Nashville, the Capitol of TN
The Hermitage Hotel is named after Andrew Jackson's Estate - The Hermitage Estate.
This hotel is the oldest hotel in Nashville, and it was finished being built in 1910. At the time, the Nashvillians, who built this lovely hotel, thought of themselves as being quite worldly, and had it in their minds that Nashville was going to be a great arts center of the South, USA. They took to calling Nashville the Athens of the South. If that were to be, the hotel had to have all the finest materials from Europe and Asia including Italian marble and blown glass, Persian rugs, and Russian walnut wood. The Hermitage Hotel still has these fine materials, is fabulously grand and a historic hotel. About the Athens of the South thing, well, that never really happened.
The glory of this hotel is that it was built originally to house the Tennessee politicians, all men at the time, for their trip to the Tennessee State House (which is across the street) to do their important politicking at the time. Then in 1914, The Hermitage Hotel was the site of the National American Women's Suffrage national convention, which started off a lot of rumors that Tennessee was going to be a strong player in backing American Women's Rights to Vote. The six long years later in August 1920, it was up to Tennessee to cast the final vote to allow or dis-allow women to vote. During this year, there was only one hotel to stay in, it was the Hermitage Hotel, and both Ayes and Nays were staying at the hotel. The only way the politicians could tell who was for or against Women's Rights, was the color of the flower worn in the lapel of the jackets. It was August in the south of the USA, and these people had to be out of their minds to be wearing jackets and long sleeves in 100 degree weather. Jackets in the heat aside, the politicians and lobbyists, who were against Women's Rights, wore red roses in their lapels, and the politicians who were for Women's Rights, wore yellow roses in their lapel. Today, the Yellow Rose is still a symbol of Women's Suffrage today.
Back to August 1920... That great hot day of August 18, 1920, freshman Representative Harry Burns, who wore a red rose, had a visit from his mother. She told him to vote the right way. All representatives voted, except for young Harry, and the count was 48-48. The anti-rights red rose politicians thought they had won a victory for the oppression of women. Then young Harry cast his vote, most likely remembering his mother, and he voted to ratify the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution giving women the right to vote. All 48, anti-women's rights representatives chased poor Harry up to the bell tower of the Capitol Building of Tennessee, and there Harry stayed all night, afraid of being attacked by an angry group of anti-rights politicians. Harry, of course, was staying at the Hermitage Hotel, but wasted his room charge for that August 18, 1920 night due to his hiding in the bell tower.
When the Hermitage Hotel was built, the basement was installed with an Oak Bar and Rathskeller. It was going to be a private, men only, drinking and smoking club. The men who were going to frequent this place, of course were the politicians and lobbyists who wanted to do power plays over a glass of whiskey or beer. Today, the Oak Bar is still a bar, the men's room is still beautifully Art Deco designed with hand made glass tile, and the rathskeller is now the Capitol Grille Restaurant. It should be noted that this restaurant is NOT affiliated with the chain restaurant Capital Grille (with an A not an O in the word capitol). The Capitol Grille is its own restaurant.
In 2003, the Capitol Grille got a new, young, 24 year old, Johnson and Wales educated, Executive Chef named Sean Brock. He was young, had no fear, and propelled the Capitol Grille into earning a AAA Five Diamond award in less than one year. This is Nashville's one and only AAA Five Diamond award, and Sean Brock got the attention of foodies world wide. Last year, a couple Germans flew in for a visit just to try Sean Brock's 13 course tasting menu made just for them. The tasting menu is not on the menu, you just had to be in the know that Sean Brock would create a chef's choice culinary experience, as long as you call ahead a few days in advance. Sadly, this April 2006, Sean Brock went to seek new horizons in South Carolina. Tyler Brown, the new guy, isn't Sean Brock, but I think he is trying to carry on the tradition of innovation and experimental excellence.
We went to the Capitol Grille to help celebrate a birthday for a special mom from Ohio, and she wanted to try the Capitol Grille. The menu had interesting items on it. What we ended up ordering to start were the sweet onion soup with bacon and cheese, arugula salad with duck confit, and crab cakes with avocado mousse. The verdict, the soup rocked. It was a light cream based onion soup, it was not too salty like some French onion soups can be, and it felt velvety while eating it. The salad was dripping in the vinaigrette, so it was difficult to taste the slight bitter and refreshing flavor of arugula. I read an online review that said the same thing about his salad, and that they put too much salad dressing on the salad greens.
For the next course, we ordered steak, lamb and yellowtail snapper with the additional sides of truffle oil mac and cheese, potato wedges, and fried green tomatoes. While in the south USA, one must try fried green tomatoes, and not to be confused with the movie of the same name, Fried Green Tomatoes. Ohio mom opted for the lamb, and I heard hide nor hair from her until she was done with her plate. I have a feeling that she really enjoyed her lamb. This is the first time I have ever had a fried green tomato, and I suppose because I did not grow up in the south, I did not appreciate the side dish as much as others. Now, the Mac and Cheese with Truffle Oil side dish was $8 plus tax and tip, putting the dish up to $10+, and it was the best Mac and Cheese I have ever had. Through my years of tasting food made with truffle oil or truffles, I totally get why these little fungus are so expensive and coveted by the French and foodies everywhere. The essence of the truffle just filled my mouth and nose with that earthy, savory specialness, and elevated the simple noodle dish to a level of all its own. The fish came with a bunch of different sauces, foams and mousse smears. It was a bit confusing for me, but I am sure it makes sense to someone. A couple people ordered beef dishes, and the one thing they did get correct in the kitchen was how to cook a rare steak. Rare means a cold and red middle, not warm and pink/grey inside. The cooks understand how to cook a rare steak. I think everyone was thinking the main course was ok. The plating was a bit culinary school-esque with too many accessories, that could crowd out the natural flavor of the food itself. We weren't completely wowed or knocked out of our socks, but it was an interesting trip into food.
THEN, we entered into the desserts. We got two desserts for the table, and one was a chocolate gelato, and the other was a 4 flavored tasting of creme brulee. The chocolate dish was excellent, but completely sent to the background by the cayenne chocolate, vanilla, lemon grass and ginger, and pina colada flavored creme brulees. As I tasted each one only once, I was so sad to have to send them down the table to the next person. I was so sad to see these tasty treats go. I did not want to be a pig, so I wasn't, but I could have!
If I ever come into a lot of money, and I find myself back in the Capitol Grille, I know exactly what I am ordering: the Truffle Macaroni and Cheese, and the Creme Brulee. Veggies and a main course, who needs it when there is Creme Brulee?