Sunday, May 31, 2009

Las Americas

Nashville Restaurants and Food

Las Americas

4715 Nolensville Road



It’s tucked out of the way, up a little hill and hidden by signage. Once you find Las Americas, though, you are bound to find your way back. It’s a bright, lively family place that serves up some really good food that spans several countries.

Start with pupusas, the classic El Salvadorian fried masa flour dough masterpieces, which come out of the kitchen hot on the outside and gooey inside. Revueltas are the mixed variety, which at Las Americas means pork and queso melding together for a rich, satisfying center. The curtido slaw may lack a vinegar kick but the tomato salsa served alongside adds a nice tangy note. The pupusas are a specialty at Las Americas. The fillings include the popular chicharron, pork rind, version and straight cheese.

The rest of the menu runs Mexican in style. Sopes are masa cakes with your choice of topping. Gorditas, guaraches and of course tacos are available. They have a slightly wider variety of meats than you might see at some places in town, including Deshebrada (shredded) beef, carnitas pork tips, tongue, Cabeza beef cheek and tripe. The deshebrada beef taco is a pretty little thing served up with a wedge of ripe avocado.

If you’re getting the feeling that this isn’t your typical Mexican restaurant, you’re right. You won’t find Americanized ways of doing things. No chips and salsa here. You can ask for it on the side and pay for it, but the chips could very well be whatever they pull out of the adjacent market and that may be tostada shells. It’s just not something they usually do south of the border. If you want a nice side order up some of the creamy, fresh guacamole for a real treat. All that said there are people who speak English here and you won’t feel out of place. Bring some kids and you’ll fit in even better.

The Torta Al Pastor has a crispy, grilled bun and well mannered layers of tomato, lettuce, onion inside. This isn’t one of the over the top tortas you find at some spots. Still, it hit the spot.

Veggie Eater: The menu is not terribly veggie friendly, though I’m certain the folks here would substitute veggie friendly stuff. As I really wanted to try the pupusas, I ordered the bean and cheese pupusa and a cheese quesadilla (really chicken quesadilla, minus the chicken). The bean and cheese pupusa was comfort food at its best; smoky masa enveloping a smudge of bean and melted queso. Very simple, but very good. The cheese quesadilla was about as exciting as it sounds. They had quite a few enchilada choices, which again, I assume could be made with cheese enchiladas. The enchiladas verdes and enchiladas with chipotle sauce both were contenders for my attention, but alas will have to wait for another day.

Meat Eater: We’ve heard great things about Las Americas from readers and especially the folks on the Nashville Scene Bites blog and we’re glad we finally doing a review. The prices are pretty cheap. We ordered a boat load of food for less than $20. You could easily have lunch here for $5.

Las Americas Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Golden Coast

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Golden Coast
1722 West End Ave.

Alright, we’ll admit right off the bat that we don’t know much about Chinese food. There are folks in town, like Lannae Long and her Lannae’s Food and Travel Blog, who we trust for advice on Asian food joints. We do enjoy good Chinese and whenever we’re in Boston, New York, Chicago or San Francisco, it’s a must-do part of our eating itinerary. All that said Nashville is for the most part a disappointment in the Chinese food department. Which is why the foodies have been clinging to the weekend Chinese buffet at Golden Coast: it’s a taste of cuisine you can’t normally get around here and a chance for adventurous eaters to have some fun.
How much fun?

Well, on our recent visit we ended up sampling 30 items between us. Yes, we realize that we are pigs, but they were small servings. There were more than 50 items available on the day we visited, so we could have done more damage.

What sets apart the Golden Coast weekend lunch buffet is that more authentic Chinese dishes make it on the buffet line. The weekday menu is large, and has some good items, but it sticks to pretty much the Americanized favorites, with a few twists here and there.

The weekend lunch buffet stretches before us. I start with the crispy pork skin soup with seafood. It’s a rich, spicy broth with chewy bits of pork skin. Next stop: blue crab rubbed in spices: reasonably fresh crab with an unusually tasty seasoning salt. The fried dumplings have great flavor. Dried bean curd rolls are very dry, crisp and different. That could be said for many of the items. Chicken feet are, as expected, gelatinous, flavorful and something you really have to be a fan of to enjoy. Me, not so much.

There are a number of dishes that while they are not something you usually see on Nashville Chinese menus, still are sure to satisfy the most conservative of diner. Braised beef was a real highlight: tender, a little sweet and full of flavor. The fish in brown sauce is also excellent, served up with a light fry and a delicate, sweet sauce.

If you really want your more well known Americanized standards, don’t worry, you can find them in that buffet line. Honey chicken is a holdover from the weekday menu and it’s good. Sweet and sour shrimp, chicken wings and General’s chicken await; look just next door and what do we find: Sliced beef Szechuan style. It’s served up cold and with nice flavor. They put the tendons to the side so you can choose if you want to add the crunchy, chewy texture to your plate. There are little dishes like this all over the buffet.

Dim Sum makes an appearance on the buffet line. The pork buns have great flavor and rice dumplings come steamed inside a leaf with sticky rice and mushrooms at the bottom. Shrimp dumplings are a zesty bite of spring, with scallions and greens bursting out. This isn’t great dim sum compared to the places in Boston and Chicago we’ve been to, but it is nice to have a Nashville option.

Seafood is a specialty at Golden Coast and certainly on display at the weekend buffet. Salty squid is perfectly fried and salty shrimp delicious as you crunch right through the yielding shell.

Seafood eating or not, there is plenty on this buffet line for veggie eaters.

Veggie Eater: I began with the dim sum items; veggie spring rolls, sesame roll, and red bean puff. I found the fried items to be a bit greasy. The red bean puff was really quite good; slightly sweet and flakey. Next round was the Szechuan bean curd, bok choy with dried bean curd skins, rice noodles, and lo mein. The Szechuan bean curd was good; served with peas (fresh? they had a more legume-y texture than frozen) ,carrots and a simmering red sauce. It had a subtle heat after the fact. The bok choy with fried tofu skins had an interesting texture thanks to the tofu skins. The rice noodles were good and great with the scallion sauce. The lo mein was a bit uninspired. My next round was the seaweed salad; the bean thread noodles (love them) were adorned with sliced seaweed and crisp, julienned veggies (bell pepper, carrots). The green beans were cooked perfectly; crisp/tender. The rice roll was odd; sticky rice and Chinese mushrooms steamed in a giant leaf thing. On the buffet, not counting dessert items, there were at least 14 veggie items; plus a ton of seafood items (I am simply not a seafood fan). Not a perfect meal, but far more inventive than any Chinese restaurant I’ve been to in Nashville and really very good for buffet food. I would come back just for the sake of being able to try something new.

Meat Eater: The décor at Golden Coast is pretty generic. The people make up the difference. Vandy students laugh and regulars commiserate over what is new on the buffet. Entire families come in after church. Meanwhile a science fiction movie plays, sound up, in the dining room. It’s not a bad vibe and for a chance to taste so many different Chinese dishes, it’s probably one of the best options Nashville has right now. We’re glad we followed the foodies to the Golden Coast. Next time we’ll have to check out one of their special menus that they do through the year, especially the Chinese New Year’s 10- course dinner that we have heard so much about. It’s sponsored by the Chinese Arts Alliance.

The Golden Coast weekend lunch buffet is served up from 11am to 3pm on Saturday and Sunday. We paid $25 with tip for two.
Golden Coast Chinese on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Restaurant Health Scores

Occasionally a question is raised about the health score a restaurant might receive. Food safety is a real concern and the health scores can be an indication of problems. Because of the inspection and re-inspection process, and how often scores change, we won't list them in this blog. We don't think it's fair to the restaurants. However, we have added links to the Metro Health Department and Tennessee Department of Health so you can get the latest scores. Both systems are pretty easy to use. For the Metro list you need to enter a date range and then the list of inspections comes up alphabetically. For the Tennessee site you can search by restaurant name or address. You'll find the new links on the right hand side of the screen. We hope this helps.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Café Coco’s Italian Market and Kitchen

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Café Coco’s Italian Market and Kitchen
411 51st Ave. North


Imagine building a sandwich by pointing at capicolla, genoa salami, mortadella and big wedges of provolone, and pecorino. That was our first visit to the Italian Market, shortly after it opened a few years back. It was glorious and confusing all at the same time. You might wait a half-hour for a sandwich, but damn was it good. You took that first bite and a little olive oil and vinegar came running down your fingers, and then the taste of rich meats and cheeses all melding together. Those days are gone and while we miss the messy fun of the old place, the Café Coco version of the Italian Market is much more professional and still quite good.

The Café Coco folks proudly announce their Italian heritage. They have a reputation for turning out inventive, fun sandwiches at the Elliston area restaurant by the same name. That place is of course a classic for the after bar crowd; a madhouse mash up of Goths, rockers, doctors, and anyone else hankering for good food at a cheap price. The Italian Market is a world different in style. The living room feel of the old place is now more of a relaxed traditional restaurant with a lively order counter. It seems like it is becoming a popular spot. We visited a couple of months ago, when they had just changed hands, and it was relatively quiet. Our latest trip on a Sunday found 20 people in line just after noon. Part of that is due to the Sunday brunch offering. It puts a slight Italian twist to some classics. Eggs Benedict come in classic Florentine spinach and another version with Italian sausage and herb Panini bread. There are omelets, breakfast sandwiches and even pasta Carbonara. Brunch runs 9am to 3pm, but if you’re close to lunch you can also order off the lunch menu.

We decided to mix and match, choosing pasta off the lunch menu and the eggs Florentine off the brunch menu. The Tortellini Elliston comes in a light cream tomato sauce. The pasta is treated with care in cooking and comes up light and delicate with savory cheese inside, which is a nice foil for the tomato sauce. Two narrow slices of their signature Panini bread rest on the edge of the bowl. The bread is airy, toasty and perfect for dipping. There are several pasta dishes to choose from, and a create your own pasta option that allows you to pick between fettuccine, linguine, penne or tortellini and a couple of different sauces and then a range of sautéed ingredients to add in.

The Panini sandwiches include the Lucia: cappicola ham, tomato, spinach and provolone turned gooey in the press and melting into the pesto/mayo spread. It’s a much more delicate sandwich than the predecessors. It’s tasty, albeit a little tame. They may be trying to up the ante. Hero sandwiches are a new part of the lunch menu, promising choices of hot meatball, Italian sausage or classic meats on a six inch sub roll. The lunch menu also has pizzas, entrees such as baked ziti and eggplant parmesan

There are a few sides. The Caesar has fresh greens and a tangy dressing. The pasta salad, though, left us a bit flat. It was not much in the flavor department, just a little oil, vinegar, olives and green peppers.

Veggie Eater: The first time around I sample the Formaggio Panini…it was good, but not as good as the original Italian Market deli sandwiches; it was a bit more fufu and a little less authentic (really, American cheese on an Italian sandwich?). The initial visit also left me panicked as they did not have nearly the same amount of deli and dry goods that the original did; this was a near crisis as the visit was timed to buy all ingredients necessary for the fabled Christmas lasagna. They did not have everything needed, but had most (no whole milk ricotta at that time and they did not have no boil noodles). So, more stops were required to get the other stuff. This is still a great improvement over when we moved here 5 years ago and literally had all lasagna ingredients shipped to us from New York and Boston. On the second visit, we split breakfast and lunch. I enjoyed the Eggs Florentine served on Panini, with fresh sautéed spinach and hollandaise (perhaps a tiny bit too runny) and tortellini (a shade too salty). Not great, but good. The dry food section has improved since our first stop in.

Meat Eater: We paid $28 with tax, tip and a drink for the two brunch entrees and the cheesecake. They’re advertising breakfast each weekday starting at 6am and as the name implies there is an expanding selection of pastas, olive oil and various other items to choose from in the market section. They seemed to have backed off a bit on the cheese selection, but they still have about 10 cheeses to choose from and a variety of meats by the pound. We miss the old messy place but we can’t think of anyone better to have taken over. The Café Coco folks have done a good job with the makeover and a new menu to match.
Coco's Italian Market and Eatery on Urbanspoon