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Friday, June 27, 2014

Nashville Food Friday: Happy Hour at Pomodoro East

A review of happy hour at Pomodoro East in Nashville, Tennessee
I like going out to eat often, so I'm always a fan of a really good deal. Most of the best deals around town are for Happy Hour, and usually I can't seem to get to places in time for that 6:30 cutoff. But luckily in East Nashville we have our choice of local hot spots that offer really good Happy Hour deals that are just minutes away from our door. This week we were wondering where to go for a quick cocktail and dinner, and realized that the happy hour cutoff was quickly closing in, so we rushed out the door to grab a seat at Pomodoro East's bar just in time to order.
A review of happy hour at Pomodoro East in Nashville, Tennessee
Pomodoro East has a modern rustic vibe. Most items are made out of dark wood and the lighting is low. While the restaurant is dark and somewhat cave-like, they do it in a romantic way, not in a "trapped in a stranger's car trunk" kind of way. It plays off the hip rustic-reclaimed-barnwood phenomenon that is all the rage these days. The best part of the restaurant has to be their beautiful outdoor patio. This is the selling point of the restaurant and on days with nice weather, this place gets packed. 
Cocktails at  happy hour at Pomodoro East in Nashville, Tennessee
The Happy Hour menu offers wine and cocktails for $5 and beer for $3. I was in the mood for a summer-y cocktail so I chose the white honey peach sangria. This drink tasted very much like the peach it promised. It had a great flavor overall, but there was just too much ice in the drink. I'm the crazy lady who always asks for water without ice, so any cocktail that is mostly ice just usually isn't my bag. But if you like your drinks fruity and cold, then this is for you. Steve ordered the peppercorn martini, made with peppercorn gin and dry vermouth. This drink is VERY peppery and spicy. If pepper makes you sneeze or tickles your nose, you might want to skip this. Both of us really enjoyed this drink and the unique taste it offers. I have to say that the few other times I've been to Pomodoro for happy hour I've ordered the peppercorn martini.
Spiedini at  happy hour at Pomodoro East in Nashville, Tennessee
The happy hour menu has a bunch of snack size appetizer dishes for $5. If you order a few of them, you can make a really great meal out of it. The first to arrive was the spiedini, crisp mozzarella with a lemon butter sauce. This dish is always a good choice because who doesn't love a plate of gooey cheese? It is the king of all "mozzarella sticks" and will make you hate every other imitator that bars try to sell you. I do wish that this was served a tad bit hotter so that the cheese was stringier. Also, there should be a stronger lemon taste to the sauce. I've had this dish a few other times and I always felt the sauce had way more acidity, which I quite enjoyed. The tomato and olive tapenade does well to freshen up what is basically fried cheese, but without the fresh lemon it fell a bit flat. 
Our second dish was the fettucini pesto alfredo. The pasta was cooked well and the alfreado sauce had a good start, but I felt that it was missing a little pizzaz and needed a tad bit more salt. If you have read this blog you know that I NEVER really like salt and usually complain that things are too salty. Well, here is the exception. Don't get me wrong, this dish is good and the pesto-cream combination is a winner, but you might need to ask for the salt shaker.
Our final happy hour snack was the pepperoni flat bread, which is basically a super thin crust pizza with a fancy name. I actually quite like that the pizza was cut up into little bite size squares instead of the traditional triangle. I felt that this way of cutting the pizza made it just a bit more "snackable." This pizza did the trick, and it served its purpose, but it isn't my favorite pizza by far. For some odd reason I like the pizza at sister restaurant Eastland Cafe better. But for $5 it's pretty darn good and quite filling. If I didn't share, this could have been my whole dinner.

I'm really happy with Pomodoro's Happy Hour options. We normally go to Eastland Cafe, so it's nice to have another option in the neighborhood, owned by the same people, that also offers good food. Our bartender was friendly and fast, plus we met the nicest couple sitting next to us at the bar! Happy Hour is great for chatting and making new friends, and Pomodoro makes it happen. 

Pomodoro East on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chattanooga Food Friday: Alleia

A review of Alleia in Chattanooga, Tennessee
As the resident foodie, I make most of our dining choices. 99% of the time I'm totally OK with this position, but occasionally it's nice to sit back and have someone else do the research and make the hard choices. A few weekends ago when we went to Chattanooga, I let Steve do all of the organization, and honestly, that was the best gift. When we arrived at the surprise dinner location, I was very impressed. Steve did good, and Alleia was beautiful.
A review of Alleia in Chattanooga, Tennessee
The design of the space is outstanding. Dark wooden furniture, private high-walled booths with low lights and candles really pump up the romantic feel. You could feel all the effort that went into making this place gorgeous. I was a sucker for the large candelabra display on the back wall that was allowed to drip and form a beautiful cascade of wax. It reminded me of what you might see in a vampire's foyer.
Cocktails at  Alleia in Chattanooga, Tennessee
For a cocktail I ordered the coco tesoro which contained coconut ciroc, honey lavender syrup and lemon juice. The presentation of the cocktail was lovely and the yellow color glowed in the candlelight. You could really taste the honey and lemon, but overall it was light on the coconut taste. This drink was very sweet, but I quite liked it. Steve went for the vecchio amico that contained crown royal, campari, dry vermouth and orange. This was a manly drink, but it was also slightly bitter. While Steve liked this, it was too bitter for me.
Fig and gorgonzola pizza at  Alleia in Chattanooga, Tennessee
The menu at Alleia has lots of options making it really good for ordering a bunch of things and sharing. We were told that the pizzas were big enough for one person so we figured we would order one and share it as an appetizer. What we got was a massive pizza that could easily feed two people for dinner, and since we already ordered a few other things, we had leftovers! I'm a smitten kitten when it comes to figs so we went for the fig, gorgonzola and prosciutto pizza with arugula on top. The crust itself was thin and crisp, and the dough was folded in an interesting way so that the crust had ridges in it, yet it was hollow on the inside. As expected, the fig jam was nice and sweet and mixed well with the tang of the gorgonzola. I only wished they added a bit more of the prosciutto to the pie. More of the smokey animal fat flavor would have been a welcome complement to the sweet fig.
pork belly and gnocchi at  Alleia in Chattanooga, Tennessee
For the pasta course we chose the gnocchi with pork belly, ramps and peas. This dish smelled so good that I just wanted to put my face in the plate and breathe it all in. I must note that the staff was nice enough to split the plates for us, so we each got even portions of our dishes. The gnocchi was soft and pillow-like and the butter-esque sauce in which they were sitting was heavenly. The pork belly had good flavor and was fork-tender. For me, this cut of meat could have been fattier. Personally, I always enjoy a nice juicy layer of fat on my pork. Despite the lack of fat, the pork and the gnocchi made a perfect mouthful, so that when eaten together they were reminiscent of steak and potatoes.
Meatballs at  Alleia in Chattanooga, Tennessee
For our final plate we ordered the pork meatballs in a salsa verde with a side of grilled cabbage and roasted potatoes. The cabbage and potatoes were my favorite part of this dish. The cabbage had a nice smokey flavor to it. The potatoes were well seasoned and crisp on the outside. The meatballs didn't really knock my socks off, as I found them a little hard and dense overall. I would suggest that if you serve a sturdier meatball, you have a more "liquid" sauce to add some juice. The salsa verde was very sparse and didn't help to add liquid back into the meat. This just proves that the meatballs at City House are hard to beat.

The service that we had was excellent. Our server was knowledgeable and attentive without being overbearing. The manager even stopped by to see how we were doing, which is a nice touch. I especially appreciated how they removed all plates and silverware at the end of each course and brought fresh ones. I don't understand why more restaurants don't implement this simple practice to up the class factor. Also, the ladies room was really REALLY pretty. Bonus.

I think Alleia is a nice choice for Chattanooga dining. The ambiance is romantic, the food is prepared well and the service is high-end. If you are looking for a fancy take on Italian in Chatt-town, Alleia is your place.

Alleia Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 13, 2014

Chattanooga Food Friday: Chato Brasserie for Brunch

A review of brunch at Chato in Chattanooga Tennessee
This past weekend Steve and I went to Chattanooga for a mini-vacation. I always enjoy traveling to new places, especially if that means trying out new restaurants. For some reason it's been a while since I've gone out for brunch. But what better way to splurge than when on vacation? After consulting the Internet gods, we ended up at Chato Brasserie to try their eggs Benedict.
A review of brunch at Chato in Chattanooga Tennessee
Chato, on Chattanooga's north shore, is located in a relatively a new condo building. The space itself is modern and open, and the floor to ceiling windows let in large amounts of natural light. The color palate consisted of warm earth tones and dark wood furniture. We arrived at 11, the moment that they opened for Sunday brunch, and were able to sneak a table without a reservation. But judging by how quick the place filled up, I would recommend calling ahead and reserving a table.
Passionfruit bellini at  brunch at Chato in Chattanooga Tennessee
Chato has a wide variety of morning libations available. We chose the Sunday Bellini, which was made with passionfruit puree and champagne. At only $3 a glass, this was a really good deal. I enjoyed the Bellini; you can taste the fresh fruit and see tiny bits of pulp floating around. Also, the drink wasn't overly sweetened, allowing the natural taste of the fruit and the crispness of the champagne to dominate. 
Salmon eggs benedict at  brunch at Chato in Chattanooga Tennessee
Chato offers a fair amount of variations on the traditional eggs Benedict. The New Yorker in me went for the house cured sockeye salmon with a cream cheese & chive hollandaise. I have to say this dish let me down. 

When we ordered our dishes, our waitress (who was very polite) asked us how we wanted our eggs, and suggested over-easy. I said no, it's eggs Benedict and I want my eggs poached. In return, she said yes it's poached, but asked how much I wanted it cooked. I was very emphatic about how golden runny egg yolks is the only real way to eat a poached egg and the liquid yolk greatly enhances the dining experience. I was very clear that I wanted my eggs as runny as possible. What I got was a semi-solid yolk with no "ooze" factor.

Since the egg is the primary focus of an eggs Benedict, I didn't love this dish. This was really sad because everything else about it was spot-on. The salmon was lovely and had that salty lox flavor that you can conjure up just thinking about it. Their hollandaise was solid, and the addition of the cream cheese added a nice tangy note to the rich sauce. The roasted potatoes were crisp and not overly salted. It's such a bummer that something with so much potential was disappointing.
creole eggs benedict at  brunch at Chato in Chattanooga Tennessee
Steve went for the more adventurous creole Benedict, with andouille sausage, crawfish hollandaise and a biscuit instead of the traditional English muffin. Since Steve holds the same egg beliefs as me, he also asked for a runny yolk, and also got a solid golden nugget. It appears that they generally overcook all the eggs here. The sausage had a nice spice to it and the plump crawfish mixed with the buttery hollandaise was a great treat. This dish was so good flavor-wise, but the eggs were holding it back from being awesome.
beignets creole at  brunch at Chato in Chattanooga Tennessee
I'm generally not one to complain, but I like being honest. When the waitress asked me how our meals were I told her that the eggs were overcooked. She was apologetic and they offered us beignets on the house. This was nice of them, and I always appreciate places that try to make things right. The beignets were not my favorite, their small size made them fairly hard and dense. I also know that beignets always come with more powdered sugar that I could possibly want, so there was a lot of shaking to get the excess off. They were much better once we dipped them in coffee.   

Overall, Chato for brunch was fairly hit or miss. Our service was great and the management apologized and was gracious overall. Our cocktails were really good and very budget friendly. The eggs Benedict was really well thought out, they only messed up the egg. If I lived in Chattanooga I would give them another shot since they could've just been having a bad egg day in the kitchen. 

Chato Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 6, 2014

Nashville Food Friday: Otaku South at POP Nashville

I have to admit that I did a little happy dance when I heard that the old location of Steve's Restaurant & Bar on the corner of Gallatin and Eastland was being converted into a pop-up restaurant space. I was even more excited when I heard that it was the brainchild of local ramen master Chef Sarah Gavigan. When POP opened not too long ago, I put it on my list of places to check out. We decided to go on a night when Chef Gavigan's Otaku South was serving up some of their acclaimed ramen.
A review of Otaku South at Pop Nashville in Nashville Tennessee
POP is a really simple, clean space that is chic in its absence of adornment. POP is amenable for pop-up restaurants, events and even weddings, so it really needs to be a blank slate that can fit any event. It's easy to imagine all the cool events you and your friends could host here! Large windows on both sides of the space let in large amounts of light and filled the room with a lovely orange magic hour glow. Since the space is fairly empty and devoid of soft surfaces it can get pretty loud, and since it's not large, you sit very close to your neighbors.

Ordering is simple. You read the menu on the wall, you order and pay at the window, and you take your ticket number to your table and wait for your food to arrive. While this sounds simple, for some reason Steve and I either didn't take our number or didn't receive a number, so our order got a tad bit messed up. While mistakes happen, Otaku went above and beyond to make it right. The staff kept checking on our table, apologized, and even brought us some goodies on the house to make up for the wait. That kind of customer service is reason enough to go there.
Sake and strawberry soda at  Otaku South at Pop Nashville in Nashville Tennessee
To start we ordered a hakutsuru cold draft sake and a house-made strawberry soda. The sake was filtered, but still had a mild sweetness about it. The strawberry soda had a really rich deep flavor, but thankfully did not taste like fake sugar. I wish all sodas tasted this fresh!
Pork belly buns at  Otaku South at Pop Nashville in Nashville Tennessee
To start we ordered my favorites, steamed buns with pork belly. The pork inside was very rich and heavily loaded down with the most beautiful fat. It was served with pickled seaweed inside, which enhanced the richness of the meat. The bun itself was light and fluffy like a marshmallow, but without all the sugar. If you go here and don't order this, you are a fool.
Pickle plate at  Otaku South at Pop Nashville in Nashville Tennessee
To make up for the food mishap the waiter brought us over a pickle plate to sample. There was a potato/egg salad, pickled potatoes, carrots, spinach and mushrooms. The potato/egg salad was fluffy and really light. I think I would be the hit at summer parties if I could figure out how to make this. All of the vegetables tasted heavily of vinegar, which is exactly what I expect from a pickle.
Spicy Kimchi Squid rice bowl at  Otaku South at Pop Nashville in Nashville Tennessee
Since I have eaten at Otaku South a bunch of times (read about it here), I figured I was overdue for ordering something that wasn't their tonkotsu ramen. I chose the spicy kimchi squid rice bowl with radish and pickled ginger. The squid was nicely cooked and didn't get chewy, but I was disappointed there were only rings and no tentacles. I LOVE TENTACLES- MORE PLEASE. The kimchi had really good flavor, but just wasn't as spicy as I was hoping for. I like hot stuff that makes me tear up a tad bit. The fresh scallions and greens on top were a nice touch, opening up the dish.
tonkotsu ramen bowl at  Otaku South at Pop Nashville in Nashville Tennessee
Steve went for my favorite and ordered the tonkotsu ramen, which is made with pork broth and pork shoulder. The best part of this dish is the broth, which is very thick and tastes like pig heaven. You can taste the skill and the hours of hard work in this broth. The shoulder was nice and tender, but it's always that golden egg that steals my heart. Otaku South's ramen is always really impressive, hands-down.

As another thank you from the restaurant, they brought us out some Lotus Root Chips that tasted like they were fresh out of the oil. Super thinly sliced, crisp, and seasoned like seaweed, I was surprised by how much this little bowl of "chips" impressed me. 

I already knew that I love Otaku South (hence why I keep going back- and I'll be there more often now that they have a consistent spot in my neighborhood), but I was really impressed with the whole concept of a permanent, well appointed pop-up space. I love the idea of getting to try new food all the time from a rotating cast of chefs! You'd better believe I'll be looking at the POP calendar for upcoming events!
Otaku South @POP on Urbanspoon
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