A Gulch Giveaway

It’s no secret the Gulch is growing. From Adele’s to 404 Kitchen, the dining options read like roll call at the James Beard Foundation. But what’s also happening quietly is the longstanding restaurants, faced with increased competition, are being forced to put up or shutter up, as was the unfortunate case when Rumours unexpectedly closed its doors this fall. Five Dishes recently visited Cantina Laredo and Watermark, two of the Gulch’s veteran restaurants to hear – and taste – what they are doing to spice things up. Literally.

Watermark Blogger’s Dinner

Veteran Watermark Chef Joe Shaw created a wonderful tasting menu for the night that included five courses, each as unique as the next featuring everything from shrimp to quail and venison. I loved the varying course options and how fresh each dish tasted: whether it was the meat, the seafood or the veggies, you could tell each ingredient was as fresh as if you’d have raised it yourself.

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Our first course was a panéed Gulf shrimp with spoon bread and apricot persimmon butter. This was very reminiscent of shrimp and grits with just the right touch of sweet from the apricot butter.

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Our next course of pan roasted Apalachicola flounder with lump crab cake, red beet puree and fingerling potatoes was a very light dish and was served with a buttery Chardonnay.

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The third course – wood grilled quail with sweet potatoes and a Cumberland currant sauce felt like we were being served a mini version of a Thanksgiving meal. The quail – raised in Manchester Tennessee – had a smoky taste that paired perfectly with the sweetness of both the currant sauce and potatoes. A light and fruity Pinot Noir was a nice complement to this festive dish.

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Next up was the course I was most curious about: seared Cervina venison with escarole, potato bacon cake and blackberry Syrah demi-glace. I was shocked to have loved this dish so much I’d call it my favorite of the night. I’ve eaten quite a bit of venison cooked numerous ways, but never anything like this. The tenderloin cut was cooked to medium and served thinly sliced. The part I was most nervous was how gamey this cut might be, but I had no need to worry with this mild taste served alongside the potato bacon cake and blackberry wine sauce. I would have asked for seconds, but by this fourth course I was beginning to get quite full!

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What we thought was our last course of Bonnie Blue Farms goat cheesecake with plum and date purée turned into an appetizer for the three other desserts they came out with.

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The pastry chef then presented us with three more desserts shown here. First, a dark chocolate tart with pecan brittle and Earl Grey caramel ice cream. The next was a pumpkin pie with ginger snap, lemon curd and curry ice cream. And finally a Banana’s Foster. They were each equally amazing – leaving no way to pick a favorite from this trio.

Cantina Loredo Blogger’s Dinner

Try the pumpkin soup: four words I never thought I would say referencing a mexican restaurant.  But if Cantina Laredo in the Gulch has their way, Nashvillians will start to consider them as more than another mexican restaurant. In fact General Manager Matt Langston expressed his desire to be seen as a part of the community. Of course that’s much easier said than done, but knowing how quickly restaurants come and go in this town, it’s a good attitude to have, especially in a fluid community like the Gulch.

It’s worth mentioning that our table’s top picks for the night aren’t currently on the menu at Cantina Laredo, though they would be standouts there or on several other menus in the Gulch, which is a compliment to Chef Roy Batista. But they are, however, known to make appearances at Cantina Laredo’s tequila dinners, which are quarterly, four-course gatherings where you can learn all about various brands of tequila while enjoying special food pairings for the occasion. At $49.99, this would be a fun night out with the tequila lover in your life. 

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Back to that pumpkin soup though: the majority of us agreed it was our favorite course of the night. The veggie stock base added a ton of flavor to the pumpkin puree, and the cranberry apple pico and spicy pumpkin seeds were the perfect “croutons” to this exquisite soup.

 Our other favorite course was a bacon-wrapped jalapeño stuffed with shrimp, melted cheese and drizzled with a really outstanding caper aioli. Chef Roy Batista certainly knows his way around a saucepan: everything from the aioli to the chimichurri we tasted later was delicious.

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Chilean sea bass, hanger steak (both on the current menu) and a delicious dulce de leche cheesecake rounded out the evening, each course accompanied by colorful cocktail pairings. Based on what we heard and tasted, it’s clear that Cantina Laredo is headed in the right direction. We hope the creative juices continue to flow as freely as the margaritas.

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Win a Night Out in The Gulch 

Love the Gulch as much as we do? Follow us on Instagram (@FiveDishesNash) and look for our post about the Gulch. Tag a friend in the comments if you both appreciate this booming part of town, too, and you could both win a very tasty surprise. Giveaway ends 12/12/14! Check back here and on Instagram for a winner announcement on Saturday, 12/13.