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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Music City Food and Wine Festival 2014: Harvest Night

Finally- Harvest Night. This was the big show for the Music City Food & Wine Festival. All of the star-power chefs prepare dishes, followed by a intimate concert by some of country music's biggest names. I arrived at the gates as soon as they opened and made my way down the line to try some hotly anticipated items.
After seeing Chef Morimoto give a talk on sushi earlier in the day, I went to try his dish first. Chef Morimoto presented his take tuna ceviche. From what my tongue could tell, this was less like a traditional ceviche and more like really good raw fish dusted with some citrus, soy sauce,spice, and cilantro. Whatever this dis actually was- it was delicious. While it might not have been plated the prettiest- the taste made up for it. 
Next was my fellow New Yorker- Andrew Zimmern who's sign simple stated "Dead Baby Cow Sandwich." What we got was a a veal sandwich on a toasted buttered bun, with some special "rocket" sauce on it and some peppery greens. The meat was succulent and the sauce really enhanced the sweetness of the meat. This sandwich was so large, that I could probably have just eaten this, and called it day. But I'm not a wuss when it comes to food- so I pushed on.
Chef Sean Brock's Nashville outpost of Husk is one of my favorite places in town.  I've never met the celebrity chef in person, so I was happy to meet him and find out that he is super nice and very friendly.  Chef Brock gave us a grilled pork rib with peanuts and pickled peaches- I succulent take on the typical southern rib. I was already won over by the whole "meat on a bone" thing- but the combination of the peanuts and peaches added in a nice thai-like element while still remaining wholly southern.
Making my way down the booths I tried Mike Lata's grilled squid salad. The reason why this dish was such a winner was that the quality of the squid was high- and Chef Lata did not over cook it. The squid was tender and as a bonus to me came with a lot of tentacles. This dish had a distinct citrus flavor- and would probably go well on a menu with Morimoto's ceviche. 
For me the dud of the nigh would have to be Chef Michael Symon's zucchini fritter with feta and dill. First of all, it was presented like a lone turd on an empty plate. I think visually this dish would have been better if there was some form of garnish on the plate. The fritter itself was really soggy in the center- making the texture questionable. This was not my thing- so I moved on.
Levon Wallace's BBQ quail leg with Ethiopian berbere spice, watermelon and buttermilk curds was a masterpiece. There was so much going on in this dish that I just keep taking bites trying to figure it out. And even despite the huge lines and fast pace- the plating on this dish was lovely. I guess I'll have to make a trip back to Louisville!

Jonathan Waxman's chicken tacos with spicy cabbage was just that- chicken tacos. I was expecting so much from this master of chicken and all around nice guy- but I wasn't that impressed by this. It kind of reminded me of what I can do at home.

Chef Tim Love's short rib had a really nice heat about it. Couple that spice with a thick fat layer and you are talking my language. This was a huge portion that yet again I forced into my belly just because it was so good. I remember not being a fan of Chef Love's food last year, but this really made me change my mind about his cooking!
Tyler Florence presented fresh corn shrimp and grits with smoked pepitas. It was basically a smoked corn puree with shrimp and a light micro green salad. I really liked this dish and I feel inspired to combine corn and shrimp more often. They really do go together!
Chef Aaron Sanchez offered a more traditional take on seafood ceviche with pickled jalepeno and plantain chips. The flavor of the ceviche was hot and comforting, but the plantain chips were just kind of soggy. Perhaps I hit this booth up too late in the evening.

Harvest Night was an amazing evening. I got to spend it eating great food and drinking good wine under the stars while listening to some pretty damn good music. Is it too early to start counting down for next year's Music City Food and Wine Festival?

*Special thanks to the staff of the Music City Food and Wine Festival for letting me attend a second year in a row. Special thanks to Sarah Abell*


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Music City Food and Wine Festival 2014: Sunday


Last year, Sunday at the Music City Food and Wine festival was a tad bit more subdued than Saturday, and this year was no different. I think this is in part due to the massive amount of alcohol people imbibe during the day Saturday and then later during Harvest Night. There were many more eyes shielded by sunglasses Sunday morning, but apparent hangovers didn't stop the crowd from enjoying another day packed with good food.
My first stop reminded me vaguely of breakfast, which in Nashville means pork. 1080 Grille offered up a bite size corn arepa topped with pickled onion and a spicy chutney. I really liked how the arepa held up underneath the moist pork making this dish officially a finger food. This was a really solid bite to start off the day.
I had planned to eat "breakfast" things, but when I saw what Josephine was serving I had to stop there. I recently had an amazing meal there and I wanted to try their offering. Lucky for me they were serving up one of my favorite meats: Beef tongue. The tongue was topped with pickled tomatoes that, despite the lateness of the season, were still really fresh. The tongue itself was fatty and tender, although cold. The cold tongue worked for this dish, but my preference is for the tongue to be slightly warm.
With my plan thrown by the wayside I stopped back by Moto to see what Chef Andy Hayes was whipping up on day 2. On the menu was sunburst trout crude with orange and fennel. I recently discovered my love of fennel earlier this year and I'm thrilled to see it included in things I wouldn't expect- like a raw fish dish! The trout was very delicate and had a sweet mild taste. The fish was amazing quality and really worked with the bitter fennel and sweet orange.
The folks over at Tavern offered up pork rillettes with a cheese cracker, zucchini and a poached quail egg. At first I wasn't a fan of the creamy pork texture, which was smooth but with little bits of muscle. But the taste of the meat was very good and made me forget my texture issue. The poached egg added a needed binder to the dish, although the yolk of this tiny quail egg was a little too small.
Margot and Marche (the best place for brunch in town) offered up a nice change of pace with a strong vegetarian showing of roasted beet tartare with pickled apples, creme fraiche and a buttermilk saltine. I really liked the format of this dish; the ability to scoop up the beet with the oversized cracker. At first bite I wasn't a fan- it reminded me of borscht. But the dish grew on me. By the end I really enjoyed it. I think the enjoyment was due to the richness of the creme fraiche and how it elevated and sweetened the beets. 
The Farm House was offering up a smaller version of a dish I had at the restaurant, pork belly with a scallion pancake and cracklings. The pork was tender, buttery and full of fat. I really liked this dish at the restaurant and it still held up in this smaller version at the festival.
After giving up on my breakfast plan I finally found a dessert that could pass for breakfast at Sinema. This beautiful dish was cardamom french toast with a red wine poached pear and whipped farmer's cheese. It was phenomenal and sweet in just the right way. The cardamom added a deeper layer to the cake and it really complimented the hearty cheese.
The 404 Kitchen is one of my new favorites but their bite just didn't do it for me. They served cornbread squares with olive oil and pickled cherries with white truffle shavings. I'm usually a fan of all things pickled but I was surprised to learn that I do not liked pickled cherries, not one bit. They were too tart and really overshadowed what I'm sure was a great cornbread and delicate truffle.
The folks from Pinewood Social offered up a bite of a "reuben." This twist on a traditional sandwich was made with tongue on toasted bread. I tried one of these and didn't really get it. I guess I was expecting more. I thought I needed to get another taste of this so I took a break and came back. The second bite was much more satisfying and I could taste where they were going with this. Perhaps my first bite was missing a key ingredient- either way I'm happy I gave this a second chance.
Good God do I love Etch. Chef Deb Paquette's world flavors get me every time and her offering Sunday was no different. She presented a duck meatloaf on white bread with pickled ginger and peach jam. All of Etch's dishes have a ton of ingredients that would appear to be just too much, but they always work out in the end. This dish was really heavy for the hot day, but weather appropriateness aside, this was my favorite bite of the day. The game of the duck mixed with the sweet of the peaches was a winning combination.

The Watermark gave us crab mac n'cheese and it was a total snooze. It was slightly off, like it was missing something. I took one taste and dumped the rest in the bin. Sorry Watermark!
The fine folks at the Silly Goose offered up a watermelon gazpacho with pork belly, avocado, corn and cucumber. You wouldn't think that pork and watermelon soup go together, but this dish was really amazing. The sweet of the watermelon mixed with the fat of the pork and, well, it just worked. This dish tasted like summer and I'm inspired to try my hand at more watermelon inspired dishes next year.

I decided I needed a break from eating, I went to see Chef Amanda Frietag talk about my favorite meal: breakfast. She went over how to properly cook an omelet and poach eggs. The ease of which she poached eggs was incredibly infuriating. She even had a shot of tequila and still wound up poaching eggs perfectly. I'm very inspired to take back up the mantle of poaching, as hard as it might be. I am now armed with a few new tricks!
Feeling brave again, I stopped by Hattie B's for some Hot Chicken. I just love how they presented their chicken with tiny Tennessee flags. I'm not sure what the spice level of this was- but I could have gone for something with a bit more of a kick. Anyway, yum.
The folks from The Sutler (new to me) offered up Brussel Sprout Hash which would work for both breakfast and dinner. There were crispy brussels on top with some fried shallots with mashed potatoes on the bottom. This was a really good bite and I'm interested to try them out for a full meal.
On both days the fine folks from Martin's BBQ and their friends were cooking up whole pig, goat, ribs, quail, brisket and a bunch of veggies. Depending on the time of day you stopped by their booth, you could try a variety of directly-off-the-fire meats. I was beyond impressed with their offerings- especially that they were nice enough to give me a bunch of pig skin and even some of the ear. I really enjoyed the woodsy quality of the quail but the stand out for me was the ribs. THOSE RIBS! They were so tender and even though I was beyond full, I just had to finish it. 
And for my final act of festivities I went to see Chef Andrew Zimmern talk about hot chicken from all over the world. Besides being another nice Jewish kid from New York, he is an amazing public speaker and really has a knack for getting you passionate about cooking. He made a Thai-style hot chicken dish that had peppers so hot that I couldn't breathe when he started cooking them in the pan. I'll definitely be stealing that recipe from his website- just probably toning it down a bit. 

With Saturday and Sunday fully recapped, all we have left is Harvest Night. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Music City Food and Wine Festival 2014: Saturday

I have been eagerly anticipating this year's Music City Food and Wine festival since it ended last year. The first year of the festival was phenomenal, and really set the stage for what was an even more incredible sophomore outing. If you missed this event, please don't miss it next year. Trust me.
The first table we approached was City House, one of my favorite restaurants in town. Chef Tandy Wilson offered up a simple salad of homemade mozzarella and marinated vegetables. For a restaurant that hosts pork nights every Sunday, I was surprised by the lack of meat in this dish. It was a simple dish that was deceptive in its complexity. A light bite to start out the day that paved the way for an inhumane amount of food. 
Next up was a plate of cured meat from the mobile kitchen of the Biscuit Love Truck. I found nothing wrong with this trio of salted meat. I especially liked what they called a "southern communion wafer" that was a bit like a dense, heavy biscuit. 
Otaku South, the owners of Pop Nashville, were serving up some of their famous noodles. Up today was Tantan Mazeman, a thick noodle with a sesame chili sauce, chili oil and a cured egg yolk. This was a really flavorful, borderline spicy dish. The fresh scallions on top made the peanut butter-like taste of the sesame chili sauce really stand out. This was one of my favorites of Saturday.
Dale Levitski, the head chef of Sinema, was serving up something he called duck duck dumpling. 
It was cooked duck on a bistro salad with fresh apples and curried dumplings. This dish was really complicated- there were many ingredients on the plate. But it reminded me of fall and I liked the juxtaposition of the game meat with the light salad. Plus, the fig on top was a nice bonus.
Moto is another one of my favorite places. Chef Andy Hayes is incredibly talented and also super nice. He offered up a plate of his homemade burrata with tomatoes, croutons and balsamic vinegar. Burrata is a beautiful thing, especially the way Chef Andy makes it. You can never go wrong with giving people soft cheese.
I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed the sweet offerings on Saturday. My favorite dish of the day was actually a dessert! (surpassing, because if you watch Top Chef, the contestants are screwed if they make a dessert and aren't actually trained in pastry). Anyway, incredible Chef Trevor Moran of The Catbird Seat offered us potatoes in dirt. In realty, this was a giant cream puff covered in marzipan and dusted with cocoa powder, which was itself nested in cocoa nibs and cake crumbs. This "potato" had me screaming expletives and I may have had more than one (NO SHAME). 
From the East Side folks at the Treehouse, we had a tuna ceviche on a yucca chip. Everything about this dish was so light, that I couldn't really taste much. The tuna was lightly seasoned and the yucca seemed to lack a soul. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't a memorable follow up to a potato in dirt. 
Porter Road Butcher does a lot of things right. Every cut of meat I have gotten from them has been amazing and I love how they cut my marrow bone the long way when I make it at home. I believe this was a pork curry pate. It had a really gentle curry flavor and I loved how the seeds (mustard?) popped in my mouth.
And the other amazing dessert of the day came from Pastry Chef Lisa Donovan of Buttermilk Road and Husk Nashville. It was a butterscotch bourbon pudding with cream on top. Sweet Jesus, this was smooth, rich and just like heaven! There is a reason why I love the desserts at Husk!

The folks from Lockeland Table served up bear creek farms skirt steak with chimichurri sauce and a pickled tomato. I was disappointed that this was seved as a finger food because it was pretty oily and got all over my hands. Besides the lack of a utensils I really liked the flavor. Skirt steak is one of my favorite cuts of meat and serving it with a chimmichurri is pretty classic. It's classic for a reason- it tastes really freakin' good.
Urban Grub provided a trio of meats, also without a fork. Next year- I'm brining my own fork. I couldn't quite tell what meat was in the sandwich or in the sausage- but both were tasty. What I really enjoyed was the salami-type meat with the Brussel sprout and grape salad served on top. 
Merchant's said they were serving shrimp and grits- but I'm not quite sure what I got. It was a crispy something with a wet something on top. There was so much of that shrimp/spice powdered on top that I started sneezing immediately and by the time I got the thing to my mouth it was way too salty for me. 
Festival character and all around party dude Tim Love gave a demonstration on how to burn food. He basically put a bunch of vegetables in a hot pan and let them cook until the sugar turned brown on one side. He did all of this while imbibing ungodly amounts of tequila. I don't know how the man was even standing, but he was able to produce a pretty tasty assortment of food. I think I'll follow his recipe for burning boiled beets and then mixing that with goat cheese.
The folks over at Silo gave us their version of hot chicken- which wasn't terribly hot, but after a day in the hot sun drinking, it definitely burned going down. It really wouldn't be a food festival in Nashville if someone didn't make my intestines cry with hot chicken.
Mason's served up smoked waygu short rib with a shaved brussel salad- at least that is what it said on the sign. While I don't believe I got any brussles, the short rib was very fatty and tender. It was cooked just the right amount with little fuss- really showing off the superiority of the cut of meat.
Arnold's Country Kitchen was the one that did me in. They served a whole lunch portion- not a taste. I was given a giant plate of roast beef on a corn cake with turnip greens. This was so good that I forced myself to eat most of it- which was a good or terrible idea, depending on how you look at it.
Since I couldn't leave without grabbing something from the amazing Peg Leg Porker- I picked up their pulled pork and pork rinds. I wish I had more room because the fat on this was great. I always love Nashville chefs because you can guarantee that you will get more fat than your arteries can take- and when you think you have enough- they throw fried pork skin down your throat.
My final act of the day was seeing Iron Chef Morimoto teach us how to make and eat sushi. Watching this man gut a fish is a thing of beauty. He effortlessly sliced into the fish and with three quick motions had the best piece all sliced up and ready for plating. Morimoto was incredibly charming and even serenaded the crowd!
Oh and this happened. Hello Chef Waxman! Pardon my silly face while I'm clearly so happy to get a photo with you! Stay tuned for more MCFWF- I ate a lot more than this!

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