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VOL. 43 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 8, 2019

Old favorites still deliver

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These Nashville restaurants aren’t new for this Valentine’s Day but offer a taste of what the foodie scene here is all about: Variety, fresh takes and unforgettable decor:

Bastion

434 Houston St., 615 490-8434

With only 24 seats, this WeHo restaurant opened before the latest boom and continues to be one of the hottest tables in town, thanks to Chef Josh Habiger. Having cut his teeth being on display at Catbird Seat, he lives out his culinary dreams here, and diners get to reap all the rewards. Parties larger than six can’t be accommodated, so it is great for intimate dinner dates. The menu, which changes daily, could include maitake and shrimp, beef and onion or raw cobia and buttermilk. Try the five-course option for $65.

The Catbird Seat

1711 Division Street, 615 810-8200

With only 22 seats in the room, it doesn’t get more intimate than this in the bustling Gulch restaurant that recently brought in new chef Will Aghajanian and pastry chef Liz Johnson. The creation of Strategic Hospitality’s power restauranteur brothers Max and Benjamin Goldberg, the kitchen is enclosed by an intimate U-shaped counter and takes reservations on a 30-day rolling calendar.

Chef & I

611 9th Ave. S., 615 730-8496

A love story on display, owners Chris and Erica Rains met and fell in love a decade ago, grew a private chef service then opened a restaurant in Lenox Village before moving to The Gulch last year. Chris’ culinary skills are on full display in the open kitchen, serving delicious treats like marinated wild salmon belly marinated in olive oil, brown sugar and soy sauce, pan roasted and served over a creamy horseradish and Yukon gold puree with house pickled veggies and an unagi glaze.

Tànsuo

121B 12th Ave N., 615 782-6786

Open since March 2017, Tansuo means ‘to explore’ in Cantonese, and the food allows diners to do just that. On Valentine’s Day you can opt for a la carte options like a 14 oz. New York strip with lobster tail, nios, siitake and sweet soy or the smashed cucumber and oysters with seaweed chilies and lime in addition to the regular menu. Dessert is a real standout, with a chocolate tahini mocha mousse with coconut bubble milk and chocolate espresso beans.

Etc.

3790 Bedford Ave., 615 988-0332

The interior at chef Deb Paquette’s Green Hills restaurant features simply adorned tables, a large bar and an abundance of open-air seating, but still remains intimate thanks to funky light fixtures and warm woods that fill out the space. The food is the real star though, and on Valentine’s Day Paquette is serving a special four-course prix fixe menu for $80 with optional wine pairings for $30 that will incorporate all of Deb’s favorite spices and flavors, including a cocoa coffee spiced lamb loin with cranberry relish, smoked pumpkin lime and leaf sauce, and saffron curd, or the market fish with Thai fried green tomatoes and crab relish.

Etch

303 Demonbreun St., 615 522-0685

Another of chef Deb Paquette’s tasty restaurants, this one is downtown on the ground floor of the Encore tower and is always filled with fans of the flavor-forward menu. For a special night out, try the venison with feta filo clutch, pomegranate walnut sauce, black olive tapenade, confit pearl onions and Tunisian poached apricots and mint relish. For dessert try some cheesecake panna cotta with sweet potato ginger puree, pumpkin spice cake, pear compote and caramelized rice krispies.

Chauhan Ale and Masala House

123 12th Ave. N., 615 242-8426

Maneet Chauhan’s first foray into Nashville is still going strong, and couples can feel relaxed but still like they are on a special date night out thanks to the upscale décor, professional staff and still-buzzy ambiance. On Valentine’s Day, Chauhan is offering a la carte specials in addition to the full dinner menu, including red wine short ribs with sorpatel curry, pommel puree and pickled veggies, or the pomegranate glazed chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream, gold leaf and dulche de leche.

Peninsula

1035 W. Eastland Ave., 615 679-0377

This East Nashville offering still stands out a few years in with its Spanish and Portuguese food served using French techniques. It’s simply delicious. All the small plates are meant to share, perfect for a longtime love or a first date where you are trying to get to know each other. Try the chicken gizzards with clam and lemon, scallops with salsify and horseradish or braised rabbit with garlic broth and Calabrese pepper. Just make sure you both eat all the same things – these dishes pack a powerful punch.

The 404 Kitchen

404 12th Ave. S., 615 251-1404

With a menu that has nods from the James Beard Awards (it received a 2014 nomination as Best New Restaurant), this is still one of the more intimate tables in town – and a hotel with limited availability if you luck out. This Valentine’s Day, enjoy the regular menu or a special five-course tasting menu ($85/person) that will include a Caesar salad with smoked trout, trout roe and grana and a lobster risotto with brandy, mustard and gruyere.

The Capitol Grille

231 Sixth Ave. N, 615 345-7116

The Capitol Grille is a classic for a reason: It sets the highest standards then meets them every time. Plus, you get to spend time in the gorgeous Hermitage Hotel to boot. On Valentine’s Day enjoy a four-course menu that includes oysters for two with rose mignonette and strawberry gelee, black truffle cheese en croute with vanilla poached figs and baby greens, lamp chops or scallops and a double chocolate duo for dessert.

Decker & Dyer

The Westin, 807 Clark Place, 629 203-7586

Another hotel restaurant hitting all the right notes. It’s upscale and open on the main level floor of The Westin Nashville. It transforms into a lively restaurant, bar and lounge at night with seasonal offerings influenced by local ingredients. The yellow tomato gazpacho is tasty with cucumber, parsley and cilantro while the grilled yellowfin with soba noodles, mango, cashews, green onions and Thai peanut sauce offers something a bit more substantial. Want to stay longer? Just book a room with a view in the hotel.

Makeready Libations and Liberations

Noelle, 200 4th Ave. N., 615 649-5000

One of the newest, most gorgeous boutique hotels in Printers Alley with art Deco appeal and tons of local touches, this spot is the place to be. Good thing the food is ready for a romantic evening out too, and on Valentine’s Day grab a drink at the rooftop bar Rare Bird – weather pending – before heading down to dig into a plate of braised lamb shank with roasted carrots, red beans and rice or the pork schnitzel with German potato salad and mustard jus – all the right kinds of meals to share before cuddling on the couch.

Gray & Dudley

21c Museum Hotel, 221 2nd Ave. N., 615 610-6460

Chef Rob Newton’s eclectic menu of market-driven dishes, sourced from Nashville area producers and craft purveyors, makes this hotel-based restaurant a stunner. But it isn’t just the looks of the interiors bringing in the regulars. The pan-seared scallops with grits, spaghetti squash, fried black-eyed peas and miso brown butter really get things going on a good path. After dinner, check into one of the 124 rooms of the hotel and, if you can, try and snag one of the rooftop suites with outdoor terrace. Just be sure you save room for dessert – maybe the warm house-baked cookie plate with cold Tennessee milk or the Vietnamese coffee cream beignets with dulce de leche crema and powdered sugar.

Trattoria Il Mulino

144 5th Ave. S., 615 620-3700

From the iconic New York-based Il Mulino restaurant brand, the Nashville outpost opened its doors in the renovated Hilton Nashville Downtown, though it has a separate entrance on Fifth Avenue. Once ensconced in an intimate booth, enjoy the combination of local flavors and Italian classics in dishes that are all made from scratch, right down to the house-made mozzarella cheese. So dig into the porcini ravioli with champagne truffle cream or the pappardelle with fresh Maine lobster and brandy cream sauce.

Eastland Café

97 Chapel Ave., 615 627-1088

This dining destination is what East Nashville is all about – comfortable, casual, community-minded and approachable, with a twist. Owned by Willy and Yvette of Sylvan Park’s well-established Park Café, the current chef is Paul Wright, who worked his way up after years of sous work at Eastland. The ambiance is inviting no matter how busy, thanks to the warm mahogany paneling and candle-lit tables – perfect for either a special occasion or simply a spontaneous date night. On Valentine’s Day the offering is a three-course menu that includes pimento cheese fritters with hot pepper chow chow and tuna with asparagus, avocado and 63 degree egg. Finish with a Goo Goo Custer pie or white chocolate bread pudding.

City House

1222 Fourth Ave. N., 615 736-5838

One of Germantown’s pioneering restaurants is still one of the best, thanks to the seemingly never-ending delicious magic from chef Tandy Wilson and his capable crew of servers, bartenders and sous chefs. The weekly Sunday supper has become one of the most reliable dining events around, and a perfect date night. With a new menu posted each week, recent options have included a head cheese biscuit with beer cheese and mustard. It’s loud for sure, but it is all part of its charm, especially after a few glasses of wine and a slice of pork belly pizza with oozy egg.

Margot Café

1017 Woodland St., 615 227-4668

Intimate, warm and buzzing with camaraderie, Margot has been luring with its seasonal French- and Italian-inspired menu long before East Nashville was flooded with all the upscale neighborhood dining destinations and crowds of tourists. Still, the backbone of the city’s slow cooking movement Margot McCormack remains the best, and if the constantly-packed house wasn’t any indication, any doubts will be gone after first bite. Recent options have included grilled swordfish with couscous and over dried tomato tapenade and a double chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce.

Caffe Nonna

4427 Murphy Road, 615 463-0133

The ambience is on point at this Sylvan Park stalwart, a culinary gift to the neighborhood from Chef Daniel Maggipinto that has been wowing diners for nearly 20 years with from-scratch pastas and sauces based on his grandmother’s recipes. From the beginning of a meal that could start with beautiful seafood Caprese bruschetta with shrimp, scallops, crispy pancetta, sundried tomatoes and fresh herbs to the very end sipping Italian roast coffee with dessert, the experience is all about quality. The small space makes this the right place for special occasions, especially when sipping a Malbec.

Flyte World Dining and Wine

718 Division Street, 615 255-6200

One of The Gulch’s dining pioneers, it has been more than a decade since Flyte first opened its doors and served up its mission of sustainable food, outstanding wines and exceptional service. And despite the growing number of dining competitors, it isn’t going anywhere thanks to its commitment to always making the meal and the entire dining experience from reservation to dessert something memorable. On Valentine’s Day try the four-course menu for $85/person, wine an additional $40. Choices will include a roasted carrot soup with carrot slaw and chives, a wild mushroom risotto and a pan seared salmon with quinoa and broccoli.

Giovanni Ristorante

909 20th Ave. South, 615 760-5932

106 Harding Place, 615 750-2003

Soft piano music, subdued lighting, Italian accents, red wine – Giovanni is all about romance and then some. Moved to Nashville after nearly three decades in Manhattan, this family knows Italian food, as one look at the impressive menu will show, and after the success of its first Midtown location, they opened another in Belle Meade. All of the pasta is homemade in house with organic free-range chicken eggs, and that makes the perfect base for everything from a butter sage sauce to a perfect béchamel. Proposals happen often, and the staff are more than happy to accommodate any special request to make the night a memorable one.

Merchants

401 Broadway, 615 254-1892

Broadway doesn’t immediately scream romantic ambiance, but once you walk through the doors at Merchants you’ll forget about all that noise out front, especially if you snag a table upstairs in the more refined seating area of the restaurant. Bought by Strategic Hospitality’s Goldberg brothers in 2010, the onetime pharmacy that opened in 1892 has new life, new regulars and a revitalized menu. Start with the seafood platter with gulf shrimp, oysters, hot smoked salmon dip and a cucumber crab salad before moving through the menu and finishing strong with one of its specialty desserts.

Midtown Café

102 19th Ave. S., 615 320-7176

Randy Rayburn’s Midtown Café is still holding its own after it first opened in 1987 despite sister restaurant Sunset Grill’s closing, and the sad death of award-winning chef Brian Uhl, who died in 2016. The lemon artichoke soup is a standard people come back for over and over, drawn to the restaurant as much for the hot soup starter as they are for the low lighting and intimate environment. Other standouts include veal three ways, a tasting of the restaurants piccata, saltimbocca and Oscar-style versions, and the crab cakes served with smoked gouda cheese grits, lemon dill and remoulade.

Park Café

4403 Murphy Road, 615 383-4409

The philosophy at this Sylvan Park institution from owners Willy and Yvette Thomas is to create innovative cuisine using high-quality seasonal ingredients from the vine and farm and using simple preparations. The Thomases have cultivated great relationships with local purveyors and the care is reflective in the menu, so don’t sleep on this space with refreshed interiors just because it isn’t the newest, hottest place in town. On Valentine’s Day, slip into one of the many cozy nooks in the dining room and tuck into one of the special dishes on the menu that evening.

Sinema

2600 Franklin Pike #102, 615 942-7746

This luxurious Kathy Anderson-designed restaurant inside the historic Melrose Theater remains one of the city’s busiest hotspots, thanks to delicious food and art deco-inspired atmosphere. On Valentine’s Day diners can opt from a few different packages, including a Now and Forever proposal package that includes a champagne greet, long stem rose on partner’s plate, extra candles, private booth, rose petals and a planned itinerary with an event coordinator to make the proposal just perfect.

Valentino’s Ristorante

1808 Hayes Street, 615 327-0148

Open since 1991 and still considered one of Nashville’s finest, Valentino’s continues to appeal even after its recent move to a new location. On Valentine’s Day for $95 per person choose from seared scallops with creamy citrus polenta, burrata cheese with roasted olives, toasted focaccia and arugula, then indulge in choice of a number of different entrees like lasagna with wild boar Bolognese or grilled salmon, then finish with a chocolate mousse.

Sperry’s

5109 Harding Pike, 615 353-0809

650 Frazier Drive, Franklin, 615 778-9950

Celebrating more than 40 years in operation, the original clubby Belle Meade Sperry’s is more than a tradition to some diners – it is the only place they will go for a special occasion. The Williamson County outpost may share the same classic steakhouse appeal, famous salad bar and dark wood paneling, but it has plenty of followers of its own that might not have ever been to the original. Customer service is top of mind to the crew as they aim to make special occasions outstanding and create regulars out of every new guest – and they absolutely succeed. That alone along with its juicy prime rib and you’ll be sure to keep Sperry’s top of mind next time a steakhouse is in order.

Cork & Cow

403 Main St., Franklin, 615 538-6021

A Franklin restaurant from the McConnell Hospitality Group, Cork & Cow impresses diners looking for a little romance right off the bat with one of its custom cocktails like the Sugar Bear with Picker’s vodka or Corsair gin, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, rhubarb bitters and limonata soda. After a few sips, everything will look delicious, especially on Valentine’s Day when the four-course menu ($100/person) includes octopus terrine with potato puree and cotija gremolata and a veal osso bucco with red pepper polenta, pearl onions, fingerling potatoes and a sherry honey glaze.

Deacon’s New South

401 Church St., 615 994-1994

Located in the historic Life & Casualty Tower downtown, Deacon’s is a modern, Southern steakhouse with a prominent dry-aging room and an exposed kitchen with a wood fire grill, as well as two bars and a lounge. Chicken-fried lobster tails just start off the indulgences, with the bourbon short ribs, roasted duck breast and pork shoulder steak all following suit. Built in the 1950s as Nashville’s first skyscraper, the L&C’s art-deco influences are incorporated into Deacon’s sleek, industrial design.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar

2525 West End Ave., 615 342-0131

There is just something about a delicious steak, a crackling fire and a glass of red that appeals to the romantic in many, and this place hits all the right notes no matter how much competition it has right now. There are more than 100 wines by the glass, including dozens of local selections, and the food is absolutely indulgent. This year they are celebrating Valentine’s Day to the max, offering couples different tiers of options called Wine, Dine and Sparkle – an all-inclusive experience that includes a three-course meal, premium champagne and a luxury gift from Fifth Avenue Jewelry. Packages start at $350 and end at $1,000.

Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse

300 Fourth Ave. N., 615 434-4300

Stylish, sophisticated, steak – the three things that define this 10,000-square-foot outpost of the Cincinnati-based steakhouse chain that has made its mark downtown with Art Deco-inspired décor and over-the-top grandeur – and snagged TripAdvisor’s nod as most romantic restaurant in Nashville this year. Snag one of the curved booths and take in the selection of sashimi and nigari that shows off the freshness of the fish just as well as the rawbar offerings, jumbo lump crab cake with red pepper vinaigrette and oysters Rockefeller with spinach, Mornay, Pernod and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Jimmy Kelly’s

217 Louise Ave., 615 329-4349

Chances are plenty of local couples have fond memories of a meal shared with a loved one at Jimmy Kelly’s (open since 1934.) The steaks are hand-cut by the butcher in house on the day they are to be served, selected from the stash of grain-fed beef that has been aged a minimum of 28 days. Seal the evening in your brain forever by finishing up with the classic Death by Chocolate – homemade chocolate on chocolate with cream filling between the layers drizzled with a white chocolate sauce.

Kayne Prime

1103 McGavock Street, 615 259-0050

M. Street’s boutique steakhouse continues to hold its own in a rapidly growing food scene, thanks to everything from the décor to the wine menu to the range of classic cocktails and innovative drinks. A fusion of a classic American steakhouse and of-the-moment hot spot, couples will love sinking into one of the rich intimate booths and admiring the dark wood walls made from reclaimed railroad ties. The name takes inspiration from the neighborhood, based on the historic Kayne switch yard located directly across 11th Avenue.

Oak Steakhouse

801 Clark Place, 615 902-3111

Another steakhouse? We will absolutely take it when it is this beautiful, sexy and delicious and located inside a hotel like the Westin. Start off with the charred octopus with sea island rice peas and house made chorizo to share before moving on to the grilled swordfish steak with nicoise olives, capers, garlic, boquerones and smoked tomato.

Union Common

1929 Broadway, 615 329-4565

Nashville is starting to collect quite a few steakhouses, and while this one is just right for special occasions, it also appeals to people even when the only thing to celebrate is another work day is over. Gather a bunch of small plates for you and your date to share, like the lobster sliders, butter poached with lemon tarragon aioli and toasted sea salt roll or the seared pork belly with spiced carrot puree and maple syrup.

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