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Nashville: Zola and Basante's

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At the end of July I traveled to Nashville for the weekend. This was a trip actually put together because Southwest was running a cheap fare from New Orleans to Nashville. Then we got a splendid rate at the Hermitage Hotel. Anyway this was our first trip to Nashville and went to this site and asked for some tips. Just wanted to report back.

First off the Hermitage was fantastic, much better than we expected, especially for our under $100 room. We actually got two rooms, a suite of sorts. First class service from doormen to valet to concierge. Great hotel. Will recommend it to everyone I know going to Nashville.

We arrived at 9:30 AM in Nashville and after walking about downtown along the river decided to grab a quick and light lunch. We asked a few people downtown where we could go to experience a typical local's lunch for an office worker and quite a few said Monell's, which was also recommended by people on this board.

We were seated at a table with an interesting mix. A middle aged guy, a local, with a great accent, who told us all about Nashville. A pair of women, both from New York, but who now lived in Nashville, who trashed Nashville. Then five or six tourists who were doing the same thing as us. A good conversation. The food was all incredibly heavy but delicious. Fried chicken, pork, potato dishes, greens, etc. A lunch there must ring in at 50 grams of fat, and 2500 calories. Cheap too. If you were on a tight budget and could only eat once a day this is the kind of place I'd visit. Great cornbread too. I still can't get over the sweet tea deal. Is that a Southern thing?

For dinner that night we called the concierge for a recommendation, and she directed us to Basante's, an Italian restaurant near Vanderbilt. Driving up it looked like it was in a motel, so we weren't all that sure, but once inside and saw a look at the menu, we knew we were in for a solid meal. In fact it ended up being our best meal. The service was first rate with an engaging and interesting waitress. The pasta choices were inviting, and I ended up getting one with seafood. Quite good. The salad was also memorable with a great selection of greens and cheeses. The chef was making the rounds and everyone seemed to know one another. This was on a Friday night, and the restaurant was packed. A good buzz in the air. The bread was the only weak link. The bill was a great value. Basante's would be highly recommended.

Our next dinner was at Zola's, which brought much anticipation but just didn't deliver. I ordered a pork tenderloin dish, which just didn't work with the way everything was put together. The chef seems to favor fresh fruit with many of the dishes, and it is just odd to eat meat with one bite and berries in the next. At least to my tastes. No sauces either, at least not any classic sauces. Nuts and fruit were used instead. The dining room is strange too, especially where we sat, almost in a cove. Our waiter though was quite good and talked food with us non-stop. The salad I got, a Summer salad, was the best part of the meal, and seemed to be where Chef Paquette's talents can be found. Gorgeous salad with unusual and rare tomatoes. It just fit the personality of the place better. Still I can see this restaurant being very popular with the Vanderbilt set. It looks to be on the cutting edge, but I just don't know of what. Nice wine list too. Would recommend, but only with someone who saw the menu first. I think they have to know what they are getting.

We did do a Sunday brunch at the hotel's restaurant, whose names escape's me. Not impressive. Quite stuffy. The waiter needed to relax some. Everything seemed measured.

The concierges at the hotel, two women, were both a great help, and if you ever do stay at the Hermitage, I would recommend getting in touch with this desk.

My biggest test to see if a city is a restaurant town is to ask people about chef's. In New Orleans you could ask the counter help at a a coffee shop for restaurant help and they'd be off telling you not only the names of places but telling you who their chef was and what other restaurants that chef had been before. Everyone here knows chefs. In Nashville I could not do that. I asked many people to talk about chefs and found nobody except other chefs (and the concierges) who could name more than a single chef. It takes a long time to develop a restaurant culture. To do so it isn't so much that Nashville has to have more restaurants but has to have a core group of thousands of people who will eat out for dinner at least three times a week. Especially young people. With the money and the numbers of people it has, smart people, it is well on its way.

Overall a wonderful trip. Splendid bookstores, Elders is as good a history shop as you'll find, and a well restored downtown. Clean too. I wish New Orleans were this clean. Also, what looks like a first class bus system. Thanks for having me, Nashville.

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    Catherine Mayhew

    Glad you had a good time. Basante's is the locals secret, so good you found it. I think in time it will move to its own building instead of the Motel 8 it's in now! Sweet tea is a Southern thing.

    Nashville's restaurant culture is developing. Like many Southern cities, Nashville did not have liquor-by-the-drink for a long time and that stunted restaurant growth. We're catching up.

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      Chuck Kirkpatrick

      Mark, thanks for the posts. It's good to generate a bit is discussion about Nashville. If you had told us you are a bibliophile, we could have given you some recs there too. Dad's Bookstore is a favorite.
      Glad you enjoyed the trip.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Chuck Kirkpatrick

        While we are on the subject of Nashville, could someone please tell me where I can find good ethnic food around here? Especially Arabic food (a friend of mine here just moved from Egypt and she'd love it). I just moved from the infamous Roosevelt Blvd. in Queens, NY, and I'm going nuts. The burgers at Browns have been keeping me going thus far, but maybe it's time for a change. Thanks for any help....

        1. re: Dan

          I don't know of any Arabic restaurants. Other ethnic: Sitar (Indian) off West End is good, Royal Thai in Nashville and Brentwood is good, there is an Ethiopian restaurant off Thompson's Lane I haven't tried yet, and for authentic Mexican La Hacienda on Nolensville Road. Also a Korean restaurant, Ararang, on West End (I like it but I'm no expert on Korean food).

          1. re: Dan
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            Harry Stuber

            An hour east on I-40, in Cookeville, TN, you could try "World Foods" on N. Cedar Ave. a few steps from the RR Depo. Al & Sharon DeFosche, the owners (SyrianItalian), have a great little deli/lunch spot with homemade hummas, baklava, dolmas, and hand-crafted pizzas made only by Al, no helpers allowed. He is closed on Mondays, when he makes the week's sausages. Worth a visit some fall afternoon.

            1. re: Dan

              Chuck, there's the Mediterranean Cuisine (across from Vandy on 21st), which has grape leaves, hummus, baba ganouj, Gyros- standard Middle Eastern fare. Ethiopian-Addis Ababa 415 Thompson Lane- will satisfy one's Ethiopian craving although not as good as what is found in Philly or DC. That said, Addis Ababa is a true Nashville chowhound experience, it's a cider block building, with a bar and tables and off to one side is an area with chairs and Mesobs-traditional 'basket tables'. As for Korean, I found Ararang overpriced for average food- Korenana in Madison (Gallatin Rd) is far superior. Vietnamese-Kien Giang on Charlotte Avenue, just past White Bridge Road in a shopping center-look for a large sign for Storage lockers and drive up the hill-great spring rolls and pho. Enjoy!