Sunday, December 27, 2009

Suzy Wong’s House of Yum

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Suzy Wong’s House of Yum
1515 Church Street

Food should be fun. Eating food should be fun. Arnold understands. He’s been offering fun, inventive and delectable food in Belmont-land for several years now. With Suzy Wong’s House of Yum Mr. Myint is bringing the fun to Church Street. Not that Church Street isn’t fun already; the nightclub Play is right next door. The Midtown restaurant bridges several worlds though, and that’s what we like most. The fun is for everyone. Gay, straight, families, singles: this laid back spot encourages all sorts of folks to sit under a giant dragon and have some fun food.
Now this isn’t PM or Chah Chah. Myint’s other locations offer higher quality cuisine and come with a bigger bill. Suzy Wong’s is just good food at a reasonable price. Wontons are standard fare: crispy and tasty and yet nothing new. Pot stickers are a silky smooth visit to China and curried tofu potato pockets a tasty trip to India. The extensive list of shared plates spans Asia with a couple of twists and turns. Smashed avocado proved to be the star on one night: it’s like an elemental and zesty guacamole without any of the fussy stuff. Steamed barbecue pork bun brings dim sum to the table with a chewy bun and savory pork mixture. The spring rolls are near perfect, quite minty and served with a simple sweet honey sauce.
All of these dishes fly out of the kitchen thanks to a crack team of wait staff who buzz about the dining room to the pulsing electronica on the stereo. They keep it professional with a cool friendliness. It feels exactly like you would expect from a Church Street joint: stylish and fast paced. And yet the family next to us is sampling shared plates and the two children are happy as clams. Another couple dines with a baby bundled up in a car seat. A table of artsy forty-something’s laughs at a joke and a gay couple appears to be out on a date. It all fits.
The Yum Bowls are entrees on the menu. The interpretations of Pan-Asian classics range from Kung Pao to Green Curry Coconut Steamed Mussels. The Chicken Penang is bathed in an understated Peanut Sauce that allows the sweet potato bites to keep their flavor. The steamed brown rice goes well with the bowls and has a great texture.
Veggie Eater: This may not be the best food I’ve had, but it’s good and the visits really are fun. The menu is chock full of veggie choices. The Shared Plates portion of the menu starts with six veggie items. On our first visit, we opted for five of six of these; the sweet and sour wonton sticks, sea salt edamame, vegetable gyoza pot stickers, coriander smashed avocado, and curried tofu and potato pockets. All were well prepared and the flavors simple and distinct. This visit ended with rice balls, which essentially were fancy rice krispy balls that you dipped in a slighty spicy and sweet peanut satay sauce. I’m not normally a dessert eater, but I could learn to love this one.
On the second visit, we played grown-ups and ordered our own food. I opted for the waiter’s suggestion; his favorite veggie Yum Bowl is the Lemongrass Vegetable Tofu Stir Fry; he couched this with a warning that it was the most delicately flavored of the veggie Yum Bowls (there are six veggie friendly Yum Bowls). Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am a fan of strong flavors, so perhaps a bit of a mismatch for me, but I do try to branch out every once in a while. I’m glad I did on this occasion. I did not discern much lemongrass at all, but rather a more soy based sauce. However, the bowl was chock full of veggies: pea pods, green beans, red peppers, green peppers, water chestnuts, green beans, and chunks of firms tofu. With brown rice, it made a hearty and satisfying meal on a cold winter’s eve and served the purpose of sopping up Corner Bar happy hour beer. Better yet, you can eat the whole bowl and not feel badly, physically or emotionally.
Meat Eater: Nashville needs more places like this: playful, tasty, reasonably priced and for everyone. Thanks Arnold.
We paid $36 for two Yum Bowls and two shared plates and on another visit $35 for five shared plates.
Suzy Wong's House of Yum on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thai Phooket

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Thai Phooket
207 Woodland Street

One Thai joint moves out and another takes its place. It seems a little odd, but who’s arguing if the food is good. In fact this location on Woodland Street, across from LP Field, has been a virtual revolving door for restaurants in the last few years. The last incarnation was Pad Thai Kitchen, which has since reopened on Gallatin Pike. The Woodland spot is a no man’s land in between East Nashville and Downtown, and yet convenient to both. Here’s hoping Thai Phooket can keep it bustling.

The food should help. It’s generally well executed and tasteful, showing some craftsmanship in the kitchen. The Tom Kar soup has a nice balance of delicate flavors. The chicken and mushroom retain a little texture and bite. The Phooket Salad features a warm satay sauce over crisp veggies. The tofu is firm and well flavored. Spicy Curry Noodles are fat rice noodles in a gratifying brown curry sauce. At three on the spice scale (1-5) it has a mellow background heat. The snap of green peppers and moist pork give the dish some definition.

Another visit shows summer rolls to be crunchy and fresh. Mint and cilantro jump out and a great peanut sauce on the side brings it all home. The Smiling Nashville Duck may provoke images of the movie “A Christmas Story” (it’s smiling at me…). No such worries: this is a pretty plate with slices of crispy, fried duck topped with a tangle of wontons. The meat is a little chewy. The flavor is all there though, and the sweet panang sauce gives a light accompaniment to the duck and fresh veggies.

It’s rare that we make it to desert. Thai Phooket has a couple of good options: Banana fried in wontons comes with a honey and sesame drizzle; green sticky rice is just barely sweet and a nice finish to the meal.

There are veggie friendly options for nearly every item on the menu, with tofu options a good choice.

Veggie Eater: I love Pad Thai and have spent much of my adult life in search of my perfect version. The last time we ate Thai, the meat eater dissuaded me from ordering my standard (trying to get her to actually try something different-M.E.), and I regretted that decision ever since. So, on our first visit, I forged ahead and ordered what I wanted, the Pad Thai, and regretted this decision ever since. They offer you a choice of heat from 1-5 (hottest). I told the waitress to bring it all on. I am used to the Gringo bias when dining out…I firmly believe that if you are a non Ethnic looking Caucasian, ethnic restaurant staff try to save you from yourself when ordering hot food and act as a buffer to the diner’s decision with the kitchen staff. So when I got my sweet, barely discernibly spicy noodles, I was disappointed. The noodles were at least well cooked, but the sauce was a syrupy mess. And this dish seemed to be missing eggs. Meat Eater had a really hard time getting me back for a return visit (and since I am partly Sicilian, I harbor a grudge), but I am glad he prevailed.

On the second visit I had the Masaman curry and was delighted. It was almost stew like in presentation. It was served in a large bowl full of firm tofu, chunks of potato, carrots, onions, and cashews served in a silky coconut based curry with hints of tamarind, cardamom, cinnamon. Perfectly cooked jasmine rice (I have great envy for this feat as I am not capable of making well cooked rice) rounded out the delightful dish. I also ordered this as a 5 on the heat scale, but got about a 3. In this case, the heat was respectable, but not overwhelming, and allowed the curry sauce to shine.

Meat Eater: It’s cool to have a dependable, veggie-friendly Thai spot in East Nashville. Here’s hoping the folks at Thai Phooket can overcome the history of this location and serve up curry for many years to come. We paid $33 with tax and tip for two entrees and an appetizer on one visit and $32 with tax and tip for two entrees, a salad and appetizer for another.
Thai Phooket on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Changing Mexican and Where Should We Go?

Nashville Restaurants and Food

Where should we go for our anniversary?
Our 21st wedding anniversary is coming up in January and we’re considering options for a nice dinner in the Nashville area. The Veggie Eater had a great idea: open it up to suggestions from our readers. We usually go upscale for special occasions, but we’re willing to consider any ideas you have. Just post them in the comments. We’ll let you know where we chose and how it went.

Mexican Restaurants Changing Ownership
The mom and pop Mexican joints in town are always hard to keep straight due to frequent name and ownership changes. We’ve spied at least two restaurants on Gallatin Pike in Madison that have undergone management changes. The proliferation of Mexican restaurants is good news for diners, because it means the new spots may be more willing to offer authentic dishes, here and there anyway. That’s the case at La Montana in Madison where Michoacán-style pork carnitas tacos were on the specials menu the other day. These guys really understand the grill: the pork has a perfect, crispy char. It’s a great taco. The beef for a tastaguac (a thick, crunchy tostada with beef, beans, lettuce and guacamole) is also nicely grilled and tasty. Which makes it a bummer to report sub-par canned tasting guacamole and mediocre salsa. Don’t forget about the toppings my friends! Quality ingredients can make a real difference. The chicharon pupusa is one of the better around. The pork mixture has great flavor and the masa a nice fry. Once again, a let down on the side. The curtido looks like average Southern vinegar slaw with some salsa poured on top. The rest of the menu is standard fare, but I may be back to check out the specials. This is just a first look; we may try to do a real review after they have been open a bit longer.

La Montana
1410 Gallatin Pike
(615) 891-7949

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wild Cow Opening

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Wild Cow Opening

Big flavors and big crowds marked the opening party at the Wild Cow vegetarian restaurant in East Nashville last Saturday. It was a benefit for the non-profit East C.A.N. The staff cooked up a bunch of items off the menu and served it buffet style. First taste shows real promise: bold seasoning, great textures and a diversity of styles. Think vegetarian is bland? Try the veggie chili which boasts both heat and depth. Mock chicken salad goes the other direction using apple and grapes to make a bright, sweet spread in between nutty whole grain bread. Items are marked vegan or vegan on request and the menu says they will have some gluten free options. Seitan, tempeh and tofu all have different textures, chewy for one dish and silky for another, and they each have unique and pleasing flavor. Herby homemade hummus, airy sweet potatoes, refreshing organic teas…we could go on for a while, but we’ll make another trip for a real review in the coming weeks.

The Talking Heads followed by the Ramones provided a punky 70’s vibe to the evening. People kept pouring in the door and the staff churned out the food to keep them happy. It’s a happy and comfortable space and we look forward to seeing what they do in the future. They just started regular hours this week...and are not open on Tuesdays. See the web site for details.

The Wild Cow
1896 Eastland Avenue
(615) 262-2717

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dee's Q is Closing

Bad news in the barbecue world...Dee's Q in East Nashville is closing at the end of the month. Reader mIKES spotted a thread on the East Nashville listserv and we just confirmed with the owner. It's apparently a lease problem and they do not plan to reopen. The last day is December 31, so get down there if you want one of the best smoked brisket sandwiches in the area and really awesome wings. Thanks to the Crowder family for some great barbecue over the last few years.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Silly Goose

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Silly Goose
1888 Eastland Avenue

A food experience is always better when the people working in the restaurant are enjoying themselves. That’s the vibe at Silly Goose in East Nashville. It’s clear from the friendly chatter that Chef Roderick Bailey and his staff are having a fine time. It sets the tone for a fantastic lunch at one of the best new casual dining spots in Nashville.

The bright dining room is bathed in sunshine. Jazz is bopping on the stereo and the place is clinking with the sound of happy diners. Heck, even the kids at the table next door are in a good mood as they munch on wraps with mom and dad. It’s a small space, with only four tables and a counter. Still, it feels airy thanks to tall ceilings. You can watch Bailey at work in the open kitchen, blending beets and laughing with the customers.

There is a big emphasis on local providers and quality ingredients. Take the local farmer’s plate starter: tart apples, clover honey, sharp but silky cheddar, crisp arugula, ultra creamy blue Gouda and decadent goat cheese chevre with red pepper aioli. It’s a well prepared cheese plate that would be at home in a more expensive restaurant. And that’s the theme for everything at Silly Goose: well executed and thoughtful cuisine at a moderate price.

There are inventive twists at every turn. Couscous is a major feature, one of several things that made us pause when we first saw the menu online. We love couscous, but several couscous based entrees on one menu? It works. Take the Mexico City: The plate arrives so artfully arranged you hesitate for just a moment, enjoying the view, before dipping a spoon to sample the various sauces swirled around the slices of grilled chicken. An ancho chile reduction provides an earthy balance to the sweeter red pepper reduction. Bits of that luscious goat cheese dot the plate (they serve Noble Springs chevre from Franklin). The red chili couscous stack surprises at first bite: it’s cold. You take another bite and understand: everything on the plate has a foil; the ancho and the sweet pepper, the warm chicken and the chilled couscous. There are many tastes on the plate and each designed to play with the others.

The sandwiches are a bit more traditional in design, though still packed with flavor. The T-Bird pairs roast beef with the blue Gouda. Red pepper aioli, watercress and red onion bring it all alive on top of sesame semolina sourdough (the breads are from Provence). The crispy bread and tender beef make for a great sandwich. The wraps and sandwiches come with a salad - tender greens dressed in balsamic - and herbed couscous. That version of the Moroccan staple is warm, light and lemony.

Veggie Eater: I noticed on our first visit that there seemed to be few veggie only menu items. There are salads (granted, really innovative ones) and one veggie friendly sandwich. What I really wanted was the couscous, none of which are completely meat free. After a few queries with the waitress (delightful), I opted for the Sicilian couscous, with the capicola on the side for the Meat Eater. It was phenomenal. This is not a dish for the faint hearted. Whole wheat couscous is molded in the center of the plate, topped with many distinctive flavors: roasted peppers, blue Gouda (God bless Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese from Kentucky), Kalamata olives, basil, pines nuts. This is then topped with an herbed olive oil, balsamic reduction syrup, and a roasted red pepper reduction. Every bite was a symphony of my most favorite flavors. This visit ended with beet and honey ice cream sample. We simply were not going to be allowed to leave without a try and it was surprisingly tasty; very earthy and comforting.

Continuing on the beet theme (they seem to have them everywhere here; they are in season locally), I opted for the roasted beet salad special on our second visit. This was a concoction of Delvin Farm’s (College Grove, TN) mesclun greens, spiced walnuts (coriander, cumin, cinnamon), roasted beets, more of Kenny’s blue Gouda, caramelized onions, topped with a dressing made from the juices of the roasted beets. This was then served with slices of rosemary flat bread. Local ingredients, fabulous salad. Chef Bailey was ever present during both visits and eager to disclose his ingredients, suppliers, techniques. He practically beams with pride, and rightfully so. I did ask him about the lack of veggie only items on the menu. He notes that the new veggie restaurant, Wild Cow, is slated to open in the very near future around the corner from Silly Goose. It was a conscious decision not to infringe on their target menu and population. However, he notes a new menu is forthcoming with revamped items on the menu and added veggie options (the salad mentioned above and an eggplant sandwich). He also notes he is more than happy to wing it for any special requests that come through the door; he likes the culinary challenge. The second visit ended with homemade espresso ice cream; more subtle than Haagen Dazs and with a delicate flavor that comes from orange zest. Despite few dedicated veggie items on the menu, I will happily explore specials, substitutions, and subtractions as I have no doubt that whatever version comes out will be worth it.

Meat Eater: Get some of the eye opening limeade to start your meal and be sure to check out the other juices, all pressed and squeezed on site, including beet-apple ginger and red pepper carrot. The prices here are moderate and a real bargain considering the quality of food. The couscous entrees range from $8-$9.50 and the sandwiches and wraps $8 to $8.50. The Silly Goose will probably be a regular stop for us. Fun, inventive and delicious is a winning combination. We paid $42 with tax and tip for two entrees, drinks and the cheese plate. On another visit we paid $35 with tax and tip for two entrees and desert.
Silly Goose on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Calling all Restaurants

The recent horse rescue has been a huge undertaking involving many volunteers. They are looking for restaurants to donate food for the volunteers. If you can help, the contact info follows:

Subject: update from the humane society at the fairgrounds
Below is an update on the needs down at the fairgrounds. The 84 rescued horses have feed and hay that was donated so now the focus is on feeding the volunteers working at the barn. I'm looking for anyone in the Nashville area that has contacts at grocery stores, restaurants, food distribution companies etc that may help out by donating food, water, coffee etc.

thanks, Valerie Reynolds

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Top 3 for Fall 2009

There's a chill in the air that certainly feels like winter. Which means it's time to say goodbye to fall. Here are our top three favorite restaurants for Fall 2009:

1. Cafe Bosna: the warm atmosphere, European specialties and home-style cooking makes this small Hermitage restaurant a real winner.

2. Noodle House Thai Restaurant: Above average Thai food and an expansive menu.

3. Far East Nashville: This East Nashville Vietnamese restaurant just keeps getting better. A nice spot for a hot bowl of pho or an elegant sandwich.

What's coming up for winter? Well, we've already hit several places in the last few weeks that we have really enjoyed, and a couple of them are downright surprising. Even in a down economy folks are going into business with inventive and tasty offerings. We'll have more on those new joints in upcoming posts.