Sep 02 2015

A Tale of Two Restaurants

With apologies to Mr. Dickens…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

My wife and I took our eldest daughter out to dinner to catch up on a trip to Europe she had recently returned from. I thought I would take the opportunity to try out a new Tapas place that had opened on West End, Americano.

If you are not familiar with tapas dining, it is a Spanish style where you order a lot of small plates and share. If you like to taste a lot of things it is a wonderful way to dine. If you are a germaphobe it may freak you out a bit.

I asked our waitress if they had a wine list when we sat down, and she looked at me like I had two heads. She finally stuttered out, “I think so, let me check.” She disappeared for a moment and came back with a single photocopied page that had about ten different glass priced wines and no bottles. I found that a bit strange but forged ahead.

My wife and I ordered some sparkling. They had a French Brut and an Italian Prosecco (misspelled as Prosecca) on the menu and I was mildly disappointed that a tapas place did not have a Cava on the menu. Our waitress did warn us that one of our choices had rung up a dollar higher than listed on the menu.

The drinks came out in wines glasses, which was a bit odd, but we decided to order a little something while we waited on our daughter to get there. There was lots that looked interesting on the menu, but we decided to start with the roasted pears and chorizo in the “with bread” section of the menu.

Nicely grilled bread with sliced pears and a piece of spicy chorizo sausage showed up quickly and it was full of flavor and piping hot. Very nice.

Our daughter arrived and ordered a glass of bubbly when she arrived…which they brought in a beautiful champagne flute. Strange. I opted to change to a red wine to match the chorizo a bit better and asked about a couple of Jorge Ordonez wines that were on the list at a very reasonable $7 a glass.
The waitress did not know anything about them, and went to ask the bartender about them. When she returned she stated that those wines were actually $13 a glass. I asked about another wine and she disappeared for a moment before coming back and letting me know that…you guessed it…it was much more money than listed on the menu. I asked if there were any other changes I needed to be aware of and she corrected the wine menu as shown here:


OK. We all kind of looked at each other.

Then the chef brought out another plate.

Blistered tomatoes

Blistered tomatoes

No commentary, just dropped it at our table, told us the name and left. I guess they were sort of apologizing for the wine strangeness…but nobody actually said anything about it. It was actually very tasty. Blistered tomatoes with herbs and crumbled blue cheese.

Of course, at this point Americano had only been open for a couple of weeks, but I guess they were still working the kinks out. I opted to spin the Opentable roulette wheel and it came up with Chauhan Ale & Masala House as a thousand point table, so we decided to leave and try that.

If you are not familiar with the restaurant, it is an Indian/Southern fusion place that was started by Maneet Chauhan, who you might be familiar with as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped TV show, or her run on one of the Next Iron Chef seasons.

The ambience is cool and funky, with projectors showing loops of Bollywood films on the wall and decor in a mix of kitschy and elegant. Quite cool actually.

I ordered a glass of wine from Sardinia, and it came to the table rather past its prime. The waiter quickly replaced it with a fresh glass and an apology.

The menu has traditional Indian staples like Korma and Rogen Josh, but also wacky things like the chef’s take on meat and three or Tandoori Poutine (wrap your head around that!).

We chose the traditional route and ordered three different dishes to share at the table. While we were waiting for our food, my wife looked over and saw Maneet at one of the other tables in a bright orange chef’s jacket and caught her eye and nodded.

She made our way over to our table and very graciously answered some questions about the restaurant and how she had ended up in Nashville and even about her recently born child. She was incredibly kind and made us feel like we were the only ones in the restaurant, although I am sure she had a million things to do.

About two minutes later our server showed up with an appetizer and merely said. “Chef wanted you to have this.”

The Gol Gupta Shots were clever little pastry puffs stuffed with potato and spices and served with a mint cilantro water to pour inside and then pop the whole thing in your mouth. Light, refreshing and delightful.

Gol Gupta Shots!

Gol Gupta Shots!

Dinner was lovely, full of flavor, warmth and fun.

The most interesting thing to me was the contrast between the two places. In both, the chef brought us an appetizer on the house, in both the food was quite tasty. In both the wine service had issues.

It was really the attention to detail that stood out at Chauhan. The food was impeccable, the environment was great and while there were some tiny issues, they were dealt with gracefully.

Of course, two minutes of the chef’s time and a brief conversation didn’t hurt anything.

We have been back to Chauhan twice since then…haven’t quite found the time to make it back to Americano.

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