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Friday, February 28, 2014

Nashville Food Friday: Moto Cucina and Enoteca

A review of Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee

I rarely make it over to the Gulch anymore. Sometimes I feel like I'm too old, too un-hip and that I just live too far away. Because of this I miss out on some really great dining opportunities. SHAME ON LAUREN. Last night I was invited to a special dinner at Moto Cucina and Enoteca, the newest venture from the folks over at M. Street (I've previously reviewed brunch at one of their other establishments, Tavern). Fancy pants dinner at a new Italian place? Sign me up!
A review of Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee

First off I have to say that their execute chef Andy Hayes is top notch. I feel I should mention this first because all the food we ate stemmed from his creative and talented brain. Andy was a pleasure to talk to, as well as funny and informative. It also didn't hurt that he trained at one of my all time favorite restaurants, Gramercy Tavern in New York. M. Street snapped up a good one!
The bar at alian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
talian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee

The inside of Moto is simply beautiful. Everything has clean lines, warm tones and soft lighting. They paid very close attention to every detail, including the inlaid patterns on the bar. They even have a rock bed open fireplace and a glass wine cellar. I sat at a booth and the booth seats were very comfortable, possibly the most comfortable booth I've ever sat in.
duck fat olives at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee

To start off, the kitchen sent out four appetizers for all of us to sample. The first one out was duck fat olives. These were served warm with whole garlic cloves and orange zest. They were delicious, but anything covered in duck fat is delicious. I loved the temperature of the olives- just barely warm and very nice on the tongue.
pork cheek terrine at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee

Next up was the pork cheek terrine with crispy pig ears. When we asked how this was made Chef Andy told us it was made with the whole head of the pig, and not just any pig, but a pig from Porter Road Butcher. It's good to know Moto gets their pigs whole from my favorite local butcher shop. This gets at least +10 awesome points. The terrine was creamy and spread easily on the crustini. I only wish they had more pig ears added for crunch; pig ears are always such a treat.
Oysters at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee

Next up was the deep fried Apalachicola oysters with peperonata and preserved fennel. The topping reminded me of a lightly spiced chow-chow and added a really nice vinegar flavor to the fried oyster. Even someone at my table who said they don't enjoy oysters loved these!

The last appetizer was the raw winter salad featuring shaved beets. I'm always skeptical of raw salads considering I've had a fair few that were disappointing, but this dish was simply divine. The vegetables were sliced so thin that they almost melted in your mouth. Add to that simple seasoning and blue cheese and you have yourself a winning raw salad.
Mushroom, Black truffle  and fontina pizza at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
Porchetta, kale pesto and mozzarella pizza at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
Next up was the pizza course. We were served two different pizzas: The porchetta and kale pesto with mozzarella, and the mushroom and black truffles with fontina. The mushroom pizza had a woodsy flavor that was enhanced by the sweetness of the shaved truffles. My favorite was the kale pesto slice, even though it was a tad bit too oily for me.
Gnocchi at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
On to pasta! First up was the gnocchi with crispy salsify and green apple in fonduta. This sauce was rich and paired well with the fresh crisp apple. The gnocchi themselves were light and pillowy and had a bouncy mouth texture. My favorite part was the crispy salsify, something I never tasted prepared in that fashion before.
Black spaghetti with lobster at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
The next pasta was the black spaghetti with lobster and calabrian chilies. The squid ink pasta was thick and al dente with that sea flavor that makes black pasta so enjoyable. The lobster flavor was mild but the chilies added a nice kick.
Pasta special with sea urchin and scallops at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
Chef Andy Hayes was nice enough to bring out a plate of their nightly pasta special after we talked about my love of sea urchin. The special was a sea urchin and scallop spaghetti in a light lemon cream sauce. This was far and away my favorite pasta dish. The sea urchin on top was so beautiful it brought tears of joy to my eyes and made this my favorite version of urchin that wasn't sushi-style!
Chicken saltimbocca at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
And we weren't' done eating! They brought out the main entree of chicken saltimbocca with sides of brussels sprouts and roasted potatoes. Unfortunately I found the chicken the most un-interesting dish of the evening. Compared to everything else it was just kind of "meh." It was well-cooked, don't get me wrong, but it didn't blow my socks off (mind you I don't normally order chicken at restaurants because on my personal hierarchy of meats, it's on the bottom).
Roasted potatoes at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
brussel sprouts at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
The side dishes were so good that they totally overshadowed the chicken. The brussels sprouts were served crispy with panchetta and apple agrodolce. If you dine at Moto you must order the brussels sprouts, YOU MUST. The potatoes were nicely roasted with sun chokes, black truffle and some taleggio cheese. There was just a small amount of cheese, but it was so nice that I wish that they'd smothered the potatoes in it. Too rich? Maybe.
meyer lemon custard at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
chocolate tiramisu at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
Speaking of too rich, even after all this food, we had two desserts. Gluttony, Ahoy! First was a Meyer lemon bundino (custard) with pistachio biscotti and a semolina shortbread. The custard was very light and fluffy. The chef told us it was made with only lemon, sugar and cream (no egg or gelatin). It had a light lemon flavor and the biscotti dipped in it was pure joy. The final dessert was the Moto take on chocolate tiramisu. It was made with amaretto gelee, chocolate cake and mascarpone mousse and a cookie crumble. This was a very inventive take on the traditional tiramisu and gave me my chocolate fix.
talian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee
I'll fully admit that I was spoiled at Moto. We had tons of amazing food, gracious and prompt service and our fill of red wine. I was very impressed with all of the food and how well-executed the event was. Moto made me realize that I should venture to the gulch more often. I've been missing out. ** While I was provided this dinner gratis, all the opinions are honest and my own. I would like to thank the people at Moto, especially Chef Andy Hayes for the tasty eats and Jennifer McMakin for putting together such a lovely evening.**
Moto Cucina + Enoteca on Urbanspoon
Raw winter vegetable salad at Italian restaurant Moto cucina and enoteca in Nashville, Tennessee

Friday, February 21, 2014

Nashville Food Friday: Kahn's Vegan Bakery and Cafe

A review of Khan's vegan bakery and cafe in Nashville Tennessee

I'm a meat eater. I don't hide it and I'm not ashamed. But I was vegetarian and vegan for a time in college and thereafter (until someone dangled bacon in front of my face at a diner). I can appreciate solid vegan food and I really enjoy the stuff on occasion. I have had a few cakes from Khan's before they opened their retail bakery at The Wild Cow. But until a few weeks ago I had never gone inside their storefront on Porter Road.

A review of Khan's vegan bakery and cafe in Nashville Tennessee

Khan's is very small. There is room for about 3 two-top tables, the bakery counter and that's it. The decor screams "hippie-vegan-cafe" which is neither a good nor a bad thing. It's just a fact. Steve and I went in for lunch and besides one gentleman finishing his sandwich and another waiting on a smoothie, the place was empty. And even though it was empty, it did feel that we waited a very long time for something as simple as a sandwich.
Special sandwich at Khan's vegan bakery and cafe in Nashville Tennessee

I ordered the special which was called "Kale Me Crazy." It contained fake crispy chicken, baby kale, carrots, artichoke hearts, cucumbers and a mint tahini dressing. I honestly wasn't a big fan of this wrap. It was about 80% kale and since the chicken was the first ingredient listed I was expecting more chicken than I received. The mint tahini sauce was great, but I felt that something was keeping this from being a great wrap. It did come with a side of potato salad that was SO GOOD. I would have never guessed that it was vegan. That potato salad seriously blew my mind.

I will say that I was at Khan's a week before and ordered the Cactus Burrito (seitan chorizo, black beans, cactus, poblano peppers, avocado salsa, mixed greens and cashew cheese in a whole wheat wrap) and I really loved that thing. My only issue with that burrito was that I wanted it to have way more cactus. I love cactus and very few places showcase what it can do.
Surly Bird at Khan's vegan bakery and cafe in Nashville Tennessee

Steve ordered the Surly Bird which had the same crispy fake chicken, but his sandwich had a whole cutlet of it. The Surly Bird also had fake cheddar cheese, arugula, tomato, red onions, chipotle agave mustard all grilled on naturally leavened whole wheat focaccia. His sandwich was the clear winner. I was surprised by how much I loved the grilled bread and the fake cheddar cheese. Plus, in this sandwich you could really taste how good the crispy fake chicken was.
Chocolate chip whoopie pie at Khan's vegan bakery and cafe in Nashville Tennessee

Since Khan's is a bakery we couldn't leave without having something sweet. We went for the chocolate chip whoopie pie. This was the fanciest (and maybe healthiest) Little Debbie-style snack cake I've seen. The cookies were very soft and had a great chip-to-batter ratio. The cream in the center was very light and fluffy and not overly sweet like some sugar frosting tends to be.

I should also mention that on Valentine's Day I went to Khan's to get a sweet strawberry chocolate cupcake for Steve. He liked it so much he didn't even let me have a bite!
Desserts at Chocolate chip at Khan's vegan bakery and cafe in Nashville Tennessee

While Khan's sandwiches have been hit or miss for me (and trust me the hits are WORTH it) I can honestly say that this is the best vegan bakery I have ever been to. The sweets are just so darn good that you can buy them for your next get together, not tell anyone that they're vegan, and no one will be able to guess. So if anyone wants to get me a cake, my favorite is the Elvis cake (banana cake with peanut butter frosting).

Khan's Desserts on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 14, 2014

Nashville Food Friday: Epice

Epice, a new Lebanese restaurant by the owners of Kalamatas, recently opened in the 12 South area. It was on my list to check out but got bumped up when the wonderful Aubrey suggested we go there for girl's night out. I jumped on the chance to hang out with a lovely lady and eat some new food (I can't remember having strictly Lebanese food before.)
Epice Lebanese restaurant in Nashville Tennessee
The decor of Epice is very clean and open. There's lots of off-white marble and honey colored wood. It's very chic without trying too hard. I love the open bar and prep area as well as the rock wall in the kitchen pass-through. The building is located across the street from Burger Up, but because it lacks a sign it can be easily missed. 
Pita bread at Epice Lebanese restaurant in Nashville Tennessee
As soon as we were seated our waiter brought us some pita bread and oil for dipping. You can tell that the pita was freshly fried and spiced. The herb oil was very nice but I had a hard time putting it on my pita. I think I needed a small spoon or something, but since I didn't have one it lead to aggressive dipping.

I have to say that our server was one of the funniest I've ever had. He was knowledgeable about the menu, polite, and at the same time had a wicked sense of humor that kept Aubrey and me giggling. 
Salad at Epice Lebanese restaurant in Nashville Tennessee
Before we even got our appetizer Epice gave us another free snack. It was a very light salad that was tossed with the perfect amount of dressing. The lettuce was fresh and I especially enjoyed the cabbage and radish that were mixed in. 
Kibbeh at Epice Lebanese restaurant in Nashville Tennessee
For our appetizer we ordered the kibbeh which is ground beef in a wheat crust. They were charming little balls of meat with a very interesting texture- kind of chewy on first bite, but much like seasoned ground meat in the center. I absolutely loved the sauce that was served with it, which I believe was seasoned yogurt and cucumber. 
Batinjan at Epice Lebanese Restaurant in Nashville Tennessee
For my main dish I ordered the Batinjan which contained roasted eggplant and ground beef. I wasn't the biggest fan of this dish, mostly because I found the eggplant and meat combination just a tad too mushy for my liking. The stewed eggplant had the strangest consistency to me, but I know that this is a personal thing. I can say that it was seasoned perfectly and had very good overall flavor. My favorite part of the dish was the big slice of fried eggplant. It was like the best potato chip I ever had and I wanted many more of them! Also, the rice was fabulous and the yogurt sauce that I loved made another appearance in this dish. When I mixed the sauce with the eggplant and meat I liked it much better.
Rice Pudding at Epice Lebanese Restaurant in Nashville Tennessee
Since it was girls night out we had to order to desserts. Fist up was the Roz be-haleeb which is rice pudding with orange blossom infusion served with cinnamon-sugar pita. This might be my favorite dish of the night, mostly because rice pudding is a nostalgic favorite of mine. It had a light floral flavor and the pudding was thick and rich. I would highly recommend ending your meal with this.
Crepes at Epice Lebanese Restaurant in Nashville Tennessee
Our second and final dessert was Katayef, or crepes. One was filled with a sweet mild cheese and the other was filled with sweetened walnuts. I loved the walnut crepe because of its crunchy nutty texture inside a soft pillow of pancake. An added bonus for me was the fig served with the crepes. Figs are my favorite!
Epice Lebanese Restaurant in Nashville Tennessee
We really enjoyed our dinner at Epice. Although the prices are higher than any other middle eastern restaurant I've seen, I would say that the quality of the food and decor make the prices seem reasonable. We enjoyed our food and the service we received. Epice is another reason to brave the parking nightmare that is 12 South!

Epice on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 7, 2014

Nashville Food Friday: Two Ten Jack

I'm always very excited when a new restaurant opens up in my neighborhood. In the 4+ years I've lived in East Nashville I've seen culinary gems pop out of the woodwork to become local institutions. Two Ten Jack, serving Japanese comfort food, is the most recent food venture in the Walden Complex (Next to Silly Goose and Jeni's Ice Cream) and I'm sure it will become a neighborhood staple in no time, if it hasn't become one already.
The bar at Two Ten Jack Nashville
The interior feels warm and cozy while giving off a modern loft vibe. There's lots of polished concrete and wood. The layout of the restaurant takes great advantage of the space, placing the large bar at the center with different seating options around it (tables for four, booths for 6 and communal tables for whoever). The soft lighting was an excellent touch. I'm pretty happy that I have no snarky comments on decor this week- I was afraid I was getting into a rut.

I have to mention how great the service was. From the second we walked in the hostess was friendly and super helpful. Our waitress was prompt and funny without being overbearing. All our food came out perfectly coursed, in the right order, promptly. For a young restaurant I was very impressed with the lack of service snags.

On tap cocktails at Two Ten Jack Nashville
Two Ten Jack is one of newest places to offer cocktails on tap. I went with the sochu ginger and pineapple tonic. The drink was light and refreshing and had a nice balance between the ginger and the sweet pineapple. Steve ordered the bourbon and spice beer drink and really loved it. I found his drink too bitter for my palate. I definitely ordered the "girly" drink and Steve went in a more "manly" direction.
Japanese pickle plate at Two Ten Jack Nashville
Since Two Ten Jack is an Izakaya joint they serve lots of small dishes to share, very similar to what you would see at a Tapas restaurant. For a snack with our cocktail we ordered the tsukemono (pickle plate). The menu said the pickles were made daily and fresh and it sure did taste that way. I loved the presentation that played up the bands of beautiful colors. I think there was burdock, jicama, beets and pepper, although I wasn't quite sure. The flavor was delicate and was a great addition to our cocktails.
Octopus takoyaki at Two Ten Jack Nashville
Our second dish was takoyaki which I haven't had since I left New York. Think of this dish as salty hush puppies with octopus. Don't let that be a deterrent- it gives the dough a light sea flavor. The takoyaki was hot out of the pan and very light. The bonito flakes added a nice burst of flavor and I LOVED the miso butter. Dipping the takoyaki in the miso butter intensified all of the flavors. THAT BUTTER WAS SO GOOD. I'm not ashamed to say that I finished what was left of the butter after all the takoyaki was gone. This is a must-order dish.
Volcano roll at Two Ten Jack Nashville
Our next dish was a choice from the small sushi and sashimi menu. The sushi here is more expensive than what you find at other places around town. We chose the volcano roll which had scallops, spicy mayo and we added snow crab, which was a special that evening. The roll was nicely balanced and I loved the delicate preparation of the scallops. The sushi rice had a smaller grain than what I am used to but overall the roll was nice, although I'm not sure worth $13.
Yakitori at Two Ten Jack Nashville

We then moved on to yakitori and ordered skewers of short rib and chicken hearts. The short rib was cooked well with a lot of pink on the inside. Medium rare always brings out the flavor. ALWAYS. The chicken hearts were surprisingly chewy. I can't remember if I ever had whole chicken hearts before so I can't compare. What I can say is that it had a great salty, spicy and sweet seasoning which won me over, allowing the texture to grow on me.
Ramen at Two Ten Jack Nashville
For our final dish we ordered the tonkotsu ramen. This dish is a pork lover's dream, with a rich pork broth and pieces of pork belly. The soy and toasted garlic flavor were present and just added to the pork fat goodness. The egg was a joy, the lightly cooked yolk just coating your tongue. The noodles were nice and al dente and didn't lose their texture in the hot soup. This dish made me so happy. I'm pretty sure I'll go back here and order a bowl of ramen just for me. NO SHARING.
Ice cream Mochi at Two Ten Jack Nashville

For dessert we did the chef sampling of ice cream Mochi. While the server told us that these are not made in house, she did say they were made for the restaurant from a small distributor. I appreciate their honesty. We had the mango, azuki bean and cinnamon flavors. I always love the mild sweetness of azuki but I was blown away by the cinnamon one. I have to say that cinnamon ice cream might be my new favorite thing.
Two Ten Jack in Nashville
I really liked my experience at Two Ten Jack. The food was great, the atmosphere was comfortable and the staff was friendly and well trained. Welcome to the neighborhood. I'm happy you're here!

Two Ten Jack on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tomorrow Night: Bourbon Party at the Music City Center

In celebration of the Antique and Garden show going on this weekend they are throwing a bourbon themed party with the signature southern liquor featuring food and garden displays and the new Music City Center. I try to keep my garden looking nice but I need improvements so I hope to get some nice springtime inspiration at this event.

I'll be there sipping on the good stuff. I hope to see some of you out there!
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