Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nashville Food Bloggers Watermark Dinner

Watermark opened in Nashville 9 years ago, and yet I had never eaten there until last night. Throughout its tenure, I’d heard various criticisms, mainly that the quality of the food didn’t quite match up with its price. Now, the chef who created the initial concept for Watermark, Joe Shaw, is back at the helm. Chef Shaw worked under Frank Stitt in Birmingham and carries on that Southern-French inspiration into his own food.

I joined a group of other Nashville food bloggers for a five-course tasting dinner with wine pairings and was very pleased with the outcome.

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We began with a couple of Gulf shrimp that had been cooked in butter over spoonbread and topped with an apricot persimmon butter. I didn’t taste too much of the apricot and persimmon, but the shrimp were the star. Watermark prides itself on fresh seafood, and these were not the mealy, gritty, chewy shrimp one sometimes gets in restaurants. Our server Cole explained the dish as a take on the traditional shrimp and grits, with the firmer, slightly sweeter spoonbread substituting for the grits. I really wanted some more of that delicious shrimp, and the acidity of the Austrian Gruner Veltliner cut through the buttery shrimp nicely.

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For me, the next dish was the biggest miss of the night – a pan-roasted Apalachicola flounder with lump crab cake, red beet puree, and fingerling potato. Though the crab cake stood out, the potato, beet puree, and flounder didn’t taste like much at all. I did enjoy the light oak on the Thierry et Pascal Matrot Chardonnay that was served with this dish, and the flounder was obviously high quality. Everything just needed a little more seasoning.

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The wood-fired quail over sweet potato with a Cumberland currant sauce seemed to be the crowd-favorite of the evening. This Thanksgiving-inspired dish was perfect for a fall evening. The acidity of the currant sauce went nicely with the richness of the quail and the creamy sweet potatoes. Our server encouraged us to use our fingers to get every bit of meat off of the bone. A California Pinot Noir accompanied this course.

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The trajectory of the dinner, from lightest to heaviest, reached its apex with this venison dish. Though I can’t remember eating venison, it has a reputation for being gamey and overly chewy. Chef Shaw sources this venison from New Zealand, as it is a specially farmed venison known for its mild flavor and tender texture. Again, a twist on traditional meat-and-potatoes dishes, a potato-bacon cake topped with escarole was served alongside the venison. The South African Syrah that was poured to drink with this course was also part of the plate as the chef reduced it for part of the sauce. The bitterness and crunch of the greens off-set the richness of the potato-bacon cake nicely. This might have been my very narrow favorite of the evening.

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After all of that food and wine, we finished our meal on a pleasantly light note – with Prosecco and a Bonnie Blue Farms goat cheesecake with plum and date puree. This might be the lightest, fluffiest cheesecake I’ve ever had, and the tangy goat cheese flavor turned a ho-hum dessert into something special.

Though the dinner was sponsored and at no cost to me, I will definitely be returning to Watermark as long as Chef Shaw is at the helm. All opinions are my own, and I received no monetary compensation for writing this post.