Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Los Arcos

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Los Arcos
3798 Nolensville Road
Nashville
615-837-3800

Have you ever had one of those days when you probably just ordered the wrong thing for lunch? That’s how I felt leaving Los Arcos. There was enough really good about the restaurant to convince me that I just hit a dud menu item.

Los Arcos has one of the nicer interiors for a Nashville Mexican joint. The tile floors, pleasant arches, fountain and bar stocked with a wide variety of tequilas speak to an ownership that cares about appearances. They also seem to care about quality. The salsa had a nice, fresh zing. The homemade guacamole was made with ripe avocados. They even kept replacing the hot chips, with more hot chips, in fact before we were even half done with the basket. They really believe in hot chips.

I know I should have ordered seafood. Seafood is a major theme at Los Arcos, right down to the heavy nautical theme chairs. They do have a large seafood menu with ceviches and plenty of shrimp choices. Other folks have said quite positive things about the seafood. I just didn’t feel like seafood. Ah well, next time.

I ordered the burrito especial. It came drenched in a flood of red enchilada sauce which left the burrito kinda soggy. The beef inside wasn’t much to write home about either. I ordered tacos to get a sampling and thankfully looked closely at the menu. Some items at Los Arcos are the Americanized version, like the crunchy corn shell tacos. If you look closer you might see another version, more in traditional Mexican mode. I ordered Al Pastor and Carnitas. The Al Pastor was quite good. You squeeze a bit of lime and put a little fresh avocado on top. It’s taqueria food in nicer surroundings. The carnitas was a bit dry, but both versions were better than the average fare, although not as good as at many taquerias in town.

Veggie Eater: So perhaps you’ve noticed a theme…it feels like we are forever on a quest for great, down home Mexican food. When we lived in Milwaukee, the place that fit the bill was El Pavo Real. Its name conjures up for us phenomenal food (including mole), great prices and a wonderful atmosphere. There was no mariachi music there, and barely any English spoken by wait staff or customers. With the stick set so high, it’s not hard to imagine that everything else has fallen a bit short since that time. In any case, our quest continued at Los Arcos. Still not El Pavo Real, but at least a good meal. What I really enjoyed were the sides and sauces; they all had subtle flavors. The guac was fresh. The salsa for the chips had lots of cilantro and just a hint of heat after the fact. They served some sort of fresh hot sauce with the meal; it had a slightly oily texture and was a bit hotter than the salsa. The rice had a decidedly smoked flavor and incorporated both corn and peas. The main items were not that interesting, but as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I don’t order interesting things. Part of it is comfort; part of it is limited options when you are a vegetarian. In any case the cheese enchilada was ok. The relleno was large, generously stuffed with cheese and appeared to have been freshly battered and fried. I had more than enough food for lunch the next day. Will I rush down there for another meal? Probably not. Did it satisfy me at the time? Absolutely.

Meat Eater: Service was top-notch and the manager came out to check on us, and other diners, personally. It would be fun to hit the bar on a Friday night for some tequila sampling before dinner. Our total was $33 with tax and tip.
Los Arcos on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 17, 2008

House of Pizza-Arcade

Nashville Restaurants and Food
House of Pizza
15 Arcade- Downtown
Nashville
615-242-7144
So, I go into House of Pizza at 5:30pm on a Wednesday. The place is set to close at 6pm. I look around and order a chicken roll and a slice of pizza. Manny looks concerned. There are two lonely, congealed slices sitting on a pan. He looks up and me and says my slice may take a few minutes. He then proceeds to make an entire pizza from scratch, just so I can have my one slice hot and fresh from the oven.

House of Pizza isn’t just a figurative hole in the wall. It really does feel like some pizza cave inside of the Arcade in downtown Nashville. It’s also the closest thing we’ve come to an authentic Northeast pizza joint here in the Nashville area. The worn little dining room in back; the cramped way you have to stand over the counter when you order; the back and forth between Manny and his regulars: I am transported back to the Kenmore Square in Boston.

The food isn’t spectacular at House of Pizza, it’s just good. And it’s good in a way you can’t usually get around here. The pizza has a thin, crispy crust. The slices are wide and oozing with melted cheese, sauce and oregano. It’s the type of slice you can fold in half, or eat it end to end. There’s nothing fancy about the ingredients, they’re just put together right. You can also get lasagna, stromboli, spaghetti and meatballs and calzones. The rolls are kind of interesting. Manny features chicken and sausage rolls on most days. They’re basically meat and cheese rolled up in dough. You get some marinara for dipping.

Veggie Eater: This is one of my favorite spots on a workday when I am off. It’s very busy over lunch, but everyone patiently waits at the counter for their order. The staff is somewhat brash in that East coast way; it’s a little weird to encounter it in Nashville. No “sugar” or “honey” here, but they are in fact genuinely good humored. I love thin crust, New York style pizza and for this reason, I love House of Pizza. It reminds me of the Jersey pizzerias of my past. Thankfully, I no longer need to go to Jersey to get my fix.

Meat Eater: A special thanks to Lannae for tipping us off to House of Pizza many months ago. We’ve made it a regular stop ever since. We like to make it a kind of East Coast tour by grabbing a slice or two at House of Pizza and a Cheesesteak from Phillyman’s.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Nashville Restaurants and Food
City House
1222 4th Avenue North
Nashville
615-736-5838

http://www.cityhousenashville.com/

We usually don’t review the fancier places on this blog, but we’ve been waiting for a restaurant like this for several years now. The choices for good Italian in Nashville are few. It’s nice to have a joint that understands how Italians cook: with simplicity and with top notch ingredients. City House does a great job of translating the classic, down home foundation of Italian food.

City House is on Fourth Street on the frontier side of Germantown. Condos under construction line the street. The downtown skyline beckons. The building itself is an unassuming space made to look like a Tuscan farmhouse. The space inside does indeed bring to mind Tuscany, however it tries perhaps a little too hard. The massive walls have only a coating of white paint on brick and remain unadorned. The slightly stripped section that reveals the original red brick seems a bit forced, much as the exterior may try too hard. Still, it’s a fine and inviting space with high ceilings and a pleasant buzz to the room. This was 6 o’clock in the evening with half the tables filled. We’ve heard that the room can get quite loud when full. The open kitchen, complete with overlook seating is a nice touch. The bar provides a homey aside to get the evening started.

We try and sample as many items as possible when we first try a restaurant. I started with the House Cured Salami with Parmesan. The meats are a highlight at City House. They are cured, and in the case of the sausage, made from scratch at the restaurant. I had heard many good reviews so I had to try at least one meat dish, while the veggie eater picked out the parmesan. The salami is so thinly sliced it literally melts in your mouth with a pleasing creaminess, which is well paired with the chunks of sharp parmesan. Taralli are unsweet biscuit rings popular as street food in southern Italy. The City House take turns them more into breadsticks of a sort. They are paired with green and black olives which seem mild in flavor at first, but finish with a rich fullness. The Montasio Cheese and Potato Frico features a crust of cheese baked to a crisp, covering tender diced potatoes. It is a completely satisfying combination of smoky and savory.

For whatever reason the one item Americans have the toughest time recreating is Italian pizza. We’re a society of more and thus the simplicity of Pizza Margherita often gets lost in translation. Not at City House. They nail it. The thin, crispy crust leaves a bit of flour on your fingers. The thin tomato sauce gives the pizza a nice tang without overwhelming. A drizzle of olive oil and the luscious homemade mozzarella are the only toppings and all that any great pizza really needs. It’s one of the best pizzas we’ve had in Nashville and amazingly close to what we remember from a favorite trattoria in Cortona.

Bread Gnocchi finished our tasting. It’s a different twist that gives the gnocchi a quick pan fry for just the slightest bit of char. It’s denser than what you might typically find from gnocchi. The Cauliflower Ragu is understated, but with just enough levity to bring up the whole dish. It’s the type of farm based comfort food that you would expect to find in Italy.

Veggie Eater: It’s not often I leave happy after sampling Italian food at a restaurant. I have in fact once cried at a restaurant over a bad Italian food. Let me assure you, there is no reason to cry at City House. The restaurant itself is cozy on the outside and somewhat stark on the inside; looks a little trendy for my tastes. But the food won me over. The service was great; rarely do we get a meal where all of the food arrives on schedule and all needs are tended to before you ask. I am a gnocchi lover and it was fabulous. It has inspired me to pull out my copy of Silver Spoon and try to make a fresh cauliflower ragu. I have to say that this is now neck and neck with Eastland Café as my most favorite restaurant in Nashville. It’s not cheap, but it’s not prohibitively expensive either. I have paid far more money at other Nashville establishments and been far less wowed. A definite do-over.

Meat Eater: We eyed the outdoor patio with a bit of longing. A summer meal, looking out over the Nashville skyline will be worth another trip in a few months, although I’ll bet we’ll be back a couple of times before then. We paid $100 with tax and tip, which included three glasses of wine and two cappuccinos. And you know what, they even get the cappuccinos right. I guess we should have expected that.
City House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Kalamatas

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Kalamatas
3704 Hillsboro Road
Nashville

615-383-8700

We’re suckers for falafel. It has to be really good falafel. Kalamatas has never disappointed. The falafel is crisp, lightly fried on the outside; moist inside and not greasy. It’s also an indication of the care taken with the rest of the menu.

Kalamatas calls itself “classically international food prepared with a Mediterranean twist.” It seems like they are trying to leave room for whatever creations the chef wants to cook up. For the most part the Kalamatas menu is made up of Greek and Middle Eastern favorites with a few excursions outside the classics.

You could easily stuff yourself on the appetizers alone: creamy hummus, tangy tabouleh and savory stuffed grape leaves. The pita is always fresh and the falafel a real highlight. Salads also hit the spot. The basic Greek salad is nothing fancy, just the usual lettuce, tomato, olives, feta and vinaigrette. It’s the quality of those ingredients that make it shine. You can turn the salad into an entrée by adding marinated chicken breast, lamb kabob, beef kabob or veggies. The Fattoush salad is also excellent, piled high with onions, pita and a Lebanese dressing.

Sandwiches include traditional gyros and deli favorites like tuna and chicken salad. The tuna gets a fresh makeover with capers, onions, lemon zest and olive oil. Spinach pie, focaccia and tomato basil Florentine soup make it clear they’re willing to break outside of the international borders whenever they want.

The service is crisp and efficient. You put in your order and they tell you exactly how long it will take. By the time you have finished the salad the falafel sandwich is coming out freshly cooked. The owner greets regulars and helps the newcomers with the menu. In the end when you go to pay and your server asks “was everything okay?” You know they really mean it.

The total was $9 with tax and tip. The Veggie Eater wasn’t along on this trip, and she did express a bit of sadness over that fact. She really enjoys Kalamatas and they have plenty of options for the vegetarian.
Kalamata's on Urbanspoon