Sunday, July 29, 2012

Shabu-Shabu House

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Shabu-Shabu House
945 Richards Road

Shabu-Shabu is a Japanese cook- it- yourself, hot pot serving style and probably best enjoyed with a group. It’s a bit of a party thing, popular with tourists in Japan and with folks in many cities around the U.S. It’s also big with the Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese community and it’s those groups that make up the primary customer base at the new Shabu-Shabu House in Nashville.

Order a Shabu-Shabu set and they’ll bring a propane camping stove and a pot of hot broth (your choice of house or spicy). The broth seems to be what separates this from sukiyaki, although the communal cooking style is the same. You bring the broth to boiling at the table and then add your fresh ingredients, which cover the table like a portable prep station. Veggies, mushrooms, tofu and glass noodles come standard. From there you can add beef, chicken, pork and seafood, depending on your order. Drop the stuff in the pot and start cooking. The ingredients are fresh and we appreciate the egg-based broth for the Veggie Eater. A vegan would have issues here. The sets are designed for at least two and probably up to four people.

Management reports their biggest times are in the afternoons and evenings. Beware, they rent the space out for special events on Saturday nights, so no regular service. We’re there at quiet weekend lunch times, so it’s hard to judge the festivity. It’s a large space with tall ceilings. Thai and Vietnamese rock and hip-hop play on the stereo. It appears that this is a place popular with the younger set. And as it should be. Shabu-Shabu seems tailor made for group dating.

The rest of the menu is primarily Thai. Tiger Cry is tender steak and onions in a lime- fish sauce with plenty of herbs, cilantro and scallion. It’s a perfect summer beef dish- both light and spicy. Yum Woon Sen is another lime and fish sauce based dish made for light summer eating. The bean thread and ground pork has a real kick- spicy hot and that’s the standard version. I think this is one place where you could actually get some real Thai heat if you ask for it. I’m perfectly happy with mine at standard spice, although the waitress seems worried that I won’t like the heat.

Chicken egg rolls are fried crispy and decent enough in flavor. Thai fried chicken wings appear to be completely unadorned and paired with a light, sweet dipping sauce. They too are decent in quality, although not very interesting.

Veggie Eater: They bill a veggie friendly Shabu-Shabu option here and they are true to their word. On our first visit, they made a fresh veggie broth for my base and were even kind enough to ask if egg was ok (fine by me). My guess is they would accommodate leaving it out for a vegan. Not really knowing what to do, I simply started adding most of my veggies into the pot, allowing them to cook down, and then added the rest. Meat eater suggested a more fondu sort of approach, but I liked my method better. Ingredients to add to the pot included bean thread noodles, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, carrots, mushrooms (button and enoki), greens of unknown name, and tofu instead of the meat…when coupled with the jasmine rice that meat eater had with his dish it made for a lovely and filling meal (and 2 more for leftovers). Next out I tried the Pad Thai. Really, I had planned to be more adventurous, but the menu did not list what the ingredients were in the various items and I got tired of gazing at pictures trying to discern ingredients and asking meat eater to look up menu items on his smart phone (a source of contention between us as I cling strongly the dinosaur age of rarely used Tracfone technology). The Pad Thai was well cooked; noodles were not gloppy and there was a subtle spiciness to it. It included lots of carrots, peanuts, scallions, sprout, and egg with a few chunks of tofu. The iced tea appeared to be a green tea steeped on the spot and was refreshing. On our second lunch, I was presented with a jasmine bloom. The hip hop/pop music in the background makes for a fun vibe.

Meat Eater: An accommodating staff and friendly environment makes up for the quiet venue. We paid $29 with tax and tip on one visit and $32 on another visit.

Shabu Shabu House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 22, 2012

VN Pho and Deli

Nashville Restaurants and Food
VN Pho and Deli
5906 Charlotte Pike

VN Pho and Deli is an unassuming little restaurant tucked away in a nondescript set of stores on Charlotte Pike. And that appears to be exactly what the Luu-Nguyn family is looking for. The big Vietnamese joints are just across the street. VN Pho is going for a homier approach.

You’ll feel that welcome the moment you step into the place. Tham Luu and his son Nam are quick to welcome you and explain some of their favorite items on the menu. You’re unlikely to see mom, Hoa Nguyn, out front. She’s in the kitchen carefully making every dish to order. It’s actually Nam rolling the Goi Cuon spring rolls to order on our visit and for the Veggie Eater that means leaving the pork out. Everyone’s English is excellent and they understand vegetarian needs. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have a lot on the menu for vegetarians, but they’re willing to do what they can. Those spring rolls are sticky, crunchy and fresh. The house made peanut dipping sauce is a real treat. Nam recommends the Vietnamese coffee. With this heat the coffee on ice hits the spot. It’s a strong brew with plenty of sugar syrup and spices of some sort.

The Banh Mi Thit features homemade Vietnamese butter on the soft bun. Pork spread, sausage, veggies and jalapenos round out this spicy, salty and excellent sandwich. Banh Xeo are super-crisp thanks to rice flour. The so-called Vietnamese pancakes are really more like a crispy omelet filled with shrimp and pork. The turmeric gives it a nice flavor. Wrap up pieces of the pancakes in fresh lettuce with a little mint and dipping sauce.

I go all the way on the Pho, which includes steak, meatballs, brisket, tendon and tripe. A conversation reveals that the family gets their meat from Atlanta to make sure they get the Vietnamese-style cuts they want. The steak and brisket are quite tender. The tripe and tendon have a good consistency, not chewy. The fine broth is made each day and they point out that at the end of the day they toss it out. It takes hours to cook a new batch so once they’re out, they’re out.

Veggie Eater: Meat Eater was kind enough to conduct reconnaissance prior to bringing me here to ensure that VN Pho could accommodate my veggieness. This is important because I find the Vietnamese joints in general are not very veggie friendly and frequent language barriers make menu deviations a dicey proposition at best. There is not a single veggie item on the menu, but Nam confirmed they could adjust the Mi Xoa to be a veggie dish. It’s a plate full of thin, lightly fried noodles topped with stir fried onions, greens, cilantro and served with a savory sauce (appeared to be fish sauce free) on the side. As always, the table is full of a variety of fun condiments (Meat Eater discovered he is not a fan of shrimp paste, but this is Nam’s favorite condiment)—I discovered a dried pepper powder which gave the dish a little pop. Nam and his father are literally beaming with pride at the product Ms. Nguyen is producing, as well as they should be. Meats are purchased from a wholesaler in Atlanta as they are not convinced of the quality and freshness of the products in Nashville. Whatever isn’t consumed in a day is tossed out; if they run out of Pho, it’s because they’ve had a good day and that’s ok. Dipping sauces are made on site, not out of a bottle. It’s already developing a loyal following, as evidenced by two guys at the table next to us, one of whom comes in regularly with his wife, but brought his friend on this day to turn him onto this hidden gem. I’ll happily venture back to see what Nam will recommend and what mom will conjure up for a veggie selection next.

Meat Eater: We enjoyed chatting with the Nam and his father. They’ve only been open a few months now, but it sounds like the place is catching on with the Vietnamese community. They’re not new to the restaurant business. The family had a restaurant in West Nashville about 10 years ago. They closed because mom was simply worn out from all of that cooking. Here’s hoping she can pace herself with VN Pho. It’s a nice addition to the Nashville restaurant scene.

I paid $12 with tax and tip on a solo visit and we paid $23 together for a lunch visit.

VN Pho & Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 16, 2012

New Farmers’ Markets

Nashville Restaurants and Food
New Farmers’ Markets

This week launches the expansion of the Good Food for Good People Farmers’ Markets projects organized by our neighbor, Sean Siple. Sean and his folks are passionate about locally sourced, nutritious, accessible food and this extends well beyond the farmers’ markets that they organize. On any given day you can find Sean actually helping people farm, helping churches and schools build community gardens, providing hands on learning experiences at schools to help kids learn how to manage their community gardens. He’s also busy hooking up local restaurants with local farmers; the list is endless. Our favorite market in the Nashville area happens to be the West Nashville Market on Saturdays In Richland Park. And I’m not saying this just because Sean is our neighbor (after all, I did get to meet Emmylou Harris here and tell her my llama story). Good Food for Good People is adding a sister market, Country to the Core, to their already burgeoning projects. This market will be held from 11am-2pm on Tuesdays at the Bank of America Plaza between Bank of America and the Doubletree Hotel. There will be music, a variety of locally sourced food items and perhaps even some art. If you work downtown, I’d wager this will be the best lunch option on Tuesdays. You can check out their Facebook page.

Not content to merely be rolling out one new market, The Good Food folks are also adding a partnership with Donelson Fifty Forward to host a Friday market, named “Hip Donelson”, from 4-7 pm. It fills a farmers’ market void in Donelson.

If you’re interested in more information about the dizzying array of projects, markets, and local involvements of the Good Food for Good People peeps, check out their webpage.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pupuseria Salvadorena

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Pupuseria Salvadorena
340 Welch Road

It’s catch up time on the blog. Folks have been saying good things about Pupuseria Salvadorena for some time now. It’s been a regular stop for Lannae and that’s a good recommendation for us. Salvadorena does some big family business. A Saturday afternoon finds the place packed and a bit smoky from cooking. There is understandably a bit of a wait because customers are not just in the dining room- they’re lined up for take-out orders. Still, the food keeps coming. That’s thanks to an army of ladies in the kitchen. You can hear them laughing and patting out dough for the pupusas and thick, doughy tortillas.

Pupusa loroco is just the right amount of cheesy and great flavor from the loroco flower buds. The curtido slaw on the side is vinegary and just right. A carne asada plate has nicely seasoned beef with big slices of ripe avocado, fresh pico de gallo and quality frijoles. A little spicy verde sauce and it’s a darn good lunch. However, that carne asada is even better piled up in a messy and delicious torta sandwich. Quesadillas also do well thanks to excellent ingredients. They’re lightly grilled and packed full of chicken breast, cheese, onion, lettuce and tomato. It’s an unusual pile up of stuff for a quesadilla and yet it works.

Veggie Eater: Central American restaurants seem to have fairly limited menus in general and this translates to even few veggies options. The options here amount to the pupusa loroco y queso or the pupusa frijole y queso. Feeling crazy, I had one of each. The fancier version (loroco) is pretty much as Meat Eater already indicated-the salsa verde has a nice afterburner heat to it. The curtido is tangy and sour. The cheese itself is both crispy and gooey. All of this on a homemade pupusa equals the perfect complement of textures and flavors. The frijole y queso version is a bit more filling, but simpler in both flavor and texture. Not much else to sample here, but a treat for every once and a while.

Meat Eater: The line to pay your bill is the same as the take-out line and that can cause a real logjam. Service, however, is friendly and efficient otherwise. I paid $13 with tax and tip on one visit and we paid $20 for two on another visit. Welch is a little side street off of Nolensville Road, just north of Harding Place.

Pupuseria Salvadorena on Urbanspoon