Nashville Scene – First Bite

A few weeks back, we gave you the first peek at the menu for Answer, the interesting new fusion restaurant at 132 46th Ave. N. in Sylvan Park. As I analyzed the menu, it was admittedly difficult to ascertain exactly what the food would be like, since instead of giving the names of dishes, the menu simply lists the ingredients. But with a little imagination, you can guess what the kitchen will do with the individual components of the dish, and the servers are well-versed in their descriptions.

It’s obvious that chef Chris Raucci, who had been working in corporate kitchens for a while, was itching to spread his culinary wings, and the dishes I sampled on a recent visit demonstrate a predilection for bold flavors and the occasional fun twist, particularly with surprising Asian elements. An efficient kitchen team worked in almost complete silence in the small and very visible open kitchen. Marcus Rhodes, a chef I was clued into through my inquiries about African-American culinarians in town, leads the kitchen, and the staff was pumping out plates on a busy Friday night while Chef Raucci worked the pass.

After the initial push-back from some of the neighborhood on issues of building design, codes and parking, the team behind Answer is clearly trying to reach out to their neighbors. The large front windows would just scream for roll-up garage doors to bring in the fresh air and integrate the inside and outdoor space, but the noise would clearly be an issue in the extremely residential area. A decent sized parking lot behind the restaurant should help to mitigate some of the parking difficulties, but you still might have to leave your car on the street and walk the last block to the restaurant.

The interior design checks a lot of the boxes of modern Nashville restaurants: polished concrete floors, rough-hewn wood finishes, penny-tile panel facing on the large bar, and glass-and-iron room dividers, along with a vaguely industrial look to the whole scene. On the whole, it’s quite attractive if not especially ground-breaking. An interesting feature is what would be a wood-fired oven in most places, but in this case is a gas-fired open pizza oven. Despite the fact that there are no pizzas on the menu, Answer makes excellent use of this infernal oven to quick-fire some dishes and slow-roast others. General manager Victoria Rothberg explained that they made the choice to go with gas as another nod to their neighbors. Not only are wood fires more complicated to safely vent and contain, but the stacks of wood fuel outside the restaurant might have attracted bugs and other pests.

The majority of the menu is made up of small plates intended for sharing, and this led to my main quibble with Answer. Because the restaurant space is relatively small, everything seems little cramped. The passageway between the bar and tables and between rows of two-top and four-top tables is just a tad too narrow. Whenever a customer or server walked past our table, I felt the need to lean away from the gap for fear of banging elbows. The cramped space also means that the tables are quite small.

Now, cozy tables positioned close to one another is kind of charming and romantic at spots like, say, nearby Caffe Nonna. But with a small-plate emphasis on the dining experience at Answer, there’s just not enough room — if you are sharing plates, you really can’t fit more than at most one or two other dishes on the table. So instead of picking your way around multiple options, diners make their way through their orders in chronological order, one dish at a time. I just think it’s a missed opportunity compared to other shared-plate concepts.

The dishes themselves were quite good on my first visit, with lots of bright Asian flavors and an emphasis on umami in plates like a delicious mushroom starter and a sesame and miso-flavored New York Strip Tartare. Other popular starters worth a try are the pork and shrimp arancini and an octopus dish with Middle Eastern elements like za’atar on the plate.

We sampled some tender slow-braised pork cheeks in mojo butter, and an order of house-made tagliatelle with asparagus and roasted grapes, and found them both worthy of your consideration. This is still the first menu for Answer, and they are committed to keeping it in place for the first couple of months. So if you get a chance to taste through more of it, please let us know what you think in the comments below. I personally feel like some of the dishes could still use a little editing, perhaps cutting the ingredients list a bit, but that’s what good restaurants do. Answer has a lot of potential and could become a real asset to its neighborhood.