Sunday, December 9, 2012

Catbird Seat: Nashville, Tennessee

Tocai Frilano Cocktail
It looks like an Oreo, sitting on a perfect wooden block, waiting for us, as we emerge from the elevator, proceed down the trippy wallpapered hallway leading to the simple, clean, restaurant kitchen of Nashville's Catbird Seat, but expecting the unexpected, the treat is actually an earthy porcini mushroom biscuit filled with a smooth Parmesan cream.  And just like that, our minds are blown, and so goes the night. 

Located upstairs above the Patterson House, a local craft cocktail haven, the Catbird Seat is a culinary theatre in the round, seating 32 guests at a U shaped bar, intimately overlooking the kitchen.  The performers, led by chefs Erik Anderson and Josh Habiger, calmly wield tweezers, among other instruments to achieve artistic and gastronomic masterpieces.  The prix fixe menu is more than culinary genius, it is truly a transcendent experience. 

Nantucket Bay Scallops

Anticipating that this would be a memorable night, we opted for the reserve beverage pairing created by the talented beverage manager, Jane Lopes.  She started us with a cocktail of Tocai Frilano (Savignon Vert), Cocchi Americano, Mezcal with a splash of soda water and lime. 

Following the Oreos was a tongue-in-cheek plate featuring a play on mortadella, a cracker jack and hot chicken.   Elevating deli meat to an entirely new level, the house made mortadella was replete with pistachios, garnished with pickled ramps, and shaved Parmesan. A shitake mushroom cracker jack made with sorghum, was an elegant version of a childhood favorite.  Lastly, a riff on Nashville's famous hot chicken, a crispy slice of chicken skin was dusted with chili powder and finished with a dot of wonder bread puree.

Next up was my favorite of the eleven courses and not just because of my New England roots; raw Nantucket Bay scallops tasting briny and of the sea, were covered with paper-thin, lusciously red, slices of Mt. Rose apple, then topped with a dollop of Island Creek Oyster puree.  Also on the plate in an homage to oyster stuffing, was a cornbread dressing with a cube of delicate earl grey and chamomile jelly.  I grew up mere miles from Duxbury harbor, the home of Island Creek oysters, and possess a deep affinity for their product.  In a million years, I would never imagine fooling with such perfection in a shell, however I have since dreamed of mainlining that puree, directly from the pastry bag, on more than one  occasion.  This fall inspired, light dish was served with a Basa Juan Cider, that had a wonderful sweet and tart balance and a slight sparkle. 
Sunchoke Soup

Over a bowl filled with artichokes, roasted fennel, black olives, black truffle, and fermented black garlic, was poured a sunchoke and caramelized yogurt soup flavored with a little thyme oil.  The black garlic added a crunch and deep flavor that when combined with the truffles and the olives, worked symbiotically with the creamy soup. The rich flavors were complimented by a dry and fruity, 2008 Montinore Pinot Gris served, unexpectedly in a green chartreuse rinsed glass.

Golden Tilefish

Continuing onto the main courses, Golden Tilefish was delicately poached, and wrapped with a ribbon of chipotle, completed by an avocado puree, pickled baby onions and radishes and dusted with a coconut powder.  Admittedly, these ingredients sound incongruent, but together they created a buttery, crispy, spicy sonata, that paired nicely with a 2010 Weingut Robert Weil Riesling. 

It would not be a fall feast without fowl and for me this presented an opportunity to try a new bird. Roasted pigeon leg was served over a squab dashi, smoky oak broth with a hibiscus sugar-cured egg, nasturtium leaves, black trumpet and matsutake mushrooms and shaved tuna. The poultry was succulent and begged to be eaten from the bone.  A dry, French, 2010 Domaine Berthet-Bondet Cotes du Jura Rubis embraced the hearty dish.
Roasted Pigeon

Rare and marbled, a Wagyu beef filet, was served with red beets and sauce and topped with a fresh, house-made cow cheese, horseradish cream, and onions.  Yukon gold crispy potato chips added texture. The accompanying Sam Adams Imperial Series Double Bock served in an Aalburg Aquavit rinsed glass, may have spoiled me for life and helped me to discover a tolerable use for aquavit.
Wagyu Beef Filet

Our main courses behind us, we moved on to the deconstructed cheese course channeling the flavors of beer with roasted barley and oats.  This was paired with a sparkling Gruet Brut, mixed with honey, quince vinegar, and walnut liqueur. 

For dessert, we began with a beautiful pear sorbet, in the shape of the sliced fruit, with a black walnut pudding, a cardamom crisp, and an Amaro Fernet blanco gel that exploded in an herbal liqueur splendor in the mouth.  Perhaps my favorite drink of the night, was the Sawa Sawa sparkling sake served in an elegant, custom glass.  Then came the egg.  A petite shell was filled with a maple custard, hinting of flavors of thyme and hibiscus honey and garnished with a crispy slice of Benton's bacon.  For the ice cream lovers among us, the next dessert course featured a charred oak ice cream, a vanilla cake, cherry crisp, pineapple gel and bourbon encapsulations.   Fondly referred to as bourbon balls, these small, yet powerful, exploding treats remind me of a refined, adult jello shot.   A sweet Trius ice wine served in a bourbon rinsed glass, married aromatically with the dessert. 

Dessert Quartet
Satiated, and a little giggly, we had reached the end of our journey and immediately began reminiscing about the courses, staking claim to our favorites.  From the simple atmosphere, evoking a sense of sitting at a friend's kitchen bar, to the handwritten menus provided post-meal as a memento, and to the ever accessible chefs, who served the food, detailing stories of farmers and inspirations, this evening of food theatre surpassed all of my expectations.  As we thanked our chefs, we were served one last surprise course, on the now-familiar wooden block, homemade coffee-and-cream oreos.

Mayme Gretsch Servin' Up Hot Chicken
Maple Thyme Custard
Cheese Course Assembly

Sawa Sawa Sparkling Sake

Author: Bethany Cooper

The Catbird Seat on Urbanspoon