Monday, July 28, 2014

My dinner with Maneet Chauhan!

I don't get "star struck" very easily unless it comes to celebrity chefs. My first celebrity chef encounter was with Anthony Bourdain & Eric Ripert in February 2012 in Louisville, KY. My heart skipped several beats that evening - an evening made possible by my friend Marirae Mathis of Who Cooks For You? 

On July 28th, I had the pleasure to be in the company of Maneet Chauhan. You probably know Maneet as one of the celebrity chefs from the Food Network show "Chopped". I didn't actually have dinner with her, but rather she cooked dinner for me and a small group of Nashvillians as she prepares for the opening of her new Nashville restaurant, Chauhan Ale & Masala House in late August. POP Nashville hosted Maneet on this evening. Maneet promised I would get the chance to meet Vivek Surti, a Nashville chef, food critic (he wears many titles) who helped in the back of the kitchen, but it was a school night and I needed to get home. I still hope to meet him someday...

Before I delve into the details, let me just say... Maneet stopped by our table three times during the evening, posing for pictures with me and even signing my menu as I apologized for being "such a groupie". She is beautiful and gracious. 


Duo of charred peach 
and heirloom tomato
gazpacho + salad
First up the pani puri: I would have been completely lost on this dish except for the fact that I brought my friend Vivek, who is Indian, and educated me on the fact that this is Indian "street food" and how to eat it. It is an open puff pastry filled with potato and chick pea served with a cup of layered sauce - cilantro chutney, tamarind sauce & mint water. Pour the sauce into the open pastry and devour in one bite. Yes, it is a little messy. That is why it is "street food". I wanted another... but only one was served, kind of an amuse-bouche.

First Course: Curried scallops, perfectly seared - melt in your mouth. I couldn't taste the habanero. But that was ok. Again, I still wanted another, or two or three more!

Second Course: This was one of my favorites. The salad was made of charred peach and heirloom tomatoes with a dressing of cucumber raita with roasted cumin. The gazpacho caught me off-guard - delicious, fresh, and tangy. I want the recipe! Maneet, help girl out here! 


Kashmiri lamb shank
Third Course: The lamb shank... definitely my favorite dish of the evening served along side basmati rice and daal makhani. The servers brought out knives and just as I was cutting into mine, Austin, the owner of Anthem and co-owner of Chauhan Ale & Masala House, walked up. I asked him why they brought me a knife because the lamb succumbed to my fork so easily. He just smiled, shook his head and walked away. I have never devoured a lamb shank until now. 

Gajar halwa whoopee pie
Dessert Course: Do I even need to tell you it was the best "whoopie pie" ever? Indian carrot pudding nestled between two saffron cardamom cakes. And the whipped cream, also infused with saffron was "to die for". I could have eaten a bowl it.


Overall: The best $75 I ever spent on a meal (no drinks). Would I do it again? Definitely!

I can't wait until Maneet opens her restaurant, if the food is even half this good, I will be there in a heartbeat... 



MENU
PASSED

pani puri (v)

flavor explosion: semolina puffs | stuffed with potato | black garbanzo beans  
cilantro | spices tamarind chutney | tangy mint water


1ST COURSE

curried scallops pau bhaji

pickled onion habanero relish


2ND COURSE

duo of charred peach and heirloom tomato 
gazpacho + saladcharred peach | ginger | freshly roasted cumin | cilantro | jalapeno

3RD COURSE
kashmiri lamb shank
yogurt | cinnamon | cardamom | cashew | star anise | tellicherry pepper
ripped cilantro leaves | nuts | raisins

SIDES/ACCOMPANIMENTS
jeweled basmati | saffron | pomegranate seeds | pistachio  | currants
daal makhani
grape raita | curry leaves | coconut

DESSERT
gajar halwa whoopee pie
indian carrot pudding sandwiched in a saffron cardamom cake






Sunday, July 20, 2014

Girls' Day Out: Table 3 Restaurant & Market

I have been to Table 3 Restaurant and Market many times over the years for both brunch and dinner. I have had hit and miss experiences here, but I continue to go back. I do love their Sunday brunch menu

On my most recent visit, I visited Table 3 with two of my best friends for a "Girls' Day Out". I ordered the "Croque Madame", my usual go-to dish at most French restaurants in the United States, because I have yet to find a French restaurant that serves a Boeuf Bourguignon that lives up to my expectations. 
Croque Madame: Ham, Swiss,
Béchamel, Sunny Side Up Egg
with Baby Greens


I first had Boeuf Bourguignon in the Bourgogne region of France when I was 14 years old, in a little cafe on the way from Lucerne, Switzerland to Paris. No single meal has ever lived up to that experience. Almost thirty years later, I have never forgotten that dish - the melt in your mouth beef with the perfect hint of burgundy. I have yet to experience it again, even returning to France in search of that dish. 


But if you can serve me a consistently great Croque Madame, I will come back - and Table 3 does that very well. I recently ate at another French restaurant for brunch and was served a "Croque Madame" without an egg. I was very disappointed and will never return. If you serve me a "Croque Madame" without the egg it becomes a "Croque Monsieur". I hate false advertising! Yes, I should have sent it back, but I was in no mood for a war of words with the "classically" trained French chef. 

At Table 3, my friends ordered the "Omelette au Fromage" and the "Oeufs sur la Plat" (literally
Omelette au Fromage with Baby Greens
"Eggs on a plate"). 
I had the Oeufs sur la Plat here a year ago and disliked it very much. I did not send it back since it was my first time trying it in a French restaurant. I had no idea what it was supposed taste or look like. The chef was heavy handed on the cream, so much so that I thought I was eating a soup and the duck too salty. The leftovers (which I never had any intention of eating) were banished to the garbage. I took them home hoping I could recreate them into something edible, but my creative side failed me.


As my friend was ordering this, I almost stopped her. I am so happy that I didn't. As soon as it was delivered to the table, I realized it looked nothing like what I had order just a year ago. She let me taste and it was amazing - the duck confit with just the right amount of salty and the perfectly cooked eggs. I'm sure any French chef would have been proud of this dish. I will be ordering this on my next trip. And yes, there will be another brunch at Table 3.


Oeufs sur la Plat: Eggs baked with
Duck Confit, 
Creamed Spinach, Roasted
Tomatoes, 
Herb Crème Fraiche

And you must check out the market next door. Table 3 usually offers about 4-6 dessert options on their restaurant menu, all of which sound delicious - creme brulee, house made sorbets and ice cream. But walk next door to their market and you will experience tons of pastries not on their menu - tarts and cakes. Get them to go and savor later at home or in the market along with a cappuccino or latte.






Table 3 Restaurant & Market
Address: 3821 Green Hills Village Dr, Nashville, TN 37215
Phone:(615) 739-6900Prices:
Reservations: opentable.com
$$$$


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ethiopian Cuisine

Ethiopian Cuisine was probably the catalyst that encouraged me start my Meetup group "What the Pho!" six years ago. I couldn't find anyone who would go out with me to eat it – not friends nor coworkers... unless I bribed them by offering to pay for their meal. So I ate alone holding a book. Do you have any idea how hard it is to eat Ethiopian food while reading a book? Six years later, “What the Pho!” has over a thousand Meetup members. I never knew there were so many people eager to try new cuisines and who loved getting their hands "dirty" while they eat.

“Mesob Veggie & Meat Combo”
Chef’s selection of vegetables and meat 
samplers $14.99
 Since the first time I tried Ethiopian food at the age of 17 (20++ years ago, shhh - a lady never tells her age) in Washington DC, I fell in LOVE. I can only try to explain it by saying, it's a happy marriage of my mother's Southern/"soul food" cooking mixed with Indian spices. Little did I know then that it would be almost another 17 years before I would eat it again. 

African nations are still emerging and pulling themselves out of poverty. But their cuisines should never be overlooked. Their foods reflect a combination of native cuisines mixed with the cuisines of countries who have occupied them over time (France, Italy, Spain and Portugal to name a few), creating something new, unusual and amazing.

On my most recent visit to Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant, I took a plunge from my usual meat or veggie combo (which I would highly recommend to anyone new to the cuisine). I ordered the Ethiopian spaghetti and it was delicious... I finished every last bite. And anyone who knows me knows, I always take home leftovers or leave a dish unfinished (if it's not suited to leftovers). I'm addicted now... and yes, they served it with toasted Italian bread and gave me a fork to eat it with.

"Vegetarian Entree Sampler"Chef’s selection of 
freshly prepared vegetable dishes
4 Types $8.99 || 7 types for one $10.99 || 
7 types for two $18.99
Yes, there is "Ethiopian spaghetti". Although Ethiopia has never been ruled by a foreign power, it was briefly occupied by the Italians in 1936. During the brief occupation, Ethiopians adopted spaghetti and made it their own with the berbere commonly used in Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking. Then there's the "Ethiopian fajitas" (as I like to call them) but more appropriately on the menu known as "Mesob tibs". I have yet to try them but have seen them come out sizzling on the skillet. We finally asked what they were on our last trip.
“Lega-Tibs”
Your choice of lamb or beef cubes 
sautéed in 
herbed butter with onions, green pepper, 
tomato, and rosemary
Beef $10.00 | Lamb $11.00
(photo courtesy of Pamela Hundley)

There are a few amazing Ethiopian restaurants in Nashville, including Gojo Ethiopian Café and Goha Ethiopian Restaurant. I am well acquainted with the owners and love that they treat me like family. The above are my favorites.

Rules for eating Ethiopian food:
1. Wash your hands.
2. Injera is the staple bread and is used as your utensil. It is a flat, spongy, slightly sour bread (think giant crepe, made from teff flour and gluten free). Use small pieces to scoop up your food and enjoy. NOTE: Injera is also common to Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan and Yemen. My neighbors are Yemeni and call it “lahoh”.
3. You can ask for a fork, but it’s not as much fun.
4. You can order individual dishes or multiple people can join together and share sampler platters (my suggestion), that's the concept of Ethiopian food "sharing" - thus, wash your hands. Share your food and enjoy!
5. Wash your hands again (see a pattern here). They will smell like wonderful spices for days.

“Those who eat from the same plate will never betray each other.”
- Ethiopian Proverb

Friday, March 14, 2014

Steamboat Bill's Louisiana Seafood

Even Nashville's finest know where to find the best 
crawfish in town!
Most people look forward to football, baseball or even basketball season. My favorite season of the year is “crawfish season” which usually runs from late January to mid June.

Steamboat Bill's Louisiana Seafood
takes the utmost pride in the quality of their crawfish. They’ve left me hanging a couple times this season – refusing to bring molting crawfish to Nashville because they would die on the trip from Louisiana. I respect that!  Yes, they make weekly trips to Louisiana to stock up on fresh seafood and other Louisiana specialties like boudin, alligator sausage, blue crab and shrimp. The harsh 2014 winter in the South has stretched the beginning of “crawfish season” from late January until mid-March this year. Apparently, crawfish hate winter as much as I do.

I’ve had some seriously bad experiences with crawfish in the ten plus years since I first tried it, enough to turn the average person off.  But I never gave up on the crawfish! Admittedly, I am a relative “newbie” to crawfish.  I have no idea how I missed out on this delicious creature in my 44 years, but then again I have yet to visit New Orleans.
You can watch them sort the fresh, live 
crawfish prior to boiling time.

Crawfish are also called crayfish, crawdads, freshwater lobsters, or mudbugs and are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related.

Last summer, I discovered and frequented Steamboat Bill's Louisiana Seafood almost every weekend during crawfish season. I have stayed and watched them sort through the live crawfish prior to the “boil”. I was utterly devastated at the end of the season. The last time I had crawfish prior to now was the 4th of July weekend. That same weekend, my friend purchased a dozen, live blue crab to boil at my house. It was our first attempt. That was a disaster waiting to happen! Did you know that blue crab can get quite ornery sitting inside a Styrofoam cooler awaiting their demise?

I took “home” ten lbs of Louisiana style crawfish last summer for my nephew who grew up in Baton Rouge and now lives in Cookeville, TN.  He had been in dire straits to get some Louisiana style crawfish for over five years since his last visit to his home state. His response: “Damn! Now this is how it’s supposed to be done!” I beamed with excitement.

The end result!
How to eat crawfish: This is a messy business, so prepare to get dirty, and don’t rub your eyes after until you’ve washed your hands about a dozen times. Sadly, I know from experience.

Freshly boiled are the best - NEVER frozen or off some Chinese buffet. I can still eat them cold a day or two later, but they’re never as good as fresh from the boil. It’s as easy as eating shrimp. Grab the body with two hands and twist off the tail. You might need to peel away a bit of the shell to extract the meat. Pinch the base of the tail to disconnect the meat. Now pull! If you do it right, the vein (aka “digestive tract”) will come out when the shell is pulled away (that similar vein runs through shrimp). I’ve gotten pretty good at this part over the years.

For most the tail meat is the most prized part, for me it’s the head. True crawfish fans choose to suck out the juices from the head which contain a fair amount of seasoning from the boil. Some people stop there. I actually pull the head open in search of the mustard yellow stuff known as “crawfish butter”. No, it is not the waste of the crawfish as many have suggested. It is crawfish fat and, and in my opinion, the absolute best part of the crawfish.  Personally, I would prefer to throw away the tails and just eat the heads – the reverse is true of most people. Watching me eat crawfish can be a pretty barbaric experience – so tread cautiously if you choose to eat with me.

Steamboat Bill's has moved their East Nashville “food truck” location this year (about a mile from the old location and across the street). I had to be part of the first boil of the “season”.  I showed up on opening day (after work rushing from Franklin). My original order was for 3 pounds of crawfish but as it was being filled, I had “reverse buyer’s remorse” – or was feeling greedy – and order 2 more pounds.

It is best to check their Facebook page for actual hours and items available at the Food Truck. If you are experienced and wish to boil your own crawfish, you can also order them live, but there is a cutoff time is mid-week for live orders, so plan ahead.

Locations:
311 Gallatin Ave, Nashville, TN
Phone:
(615) 243-7482 Bill + Moni(615) 499-6865 Mark
Hours:
Friday & Saturday: 10am - 7pm
Sunday: 10am - 6pm 
Boiled crawfish starting at 11am or until SOLD OUT! And they DO sell out!

Coming soon:
840 NW Broad St, Murfreesboro, TN
Phone: (615) 499-6865 Mark
Hours TBD

On Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Steamboat-Bills/117121998315979?hc_location=timeline

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Our Kids Soup Sunday at LP Field!

It was an awesome day!  I met up with three friends at "Our Kids Soup Sunday" at LP Field Club level. I have been going to this event for about four years now (mark your calendars for every February), but this was actually their 20th year hosting this event. I received an email from one of the Board of Directors and she sent me a free “media pass” for me and my friend, Vivek. Therefore, I feel an obligation to blog about my experience in hopes that it will encourage you to contribute to the cause or attend future events.

Our Kids Center is a Nashville-based charity who’s mission is to: provide expert medical evaluations and crisis counseling services in response to concerns of child sexual abuse, and to increase community awareness, conduct research and offer education and training about child maltreatment.
They have locations in 5 cities throughout Tennessee to help children & families coping with the ramifications of childhood sexual abuse.

The cost of the annual event is $20 for singles and $40 for the family pack (two adults plus kids). If you wait to purchase your tickets at the door, the price increases by $5 for each ticket type. Every year celebrity judges and culinary judges rate the soups. Celebrity judges have included actors from the show “Nashville” as well as sports celebrities including the Tennessee Titans and the newest Vanderbilt coach. Culinary judges include food critics and well known Nashville chefs.

Fifty plus (50+) locally owned Nashville area restaurants & catering companies provide samplings (about 1 oz each) of their best soups for you to try – although they will gladly have you take more than one. This is an all you can eat event – so I challenge you to get through 50+ ounces of soup and go back for 2nds (that’s 6.25 cups of soup). Bread is also provided at each table along with free sodas and water (stations located throughout the event).

Our Kids provides you with a small tray that will hold about 12 samples. If you’re good at balancing, maybe more, me not so much, I almost had a couple disasters on my hands. If you purchase the “Family Pack” you get a larger cafeteria tray. With the small tray, I made a total of four trips. I missed out on a few since they were sold out before I got there. By the end, I was taking only a sip or two of each.

We tasted some very creative soups and one that I really wanted to spit out (surprisingly it was created by a very high end, reputable restaurant) - no names mentioned other than it contained beer & cheese. I’m not averse to beer-cheese soups but a couple friends agreed with me on this. Sometimes you have to wonder if they follow the chef's code of "taste, taste, taste your food before you serve it". 


Soups: The Girl Scouts served up a "Chocolate Mint Bisque" (basically a Thin Mint cookie soup). How do you say no to a little Girl Scout who asks you to try her soup? Actually, the soup was made by Lorraine's at the Marriott in Franklin. Shockingly it was actually very good. Vivek mentioned as we stood in line that he hated chocolate and mint together, but admitted after trying that it was “actually pretty good”. Not so much a soup as a dessert. Vandy Campus Dining won the People's Choice first place with their "Princess Peach Shortcake Soup" - again VERY good but more like a smoothie (very refreshing and a palate cleanser). 

My personal savory favorite was Taqueria del Sol's "Shrimp Corn Chowder" which won first place from the celebrity and culinary judges. It is on their menu at their 12 South location. They were closely followed as my favorite by Corner Market Catering with their "Curried Yellow Squash Soup". 

Antionio’s of Nashville won second place “creative dish” from the judges as well as third place in the “People’s choice” with their “Shrimp & Cognac Bisque”. This was also a favorite of mine.

I wish I could mention every soup individually but it would take me more space than I am allowed. My favorites are listed above. If you attended the event, please post your comments regarding your favorite soup.


The highlight of the day is my friend, Vivek, gave me a Canon PowerShot S5 IS as an early birthday present. Sorry I don't have any pics to share yet. I need to download the software and get a matching USB cable to sync them up - hopefully I will get that this week. Once I figure it out, I will have no excuse not to create some amazing pictures of the foods we eat around Nashville. 

Our Kids Center
1804 Hayes Street
Nashville, TN 37203
Hours: Monday – Friday; 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hai Woon Dai Korean Restaurant

This is the food I grew up eating as a kid, from the age of 6 YO until college. The "perks" when your childhood best friend is Korean. I spent 3-4 nights a week in the kitchen of my surrogate mom, Ok Cha Kim. When she would hand me food and I asked what it was she would say “just eat” and I did. I never questioned Momma Kim because I knew I could be kicked out of her kitchen at any given time. She was the Korean “Gordon Ramsey”.

Thanks to Momma Kim, I knew what sushi was by the time I was 8 years old, chewed on dried octopus, ate raw stingray and became a kimchi aficionado. Her cucumber kimchi was so amazing that I attempted it for years without success. She taught me how to eat with chopsticks and even gave me my first official pair of chopsticks (not the wooden pull apart kind) and I practiced on cheap ramen noodles.

I have been eating at Hai Woon Dai (pronounced “Hay Woon Day”) for about 7-8 years, before I even conceived of my Meetup group, What the Pho!

The food is above reproach, the service fast and exceptional. THE BEST KOREAN in Nashville! I will stake my reputation on that. Assuming “Jean” is working when you visit, mention my name. You won’t get any freebies but I’m sure she will give you extra TLC.

Banchan: First there’s the banchan, small plates of condiments which include kimchi, cucumber kimchi, fish cake, seaweed salad, etc, etc. These are free and are replenished when you run out.
Banchan (photo courtesy of Sun Tzu
Photos, 
James Quach)

Appetizers: I would highly recommend the “gyoza” which is vegetarian. I had never ordered until recently because I expected them to be like Japanese gyoza which I can take or leave. A Persian friend ordered them a few weeks ago and shared, I fell in love. Had the menu said “Yaki Mandu” I would have known what I was ordering. It’s like a little “empanda”. This is a staple on my visits now. 
Dolsot Bibimbap (photo courtesy of Sun Tzu
Photos, 
James Quach)



The “Seafood Pancake”, I’m not a fan of squid (for dietary reasons) but this one is outrageously popular. It is HUGE and should be shared with about 8 people, unless you plan to make it your primary meal.

Entrées: The (BBQ) chicken bulgogi is some of the most tender chicken I've ever tasted. I also love the beef bulgogi which is thinly sliced and tender. I haven’t tried the pork version which my friend Pam swears by.

And bibimbap, this is a staple, it includes rice, beef, veggies and a fried egg. Order the dolsot bibimbap for the hot stone pot experience. Think of it as fried rice to the n'th degree.This brings back memories.

I am also a fan of the Japchae (sweet potato noodles stir fried in sesame oil with vegetables and beef), ask them to cut the noodles or you might be in for the fight of your life.
Japchae (photo courtesy of Sun Tzu
Photos, 
James Quach)


One of my go to favorites is their “jjigae” which are their soups delivered at a rolling boil in a hot pot. They have several variations with seafood, meat and tofu. They are presented with a raw egg. As soon as the soup arrives, crack the egg and stir. Jjigae is one of my comfort foods when I’m sad or happy. Momma Kim never made me jjigae. But I ate a lot of bulgogi growing up and it was amazing.


Desserts: None offered. But you will be stuffed before you can finish all of the above. I don’t remember ever having desserts in Kim’s house.

Hai Woon Dai
Address: 2051 Antioch Pike, Nashville, TN 37013
Phone:(615) 333-9186
Hours: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm (closed Monday)

Moke ga
먹자 (Let’s eat!)


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Epice: Lebanese Bistro!

Tabouleh: parsley • mint • tomatoes • bulgur wheat
The girls and I had an amazing dinner tonight at the new Lebanese Bistro on 12 South in Nashville, appropriately named Epice (French for "Spice") just a couple weeks after their opening. All I can say Maher Fawaz is "Well done sir, well done". Maher (the owner) stopped at our table a couple times to see how everything was. The host followed us out after dinner to ask "Who is Rose?” Yes, I'm the one who called you three times to change the # of attendees. We chatted for a bit and he thanked us for coming. 

I can honestly say in my 20 years in Nashville and out of the 100's (or rather 1000's) of restaurants I have tried in Nashville, around the country and world-wide - this is one of my favorites by far. Normally, I cringe at the idea of $40-$50 for a meal (no drinks included). But Epice was worth every penny I spent, and then some. Not a single regret - except I wish I could have eaten more.

Our server was very knowledgeable and beautiful - the spitting image of Zooey Deschanel. The appetizers came quickly. We ordered the Tabouleh, Al-Raheb (roasted eggplant purée), Fatayer (a trio of stuffed pies) and Sfeeha (flat bread with cured beef & cheese). 

Sfouf: Lebanese yellow cake • seasonal fruit salad •
orange blossom syrup
 
Now for entrees: Jie & I ordered the Sayadeya (cumin dusted barramundi with caramelized onions) - this was absolutely AMAZING. The fish was so tender you could hardly get it on a fork. Jie completely cleaned her plate and took a picture to prove it. Hope & Jennifer ordered the Tawook (marinated chicken brochette). Mary had the Epice Salad with the marinated chicken. Donna ordered the Batinjan (roasted eggplant with ground sirloin) and Cynthia had the Beyrouti (chickpea purée with ground sirloin and pine nuts). 

For dessert: The seven of us split the Pots de crème, Katayef (Lebanese crepes) and Sfouf (Lebanese yellow cake). The desserts were perfect, not overly sweet. I loved the fresh fruit served with each dessert - and oh, the fig. Loved the fig! 

Katayef: Lebanese crepe • sweet cheese • walnuts •
orange blossom infusion



Definitely an amazing dinner! Oh yea, I'll be back and I see it being VERY soon! 

General Info: 
Epice
2902 12th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 
615-720-6765