Notes from Nashville and Nola

September 25, 2018

First stop in Nashville – always – the great Parnassus Books. If you haven’t been, go! The most wonderful book store: dogs roam, children laugh, and everyone has a suggestion for something you simply have to read.

Then, just around the corner for a bite of lunch at etc. restaurant, where Deb Paquette turns out the most beautiful food.  “We have soup tonight,” said our waitress,” but I’m not sure what it is. Deb’s out in the kitchen, staring at the ingredients, figuring it out.” In the end it was that gorgeous swirl of color.

But first, this remarkable carrot tartare, all crisp, crunch and color, with pickled fennel, onion, peppercress and a lemon celery aioli.

And the restaurant’s signature dish, porcini cauliflower, which somehow combines roasted turnip miso, a yellow beet purée, mushroom thyme sauce, risotto, wonton wrappers… a vegan fantasy to make every vegetarian rejoice.

In town for the Music City Food and Wine Festival to cook onstage with Jonathan Waxman, I had only one free evening. (For the record, the food at the event was awesome; in 104 degree weather, the great Pat Martin set up a whole slew of fire pits and cooked some of the finest ‘que I’ve ever eaten. This little piggy was one of many porcine pleasures – not to mention prime ribs, brisket, salmon, loins… there wasn’t much Pat didn’t subject to low, slow heat.)

Later that night,  chefs from every great Nashville restaurant set up tents and offered tastes.  (For the record, the longest lines were for Emmy Squared burgers; this is a town that reveres meat!)

Everybody had a suggestion about which place to choose for my single dinner.  In the end I opted for Henrietta Red.  And was very glad: Julia Sullivan is cooking extremely appealing food. Dinner was long and wonderful, starting with wood-roasted oysters with green curry and bagna cauda.

 Sour cream with spring onion vinaigrette and paddlefish caviar.

Wonderful fried herring. And this…

homemade bread, with the most intense smush of anchovy butter.

Best of all, however, was this extraordinary stew: light little puffs of potato gnocchi tangled into pork and vegetables.  It wasn’t just that the textures were so appealing, or the flavors so fine, but that this is truly Italy in Music City mode.

A crazy night of music, headlined by the Kings of Leon and closed by The Struts – and then, after way too little sleep – it was on to New Orleans for the Symposium on American Cuisine and Hospitality – and the 125th Anniversary of Commander’s Palace. Wouldn’t you know that in true Commander’s fashion, a group of us zoomed in from the airport with a police escort complete with high speeds and flashing lights!

Dropped my luggage and went straight to Maypop for  Michael Gulatta’s Sunday morning dim sum brunch. Fun – and rather brilliant – it’s a southern take on an Asian tradition, and done with tongue in cheek. Up above, bacon scallion pancakes with oysters and cucumber kimchi.

Head cheese and blue crab soup noodle dumplings.

Blue crab and buckwheat noodle salad with peaches, eggplant and shiso.

Pork and cane syrup sausage-stuffed sesame balls with chili oil.

The most delicious fried oysters with a bit of manchego and a lot of spice.

Who could possibly resist boudin bao?

Tomorrow, more of NOLA: gumbo, red beans and rice, blue crab – and the best eggrolls I’ve ever eaten.





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