REVIEW: The Catbird Seat

2018 came to a close with Chef Ryan Poli cooking a final meal at The Catbird Seat on December 29th after 3 years with the “avant-garde dining gem.”  It’s a new year and new chefs will be introduced in February. As my friends and I reflected on our “Best of 2018” experiences on New Year’s Eve, I knew, without a doubt, my “best meal” pick was The Catbird Seat.

I recently read a comparison of the dining experience at The Catbird Seat to hearing live music, specifically at the Ryman here in Nashville. The diner, Ben Kuttler, appeared as a guest writer on Nashville blog, Type-A Explorations, and expressively described the parallels between the Ryman and Catbird Seat as a feeling like “a massage at the center of your body.” On the other hand, the late, great Anthony Bourdain was so enamored with the pasta he was served at The Catbird Seat he claimed he would “face-plant in a big fuckin’ bowl of this” and “would wake up and eat this cold in a Tupperware container” like Tony Soprano does with Carmela’s legendary ziti.

High praise indeed. The figurative and literal accounts of The Catbird Seat experience, each an eloquent rendition of the multi-course meal, are both entirely accurate. I’ve been very fortunate to dine at several tasting menu restaurants all over the world and every time it was a special orchestrated performance unique to the chef(s), location and cuisine, not unlike the magical experience of listening to music live. I have to agree with Ben when he described “getting lost in the sound” of live music. Next time you’re at a venue with great acoustics, hearing an extremely talented musician, close your eyes. It feels as if every note resounds through the body pulling at every single heartstring stirring the soul. Tasting food, some things you’ve never heard of before, prepared in a way you couldn’t imagine recreating, the sheer inventiveness baffling the mind, sparks that similar feeling. Sounds of beautiful music and bites of something so indescribably delicious will absolutely move you to the core.

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REVIEW: Geist

Geist is a bar and restaurant set in a historic 1900’s blacksmith shop in Germantown, on Jefferson St right in front of the Nashville Sounds stadium. I originally went when it first opened earlier this year for drinks with some girlfriends, but had yet to go for dinner and it’s been on my list.

Sean and I wanted a date night before we would be apart for almost a week due to separate travel plans. We were looking to stay nearby and go somewhere that would be fairly quick as we both still needed to pack. Geist seemed the best candidate:  a short walk down the street, romantic atmosphere with a great looking menu and a place neither of us had tried.

The decor is gorgeous with high back, comfy seats and stunning chandeliers – a perfect date night spot. I love the exposed brick, original wood floors and lofted ceilings – you can certainly imagine it as a blacksmith shop. I also absolutely love when restaurants restore historic buildings!

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We started with a cocktail and our waitress was super friendly and upbeat. She took our drinks menu and assured us she would be right back to explain the menu. I ordered an espresso martini, which is a rare choice for me outside of an after-dinner drink, but was really calling my name for some reason and it didn’t disappoint. Sean chose the Stingray; both of the cocktails were really delicious, however at $13 a pop we found them overpriced for what they were, especially when we could go up the road to Rolf & Daughters and enjoy a similarly tasty drink for $1-$2 less. Well, we had a good half hour to sip on them and enjoy each other’s company, all the while becoming increasingly hangry, the night about to take a turn for the worse.

After we received our drinks, we didn’t see our waitress again for at least 30 minutes. We were constantly looking around to grab any server’s attention. I was starting to get the shakes from drinking on an empty stomach right after working out (I know, bad idea). Hadn’t our waitress just so confidently state she’d be right back after taking our drinks order? Instead, we finished our drinks by the time we finally got her attention to put in a food order. Not a great start. Good moods were rapidly dissolving and our “fun date night” morphed into a disgruntled convo consisting solely of the restaurant’s service. Nonetheless we moved on, ordered several small plates and our waitress profusely apologized.

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We started with the leek kimchi, grilled peach, and cucumber salad with citrus vinaigrette and the asparagus and burrata with griddled bread. The peach salad was absurdly tiny for the price of $13. However, I thought the kimchi paired with peaches was an innovative, unique take and I enjoyed the flavor combination. The asparagus burrata was good, but nothing new for a burrata dish. I did really like fresh dill added in and the perfectly griddled sourdough. But, it was also very pricey, $14, and we had to ask for more bread as it only came with two small slices.

When we received our food, a server appeared with two limoncello shots to apologize for the delay. It was a very nice gesture and we appreciated it, but instead of moving on the servers became overly attentive hovering and trying to remove our drinks before we were finished. It was hard to have a private conversation with the wait staff constantly lurking nearby to cater to our every whim.

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Next we had the braised octopus, oven dried tomatoes, and roasted peppers. The octopus was overcooked and again, a small portion of only one tentatcle for the cost ($14). The ratatouille-esque tomato and roasted pepper sauce underneath was the star – the summery vegetables and herbs were cooked in olive oil together until the flavors melded into a perfect confit of sorts. I don’t think the daikon radish on top added anything other than perhaps a garnish for presentation.

We were then surprised with another complimentary dish, the roasted heirloom carrots with farmers cheese. This was my favorite dish! The carrots were smoky and perfectly cooked, which can be hard to do without making them soggy or too al-dente. I loved the buttery radish, and the farmers cheese paired well with the smokiness from the vegetables.

Lastly, we had the braised lamb, spiced yogurt flatbread. First of all, this is most definitely not a flatbread. It was more akin to a tortilla. Secondly, the portion was again, tiny and overpriced, $16 for about 2-3 oz of lamb. If you take a look in the picture below you’ll see there’s enough there for each of us to have a bite with the smallest swoosh of spiced yogurt.  Size and cost aside, the lamb was cooked to perfection and was full of flavor. I wasn’t as impressed as Sean was, but it was still a tasty bite. We didn’t really eat the “flatbread” and I’m not quite sure how it’s meant to be eaten. Should we have rolled it up into a burrito of sorts? The consistency was soft like a burrito and not crunchy enough to be able to eat it flat. We ended up just eating the filling and leaving the bread.

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Sadly, this was not the best experience and the quick date we were looking for turned into an almost 3 hour dinner. While we enjoyed several aspects of the dishes, overall, the high cost and small portions outweighed any enjoyment we had in the food. The cost was on par with Rolf & Daughters, another small-plates focused restaurant in Germantown, despite the food being nowhere near the same caliber. We don’t mind paying for a nice meal out if the cost adequately reflects the quality of food and if not quality, then at the very least quantity; not the case at Geist.

Then there was the terrible service. The servers did their best to make the delay in ordering up to us, becoming overly attentive to the point of hovering (which, totally killed our date vibe BTW) and offering complimentary limoncello and carrots. Even so, whomever was behind the decision to give us free food and drinks forgot to communicate with our waitress and she charged us for the “complimentary” carrots as well as the extra bread for the burrata.

We were really perturbed about the extra bread fee. When we asked for extra bread we were not informed there would be an extra cost; I was once a waitress and it’s server101 to inform your patrons of any added fees….even Chipotle does, “that’ll be extra for quac.” We didn’t bring it up to the waitress as we were already embarrassed by the flurry of activity around our table and didn’t want to call further attention or make a scene, but we did show the charge for the carrots we didn’t order in the first place. She kindly apologized and corrected our bill coming back with warm chocolate chip cookies. Who doesn’t love a chocolate chip cookie warm out of the oven? They were delicious and we really appreciated the gesture.

I really wanted to love Geist and I hope this was a one-off scenario. Despite the fact the menu is full of things I love, the decor is gorgeous and drinks delightful, I doubt I’ll be back any time soon except maybe to try their Champagne Garden.


Rating*: 2.8 | More Info:  Geist | Neighborhood:  Germantown | Cuisine Type:  Internationally-focused cuisine with regional ingredients
*Ratings are based on a 5 point scale with 5 being an exceptional, extremely satisfactory experience. Factors taken into consideration when reviewing include atmosphere, service, taste, food/drink preparation, quality & innovation, and cost relative to the previous factors.