Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Story Behind the Dish: Flyte, Nashville, TN

I am a sucker for a story, and I realized on a recent trip to Nashville that knowing the story behind my food seemed to make it more special.  Mark and I returned to an old favorite, a local, independently owned restaurant in the 8th Avenue South neighborhood, called Flyte.  I once read that after three or four bites of the same flavor, our taste buds tire and no longer appreciate nuances.  Flyte is the perfect antidote to this conundrum as they serve many of their dishes and wines in small tastings of three, called flights, a concept that originated in wine tasting where it allowed one to compare wines side-by-side, more objectively. Their wine list is extensive and brilliantly categorizes the wine by old and new vine with detailed descriptions like, "crushed ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit, evolving into bittersweet chocolate on the finish. Full bodied and chewy."   

After ordering, we received a lushious carrot custard as an amuse bouche from the chef, Matthew Lackey.  The thick, rich custard was served in bite size rectangles and had a deep, sweet carrot flavor that awakened our senses for the plates yet to come. 

As it was a quiet night, Chef Lackey visited our table to chat.  I recognize that all chefs don't want to be celebrities, but as a patron I cannot help but feel more connected to my food when the chef makes an appearance on the floor, and this was the first of many visits throughout the night from this twenty-five year old, enthusiastic chef, sporting wild hipster hair and an effervescent personality.  He shared his inspiration behind our first appetizer.   On his drive from Charleston, South Carolina where he learned his trade under the tutelege of reknown James Beard winning Chef Sean Brock, to Nashville for his first executive chef opportunity at Flyte, he realized he was in the region of a local dairy, whose products he adored.  He stopped a passing tractor, asking for directions to the dairy, only to find out the driver was the dairy farmer himself.  Typical of a small town story set in the south, the farmer invited him to dine on his front porch, where he served fresh cream and cheeses with beets from the garden.  As Chef Lackey left the farm to drive west, he thought about the flavors he just enjoyed and how he might combine them with his Charleston roots.  It was then that his peekytoe crab appetizer was born.  Tender crab tasting lightly of the sea, was served on a bed of golden sliced beets, with baby pea shoots, and topped with burrata cheese.  The homemade burrata, which is a fresh mozzarella filled with cream, added a luxuriousness to the crisp flavors of the vegetables and the brininess of the crab.


Our next appetizer was a beautiful marinated pork belly, served over turnips that were cut into paper thin noodles, all resting in a Benton's bacon kombu broth, with rapinito and oyster mushrooms.  The pork was sumptuous, the turnips crunchy and the broth amazingly light, yet flavorful.    

Seeing as we were at Flyte we had to try the soup and salad flights.  The carrot ginger soup was sweet and creamy, the anasazi bean was savory, salty and warming, and lastly, the one that rocked my world, the beautiful flavor of roasted turnip was brought out in a silky, cheesy, bowl-licking third soup.  The salad flight inlcuded an arugula salad with goat chevre, candied hazelnuts and a light, perfectly salted walnut oil dressing.  Next was a red beet salad, which showcased the crisp, sweet vegetable along with pears, arugula and a sherry vinaigrette. Finally there was a malt salad served with apples, spring greens, feta and toasted pecans.  

As a main dish, the Spanish turbo, cooked immaculately, was meaty and light in flavor, served over celeriac, baby carrots, and cippolini onions.  The celeriac, a personal favorite, was divine.  It had enough texture, yet melted in your mouth with that deep celery root flavor.  The confit Sonoma duck leg, was falling off the bone over brussel sprouts, braised cabbage and a tangy mustard sauce.  

Clearly there was no chance of dessert after the afore described spread, however when our server brought the check along with hommade caramels, there was no stopping me.  What should have been a simple little treat, was actually quite exquisite. Chewy, and buttery, the sweetness was offset by a hint of salt, leaving me wanting a whole box of caramels!  
Upon reflection, I realized that our dinner was much more of an event, than a meal.  From the smallest dishes like the carrot custard and the caramel to the peekie toe crab, pork belly and duck, everything was executed exactingly.  The star of the show, was Chef Lackey who took joy in explaining the inspiration for his dishes, talking about the sourcing for his products, including the relationships he had developed with local farmers, and even sharing his plans for a new city garden at the restaurant.  His passion is contagious, and evident in every dish served. 

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