Sunday, September 9, 2012

Silo: Nashville, Tennessee

Floor-to-ceiling red cedar walls sound like something you would find at a mountain retreat, not in the heart of the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville.  Yet at the new restaurant Silo, the wood is as modern as it is cozy.  The details are simple, southern and comfortable with a hint of a zen air.  It comes as no surprise that this beautifully designed eatery, where every last detail, from the pottery inspired modern dishware, to the bullet hole ridden lighting fixtures, is the brainchild of Paul Cercone, a trained artist, and Chef Clay Greenberg, former executive chef of Virago, a high-end sushi restaurant in Nashville.  The tables were crafted by a local Amish woodworker.  The bar is made of reclaimed barn wood and those beautiful, funky lights, actually provide a warm wash of light at each table, perfect for reading the menu, but yet the lighting seems low and romantic when you gaze around the restaurant.

While the ambiance certainly set a welcoming tone, it was the menu of classic southern comfort food, with a creative twist that made us excited.  We started with the deviled eggs 3 ways, a simple yet refined version of grandma's, feeling elegant, served on a stark white plate.  The whipped yolks were creamy, with a hint of mustard.   Each egg was topped with a different treat.  The first was embellished with crispy and salty fried chicken skin, the best part of the bird.  The second was garnished with a small thick-cut bite of bacon, and the third was topped with a pickled cherry tomato and a jalapeno.  Somehow we managed to split each one, thankfully, as I would have fought Mark for the chicken skin.

Next arrived the charcuterie plate.  The pork belly rillettes, topped with a caramelized onion jelly, was salty and spreadable with just enough texture and tasting deliciously of pig.  Fried delicately in a cornmeal crust, the trotters were mild and tender. I promise you, feet have never tasted so good.  Silky, buttery and sweet, the chicken liver mousse was outlandishly perfect, smeared on toasted bread.  If I lived closer, I would order this by the pint and spread it on everything.   The crisp pickled green beans and baby tomatoes were tangy, cutting the richness of the force meat.

I could easily have left happy after those two starters, but our main dishes arrived with equal splendor.  The chicken confit was bursting with deep flavor. The meat was tender, the skin salty and crunchy, clearly not the boring, safe chicken dish on the menu, but instead it was something akin to chicken nirvana.  Add to that, chewy black pepper dumplins and a sweet onion and butternut puree, and you have the most upscale, home-cooked meal I have ever experienced. 

The pork belly was generous in size and delivered a satiating pork experience. The top was crispy, and the interior, when shredded into the country ham and pea broth, was the epitome of comfort food.  Still a little al dente, the field peas added a light, fresh note to the dish.

There are things I miss about New England: family, friends, steamer clams, and our cheese "girl" Maggie.  Many Saturdays in Dover, New Hampshire, we would pop in, and ask her to surprise us with three unusual cheeses.  I learned that there is no cheese too stinky or drippy for me.  In fact my favorite was the one served with a spoon, preferably outside, due to the smell.  Mark leaned towards the hard aged variety. Therefore, when shown the dessert menu, while the red wine chocolate cake sounded wonderful, the local cheese plate, won our hearts. The Ellington goat was light with a hint of tang, the Sweetgrass was soft and bloomy and the Coppinger from Sequatchie Cove Farm had a nice hard, nutty aged texture.  All were enhanced by the sweet fruity flavor of a dollop of peach preserves.  While I still say "pee-can" like a yankee, and hoard bags of the nuts because they were expensive back in New England, I am beginning to loosen up and enjoy this local treat with more abandon.  After my trip to Silo, I am convinced that these roasted gems, tossed in sweet sorghum syrup, and served alongside native cheeses, need to be shipped back up to Maggie.

As I write this, I am craving a return to Silo. I am out-of-my-mind, dying to try the hot chicken.  I didn't want to leave.  I could talk to Paul, the owner, all night about his art school in Boston or his experiences hiking in the German Alps and our shared love of hiking the New Hampshire White Mountains, or even the Montessori school philosophy.  Silo is warm, yet not fussy.  It is upscale, yet not stuffy.  It defies cliches and after only twelve days open, I would have sworn they had been in the neighborhood for years.  I know nothing of opening restaurants, but I do know that Silo brings southern comfort food to sublime heights at a refreshingly affordable price. 

Silo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Holland House Bar & Refuge: Nashville, TN

Holland House Bar & Refuge

Ward 8
As we walked up the flower lined steps to the Holland House Bar and Refuge, in the east Nashville neighborhood, I could see Jeremiah, the bartender, waving and smiling from inside the big front windows.  This normally would make me happy, to feel welcomed and known, but on this day it was particularly warming because we had patronized the rustically elegant neighborhood joint only once before, on the previous night.  From the moment we entered the HHB&R, I felt a sense of comfort; a square bar sits center stage in the restaurant under soaring, exposed wood ceilings and the soft glow of chandeliers.   The suspender clad bartenders possessed an easy going air, serving up intricate craft cocktails to a full bar, yet not rushing or looking harried, instead taking time to converse genuinely and at length with the patrons.

Admittedly, part of our newly found nostalgia could also have been enhanced by the $5 cocktail happy hour menu.  While we are not cheap, and would happily have paid triple that for a truly wonderful libation, somehow the sense of landing a deal, heightened the experience even further.   While the full cocktail menu consisting of multiple pages of concoctions was still available, the 10 listed on the happy hour menu were plenty diverse.  On our first visit, as a whiskey loyalist, I opted for the Ward 8 -- composed of rye whiskey, lemon juice and grenadine and served up.   This drink was more tart than a Manhattan or old fashioned, yet in a very balanced, palate pleasing way. In researching the history, I lovingly found that the recipe originated in Boston, Massachusetts, just like me, and would have been served with a little paper Massachusetts flag garnish.  Instead of a flag, mine came with a sidecar.  While I am tempted to hunt down miniature Massachusetts flags, now that I am south of the Mason Dixon line, I will happily accept a diminutive carafe of the extra cocktail to top off my glass.

Pimms Cup
Mark ordered a Pimms cup, a light, refreshing summer highball, hailing from Britain.  Named for the gin based citrus and herbal liqueur, Pimms no. 1 cup, the cocktail also includes lemon juice and in this case cucumber soda.  Fittingly garnished with a cucumber, this is by far the best version we have every tried.  A bowlful of truffled popcorn was the perfect accompaniment, as we relaxed and peppered Jeremiah and the other guests with questions about great local eateries.

Clearly when deciding our cocktail destination the following night, it was no surprise that we were drawn back into the HHB&R fold.  After catching-up on the day’s events with our new found friend, Jeremiah, he whipped us up an Americano and a Chelsea Sidecar.  He sold the Americano perfectly, when he described it as the ideal way to slide into your night.  Not a drink for those with something to prove, he extolled, as it is void of a base liquor and instead made up of Campari, which is a fruity herbal aperitif, as well as noilly prat, a sweet vermouth, and lastly a bitter lemon phosphate soda.  Sweet and ascrebic notes blended easily and when served in a highball over ice, the red punch color made for a stunning glass.  The Chelsea Sidecar was also a fresh summer selection.  Gin was shaken with lemon juice, angostura bitters, and a lavender simple syrup, served up in a sugar rimmed glass with a sidecar.  

Pickled Produce & Chelsea Sidecar
The second night we enjoyed a little taste of their farm-to-table menu with the pickle and hummus plate.  A crunchy toasted baguette smothered with creamy, garlic hummus and topped with crunchy pickled okra, could easily top my bar snack list, and add carefully crafted, summer cocktails and you now have happy hour perfection.

While this aptly named refuge could easily be described as upscale, it is refreshlingly unpretentious.  In fact during a lull in activity, when we inquired about the dozen different amaro varieties, the bartenders spent time explaining the history of the herbacious digestif.  They pointed out the various flavors and nuances, based on the Italian region of their origin.  After hearing Mark complain about Cynar, an artichoke flavored amaro stocked in his childhood Italian home, they even poured Mark a small taste and encouraged him to try it as an adult.  Surprisingly tasty, they shared simple recipes with us, mentioning that while they serve fancy, classic cocktails at work that can include up to a dozen ingredients, when they are home, they typically lean towards easier concoctions, like a high-end sweet vermouth on the rocks or amaro and dry cucumber soda.

While I know I will miss the zealously made drinks, as usual, I am reminded that it was the people who clearly made the experience. The guys next to us who turned us onto the Food Truck Awards in Centennial park, the yoga instructor who texted us about a free class the next day, the adorable, witty couple and their parents whom reminded us of dear friends back home, and of course authentically charming Jeremiah and the other bartenders, all bring me shamelessly close to quoting the Cheers theme song.  To save you, I will simply leave you one thought - happy hour at the HHB&R is perhaps the best kept secret on this planet, but please do not go, as I would hate to not have a seat the next time I visit.

Holland House on Urbanspoon