The windows of the building that formerly housed Laurell’s Central Market at the corner of Elmwood and 12th Avenue South are covered in plain brown and white paper, and the doors are shut tight. The project itself is shrouded in so much secrecy, one wonders if the tenants are performing heinous medical experiments inside. But slowly, details of the new restaurant that will be called Mirror are coming to light.
The building, which also houses salon-to-the-stars Trim, is owned by Realtors Joel Solomon and Mark Deutschmann, who have been responsible for much of the recent development of the area known as 12South. Since Laurell’s proprietor Sheila Warren vacated the premises nearly a year ago, the duo has been seeking a new restaurant tenant for the space. They’ve been besieged with proposals from aspiring restaurant owners, including one group that envisioned a cozy French bistro there (sigh).
The address has plenty going for it: a large, existing kitchen; a nice-sized parking lot; zoning for beer, wine, and liquor; and location, location, location. The space is within walking distance of the almost fully gentrified Belmont Boulevard neighborhood and the rapidly gentrifying streets on the east side of Belmont and 12th Avenue South (though many within and without the neighborhood still harbor some anxiety about after-dark safety, with particular concern paid to the car wash at 12th & Gilmore). Mirror is within easy access of West End/Vanderbilt and Green Hills, and it’s on the commuter route that hundreds of workers drive daily from jobs downtown to homes in Forest Hills, Oak Hill, and Brentwood.
With partners that include veteran restaurateurs Vicki and Rick Bolsam (Cakewalk/Zola and Tin Angel) and Tom Loventhal (insurance mogul and owner of Noshville), a husband/wife team who moved here from Miami two years ago has come to terms with Solomon and Deutschmann. Michael DeGregory is a native of Delaware whose restaurant career began humbly and fairly typically as a busboy and dishwasher at a Perkins restaurant there; he then served as a prep and line cook at two different Italian eateries before attending the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating in 1991, he split his time between Rehobeth Beach, Del., and Vail, Colo. He moved to Miami in 1994 and worked as chef de cuisine in two different restaurants before moving to Nashville in 1998, spending two years at Bound’ry.
Colleen Belloise-DeGregory has spent her entire restaurant career in Miami, focusing on pastry and desserts. She met and married Michael there and moved to Nashville with him, working most recently at Havana Lounge as pastry chef. The couple met Solomon, developed a relationship with him, and found that their vision for a restaurantstylish yet very comfortable, just right for the neighborhood but also a destinationwas compatible with the rest of the team.
Though no one is revealing particulars of the menu, which will be different for lunch and dinner, word is that dinner will focus on tapas, Spanish for ”small plates,“ a concept not dissimilar to Bound’ry’s original vision. Mirror is shooting for a mid- to late-June opening. Mr. DeGregory will be in the kitchen; Mrs. DeGregory will split her time between baking and running the front of the house.
On a recent, very hot afternoon, the doors to Mirror were open wide, allowing passersby (and curious reporters) to peek inside. All I can tell youthey know where I liveis that one man was seated at a computer, another man was supervising two workers installing drywall where the counter used to be, and one interior wall was covered in a mosaic of broken pieces of mirror. If you want to know more, snoop at your own risk.
Easy come, easy go, though Sunset Grill owner Randy Rayburn admits breaking up is hard to do. Michael Tuohy, the acclaimed Atlanta chef who arrived just six months ago amid great fanfarenot to mention a half-million-dollar kitchen, equipment, and interior overhaulhas gone back to Georgia, taking his toque and knives with him. Actually, Tuohy had been commuting between Nashville and Atlanta, where his wife Patty, a Nashville native and Harpeth Hall alum, was still working at Emory University. Emory made Patty a very attractive offer to stay, and the couple decided against making the move.
Tuohy didn’t leave Rayburn empty-handed. In his brief stint, he streamlined the lunch and dinner repertoirea much-needed overhaul of a menu that was one of Nashville’s most dense and culinarily cumbersome. The changes, says Rayburn, were undertaken to achieve better quality and timeliness, the latter being an important factor since three private conference/dining rooms were added to the north side of the restaurant. These rooms, which will seat 25 apiece or 70 undivided, can be reserved for private meetings or celebrations; groups up to 20 can order off the regular menu. The room for this venture was obtained when Rayburn took over the Thousand Faces space next door.
The new look of the restaurant (done by Manuel Zeitlin and Jeff King), the new kitchen, the new menu, and the new chef were all part of Rayburn’s goal ”to reinvent Sunset as we approach our 10th anniversary this fall.“ Well, three out of four ain’t bad, and he still has a quality staff on board: Brian Uhl, formerly sous chef at F. Scott’s and Wild Boar, remains as chef de cuisine, aided by his sous chefs Jason Gooch and Jay Kennison (brother of former Sunset/Midtown chef Steve Kennison, now living in Arizona).
Tuohy’s abrupt departure hasn’t left Rayburn bitter or jaded. In fact, this week he was looking forward to committing to a long-term relationship of a more romantic nature, asking his significant other Sonia Beaty to become even more significant and marry him. Word is, she said yes.
Wild Boar is another Nashville restaurant bidding a fond, if bittersweet, farewell to its chef. Frenchman Guillaume Burlion, whose mentor was Patrick Lenotre of the famed Lenotre restaurant dynasty, has been called back to the fold. He will be serving as executive chef for the Lenotre restaurant in New York and at one of the four locations in Paris, splitting his time between the two cities. Is this the luckiest man alive, or what?
While everyone hates to see Monsieur Burlion go, Wild Boar is taking it as a compliment, as the restaurant did when Burlion’s predecessor Bob Waggonner was lured away three years ago to The Charleston Place Hotel in South Carolina. ”We have been fortunate to have such wonderful chefs here that they cannot help but come to someone else’s attention,“ says maître d’ Abbe Benrahmoun, speaking for himself and owner Brett Allen. ”We are very proud of that fact and proud of the work Guillaume did while he was here. We wish him all the best.“
Currently, the kitchen is under the leadership of chef de cuisine Robert Price, and the restaurant is interviewing several candidates to replace Burlion.
Bait and hook
Twenty years ago, Mack’s Cafe was the unlikely late-night common ground for Metro police officers grabbing a quick coffee break and Nashville rock ’n’ rollers grabbing a bite to eat after their last set at nearby Cantrell’s. A couple of years ago, it was taken over by Lin Cameron, one of the original owners of Sunshine Grocery. She morphed the greasy spoon into Mack’s Cafe Luna, which offered an eclectic menu of vegetarian and globally influenced dishes.
In its latest transformation, Mack’s is now Ken’s Sushi restaurant. I don’t know if there ever was a Mack, but there is most definitely a Kenor at least a Kenji. Kenji Ohno, from Osaka, Japan, has been in Nashville eight years and has developed quite a following among devotees of raw fish. (Or as my friend Bob Oermann once quipped, ”Today’s bait, tomorrow’s sushi; today’s sushi, tomorrow’s bait.“)
Ohno apprenticed under Chef Todo at Ichiban on Second Avenue, then spent three years at Shintomi, then went back to Ichiban. He gets bonus points for hiring Laotian chef Joe Sayachak to prepare Laotian and Thai appetizers. Ken’s, at 2007 Division St., is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday; dinner only on Saturday. May we suggest a tasting trilogy: dim sum on Sunday afternoons?
X marks the spot
The long-awaited X It In restaurant, next door to the Exit/In music club, opens Thursday for lunch and dinner. Formerly Tony Roma’s, then the short-lived Red Hot & Blue, the 110-seat restaurant (150 including the outdoor patio) plans ”upscale casual“ (huh?) dinner items by chef Jim Bourque, formerly of Chef’s Market and Takeaway. Dishes are priced at $12-$28, which sounds more upscale than casual to me. The restaurant is owned by a California company, 3MK, which is also booking the ”music menu“ at the club next door.