Don't get me wrong, I love my grits. I am a southern girl through and through, and if the mood (or the hangover) catches me right, I will cook with enough bacon grease and butter to make Paula Deen blush. However, the recent onslaught of newly-opened elevated Southern cuisine establishments and soul food breakfast joints in Nashville has left me a little bit bored.
Enter Etch, the brainchild of highly lauded chef Deb Paquette. Etch has been occupying the cozy and clean-lined restaurant space at the base of the Encore since last year, and should be a must-visit destination for every Nashvillian who just wants to eat a nice meal without having to see anything from Benton's or ONE MORE DAMN SWEET POTATO BISCUIT, OKAY??
We recently visited Etch for the second time on frigid night in January. As we entered, we passed a small, dimly lit bar area that has to be one of the best places in the city to grab a clandestine drink. One could do a lot of effective plotting unnoticed as a parade of doe-eyed couples out for "date night" walks blissfully past into the main dining room. Once inside, the fast paced activity in the open kitchen and the metal trays of still-growing micro greens lining the eat-in bar gave the potentially austere dining room a lived in, comfortable ambience.
Now, let's address the food. Once seated, guests are presented with a menu that can only be described as "eclectic". During this recent visit with my husband, I scanned the menu and was thrilled at at the bevy of biscuit-free options. Charred broccoli with ginger yogurt? YES. Black mole sauce? DOUBLE YES. Lamb tartare with preserved kumquat? OH MY GOD, MY HEAD IS EXPLODING. Just as I was about to crumple under the landslide of excitingly unfamiliar options, I was presented with the wine list. They have just under 25 different by the glass options, thoughtfully organized into "light" and "full" categories that allow you to aim and imbibe with a quickness. I picked my poison and went back to the menu.
We began with the roasted cauliflower, which had a wonderful degree of both char and snap. It was served with a velvety green truffle and pea pesto as well as a delightfully lemony whipped feta. The contrast of both of these options had us arguing over which one was our favorite until we were presented with our entrees. "Fruit and meat. That looks like you," said my husband, as the server set a fragrant and steaming cobia down in front of me. "You know me so well," I replied, and pondered whether he would be embarrassed at how I was about to devour this gorgeous pile of brown buttered oranges, almonds and feta. The cobia was nice and flaky, with a thick rub of what my grandmother used to call "warming spices". I know I could taste cumin and maybe some cinnamon, but whatever mystery combination the chef had decided upon was glorious and faintly Christmas-y. The olives and feta delivered the perfect salty contrast to the richness of the brown butter sauce and subtle sweetness of the beignet. I made it about halfway through before the seams on my dress began digging into my ribs, signaling me to call it quits.
We left warm and satisfied, pleasantly full of food, wine, and great conversation. As we handed our ticket to the valet, it occurred to me how glad I was to live in a city where it's now nearly impossible to get an 8pm dinner reservation at a place like this. This city is growing and changing weekly, and Nashvillians are clearly hungry for more. There are a lot of us that are ready to adapt to and embrace the evolving landscape of Davidson County and that especially includes the culinary scene. So trailblazers, it's official: BRING IT ON. WE'RE READY. WE'RE WAITING. We will always love our grits, but even more, we will love those who have the "grit" to cook us up something new.