The Catbird Seat: A Nashville Culinary Adventure

My husband has been talking about going to the Catbird Seat for years. A tiny, 22-seat U-shaped counter where patrons watch the chefs at work, and enjoy a chef’s choice tasting menu did not sound like something I would enjoy. You have no choice in menu items, eating whatever they put in front of you, so for someone who grew up an incredibly picky, unadventurous eater, with a sensitive digestive system, this sounded like torture.

Fast forward a few years, past working with a nutritionist to resolve a lot of dietary and digestive issues and redefine my relationship with food, discovering a ton of foods I’ve gone my whole life without knowing I liked, and a pregnancy that has somehow fortified my digestive system…… and I thought a night at the Catbird Seat sounded like a lot of fun!

I still don’t eat red meat, so we included that as my singular dietary restriction when we made the reservation. But I was up for anything else they could throw at me, not worrying about dairy or grains or sugar or whether the meat came from land or sea.

Tasting menus can often be intimidating, challenging your idea of ‘food’. Just watch an episode of Chef’s Table, or the Copenhagen episode of Parts Unknown when Anthony Bourdain goes to world famous Noma to see what I mean. It’s especially nerve-wracking when you have literally no idea what will be on the menu; they don’t publish any of their menus, and items can change seasonally or at the chef’s whim.

But it’s an adventure, right? A truly unique dining experience, something we won’t do often. YOLO, eh?

Our Experience

The Catbird Seat is in the same building as and owned by the same group that owns Patterson House, a speakeasy cocktail joint in midtown. So when we arrived a bit early for our 5:45 reservation, they directed us to the bar to have a drink. (The bartender made me a delicious mocktail!!)

When our seats were ready, someone came to get us and take us upstairs to the restaurant. We stepped into the downstairs foyer, which was dark except for these bright blue laser lights beaming down from the ceiling. It felt like we were getting ready to step into a super exclusive night club. Our escort chatted with us as we got into the elevator, taking us up to the 2nd floor, which was just a dark hallway with a few lights, ending at a doorway with white hanging curtains. On the other side of the curtains, a hostess greeted us, checking our names off her iPad, and taking us to our seats on the far side of the U-shaped bar.

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Not a great pic, I know, but it’s hard to do panoramic with so much activity happening! The chefs never stopped moving!

The room was absolutely devoid of decor. White walls. White lighting. Chefs and servers all dressed in black. The only color in the room came from the people sitting around the 22-seat counter. Soft music played, the sort of tunes you’d expect to hear in a European bistro. The room buzzed with activity and jovial chatter and the clinks of glasses and silverware. Delicious and unfamiliar smells emanated from the kitchen in front of us, as the chefs busily prepared the first courses.

After being seated, and provided with a napkin, the sommelier approached us to talk to us “about beverages.” Justin ended up selecting the drink pairing package, which included at least 6 (but could be more) beverages of the somm’s choice. I opted for a glass of red to last the entire night, but instead of choosing one of the 3 by-the-glass options on the menu, I just told her I wanted a glass of red and she poured me the most incredible Portuguese wine – dry and spicy and bold. I savored every sip. (Always trust the experts!)

While everyone at the bar was seated at different times, and enjoyed each course at a different time, people didn’t rotate in and out. It was the same 22 people for the whole evening. We got in around 5:45/6 and didn’t leave until 8:30. They had to get us all out by 9 to prep for the next seating!

 

So without further ado, here’s a list of everything we ate during our 12-course tasting menu at the Catbird Seat.

Course 1: Quince fritter, brushed with spicy Chinese mustard, topped with smoked beef tongue. 
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Mine did not come with the beef tongue, for which I was grateful. The fritter was delicious – the quince reminded me of apple, and the mustard paired nicely with the sweetness of the fruit. Definitely one of my favorites.

 

Course 2: Avocado with kiwi, finger limes, and gin, surrounded by noori (seaweed but in a powder form). 00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190206181005911_COVER.jpg

I do not care for avocado, but this made it enjoyable and tolerable. The flavors all worked well together, and the noori powder was an interesting touch. I loved the idea and if it was something other than avocado as the base, I would have loved it.

 

Course 3: Banana, sea urchin, and truffle. Caramel crisp.

Justin and I both agreed that seafood and sweets shouldn’t really be mixed. The texture of this dish makes you want it to be sweeter than it is, like a creme brulée, but it’s full of a funky oceanic flavor, mixed with the sweet of banana and caramel. I can’t say that I liked it.

 

Course 4: Chinese donut with country ham and red eye gravy, served in a rice wrapper.

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Not a photogenic dish but delish! This reminded Justin of a deconstructed monte cristo, and was super delicious. I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the rice wrapper once it got soggy from the gravy, but the flavors were so good, and the texture of the ham with the donut was perfect. This was one of my favorites of the night!

 

Course 5: Calf’s brain with shad roe porridge.

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Mine was not served with the calf’s brain, thankfully. Based on the look of it in Justin’s dish, I don’t think I could have done the texture. I already don’t like porridges/bisques/blended soups; things that taste like meat should have some texture and not be a liquid. But I will say the flavor of this porridge was delicious, surprising me, and it had some crunch to it with the crispness of the roe and some sort of crispy cracker. And the amount served was perfect.

 

Course 6: Trigger fish with some of its own liver, brown butter and lemon. 

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This was one of my least favorite dishes, due to texture. The liver freaked me out. The fish itself was fine, though raw which I don’t like due to texture, and I think the butter was a bit overpowering.

 

Course 7: Cods milt (sperm) with gelled chicken broth and Japanese lime and Macadamia nut crisp

The serving of this one was by far one of the strangest. All we could see, when handed the rock (plate? bowl?) was a white cone that was about as thick as an egg shell. We were instructed to break through it. Underneath was a white foam (the mouse made from fish sperm, lol) and the orange chicken broth jelly, which was quite spicy due to the Japanese limes. They aren’t supposed to tell us that ‘milt’ is sperm unless we ask, but I overheard our neighbors ask about it and told Justin. Perhaps if we hadn’t known what it was, it would have been less weird. It tasted fishy but not bad, and mixed with the chicken broth gel and the spice it was definitely interesting. The texture was all over the place, which helped imo, since you had the softness of the mouse, the gelatinous of the broth, and the light crispness of the macadamia nut shell. Again, I’m not sure if the sweet of the nut worked with the fishy flavor, but it was unique. 

 

Course 8: Tart made of head cheese filled with crab.

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I did not expect to like this because I’m not in love with crab; crab is fine. But this ended up being one of my favorite dishes! The tart was crisp on the outside and filled with some sort of warm crab salad, and topped with a different cold crab salad. I dont usually like cold meat or seafood, but the play between warm and cold really worked for me. The texture of the tart was nice (and necessary), and the flavors were all great. 

 

Course 9: Duck tartar and smoked cashew.

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When this came out and I heard her say “tartar”, I was not sure I could eat it. I don’t do raw, mostly due to texture (it’s too soft) but the idea of raw poultry/meat is a mental hurdle for me as well. But I figured, I’d already done the trigger fish, so oh well. It was served on what I thought was going to be a cracker or biscuit of some sort but was soft and foamy. I was very surprised when I put this in my mouth because I liked the flavors a lot! I just think it needed to be served on something crispy to give it some texture. Gotta have that crunch! 

 

Course 10: Grilled pork collar, with fermented celery root; paired with Blood sausage with black currant.

The pork collar was my favorite of the night! I could have eaten an entire plate of this!! I don’t know what the sauce was that they grilled the pork in but mmmmmmmmmmmm. Sweet and savory and so good. And topped with fermented celery root, acting as a slaw. The flavors paired perfectly. This was amazing.

The blood sausage on the other hand…. it was encased in what looked like a fruit rollup but was hard and crispy black currant. I took one bite and just…..I couldn’t. I appreciated that the flavors complemented one another, and that there was some interesting texture happening, but the blood sausage flavor and texture was just not something I could handle.

 

Course 11: Baked potato ice cream, topped with pine resin and Crispy potato skins.

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Thankfully, this did not taste like potatoes. Apparently, the ice cream soaks with potatoes for a couple days, and it takes a total of 3 days to make. The pine resin acted as a caramel sauce and the salty, crispiness of the potato skins worked beautifully with the sweetness of the ice cream. This was amazing and I would eat it all day every day.

 

Course 12: Whipped passionfruit curd, topped with saffron gel and gnocchi mushrooms.

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Absolutely delicious. The mushrooms were subtle and balanced the sweetness of the passionfruit as well as provided some interesting texture. I wish the saffron gel was a crispy thing instead of soft but it was overpowered by the other elements and went mostly unnoticed.

 

Final Thoughts

IMG_20190206_185154.jpgConsidering the high cost of this dining experience, the whole thing could have been a lot more pretentious. The way they bring you into the building is unnecessarily mysterious but alas. The thing that struck me about the whole night was, despite the high level of pretension of some of the food and plateware choices, the whole thing was really chill. The cooks preparing and serving our food were super friendly, answering all of our many questions and joking around with us. The servers and hostess were personable. One of the owners made his way around the room, taking time to talk to every single person, and he was so genuine and nice, not rushing through the process. If anyone was stressed, they didn’t show it — and I’m sure they were, given that the night we went was the FIRST night with the new crew, under new head chefs, with a new menu, in a newly renovated space.

I had expected to feel a little out of place amongst the patrons, but Nashville is a come-as-you-are kind of town, and this restaurant, which could have gone with a posh dress code and super upscale ambience, embraces that spirit. There were men in suits and men in flannel shirts, women in nice blouses & slacks, and others in jeans. Given my current state, my ‘nicer’ wardrobe is somewhat limited, so I wore a maxi skirt, a black tank top, and a long black cardigan, and sandals. No need to be fancy. I felt comfortable immediately after sitting down and noticing all of the smiles. I knew right away this would be a fun evening.

IMG_20190206_183601.jpgWhile I didn’t love every single bite of every single dish, I did love the entire experience. I loved how unrushed the entire night was, food coming to us as it was ready, drinks being poured for Justin whenever the sommelier decided it was time. And I loved all of the crazy plating and weird ass dishes that I actually tried just for the mere fact that I did it — in some ways, I can’t believe *I* ate everything I did. Me, the kid who lived on chicken nuggets and cheerios for years, who ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day in elementary school, who ate cereal for more than one meal on the reg in high school. Me, the adult who didn’t know she liked things like tacos and turkey burgers and brussel sprouts until recently.

Would I do another tasting menu? Absolutely. I can see us coming back here yearly, to try their new menu and shock our tastebuds. And who knows, maybe next time, my palette will be even more expanded and I’ll actually *like* some of the weirder things they come up with.

 

Have YOU ever been to Catbird Seat, or another tasting menu restaurant? What did you think? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?