Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rolf & Daughters: Nashville, Tennessee

It was a sultry, summer night in Nashville, just about dusk, the time when the air becomes full of evening electricity.  As we pulled up to Rolf and Daughters, an oasis of coolness in a warehouse section of Germantown, it was evident from the string lights, the graffitied walls and the vibe coming from the outdoor patio that tonight was going to be good, memorable even.  
Arriving a little early for our reservation, we sat at the bar for a cocktail while taking in the scene.  Immediately it was clear that the bartender was a pro; she bantered with her colleagues, mixed craft cocktails and shared her depth of knowledge about food and drink all with easy comfort.  She guided us, based on our likes, to a MontaƱa Verde which included Espolon Blanco tequila, Genepy des Alpes, grapefruit, cilantro, jalapeno and lime.  The drink, not only beautiful, was tangy and sweet with a perfect kick from the pepper.  The Wingman was a blend of Four Roses single barrel bourbon, Dolin Dry, Peychaud’s bitters and Orange Oils; it was similar to a Manhattan with a bright citrus finish.

We were enjoying the action and repartee amongst the staff at the bar so much, that when our table came up, we decided to forgo the seating and remained bar-side for dinner.  The seasonal menu had changed since we looked online a few days prior, and being currently obsessed with drippy, succulent local peaches, we had to try the pig head with Georgia peach, spring onions, and mostarda.  The bartender jokingly, but with warning, described the pig head as anything but lean.  It was rich and chewy, full of umami, warmly coating the tongue and reminiscent of tendon in a Vietnamese pho.  The deepness was balanced beautifully by the mostarda (candied fruit in a mustard syrup), which included fresh, sweet peaches, local cherry tomatoes and bitter dandelion greens.  

A perennial favorite, we could not resist the chicken liver pate.  Creamy and salty, it was smothered with a thin layer of green tomato marmalade and the kicker – it was sprinkled with cacao.  In a million years, I would not have paired cacao and chicken liver and, now that I have experienced it, nothing else seems right.  Smothered on chewy, crunchy homemade bread, the liver was silky perfection.  We fought over licking the ramekin clean.  

Our last small plate was a local carrot salad, which included shaved and roasted carrots, still retaining a perfect crunch, scattered with a duck ham and drizzled with a local buttermilk dressing.  The duck had a cured, salty flavor but remained tender.  Pulling it all together was the buttermilk; imagine the lightest and purest ranch dressing adding a gentle tanginess to the plate.

Like the way a margherita can delineate a pizza place, roasted chicken can define a great restaurant.  Done well, it is no longer a bland protein, but is instead elevated to a deeply satisfying and exquisite meal.  As a main course, the pastured chicken, juicy and tender, was served with a preserved lemon and garlic confit, feeling fresh and summery, while also hinting at the comfort of the coming autumn season. It would seem inappropriate not to ask for a spoon to finish off the sauce.  

Our second main course was by far the most unusual pasta I have ever experienced and perhaps, I might go so far as to call it life changing.  A beautiful, shiny, black squid ink trofie, a twisted pasta that hails from the Liguria region of Italy, was served al dente and tossed with nduja, clams, scallions, and crunchy toasted breadcrumbs.  The njuda, a spreadable sausage, gave the dish a spicy salinity and juxtaposed the sweet clams.    

Beyond satiated, we are always suckers for a good panna cotta, and when we saw this one described as peaches and cream, we could not resist dessert.  Just hinting at sweet, the custard was silky, and as my mom likes to say when trying to justify dessert, "it slid down easily".  

A music gig brought us to Nashville, but our passion for the city lies in the great restaurants like Rolf and Daughters, hidden in funky and diverse little neighborhoods. While we were enjoying this feast and the camaraderie of other patrons at the bar, the room filled up with friends, the lights dimmed, drinks flowed and that mid-summer weekend hum I so often feel in Nashville, hovered over everyone, wrapping all in a sigh of joy and hinting of excitement.  

Rolf and Daughters on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 20, 2014

City Grocery Pop-ups: Oxford, Mississippi

Last year, after the holidays, John Currence renovated his City Grocery
kitchen and during that month-long hiatus, he had the brilliant idea to
host weekly pop-ups in his catering space.  Each week he brought in a
different notable chef from around the south to cook their version of
street food.  It was essentially southern tapas served in a fun, casual,
garage like space, decked out with colorful lights, an open kitchen and a makeshift bar.  Not only was this an exciting new culinary treat for the locals in Oxford, but it also kept his kitchen staff employed.  

Oh how we have missed the pop-ups.  I have longed for that food-truck type culture here in Oxford - simple yet exquisitely cooked fare, with the added excitement of the unexpected.   And therefore, I was thrilled to see Currence bring back the pop-ups this January, only the theme is all grown-up this year.  

Each Monday in January, City Grocery will open for a 4-5 course prix fixe
menu, with an optional wine pairing, prepared by different rock-star
chefs.  The pop-ups this year, are to benefit Rodney Scott, a BBQ
pitmaster from South Carolina, whose BBQ joint, Scott's Bar-B-Que, burned last
year.  Currence is hosting a leg of the philanthropic Fatback
Collective's effort to raise money to rebuild Scott's restaurant and
Scott himself will be the final chef in January.  

We attended the first event last Monday featuring Memphis chefs, Andy
Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and our
personal favorite, Hog and Hominy.  They cooked alongside another Memphis
celebrity, Kelly English of Restaurant Iris and his newest venture, a hip
po' boy restaurant aptly called The Second Line.  With Currence, they
delivered four courses of fine Italian southern cuisine.  

Growing up in New England, we are no strangers to Italian food.  Mark is
100% italian from Providence, Rhode Island and the son of an amazing
first generation cook.  My aunt hails from Sicilian roots and we grew up
on her parents homemade pizzas and tortellini soup.  We both absolutely
love Mississippi and have joyously set our roots here, but if you were to
ask us what we miss about home, it is definitely italian food.  

The dinner began with a wop salad and browned butter garlic bread.  The large bowl of iceberg lettuce was topped with a homemade giardinare or classic italian picked vegetable mixture of cauliflower, celery, peppers
and olives.  This is such a utilitarian, simple dish and yet so satisfying.  There were no "micro greens", just the salty pickled crunch of the vegetables.  

Next up, a classic primo course, tagliatelle in a rich bolognese made of
ground chuck, sausage and gizzard.  The freshly made pasta was cooked
perfectly and the large ribbons sopped up the robust sauce, nicely.  

Mark's mom, Esther Yacovone, made the most amazing meatballs of veal, pork
and beef, browned crispy in a cast iron pan.  Even better than the
meatballs were the brown bits left in the pan. Until tasting her version,
I didn't really understand the big fuss over this dish.  She, however,
was not cooking meatballs made with short ribs, veal, pork and guanciale,
which is cured pork made from the cheek. Ticer and Hudman took a basic
italian dish and elevated it to a decidedly a decadent specimen!      

Beautifully plated, a veal shank arrived on a bed of pureed celery root,
drizzled with a veal and a wild mushroom marsala sauce, and topped with a
gremolata.  The veal was tender and falling apart, brightened by the
lemon and parsley toping.  

Lastly, an almond butter cake with a homemade buttermilk ice cream
finished us off perfectly.

The "Memphis Mafia" wildly exceeded my expectations by taking traditional
italian classics and not only elevating the ingredients, but adding a
slight southern flare.  I don't know much, but one this is certain,
during the month of January, you will find me on the edge of my seat,
waiting for Mondays to arrive.
City Grocery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato