Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nuevo Alba

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Nuevo Alba
208 E. Old Hickory Blvd.
Madison
615-865-8069

Scouting the truly out of the way restaurants requires some assistance. Thankfully we get help from all sorts of good people. This latest tip comes from George, who bartends at FooBar. If he hadn’t told us about Nuevo Alba we never would have found it. The joint is wedged in the building that houses A.R.G Discount Tobacco, just down from the corner of Gallatin Pike and East Old Hickory Blvd. The family that runs Nuevo Alba has recently put up a banner in the gravel parking lot next to the restaurant. It’s worth the effort. Inside is a pleasant, robin egg blue dining room that proudly displays the flag of El Salvador, and a nice friendly environment for a family cooking up lunch.

Nuevo Alba appears to be a work in progress. The menu is a short, mixed bag of Mexican and El Salvadoran. The pupusa revuelta is crisp masa stuffed full of oozing beans and queso. The version one day makes it one of the best pupusas in town. The curtido slaw though doesn’t hold up the standard: it’s a rather boring chop of cabbage without much vinegar. The light tomato sauce served with it was lackluster on one visit and spicier on the next. Unfortunately the next pupusa, while still featuring that nicely crisp masa, was completely lacking in the pulled pork promised.

The pupusas are about the only thing truly El Salvadoran. There is an El Salvadoran touch to things, such as the seasoning on the chicken. The pollo asada is a chicken breast pounded flat and rubbed in spices. The slight char from the grill picks up the flavor of the chicken and lends a smoky flavor to the slices of green pepper and onions that cover the chicken. The big grain rice is plumped up and tasty, a much better side than the watery beans. The chewy corn tortillas don’t add much. Overall though, it’s a satisfying lunch and a pretty plate garnished with ripe avocado and tomatoes.

On the Mexican side of the menu you’ll find tacos and burritos. The fresh ingredients are stuffed into the big burrito and that flavorful rice is a nice touch. The diced grilled beef is lightly seasoned for good effect. It’s a really good burrito.

I’m hoping they can keep things going, because I only see this restaurant as getting better. Hopefully they will take the plunge and include more items from El Salvador. Strangely enough they do have a decent little cheese selection for sale, if you look inside the drink cooler. There, perched above the bottle of orange Jarritos, you’ll find chipotle melting cheese, big blocks of fresh farmer’s cheese and several other varieties of queso.

I paid $10 for a pupusa, burrito and drink with tax and tip and $13 for the chicken plate, a pupusa and drink.

Nuevo Alba on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lee’s Cheese Steak and Pepperfire Spiced Chicken

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Lee’s Cheese Steak and Pepperfire Spiced Chicken

East Nashville is hopping with new take out joints. Chris Chamberlain at the Scene has been doing some excellent food pioneering with help from the Bites Blog readers. I take their advice and hit the streets.

Let’s start with Lee’s Philly Cheese Steak. First impressions start with a big question mark. Lettuce and tomato on a cheese steak? Probably not a great idea and certainly unusual for an East Coast style cheese steak. But what the heck, it really isn’t that complicated- have them hold the veggies and pile on some fried onions. Next up…Swiss cheese? Okay, also a bit different. Hopes go up when the bun hits the grill and then go down when the hot steak is poured onto the cheese as it sits flaccid, on the bun. I’m used to that cheese melting on the grill, or in Boston perhaps with a quick toss in an oven. You know what? It works. This is a really good sandwich. The quality beef is chopped, perhaps a bit too thick, but well seasoned and my friends that’s where most places blow it. This steak has plenty of personality. I can’t speak for the Philly authenticity, although it clearly violates several traditions. Is it ooey-gooey and bad for you? Yes. Did I enjoy every bite? Yes.
I’ll be back, there’s plenty more on this menu to sample: fish, fried chicken, a pork chop sandwich and of course the cheese chicken sandwich thing that is the bastard cousin of the cheese steak.

Up the street to Pepperfire. It’s the former Phil’s Barbecue location undergoing a bit of a transformation with a large patio roof and some ad hoc seating. The menu is teeny tiny simple: hot chicken, hot wings, tenders and the fried pepper cheese sandwich. I never know where to start in the heat ratings with a first time visit to a hot chicken joint, but Chris has steered me right plenty of times. I go with the chicken breast quarter at hot. The levels go mild, medium, hot , xhot and xxhot. True to reports the hot is just a tad mellower than a Prince’s medium. The best part is the interesting spices that standout, despite the heat. The skin is super crispy and in hot chicken tradition they make it to order, so be prepared for a 15 minute wait while they get it right. It’s well worth it- making for a quality entrant into the hot chicken club. Kudos to owner Isaac Beard. We’ll be checking back over the next few weeks and have a review once they have a chance to settle in.

Lee’s Philly Cheese Steak
2610 Gallatin Pike
Nashville

Pepperfire Spiced Chicken
2821 Gallatin Pike
Nashville



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blu Fig

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Blu Fig
6444 Nolensville Pike
Nashville
615-941-2583
www.blufignashville.com

From the slick, electric blue interior to the little trademark signs next to every mention of Blu Fig on the menu- it’s clear that this restaurant is the blu-print for bigger things. The business recipe for the incipient chain is cooked up by Chef and owner Khaled Fattah, who takes his Jordanian heritage and puts a modern spin on it. The result works well in the food department, even if it is perhaps a bit overblown in concept.

The Blu Fig Mediterranean Kitchen is located in the Brentwood/Cane Ridge side of town. You step into the place and if you’re feeling sleepy those blue walls will jolt you awake. The friendly staff greeted us with a smile and an offer to explain the menu on each visit. That menu isn’t really that complicated. There are a few Mediterranean vegetable favorites on one side of the menu and meat and fish options on the other side. Even better for the Veggie Eater they are quite up front with what goes into those veggie dishes, including the use of chicken stock in the rice and subsequently the dolma. Which is too bad for the Veggie Eater- those dolma are rolled tight, the grape leaves filled with that savory rice. Lentil bisque also gets help from chicken and is simmered to good effect with a nice tang from lemon on the finish. The artisan hummus is a reasonably solid interpretation and in the Mezza Platter it works well with the sharp feta and extremely fresh and parsley filled tabouli.

Quality ingredients and proper execution are evident in several of the dishes, but so too is a price problem. The $4.29 plastic bowl of bisque is pretty small. The $7.99 Mezza Platter is a bit skimpy as well.

That isn’t the case in gyro land. The so called “Yee-Ro” pocket is pita bread stuffed full of tender gyro meat with just enough crisp lettuce, tomato and onions to give it some snap. It’s a serious sandwich and at $5.99 a good deal. Chicken and salmon are two other options for the pocket sandwiches and you can get most of the fish and meats over rice or served up over a salad.

The Battata chips served on the side are a signature item at the Blu Fig. Thyme, sweet basil and a truck load of other herbs and spices give the house fried chips great flavor, with each chip having a slightly different emphasis in herb. A little tzatziki served on the side gives them the creamy yogurty-cucumber finish.

Veggie Eater: There are no veggie entrees/sandwiches to be had on the menu. Our waitress stated there are efforts to incorporate falafel on the menu, but in the mean time, the chef would be happy to construct a pita sandwich with hummus and the fixings. That wasn’t necessary, as we ordered the Mezza Platter, which allowed me to make my own version of hummus, tabouli, feta, and olive sandwiches. The hummus was fresh, but not terribly interesting. The tabouli was lively thanks to liberal doses of parsley, mint, lemon, and garlic. We also opted for the Plate O’s Delight, which was an interesting take on succotash: edamame and corn grilled and tossed olive oil and spices. I concur with Meat Eater- portions were a little light for the price. For example, I think the Mezza Platter came with four quarters of a pita total. I’m sure the waitress would have gotten more had we asked, but seems like more should have been plated from the get go. Beware, although the menu is kind enough to disclose the chicken stock used in various staple items, the staff do not seem to recognize that chicken is a meat item, thus not suitable for the pondering vegetarian. This led to an errant recommendation for the lentil bisque. I’m not sure what other stealth meat products surface in seemingly veggie friendly menu items. I have been known to practice a Bill Clintonesque version of vegetarianism when eating out (I offer up that I am vegetarian, restaurant then assures me various items are suitable; unless I have evidence to the contrary, I don’t ask and they therefore do not tell), but this could be problematic for others.

Meat Eater: Count me in for the falafel if they decide to add it to the menu. They get their pita bread from Sannabill, a local baker on Thompson Lane. A chat reveals that much thought went into that pita selection. The freshness and chewiness of the pita stand out. That pickiness also extends to the baklava, which is shipped in from Michigan. We have to agree that it’s well worth the trip. This is some of the better baklava we’ve had: crisp with distinct flavors, just enough sweetness and pleasant hints of spice. No gloppy syrup here. It’s a real treat. Bubble tea and smoothie fans will enjoy the third part of the menu, featuring an extensive line-up of fruit flavors and mash-ups. It’s actually Mr. Fattah’s original business…nutrition supplements and smoothies. Perhaps we’ll see Blu Figs popping up on the national food landscape in the future.

We paid $30 with tax and tip on one visit and I paid $9.50 with tax and tip on another.
Blu Fig Mediterranean Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 19, 2010

Night Market and Roast, Inc.

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Shop Tonight and One Cup at a Time

The Nashville Farmers Market Night Market is being held tonight from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. They'll have many of the Saturday vendors on hand, so you can stock up on stuff for the holidays. They promise samples, tastings and perhaps best of all booze (a cash bar.) Visit the web site for details: http://nashvillefarmersmarket.org/event/night_market

I don’t know much about coffee. I do know that I drink too much of it and that my coffee making skills leave something to be desired. That’s why it’s so much fun to see someone taking so much care in brewing a single cup of coffee. Roast, Inc. opened this summer in the Crieve Hall neighborhood of South Nashville. Brad and Lesa Wood take those beans seriously. Brad has the daily bean line-up displayed in glass jars on the counter. They are very picky about where they buy those beans and participate in a farmers Fair Trade arrangement known as farm gate…basically dealing directly with farmers to make sure they get the best price possible.

They roast the beans in small batches. Brad encourages you to take a whiff of the beans before you make your decision. This day brings aromas from Peru, Ethiopia, Brazil and Colombia. The next step is grinding on the spot and the delicate brewing process using the Clever Coffee Dripper. It takes about four minutes to complete. The result: one great cup of coffee. The Peruvian San Carlos proves to be silky smooth, full bodied and bright. At $2.20 with tax it’s also a good deal.

This much fussiness in coffee might bug me in other hands, but it’s clear these owners care about their craft and about sustainable agriculture. Most importantly- they’re having fun doing it. They use whole foods for flavor ingredients and on this day Brad was making up a batch of peanut butter and chocolate coffee. I’ll be back.

Roast, Inc.
4825 Trousdale Drive
Nashville
615-730-8074
www.roastinc.com
Roast Inc. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jackalope Beer in Nashville

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Jackalope Brewing Company

It's about time for another craft brewer to set up shop in Nashville. We love Yazoo, but the more the merrier if the beer is really good. Bailey Spaulding and Robyn Virball have leased space in a former flooring showroom on 8th Avenue South (near the Mercy Lounge.) The ladies are preping the space to start brewing next year. Jackalope Brewing Company is promising an initial line-up of four craft beers and a taproom for tastings. They also point out they will be the only all-female brewery in the state. You can check out their progress by visiting their blog: http://blogalope.tumblr.com/  or the Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/people/Jackalope-Brewing/100000531732733

Monday, November 15, 2010

Peter Chinn's Moves to Vandyland

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Peter Chinn's Moves to Vandyland

Wow, talk about a fast change. We had a reader report today that Peter Chinn's Korean Barbecue Taco has closed on Clarksville Highway and moved to 400 21st Avenue South in the old Cheeseburger Charley's location. We just called and they confirm it. This happened so fast that they are already serving up those kimchi and kogi beef short rib tacos in the new location. The owners report that they had a strong lunch business this afternoon. The location on Clarksville Highway seemed like an issue from the beginning. The best news about the new building is that they have sit down seating.


Here's a link to the old location if you haven't tried them out yet:


http://nashvillerestaurants.blogspot.com/2010/10/peter-chinns-korean-barbecue-taco.html


They are one of the bright spots in the Nashville dining scene this year. We'll swing by and take a look this weekend. Meanwhile, if you get there before us let us know what you think.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ginger

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Ginger
2861 Logan Street
Nashville
615-679-9555
www.gingerthairestaurant.com

It seems that Pad Thai is becoming as ubiquitous as fried chicken in these parts. Well, maybe not to that extreme, but there are plenty of Thai restaurants in Nashville. The real question these days is the quality of that Thai food. Lately, there have been signs that new proprietors are stepping it up a notch. Ginger Thai restaurant in South Nashville continues the trend.

It’s modest enterprise in a new strip mall just off Thompson Lane. Ginger is nestled in between the International Food Mart and Laolanexang Oriental Market. Inside, you’ll find a simple 15 table dining room with warm, rich colors, modern lighting fixtures and a sleek d├ęcor. Ginger has been open for a little more than five weeks now. The service is both welcoming and efficient. Any signs of opening jitters were quickly made up for with enthusiasm and a genuine care for the food being served.

You’ll need to do a little digging to spot the menu differences between Ginger and other Thai restaurants in town. Start with the house made Udon noodles. You’ll find the creamy noodles enhanced by a savory chicken broth spiked bright with generous cilantro, green onion and flecks of red chili. It’s an excellent chicken noodle soup. On to the green curry, which even ordered mild has a strong kick to it and husky flavor with tremendous depth. This isn’t your average Thai curry. It’s evident that a lot of time and care has gone into cooking down the coconut milk, basil, chili and kaffir lime leaves.

Tom Kah Gai also stands out in the flavor department, assisted by plenty of lemongrass and ginger. The distinct, bold flavors bring the soup alive. The coconut milk red curry for the Kang Ped Phet Yang is spicy and yet not overly so. The duck has a chewy, but tender, consistency and pairs well with the Thai eggplant.

After sampling so much good food we often bypass dessert in favor of the check. This would be a mistake at Ginger. Warm rice pudding comes covered up in a cold, sweet custard that is slight reminiscent of injera bread. Don’t look, just eat. The sticky rice and the sugary custard are a wonderful pairing. They promise house made ice cream and will crack open a coconut so that diners can drink the milk and eat the fruit inside.

Veggie Eater: I’m a sucker for Thai noodles, so I opted for the Lard Nar on this first trip. It was a truly interesting concoction of fresh noodles served atop crisp salad greens and topped with big blocks of tofu, carrots, and broccoli. The noodles were well cooked; no mushiness here. The corn and broccoli still retained most of their snap. The tofu added chewiness. I inquired to ensure it was veggie friendly and was told it was, but did not specifically inquire as to the broth base. The broth was light, mildly hot, sweet, and salty. A great play on flavors and textures. The next time, I opted for the ubiquitous Pad Thai. I realize that traditionally this is not a hot dish. However, I really like it this way and Ginger was happy to oblige. I wouldn’t call it “native” Thai hot, but respectable. The waitress assured me we could up the ante in other dishes if necessary. Again, the folks were kind enough to substitute tofu, for the meat choices, in the Pad Thai. It was chock full of the usual Pad Thai goodness: sprouts, peanuts, chives and eggs. All the ingredients maintained their individuality, instead of becoming a big gloppy mess, as so often happens. It seemed a tad bit heavy on the fish sauce to me (and although on rare occasion I will relent and have a shrimp or a scallop, I don’t really like fish). What really knocked my socks off was the green curry. It is everything I love in a food; soothing from the coconut milk, spicy from the peppers, tart from the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves and balanced by the basil. Since the Meat Eater was partaking, we did not ask for the heat to be altered and it brought a happy glow to our tummies. I found myself ordering ice tea and was given a choice of Thai or sweet ice tea. Well, I’m not one for sweet tea (those Northern roots go deep), so I ordered the Thai ice tea. Let’s just say it makes Southern sweet tea seem positively bitter in comparison. It’s orange in color, thickened with either condensed milk or cream, and spiced (cinnamon? allspice?) I guess I understand the pairing with hot foods, but really, I prefer a Singha beer…live and learn. There are quite a few veggie offerings, as most menu items offer a tofu version.

Meat Eater: Ginger is a welcome addition to the Nashville Thai food options. We paid $41 with tax and tip for one dinner and $40 with tax and tip on another visit.
Ginger on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Great Beer and Bourbon Rush

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue Festival

A couple of hundred folks lined up at 11:30am Saturday morning to hit the bottle....or in this case many bottles. We hit the line at the Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue festival and expected a big wait. This was clearly a longer line for the VIP tasting at noon than last year. We made the mistake of paying full price for tickets a few weeks ago, only to see Groupon open it up for half price last week. Oh, well. The doors opened promptly at noon and they sent that line flying through will-call tickets. We had glasses in hand the spirits warming our tummies just a few minutes later.

The good thing is that they appeared to have more servers this year. The downside was the number of fancy bourbons had diminished a bit. Now mind you there was still plenty of quality hooch to be had: Four Roses Single Barrel, Elijah Craig 18 year-old and Evan Williams Single Barrel were the standouts. Blanton's was also a repeat and served up, as you can see here, with a smile. Not much new or unusual stuff to sample. The Jeremiah Weed blended bourbon from Connecticut stood out and the various sweet moonshines were intriguing. What's missing here is the panoply of craft distiller product that's cropping up across the country. That and the servers were for the most part clueless about what they were serving...nice enough, but clueless. That is a bit different than in years past. I guess it's primarily volunteer servers now and not the distributor and company reps.

Same deal with the beers. There were a few new and unusual varieties. For the most part though, it was the same stuff you've had before. Not that we mind going back for multiple servings of Rogue Chipotle Ale or Dead Guy (also served with a smile, as pictured here). It's time that this Festival make a decision and go completely mass market or still throw a bone to those seeking out new experiences. Yes, it was clear that the Jack Daniels line was long and for some crazy ass reason the Four Roses line was not and it's cool to offer mass market product if that's what people really want. Given all the new, cool stuff out there it would be great to include more craft options to the mix.

A brisket sandwich and pulled pork from The Pig and Pie rounded out the festivities. They report that the restaurant on White Bridge may still be happening in the next couple of months.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Odds and Ends

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Friday Odds and Ends

We’re keeping a close eye on the opening of the No. 308 Bar on Gallatin Avenue in East Nashville. Chris Chamberlain at The Nashville Scene reports that they will be offering cocktails and a full kitchen with table service. It’s located next to Dino’s at 407 Gallatin Avenue. You can keep track of the progress by visiting their Facebook page.

Tom’s Blue Moon Barbecue has closed in Hendersonville and plans to re-open in Lebanon. The owners site the huge, 200 seat space and high overhead as a primary reason for the move.

Lazziz Persian has also succumbed. Ed King reports that the restaurant turned into a used car lot in the blink of an eye. It’s a real loss for Nolensville Road.

We're off to the Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue Fest Saturday afternoon at the Memorial Auditorium (or rather underneath it, if the event is the same as last year). The Veggie Eater doesn't eat barbecue, needless to say, and really doesn't care for bourbon. Luckily she is happy as a clam given enough beer. We'll report back next week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Turnip Truck Opens in the Gulch

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Turnip Truck Opens in the Gulch

The Gulch just got a lot livelier thanks to the new Turnip Truck Urban Fare grocery store on 12th Avenue South. It was a busy opening day Saturday. The store is much bigger than the tiny East Nashville original. You’ll find a meat counter, cheese counter, a salad bar and a hot bar. They have a wide selection of bulk spices, grains and beans, and a large frozen section. Even with the relatively big size of the place it’s still manageable and homey compared to a Whole Foods or even Trader Joes. And we really like supporting local ownership. The airy patio seating provides a nice spot to eat some lunch and view the empty condos down the street.

Opening day brought out all sorts of folks. We spied Allison and Ben from the Pickled and Fried blog emerging with a purchase of mango chips. Justyne Noble was offering samples of Noble Springs Goat cheese. The dill and pickle was a favorite. Lucy Hatcher from Hatcher Family Dairy was handing out samples of their decadent chocolate milk. The Hatcher family has been selling milk at the Turnip Truck for several years. The College Grove dairy produces whole milk with a cream line. You can meet the bovine employees if you want to take a tour: http://www.hatcherfamilydairy.com/

The Gulch has pretty much been populated by national chain businesses so far. We can hope that the new Turnip Truck and the snazzy Yazoo taproom will signal a turn towards cooler, more interesting, local businesses in the Gulch. And then once those condos fill up we can truly have a vibrant new neighborhood for Nashville.

Turnip Truck Urban Fare
311 12th Ave South
Nashville
http://www.theturniptruck.com/