In With the New 

Recent restaurant openings offer lots to try out in 2004

Recent restaurant openings offer lots to try out in 2004

It’s déjà vu all over again. Typical of this time of year, several new restaurants have made their debut in the last month or so, and a couple more are scrambling to get their doors open before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31—the tax man cometh, after all, and every penny counts when it comes to staking your savings on Nashville’s peculiar dining habits. Several more are in various stages of progress, planned to open in the first quarter of ’04.

Meanwhile, the property between Bound’ry and South Street restaurants, owned by Jay Pennington and father-and-son Jimmy and Bryan Lewis, stands suspended in time. Still.

You know the place. The three-story, waffle-windowed building swathed in concrete decorated with bubbles, seashells and, most prominently, a bare-breasted bathing beauty. The one that has been in and out of construction, deliberation, consideration and rumination. The one that was going to introduce Nashville to Pan-Asian cuisine—a hot trend, um, four or five years ago. A steakhouse was rumored for a while too, back when all those steakhouses were opening.

Willie Thomas, chef at Capitol Grille when it first opened in 1995, came over to Bound’ry in 1997, under the premise that he would be an integral part of the culinary team for the new restaurant. Thomas hung around for a while, tag-teaming the Bound’ry kitchen with Michael Cribb, before leaving to open his own restaurant, Park Café, in spring 2001. Cribb also departed around the same time, spending some time reworking the menu at Havana Lounge, but has been spotted back in the Bound’ry kitchen again.

In the years that The Mystery Building has stood empty of chefs, servers, bartenders and customers, many other restaurants have opened (and in some cases closed), among them: Sasso, Acorn, Rumba, Margot Cafe and Bar, Basante’s Green Hills, 6º, Capitol Grille (again), Mirror, Red Wagon, The Palm, Chapel Bistro, Alley Cat, Atlantis, Rippy’s, Mambu, Saffire, Nick & Rudy’s, Red Wagon, Patrick’s and a whole strip of eateries on Demonbreun Street.

Not that the Pennington-Lewis compound has been completely bereft of activity: Bound’ry redesigned its second-floor bar into a plush, seductive lair, and South Street added a tree house on its upper level. The Phoenix, the private room that straddles the area between Bound’ry and The Mystery Building, has hosted hundreds of private parties. The resident Big Guns Catering Company has fed thousands, most recently the 800-plus who attended Wynonna Judd and D.R. Roach’s wedding party.

Recently, it was rumored that Scott Alderson, of 6º and Saffire renown, was headed to The Mystery Building, but he has reportedly taken a different route, possibly south. A name for the restaurant has surfaced, but that brings up even more questions. Is it Chu, an indication that an Asian-influenced menu is still planned—a possibility backed up by Cribb’s proximity? Or is it Chew, which might mean that Lewis Sr. has persuaded the team to go with his steakhouse concept?

In spite of my best efforts, as 2003 winds to its close, the man with the answers, Jay Pennington, remains as elusive and close-lipped as ever. JP, call home! I swear, I won’t tell a soul.

Most eateries don’t operate under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Most seem eager to get news of their opening or impending opening out there to you, the dining public. A variety of establishments have opened their doors in the last couple of months, or the last couple of days, including Ru San’s, Bar Twenty3, German Town Café, BB King’s, Panera Bread, ChiTown and PM.

Ru San’s and Bar Twenty3 are hoping that the time is now for The Gulch, the urban development beside the railroad tracks along Industrial Boulevard. Pioneer tenant 6º did not fare well, though argument can be made as to the ultimate cause of its failure. The Gulch team has seen success with office and residential tenants, as well as with Provence Bakery’s operations.

Ru San’s is high-energy, high-concept sushi with four Atlanta stores and one in Charlotte, N.C. The contemporary, brightly lit restaurant relies as much on entertainment value (Japanese animation, assertive employees, techno music) as the idea that everyone will find something to like on the nearly 10-page menu. The $7.50 all-you-can-eat sushi lunch Monday through Friday—notable for a high turnover that guarantees fresh items—is already a hit with nearby downtown and Music Row workers.

After maki, and after dark, Bar Twenty3 is hoping to attract the young and the restless to its upscale lounge. The split-level space is refined industrial, with scattered light boxes, white sofas, metal accents, aromatherapy and a bar-stool-less bar with standing room only, the better to admire the arch of young women’s calves in stiletto heels. DJs spin vinyl at sound levels that still permit conversation; in addition to standard beverages, there are 23 specialty drinks and a small-plate menu seven nights a week.

After several delays due to inspection snafus, the indefatigable Patti Myint has opened PM across Belmont Boulevard from her flagship restaurant, International Market. It’s not her first restaurant effort in this building, which she owns; several years ago, she made a go of it with International House, an upscale version of the Market. PM is designed to be a casual, drop-in, neighborhood bar and restaurant. The menu consists primarily of finger foods and small plates with a Thai influence: curried potato pockets, spring shrimp cocktail, tamarind wings and peanut sauce fondue. It is open 4 p.m.-2 a.m. every day except Tuesday.

ChiTown is the newest open door in the rapidly developing restaurant-retail Demonbreun Street strip. Owned by Illinoisan Jennifer Lee, the restaurant’s hook is piano entertainment, with live dinner music followed by dueling pianos after 9 p.m. Like neighboring Christopher’s and Otter’s, the space is long and narrow. The menu is confusing: According to staff, the concept is tapas, except that the dishes are called entrées, and portion sizes are alleged to be enormous. Diners can choose single servings, or groups can go for multiples of four, six and eight, in which case a per-person charge kicks in. Huh? Among the offerings from chef Antwain Porter are Maui chicken medallions, beef skewers Black Forest, lemon duck, mushrooms Le Cage and Boursin pierogies. ChiTown is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Panera Bread has transformed the 21st Avenue Burger King into the latest of its 558 bakery-cafes in 35 states. According to press materials, Panera Bread freshly bakes more bread daily than any bakery-cafe concept in the country. The chain offers a variety of “artisan” and specialty breads, bagels, pastries and baked goods. In addition to pain, the Panera cafe serves tossed-to-order salads, sandwiches, paninis, soups in edible bread bowls, and hot and cold coffee drinks. Hours are 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. No word on the whereabouts of Burger King Betty.

On the horizon are a couple more new spots—some close to completion and others still barely in the rumor stages.

Dan McGinnis Irish Pub, presently occupied by construction workers, will anchor the Musica end of the Demonbreun Street strip. The stone-and-wood exterior indicates that this will be the classiest of the establishments so far; the name foretells beer, whiskey and hearty pub fare.

The young and handsome McDougal brothers, John and Tommy, are working till the wee hours of the morning to get their eagerly anticipated casual bar/eatery opened by the end of the year in Hillsboro Village. They are remodeling a stone house on Belcourt Avenue into McDougal’s Village Coop, focusing on chicken dishes, as well as burgers and other foods favored by the college crowd they’ll be courting. Did someone say, “buckets o’ beer”?

Personally, my taste leans more to tayst, a recently unveiled three-years-in-the-making venture spearheaded by chef Jeremy Barlow, a CIA grad who has spent time at The Trace, Ruth’s Chris, Midtown and Atlantis. It was at Midtown where he developed a friendship with Dan Morrissey, whose impressive résumé includes stints at Julian’s, F. Scott’s and Park Café. Barlow looked at virtually dozens of locations before spotting a “For Lease” sign on the squat cinderblock building at the corner of 21st Avenue South and Bernard, next to Davishire Interiors and across from the sprawling apartment complex centered by the former St. Bernard Convent. The partners will focus on their respective expertise in the back and front of the house; they have been joined by Steve Boyer, currently at F. Scott’s, who will serve as beverage manager.

The concept of tayst Restaurant & Wine Bar, which will seat 80 in an undulating dining room and more at the bar and lounge up front, is “rustic elegance, a fine-dining experience in a comfortable, approachable atmosphere.” Barlow is now at work on the menu, which will be dinner only, served five nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday. The wine list will feature regional specialties of high quality, poured in beautiful stemware, by the glass and bottle. Parking is available in the adjoining lot or by valet; the restaurant will be totally smoke-free. They hope to open by mid-January.

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