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 Montaña 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.