Restaurant Week

Twice a year, we here in Music City are blessed with a magical week.  We call it “Restaurant Week.”  For seven sweet days, participating local restaurants — “Originals” — offer a special set menu for a discounted price.  For most restaurants, that price is $20.11 (cute, huh?).  For some of the more expensive restaurants, the set menu is $30.11.  Still quite a deal.

Luckily, my friends like to eat as much as I do.  So they made reservations at a number of the restaurants throughout the week and invited everyone to join them.  It is a great opportunity to try a number of restaurants that we normally either couldn’t afford or just might not get around to trying without a special occasion.

Sunday night we visited Jimmy Kelly’s, which has been around since 1934.  It’s in an old Victorian mansion and has the air of a different time- genteel Southern society with white-coated waiters, rich dark rooms, and fine whiskey.  You half expected a Southern gentleman to walk down the front stairs in his smoking jacket with a big cigar.

I failed as a blogger and didn’t bring my camera, so I tried to make do with my phone.  For my appetizer, I chose the bbq prawn, stuffed with basil and wrapped in hickory smoked bacon, served with a Jack Daniel’s bbq sauce.

While I’m not normally a shrimp person, I knew I couldn’t pass that up.  It was fantastic.  Huge, flavorful, and the perfect beginning to a good southern meal.

 My friend Manda and our prawns.  I didn’t ask her if I could post this, but she knew I was going to blog about the night (why else am I taking pictures of my food?) and she used her phone to take this picture when mine wouldn’t focus.  So I think that’s implicit permission!

I didn’t take pictures of the salad (the salad I chose was pretty straightforward) or the steak.   You could choose between a filet mignon, a NY strip, blackened catfish, grilled salmon, or a free-range chicken breast.  I chose the filet mignon, and I was not disappointed.  It was one of the most tender steaks I’ve had in a very long time.

Each course had several options, but I didn’t hesitate with my choices.  For dessert?  Blackberry cobbler.

Delicious!  One of the best parts of restaurant week is the ability to try the various specialties a restaurant has to offer.  I might not necessarily go to Jimmy Kelly’s and eat four courses.  But the set menu makes it easier, both because of the price and the portions.  I’ve found that restaurants during this week tend to give you slightly more reasonable portions.  One prawn instead of a whole plate, a small bowl of cobbler instead of enough to feed a small household.  It makes sense, since they’re giving you a four-course meal for less than the usual price of one of their steaks.   But I love it– you can come away from a four-course meal without feeling stuffed.  (Although that night I did feel more full than I have in a long time!)

The next night’s restaurant was one I had visited before, Caffe Nonna.  It’s close to where I work, so a friend of mine and I had gone one day after work for a glass of wine and stayed for a light dinner.    While I love steak, I also love Italian food, so I was excited to check out more of what Caffe Nonna had to offer.

First of all, I fell in love with the atmosphere.  When I had visited about a year ago, we sat outside on the covered front porch.  And while I liked the front porch, the inside was so intimate and homey — the type of place I could see myself eating every night.  (if my budget and waistline allowed)  It’s a very small restaurant — one room (besides the porch) with maybe ten tables.   But I loved it.   You felt like their attention was really spent on the food, and you felt special being there; an intimate number of diners, and you were among their number.  You felt like you were sitting in someone’s home, just outside their kitchen awaiting a home-cooked meal, and that brought Italy to me just as much as– more than, actually- the food did.  Just as Jimmy Kelly’s atmosphere was so Southern, Caffe Nonna’s was so Italian.  Their food didn’t hit me over the head as Italian (I had chicken, and I can’t remember a time I had chicken in Italy), but the place did.

Caffe Nonna’s set menu was three courses.  I chose the fried calamari for my first course.

(One of the other girls ate the parts that were especially tentacle-y.  I love calamari, but I like my calamari’s origins a little less apparent.)

Everyone else’s first courses looked wonderful, too, but I didn’t get pictures — there was a gazpacho and a grilled vegetable bruschetta.

For my second course, I went against my first instinct and got the pan-seared chicken cutlet with Yukon potato/spicy Italian sausage/spinach hash with a madeira sauce.  I normally would have chosen the pasta, but it looked pretty straight-forward (garlic, olive oil, white wine, herbs) and something I could make at home.  I’m sure it would probably be better than what I could make at home, but I still decided to go for the chicken, which is something I rarely make at home.  (I can’t make chicken without it being boring.)

I know that’s a pretty unappetizing picture.  But let me assure you… it was fantastic.  The chicken was so tender, it fell apart when you looked at it.  The hash was hidden under the chicken like a little treasure, and everything was so flavorful, especially the spinach.  It looked like a giant piece of chicken that I could never finish (especially since I started this meal not even knowing if I was hungry enough for any of it), but it was pounded so thin and was so light and tender, it disappeared before I was ready for it to be gone.

And the grand finale?  Tiramisu!  It was a bit of a gift — tiramisu isn’t my favorite, and since it was up against a citrus ricotta cheesecake or a chocolate bread pudding, it was going to come in last.  (I was especially excited about the chocolate bread pudding after watching Paula and Jamie Deen make double chocolate bread pudding the day before on the Food Network).  However… the waitress told us that the bread pudding that night was actually pecan-rum-raisin and the cheesecake was strawberry ricotta, not citrus.  Since I’m not a fan of raisins and pecans aren’t my favorite, the bread pudding was out.  And there was nothing that jumped out at me about strawberry cheesecake.  So I went with the tiramisu.

Goodness gracious.

It was fantastic.  Far and away the best tiramisu I’ve ever had.  Airy, chocolately, wonderful.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to make the rest of restaurant week, so I was happy to at least go to two of them!  And now I’ll just have to diet (and save my pennies) until January!  Until then — wine and tirimasu happy hour at Caffe Nonna, anyone?


5 thoughts on “Restaurant Week

  1. Amy says:

    Aargh! I forgot I had wanted to join you for restaurant week! When in January is the next one? I wonder if I can swing by…
    Your meal descriptions are making my mouth water. Any thoughts on how to replicate that chicken dish at home? My chicken dishes also tend to be boring.

    • joanallegretti says:

      I don’t know when it is in January — but I’ll let you know when I find out!

      The chicken dish — they definitely pounded the heck out of it, and then had a nice breading. I’m guessing the pounding had something to do with the tenderness? Maybe the two of us need to go over there for dinner and ask to talk to the chef about our chicken woes. : )

  2. Amy says:

    I’m secretly hoping Jan week will correspond with my (hoped for) trip to the Forum. I LOVE the idea of going for dinner & picking the chef’s brain. Maybe, if you’re not totally overwhelmed then, we can slip over there for good eats & good tips.

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