Monday, October 24, 2016

Road Trip: Nashville, TN: The Catbird Seat, Butcher and Bee, Biscuit Love

Hubby and I celebrated our anniversary recently with a trip to Nashville. I had such a good experience a few months ago with a girlfriend, I wanted to go and eat there with him. And introduce him to Biscuit Love.

The first night though, we went to The Catbird Seat. This place is so great. You have to buy a ticket to go, and there are only about 20 seats in the place, so they are hard to come by. But I lucked out and got two for Friday (they book exactly a month in advance). The concept is that you sit around this u-shaped bar and they cook everything right in front of you. It’s very cool. Chef Ryan Poli, who has been at several places in Chicago before coming to Catbird Seat, is running things with several assistants. Everyone does everything here. They are cooking, setting silverware and refilling drinks. Even Chef Poli. 

It’s about 9-10 small courses (about $115) and they were spectacular. I’ve got to try and be brief, but here we go. First was malt vinegar chips with dairy dip and butter Iberico ham. Perfect together—the chips were super salty, but great paired with the dip and smooth ham. Next was a tiny piece of tuna with two little infused watermelon balls on top of fermented butter and drizzled with verbena oil. Tiny and perfect—probably my favorite.

Then they brought us a risotto made from sunflower seeds instead of Arborio rice. Very cool. Toothier than typical risotto, but very reminiscent. It was done is a rich truffle cream sauce and then topped with a complete coating of Burgundy summer truffles. You can’t really go wrong with truffles in my book.

Next came these little cockscomb-shaped pastas made from seaweed—this one had a creamy sauce with yuzo—which is a type of citrus. The whole thing was topped with dried shaved scallops. It had an intense seafood aroma, although a milder taste. A very cool sensory dish.

The next course was mainly vegetable-based, but was interestingly the richest dish in my mind. It was a piece of sake-grilled cauliflower that was roasted until it took on a deep rich flavor. It was on top of this cashew cream, which was so rich just from its nuttiness. There was also a strip of what looked like rolled up pasta, but was actually made from turnip. Oh and beef fat. That probably added to the richness as well. It was very cool, although maybe my personal least favorite.

Next was pork with corn, corn and more corn. It was a slice of pork tenderloin and a hunk of sausage (looked like a chocolate truffle almost) and then was drizzled with this corn sauce, and alongside there was corn pudding topped with paprika and popcorn dust. And then on the side a sautéed corn dish with chanterelles and some green beans. The corn stuff here was so so good. I felt almost like the pork was only on the plate as a vehicle to eat the corn and it was honestly almost unnecessary. The corn stood so well on its own. The loin was a bit dry.

Next we moved toward dessert with their version of what was almost a richer palate cleanser. It was milk panna cotta with lemony olive oil. It had a strong citrus flavor and was a nice change. The formal dessert was roasted kelp ice cream with bitter chocolate mousse underneath with some oranges, some cookie and rice crispy crumbs. It was topped with these matcha and chocolate slices. It was really good—didn’t taste at all like seaweed—it just lent an almost smoky taste. Really well done. Then they bring you a cookie jar with some housemade cookies. One was peanut butter and one was a chocolate macaron.

This place is great. Good music, a cool feel to it—and I loved watching the food be prepared. We also had the drink pairing, which was very creative. For example,  Japanese beer was paired with one course, and sake with another. The staff is so friendly and we even had fun talking to the people next to us who were from Chicago (and getting their recommendations for places to eat there). I know if we go back to Nashville, we will certainly try to go again. Hubby loved it too.

The next night we went to Butcher and Bee. This is a cool place as well—a very industrial-type vibe with a fair amount of hipster. I am pretty sure you can’t get a job here unless you have at least 5 tattoos. Unfortunately our service was pretty poor—very hard to get our server when we needed her, and we waited a very long time to order.

But once we got the food, we were very happy. They are known for their whipped feta dip ($5) according to everything I had read, so we ordered that and got it first thing. It is so darn good. It’s feta cheese whipped smooth (and I am assuming mixed with something else to get it to that consistency) and mixed with herbs and topped with this warm fermented honey and pepper and served with hot pita bread (you’ll need more than the one they give you). I am totally going to attempt this one at home.  We also had the corn mezze (the menu has a long list of small plates called mezze and then dishes of varying sizes). It was a corn with a little serrano that was cooked with a rich beef (I’m guessing) broth. It was tasty, but I probably would have enjoyed it more as a side dish rather than as a stand alone one. 

We had two of the middle-sized dishes as well--the fried okra ($12) and the roasted mushrooms ($15). The fried okra was the only total miss of the night. The whole pieces of okra were breaded and fried and topped with a ranch-type sauce and pickled shishito peppers. The breading had a ton of flavor, but when you bit into it, or cut into it, all the breading just fell right off. Neither of us was impressed with this one and it was the one we didn’t finish.

The roasted mushrooms were really good—they had nice crisp edges to them—I love that. There were also sunflower seeds and pickled tomatoes in there—and it was all topped with shaved pecorino. This and the whipped feta were our favorites of the night.

The last thing we had was the wood charred whole trout ($28). It was a whole fish and it was very tender and good. You have to be willing to pick it from the bones. It was pretty easy to do though. And the potato salad gnocchi they served with it were delicious. These alone were worth the price of admission. Super creamy and it had a nice mustardy flavored sauce. Really good.

We were really full at this point so we took a skip on dessert. I would recommend this place. It’s cool, and the food is solid. Hopefully the service is not always so off though.

The last place we ate, on our way out of town, was Biscuit Love. I highly recommend going there at 8:00 ish on Sunday—I’ve done it twice and barely had to wait. When we left though, the line was around the corner. I fully reviewed this place before, but this was hubby’s first time.

We again got the East Nasty, and we again loved it. We also had the Southern Benny again, and it was perfect as well. Ok, hubby wished for a little more gravy, but happily he liked the place as much as I did. We will include a repeat visit here to any future Nashville trip for sure.

We ate really well, and like I said, I would be hard-pressed not to return to Catbird Seat and Biscuit Love on any and every subsequent visit.

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