Sunday, November 27, 2011

Las Fiestas

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Las Fiestas
1557 North Gallatin Pike

It’s no secret that the best Mexican food is found at the mom and pop joints around town. The restaurants that cater to Hispanics tend to take more care in the food and offer more variety. There is value to some of the Americanized places though, and if done right there’s no reason you can’t get a decent meal. Las Maracas on Gallatin Pike in East Nashville is a good example. So, when Las Fiestas presented itself earlier this year we decided to take a look. It’s hard to miss, with a big, bright sign. It’s a former Applebee’s and the owners appear to have bought the place lock, stock and barrel, leaving much of the Applebee’s décor intact.

Probably the most notable feature of the expansive dining room is a picture window revealing folks dishing out dough for fresh tortillas. It’s fun to watch and provided a promising start to our first visit. They have a large menu, most of which will be quite familiar. Seafood, fajitas, burritos and enchiladas dominate the menu. Guacamole and salsa are average at best. The molcajete steak is served in a sizzling hot stone server, which looks like a pig. Implying something are we? Grilled poblanos, nopales, green onions and thick slices of Chihuahua cheese are done up in a tasty sauce with just a hint of tomato and spice. The steak begins tender and gets a little chewy as the meal continues. It’s still a good entrée and destined for a to-go box given the sizeable portion.

The second visit shows that the place is already busy for lunch. The chile poblano has an egg batter and a thin red sauce. It’s stuffed with cheese and perhaps a bit soggy in texture. A tamale with ground beef and red sauce poured on top is a bit bland. The beef tostado is piled high with beef and lettuce and also lacks personality.

Veggie Eater: There is a reasonable vegetarian combination section, offering 9 selections. My choice was Spinach Enchiladas and they were quite good. Homemade corn tortillas are light and wrapped around freshly sautéed spinach and onions. Las Fiestas opts to top their variation with queso. It’s a bit thin, but that works well here as it doesn’t make the enchiladas gloppy. If I was in the area, I’d probably pop in for lunch.

Meat Eater: Oh, well. Las Fiestas does have a wrap around bar thanks to Applebee’s and drink specials for happy hour. There is also plenty of room for the kids to run around and perhaps check out the tortilla making.

We paid $35 with tax and tip on one visit and I paid $14 on a second visit.

Las Fiestas De Mexico on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Top 3 for Fall 2011

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Top 3 for Fall 2011

While chain restaurants and upscale joints are opening up left and right it was a little slow for new, affordable, independent restaurants this fall. That promises to change quickly with the opening of several promising spots recently including Stonehouse Q, Fleet Street, Sloco and hopefully soon the Pharmacy. Here are our picks for the Top 3 for Fall.

1. Five Points Pizza

It’s like Nashville is a pizza starved desert island. A good new pizza joint inspires considerable buzz. Perhaps it’s due to the increasing number of East Coast folks desperately foraging for thin, N.Y. style pie. Five Points Pizza does an admirable job with a foldable, floppy crust and quality ingredients. A solid tomato sauce and well-chosen herbs give the pie some zip. A cheese slice is just as satisfying- basic but good. The Old World pizza is a simple blend of fresh mozzarella and basil. We get the Bianca white pizza on one visit and find it nicely crispy with fresh mozzarella and ricotta. The crusts have been ranging on our visits from a bit chewy to quite crispy, with the Veggie Eater preferring the chewy and vice-versa. Solid salads and excellent garlic knots are worthy starters.

2. AM@FM

This new Farmers’ market venture by Arnold Myint elevates the usual Farmers’ market take-out style considerably. We especially enjoy the bar seating and a little dining area. The food is kind of an international Southern picnic mash-up with the likes of smoked potato salad, hummus naan and rosemary macaroni salad. The weekend crostini bar is a highlight. Creative combinations included tapenade and local feta; andouille and goat cheese; local farm egg salad with capers and dill; and smoked turkey and chutney. They come three to an order for $6 or $7.

3. Moore’s Fried Chicken

Moore’s is well worth a trip to Hendersonville, both for the tasty take on hot chicken and the convivial atmosphere. Mr. Moore has one primary spice mix and he sticks to it for chicken and fish. Luckily, it’s an excellent blend that imparts not only heat but a ton of flavor. You won’t see hot chicken listed per se, you just have to order the fried chicken spicy, which is about a Prince’s mild in heat. It would be safe to go up in heat from there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

First hits: Fleet Street, Sloco and Kay Bob’s

Nashville Restaurants and Food
First hits: Fleet Street, Sloco and Kay Bob’s

It’s a good weekend when we get to sample three new restaurants, all well-anticipated, and we have good first impressions across the board. Remember- these are first visits only, we’ll go back in a few weeks to see how they are doing for a full review of each.

We had our first look at the new Fleet Street Pub in Printers Alley. You’d never recognize the place from its former days as Parco Café. It’s a stylish and yet comfortable subterranean design, and while it’s there’s an ode to British pub style here and there, it feels more urban bar than anything else. They’re still gearing up in the beer department and the liquor just came in. The food we sampled was excellent. Because of the promotion as an English pub purists will probably have issues here and there. We don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing – we’ll judge the food on its own merits. They entrees we sampled (shepherd’s pie with lamb and curry veggies) were spot-on and the Blackfriars fries are some of the better wedge-style fries we have had in Nashville. Vegetarians should be able to find several things to eat here, although it may be important to ask about the finer points in the cooking process. Owner Glenn Henderson is a former Nashville Banner journalist, thus the British newspaper name for the joint. Fish and chips, chicken pie, Welsh rarebit, beef and Yorkshire pudding and other British inspired dishes make up the menu, with burgers and salads to keep most folks happy. The next visit will have to include the Hatton Cross Hot Hen- the Fleet Street take on hot chicken with Cornish game hen. The crowd has been primarily local so far, and that would be fine, just as long as the locals get out there to support the place. It’s a great alternative to the tourist bar scene.

Fleet Street
Printers Alley Downtown

Sloco is a tiny, narrow sandwich shop packed so full of roasting aromas and genuine smiles on our Saturday visit that it was hard not to love the place, especially when the room stood at attention for the presentation of a Star Wars lunch box and matching X-Wing fighter cookie cutters. The fun extends to the food. The pronouncements on the wall can seem a bit much: seasonal ingredients only, small-footprint ecologically, love the community etc. The plain fact is that these guys seem to be doing just that. For just being open a couple of weeks they seem incredibly connected to the local clientele and make a big point of recyclables and recycling. All much appreciated, especially the quality local ingredients. The sandwiches are creative takes on classics. The pastrami is juicier and mellower than the usual and given little bursts of extra flavor with a unique pickled relish. They are several nods to the vegetarian, including a Vegan meatball sub with nutty quinoa flavor, shaved seitan and a slow-roasted veggie sub. The breads are baked in house. Mustards and other sauces are also house made. Best of all- people actually seem to enjoy working here. It looks like Jeremy Barlow of Tayst may have another hit on his hands.

2905 12th Avenue South

The humble flatbread gets top billing at the new Kay Bob’s sandwich restaurant near Vanderbilt. It’s the latest venture from the folks next door at Pizza Perfect. Meats are grilled kabob style and sandwiches are wrapped up in a crispy, toasty flatbread. It worked fine for our sandwiches, especially when wrapped up burrito style with sweet, locally-produced ground beef for the Uncle Bob burger. A Bibb salad has huge leaves of ultra-fresh lettuce, goat cheese and pear for a nice touch. Seven sandwiches, six salads and a thoughtful kids menu (PBJ flatbread anyone?) round out the main items and even the sides (sweet sesame slaw and house-cut fries) were appreciated. It looks like Vandy has a new lunch spot.

Kay Bob’s
1602 21st Avenue South

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fat Juicy Taco

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Fat Juicy Taco
793 Main Street

Okay, how could I not check out a place called Fat Juicy Taco? The Hendersonville joint is primarily take-out, although they do have seating for seven or eight along a counter at the window. The gracious staff certainly makes it a nice place to enjoy your meal. Owner Jesse Schofner promotes Fat Juicy Taco as Baja style Mexican. While that term is thrown around a lot these days, by a number of chain restaurants, here it means an emphasis on ingredients and preparation over seasoning.

Start with one of the eponymous tacos. You can get your taco wrapped up in a thick and fluffy flour tortilla, grilled up with a crisp skin, or you can opt for a fried corn tortilla, formed into a taco purse of sorts. They’re both good choices and notable for the unique cooking style and quality tortillas. They pile in a lot of your choice of shredded meat: chicken, pork or beef. It’s all slow-cooked and stewed in essentially the same way. That might reduce the essential beef-ness or chicken-ness, but it’s different and flavorful, in a laid back way.

The burrito gets essentially the same treatment. It’s a major mouthful of beef and a substantial lunch. A Chicken quesadilla is lightly grilled and oozing with what appears to be Monterey Jack cheese. While there are no veggie options listed on the menu, they would probably cook up a veggie version of many of the items. One of those quesadillas with black olives and jalapenos would keep the Veggie Eater happy. The guacamole is also a good option. It’s well-prepared and fresh.

Perhaps the standout menu item was the red pepper sauce enchiladas. The sauce has a comforting richness and provides a restrained topping for the cheesy pork enchiladas. A side of chips and salsa is also recommended. The chips are fried in house; puffy and light. The pico de gallo is typical of the overall style of the place: garden-like, flavorful and mellow. If you have the time to wait or can call ahead you might also consider the Mexican pizza. It’s a 12 inch tortilla featuring all of the ingredients cooked pizza style. It takes 30 minutes, so I didn’t have time to sample on my visits.

At $3.29 each, those tacos may not be a cheap as you get at a taqueria. Fat Juicy Taco will also charge you for just about everything extra. Guacamole with your taco will run you an extra 99 cents. Needless to say the chips and salsa cost as well. However, when you get everything made in-house and with fresh, quality ingredients you should expect to pay a bit more and I found the prices to be reasonable.

Since I was dining solo, my two lunches were true pig-out fests designed to taste as many items as possible, so don’t let these costs deter you from checking out Fat Juicy Taco for yourself. I paid $14 with tax and tip on one lunch visit and $16 on another, with to-go boxes quite necessary for each. They stay open until 8pm Monday through Saturday, so it’s an option for folks picking up something for dinner (as always call ahead or visit the website because hours often change in the restaurant world).

Fat Juicy Taco on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Korea House

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Korea House
6410 Charlotte Pike
Facebook Page

We spend much of our time on this blog scouting out the new restaurants in Nashville. Every now and then we try and add some joints that have been turning out great food for years. This week we add Korea House to that list, an addition that has been a long-time coming.

The small West Side restaurant is popular. Arrive on a Friday evening and you may find folks waiting on the sidewalk for a table. It’s for good reason: the Choi family takes great pride in their food. Start with the classic sizzling platter of bulgogi. Tender beef is in a savory marinade and then cooked up with onions. The banchan (small side dishes to accompany the entree) provide eight different ways to dress that beef up, piling the likes of kimchi (spicy and sour fermented veggies), egg custard or dried fish onto a big piece of leaf lettuce with the beef. It’s a crunchy, multi-flavored treat that can taste different with each banchan. You can vary your spice levels and create texture and flavor variations however you like. The banchan at Korea House are straight forward, flavorful and seem to be of quality ingredients.

Another visit brings Kimchi Samgyoupsal. It’s pork belly with kimchi and tofu; a sour, spicy and savory dish that brings out many of the best Korean flavors. Like some other Asian dishes you may find bits of cartilage here and there. It’s part of the cooking process and easily eaten around. This time the more savory of the banchan go well with the dish. We find ourselves also piling banchan varieties onto the rice for a side dish of sorts (not necessarily how you’re supposed to eat the stuff).

Kimbap is a Korean take on sushi and the seaweed roll at Korea House is worth trying. The snappy, salty seaweed wraps up rice, hot dog slices and best of all pickled radish.

The soups and stews at Korea House are standouts. The Yookgaejang is a spicy bowl of rich red broth. Ordered medium it has real heat and great depth of flavor. Chewy potato noodles, bean sprouts and shredded beef wait in a tangle at the bottom of the bowl. Scallions are sprinkled on top for bite. Banchan supplement the flavors and surprisingly the oily, dried fish does best in competition with the spicy broth.

The wait staff is happy to help with explanations and advice on the menu when it’s slower (an early lunch or dinner is recommended). This was particularly helpful for the Veggie Eater.

Veggie Eater: The first thing that stands out is the service. On my visit, our waitress immediately sized up that I was vegetarian, then steered me around the menu to avoid stealth animal products and items that would stand up to having the meat ingredients omitted. Our collaboration resulted in the Japchaebap, substituting tofu for the traditional beef bits. This was a medley of broccoli, zucchini, onions, dried mushrooms, carrots, and tofu served with sweet potato noodles. The pepper flakes were visible, but the result was a mildly spicy, slightly greasy (from sesame oil) dish. At first glance, the menu has limited veggie items, which is not uncommon for Korean restaurants. However, it appears that this Korean restaurant is attuned to veggie eaters and is willing to accommodate. I felt more confident here that my veggie preference was understood and food cooked accordingly. Got to love a place where the take out menus have all been altered one at a time by hand to update the “Voted Best Korean Restaurant four years in a row”—the four has been struck out and replaced with a five.

Meat Eater: Korea House is an example of a mom and pop restaurant success story. It shows that great food can create a following in any economic climate.

We paid $34 with tax and tip on one visit. I paid $17 on one solo excursion and $22 on another.

Korea House on Urbanspoon