A near-perfect metaphor for the local culinary evolution from one generation to the next is Arnold Myint, Patti and Win’s 30-year-old son. Having grown up rollerskating down the buffet line of the International Market—with all its fried rice, curries and egg rolls—Arnold figure-skated competitively through high school, circumnavigating the globe with the U.S. Junior Olympic team and various productions, until, he says, he started to get too fat for the lithe sport and needed a new vocation.
He enrolled in cooking school in New York City and studied a curriculum of classical French and European-based cuisine. Right before graduation, he helped his mom roll out the debut menu for PM (named for her monogram), which she opened in 2003. Situated in a house as casually dressed as its college hipster crowd, PM operated for its first three years as a comfortable place for Belmont University students to huff beers and tapas before Bible study.
Meanwhile, back in the Big Apple, Arnold was building up a world-class culinary résumé, working alongside celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Mercer Kitchen, Vong and the erstwhile V Steakhouse. In November 2006, he migrated home, taking over ownership and operations of PM.
With the generational handover came a sea change at PM. Armed with a worldly vocabulary of flavors and cooking techniques, Arnold unleashed his skills in the kitchen, resulting in an artistic Asian-fusion menu more in line with a sleek, architecturally self-conscious dining room than a frumpy bungalow with a corrugated carport for a patio.
“My whole goal with this menu was to present something where the food quality was high but the price point was accessible, to help people redefine Asian cuisine,” Arnold says. And to be sure, the Thai-inspired menus at International Market and PM are like night and day. While the International Market steam table offers a comfortable cliché of stir-fries and curries, Arnold’s kitchen delivers simple, elegant still lifes such as kaffir-dusted duck curry, ginger-crab fried rice and a jewel-like array of sushi rolls.
“My mother’s goal was to introduce Asian cuisine to Nashville,” Arnold says of Patti, who came to the U.S. from Thailand as a teenager. His gratitude for his mother’s innovation and entrepreneurship is audible. “Now, because of her, I’ve traveled the world, and I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned to my comfort zone—which is her food. I’ve been able to make it evolve into a more trendy, viable competitor.”
In an increasingly crowded marketplace of restaurants serving variations on the theme of Asian-fusion cuisine, PM offers two unique propositions. First, the environment—for better or worse—is almost contrarian. Despite recent efforts to spiff up the place, it remains a gritty old house with a sloping patio, mismatched chairs and booths upholstered with a makeshift combination of pleather and duct tape. (The decision to go smoke-free in June has improved the air quality in the main dining room.) But just as coconut milk provides the perfect contrast to peppery heat in a yellow chicken curry, so does the lowbrow ambiance provide a drab foil to showcase vibrant green pearls of edamame, Day-Glo pink slices of fresh tuna and whimsical rice-paper ribbons festooning the oversize white plates that parade from PM’s worldly kitchen.
Second, PM is astonishingly inexpensive for what it is. On one dinner visit, we ordered three exquisite entrées, an appetizer and four non-alcoholic beverages (including a gorgeous blend of passion fruit and ginger, muddled with lemons and limes) for $62 before tip.
Chicken curry emerged in a deep, sculpted bowl with a rich broth of coconut milk scattered with shiitake mushrooms, fresh cilantro, water chestnuts and julienned strips of wood-ear mushrooms with the texture of buckwheat noodles. The highlight of our meal was the brown butter halibut, a smooth, flaky fillet plated in a ponzu-tinged pan sauce with Japanese chili flakes and accented with noodles, romaine strips, diced tomatoes and edamame. Equally elegant was the seared tuna loin appetizer—a generous roll of melt-in-the-mouth slices dusted with sesame seeds and topped with sliced cucumbers, easily large enough for an entrée. Finished with a subtle ponzu-and-citrus bath, the exceptionally clean dish could have benefited from a sauce or other tangy counterpoint to the delicate fish.
Five orange-peanut chicken skewers, grilled with a fine-grained dusting of spices, found a perfect complement in a silky peanut dipping sauce with a hint of pepper finish. Don’t overlook what appears to be a standard garnish of carrots. The slaw of shaved papaya and carrots in a palm sugar dressing is a creative salad as well as a festive splash of color on the plate.
The lunch menu sticks to more basic salads, wraps and a limited array of sushi. (An elaborate menu of sushi is available at night.) The $10 bento box is a bargain, with sweet teriyaki chicken, a California roll, iceberg salad with orange-ginger dressing and a dark miso soup. We also enjoyed the peanut-sauce chicken salad: a generous plate of mixed greens (including cilantro and basil) with sliced chicken and peanuts lightly tossed in creamy peanut-butter sauce. Steak fries arrived piping hot, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside—a far better choice than the sweet potato variety, which arrived flaccid and soft-skinned.
The surprisingly simple standout was a crock of roasted tomato soup. With the hearty texture of a finely pureed salsa, the pulpy soup was drizzled with a swirl of curried coconut milk and served with toasted focaccia. And our table is still talking about the brownie tempura donut bites, a humorous Asian-American hybrid of tempura and brownie batter served with a caramel sauce.
While the dinner menu sounds a little grown-up for the cute young 20-somethings that swan around the patio at happy hour, Arnold says he’s already seeing his college-age customers branch out from the hamburger (flavored with Thai spices, finished with a teriyaki glaze and served with wasabi mayonnaise) toward the more crafted, Asian-inspired meals. Just as he credits his mother with introducing many Nashvillians to Asian food, he takes pride in expanding that exposure for the next generation: “I feel like I’m educating them so when they go out in the real world they’re not eating chicken fingers.”
But before PM can claim real-adult-restaurant status, Myint is going to have to improve the service. On one early evening, when waitstaff outnumbered diners by nearly two to one, I watched my drink languish on the untended bar for about 10 minutes before a coltish young server broke away from her conversation to deliver it. And on several visits, our food was delayed when our servers had to run across the street (to International Market) to get something. On the other hand, Myint has taken service to a new level by hiring a rickshaw to carry diners home after they walk to the restaurant and are too tired or full to walk home.
Having expanded the Myints’ mom-and-pop restaurant to a mom-pop-and-son business, Arnold is ready to go a step further by establishing his own restaurant group with a variety of concepts. He is already scouting properties in the Belmont area and downtown for a fair-trade organic tea company, whose products are available on the PM menu. And he is working as a consultant to the Cheesecake Factory Inc. to develop the cocktail menu for an Asian-themed restaurant in Beverly Hills. Don’t expect Arnold to sell out his recipes for passion fruit sangria, lychee lemonade, chai-tini or the other creative concoctions on PM’s menu anytime soon. “Those are the ones I’m not prepared to give away,” he says.
PM serves lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner seven days a week.
Yes, the Fidelity National CEO is George Scanlon. Our error. It is now fixed. Thanks!
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