Potato and ricotta gnocchi $8.95
Port-poached sun-dried cherry salad $6.50 side, $9.95 entrée
Seared salmon $17.95
Coq au vin braised and roasted half-chicken $16.95
Sometimes a restaurant is a lifesaver. Not just in the literal sense of providing nourishment to sustain life (like the untold number of meals Nashville restaurants have donated to flood survivors and volunteers), but also in the sense of social and emotional comfort.
Here's how the Nashville Originals phrased it last week in a release about their efforts to lead water conservation after the disaster: "We know that restaurants are an important part of a neighborhood, and in crisis offer a needed respite, a safe place to gather and a sense of community continuity."
It's a robustly self-promotional view. (After all, the Originals' main goal is to promote the value of dining locally.) Nonetheless, it's a pretty fair summary of the role that restaurants can play in a community.
Now that the Nashville Flood has turned our city's world all topsy-turvy, it's a good time to get philosophical about what we hold dear and what can be allowed to float away into irrelevance. Neighborhoods are important, and so are restaurants.
On the first Tuesday night after the deluge, I was lucky enough to be alive and hungry and still in possession of enough pocket change to visit a favorite neighborhood restaurant, The Yellow Porch. My dining companions included my husband, taking a break from excavating basement debris, and our dear houseguest from flooded Bellevue. (After escaping her condo by boat and spending a night with the Red Cross, she was able to join us on higher ground.)
It's said that hunger makes the best sauce, but disaster can make a simple restaurant meal seem like a vacation in paradise.
The flood was a game changer, but happily, The Yellow Porch was still on its game. The patio under the pergola seemed like an oasis far from the traffic of Thompson Lane. Our waitress was solicitous and kind, and the food seemed heaven-sent.
The patio was crowded with a variety of folks, from Brentwood matrons to indie-rock hipsters, sharing stories and wondering over the strange events of the previous few days.
Though I'm a big fan of restaurateurs Gep and Katie Nelson, I hadn't been to their flagship Yellow Porch in a couple years, so the menu was full of novelty. Every dish was alluring.
As an appetizer, the potato and ricotta gnocchi (with sautéed mushrooms, parmesan cheese, white truffle oil and chive emulsion) was like concentrated comfort in a bowl.
The port-poached sun-dried cherry salad with baby greens, spiced walnuts, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar balanced intense fruit flavors (cherry and port) with creamy goat cheese and crunchy, spicy nuts.
The nectar of the grape appeared again in the coq au vin-style chicken: a half-chicken cooked in pinot noir with Benton's bacon atop soothing parsley mashed potatoes, root vegetables and broccolini. (Chef Guerry McComas cleverly uses different methods to cook different parts of the chicken. The leg is braised in wine to create a rich jus; the breast is marinated in wine, then roasted for crispy skin.)
Finally, just to show I hold no grudges against the watery kingdom, I enjoyed an entrée of seared salmon on a bed of toasted almond couscous with Vidalia onion, squash and a side salad that featured the unlikely but delicious combination of radishes and strawberries.
In general, the food reflected big, bold flavors — often provided by local produce — that stood out without overpowering the plate. The friendly waitress helped us pick a bottle of wine that complemented the food as she listened to our stories and gave us encouragement.
You'll be hearing a lot in coming days about restaurants pitching in to help out after the flood. (For example, Monday is Dine Out for Nashville day, with a number of restaurants donating 50 percent of the proceeds to flood relief.)
These big gestures are good PR along with being helpful. And yet, these days I find that I value the little things the most. I'm happy just to be here, and I'm happy that neighborhood restaurants are still here, too.
The Yellow Porch serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
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