|Oh hey- it's a sneaky picture of me.|
The decor of Catbird is minimalism at it's finest. The room is a soft white with nothing on the walls. The majority of their 32 seats are at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. Everything is decorated in such a way that the food is truly the star. I love the idea that they take everything away so you're forced to focus more on the food's beauty and taste. The decor deprivation really works in this setting.
The way The Catbird Seat operates is unlike any other restaurant in town. There is no menu. You have no idea what you are going to be served and there is certainly no picking and choosing. Our night we had about 9 courses served to us over a 3 hour period. Part of the excitement was not knowing what we were going to eat next. This way, I could be surprised and guided on the taste journey that the chefs planned out for us. We also decided to go with the beverage paring (we chose the $40 version instead of the pricier $75 one, and were very pleased.) The very talented and knowledgeable beverage director provided wine and cocktails that matched the dishes. Please be aware that they do serve you a lot to drink. You will definitely get tipsy, and you may even get drunk. I highly recommend planning on taking a cab home - you will be in NO shape to drive.
I feel unable to review specifically the food at The Catbird Seat for the simple reason that if you go, chances are you will get a totally different menu. Insomuch as that is the case, I feel I can review the overall experience and vouch for the talent that the chefs exude. Everything that we had was crafted perfectly. Flavor profiles were methodically thought out and every dish exceeded my already high expectations. Some dishes were so unique and beautifully presented that I couldn't believe it.
Our first dish was a "snack" plate. Three different little bites to set the tone for the evening. From left to right we were served an Island Creek Oyster with sea flavors, a small smoked pate sandwich, and puffed country ham with coffee. This was served with Louis de Grenelle Brut. I couldn't get over the perfect and adorable smoked pate sandwich. It was a teeny tiny bun of perfection.
Our next "snack" was the Catbird version of hot chicken. This was a nice thick piece of chicken skin fresh-fried, spiced, and served warm. While this was nowhere near as hot as traditional hot chicken, it had a lovely smoked paprika flavor and it really contained all the wonder that is Nashville's most famous food, minus the burn that would obliterate your taste buds for the rest of the night.
Next was the salad course. This salad was tied up in a pretty bundle with a string. Inside the bundle of greens was a mixture of pecan butter and huckleberry jam, while the whole thing was covered in pine dressing. The idea was that you pick it up by the bundled end and eat downward. I have never before had a salad that was finger food and I was totally impressed by the creativity. This might be the coolest salad I've had. The cocktail pairing consisted of dry vermouth, gin, sauvignon blanc and chartreuse. I normally despise any drink with chartreuse in it, but our beverage director was so good in his use of it that he changed my mind.
This dish is one of my favorite things I ate that night for the simple reason that chicken liver pate is one of my favorite foods of all time. This chicken liver terrine was served with a Cheerwine glaze with peanuts and pickled watermelon wine. The sweetness of the soda reduction was a great compliment to the fatty liver. This dish was paired with a beer cocktail made with Schlafly's Biere de Garde and a cherry herring. This dash of cherry really played off the Cheerwine flavor.
Next up was the fabulous fish course featuring a pan roasted turbot. This white flatfish was cooked perfectly and even came with a crispy skin. I'm always impressed when a chef can crisp fish skin but not overcook the meat. This was served with a sea urchin, roe emission and little lemon dots. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the beauty of the microgreens scattered on top.
Following the fish was the fowl course. Pigeon is one of my favorite birds but I rarely if ever see it on a menu. Perhaps there is a cultural aversion to eat an animal that New Yorkers refer to as "flying rats." Whatever the case- pigeon (or squab if you want to avoid calling it what it is) is a damn fine meat. It's consistency is almost steak-like; it's the red meat of poultry. Catbird served a perfectly cooked pigeon breast along with the full leg (claws and all) that had been made into jerky. This was served with white beans, cornbread and a pepper marmalade. I really loved the chewy skin off the jerky leg paired with the nice kick of the pepper marmalade. This was Steve's first time having pigeon and he now loves this bird just as much as me.
Our final traditional savory dish was meat, in this case wagyu beef served with spinach, shallots, horseradish, and cassis. The beef was served at the perfect temperature and it was red in the center, just the way I like it. The quality of the meat was so high that it just melted away like butter. The accompaniments reminded me of an interesting take on what you would get at a traditional steak house.
Taking us from savory to sweet was a cheese course of tete de moine served with walnuts, cranberry, honey and endive. We were amazed at how thinly the cheese was shaved. The curls were then formed into a trumpet where it almost mimicked flower petals. Because of the thin slices the cheese just evaporated to the top of your palate. All sliced cheese will now pale in comparison.
Now we were ready for some full-on dessert. First up was the Catbird take on a creamsicle. This citrus-heavy dessert tastes like a creamsicle once all the parts melt in your mouth, but on the plate it's deconstructed and the cream is fluffed and flash-frozen. This dish was playful and brought back sweet memories of eating a creamsicle at summer camp during snack time.
Next up was the dessert interlude- egg custard with thyme served in an eggshell with maple bacon. This was the same dish I had earlier this year at Music City Eats. And you know what, I was 100% OK with this repeat. The simple one bite of egg custard just perfectly walked the line between sweet and savory. Our desserts were accompanied by a late harvest tokaji with a bourbon rinse. This was the drink that did me in!
In addition, there are some shake-ups going on at the 'bird. Earlier this year one of the two founding chefs, Josh Habiger, left to go help open Pinewood Social. This week it was announced that the other founding chef Erik Anderson will be leaving the Catbird Seat on New Years to be with his fiancee in Minnesota. While the two main driving forces will be gone, I have no doubt that the quality and creativity will not falter. The talent that we saw from the sous chefs will be sure to carry the restaurant and keep the experience as is. Either way, save up your hard earned cash and go.