”You’ve really developed a thing for goat meat, haven’t you?“ one of my companions asked when he saw me order the birria, or goat stew, at Las Chivas Mexican Restaurant. I had to admit that I’ve had a predilection for goat, ever since I sampled it at Salam
a Market, the Somali restaurant that’s located a few miles north of Las Chivas on Nolensville Road.
But the birria is just one of many tempting choices on the Las Chivas menu, which offers conventional Mexican-American dishes like tacos, burritos, and enchiladas alongside others that are more unfamiliar to Nashville palates. There is, of course, menudo (tripe stew, available only on weekends), but there’s also parrillada, a mixed grill; chuletas de cerdo, grilled pork tips; ceviche de pescado, chopped raw fish marinated in lime juice with peppers, onions, and cilantro; and cocktel de pulpo, an octopus cocktail. I didn’t try that one, but only because I missed seeing it on the menu.
Las Chivas is Salvador Guzman’s fifth restaurant. His other eateriesCamino Real in Franklin and the La Hacienda restaurants in Columbia and Franklin and in Florence, Ala.are more typically Mexican-American, and Las Chivas is his first attempt to cater primarily to Nashville’s Mexican immigrants. (That explains its location on Nolensville Road.)
Las Chivas opened in November 1997, in a building that formerly housed a fast-food restaurant and is almost directly across the street from Taco Bell. So now Nolensville Road leaves the choice up to youthe sublime or the ridiculous.
If you decide on the former, start with the ceviche (not available at Taco Bell). A small appetizer-size portion is available, but the seafood listings include a larger serving that comes on a little tostada; each is delivered with a plate of freshly chopped cilantro, red onion, and lime slices. It was saltier than I prefer, but it was fresh and tangy. Or you could start with the Mexican version of shrimp cocktailboiled shrimp in a soupy tomato sauce, served in a large soda-fountain-style sundae glass. We also tried the green tamale, which turned out to be acceptable, and the quesadilla, which was soft, not crispy.
The menu lists vegetarian fajitas, which is fairly unusual. Usually, if you want a meatless fajita, you have to pull a Jack Nicholson and order the chicken fajitas”Hold the chicken, sweetheart.“ In addition to peppers and onions, Las Chivas’ version includes mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and broccoli. According to the vegetarian in the midst of our group of vehement carnivores, the grilled veggies were tasty, but they could have used a little more kick. (Luckily, there’s a big bottle of hot sauce on every table.)
We sampled some of the offerings common to most Mexican-American restaurants. The tacos are the small, soft corn-tortilla variety, served with chopped cilantro, lime, and a fresh avocado wedge. The flautas tasted way too much of the oil they were fried in. The chiles rellenos passed muster with our south-of-the-border aficionado.
Nevertheless, I would go for the pescadostwo grilled or fried fish filetsor the camarones à la diablomedium-sized shrimp sautéed in hot red pepper sauce. Beef and steak choices include carne asada (steak sautéed with tomatoes and onions), the chili colorado (diced beef served in a red chili sauce that borders on the incendiary), and the milder chili verde (beef chunks in green chili sauce).
The parrillada, a major bargain at $9.99 for a single order ($16.50 for a double), was delivered to the table on a big, flat skillet still sizzling with beef ribs, chunks of chorizo, shrimp, pulled chicken, carne asada, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. Served with rice, pico de gallo, and Las Chivas’ excellent fresh flour tortillas, it’s fit for the manliest of men, the most macho of hombres.
And then there’s the birriabraised, tender chunks of goat meat (I wouldn’t call its flavor gamey, but it is stouter than chicken) and sautéed onions served in a shallow bowl of thick broth. Wrap the meat in the tortillas that come on the side, sprinkle on some cilantro, and add a squirt of lime. Use your leftover tortillasor ask for moreto scoop up the tasty soup.
Most dishes are accompanied by the ubiquitous refried beans. Las Chivas’ version was quite bland, as was the rice.
At lunch several good egg dishes are available, including huevos rancheros (described by our taster as ”the perfect hangover omelet,“ great when tripe is unavailable), huevos con chorizo, and huevos a la Mexicana. The platos para niños made a hit with my own niños. (Taco, burrito, enchilada, and tamale are available.) And, si, Señor, Las Chivas serves cervezadomestic and Mexican. A nod to Señor Guzman for the notice posted at the bottom of the menuEs reglamento de la casa servir solo un maximo de 3 cervezas por persona. That means there’s a limit of three beers per person at Las Chivas. ¿Comprende?
Las Chivas is long on flavor, speedy with the service, and easy on the pocketbooklunch for 14 was $120, and we ordered a lot of food. But the place is short on atmosphere. Much of the clientele at lunch is Hispanic, but you’ll find better people-watching and cultural immersionnot to mention Mexican soap opera on the television sets and colorful Jesus imagery for purchaseat nearby restaurants such as Los Reyes, Las Americas, or La Hacienda Taqueria.
Still, when you’re choosing a restaurant, it’s the food, stupid. If you’re an habitué of any of Nashville’s more authentic Mexican eateries, Las Chivas will almost certainly come out on, or near, the top of your select list.
Las Chivas is located at 4021 Nolensville Rd., about a quarter of a mile south of Grassmere (831-3595). Open Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. All major credit cards accepted.
In the dog house
Fido, the Hillsboro Village coffeehouse and restaurant, is offering dinner once a month, prepared by Kim Totzke-Farr, a young chef who is stretching her wings and making a name for herself in food circles. Reservations are mandatory for the Wednesday-night dinners, which have been sell-outs thus far. You may bring your own adult beverages. Coming up on Feb. 25 is a Spanish dinner; the cuisine for April is Cuban. Call 777-3436 to hold a seat at the table.
If you’ve got a heart on for a man who doesn’t go for sentimental journeys, show him you still care and steer him over to Corky’s Bar-B-Q, 100 Franklin Rd., on Valentine’s Day. Beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday the 14th, Corky’s will offer an all-you-can-eat buffet with ribs, pork, and chicken for $11.95. (And, hey, you single gals, this might be just the place to rustle up a man for a last-minute Valentine’s date.)
If you are one of the 20 gazillion people who have seen Titanic, you may want to relive that sinking feeling at a special brunch hosted by Apples in the Field, the restaurant in the Sheraton Music City Hotel. The Titanic Brunch Menuseven courses starting with the Iceberg Champagne Cocktail and concluding (on dry land, one hopes) with Waldorf Pudding ($32.50 per person)is served from noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Call ahead for reservations (231-1200); seating is limited to 30 passengers.