Viva NoshVegas!

Viva NoshVegas!

Food Fun in Nashville, TN

Mama Myint’s Miraculous Salad

I’ve been wanting to try Patti Myint’s famous salad for quite some time. It just kept slipping my mind and wrangling enough people willing to take the challenge proved tougher than I thought. My Belmont days aren’t THAT far behind me and I’m still in horror of their parking situation. It keeps me from visiting the Myint Miracle Mile as much as I’d like. You have to hit International Market at the right time if you want to park legally. (If you CAN find a parking spot, run in and get the Tom Yum soup with shrimp and chicken. Stir in a side of rice… you can thank me later. Her epic salad isn’t her only good one, the Crying Tiger spicy beef salad is no slouch.)

I wish you could have seen my face when I read that Cha Chah would be serving her salad for Restaurant Week. I made our reservation the very next day.

Arnold Myint is offering an abbreviated version of his mother’s famous dish at my new favorite restaurant, Cha Chah. BONUS: they valet.

Patti Myint’s salad at International Market (via Nashville Scene)

According to the diagram, the streamlined version differs from hers by the exclusion of mango, cucumber, tomato, lemongrass, shrimp and squid, pork with ginger, and plain garlic.

Arnold’s Restaurant Week version at Cha Chah. It’s a spectacular looking mise en place, even Iron Chef Garces would approve. (Food Network geek inside joke, sorry)

This meal was so reminiscent of my mother’s tremendous spring rolls. I was in HEAVEN. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks and could barely concentrate all day. Usually that sets me up for failure. Nothing ever lives up to that kind of expectation.

Until now. Everything about it was amazing and surpassed my alarmingly high culinary expectations

Let’s back up a little. Two weeks ago I got tweeted a restaurant recommendation from Tom Colicchio himself. Tonight I walked into Cha Chah and saw Kevin Sbraga sitting at a table by the bar. He’s the winner of Arnold’s season of Top Chef, DC. As we were seated I heard heavily accented English that could only come from Patti Myint. Turns out Patti was dragging Chef Sbraga across the street to sample HER version of the famous salad. Alright, now I’m really excited. Then I see Chef Vito. Then I see Arnold. Then the ever fabulous Metropolitan (pseudo Manhattan) arrives. The night is already awesome. Then I see that Vivek has tweeted that Tiffany Derry (also from Top Chef DC) liked the salad so much, she put it on the bar menu at her new restaurant, Private Social in Dallas. Talk about making a Top Chef addict’s night! At this point I’m smiling like an idiot and I haven’t even eaten yet!

(via Arnold’s Facebook)

Ok, I’m beyond ready. BRING IT.

They DEFINITELY brought it. First you get a nice tray of romaine hearts, leaf lettuce layered with rice paper, and a mound of rice noodles. It took considerable effort to stack and arrange those properly; even more to keep the rice paper at the right consistency throughout. I was impressed before my first bite.

2 cheese boards lined with ramekins of vegetables and a vast variety of accoutrements followed by two bowls of protein round out your experience. 

Patti and Kevin returned at the same time the plates started arriving at our table. She told us to “Put in one of the meats and then ONE of everything else in the lettuce. Then eat it all in one bite. It’s the best way to savor the “flavor explosions.

I’m a rebel and this one has both proteins. Shhh, don’t tell Patti.

When she came back to check on us, she noticed all of the mini lime wedges discarded on our plates. We mistakenly assumed that you were meant to squeeze the lime on the toppings… not so. You’re supposed to chew up the whole thing, rind and all. I never in my life would have thought a sweet lady would demand I chew and swallow a lime. Listen to your elders. The woman knows her stuff, it brought everything to a whole new level.

It was a LONG day. Please ignore my second chin & stringy hair and focus on the delightful Miss Patti.

From the background to the foreground, left to right you see:

row 1) Beef Pork and onions 2) chicken salad with rice noodles

row 2) sweet chili sauce, basil leaves, celery leaves, Thai chili

row 3) cilantro and Kaffir lime leaves

row 4) pickled garlic, toasted coconut, carrot, fresh pineapple

row 5) pickled ginger, roasted unsalted peanuts, red onion, tiny lime wedges (eat whole)

The chicken was good, but nowhere near as delectable as the beef pork.I swear our server told us it was pork, but we were convinced our favorite protein was in fact beef. Matching to the labeled Patti picture, I’m pretty confident it was beef. Either way, it was hands down our favorite part of the meal and precisely like my mom makes it. Incredibly flavorful and rich, it’s well balanced by the bright array of veggies. Arnold’s comment proves in that it was, in fact, pork. Color me sheepish.

We were instructed to try one of everything all at once, at least once. Not a single one of us changed up the line up. Go round and round with the cute wooden tongs and load up that lettuce cup. We were never able to master the one bite thing, but we happily chowed them down in two. Not to say your skill can improve at dumping things in lettuce, but the flavors steadily progressed throughout our gluttonous eat-your-own-adventure. Every bite was better than the last.

I don’t know if Chef Myint knew I was a huge Top Chef fan, but I was positively delighted when he brought Chef Sbraga to our table. He was sweet, charming, and warm. We swapped notes on the Myint Empire’s delectable cocktails. Say what you will about the revolutionary Patterson and Holland Houses… the House of Myint’s been shaking up some inventive and fantastic drinks for years. I recall sneaking out of a night class between the exam and the lecture for a Lychee Martini across the street at PM. It’s one of my favorite acts of collegiate rebellion… you know besides spiking my Sonic diet cherry limeades in Business Management ;)

By the way, when I told Chef Sbraga he couldn’t leave without the Elk Osso Bucco if it was still on the menu, Arnold informed me it is for now, but they are having trouble sourcing it due to their high demand. So get your buns to Cha Chah TWICE in the immediate future.

Our sweet server, Evan, worked HARD for his money tonight. That poor guy barely made it back to our table with a few refills before we needed another round. I think we had 4 trays of lettuce. We were not shy, and they were happy to help us out. I finally told him enough with the small bowls of cilantro, bring us a big one. We killed that too. In an effort to keep up, Chef Myint finally sent him back out to collect our ramekins so he could wash them. Yeah, the owner was back there washing dishes… one of many reasons he’s a bad ass. 

Check out a fraction of the damage…

I picked the perfect friends to accompany me on this incredible culinary adventure. We had a fantastic time and savored every bite. I begged Chef Vito to find some of their salted caramel so we could really make a lasting impression on the girls’ first visit.

I think they liked it, I know they’ll be back. I’m sure I will. :)

My only words of wisdom are:

  • Thai chilis are by no means mild, do not try to be a hero.
  • The pickled ginger is a bit overwhelming if you use a full slice, feel free to break it down a bit more.
  • Short of a food allergy, there is absolutely no reason to not try every ingredient at least once. 
  • Do not be shy, they will bring you more so just GO FOR IT
  • Standard table manners do not apply to this dish.
  • Listen to Mama Myint and eat the whole chunk of lime.
  • Thank the Myints for introducing you to this fantastic experience… and bring friends!
  • Hurry to Cha Chah before you miss this once in a lifetime experience
  • Haul your big camera and invite a proficient photographer if you can’t seem to capture decent low light food photos like me… Thanks Laura!

Arnold’s right. Everything is better with a hint of Myint.

Cheers-

L

ChaChah opens for dinner at 5 PM Tuesday-Saturday. That means you have 3 more nights to try this. Keep in mind it is $20 a person and you need a minimum of 3 companions to participate. You know, unless you want to shell out $100 and try this beast on your own… but then you have to explain to your conscience how you ate a three figure salad. 

Lazzaroli & Spring Rolls

I was dying to get my parents into Lazzaroli to see what Italian Grocery Mecca looks like. Half my family hit the Asian grocery to get spring roll fixings and the rest of us went to Lazzaroli to pick up lunch for the next day. Tom hooked us up with three different kinds of ravioli, focaccia, fresh mozzarella, and some Salumi rosemary salami.

I’ll tell you, that spicy pepper pasta is fantastic as fettuccine but out of this world as ravioli with ricotta, basil and lemon zest. The crab and corn was fantastic with a simple drizzle of olive oil and torn basil. YUM. The cooking directions are on the box and preparation is pretty much idiot proof. If you still have not visited Lazzaroli, RUN don’t walk.

The mozzarella, focaccia, and salami made excellent if not non-traditional antipasti for our spring roll supper. With so many friends coming and going we figured we might as well share our treats.

We finally had most of our guests assembled and family spring roll dinner was ready to begin. Spring roll production is heavy on the prep and light on the cooking.

The set up:

One family member mans the portable griddle cooking up onions, squid, shrimp, and marinated beef with butter or olive oil. Other variations are a rice cooker filled with a vinegar and herb broth, grilled fish, stir fried tofu and mushrooms with rice noodles, or even just boiled shrimp.

We usually nominate my step dad to do the cooking so that he actually slows down and talks to us ;)

Multiple platters of veggies, herbs, and fruit are placed between groups of people. Mom usually includes leafy red lettuce, cilantro, mint, Thai basil, fresh cumin, bean sprouts, green apples, cucumbers, and thinly sliced green mango. I’m poor and if I bought all of that, the two of us would have to trash more than half. A bare bones operation of lettuce, mint and cilantro will do in a pinch.

Large bowls of hot water go out so everyone can dip their dry spring roll papers to soften for wrapping. Bowls of hot water softened vermicelli complete your meal.

You can get most everything at a decent grocery store. If you are feeling brave, K&S definitely has what you need.

This whole 2 rolls a serving nonsense is completely foreign to us. We can sit and talk and eat spring rolls for hours on end. My 7 year old brother took down more than a dozen rolls if that is any sort of indicator.

Spring rolls (Banh Trang or Goi Cuon if you are checking a menu) are often called summer rolls. It really is the perfect summer food. Especially when you can eat them outside. I was blessed with a gorgeous 80 degree night with a light breeze and breathtaking sunset.

Here’s a bit more of the night in photos. I can’t believe we got a dozen people around my two tiny kitchen tables on my narrow balcony. I wish I’d had room for more, there were about a trillion others I wanted to include in the experience.

They aren’t related at all ;)

My mom serves fish sauce, peanut sauce, and she grudgingly makes my brother and I a sesame oil/soy sauce mixture. She says only young children eat it this way, but we don’t seem to care, it’s how we like it.

Even BJ and Carlos of Riffs Truck joined us. They make you feel like family when you walk up to their truck and I wanted them to see what a family spring roll night was really all about. I think they enjoyed it, all teasing aside.

They competed for my mother’s affection by showing off their newly improved rolling skills. BJ showing off a particularly lovely roll.

The good news? BJ and Carlos will be serving up some out of this world spring rolls now.

The bad news? I’m not ever allowed to come home without a cooler full of Lazzaroli pasta or salami.

It’s a tough life, but a foodie’s gotta do it :) Especially when you eat leftovers as spring rolls and bun thit nuong for more than a week. He doesn’t look like he minds.

Cheers!

L

A little more Riffs Love

Please don’t think Viva Noshvegas is about to become a tumblr ad for Riffs, but I seriously can’t help myself. Every week I rearrange my calendar so that I can find them to try whatever tantalizing creation has taunted the twittersphere all week. 

Last week it was the burger. I truly cannot help myself when it comes to burgers, they really are the great American comfort food. Grilled pineapple, caramelized onions, papaya ketchup and Caribbean slaw? A Ciabatta bun that could hold up to that many toppings? Yes. Had to have it. 

I couldn’t meet up with them until Saturday, and then I found out they weren’t planning to serve the burger since it was Mayor Dean’s Walk 100 Miles event and they were only serving healthy food. I’m a foodie, I assure you healthy is not my top priority. I am not above shameless begging tweets to get what my stomach desires.

My prayers were answered, a code word was issued, and off we went to Public Square Park. It’s always had a special place in my memory, the boyfriend and I saw Dave Barnes Live on the Green as one of our very early dates. Jo Dee Messina provided the soundtrack for this one. It was a great night with fantastic food.

The boys had run out of the papaya ketchup which supposedly brings the burger to another level, but BJ promised the burger would still be world altering without. He didn’t lie. It was the perfect way to lure our friend Matt into the Riffs Mystique, he’s now just as hooked as we are.

I had gone hoping for a jerk chicken burrito, but they weren’t serving it so I ordered the Thai Beef salad again. The flank steak was tender and flavorful and the pineapple was a great twist on the salad. The little red splash on the left are Carlos’ house-made sun dried tomatoes in a delicious herb rub. I could have sat down with a platter of them and been content. I took a mild issue with the noodles being a little under, but the boyfriend didn’t seem to mind. We went back to the truck and I unloaded some Asian secrets on them, so if you thought they were a bit more than al dente before you wont have that problem again. The spring rolls will be tighter and less wet next time too ;)

I loathe bell peppers and I’m convinced they taint everything they touch (except Tabasco sauce which I could eat with a spoon… explain that one) and despite the fact that they were in every savory item we ordered I was already wishing for a second stomach to eat it all again.

Luckily I didn’t need a second stomach to take down the Lavender Lemon Curd with blueberries. Not too floral, not too tart it was absolutely perfect and refreshing on a hot summer night. I never knew you could get away with serving straight up lemon curd as dessert. I always tolerated the pie crust on a lemon bar just to eat the curd. (what a hideous word… curd) I think those recipes I’ve been socking away are about to make an appearance since this new revelation maintains my stance on not learning how to light my oven.

I’m not entirely sure of the legality of my actions Saturday, but the Tito’s vodka in my purse made the already delicious Mango Black Tea and Iced Chai a perfect Saturday night concert buddy.

Follow Riffs on Twitter and see their schedule on Facebook.

Just another lovely Saturday in Music City.

Cheers!

Lyssa

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