Gourmet Revisited 

The Mad Platter is still the answer

The Mad Platter is still the answer

For many years, The Mad Platter has provided the answer to many of the questions I am frequently asked as a restaurant critic. Where shall we go to celebrate a special occasion? Where can we go to feel like we’re not in Nashville anymore? What are your favorite dining rooms in Nashville? Where can I take the object of my affections for a romantic dinner? Where can you count on having a good meal and good wine? Where will I get professional and personal service? Can you recommend someplace off the beaten track? What is your favorite restaurant in Nashville?

I hardly had to think about it—“The Mad Platter in Germantown” just tripped off the tip of my tongue. Until recently, there wasn’t a birthday or anniversary I didn’t spend there at a cozy candle-lit table for two. But that was then, and other than a couple of business lunches, I hadn’t eaten at Mad Platter since New Year’s Eve 1996. Thanks to that lengthy lapse, I found I was no longer comfortable singing such high praise to a restaurant I hadn’t visited in more than two years. My first and only review was in November 1993. So, when I noted that the Mad Platter is celebrating its own 10th anniversary this year, it seemed the right time to make a return professional visit.

On the surface, Mad Platter has changed very little through the decade—something I only wish I could say for my surface. But consider that the building at the corner of Sixth Avenue North and Monroe Street was already quite old when Marcia and Craig Jervis purchased the former meat market and grocery store in 1989.

Today, as in 1989, the walls are plaster, colored a light putty, and cracked in a few places. The woodwork is dark green. The creaky floors are wood and, in the evening, the large windows emit a golden glow. The polished wooden chairs at the 20 or so free-standing tables and along one side of a long banquette are charmingly mismatched, quite like many of the groups seated upon them. People-watching at Mad Platter is always fun, offering a more diverse portrait of our city than most restaurants in West Nashville.

The format of the menu remains much the same as the one in my file dated Oct. 29, 1993, though prices have naturally gone up. There are soups, salads, appetizers, and entrées. Before ordering, one should make the decision to go à la carte or whole hog with the five-course meal, which includes any item from each of the above as well as a dessert. If you have a hearty appetite, the latter option is quite the deal at about $20 more. When dining a deux, I suggest one of you take an entrée only, and the other order the five courses to share. Though the Mad Platter menu changes monthly, with just a few items remaining evergreen, the most obvious difference to me from 1993 to 1999 was the increased selection in each category, particularly appetizers. Salads have been upgraded from coach to first class and the repertoire of desserts has been vastly expanded. Entrées for the March menu are in step with both seasonal comforts and market availability. Soups do change daily, and I’d hate to tempt you with a beguiling description of the delicious tomato-basil-citrus, only to see you disappointed when the kitchen has something else bubbling on the stove. But I feel certain that whatever it is will make up for it. Likewise, if your heart is set on trying the delectable rabbit slices—crusted with crushed pistachio, panéed, then dressed with sliced strawberries and a warm cinnamon-basil vinaigrette—make haste to visit before the April menu is put in place. Rabbit hunting in Nashville restaurants can be so frustrating.

If bunny isn’t your thing, try the softshell crawfish with a sweet corn-and-tomato relish, though be warned we could only find three of the little crustaceans nestled atop the bed of greens, which seemed a little puny for the $10.50 price tag. If you’re seeking something a little heartier, look no further than the sliced and fanned roasted leg of lamb with mint chutney.

Of the three salads—a pear and pecan on bibb; a rare beef tenderloin on baby greens; and a baby lobster tail on spinach—the only one I wouldn’t order again is the lobster, which lacked much flavor at all. The other two were superb, with a nearly imperceptible nod going to the beef drizzled with garlic-mustard vinaigrette.

Entrées exhibit a tremendous leap in creativity and maturity, perhaps not entirely coincidental with chef Michael Gray’s return to the Platter late last summer. The Mad Platter rack of lamb moutarde—a menu staple—remains the reason for many customers to come back again and again, and deservedly so.

If you never varied from routine you’d miss the glorious Calvedos caramelized duck breast with dried apple-and-walnut pesto; or the flavorsome pork tenderloin stuffed with figs, apricots, and raisins and strewn with buttery soft whole carmelized shallots; or the whole grilled trout rolled in cornmeal, centered with a pile of piquant garlic mustard greens and salted peanuts, and painted with a musky Sauterne sauce. The roasted salmon is winningly teamed with baby spoon spinach and a tangle of cellophane noodles in a lemony broth.

Enough can’t be said for the knowledgeable and exuberant assistance of Bill McFadden who served as our sommelier and guided us to excellent choices in white with a Morton Sauvignon Blanc from Australia, and a distinctive red in Cain Cuvee. And we couldn’t resist his glowing description of Graham’s vintage port.

What a relief to know I can continue to drop Mad Platter’s name in reply to culinary queries.

And to the Jervises, who have offered countless couples a warm and welcoming place for countless celebrations, happy 10th anniversary, and best wishes for many more.

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