Lannae's Food and Travel

I hope you like my food and travel blog.

January 14, 2009

Cha Chah Changes

the front porch with roll top clear doors

We got a late start to dinner last night, and ended up going to PM, but the line was too long, so we went to Taboullis next door for a quick bite to eat at about 9:30 pm. On our way, we looking inside one more door down, and we saw a few people inside Cha Chah. We couldn't tell if they were open, or they were dry-running. The renovations of this old Mad Mod house was done very quietly, and without hoopla for the past few months. The renovations almost faded into the background, and didn't call attention to itself. I just nearly forgot about that space until yesterday. Today, after work, I ran by Bongo Java to pick up some coffee, and I walked towards Cha Chah to see what was going on inside. As I approached, I saw Mr and Mrs Myint, Arnold's parents coming out of Cha Chah, and I smiled and said hello to them. I walked inside and asked the greeters what the story is, and if they were open.

the bar

The two greeters said that this restaurant is Arnold Myint's creation. Today is day 2 of being in a soft opening, and they plan on being in a soft opening for another 2 or 3 months to work out the kinks. Once all the kinks are worked out, Cha Chah will have a grand opening. I love PM, Arnold's 1st venture, and I really liked the look and feel of Cha Chah. I told the greeters that I needed to go to the gym first, but I would be back later. I asked how late they plan to be open, and how late the kitchen is going to be open, and they thought for now, the kitchen will be open until about 11 pm, and then after that, there will be a late night menu. At this point, Cha Chah is still waiting for the phone company to turn on the phones (due on by Friday at the latest), and they just got the liquor license yesterday afternoon. Everything is just brand new.


So, I decided I wanted to Cha Chah for dinner tonight and check it out. For day 2 of the soft opening, things went really smoothly for us and dinner. I enjoyed taking in the beauty of the renovations, tables, seating, and bar. Visually, and listening to the background music, Cha Chah reminds me of a really hip bar and restaurant in South Beach Miami. I enjoyed a really smart and engaged waitstaff. It was really a good experience for us, as if the employees were old hat at Cha Chah.


The concept here is tapas and small plates. There are a few categories of food, there are dips, tapas, small plates, cheese, soup and salad. The list of dips are so creative, including balsamic onion, artichoke, mushroom, citrus hummus, and many more. We mixed and matched three dips, the onion, garlic and mushroom, and these came with bread and crackers. The crackers are locally made, and are thin, crispy and divine. The dips appear to be a really great idea because they all were made ahead of time, and can be waiting in the cooler to be served quickly. The mushroom dip is earthy and flavorful. The roasted garlic was pureed and had almost a sweetness to it. The balsamic onion dip was a bright, with a nice sauteed onion texture. I can see us going back to have a trio of dips and drinks before heading on to something else. The dips are also the late night menu, and I can also see up going to Cha Chah after something else for a trio of dips and drinks. The dips are a great concept, in my opinion.

duck tamales

We also got the duck and chorizo tamales tapas, clams in chorizo saffron broth small plate, and a salad. The tamales required a lot of work including making them, wrapping them in banana leaves, steaming, and then deep frying them. These had a nice fresh chorizo flavor, but not so heavy as to out play the duck. The slightly crunchy texture of the polenta was a nice contrast to the shredded soft duck. The clams were tiny tiny clams, and I was served a few un-opened clams. The saffron broth and clams were really delicate, and they were a bit over powered by the chorizo. I liked this dish, but probably won't get it again because of the overwhelming chorizo flavor instead of the clam flavor. The salad was interesting because it had three types of beets, red, pink and white and golden beets that were diced and boiled and then chilled. Also on the salad was sauteed clementine wedges served hot. I was expecting the Clementine wedges to be the cool juicy bites, and the beets to be the warm sauteed bites, and go the complete opposite.

The plates are tapas and small, and it will be fun to go back and mix and match. In my opinion, this place worth it, but it is a bit pricey. For 4 dishes, we accrued over $50 including tax. Because of this, Cha Chah may not be a standard dinner option for me, but it is on my list for special dinners out. The food was so tasty and delicious that we didn't need anymore than we had. The food tonight was created with care, the presentation was tight and the service was good. You can't get this experience, quality of food, presentation, and service at a chain, where one could spend the same amount of money.

Cha Chah on Urbanspoon


January 10, 2009

Vineyard in the Del

the vat room

Back in November, I meet up with my food and wine blogging buddy Nicole Sauce for a little trip out to Del Monaco Winery and Vineyard for their grand opening. I heard about the opening from my co-worker who is apprenticing at Del Monaco because she is planning on being a master wine maker. From what I understand, Tennessee has similar terrain as parts of France and Germany, so it should be a decent area to grow grapes. I am not sure if Tennessee is warmer or more humid that grape growing regions in France and Germany, so weather may play a factor in growing grapes in Tennessee. I do know this for sure, there is a type of parasite that lives in USA soils, including Tennessee in which will kill any type of French grape root. To grow decent wine grapes here, the vines must be grafted to local grape roots such as Concord or Niagara grape roots.

the tasting bar

Nicole Sauce and I got to Del Monaco and I was pleasantly surprised at this place. The main building is definitely inspired by wine country villas, and it is really well thought out for what the owners want to use it for. There is plenty of parking, there is a lovely banquet ball room, there are other smaller conference rooms, beautiful balconies, and a bridal room, for a bride and party to relax before presenting herself to her guests. Off of the main banquet ball room is a small gift shop and tasting room. I like the tasting room because it has a huge picture window that over looks the stainless steel vats where the wines age. During the opening, we tasted all the wines they had to offer, and took part in the delicious yummies they had in the banquet room. One fun thing they had was a full table of desserts and a chocolate fountain to dip fruit and pound cake in. I have never had a chance to be around a huge chocolate fountain before, and I really liked it! I also let my clothes taste the oozy chocolate too, and I am sure my shirt enjoyed it too.

the banquet room

I have taken interest in amateur wine making. We have made a small amount of wine for a few years now from grapes grown in Napa. We know how to crush, punch and press grapes by hand. We have aged our wine in glass carboys. We have learned that French toasted Oak is really the best if we want to age our wine with oak. We have struggled to bottle with real cork, and have a couple bottles not seal. The only thing we have not done is grow and harvest. When we were in France, we had conversations with a couple winemakers about returning for the harvest and working for them. That is such a great romantic idea to go and harvest in Burgundy, but of course the reality of lack of money, time, back strength and endurance are stopping me from really pursuing this idea. So, my hopes of understanding harvest is not dashed, I believe that I can volunteer a couple hours one weekend day to help harvest at Del Monaco. It is just a short hour and 15 minute drive from my home, and help harvest their premature grapes. The vineyards need about another 5 years before they can use the grapes to make wine, so lack of skill at harvesting will not hinder their wine making. Stay tuned for September 2009 when I become a vineyard harvester!

January 5, 2009

My Friend Pasta

Pasta has been an easy to make dinner option for me for many years. Pasta is hot, hearty, and delicious! Pasta is so quick that it is quicker to make than deciding to go out and get takeout, or eat out. It was a long dark decade with the Atkin's diet promoting no carbs, especially pasta. I couldn't make pasta for those on Atkin's diet because they wouldn't eat it. I reduced to a few times a year making pasta, because I just wasn't about to cook 2 dinners, one pasta for me, and another meat heavy meal for others. That is too much work. During that dark Atkin's decade, I felt a bit defeated because I didn't have much time to be making dinner, and making other dishes meant more prep work, more cooking, more pots and pans to clean and more flair to getting dinner on the table. During the dark years, I felt like all I was doing was working, cooking, cleaning dishes, and being a slave to the kitchen. Thank goodness Atkin's has receded, and pasta can grace my table again. Pasta is not the enemy, Pasta is My Friend. This is my blog post about my recent odyssey in pasta.

squid ink pasta with a crab cream sauce
surrounded by canned corn

To start off, we ran into Tom Lazzaro at City House about a month ago. Actually, we run into Tom and his wife at City House more often than not. He owns Lazzroli Pasta shop around the corner from City House, and also supplies the pasta to City House. That evening, he mentioned that he just finished making Squid Ink Pasta, and is selling Squid Ink Pasta for the 1st time at Lazzaroli. He made 3 batches of Squid Ink Linguine, and suggested I stop by and try it. So, the next day, I tromped on over to Lazzaroli Pasta shop and got myself a container of Squid Ink Pasta. I tasted a couple pieces raw, and as squid ink is, it is earthy and salty, even though it is of the sea. Tom thinks that the squid ink has a slight citrus flavor to it too. After I tasted the Squid Ink Pasta, I knew what I was going to do.

I made a simple cream and crab sauce. I got a pint of cream from Hatcher Family Dairy, and I got a can of crab. I quickly sauteed some heirloom locally grown garlic minced in some Arbequina Olive oil made from organic olives grown in the Central Valley of CA, then I added cream, a little salt and pepper, and left it on low on the stove to reduce. I drained the crab, and stirred that into the cream. I then poured the cream sauce over the cooked squid ink pasta. To make my plate pretty, instead of just a black pile of pasta, I surrounded the pasta with some heated canned corn kernels. I personally really like eating canned corn, it is comfort food for me, so I was more than happy to put that pretty yellow color on my plate. Mmm Mmm Yumm! Yeah, the Squid Ink Pasta was perfect with the cream sauce. It was delicious, if I do say so myself.

Penn State Pasta

One recent tradition has been eating Penn State Pasta from the Pasta Shoppe down the road from my house. The Pasta Shoppe is run by a really nice family, and they seem to really like what they are doing. They make about 150 different shapes, and one of them is a Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lion Head! Yup, that is correct, they make blue and white Nittany Lion Pasta! So, when I can catch Penn State Football in a bowl game, or any other big game during the year, I will whip up some Penn State Nittany Lion Pasta. This dish was made to celebrate Penn State making it to the Rose Bowl January 1, 2009 against USC Trojans. Before the game started, I thought for sure that Penn State's Quarterback, Daryll Clark, was going to deliver Penn State as the Champions of Roses. It was Clark's 1st Rose Bowl, so I will let him slide, but the game ended with USC winning only 11 miles away from campus. I have a real soft spot for the Rose Bowl Parade and the Rose Bowl, having grown up in So. CA and cheering for the Pac 10. Now that I have seen the true path of football by going to do my graduate school course work at the Big 10's Penn State University, and having gone to the the very 1st game Penn State played as an official Big 10 member, I of course cheer for the Big 10.

Anyway, about this pasta, it was quite simple. Boil up the pasta and drain. Add some whole milk and minced garlic, and some thinly sliced Aged Cheddar from Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese shop. There really is a Kenny, I finally met Kenny this summer, and his cheese is really something tasty. The Aged Cheddar is a semi-dry cheese, but it melted well into my Penn State Pasta to make a really nicely flavored macaroni and cheese. I ate the pasta right before the Rose Bowl Started.

the Pope's Pasta

Today, I just wanted a quick and easy meal. I ran to the store quickly in the rain, found out my newly repaired car door leaks in the rain. But, that is neither here nor there. I got some Boca Burger and some hot Italian sausage. I sauteed up 2 crumbled Boca Burgers with 2 un-cased Italian Sausage. I put the crumble in to the tomato sauce. The sauce I used, I took down from the freezer. I made the sauce from some local organic heirloom tomatoes, onions, garlic, cayenne peppers and pablanos. The oregano was dried from my herb garden. I made the sauce in a Martha Stewart inspired way. I cut the tomatoes and other veggies into chunks and put them on pans in a low heat oven for hours to reducd the moisture content. After the tomatoes are fraction of what they were, I whirled it all up in a blender and then put the sauce in containers for the freezer.

The pasta I used this evening, I hand carried with me from Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Macaroni Company on the Strip. I was told that the pasta I was using is the pasta made for the Pope. The pasta is known as the Pope's Pasta. If I am not eating Lazzaroli fresh made pasta, I am eating the Pope's Pasta. My foodie friends from Pittsburgh stopped making pasta because they eat the Pope's Pasta and think it is really good. I do too. The texture of the Pope's Pasta has a nice toothy feel, and a nice fresh pasta yellow color that is almost the same as fresh made pasta. That texture and color does not exist out of regular USA dried pasta brands.

So I combined my meat sauce and Pope's Pasta together. It didn't take too long to make this meal tonight. I suppose it took a long time overall because I had to take months grow the herbs, and take hours and hours to dehydrate the tomatoes. But all that was done in September, so today I reaped the benefits of that effort to have a little bit of sunshine on my plate. Mmm Mmm Yumm.

January 2, 2009

Happy New Year! in the City

New Year's eve is one of those evenings that seem to cause some anxiety in me. A couple weeks before the evening (as it is every year), I think that I need to find the perfect festive party to attend. When I lived in Boston, it was so easy, there was First Night, where all the arts venues, restaurants and bars were open to New Year's eve revelers. It was fun to see some art, the Boston Ballet, taste some really excellent food, and celebrate with the rest of the city. Then, when we were done reveling, we took the T home. In Nashville, there is no such thing as First Night, and I was left to my own devices to figure this out. A few years ago, I remember when our friends Nick and Heidi came down from New York, we spent our evening at a local restaurant, and had a really nice time eating specially made food for the night, complimentary champagne, tasting hoppin' john, and enjoying our time together. I really enjoyed that time, and remembered it. A lot of other New Year's eve generic celebrations I have been to, I don't remember because they are not memorable. Since I remembered Nick and Heidi's trip here so well, I decided that I wanted to splurge and have a really nice dinner out with Matt. Whoever decided to come with us, that would just be gravy to the evening.

To my surprise and delight, I got a call from my old housemate from years gone by, and he was going to be in town for the week working, and he would meet us for New Year's eve dinner. What a treat for me. I have not seen my pal for almost 20 years since we both moved on with our lives to different parts of the country. I got teary-eyed with joy when I saw him on New Year's! Aside from a few wisdom lines on his face, he looks exactly like he did 20 years ago! What a memorable dinner this New Year's eve dinner is, due to having such a special guest in my town.


I decided I wanted to go to City House in Nashville because it is my favorite new restaurant in Nashville. I love how Tandy Wilson, chef and owner, creates food in an old world European tradition. We looked at the menu, and we were trying to decide what we wanted, and then the waitstaff said that we get it all! What? Really? What a great deal! Tandy really showed what he was made of with the menu. The menu, as best as I could remember is something like this:

Wildcat bruschetta tri tip tartare
Shrimp with a light cream sauce
Salt and vinegar chips with a paddlefish caviar and creme fraiche
House cured ham with house pickled onion
Cabbage roles with parmesan budina

Ricotta crespele and swiss chard sauce
She crab linguine

Fish and Meat
Veal, peanut and raisin meatballs in a milk braise
quail with chestnut stuffing

Mascarpone gelato
And a chocolate crusted cream square


The meal was served family style, so each of us at the table could take as much or as little as we wanted. We started off with 5 different antipasti dishes. The wildcat bruschetta was a winner at our table. The texture, flavor, and portion were perfect. We also thought that it was very creative to have salt and vinegar potato chips served with caviar. None of us ever had such a dish before, and we enjoyed it. The House Cured Ham, as always was perfectly tender and buttery and better than any domestic air dried ham I have ever had.

I think the pasta course was my favorite. The crespele, was a ricotta and chard roled crepe finished in the wood burning brick oven. The she crab pasta was made with fresh made linguine made by Tom Lazzaro from Lzzaroli's Pasta shop. The lump crab meat in the light cream sauce was unbelieveable. Two of us at the table thought this was our favorite course.

For the main course, we got veal meatballs made with peanuts and raisins, in a milk braise. I have only seen one other milk braise, which was made by braising meat in milk on a very low and slow heat. The braising milk condenses into a lovely creamy consistency, turns to a nice light brown color, and adsorbs the meat drippings flavor. One of our table thought this was the best dish of the night. I would have to agree, these were possibly some of the best meatballs I have eaten ever. The other meat dish was chestnut stuffing stuffed quail. I have not had quail in many years, since I was a child, so I was a bit at a loss on how to eat this dish. Luckily, Tandy Wilson deboned the breast and rib cage out of the quail and let a cuttable quail and stuffing dish. The quail was subtle, smooth and cooked to perfect tenderness with a nice crisp skin on top. By the time I ate this, I was so so stuffed, it was hard for me to taste anything at this point. The ribolita was the side dish to accompany the meats. I did not know what a ribolita until this day. Tandy Wilson's ribolita is his take on a traditional Tuscan dish that is like a thick vegetable minestrone soup. I believe this dish had braising greens, onion, chickpeas, white beans, bread chunks, probably vegetable stock made from onions, carrots and celery. We did not eat much of this because we had reached max capacity at this point with dessert yet to come. For dessert, the mascarpone gelato was a perfect way to end the meal. It was surprisingly light, and flavorful.


We left City House and retreated to our house for a little ringing in the new year, and Dick Clark's Times Square ball drop. I had made earlier that day in the slow cooker, some Hoppin' John, black-eyed peas. In the south, it is a tradition to eat black-eyed peas for New Years for good luck. I believe this tradition came from the Civil War when the Union came and burned a lot of the southern plantation homes and crops, but leaving cowpeas aka black-eyed peas for livestock food. At that time, black-eyed peas were considered cow food by the Union, not real human food. The South, felt so lucky to have cowpeas aka black-eyed peas to feed their remaining livestock and themselves, it has become a tradition to eat these cowpeas on New Year's day to ring the new year with a lot of luck. My black-eyed peas are simply a little beef stock, water and some smoked pork jowl for flavoring for the black-eyed peas. No salt, no pepper, just 4 ingredients. Eventhough we were all stuffed from dinner, I made a little cup for everyone to try a bite of black-eyed peas and to ring in the new year with a lot of luck.

I hope you all have a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous and Lucky New Year!

City House on Urbanspoon