The strings of outdoor lights come on at night, and there's music outside — very romantic — and other events from week to week that make it worth coming back.
Parking nearby is a pain, much easier if you choose a spot way up the block. That's around the corner from my mom's old urban pioneer townhouse, my post-grad crash pad, so that was a little side trip down memory lane.
Our little group sat at a wonky table but the sweet service and $5 wine for happy hour made up for it. The happy hour wine is a nondescript plonk, but there are better bottles if you're so inclined. There's a happy hour pizza, too, that's a good deal at about half price.
Okay but here's the thing: They don't slice it for you. Wut?, you may say, and I repeat: you and your dull stainless dinner knife are going to have to slice it yourself. I asked the reason, and the answer said, "Because people complain that it gets soggy."
I make pizza at home from scratch, so I'm guessing the homemade tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella are a little watery, and that causes the potential for sog. I get that because I've seen it.
If I were in charge of the Napoli kitchen and looking for options, I might cook down the sauce to a thicker, less liquid consistency, and store the mozzarella in a strainer.
But if I were in charge of the dining room, the slice-it-yourself ethic would certainly seem easier, if much, much weirder.
Look at the mound of pad thai—it looked like too much food, but it was surprisingly light and sooo good. Pops finished it off.
I was so torn between pad woonsen and lettuce wraps. In a game-time decision, I got pad woonsen, a steaming hot, well-made heap of Thai satisfaction, wafting garlic in every direction.
Still, I couldn't ignore the lure of the lettuce wraps and returned to try them a few days later.
What I'm buying from a restaurant is an experience I can't, or won't, have at home, whether out of sheer inertia, lack of time, or economies of scale. I don't want fancy ingredients — those are easy enough to buy. What I want is expertise and patience. Perfect example: the amazing "house salad" at International Market.
Lauded by Carrington in a review last autumn, this salad was previously on the menu at International House, the mid-1990s Myint-owned restaurant where PM is now. Then, it was a more modest array of ingredients — maybe 12 — in a multi-compartment tray like a big bento box. Pile your choice of ingredients into a lettuce leaf and crunch away for an intense flavor experience that must be experienced to be believed.
Now it's grown to an array of 30 bowls containing labor-intensive items like shredded spiced chicken, limes cut into teensy bits, supremes of grapefruit and fried peanuts, slivered lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf, which must be sliced superfine because it's too leathery to chew.
At the Turnip Truck Urban Fare in the Gulch, pastry chef Nicole Wolfe, a New Orleans-area native, rolled out her first king cakes just about the time the camels were sniffing around the hay-filled sneakers. Wolfe and Sam Tucker, both former pastry chefs at neighboring Watermark restaurant, set out to make a cake that would approximate Wolfe's childhood favorite from Randazzo family bakers in Louisiana. The brioche-style dough containing yeast, milk, flour, egg yolks and sugar gets rolled out into a flat sheet and painted with butter, cinnamon and sugar. After each basting with butter, the dough gets folded again, until it's the right size to form into a ring. Wolfe and Tucker stuff their cakes with a variety of fillings, including cream cheese, blueberry-ginger compote, and the gorgeous tart lemon curd often found on Turnip Truck's buffet table. After baking in a convection oven with steam to yield a golden-brown hue and a moist elasticity, the cake gets glazed with an icing fortified with vanilla paste and sour cream.
While Randazzo's classic recipe might be the gold standard, Turnip Truck adds its own unique flair to the colorful wreath, whose sugary stripes of green, gold and purple represent faith, power and justice, respectively. In keeping with the philosophy of the health-food grocery, Wolfe and Tucker wanted to avoid using food coloring, so they turned to the store's produce aisles for natural embellishment. On Turnip Truck's gaudy confection, the sanding of sugars is tinted with vibrant juice from spinach, kale, carrot and beets. "At first I thought, 'It won't be like real king cake,' " Wolfe says, "but now I think I like this better. I like that you know what you're eating."
Seconded. The King Cakes I'd always tried in the past, ordered by mail from the Crescent City, reminded me of stale coffee cake. I purchased one on a whim last week from the Turnip Truck, and it has blown away everyone who's tried it (including Mrs. Pink, who's far from a cake fan). I got the cream cheese variety, and it's the rare non-chocolate dessert that gets better with each sugar-dusted, filling-oozing bite, toothsome as a croissant. Check out Carrington's piece to see how the others measure up.
On a kid-free night (thank you, overnight camp!) we planned dinner with dear out-of-town friends. They've lived in Estonia, Taiwan, Korea — impressing them with cuisine is tough. Based on nudges from Carrington over the past months, we made a game-time decision: Firefly Grille.
Yes, I've been there in the last year, with a group of about 15 sozzled high school friends for drinks and again with two women half my size, who picked at their salads. Neither was the optimal way to experience the food (but the bar is so cozy and friendly, I can vouch for the cozy, friendly bar).
Here's my guide for you. I recommend Pimm's Cup. Although in other places, its quality varies widely, for this leap of faith, you'll get a tart, sweet, refreshing, and very tall drink to properly hydrate you on these hot evenings. It's long and strong, and packed with lemon wedges and slices of homegrown cucumber.
Ask about the pasta. I rarely order pasta, because it always seems like an afterthought on the menu. This pasta, someone had specifically designed for maximum impact. Delicate filet tips, twigs of asparagus, minced herbs, pan-toasted mushrooms with crispy edges and paper-thin slices of manchego cheese that melted into a sauce.
For those of you who were out counting your chickens before they hatched and missed these headlines, take a stroll through these stories from the week on Bites.
Chicken advocates lost the battle at Metro Council on Tuesday, when the council voted in favor of a bill that would tighten up the language about poultry allowed in the urban services district. Urban farmers and chicken proponents are contemplating next steps.
Corsair Artisan Distillery is eyeing the space in Marathon Motorworks that will be left vacant when Yazoo Brewing moves to the Gulch next year.
Bites readers bantered about the potential closing of the post office in the downtown arcade.
Finally, one of our favorite love-hate topics reared its head: Reviewing chain restaurants. Last week's review of Shoney's, the homegrown Nashville chain, prompted a lively discussion and moved one cheery reader to declare in a letter to the editor, "Carrington Fox is probably the worst food writer ever. I mean really, who writes about chain restaurants?" (Mom, that really hurts.)
It was a big juicy week of Bites, so in case you missed any of these stories, it's worth going back for second helpings:
It's the Day Before Independence Day, and the Bites team is out pursuing happiness, preparing to ingest as much hot chicken, black bean salad and cobbler as we can find across the picnics and potlucks of this great nation.
In other words, we've been liberated from our keyboards. But if you're not out buying a gift for the country's 233rd birthday, take a spin through these headlines from the week on Bites.
Food, Inc.. sparked a meaty conversation on Bites, as readers discussed the pros and cons of the industrial food system as depicted in the Food on Film series at the Belcourt.
Bites readers slugged it out over the best neighborhoods for dining in Nashville. Should Hillsboro Village make the list? The Gulch? You decide.
12South added one more to its tally of independent eateries with the news that Burger Up will open at 12th & Paris in December.
We tallied up the restaurant opening and closings for the year to date.
And finally, author John Egerton made a call to arms, urging readers to support restaurateur Randy Rayburn in a last-ditch stand against legislation allowing gun in restaurants and bars. This being July 4 weekend and all, exercise your constitutional right to weigh in on the issue.
This week on Bites we said goodbye to an old, but not old enough friend, when Ombi: A Gastropub closed its doors for good. On the plus side, we got word that Judge Bean's is rising again, this time in Brentwood, and that Arnold Myint is cooking up something in midtown. We checked in on Sweet CeCe's, the cool new froyo store in the Belle Meade Hill Center. We also made a list of empty restaurant spaces we'd like to see filled.
We waged a culinary battle between the margaritas at Cantina Laredo and The Local Taco, brainstormed ideas for improving access to healthy food in Nashville's food deserts and assembled a list of summer cocktails to carry us through the season.
If you missed these and other stories, scroll through the week on Bites and add your two cents to the mix.
If you didn't act fast, you missed your shot at Ombi's new drinks menu, posted this week on Bites, because no sooner had the drinks menu emerged than a sign was posted on the door that Ombi was closed, due to a problem with the gas line. (No word yet on the prognosis for that gas line.)
At least there was a boozy alternative nearby, when the bartender from the Violet Hour showed up for the weekend at The Patterson House as a guest mixologist.
Perhaps the most hotly debated topic this week was the etiquette--or lack thereof--of eating in the grocery store before you pay for your stuff.
If you missed any of these posts, scroll back through Bites and add your two cents.
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