In many ways and in many places, it helps to know somebody. While in Nashville, this paid off for me in a big way. My brother-in-law works front of house at one of the most exciting new restaurants in the city, and I was fortunate enough to have one hell of a meal there. The staff at Henley gave me an insider’s view of their greatest hits. My meal was equal parts amazing food, amazing drinks, and amazing company.
When I arrived, a glass of prosecco awaited me at an ideally located table. After talking briefly with our server, the appetizers began quickly coming. Some of them we ordered, others were simply brought, and they added up to be a meal greater than the sum of its parts. The tornado of dishes included herbed lavash; Whitestone oysters with sherry mignonette, green onions, and bacon; beef tartare with sunchoke, a quail egg, black garlic, and brioche toast; and, finally, a plate of local cheeses and jams. This was punctuated by a sampling of four house cask bourbons from some of the best distilleries in Tennessee. As my main, I ordered the “Duck + Dumplings.” It was a loosely composed dish of gnocchi, duck confit, and Brussels sprouts all drizzled in a velouté. The roasted sprouts in this entrée caused me pause, and they were the best single bite of food I have had in quite some time. I typically avoid sweets due to my food allergy, so I indulged in a cocktail for dessert. While normally a neat whiskey kind of person, the “Know Nothing” caught my eye. Served in a gold rimmed tumbler, Jameson Black Barrel, China China, honey, chrysanthemum, and Angostura swam around a crystal clear ice block… my kind of dessert. The meal and service were exceptional, the recommendations and conversation from staff felt natural and unobtrusive, and the dishes and flavors were approachable but composed. As I stood to leave, I needed a moment to fully drink in the experience. I looked again at the surroundings, thought of the flavors, and was thankful for being able to share it with my wife, brother-in-law, and cousin-in-law.
It has been my great fortune to have an amazing array of culinary experiences so far in my life. If you will indulge my digression for but a moment, I would like to name a few of the many highlights: I have had mofongo in San Juan; eaten lobster in Maine; grilled elk in the Rockies; broken fresh bread while staring out over the Mediterranean; eaten shawarma in the stone alleys of Jerusalem; been served an eight-course dinner on the beach by a Michelin star chef; and have grown, gathered, or caught many a meal enjoyed beside fire. I say these things to put into perspective what it means when I claim that my meal at Henley was special. Soon it will take its place on the list above, but, for now, it will live at the tip of my tongue just in case I get the opportunity to talk about it.