Thursday, September 30, 2010

Empanadas, Alfajores and Jerk Chicken

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Celebration of Cultures
Centennial Park
Saturday, October 2

The Celebration of Cultures has been growing over the last couple of years. It’s a fun, free day in the park with a chance to sample food that is often hard to find in Nashville. The vendors range from church groups, and other mom and pop outfits, to area restaurants. The line-up this year includes food from: Egypt, the Caribbean, Venezuela, Colombia, East Africa and Peru. Aside from Indian, there’s a noticeable lack of Asian food. That’s surprising because of the number of Laotian places involved in the past. Maybe that will change by this weekend. They have been adding vendors frequently. Here’s a link to the complete list of vendors. See you out at the park!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bella Napoli Pizzeria

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Bella Napoli Pizzeria
1200 Villa Place

Location, location, location. And atmosphere. And surroundings. Bella Napoli has a lot going for it, including some of the best patio dining in the city. The food is the real question mark. We found ourselves somewhat satisfied and yet hoping for more.

Let’s start with that patio. Fourteen umbrella topped tables are tucked away in the narrow pedestrian mall behind the shops on Villa Place. It’s a manufactured space with steel beams and plenty of brick. It’s also cozy, with high walls surrounding the space and white lights strung side to side. It’s like dining in an alley and that makes it feel perhaps a bit European. Inside you’ll find a low slanting ceiling for more, warm ambiance. Kids dash around the place playing tag and the diners run the gamut of ages. It’s a fun, family place and could even work for date night.

Bella Napoli is the latest Nashville restaurant to take its pizza seriously. They fire up the wood oven with Hickory and cook that pizza super quickly – 90 seconds at 900 degrees. This is the vision of the executive chef at long-time Nashville restaurant Valentinos. Paolo Tramontano is originally from Naples and the Valentinos crew have opened Bella Napoli as homage to the pizza traditions of his hometown. The Napolitan style features an exacting recipe for dough, and simple fresh ingredients. It’s a world and a half away from Pizza Hut.

The pizza Margherita is the best example of this simplicity: a light brushing of tomato sauce, a little mozzarella, olive oil and a couple of basil leaves. The pizza looks pretty as it arrives at the table. The crust is chewy, browned and reasonably flavorful. Overall though, it leaves us a bit flat. Sure, it’s better than many pizzas you get in Nashville. Still, it’s lacking in the depth of flavor that comes from fresh, quality ingredients and exacting seasoning.

The Contadina does a bit better. Eggplant, zucchini, and brocolini have a woodsy, grilled flavor and bring the pizza to life. The Bella Napoli salad spotlights sharp feta and yet comes off unremarkable. Our first visit leaves us feeling quite positive about the environment and ho-hum about the food.

Next stop brings a Quattro Formaggi pizza. It redeems itself with a peppy gorgonzola, and a nice blend of fontina, mozzarella and parmesan. Paired with the Fettuccine Boschiola, we find ourselves munching away happily. The peas and mushrooms in the cream sauce are well cooked. We order the prosciutto on the side and find it chewy and oily. This is basic stuff at best and yet it hits the spot.

The food prices are reasonable, with pizzas from $7-$14 and pasta $12-$15. The wine by the glass runs about $7.50 and needed some serious help on one visit. The Chianti Classico was sharp and a bit raunchy. The overly perfumey Toscana also gave us pause. We don’t ask for much for $7.50- just give us a decent wine.

Veggie Eater: We tried to pick veggie friendly antipasti to start our second meal and opted for the Fritto Misto, which is described on the menu as a potato croquette and rice ball. To be fair the waitress was kind enough to tell us that there was some sort of sausage item incorporated into the rice ball, but the croquette was veggie friendly. I can’t speak for the meat rice ball (it was okay-M.E.), but the croquette was a fried blob of what tasted akin to Elmer’s paste; you know, the non toxic kind that you are free to sample when you are six years old? I felt better about the Fettuccine Boschiola. The pasta was perfectly cooked al dente (I think it was high quality dried pasta) and tossed with a mushrooms and peas in a relatively light cream sauce. It could have used a dose of fresh ground pepper, but this was not offered. I find the pizza crusts here a bit too thick and chewy for my taste. But that’s the beauty of pizza- everyone has their own version of the ideal. If nothing else, it was nice to see folks with olive complexions barking orders to one another in Italian; not something I normally get to experience since moving to Nashville.

Meat Eater: That Italian staff is fun to watch in the open kitchen. Crisp service had the food at the table in decent time, a good sign considering how busy they were on the Friday nights we visited. Is Bella Napoli everything we want in a pizza and pasta joint? Probably not. Is it a good meal for the price and a great atmosphere? Yes, and that may bring us back.

We paid $40 for two pizzas, salad and a beer with tax and tip and $60 for two glasses of wine, an appetizer, pasta and pizza.
Bella Napoli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Euro Grill

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Euro Grill
1233 Antioch Pike

Hidden in a rather drab industrial neighborhood just north of Harding Place, you’ll find a modest tan and white bungalow house that has been converted into a restaurant. It would be tough to just happen by the Euro Grill given the location. People have been seeking it out and for one primary reason: a small, but tasty selection of Bosnian favorites. Metus and Nadja Ukaj have created a home for the Bosnian community in Nashville and a welcome change of pace for the rest of us.

Bosnian food is a collision of cultures: Greek, Middle Eastern, European and Turkish. It’s a heavily meat based cuisine, so you need to ask questions for vegetarian and your choices will be limited.

The Euro Grill specializes in burek, the baked phyllo dough dish. The meat version puts the spotlight on well seasoned ground beef. A dollop of cream cheese on the side helps to shake things up. The feta version may be even better: crispy, a little chewy and filled with tangy cheese. Good luck pronouncing some of these items. Pljeskavica is basically a lamb patty, also well seasoned and with a nice mellow flavor. It’s served between two grilled pita breads, better known as somun in Bosnia. The brush of olive oil and the thickness of the bread set these far apart from your average pita. Long and thin Sudzukice sausages are made with veal and beef for a savory combination.

Vegetable soup can be a ho-hum affair in many joints. The Euro Grill version is excellent: almost stew-like in consistency and thick with corn, carrots, peas, tomatoes, green beans and zucchini. You can eat the stuff with a fork and you may have to if you have a dining companion- chances are they won’t want to be left out.

The Bosnian choices are rounded out with chevapi (grilled beef and lamb sausages) and specials like zeljanica (spinach pie). The rest of the menu is a mish mash probably designed to appeal to the working folks in the neighborhood: gyros, burgers, quesadillas, pizza and pasta. The gyros did look good coming out of the kitchen.

It’s a relaxed place, thanks in part due to the snug nature of the bungalow and the well worn wooden floors. The staff is quick to give you the rundown of the Bosnian side of the menu, and even if you screw it up, like we did, their hospitality wins the day.

Veggie Eater: Well, I  thought I had picked out an appropriate dish; looked like some sort of concoction with pita stuffed with feta and stuff. Imagine my surprise when my dish arrived as some sort of meat, stuffed with feta (we mistakenly ordered the feta pljeskavica, which is the lamb patty stuffed with feta. It looked so good I nearly cried as Nadja took it away- M.E.). The waitress was gracious, though, when she noticed my chagrin and at that point, I announced I was a vegetarian. She suggested the feta burek, which was delightful. Flaky on top, chewy underneath with pockets nestling the feta. It was quite good. Not sure I understand the need for faux brick in any restaurant interior (perhaps another topic altogether), but the space is cozy and inviting.

Meat Eater: We only have one regret and that is not having enough room for dessert. Many folks say it’s a highlight of the Euro Grill. Next time we promise to make room. They stay open until about 8 p.m. each night and yet it seems like lunch is the mainstay here. On some days you’ll find Bosnian folk music on the stereo, which is a welcome treat. We paid $25 with tax tip for two and $13 for a big sampling lunch for one. The smaller portion of the burek is an absolute bargain at $4.
Euro Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 12, 2010

La Esquina

Nashville Restaurants and Food
La Esquina
1326 Antioch Pike

We’re convinced that some of the best food in town is found in the most modest of surroundings. We’re talking about restaurants that have sketchy hand painted signs out front and an inhospitable fa├žade. That’s why we’re here, dear readers, to open that door and find out what’s inside. We’re pleased to report that despite the lack of appearances outside, inside at La Esquina you’ll find a bright black and white themed dining room with seven tables and some of the friendliest ladies this side of El Salvador. Best of all they’re cooking up quality El Salvadoran cuisine.

Okay, so English at La Esquina is a bit of a problem. Just make sure you know what you want and then point. Everything is done in little portions and for small prices. The crema and corn tamales are a little sweet and quite dense. Get two or three because they might not last long on the table. They are excellent. Casamiento is Salvadoran black beans and rice and at La Esquina it’s studded with corn and has a lovely flavor for a sticky and rich side dish. The fried plantains may be some of the best in the city. We think that perhaps a pan fry technique is what caramelizes these tender beauties to a perfect chewy-crispy consistency.

Chicken comes several ways. Pan con pollo is stewed chicken in a flavorful, savory sauce mounded inside a hoagie style bun. Colorful slices of vinegar carrot and turnip top the sandwich. Pollo con arroz is a simple roasted chicken quarter, on this day a tad overdone, with stewed onions that harkens back to the pan con pollo sauce. The rice itself is well cooked and studded with corn, beans and peas. It’s a rather laid back partner for the chicken which also calls on a small salad of precisely cut veggies.

La Esquina is a pupuseria and the pupusas do not disappoint. These are thick masa rounds with plenty of melty cheese. Let’s pause for a moment to complain about chicharron, not the La Esquina chicharron; it’s plenty good in that pupusa. Rather our issue is that the term can be used to describe 3 or 4 varieties of pork. While the term means fried pork, it’s most often used to describe fried pig skin and you get plenty of that around town. However, at a taco joint it might be more like fried pork belly and in the case of La Esquina the fried pork is diced into microscopic pieces and spread through the pupusa.

Watch out for thin verde sauce: on one visit it had eye watering kick on another perhaps a bit more restraint. The rojo is tasty and much more manageable. For whatever reason, these sauces can change visit to visit. On one day the rojo was almost like a thin tomato sauce.

The prices make mixing the matching easy. It’s about $2 for the pupusas, $1.50 for those tamales and similarly cheap for the other items. Of course it could be easy to order too much food. Be prepared to walk out with change in your pocket.

Veggie Eater: The pupusas offer quite a few veggie friendly combinations and epitomize comfort food at its best. These are clearly homemade and made to order (you can hear them pounding out the dough for each order). The frijoles and queso version have little black beans blanketed in queso. The loroco queso version has a little more zippiness (loroco is a native El Salvadoran plant used as an herb). You then generously adorn these with the curtido slaw to add acid and crunch to balance out the ooey gooey pupusa. Then top generously with the salsa verde or salsa rojo (I of course opted for the fiery green sauce). We had mom along for one of the visits and although she is a meat eater and enjoyed her chicken dishes, what she was really smitten with was the pupusas. Extremely friendly staff (I assume daughter to the mom cooking in the back) and a warm vibe in this place. On our second visit there were gringo families, Latino’s, and gay folks all happily munching away (journalists don’t assume anyone is anything without asking-M.E.)

Meat Eater: A packed dining room on one Sunday showed that this is indeed a neighborhood favorite we quite the mix of families and patrons. We couldn’t help but eye the pretty breakfast plates coming out of the kitchen. The huevos appear to be a definite item to consider next time we visit.

We paid $16 with tax and tip on one visit for a bunch of food for two people. On our second visit we had three people for a total of $35 and a lot of food.
La Esquina on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Or not...

The overwhelming response by fans of Lazziz Persian restaurant, including their regular customer Ed King, have convinced the owners to keep the place open for now. As we reported last week they had planned to shut down on Sunday. Now they will keep the doors open and hopefully have a chance for all that good will to turn into more business. We congratulate them on the decision and hope they succeed. Ed is probably weeping somewhere as he contemplates the Koubideh. And now that I think about it that koubideh is pretty darn good.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Knead Dough and Lazziz News

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Knead Dough and Lazziz News

Update: Please note the comments for breaking Lazziz news from seems that Ed and all of the other Lazziz fans have encouraged the owners enough to convince them to keep the place open for now. Way to go folks!

Nashville Restaurants reader and man about town Ed King reports that one of his favorite lunch spots is closing. As we reported last February Lazziz has offered a satisfying menu of Persian cuisine and some excellent soups. The owners tell us the last day for Lazziz  will be Sunday. That gives you, us and Ed only a few more days to enjoy their hospitality.

And in other news…

East Coast style pizza seems to be making in-roads in the Nashville area. The latest contestant is Knead Dough pizzeria in Hendersonville. They serve up a classic New York style pie: a mile wide and extremely thin. The first time out and that fine looking slice was a tad undercooked. On the second visit the browned crust literally crackled underneath my fingers- perfect. Quality ingredients make for good toppings. You gotta love a pizza place that even takes the salad dressing seriously. They mix up their own chunky blue cheese dressing (among several house made varieties) for a generous and fresh lunch salad. The slice and salad combo is enough to keep you full all day. The rest of the menu is made up of standards: pasta, hoagies, and chicken wings. They have a decent beer selection, including Rogue and Spaten. It’s a sleek and stylish spot for lunch (although they should really ditch the big painted list describing how you should order) and could be fine for evening dining with the family. I paid $12 for two slices and a salad (far too much food) and then $8 for one slice and a salad.

Knead Dough Pizzeria
230 New Shackle Island Road

Knead Dough Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rincon Caribeno and the International Market Opens

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Rincon Caribeno and the International Market Opens

Antioch has become a hotbed for cuisine from all sorts of countries. Rincon Caribeno seems to be trying to cover as many bases as possible. The Bell Road restaurant opened up three weeks ago. The chef is from El Salvador and yet the menu stretches across Latin America: Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and Cuba. They even take a run at Peru with the classics lomo saltado and papa a la huancaina. Best of all they have some interesting choices from each of the countries. The yucca with a white Creole garlic butter sauce was a treat: crispy yucca brought to life by the rich, tangy sauce. The Puerto Rican mofongo is a hearty mound of plantains and perhaps yucca, studded with shredded pork. Venezuelan hallaca is basically a tamale filled with chunks of beef and pork and olives. They have a few variations of ceviche and even El Salvadoran dessert empanadas: plantains filled with rice pudding and cinnamon.

The salsa is pumping out on the stereo and even at lunch the place seems fun. We were left wondering how hopping the little bar gets at night. You probably know this location- it used to be Los Rosales. We’ll be back soon for a full review

Ricon Caribeno
1307 Bell Road

The Shreeji International Market in the Nashville Farmers Market opened for business this Saturday. They were planning a move to the new, more spacious location, further inside the Market House. Then came the floods and everything was thrown off track. They finally opened the doors this weekend and everything seems much, much brighter. They were still stocking the shelves when we arrived. You can actually go up and down the aisles without rubbing up against other customers. We do kind of miss the crazy, claustrophobic feel of the old place; however shopping now will be much easier. Shreeji Market specializes in Indian and Pakistani foods with bulk spices and other hard to find items.