Specialties of the House 

Former Ritz-Carlton chef brings contemporary cuisine—and $1,400-a-pound truffles—to a 19th century residence

For all the culinary buzz about the hidden gem of Andrew Chadwick’s at Rutledge Hill, there is still a hush about the restaurant, which opened stealthily in November on the all-but-forgotten rise south of Broadway. On a nightly basis, a quiet convoy of luxury sedans jockeys into on-street parking, and well-heeled guests step out onto quaint brick-paved sidewalks in front of the stately former residence at 37 Rutledge St. In this motley neighborhood of derelict dwellings, industrial warehouses and rehabbed architectural treasures, there is little fanfare heralding the arrival of a world-class chef. No velvet rope, no doorman. There’s not even a sign announcing the name of the restaurant. Like a speakeasy—peddling salmon bellies and truffles rather than bathtub gin—it’s the sort of place you just have to know about.

And the folks who know about Andrew Chadwick’s all seem to know each other—from the country club, the boardroom or the box seats. With polite restraint, they lean out of their sumptuous leather chairs to greet acquaintances at the neighboring tables in the intimate dining rooms. “Is this your first trip to Chadwick’s?” they whisper, abbreviating the name of the baby-faced chef-owner. “Did you know he has an induction stove?” they ask, referring to the high-tech cooktop that uses electromagnetic frequencies rather than gas flames or electric burners to heat the pans. “Have you tried the char?” they gush. “It’s beautiful.

And the gushing is justified at Andrew Chadwick’s, where the former Ritz-Carlton chef delivers a dining experience unlike any other in Nashville. First of all, there’s the building, a stunning architectural relic of the mid-19th century with a wraparound porch, high ceilings, thick moldings, original fireplaces and stained-glass transoms. Then there are the views: One table nestled in a bay window on the front of the house overlooks the twinkling evening skyline and the soaring arch of the Gateway bridge. On one side of the building, which most recently housed an adoption agency, two-story windows—part of an atrium added in the 1980s—look out onto the kitchen gardens and the historic carriage house. (The restaurant takes its subtle insignia from the bas-relief of three horse heads over the stable door.)

But for all the reserved elegance of its customers, Chadwick’s is, at heart, a refreshingly informal place. Oil paintings of grinning frogs adorn the walls, and servers in khakis and crisp white shirts patrol the room, as if ready to spring into a swing-dancing Gap ad at the drop of a fork. They speak knowledgeably and comfortably about the wine list, which arrives as an unbound deck of ecru paper, and about the menu, which is printed on legal-size sheets and uses no more than 10 words to describe any dish. (“The chef uses lots of squirts on the plate,” one server said unpretentiously—and aptly.) And they happily expose their gleaming kitchen to spectators through a pass-through window, where curious diners peer in to see Chadwick & Co. squirting bright infusions, oils, froths and foams onto plates composed as deliberately and colorfully as spare contemporary artworks.

In this streamlined environment of white tablecloths and white walls, details stand out, such as fresh rolls with butter dusted in smoked sea salt, an amuse-bouche of whipped goat cheese with horseradish and a beet wafer, Gosset champagne by the glass, rich oriental rugs and ornate silver water pitchers, to name a few memorable touches.

With seven first-course offerings, seven second-course offerings and five black-truffle tastings on the evenings we visited, the menu was deceptively straightforward. But had we been asked to predict how “seared diver scallops, composition of fennel, citrus salad,” for example, would look on the plate, we would not have imagined the striking display that arrived.

The delivery of the torchon was beautiful, with a rich disk of buttery foie gras accented by finely chopped chutney of caramelized apple—almost the texture of caviar—an apple crisp, an emerald drizzle of chervil-infused oil and tiny piles of pepper and smoked salt. Carpaccio with black truffles and Parmesan appeared on a long rectangular plate, with a rosy bed of tender beef topped with paper-thin coins of truffle at one end, and a peppery tussle of arugula and shaved cheese at the other. (Chadwick flies the truffles in from France, for $1,400 a pound.) Visually, the complementary colors of red and green made the plate pop, just as the buttery meat set off the earthy texture of the mushrooms.

While many of Chadwick’s presentations arrive in smaller portions than diners might be used to—and with little or no starch as filler—the lobster bisque was a generous bowl of sumptuous soup. Poured dramatically at the table over a lobe of shrimp-and-lobster sausage on a bed of Savoy cabbage, the bisque was an elegant opener to the meal.

Another stunning overture was the salmon toro. Four buttery strips of seared belly meat arrived in the bottom of a deep white bowl, into which the khaki-clad server poured a steaming broth of shellfish bouillon, which gently warmed the almost-raw fish upon impact.

An overriding characteristic of Chadwick’s cuisine is the delicate cooking that showcases the freshness of the ingredients. In many cases, the meat is cooked in the sous-vide method (under pressure in a constantly circulating water bath, well below a boil) and pan-seared on the precise induction cooktop. The result is food that bursts with flavor from within rather than cuisine that relies heavily on sauces and spices for flavor.

In an entrée of Arctic char with tiny Nantucket bay scallops, the buttery-smooth fish was almost upstaged by a velvety bed of sweet and earthy pureed parsnips, and by tiny bulbs of baby turnips and carrots as vivid and flavorful as balls of hard candy. While the presentation—with a vibrant green crust of minced herbs atop the fish—was gorgeous, the meal leaned toward mushiness, with little chewing required of the soft fish or vegetables.

More substantial and dramatic was the saddle of prime lamb, delivered on a hot square of rough slate. Tender meat was fanned over a bed of Israeli couscous—finished with preserved lemons and fresh parsley—whose individual grains glided across the tongue like soft citrus-tinged pearls. The rustic tile was garnished with a red-wine demi-glace, as well as a confetti of shaved baby radishes and pickled hedgehog mushrooms.

Perhaps the dish that best illustrated Chadwick’s consideration of individual ingredients was the seared diver scallops, which showcased fennel in at least three forms without lapsing into redundancy. Enormous fresh scallops—cooked sous-vide, then dusted with fennel pollen and seared until gently caramelized—sat on a bed of what at first appeared to be fettuccine. Upon closer inspection, the tangled ribbons turned out to be shaved raw fennel tossed with shallots, olive oil and vinegar, which gave the vegetable a texture and sweetness as if it had been sautéed. The plate was finished with drizzles of pureed fennel, fennel air (a foamy dollop of whipped fennel juice) and a bright-green fennel emulsion.

Like all of the dishes we tried, the beautiful scallop entrée delivered a bounty of flavors, delicately and artistically balanced. But we did overhear more than one diner lamenting (in decorous whispers, of course) the lack of carbohydrate on the plate. We, however, did not share that complaint—in fact, we thus felt even more justified to sample from the exquisite list of desserts. A flaky apple tart anchored a medley of distinct flavors, including a richly burned smear of caramel and a spoonful of apple caviar, a nod to the avant-garde cuisine that has been poking its nose into Nashville kitchens in the last few years.

Most memorable was the chocolate mousse, plated with a large bowl of blood oranges and regular orange segments and a scoop of coconut sorbet, which almost instantly disappeared into a tropical froth as the server poured a bath of fresh citrus juices over it.

A perfect coda to the meal was a surprising, unsolicited delivery of a homemade Madeleine and a square of caramel with fleur de sel. The gesture—garnished with a segment of blackberry dusted with smoked sea salt—recalled the vivid flavors of courses past, like a subtle Proustian joke.

When reviewing a new restaurant like Chadwick’s, there is an inevitable and selfish reluctance to spread the word, as if maybe we could just keep this place our little secret. So, let me qualify my recommendation in the hushed but enthusiastic tone of a Chadwick’s guest. If you need a baked potato, a breadbasket and a goofy list of colorful martinis laced with chocolate and green apples, then save your dinner dollars for a robust steakhouse and the reassuring sensation of overeating. But if creative cuisine that showcases the flavor and beauty—rather than the volume—of food appeals to you, then Andrew Chadwick’s delivers an exquisite evening. Even if the gorgeous food doesn’t exactly stick to your ribs, the outstanding experience will stick in your mind.

Andrew Chadwick’s at Rutledge Hill serves dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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