Sunday, July 19, 2009

El Mirador

Nashville Restaurants and Food
El Mirador
4235 Nolensville Pike

Deep, rich, smoky mole. Tangy tomatillo sauce. Warm, melt-in your mouth, homemade corn tortillas. Do we have your attention yet? Just a couple of authentic items on a Nashville Mexican restaurant menu can get us excited. El Mirador has far too many for us to sample in any one meal. We look forward to the challenge.

You can’t beat the location: right next to the K and S ethnic food supermarket on Nolensville Road. El Mirador has only been open for a month, but execution in the kitchen and out in the dining room seems pretty good. There was only one flaw in the entire meal. Pepsi managed to come out rather warm and flat, which the few meager pieces of ice could not correct.

Back to that food. Sauces appear to be a house specialty and they have a number of unique ones for this area. Vallarta is described as an orange tomato sauce. They serve several cremadas, cream sauce dishes. A parmesan cream sauce is another one you don’t see much. Interesting dishes include molcajet, which we assume is served in the traditional stone cookware. They have a beef and chicken version in a spicy sauce with mushrooms, onions and avocado. A seafood version comes with prawns and octopus. The spicier cousin of that prawn and octopus combo comes in a blazing red sauce and was making a gentleman at a nearby table sweat as he soothed his tongue with a Corona.

El Mirador puts together several nopales dishes. The cactus pads are sliced and provide a nice tart accent to dishes like pork. In this case the pork and nopales come in a lovely light sauce with onions and red bell peppers. The pulled pork has plenty of bark and appears to be marinated somehow, giving it an out of the world flavor. The combination is excellent and even better when piled onto one of the homemade corn tortillas. The fluffy, lightly grilled tortillas are some of the better in town. El Mirador also puts a nice spin on rice, giving it a quick grill it seems for a little extra punch of flavor and texture.

The menu is huge and an interesting dish pops up in nearly every section. The promise of mole caught our attention immediately and the Veggie Eater actually designed her own dish to take advantage.

Veggie Eater: It’s been quite some time since I’ve found eaten at a Mexican restaurant that offers mole, so I jumped at the opportunity. The menu paired chicken enchiladas with mole, but the folks here were happy to substitute cheese enchiladas and I was thrilled with the result. Cheese enchiladas in and of themselves are not terribly interesting, but when topped with homemade mole, they are fabulous. Yes, that is correct, the mole is homemade. T his was the common brown version; slightly sweet, slightly chocolatey, silky in texture. Dried, roasted chiles and herbs pestled into bits and then rehydrated. The rice was good; it has a slightly crunchy flavor which also seems fried. It makes a nice contrast of the ooey-gooey of the beans and enchiladas. They serve beans and a Mexican version of slaw (curtido) with the chips and salsa (nice and fresh, with plenty of cilantro). I had originally had my heart set on Korean for lunch, but alas it was not to be. This managed to turn my disappointment around and set my Sunday back onto a positive course.

Meat Eater: They gave us two little complimentary sopapillas with whipped cream for a surprise desert. They were the perfect end to a really good meal. The servers on our visit all spoke English quite well. The interior is a cheery and bright Mexican village motif. The owner has been running express type restaurants in Nashville for some time. This is his first try at a sit down place. We’re glad he took the plunge. Nashville needs more menus like this one.

Update 8/9/2010: A recent trip to El Mirador showed that the Nolensville Road joint is still serving up quality Mexican food. Steaks can be hit and miss in a Mexican restaurant. I ordered mine medium-rare at El Mirador and was flabbergasted when it actually came out that way. Usually they're well done and pounded flatter than a pancake. The house named El Mirador steak was a tasty, marinated t-bone and reasonably tender given the thin cut. Rolled up in some house made corn tortillas (hot off the press) with some fresh, creamy guacamole and pico de gallo and I had an excellent lunch. The Veggie Eater enjoyed her chile relleno, which came in a Guatemalan style omelet style batter: very light and eggy. They're still doing the little plate of curtido slaw and refried beans as a free starter and the chunks of onion and little bits of pepper give the salsa some serious kick. Speaking of which they don't mess around with the grilled jalapenos. Even the usually spice loving Veggie Eater was impressed by the heat.

El Mirador on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 12, 2009

El Burrito Mexicano

Nashville Restaurants and Food
El Burrito Mexicano
Farmers’ Market
900 Rosa Parks Blvd.

Quality ingredients and a little care in the kitchen go a long way with Mexican food. It can help make old Americanized favorites seem fresh again, and on the simpler side, provide a great lunch. El Burrito Mexicano does all of that from a humble storefront in the Nashville Farmers’ Market.
The menu is barbecue and meat and three inspired. Pick a meat and a couple of sides and you have a meal. The corn tortillas are warmed up on the grill. Fresh and spicy pico de gallo, roasted jalapenos and several varieties of hot sauce await your choice just before check-out. Carnitas is a highlight: big chunks of shredded pork with enough bark and juice to give it excellent flavor. Combined with a side of roasted veggies and you can make your own, really awesome, tacos. Those roasted veggies are exceptional: marinated peppers, tomatoes and thick slices of onion; each bite pops with flavor and it’s hard to believe you’re eating this at a cafeteria line restaurant. The home fries also appear roasted and served with onions. They’re a pleasant alternative to the usual Mexican joint sides.
It’s the little touches that make all the difference at El Burrito: queso is tangy and savory, frijoles are creamy and the hot sauces have unique tastes and flavors. Nachos, chimichangas, tortas and burritos: all of the old favorites are here. El Burrito does shake things up a bit with fish tacos, catfish and whiting. In fact, when you see sweet potatoes, cabbage with basil and a fish sandwich on the menu it all seems like Southern soul is shining through. The mash up is welcome. It’s a nice change from the usual regimented ways of many Mexican-American menus.
Veggie Eater: I simply asked the person waiting on us what he would suggest for a vegetarian and he replied, “The burrito.” Now they bill their burrito as “as big as your head.” Eating food that is compared to body parts does not generally pique my interest, but when in Rome…I was then really surprised at how good it was. It was stuffed with beans, rice, lettuce and topped with a really good chile con queso. The beans were creamy, the rice fluffy. They have a condiment area where you can then accessorize to your hearts delight. I sampled each sauce (traditional barbecue, spicy barbecue, tomatillo, traditional hot sauce). The spicy barbecue got my attention; smoky and very hot. The tomatillo was vibrant. Then to the toppings; pico de gallo also has a kick; loaded with onion and cilantro. Whole roasted peppers have a nice afterburner. Onions in vinegar offer a soothing response. A standard burrito is not very interesting, but when made with really good ingredients and dressed up with an endless combination of accessories, it becomes a great quick lunch. Meat Eater commented that he thought it really was as big as my head (perhaps indicating I’m microcephalic?). Needless to say, plenty left over for another lunch on another day.
Meat Eater: No, my wife, your head size is quite average, it’s the burritos that are big. Let us hope that other couples don’t have this rather bizarre conversation over lunch. El Burrito has a breakfast menu of American classics, but I bet if you throw on a bit of that pico de gallo and some hot sauce and you’ll have something a bit more south of the border. We paid $17 with tax, a drink and tip.
El Burrito Mexicano on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Say Cheese (and Sourdough)

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Say Cheese (and Sourdough)
Nashville Farmers’ Market
900 Rosa Parks Blvd.

The Nashville Farmers’ Market has made great strides forward lately. You can find bakery goods, farm eggs, meat, and organic milk. Now fresh cheese has arrived, courtesy of Kira’s Kids Dairy in Van Buren County. Kimberly Banks has been making goat cheese for nearly a decade. She finally decided to take it to the next level and go commercial Grade A. That’s no easy process in the state of Tennessee, perhaps the reason that Kira’s Kids Dairy is only the second goat cheese maker in the state (Bonnie Blue Farm in Waynesboro was the first).

Kimberly and her husband have started selling their goat cheeses at the Nashville Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. We caught up with them on a Friday (and they won’t be there this coming Saturday due to a previous commitment) but they hope to make the Saturday thing a regular gig.

The creamy, fresh Plateau feta is a pleasant surprise. We used it for our own take on a Caprese salad, teamed up with ripe tomatoes from Howell’s in Bellevue. It’s not quite as briny as a Greek feta and the goat milk gives it a mellow flavor. The other varieties for sale were Chevre cream cheese blends: tangy herbed, a smoky red pepper and Italian herbed. It’s a long way from Spencer, Tennessee and we hope they keep making the trip. It’s a wonderful addition to the specialty vendors at the Farmer’s Market.

There is also another bakery doing business. The sweet, moist Schrock Family Bakery sour dough, sold on Saturdays at the Market, is a favorite of ours. Now the Common Ground Bakery from Pulaski takes up the other end of the artisanal spectrum. Their Sourdough Spelt is whole wheat with a strong sour kick. The bread is moist, dense and goes really well with butter. It has a distinctive European feel for a hearty change of pace. They were showing off beautiful loaves of olive and cheese bread. A brief sample of a fruity scone and banana nut bread gave us a good reason to return soon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Murfreesboro Team Takes Hot Chicken Crown

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Music City Hot Chicken Festival 2009
Nashville Add Image

The sun, the lines, the red lips and sweaty foreheads; it must be Hot Chicken time in Nashville. The big news this year? Murfreesboro boys (team name Pollo Sauve) took the amateur Hot Chicken crown. The contest was held during the third annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival in East Park on Saturday. All of the entries this year looked perfectly fried, juicy and really spicy. We watched as Mayor Karl Dean mopped his brow and took a few soothing swigs of milk. And how often do you get to see the Mayor dissecting a glowing orange chicken breast with country star (and former Hot Chicken purveyor) Lorrie Morgan?
The contenders ranged from the Ulika guys (team name: Hot as Cluck Fried Chicken) to fellows dressed up as Hula dancers (team name: Hot Hula Girl) and even invaders from North Carolina (team name: Bucky’s).

We noticed that some of the Hot Chicken in the contest looked like the traditional Prince’s style, while others slathered dark sauces and one even posted pineapple on top of the meaty breasts. Andre Prince, the queen of Hot Chicken, posed with the Pollo Sauve boys (Brandon Richardson and Matt Meisels) for a victory photo. And we were happy to see former mayor and Hot Chicken connoisseur Bill Purcell chowing down on the contest leftovers.
Meanwhile, the Hot Chicken faithful stood in outrageously long lines just for a chance to chap the lips and feel the heat. Luckily, the actual heat from the sun was several degrees lower this year, keeping everyone more comfortable. The Yazoo folks expanded the beer tent, which then of course immediately filled up. Guess you’ll need to keep expanding next year guys.

We caught up with a couple of folks in the Prince’s line, which stretched from one end of the festival to the other. Stephanie and Adam came in from Bellevue.

“How long have you been waiting in line?” I inquired.

“About an hour,” Stephanie said.
“Will it be worth it?” I asked.
“I hope so,” Adam answered.
“Have you been to Prince’s before?”
“No, we haven’t.”
I asked them both what heat level they would choose. Stephanie was quick to respond “Mild”. It was Adam I fear for…he was pretty much set on choosing hot. I raised an eyebrow and explained that Prince’s hot is a bit hotter than your usual hot. Adam seemed intent and considering the wait in line, who could deny him. At least he wasn’t going for the lethal extra hot. I hope they both enjoyed the inauguration into the legion of Prince’s fans.

Here’s to the Music City Hot Chicken Festival organizers for another great event and another year for Nashville’s signature festival!