Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swagruha

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Swagruha
Nashville Farmers’ Market
900 Rosa L Parks Blvd

Nashville
615- 736-7001
We like to sample. Give us a bunch of dishes to try and we’re in heaven. It’s easy to do at a buffet and tapas is made for sampling. But sampling with a $6.49 lunch plate? It can be done at Swagruha Indian restaurant, the creation of Vijay and Siva Pavuluri. These folks care about their food and apparently want to share it with the world.
We first got the idea from the couple in front of us. They’re pointing at dishes and Siva Pavuluri is dishing it up; just little portions, but in near ridiculous numbers. So, we step up and start pointing and soon she has piled the plate high, using little plastic cups for reinforcement. I’m here to tell you it got crazy. We walked away with small samples of 12 dishes on one tray and 8 dishes on another. Oh, and we had big smiles on our faces. We could tell immediately that this is food well worth sampling.
Pavuluri was assisted this Saturday by her charming children, Surya and Swathi. Swagruha has only been open since November in the Nashville Farmers’ Market, but they are acquiring a reputation as a great lunch spot. The food is Southern Indian, which may be a bit different for Nashville diners. Northern Indian cuisine has more dairy based dishes. Southern Indian is rice based, generally spicier and features more vegetarian recipes.
The lunch special starts with your choice of vegetable or chicken rice. They’re both full flavored dishes with a bit of heat. In fact it’s safe to say nearly everything on the menu has some degree of heat. Diners who don’t like spicy food will want to choose their selections carefully. The chili chicken is marinated to an orange glow and cubed into little bits. Like many of the spicy dishes it packs some serious heat, but not to the detriment of the flavor. The paneer cheese and pea curry has strong spice and yet maintains a savory flavor that made it one of our favorites. The chicken curry maintains a nice balance between heat and taste.
On the milder side the lamb curry comes in rich gravy. The butter chicken is marinated cubes cooked with butter and cream in a thick sauce. Chicken tikka masala is Tandoor oven roasted and combined with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes. The onion pakoda come with every plate. They’re lightly fried, crispy and with a nice bite of onion.
About the only dud we encountered is the naan, which came out chewy to the point of being rubbery. This is a problem many folks have had with Swagruha. We suspect a microwave as the culprit. It seems a shame to have such great food accompanied by lame bread.
Veggie Eater: As an aside, the Farmers Market is finally nearing the light at the end of the tunnel. The food court is showing signs of life. On this day, there was big band music playing with regular folks cutting a rug. Everyone at the Farmers Market has grins on their faces, pleased with getting the best deal on whatever prized item they were on a quest for. By the way, a pound of shelled whole pecans for $5.50? Sign me up…but I digress. Swagruha will certainly entice me back very soon. As always, Indian food is very veggie friendly. My main choice was the Vegetable Korma; it had a subtle heat to it and a wonderful silky sauce. Then there were the variety of curries; the veggie options on this day were mango (lively and tart), potato (comfort food at its best), paneer (fabulous), and chickpea (my favorite legume). The veggie rice was wonderfully seasoned, fluffy and light. You want more than your plate can hold? No problem, just keep pointing and the little cups will be filled. My tummy had a warm glow all afternoon and it fortified me for planting all the stuff we bought at the Farmers Market.

Meat Eater: Finish up with the Mango pudding. It’s light, silky and the perfect ending after all that spicy food. We paid just $14.14 for two lunch plates, which includes a drink. They pile on the food and we both took full to-go containers home. Three cheers to the Pavuluri family for bringing really good Indian food to the Farmers’ Market.
Swagruha Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Satay Thai Grill

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Satay Thai Grill
2412 Elliston Place
Nashville
615-915-0972
www.sataynashville.com

When you’re out for lunch a restaurant needs to be fun, informal, and fast. Satay Thai Grill is placed perfectly to be a good lunch spot and if they would keep later hours (they are only open until 8 p.m. on the weekend) it could be a good after bar joint. Satay is just down the street from the Elliston Rock Block and across the street from Vanderbilt University.

There’s a take-out vibe as soon as you hit the door. The order counter is right there. It’s a simple menu, which is another nice feature for the lunch crowd. You order, sit down, and enjoy the bright, original art. Have a chat with your friends and before you know it food appears.

Two appetizers on the menu hit the spot. The fresh rolls are done up in rice paper with crisp carrot, cucumber, lettuce and grilled shrimp inside. They’re plump, flavorful and fresh. The deep fried spring roll has a real crunch and the bean-thread noodle, and cabbage has nice flavor. The dipping sauces, hoisin peanut and plum are okay, but not real standouts.

Tom Yum soup arrives in a plastic bowl (everything was served on plastic for our visit, which is okay: less for you to break). It has a strong broth of lemon grass and lime leaves, tomatoes and nicely cooked shrimp, or your choice of chicken. There’s not a lot of soup there, it’s really just a taste, but at $2.95 that’s about right. It’s nice to be able to enjoy a bunch of low cost dishes.

Satay is of course the centerpiece of the menu. The grilled beef, chicken or shrimp is served on a skewer and you get a choice of steamed rice, fried rice or steamed noodles. There’s a fresh little salad served on the side, with an average vinegar dressing. The beef proves tender and has a nice little char; however it’s kind of laid back in the flavor department. The peanut dipping sauce helps: it’s a little sweet and a little spicy. It’s good satay, but not great. The sticky fried rice is tasty and the noodles are savory. Our friends tried the chicken and it was similar in style: cooked well but with subdued flavor.

The meats also come in grilled and deep fried versions, with the same basic options for rice and noodles. Those items do feature more sauces: curries, panang or sesame ginger glaze.

Veggie Eater: They offer up tofu versions of their entrees, a special request when we visited, but tofu has since been added to the menu. I opted for the steamed noodle satay with tofu. The tofu was pan fried; no additional seasoning to the tofu. The noodles were a bit gloppy and I would have preferred rice noodles with the satay. The peanut sauce was a bit sweet for me and did not have the depth of flavor I normally expect; it seemed to be little more than peanut sauce, coconut milk, and maybe a tiny bit of sambal olek. I guess I anticipated more of a restaurant, but in reality it is kind of a fast food take out joint. If you accept it for what it is, then the food is pretty good.

Meat Eater: The entrees come in at about $8 and the appetizers and soup range from $1.95-$2.95. Satay Thai Grill is a good spot for an inexpensive lunch or dinner. We paid $24 with tax and water.
Satay Thai Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

July 4 is guaranteed to be hot in Nashville

This just in from the Hot Chicken Festival organizers. I have many questions about the beer garden size (can it be expanded?) and any changes in selling chicken (lines soooo long). I will ask and let you know what I hear back. In the meantime:

The 2009 Music City Hot Chicken Festival will once again be celebrating Nashville's original culinary tradition - hot chicken - on July 4th, 2009.

This free event features the unique southern flare of local restaurants, professional & amateur cooking competitions, inflatable jumpys for the kids, the Yazoo Brewery beer garden, and of course, legendary Nashville music.

The Music City Hot Chicken Festival, approaching its 3rd year, has already been recognized as one of the most unique food festivals in the Southeast. The festival's attendance has grown from 1500 people in 2007 to over 5000 people last year. Our goal for the 2009 festival is 10,000 hot chicken lovers.So please join us for the 2009 Music City Hot Chicken Festival, Nashville's hottest summer festival.

Saturday, July 4th
11am - 3pm
EastPark (700 Woodland Street)
_________________________________________
Save the Date - Saturday, July 4, 2009
www.musiccityhotchickenfestival.com

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Golden Thai

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Golden Thai
73 White Bridge Rd.

Nashville
615-353-9411
Ah, the sounds and sights of the season. “Silent Night” plays softly in the background. Plastic garland hangs festively from the ceiling. Only one problem: it’s March. We never got a chance to ask the folks at Golden Thai why they have made the decision to hang on to the Christmas spirit well into spring, but it hardly matters. We would probably put up with a Bob Hope Christmas Special playing over and over again for a shot at good Thai food. And Golden Thai delivers.
You ask for hot at this west side joint and hot is what you’ll get. While the menu gives you four levels of fire: mild, medium, hot and native Thai, a pleasant chat with our charming waitress reveals that the heat knob actually goes to 10. That’s right; the previously mentioned options are merely two through five on the heat scale. Apparently the regulars come in asking for 8, 9 and yes, even 10. And it’s not a jacked up scale. The medium has nice spice and the hot a real zip. Native Thai is quite hot.
The pad Thai, ordered hot, is still plenty savory. While the noodles are bit mushy the solid flavor makes up for it and the heat brings the dish alive. Crunchy bean sprouts, firm shrimp and bits of peanut give enough texture to keep us happy. The curries include red, green, Panang, Massamun and Hung Ray options. The red is a cocoanut base with mushrooms, bell peppers, basil and carrots. The curry is rich and spicy, a good medium in the heat level, and best of all you can taste all the distinct flavors of the add ins. Mushrooms still taste like mushrooms and the green peppers have a satisfying snap, despite the curry bath. This is what sets Golden Thai apart from many Nashville Thai joints: they cook carefully and retain the integrity of the ingredients. The thing we love about Thai food is the fact that you get so many interesting flavors that dance together, or at least they should, unless overcooked. Golden Thai gets it right.
The restaurant is a bit more expensive than other Thai places around. Dinner entrees range from $11.95 to $19.95 and appetizers from $2.95-$7.95. They have several veggie options in each section, like a bean thread clear soup or the asparagus with garlic.
Veggie Eater: Almost all entrees have a tofu option. I was really torn about what to order, and asked the waitress for advice. I originally wanted a curry item, but the waitress was kind enough to inform me that Massamun curry is not great with veggies. Thus I opted for the garlic asparagus at Native Thai heat. The waitress checked back to see if it was too hot/hot enough, which is the point at which my dining experience entered some sort of Spinal Tap like existence; yes you can make an amplifier which goes to 11…native was reasonably hot, but I may turn the knob to 11 next time just for kicks. The asparagus as generous in portion and very garlicky; there were julienned slices of pan fried garlic atop the veggies. The asparagus was crispy/soft; perfectly cooked. The Jasmine rice was fluffy and well cooked. My only complaint is that the pad Thai did not knock my socks off. Nonetheless, the asparagus dish is about the best Thai I’ve had in Nashville.
Meat Eater: The interior is stylish and modern, with cool Asian art and an interesting box style futon cushion seating that has amused us over the years (it’s fun watching people extract themselves after a big meal). The Veggie Eater will probably want a return trip soon to test out heat level 10 (or 11 apparently). I will stand by with my car keys at the ready for a quick trip down the street to St. Thomas hospital.
Golden Thai on Urbanspoon