I was recently invited to enjoy a special dinner for the Nashville food blogger’s at Watermark as they roll out a new season, a fresher outlook and a new chef.
I was curious to see how things might be different now that executive chef, Joe Shaw has returned.
Chef Joe Shaw
Touted as a slow food chef, Chef Shaw focuses on the freshest, highest quality ingredients, combining Southern notes with classical, provincial execution. The result is cleaner, more sophisticated Southern food showcasing a creative and edgy play with ingredients, while satisfying the eyes and the taste buds.
The food is plated with elegance but not pretension, and is congruent with the decor and feeling you get when you first step into Watermark. It always surprises me when the look of a restaurant doesn’t reflect the food it serves. Not here, there is balance in each bite, on each plate, from course to course.
The atmosphere is elegant and while many restaurants have chosen to go more casual, Watermark is a little dressy, but in a modern way, showcasing their food on white tablecloths, which not only adds elegance, is a great back drop for presentation, and helps absorb noise. While many good restaurants in town have totally overlooked the “noise” factor, Watermark allows for a complete experience, whether it’s a romantic dinner or a business dinner where conversation accompanies the meal.
We ate in the room on the left, which was set with one long table and very ambient low lighting. (The place is much prettier than the pictures capture).
Watermark is still one of the best rooftop restaurants in Nashville and I took this last Spring during a celebration dinner.
The city view features over 1,000 living spaces in surrounding condos and many new shops and restaurants, not there ten years ago.
The service is stellar and I wrote about this before. I had a the pleasure of having Cole as a server before. He is my favorite server in Nashville, as he knows food and wine in a very old school way. He understands the food and can have a discussion with you. This is so refreshing, and perhaps I’ve been dining out for too many decades, but a good server and a white tablecloth are the little things that are like pearls to the little black dress, and never get outdated.
The Food is Fantastic and I can Prove it.
Take a look at this menu that was created for this food blogger event. I’ve been to many special dinners that chefs prepare for food bloggers. You might be thinking that they will put their best food forward and it all has to be fantastic. You would think that. While it’s usually true, I’ve had some very bad food at some of these dinners and I choose not to write about them.
The food prepared for us at the Watermark was one of the best dinners we’ve had and the proof is that everyone ate every bite of every course. That never happens. Usually, the restaurants fall down at the dessert, but not this time.
Something wonderful has happened at Watermark. The chef and the new pastry chef, Matt Clement are in sync and each course flowed into the next from savory to sweet.
Paneed Gulf Shrimp with Spoon Bread and Apricot Persimmon Butter
Pairing: Leth (Gruner Veltliner) Steinagrund, Austria 2013
We started with a nod to shrimp and grits.
The shrimp was tender and the spoon bread was light and fluffy. The wine was crisp and paired very nicely with the seafood.
Pan Roasted Apalachicola Founder with Lump Crab Meat Crab Cake, Red Beet Puree and boiled potatoes
Pairing: Thierry et Pascal Matrot (Bourgogne) France, 2012
A funny thing happened right before this course was served one of my blogger friends said they hated red beets and I responded that they just hadn’t had them prepared well yet. Needless to say, they loved the red beet puree, which not only added color but a boost of contrasting flavor to the milder seafood. My only recommendation is that the potato looked too much like the flounder and I would either leave it off the plate and possibly add something green.
Wood Grilled Fresh Quail with Sweet Potato and Cumberland Currant Sauce
Pairing: Calista (Pinot Noir), California 2012
I have no picture for this, but it was a beautiful presentation.
This was my favorite bite of the night, possibly of the season. It tasted like Thanksgiving and although I usually don’t like mashed sweet potatoes, I ate every bite. Dining out not only is a treat for me; it’s where I get my own cooking inspiration. This dish made me want to go quail shopping right away. The currant sauce was sweet and tart and a great nod to cranberry sauce, only better. The menu features a quail appetizer and I highly suggest this.
Seared Cervina Venison with Escarole and potato bacon cake with blackberry Syrah demi-glace
Pairing: Jardin (Syrah) Stelinbach, South Africa 2009
A good chef can get me to eat food I normally don’t like, and that’s exactly what happened with the seared venison which was imported from New Zealand. It was perfectly cooked on the rare side, and didn’t have that gamey taste I have never acquired. The venison is a special breed, Cervina, from New Zealand. Served on the rare side atop a berry/wine reduction, the same wine this dish was paired with. The side dish was a potato, bacon cake topped with escarole, so good, that it should be place on a menu with every meat dish. The potatoes were not mashed but in chunks, meaty and well seasoned, aided by the escarole which added brightness and a nice texture as it was left slightly crunchy.
Goat Cheese Cheesecake with plums and date puree
Pairing: Natale Verga (Prosecco) Veneto, Italy
The wine pairings were well decided and I especially thought the first and last wine were especially good.
Something happened on the way to dessert. A star shined down on the pastry chef. The lightness of this cheesecake that was not too sweet either, reminded me of having my cheese course and dessert at the same time. I loved it and so did everyone else. Too often at these kind of dinners, the dessert does not get eaten because we are too full or it’s just too heavy. There was not a bite left on any plate.
Unplanned, and due to the excitement of the desserts, Cole went back to the kitchen and brought out three more desserts for us to all take a bite of. There was a split decision over which ice cream was better, the curry ice cream (served with the pumpkin pie) or the Caramel Earl Gray Tea Ice cream (my fave).
This is pumpkin pie. We all went nuts over the curry ice cream, which makes me think the pumpkin pie got a little lost, and the colors blended together. However, the flavors are amazing and gives me so many ideas for how to bring excitement to a standard dessert.
This dessert is a take on banana’s foster. It’s good with a tamarind sorbet. I still like old fashioned bananas foster, but the creativity here is certainly applauded. It might look like a lot on the plate (and a bit beige/brown) but it’s light and has contrasting textures and balanced flavors.
When the extra desserts arrived, the bloggers jumped up to take photos. If you ever wonder what it’s like to eat with 14 other food bloggers, it goes like this. There is conversation and then there is complete silence as they feed their instagram accounts. Hashtags and opinions are quickly shared. I love eating with food bloggers, because it seems like there is usually agreement as to what is good and bad, some strong opinions, but around Nashville a lot of love for the local restaurants and chefs. Nashville is a good place to be a chef right now and a great place for food lovers.
The Nashville Food Bloggers, Chef and Staff. That’s me way in the back, center.
Watermark rolled out in the Gulch as one of the first of this trendy reclaimed area of Nashville. Now it seems like the Gulch experiences a new restaurant opening weekly, and while there are so many choices for good food, Watermark is still a shining star that delivers a true dining experience.
I am no stranger to Watermark, having eaten at this beautiful, elegant upscale restaurant several times, always leaving happy. I wrote about my previous Watermark meals here.
The food in this review was provided for by Watermark as part of a press dinner. See my former review from May, 2013 here, where Spinach Tiger paid for all the food.