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VOL. 39 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 7, 2015

Greatest restaurants in Nashville? Too many choices

By Ellen Margulies

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The Caramel Cake at Capitol Grille with Blood orange candy, Anglaise and ginger gelato

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Country music isn’t the only big draw in Nashville these days. The city is at the top of its food game and has become a popular destination for food lovers across the country.

But where do you go when you want to experience the best of the best?

First, head to the ATM and start collecting Benjamins. Sometimes you pay the price for excellence.

Steak restaurants are usually the priciest, which you already know if you’ve ever shelled out any green at Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris or Fleming’s.

But these days, you can also pony up for a Southern dining experience that takes the meat-and-three to a whole new level. The menus change seasonally, if not daily, at most of these restaurants.

All we can say for sure in this round-up of some of the city’s most expensive restaurants is that the cost is totally worth it.

Capitol Grille

231 6th Ave. N.

615-345-7116

www.capitolgrillenashville.com

There’s farm to table, and then there’s “let’s buy a farm to put food on the table.”

That’s just what they’ve done at Hermitage Hotel’s Capitol Grille, purchasing a couple hundred acres of farmland just a few miles from the hotel to grow their own vegetables and raise their own cattle.

That’s the kind of dedication to sustainable and ethically raised food you don’t mind paying for, especially when it comes together in such a mouth-watering way.

Start off with Double H Farms charcuterie plate ($16), because this is something they’ve put a lot of care into. The lamb shank with English peas, green garlic and spring potatoes ($40) or half-roasted chicken with Anson Mills rice middlins, ramps and smoked chicken pot likker ($38) will still leave room for sides liked Tennessee mac and cheese ($8) or buttermilk whipped potatoes and cheese ($8).

Don’t forget to bring your dessert stomach, either. You might find scoops of housemade ice cream ($3 per scoop), chocolate angel food cake ($10) or a carrot cake financier with buttermilk gelato and cremoso ($10). Total estimated setback: $65

Lockeland Table

1520 Woodland St.

615-228-4864

www.lockelandtable.com

Lockeland Table’s grilled Hereford NY strip on green beans, sweet tomato + pecan sauté.

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Dining at Lockeland Table feels sort of like stepping into your favorite painting.

From the rustic-charm aesthetic to the James Beard Award-winning salsa, the place gives off a vibe that lets you know at once this is no ordinary restaurant. But not in an obnoxious way, never in a jokey, hipster I’m-curating-my-herbs kind of way.

Menu items proclaim their source – Tanglewood Farms (N.C.) roasted chicken with pepper jam ($23), Maple Leaf Farm duck and three ($29), Peach Truck peach cobbler and vanilla bean Bravo gelato ($10) – so you’ll know where to find the ingredients should you ever be delusional enough to try to replicate this at home. Hint: Don’t bother.

The unassuming chef/owner Hal Holden Bache has it locked down. They know quality, but they also don’t take themselves too seriously. Nashville Hot crispy pig ears with white bread, gangster cabbage and LT thug pickles ($10), anyone? Total estimated setback: $45 per person, not including drinks.

Kayne Prime Steakhouse

1103 McGavock

615-259-0050

mstreetnashville.com/restaurants/kayne-prime

The thing about your upscale steak houses is that everything’s a la carte, ironically, like a considerably less pricey meat-and-three. So, while you won’t have to slide your tray along a metal rack to pick out your dish of cobbler and your creamed corn, you will be paying a price for your steak, another price for your salad and so on.

Good news, though: The cuisine is excellent. And you get to call it cuisine because this is some seriously quality food. Instead of creamed corn and mac and cheese, you can order cream corn brulee ($9) and macaroni gratinee ($11), which comes with white cheddar and parmesan and to which you can add roasted jalapeno ($1) or applewood-smoked bacon ($2) if that’s your thing. The 8-ounce Wagyu strip ($65) is not so much locally sourced as imported, from the Greg Norman Ranch in Australia. You can round out your meal with a fancy black kale or classic iceberg wedge salad ($14) and a cheese plate ($15) or apple crostata ($10). Total estimated setback: $100 per person, not including drinks.

The Catbird Seat

1711 Division St.

615-810-8200

www.thecatbirdseatrestaurant.com

They might grill your lettuce. They’ll serve a course that includes one thing that’s just for your nose, not your mouth (an aromatic). You’ll possibly see intentional smoke, and you can probably count on foam being a part of at least one of your bites or courses.

We’re talking, of course, about Nashville’s arguably most exclusive, 47-seat experiential prix fixe restaurant. It’s our own version of The French Laundry, widely hailed as Nashville’s best restaurant and the sole reason some people come to the city at all.

You’ll chat with the chef, who will have been informed beforehand of any allergies you have, because reservations are required a month in advance. You’ll watch the cooks in action. You’ll get drink pairings, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, with each dish.

This culinary adventure is not for the timid of palate. It is for people game enough to try duck heart jerky, snail eggs, and other things not yet dreamt of in our philosophy, Horatio. You also just might find Wonder Bread on the menu, elevated to something that no one else has thought of yet, and you’ll walk away with a sense of wonder and a souvenir menu.

Total estimated setback: Officially $115 per person, but you’re probably walking out at $200 each including drinks.

Sinema

2600 Franklin Pike

615-942-7746

www.sinemanashville.com

If you go to Sinema on your birthday, don’t be surprised if they give you a balloon to pop at your table with a prize inside, as well as some fresh cotton candy made in house. Well, you can’t be surprised now, because I’ve just told you about it, but it’s still every bit as delightful as it sounds.

Former Top Chef contender Dale Levitski puts the “top” in Top Chef, and frankly, he puts the “chef” in it, too.

As befits the onetime Melrose Cinema, antecedent Sinema features comic creations like French onion quesadillas ($15) that contain actual Funyons; dramatic dining in the form of a seared duck breast ($30) with leg confit, wild rice, grilled peaches and bok choy; and something sweet to sigh over, like the If I Was in Paris, a chocolate mousse concoction with vanilla whip, graham cracker crust and a caramel crispy.

Sunday brunch is no less theatrical, with inventive bread courses such as Lithuanian bacon buns with vanilla butter ($6) and the over-the-top Angus burger, which comes with egg, bacon, whipped cheese and Worcestershire mustard, among other things, and which I REALLY wish was billed as The $18 Burger ($18).

Even without a tableside balloon and chef-spun cotton candy, however, Sinema will still make your non-birthday event a very special night (or Sunday mid-morning) out. Total estimated setback: $60 per person, not including drinks.

Prima

700 12th Ave. S.

615-873-4232

www.primanashville.com

Subdued, sophisticated elegance. You could just as easily be dining in Vegas, but at Nashville’s Prima, you’ll never lose.

Every dish is as artfully presented as it is inventive. Seafood lovers will be drawn to grilled lobster tail ($21) or octopus ($14) starters, elevated with gnochetti, zucchini confit, curried raisins and cashew milk or cold melon, bull horn chimi and lemon vinaigrette, respectively. They’ll also gravitate toward entrees like the grilled sunburst trout with smoked roe and lemon-dill dressing ($38) and the pan-roasted red grouper with smoked eggplant, cherry tomatoes, sesame cracker and basil ($31).

But landlubbers and vegetarians have plenty to choose from, too. Where else might your non-meat eaters find goat milk ricotta with candy cane beets, mandarin orange, grilled bread and calibrian chilies ($13), or cast-iron roasted soy-rizo with roasted radish, lacinato kale, cashew milk and masa crumbs ($17)? You might not even need that steak knife for the fork-tender filet mignon ($57). An 8-ounce filet comes with yukon gold potato puree and roasted chantarelle mushrooms, or join the legions of foie gras home fries ($8) fans, served with caramelized onions and garlic mayo.

End your night on an unforgettably sweet note with outrageous chocolate cake ($13) with mousse, cremoso, glaze and pearls. Good husband points for weeks, is what I’m saying. Total estimated setback: $65 per person, not including drinks.

Etch

303 Demonbreun St.

615-522-0685

Encore Tower

www.etchrestaurant.com

Chef-owner Deb Paquette has probably made some missteps in her life – she is, after all, merely human – but you can’t really find evidence of that in her Nashville restaurant life.

She was one of the city’s earliest fine-dining pioneers with the beloved Zola and has a new restaurant venture, Truss, planned later this year in Sylvan Park.

In between the old and the new, however, lies her current restaurant, Etch, which shows no signs of going away anytime soon (thank God). In the heart of downtown, the casually elegant spot serves up hit after hit at both lunch and dinner. I’m never one to turn down a dish made mainly of butter, and her quartet of butter tastings appetizer ($9) is no exception.

Currently, you’ll be able to accessorize bread and crackers with pineapple rum chili, truffle shiitake tellegio, everything bagel and herb lardo. And I’ve never heard any app more praised and gossiped about that the roasted cauliflower ($10) that comes with truffled pea pesto, salted almonds and feta dip.

For the main, pork tenderloin ($29) is mushroom-dusted and comes with roasted eggplant black bean sauce, Korean smoked tomato, shrimp rice cakes, pork belly sake butter and greens with pickled butternut and shiitake.

Etch is predictably one of those places where you simply can’t leave without dessert, so just don’t. From summery frozen lemon mousse with lemon curd, burnt meringue and candied zest to a chocolate-lovers chocolate and peanut torte ($9), you’ll walk out stuffed but happy. Total estimated setback: $50 per person, not including drinks

City House

1222 4th Ave. N.

615-736-5838

www.cityhousenashville.com

First rule of City House? You must love all things porcine. You could do dinner here without touching any pork, but why would you want to?

Chef-owner Tandy Wilson pays homage to hog with his tendency to use everything but the oink. And he’s probably working on a way to get that into an appetizer. So go ahead, indulge.

On Sunday nights, there’s an entire section of the menu devoted to pork snacks ($9). One recent menu included your choice of ciccioli, with corn light bread, peppers, garlic and oregano; belly and biscuit with peaches; roasted butt, salsa crudo, yellow grits; or the head cheese burger with kimchi and cheddar. Other nights of the week, you might start a meal with scrapple, corn, Jimmy Nardello peppers, red onion and pepper dressing ($13).

And, like the roasted cauliflower at Etch, the belly ham pizza ($15) at City House is a must-eat. Mozzarella and Grana Padano cheeses, oregano and chilies let the pig do the talking. Go ahead and get an egg cracked on the top while you’re at it.

If you’re feeling whole trout ($31) or a nice steak ($25), go for it, but again, Wilson’s specialty is definitely the pig, so you might as well go with the pork sausage, peaches and hot onions ($23).

For dessert, I’d definitely go peach icebox cake ($9) because there’s nothing better than peaches in season unless it’s peaches in season wearing cake. Comes with pistachio and buttermilk cornmeal crumbs and prosecco-poached pickled peaches. Total estimated setback: $55 per person, not including drinks

Silo

1121 5th Ave. N.

615-750-2912

www.silotn.com

There was a spate of upscale Southern eateries that joined the Music City dining landscape a couple of years ago, and Silo was among them.

They opened up right on the cusp of the Germantown explosion, so consider yourself lucky, if not pioneering, if you got there first.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, know this: They’ve got hummingbird cake on the dessert menu. So, yeah, Silo really gets us, and we love them for that. Their version is fancied up a bit – but not too much – with rum syrup, buttermilk ice cream and pineapple marmalade ($8).

You can start your meal with the very in-season heirloom tomato salad, topped with herbed ricotta and fried capers ($12) or the appetizer I can never resist, deviled eggs three ways ($5). Keep in mind that you will literally only get three egg halves in that order, so if everyone wants some you’re going to want to order a few.

Entrees carry that Southern theme elegantly with Gulf shrimp & grits, accompanied by tasso ham, okra and tomato ragout ($22) or the pork chop and grilled peaches, with red onion and cilantro slaw, peach mustard and a cheddar tuile ($27). Total estimated setback: $45 per person, not including drinks

Husk

37 Rutledge St.

615-256-6565

www.husknashville.com

Before becoming one of Nashville’s most popular places to go for upscale Southern, Husk was the belle of the Charleston dining ball. But then again, before Sean Brock created that award-winning restaurant there, he had worked in the Nashville dining scene. It’s nice to see him bring that success back here. He also gets big kudos for not only serving amazing food, but doing it with a conscience, sourcing humanely-raised livestock and preserving and growing heirloom vegetables for his restaurants.

A recent menu (they change twice daily) would have allowed you to choose a starter of hominy griddle cakes (c.1875) with pimiento cheese and chipped beef ($12) or perhaps a tomato and watermelon salad with goat milk yogurt and shiso ($12).

For supper, you might dive into a plate of Bear Creek Farm beef with thyme jus, beef fat roasted potatoes, tomatoes and dilly beans ($32) or pit-roasted Wedge Oak Farm chicken and farro-stuffed zucchini ($28).

Dessert might be Olive & Sinclair Chocolate pie ($9) with peanut butter ice cream. Total estimated setback: $55 per person, not including drinks.

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