Last week was our 12th wedding anniversary, and we did something we never do. We went back to a restaurant that we previously ate at on our 9th wedding anniversary.
Frankly, I was surprised and even a little disappointed when Mr. Spinach Tiger told me he made reservations at City House because he knows there are new places I’m wanting to try.
But then I rethought the plan. City House owner and chef, Tandy Wilson has earned his restaurant a reputation as a Nashville restaurant that is not really Nashville because it’s Italian, but yet digs into the local farm and ingredient scene the way a true Italian restaurant in Italy would do. The problem with returning is that I didn’t have a perfect meal the first go round. The house-made sausage was so salty I couldn’t eat it and I had a hard time getting past it.
But, let me be emphatic about something I believe should be true of all food bloggers.
Never judge a place by one visit. The best of the best can have a bad night. This is particularly true when locally-owned restaurants change the menu frequently if not daily, and rely on fresh, regional ingredients. And, local restaurants take risks when they make food in house, but the rewards far exceed the institutionalized chain restaurant standards. As long as the people are nice (bad attitude will never make a meal taste good), I am willing to go back and try a place again if I’m going to write about it.
In our perfect world, every anniversary would be spent in Italy. The year we did that, we knew eating at an upscale restaurant in Venice could probably not be topped. Although I am the only Italian by blood, my husband acquired his Italian heritage in Italy where he learned to love chianti and has the uncanny ability to differentiate 22 different wine tastings. I might do the cooking, but he has the palate that can name every ingredient and what is wrong with a dish. He picked City House because he loves pizza and they have a reputation for that and and their in house charcuterie.
City House, The Restaurant
On first view and sound, City House has a atmosphere to overcome. It’s a casual restaurant, has an open kitchen with I love, but It’s all hard surfaces and the noise bounces quite horribly. The lighting is strange, not flattering to the food. But, before I complain any further, the first cocktail and appetizer immediately washed all that away. And, I can see why the place fills up very quickly every night of the week that it’s open. Chris was our server, and made the night pleasant. He was enthusiastic about the food and the menu and this started the evening in a good direction.
I love when I just pick everything right and this time, we both nailed it, starting with cocktails.
Not as much too look at, as drink with abandon, the THRILLER cocktail was everything I wanted.
The Thriller - Cremé de Framboise, House-Infused Lime Vodka and Prosecco. This is my kind of cocktail, because while it’s sparkling, it’s not too sweet, attaining perfect balance.
Springer Mountain Chicken Livers, House Cured Tesa, Red Onion Jam, Crostini
My eyes immediately went for the chicken livers reminiscing about my last chicken liver appetizer in Tuscany. It’s not often to see chicken liver anything on a menu, and this one item guaranteed my return.
Food Note: Tesa is unrolled pancetta, and not easy to google.
The balance of the richness of the liver against the red onion jam was sublime.
Frico: Montasio Cheese, Potato
The cheese is the start, but not overpowering. I’m not one to eat fried foods, but a bite or two just made me hungrier for the next course.
Bread Gnocchi, Spring Herbs, Ricotta, Lemon, Olive Oil
Yes, this is at good as it looks. By this course, I’m understanding what is so right about City House. The word is balance, which is quintessentially the secret of Italian cuisine. These are a little heavy and I could only eat one (off my husband’s plate) and we wrapped most of them up to go, but taste and flavor enticed us to finish them off the next day.
Conchiglie, Pork Ragu Bianco,Peas, Calabrian Chilies, Pecorino
I don’t know how this dish tasted, but I’m assured by the gal sitting next to me, it was a worthy dish. She allowed me to take a few pictures, and in exchange we shared some gnocchi.
Carolina Trout, Bread Crumbs, Peanuts, Raisins, Lemon, Parsley
Not only beautiful to look at, this dish is a surprise in taste. Notice these are ingredients in everyone’s pantry, which means with just a little ingenuity, you can cook southern food with a proper Italian outlook. I ordered a side of grits which were a little bland and not the right choice of for this entree, but due to an error by another server, I was also given one of my favorite dishes of the night, a chard salad.
Swiss Chard Salad, with roasted chard stems, lemon/orange vinaigrette made with canola and olive oil and Muddy Pond sorghum syrup. I am a greens and salad freak, and it’s perplexing to me why I didn’t order this in the first place. I brought a little home, so I could try to repeat the flavors. It’s clear to me by now that the chef and/or menu developer have perfect palates for what makes Italian food Italian in the sense of minimal ingredients, balance and restraint.
Having said that, there is one other reason to return to City House again and again and that is the pizza. The golden egg in this is just that, a golden egg, placed upon any pizza you choose. Who offers this? It’s a delight, and a nod to a deep sophistication inside a rustic menu.
Pizza with House Made Belly Ham, Mozzarella, Grana Padano, Oregano, Chillies
This one was without the egg, because we knew we would packing up some to take home.
It’s even better than it looks, as crust is perfect, chewy, crunchy, thin and cheese is generous enough without being heavy.
We shared gelato at the end, too full to order what I really wanted, the root beer cake, but maybe next time.
The menu is not large. That’s always a good thing. Gives me a chance to try a good portion of the menu, even if I have to bring home four boxes of food.