I’ve been wanting to write about Watermark for years, but I’ve held off. The other times I’ve eaten at Watermark, located in the popular Gulch area, it’s been for a private party and for restaurant week. It never seemed fair or right to use those events to write about this beautiful, sophisticated restaurant without sitting for a regular dinner, and getting the whole story.
As a food blogger, it’s difficult for me to return to a place more than twice because my whiteboard list keeps growing. Nashville is like a child who ran barefoot, fishing and climbing trees and suddenly grew up and grew into a man who can wear a suit and tie when he’s not wearing a cowboy hat (or in some circles, the baseball cap). Not that Nashville has never had some dress up restaurants, it’s just that there aren’t many free standing, non-hotel dressy places that make me feel like it’s a special night, and this night was special because it was my 14th wedding anniversary.
Since we stayed in town, we did a foodcation. We started Friday night visiting eateries for little bites here and there and by the time we hit Watermark, it was our 13th stop. Yes, I’ll be blogging about that. We got married on a beautiful, sunny, breezy Friday evening and the weather on this Tuesday night was almost exactly the same. I love eating outdoors, working out, outdoors and if I could I would have walls that roll up so I could feel like I’m outside. It made sense to eat a scrumptious dinner on a beautiful rooftop at sunset.
When you walk in the door of Watermark, you know you’re in a special place. The decor is urban, yet has a modicum of warmth to it. The only nod to the South is the church pew situated by the steps in the entrance. This speaks volumes. One knows right away this was once a pew that many folks have sat in to pray, to sing, and to listen to a Southern pastor. It reminds us of where we are.
The deeply stained wooden floors and dark wooden chairs bring additional warmth to what could be considered an almost austere setting. The white tablecloths and the uniforms the servers wear (tie, black pants, white apron) add to a clear sense of order and mindfulness. There is a promise of upscale food with some Southern touches presented by knowledgeable attentive servers.
The Cocktails – The Wine
Our experience started in the small downstairs bar with Michael who prepared for us two beautifully balanced blood orange martinis. No one knows this little bar that used to the wine room exists, but they are hoping to make some architectural changes which will open it up and become a hot spot. I do hope that happens, as this restaurant deserves to have a worthy bar.
The menu offers a wine by the glass with each appetizer and entree, at either a 3 ounce or 6 ounce serving. This is a great idea for a small party who wants to experience wine pairings. This is way we chose to go. The server switched out an option for us showing us his thoughtfulness in giving us the best pairings.
You can choose from over 200 bottles of wine from a variety of regions including France, Italy, Germany and California and several good choices by the glass.
The beautiful interior of Watermark is sleek, yet romantic. The watermark name is watermarked on one white wall, adding to the brand of this restaurant that is mindful, crisp, clean, and promises the attention to detail in the food. he dining rooms have very soft ambient light (these pictures were taken in the daytime), but if the weather is nice, the rooftop patio is the place to be.
After drinks, we were taken upstairs to the the outdoor patio which is designed well, with a welcoming floor (outdoor rooftops can be cold looking) and a great view. They have made sure the fencing is designed so that tables can be placed right up against it without fearing heights and there are nicely placed flower boxes. I enjoyed these nice touches.
They knew it was our wedding anniversary and they had champagne glasses ready for us. How nice is that? Meet Cole, our waiter, who not only serviced us with class and pleasure, but helped us decide on our entire meal and wine choices. I’m going to tell you how much we loved the food, but I don’t think we would have enjoyed the experience as much as we did, had it not been for our server, who seemed to read us well, laugh with us, and humor me as I walked food inside to photograph it. Never have I felt so welcome doing that before!
We started the night with fried veal sweetbreads and portabellas on a bed of arugula. This is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of eating sweetbreads, and i would order them again. The only pause I had was that the lemon, pistachio and truffle vinaigrette was missing from the salad and I should have realized that long before we finished and returned it. I’m sure it was an oversight and they would have amended this promptly.
Cole suggested we try the sweetbreads and the grits cheese souffle. One needs to understand that this is not really a souffle in classical terms, but a very exciting dish that combines several flavors and textures. We ate every morsel on this dish. Maybe because it was our anniversary or maybe because I had a camera with me, we got the the star treatment. They sent out another appetizer for us to try, the red beet and goat cheese, and I highly recommend this as a natural starter with the lamb entree.
The Main Course
Mr. ST always gets scallops everywhere we go and I asked him to please try something else. The server talked me out of that quickly saying the scallops dish was not one to pass over and he was so right.
Never have I seen scallops served in such an earthy, sultry way, in a big bowl over mushroom risotto.
I cannot say enough about the lamb dish. I’ve had two outstanding lamb dishes in restaurants in the last 14 years (and I order lamb a lot). This is one of those two. At first glance, it looks like a lot going on in the dish. The genius is how well each and every component makes complete sense with each bite. The lamb neck is so tender and the acid in the yellow tomato combines just right with the acid from the capers and olives without being over powering. The lamb is the true star of this dish, but carries the supporting ingredients well.
Half of this entree came home with us and made a wonderful lunch, maybe even better than I remembered the night before. Truly an exquisite dish!
I would go back just to have this lamb dish, but there were so many other good choices that I wanted to try. In the appetizer menu I am still wanting to try the pan seared pork belly, and the blue crab and wild shrimp gallette. From the dinner items, I would love to try the seared halibut over caramelized fennel as that is a perfect match. I also had my eye on the duck confit over a braised pear.
We were sent three different desserts to try, a buttermilk panna cotta with a lemon curd, a berry cobbler with goat cheese ice cream, and a flourless chocolate cake. All three were very different and delicious. They no longer carry my all time favorite dessert and I asked about it. The Chef will know the chocolate dessert I am referring to and I wish they could find a way to bring it back. I rated it in the top three all time best desserts in Nashville. That doesn’t mean these desserts weren’t worthy. Mr. St. ate all three of them. I was too full for more than a bite.
A Few Dishes I had in Previous Visits:
Chef Bob Waggoner was the chef at the time this was written. Joe Shaw is now the new executive chef who returned to Watermark. He was there in the beginning and is back with an emphasis on local ingredients, Southern notes, Classical execution.
Watermark is a great place for a business dinner, or a romantic dinner date. The stylish decor is not so over the top to feel unwelcoming, and the food will be remembered, and Watermark is especially nice when seated on their rooftop patio.
Location: 507 12th Avenue South, (in the Gulch)
Phone: (615) 254-2000