Saturday, July 26, 2008

La Terraza

Nashville Restaurants and Food
La Terraza
5751 Nolensville Rd.

The Mexican restaurant scene in Nashville is exploding. A drive down Nolensville Road often reveals the sprouting of a new Taqueria or Panaderia. The Taqueria trucks are moving into more permanent surroundings in new buildings. It all means that the competition is heating up. La Terraza brought much to the plate when it opened in 2000. In 2008 it’s a different scene. On that note we visited on a recent Sunday, our first time out.

The interior is colorful and a bit over the top. The street and countryside scene is bright and accented by arches and tiled floors. The staff is geared up and ready to go. The open kitchen reveals fast moving chefs in a uniform of red shirts and baseball caps. Waitresses quickly pick up a new table and take the order.

The menu is huge at La Terraza. It covers seafood, grilled meat, Taqueria favorites, and Mexican-American classics. The place is also quite kid friendly, from the special children’s menu to the wide open spaces. Families can spread out and enjoy the meal. That was happening in droves as the noon hour approached. It was a festive and relaxed atmosphere with a diverse mix of Latinos and a variety of other ethnicities in the crowd.

I went for the Parrillada Especial. It’s a grilled combo plate with steak, pork chop, chicken and chorizo. The thin cut meats are prepared in a special marinade according to the menu. There is no doubt they are dancing on a charcoal grill. That comes through loud and perhaps a bit too clear. Thin cut meat is fine, but it has to retain some juice. These cuts were dry and tasting too much of the fire. I like grilled food a lot but you need to be careful with the char. It was just around the edges but it dominated all flavors, proving to be a little bitter. Any evidence of marinade was hard to find.

The toughest thing about Mexican-American food is the ingredients. Everyone is going to have frijoles. You need to make sure yours are top notch. We found the refried beans at La Terraza to be rather bland. The rice wasn’t much better. The presentation is fine and the slice of avocado and the lime on the plate a good touch.

We started with a good rich, red salsa. However, I soon found the Veggie Eater dumping that salsa on her plate of food. Never a good sign.

Veggie Eater: A loyal reader recently noted that we always appear to be referencing the need for the food we eat to be “spiced up” or “zipped up.” Point taken. I will freely admit to liking “hot” food. However, I really don’t usually put additional stuff on my refried beans, but found I was unconsciously adding salsa as they had virtually no flavor. Ditto for the rice; although fluffy, it didn’t have much flavor. Although I found the flavor of the salsa to be fresh, it was devoid of virtually all texture; there were no discernable parts of items used to make salsa. It appears to have been pureed to a slightly thick liquid. The Chile Relleno tasted fresh and had a slight zing to it. The enchilada’s corn tortilla was not a mushy mess, which was a big plus. However, the enchilada sauce was nothing special. In my mind what separates good Mexican food from great Mexican food are the spices. It doesn’t have to be hot, but it does have to have the unexpected twist. Pepita salsa; salsa made with tomatillos, rice generously seasoned with cilantro, beans given a smokey earthiness by using chipotles, veggie enchiladas stuffed with fresh spinach, mole made from 5 different kinds of dried and roasted chilies pestled into a delicate powder…these are just a few of the simple things that have elevated other meals from good to great. Granted, we may not be able to find the hidden jewel in one visit, but there was nothing that suggested there was buried treasure to be found.

Meat Eater: This is only one visit. And that menu is so huge we might have just seen an off day. They do apparently have other varieties of salsa available, although we didn’t see them listed so perhaps you have to ask. La Terraza set the standard for Mexican seafood in town several years back and they have many fans. Still, it’s the subpar beans and rice that worries us. It’s the type of thing a top restaurant should have down. We paid $31 with tax, tip and two drinks.
La Terraza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Nashville Restaurants and Food
Nashville Farmers’ Market
900 Rosa Parks Blvd. (8th Avenue North)

Ah, a Saturday and a great sandwich. The two things go so well together. Combine that with some summer produce shopping and you have a nice afternoon. Luckily there is at least one great sandwich left to be found at the tarp covered construction zone known as the Nashville Farmers’ Market.

Nooley’s is just a couple of coolers and counter. It’s the type of place that might be easy to wander past. There is at least one good reason to stop. It’s called the Nooley Special. It’s meat and fixings piled onto a Muffaletto bun and then hot pressed Panini style. The ham, turkey, roast beef, Swiss and mayo meld together into a melty fusion. It’s a damn good sandwich. It’s not really a Po-Boy or a Muffaletto, but a Cajun cross that works well. I tackled the junior size and found it to be plenty with a cup of Gumbo. The Gumbo is a traditional blend of chicken and sausage. The base is an okay roux, a little lighter than some, and not a stand out in the flavor department. The sausage provides some needed spice.

You can order a sampler which included the aforementioned chicken and sausage gumbo and a shrimp version, as well as red beans and rice. The Po-Boy line-up features roast beef, ham and turkey. They have several sizes of Muffaletto to choose from and a nod to Creole cuisine on Thursdays with Jambalaya. Don’t forget to get a bag of the Zapp’s chips to really make it a Louisiana experience.

I paid $10 with tax, tip and a drink.
Nooley's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fattoush Café

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Fattoush Café
1716 Charlotte Ave.

There are several bustling Greek-Mediterranean lunch spots in Nashville. They specialize in tasty food and fast service. Fattoush Café is certainly all of that, and while it’s not the best Mediterranean in town, it rises above many. It’s in an unassuming storefront just west of downtown. At 11:30 a.m. there are 25 customers in line and just two hard working people behind the counter. Luckily they buzz through cooking, plating and cash register, and still manage a smile for the regulars. The knives are out and the meat is flying off the Gyro broilers and then on to the grill for a quick chop and sizzle. At 11:45 the line is up to 40 people. The food starts to slow, but the grins are still there, and the staff plows through the lunch rush like restaurant warriors.

We’ve been to Fattoush a few times in the evening, when it’s pretty slow and laid back, so it was good to see the reality of lunch. I order the Fattoush sampler and take my place for a wait. This probably wasn’t such a great idea considering the crowd and the complexity of the sampler. I waited about 15 minutes. I didn’t mind. It was kind of fun watching them work through the crunch.

The Falafel is very good: a crunchy fry on the outside and moist chickpea inside. The Stuffed Grape Leaves are less successful. You hope for a firm chew to dolma. A bite reveals a mushy and non-descript rice mixture, which on the menu includes oregano and lemon, but not so much on the plate. I noticed the Kibbeh Maquliah coming straight out of the freezer and into the fryer, so I was a bit worried. It came out a reasonably crisp cracked wheat shell with a mild meat and onion filling. The Hummus is tangy and despite the rush they still manage to put on a few garnish details. They also take care to serve up fluffy Turmeric rice and fresh, hot Pita.

The rest of the Fattoush menu includes the Middle Eastern version of the Gyro: the beef Shawerma. They have beef and lamb and chicken Gyros; Meltizanes Mousaka, which is eggplant and ground beef in a tomato sauce; lentil soup; and Baba Ghannouj. A couple of off the wall options include Fajitas and Cheese Sticks, although I suppose the cheese stick is Mediterranean in some respect.

I’m not sure if the Baklava usually comes with the Fattoush sampler or if they gave me a slice out of pity for my wait. Either way it was a sweet way to end a lunch. It’s a little heavy on the honey, which saturates the phyllo. Still a nice touch and overall a good meal that hit the spot.

I paid $12.43 with tax and a drink, although most of the items are in the $7 to $8 range.
Fattoush Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Music City Hot Chicken Festival

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Music City Hot Chicken Festival
East Park

The crispy skin, the tang of the first spice on your tongue, the heat building with the next bite, the moist white meat and a bit of juice dribbling down your chin, your fingers start to burn a little and then the lips tingle and start to go numb. It’s Hot Chicken, the pride of Nashville, and it’s nice to see the festival that celebrates the Music City specialty is growing.

East Park in East Nashville made a fine location once again for this July 4th fun. We arrived right at noon to find the free sample line already stretching for a couple of blocks. Luckily the expansion has brought new options. Prince's, Bolton’s and 400 Degrees Hot Chicken joints all had tents and trailers set up to sell their creations this year. While the free samples are a great idea, it’s obvious that this fest needs to grow to accommodate the crowd, which was several hundred even at Noon, the very minute the fest was supposed to be starting.

The amateur cooking contest looked fun. From what I could tell the contestants were laying on the heat, big time. I offer myself to organizers as a judge next year. Just part of my civic duty. Actually they used the experts: the chef's who make Hot Chicken a reality.

Beer! Beer! And even better: Yazoo Beer! Kudos to the organizers for adding the Yazoo beer tent this year. Beer and Hot Chicken go well together, even if beer isn’t the best beverage for drenching the heat. I think beer really sends a festival to a whole new level. Between beer and the ability to buy chicken, the Hot Chicken Fest has become a real destination where you can stay awhile and enjoy the music. We hope they continue to expand next year, perhaps giving Yazoo more space for the crowd. Also considering the Prince’s line to buy Hot Chicken was probably a hundred people or so, perhaps it’s time for these restaurants to assemble a small army to meet the demand? I foresee Hot Chicken-Roo in the near future, hopefully without the bad dancing. One final idea. I know it's a Hot Chicken festival, but perhaps something more for the vegetarians and non-meat eaters who happen to accompany Hot Chicken eaters? I don't know how this would work into the theme but it would be nice. I bet someone could whip up a really good Hot Quorn sandwich or blow your mouth up Boca fake chicken wrap.

The Chicken Shack
225 N. Rutherford Blvd.

The Chicken Shack is a Murfreesboro restaurant that set up shop for this year’s fest. They served up hot chicken wings in a couple of different flavors. I don’t make it down to Murfreesboro as much as I’d like to, so this was a good chance to sample. There was a bit of chaos as they tried to get revved up for the line that was already developing. I asked what medium would work out to be and they suggested the Smack Ya Mama Cajun. The wings are traditional Hot Chicken style: fried, with spice built into the batter and then added again when coming out of the fryer. The chicken was well cooked to a medium fry. The spice blend jumped right out, but with more of a salty, peppery flavor than true heat. Tasty, but not really what I’d call Hot Chicken. I kicked myself for not going with the hot wings. It’s always hard to tell, because everyone has their own heat scale. Hot at Prince’s will blow your mouth off and medium is a nice tasty burn. The same is basically true at Bolton’s.
The Chicken Shack serves up plain chicken wings, lemon, hot and what they call Iron Mike. The restaurant menu features good old fashion fried chicken, catfish, whitefish, shrimp and a few sandwiches and salads.
I spent $5 for 6 reasonably large and meaty wings.