Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pomodoro East

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Pomodoro East
701 Porter Road
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A bustling restaurant on a Friday night is a thing of beauty; a first date couple sharing a pizza at one table; a group of friends ordering the second bottle of wine at another. The space should enhance that feeling- at once bringing everyone together and yet giving each group a little island of warmth. The transformation of Pomodoro East is dramatic. While Cooper’s on Porter had a dark, woodsy feel, Pomodoro is opened up, livelier and an altogether better space. It’s not surprising given the ownership. Chef Willy Thomas and his wife Yvette run Park Café and Eastland Café. Both spaces capitalize on lively and warm. Chef Joe Shaw has partnered with them on this Italian trattoria.

The wood fired oven can be seen glowing from the open kitchen. It’s used to good effect with their pizza. The dough is sweet, airy and crisp. A generous dose of olive oil, artichoke, goat cheese and roasted garlic makes for a splendid pie. The Pomodoro is a classic American-style pizza with the same light crust and yet a more substantial tomato and cheese topping. The bright tomato sauce brings each slice to life. The chicken pizza leaves the tomato aside and is perfect with just cheese and olive oil. These pizzas are substantial and well-crafted. Each has a little char on the far outside of the crust to remind you of the wood oven.

Salads do well, from the anchovy Caesar with a mozzarella crisp on top, to a fresh house salad with arugula and radicchio. Salads are always a good pairing with pizza and pasta. The Spiedini is a bit unusual. It’s usually a grilled meat or veggie dish. This version brings grilled mozzarella bread in a light cheese sauce. It was a hit at the table even if it wasn’t what we expected.

Crab ravioli was served al dente and perhaps a bit too al dente. It was chewy to the point of being underdone in parts. The properly cooked parts were tasty. Shrimp scampi pasta had a light touch of olive oil, garlic and salt, giving the shrimp the opportunity to take center stage. Gnocchi were a real treat and once again served in an original style. They’re formed into discs, rather than the typical rolled spheres. The gnocchi was perfectly cooked for a balance between texture and fluffiness. The decadent parmesan and butter sauce put it over the top. It was one of our favorite dishes of both visits.

Veggie Eater: Lots of veggie friendly options here and you can opt for half orders on the pasta dishes, which allows you to experiment more and is amenable to a family style or Tapas sort of approach to dining. During one of our visits we had a group and availed ourselves of the family style approach, with many items in no particular order. There’ve been rumblings about service, but family style lends itself nicely to the bustling atmosphere as food appears as it is ready. The rosemary focaccia is delightful; the top is crusty, the inside doughy, and it’s the perfect vehicle to sop up olive oil and balsamic. The house salad is carefully constructed with arugula, radicchio, roasted red peppers, olives (beware, not pitted), and ricotta salata cheese. It pairs perfectly with the sinful gnocchi. We ordered a side of polenta and I found it to be a bit bland; very rich and creamy, but not much flavor other than fat (it is cheesy -Ed.). My only other beef was that we had tried to eat here several weeks before with a friend visiting from out of town. We called and left a message for a reservation. When we arrived we found the restaurant closed for a private function (on a Friday night).

Meat Eater: We tried to eat out on the large patio, but needless to say it’s been popular this summer. They installed sun shades to cut back on glare and at night it lights up the neighborhood. Pomodoro East is a welcome addition to East Nashville. It’s festive, comfortable and has a lovely ambiance. We’ll be back.

We paid $56 with tax and tip on a dinner visit and $120 on another dinner visit for a party of five with plenty of wine.
Pomodoro East on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Urban Grub

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Urban Grub
2506 12th Avenue South

Everything about Urban Grub is writ large: multiple patios, two bars and several dining areas. Even the website proclaims the place to be the next star on the Nashville dining scene. If this seems like a turn-off, it’s easy enough to get over it. Inside Urban Grub you’ll find a stylish and yet warm restaurant with plenty of flair. The use of wood in many finishes and forms tones everything down to a comfortable level. If you manage to arrive at off peak times (this place does get busy) you’re whisked to a table and soon you’re settling in and saying, yes, perhaps this too can be 12 South.

The bread basket is simple and yet well done. A buttermilk biscuit at brunch topped with a berry jam is a pleasant way to start the day. Cranberry muffins are also quite welcome at our table. Right now Urban Grub is only open for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Start with a well-balanced spicy bloody Mary featuring cayenne salt on the rim. A house salad with bleu cheese is a bit of a hiccup in our morning. While the greens and white cheddar are fine, fried black eyed peas are far too sharp giving the salad an unpleasant crackle. The Country ham is also just too much for a salad- chewy to the point of distraction. I do appreciate the nod to Tennessee and you’ll find Southern flavors all over the menu. Gouda grits have a smoky flavor and a nice little afterburner of spice. Chipotle grits are even smokier and spicier and with a great depth of flavor. Mac and cheese comes to the table baked crisp, thick with cheese and a combo of what appears to be elbow and rigatoni macaroni. It’s a meal in itself and that’s an important thing to mention about Urban Grub. You could easily spend a bunch of money on a lunch or dinner, but you don’t have to. One of those aforementioned sides could easily be the better part of a meal. We, however, are here to serve the readers and so we order up.

Smoked beef tenderloin Benedict is served with a garlic-shallot-mustard hollandaise in a tasty twist. The tender beef is well smoked and smoky is an element you’ll find often on the menu. The eggs are cooked perfectly and buttermilk biscuits provide a southern foundation. They serve several creative Benedict options for weekend brunch. On the lunch side, the club carbonara is basically a deconstructed sandwich turned pasta dish with big chunks of excellent applewood smoked bacon, turkey, tomato, spinach and onion in a light cream sauce.

Okay, there are many positives to this place and only a couple of negatives. The Veggie Eater is chomping at the bit to complain.

Veggie Eater: Let’s cut to the chase and discuss the negatives first which are the silver and dish ware. I wish I was joking. The plates are oddly shaped (curved on the sides-Ed.) and the silverware is very bottom heavy, causing your silverware to attack without provocation. During my first visit, I was amused by the effect. I was not giggling about this during the second visit as no matter how carefully I would place my fork or knife on my plate, they would invariably leap into my lap. (Actually, they just tend to fall off the plate quite easily. I don’t think they intend ill will- Ed.) Thankfully, I’m a wash and wear kind of a person, so no harm, no foul. But things may be different for the folks dressed in their Sunday church finery for brunch. I would imagine more than a few dry cleaning bills have been presented to the management. On our second visit, our waiter told us that he has started having dreams which consist of the sound of forks hitting the concrete floor.

On to other matters at hand. There are limited veggie options on the menu, but many side items are veggie friendly , are large in portion, and served in cast iron cook ware which keeps them warm throughout the meal. As Meat Eater mentioned, the side salad sported the rather bizarre fried black eyed peas, which I warily ate around for fear of breaking a tooth. At brunch, I had the single serve roma tomato strata-the eggs were perfectly cooked and housed basil, peppadew peppers, and regianitto cheese. The peppers lent a lovely subtle sweetness to the dish. The hash brown casserole was really more of home fry casserole, as the potatoes were thinly sliced disks covered in cheese (no meat based soup or stock used here, so safe for ovo-lacto veggie eaters). Next up was the veggie burrito (one of the few veggie entrée options on the menu). The burrito is baked until the tortilla is slightly crispy. Stuffed inside are quinoa, roasted cauliflower and cheese, which was a bit dry. This is topped with a variety of accoutrements, including guacamole (fresh), mustard sauce, and chopped asparagus (a bit stingy in portion). On the side are undressed fresh greens. I found that the toppings were more enjoyable than the burrito itself, but all in all, the various ingredients did play off one another well.

Meat Eater: Owners Billy Inman and Jay Pennington have done well with their latest venture. It’s a solid addition to Nashville dining. Having former Zola owner Deb Paquette create menu items is a fine way to get started and executive chef A. Edgar Pendley has the kitchen humming along nicely. We know it will probably cost a small fortune to replace those plates. But we think this restaurant will be around for years to come and Billy and Jay- you’ll be sparing your wait staff and guests the havoc caused by those falling forks.

We paid $72 with tax, tip and drinks on one lunch visit and $42 for a more modest brunch.

Urban Grub on Urbanspoon