Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Cheese Pizza Debate, Power Outages, and Nashville's City House

The other day, I was sitting out on our patio at work after a shift with a couple of fellow restaurant-folk when I made a comment about people coming in and ordering cheese pizza, of all things - with so many options, so many things you can't just pull out of the freezer and pop in the oven, so many creative, interesting, flavorful dishes. One of the guys  I was talking with (we'll call him Matt 1 - guess why) took the position that he has such a high opinion of cheese pizza that he would never eat ours - cheese pizza is an art form, and he would never dishonor his taste buds with anything less than the best. The third member of our group (Matt 2, who works in the kitchen) said that he goes out because he doesn't have any food at home or doesn't want to cook, and he orders the cheese pizza because it's cheap.

This got me thinking about why we all go out to eat. Matt 1, the purist, is always looking for the ideal, the archetypical cheese pizza. Matt 2 is all about convenience; enough of his time and energy is spent on food already. As for me, I go out to eat because cooking is my hobby, and I like to see what other people are doing in the kitchen.

There's nothing I like better than to be pleasantly surprised by someone else's food (unless, of course, it's to be surprised by my own). I love to be impressed, and that happened recently, when I went to dinner with a good friend at City House in Nashville. I was in the city to take care of some requirements for my student visa, and met up with my friend to have dinner. He suggested that we could go to one of a number of vegetarian-friendly places he knew about, but, he said the best restaurant in Nashville was just a couple of blocks away, if I was willing to risk it. Of course, I jumped at the chance, ease-of-dining be damned. I'm so glad I did.

With a relatively small menu, vegetarians and vegans will not find an abundance of options at City House (though vegetarians should be fairly comfortable), but  the staff is great about answering questions and letting you know what can be modified. I had a spectacular three-bean salad in a basil vinaigrette - doesn't sound that impressive, but I do agree with Matt 1 that the simplest things can be the hardest to do truly well - followed by a corn salad and some of my friend's cole slaw, which was better than any I've had. Ever. I'm not sure if it was vegan, to be honest, because at this point the lights had gone out and I was somewhat distracted.

The South has suffered some violent storms this spring and summer, and there have been lots of power outages and millions of dollars in hail damage in East Tennessee alone. There was a short but intense storm the night I was at City House which knocked out the power, and we had most of our meal by the light of the exit signs. That's okay, though, because I had a Porch Pounder - a specialty of the house featuring Corsair Gin (a local micro-distillery), Rosato Vermouth, lemon, amaretto, and rhubarb bitters.

The facade of City House - unassuming to the extreme
In their food as well as their cocktails, City House focuses on local, sustainable food. Obviously this increases the quality of the food, through sheer freshness if nothing else, but it also is indicative of a particular attitude toward food - one of appreciation and respect, something you can also see evidenced by simple treatments and presentations of produce, game, and more. Nothing turns me off more than a "Terrine of White and Green Asparagus with Truffles and Beet-Horseradish Dressing" with avocado cotton candy for dessert. For real. Both of those recipes can be found in Great Chefs Cook Vegan, though I'm unprepared to admit that these are great chefs. Meanwhile, in one of my favorite omnivorous cookbooks, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, David Tanis presents hundreds of simple dishes with a glowing love and understanding that leads to an almost full-page description of how to select fresh fava beans based on season (down to a matter of weeks) and purpose, and how exactly to peel and prep them based on these things. It's food that makes you fall in love a little bit. 

So I guess what I'm saying is that I think David Tanis and Tandy Wilson, chef at City House, would get along.


1 comment:

  1. I always thought of the "Cheese Pizza" as the cheap option for someone who is picky. I would never order it when I have so many other options! Plus, plain ol' cheese is boring to me. It makes me think of the $5 pizzas at Little Caesars. Yuck.