet drop-off at the vintage marquee to the grand staircase rising from lobby to mezzanine, a night at Sinema is an opulent affair, positively baroque in its see-and-be-seen splendor. It's hard to think of a local venue that places such a premium on its decor, which includes countless groupings of plush furniture, black-and-white portraits of Hollywood stars, and a constellation of elegant low lighting reflected off smoky gold mirror ceiling tiles.

Fox says the stars of the menu were the appetizers, like the cryptically named Seaweed, which "combined elements of earth and ocean with a dramatic flourish":

The server delivered a deep bowl bearing a colorful and delicate arrangement of beef carpaccio, lump crab, shaved lotus wheels, shiitake mushrooms and herbs, then proceeded to tip a teapot of golden seaweed broth over the composition. It yielded a soup that was simultaneously warm and cool, crisp and comforting, marine and meadow.

Read on to hear Fox's thoughts on the entrees, the bar bites, and a pretty distinctive night on the town.

Sinema, at 2600 Franklin Pike (615-942-7746) serves dinner Monday through Saturday, with the lounge opening at 4:30 p.m. Sunday brunch will start this fall.

Bites folks: Anybody been to Sinema? Want to share experiences?

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tango Grill: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 1:17 PM

In this week's issue of the Scene, restaurant critic Carrington Fox visits Tango Grill, chef Alexia Humphrey's welcome new eatery, tucked into a retail strip on Linbar Drive off Harding Place.

After making a splash with her former restaurant Nola's on West End, the chef moved back to her native Uruguay for a while. Happily, she's returned to Nashville, serving up her Uruguayan-Argentine-Cajun fare, including her famous chivito sandwich, in the new restaurant. The national sandwich of Uruguay, the chivito is "an exceptional layering of marinated steak, Swiss cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, sautéed peppers, mushrooms and onions, and fried egg on a crusty baguette," Fox says.

It's served with a side of chimichurri, minced parsley, garlic, olive oil, white pepper, coriander and red pepper, which "cuts through the grease with an herbal brightness that makes the sandwich."

Fox found a lot more to like at Tango Grill, including more outstanding dishes and the friendly presence of Chef Alexia herself. Read the full review here.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Noelle in Belle Meade: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 3:42 PM

Noelles Beef Tataki
In case you missed it: In the current issue of the Scene, restaurant critic Carrington Fox checks out Noelle, the latest restaurant in the high-profile Belle Meade space formerly filled by Whitfield's and Belle Meade Brasserie.

Named for owner Dewayne Johnson's baby girl, Noelle (106 Harding Place, 356-5450) is a renovated and reimagined dining spot. Fox describes it as "a surprisingly comfortable neighborhood eatery with a well-executed menu of traditional contemporary cuisine."

Johnson is a remaining owner from the Whitfield's era. His business partners in that project, Nathaniel Beaver and Tabor Luckey, "departed to concentrate on their Infinity Restaurant Group projects, including Bria Bistro Italiano in Bellevue, The Bridge Building on the East Bank of the Cumberland, The Bell Tower in SoBro, and The Harding House inside Belle Meade Plantation," Fox reports.

And there are glad tidings when it comes to Noelle, Fox says:

"Chef Matthew Smith's repertoire of composed plates, including lamb, pork tenderloin, steak and duck, satisfies the modern craving for seasonal and house-made cuisine, without pushing diners into offal-heavy nose-to-tail whole-animal fare. In other words, no beef cheeks, oxtail or pig ears, but enough house-made butters, local cheeses, fresh-baked brioche, herb-infused cocktails and inventive details to qualify as contemporary."

Fox also notes that Noelle is a welcome new place to mention when people complain to her about a lack of good dining options in Belle Meade, which as Nashville's wealthiest neighborhood, would seem to be fertile ground for restaurants. But it's not that straightforward, Fox points out, with lease prices being a powerful factor when it comes to restaurant success.

In any case, you should check out Fox's full review of Noelle. And if you wish, chime in under the comments section below. Have you tried Noelle yet? What's your opinion of the neighborhood when it comes to restaurants? Do you agree that there's "nothing to eat in Belle Meade"?

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Moto Cucina + Enoteca: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 4:32 PM

In this week's restaurant review in the Scene, Steve Cavendish checks out Moto, the latest link in Chris Hyndman's restaurant empire, located on the block of McGavock nicknamed M Street, which is also the name of the restaurant group:

Drive down that block of McGavock Street in the Gulch on a typical night, and the entire street is blocked off, with lane dividers and valets everywhere. You're stepping into Hyndman World, an upscale collection of restaurants and nightlife.

His newest piece, Moto, fashions itself as a wine bar, or enoteca, and the long, sleek bar that anchors the front of the restaurant is beautiful. From the high ceiling to the lighting to the fire feature in the main dining room, the entire restaurant has great visual appeal, something Hyndman's places are known for. High stools at the bar, well-stuffed chairs at tables, and spacious high booths give the space a comfort level to match the eye candy — it's a nice place to spend a few minutes or several hours.

But style only gets you so far. If Moto is going to be a true success, the food has to live up to the decor. And on that basis alone, the enoteca is a winner.

Yep, Cavendish is full of praise for talented chef Andy Hayes' take on Italian food, particularly the pasta:

Black Spaghetti ($21) comes over fiery chilies and bits of lobster. The dish is visually a showstopper, with the dark squid-ink noodles swirled in a mound over the tomato-based sauce, and it tastes spectular. I loved the blueberry lasagna ($19), too, with almost paper-like planks of pasta separating similarly thin layers of mushroom puree and bits of ricotta. The blueberry and balsamic reduction is a searing contrast to the earthiness of the mushrooms — a little goes a long way — but wow, was it interesting. You really have to appreciate such a thoughtful approach to a vegetarian dish on a meat-driven menu.

Read the full review here. Anybody been to Moto — or hoping to go? Chime in below in the comments.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Opening City House and the New Nashville

Posted By on Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Over in the print edition, I talk about the New Nashville and the idea that we're living in a pretty good time for the city's dining scene.

When did it begin? I'd argue that it starts with the opening of City House on Dec. 12, 2007. What Tandy Wilson has built is pretty impressive. It's our most lauded restaurant (although The Catbird Seat comes pretty close), and Wilson is a finalist for a James Beard award (best chef in the Southeast) for the second straight year.

I talked with Wilson about opening the restaurant and the double-duty he was pulling. He had been working for another esteemed chef, Margot McCormack, since 2004.

When I got to Margot, I still wasn't sure I wanted to open a restaurant. I watched how she did it, with skill and grace and respect for the people who worked around her, and that really inspired me a lot to do my own thing.

Looking around at spaces in Germantown, I had earnest money on a space that still isn't out of the ground yet. Across the street where the pizza place [312 Pizza] is going in, standing right there, it was still an industrial building and pretty much a concrete lot. Nothing was there, really. They were describing that building to me, but it took years to get out of the ground. We were up and operating and they're finishing the space 6-and-a-half years later.

Eventually, he and his realtor asked about the space at 1222 Fourth Ave. N.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Epice: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 4:51 PM

In this week's issue of the Scene, restaurant critic Carrington Fox visits Epice, the new Lebanese bistro in the 12South neighborhood.

The name derives from epice, the French word for spice, and it's the cherished project of veteran Nashville restaurateur Maher Fawaz, a native of Lebanon.

"Maher Fawaz calls it his vision of a street scene in Europe or the Middle East," Fox writes. "Fawaz would know. He lived in both places before settling in Nashville 30 years ago and launching the beloved Kalamatas restaurants in Green Hills, Brentwood and Belmont."

Fox is impressed by Epice's sleek but intimate interior, designed architect by Patrick Avice du Buisson to "showcase, not compete with," the vibrant flavors of the traditional cuisine. She adds, "And Epice's culinary team — comprising several Fawaz family members — also surpasses expectations."

That's right, in addition to its comfortable elegance, Epice is a true family-owned restaurant.

"Dining at Epice can feel like a family affair, with Maher and his sister Ghada circulating the dining room; Ghada's husband, chef Will Zaitz, and Maher's wife, Kitty, preparing dinners and desserts based on Fawaz family recipes; and Kalamatas co-owner Beth Collins (Fawaz considers her as family) chipping in with rice pudding and fig vinaigrette."

Read the full review here.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Josephine: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 3:45 PM

In this week's Dining column in Scene, restaurant critic Carrington Fox checks out Josephine, restaurateur Miranda Whitcomb Pontes' latest venture in the 12South neighborhood. Fox really enjoys what she finds there:

Roasted chicken with Brussels sprouts, served for two.
In my visits to Josephine, I was profoundly and pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful menu and comfortable setting, which seamlessly marry traditions of European and American cuisine and design elements of bistro and barn.

Sleek dark grays and warm browns — polished wood, patinaed metal, tufted leather, amber whiskeys — set a rich neutral backdrop for plates of spot color. There's the coral-red of rough-chopped lobster salad on house-made pretzel rounds; the sherbet-hued carrot soup finished with gingerbread croutons; radish rounds on fluffy salads; silver-green sprigs of rosemary in tequila cocktails; glistening orange zest in a whisky drink.

Fox notes that Josephine serves both lunch and dinner six days a week (it's closed on Tuesdays): "With several items appearing at both lunch and dinner, you can get a taste of Culinary Institute of America alumnus [Andrew] Little's refined yet earthy cuisine day or night."

Read the full review here.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Taj: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 5:16 PM

Tandoor Fish Tikka
In this week's Dining column in the Scene, Steve Cavendish reviews Taj, a relatively new Indian restaurant on Nolensville Road.

The buzz on Taj has been very good, and Cavendish says he had been hearing from many friends and co-workers urging him to check it out.

To help him navigate the menu, Cavendish enlisted the help of a guide, a prominent local culinarian of Indian descent. After his visits, Cavendish came up with a few suggestions for the rest of us eager to dine at Taj:

— Skip the buffet. Look, I know buffets are convenient and sometimes a good value, but everything I tasted on the buffet at Taj was inferior to anything I ordered on their menu. Indian cuisine, like any other, has no immunity against heat lamps and warming tables.

— Just order from the menu (which has clear descriptions in English), because if you do, you end up with great things like bhindi masala ($9.95) — an utterly comforting okra dish — and goat curry ($12.95), slightly chewier than beef but with more flavor.

And if you're unsure of what to do, wander over to the tandoori section of the menu, close your eyes and put your finger down on something. Everything we had from that oven was excellent.

Read the full review here. And if you've been to Taj, feel free to share experiences in the comments below.

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