Sitting in “the catbird seat” means you’ve reached a pinnacle, a position worthy of envy. The new Catbird Seat is also a tiny gem of a Nashville boutique restaurant located above the Patterson House speakeasy—the latest creation of entrepreneurs Max and Ben Goldberg. Visually, it’s striking in its clean, fresh Scandinavian modern layout. It seats 36 guests at a time, most on creamy leather barstools around a U-shaped kitchen bar to watch chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson. Once inside the bar allows those who’ve garnered a coveted online reservation an entry into a world where deep, marvelous flavors explode the senses. It’s also where sommelier Jane Lopes pairs beverages with such genius to the flavor profiles created by the nationally regarded chefs that each is an integral part of the experience.
“It was always in the back of my head that I wanted to open an intimate, chef-driven restaurant, but I didn’t act on it until I met Josh and Erik and they had the same vision and incredible talent,” says owner Ben Goldberg. “We decided we were going to make this restaurant really special without being pretentious or stuffy. Jane was such an important addition because her ability to choose and discuss beverages in a really unassuming way complimented the chefs’ efforts. Jane, Josh and Erik worked together to roll out an opening menu that was creative in every aspect, from each dish to each beverage to the way they were paired together.”
The extraordinary matching of food and potables for the entire evening is prix fixe, so forget menus. The meal, usually seven courses, is $100 per person, with three beverage possibilities: non-alcohol ($20), standard ($30 currently) and reserve ($75). Wise patrons choose the reserve option, though standard is also a good bargain. Lopes keeps individual bottles of wine on hand for purchase, with a choice of about 12 options, but,“I sell about two bottles a week, max,” she says. “It’s 95 percent pairings.”
“The only people I dissuade from the pairings are those who say things like ‘I only drink red wine,’” Lopes says. “Usually, you’ll get a wide variety of things—ciders, beers, sakes, white wines and our own concoctions,” (like a Yellow Chartreuse and sherry cocktail served with local lichen dusted in powdered porcini mushroom I had as an amuse bouche). Lopes emphasizes that the goal is not tipsy customers. The pairings are served with food, and things are light enough that even with seven separate courses, your head won’t be spinning when you leave.
Lopes’ genius develops from intense focus. Anderson and Habiger develop dishes at the end of a week, so on Saturday; she knows what’s changing, ingredients and preparation details. She can tell what the acid’s like, and the level of sweetness; she knows how rich and how heavy each course will be. Then it’s a matter of looking through her tasting notes and formulating her own concepts. Then it’s emailing distributors, tasting with them by Tuesday; Wednesday—tasting with the dish itself. Ultimately, Lopes has a beverage concept she truly loves and the magic of each course is complete.
Intriguing drinks may include a wine you’re not familiar with from a boutique French winery or a cocktail blending, say, sparkling rosé and sake, paired with a raw scallop with avocado puree and country ham crumble; or perhaps a soup of chestnut, milk, honey and chanterelles, paired with bubbly Normandy Cidre Bouche Brut E. Dupont, or beef short ribs with a hint of black truffle and farmers’ cheese, with a Domaine de Durban Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise. My own recent favorite, a 2008 Royal Tokaji Àts “Mad” Cuvée in a glass rinsed with Black Maple Mill Bourbon, was almost too much of a sensory experience in itself, but paired with vanilla cake with Bourbon capsules and house-made cherry sorbet became a thing of ultimate beauty.
Don’t come into the Catbird Seat expecting the obvious. Take the risk of the reserve, it’s worth saving money for, and let your beverage palate be sated by something you won’t find elsewhere.