Ask Americans what their favorite international cuisine is, and Italian will at least be in their top three. But “Italian food” is such a broad topic that it’s unfair to the country’s many regional cuisines and differing serving styles. Anyone who follows Stanley Tucci on his food tour of the boot in CNN’s In search of Italy should realize that the country has as much variety of ingredients and cooking techniques as the United States, and we’re not really talking about “American cuisine” as a meaningful descriptor. So what we group under the umbrella of Italian cuisine can range from a simple bowl of pasta served with a rustic Sunday sauce to the elegant presentation of Michelin-starred cuisine. assoluto di bosco topped with a shower of truffle shavings.
All this to say that when I recently planned two meals at two different Italian restaurants, I went there knowing that the experiences would likely be very different. The first was a sample of the new spring menu of YolanvsTony Mantuano’s refined Italian restaurant in The Joseph. I knew the meal would be a languorous experience with excellent wine pairings, courtesy of the talented beverage staff under the direction of Cathy Mantuano, and I was not disappointed.
The second was more of a novelty, a new experience Night landscape, a fully immersive 360-degree media complex in the former home of 12th & Porter (where I also had immersive experiences back in the day, if you know where I’m from). The entertainment venue uses multiple projectors, a surround sound system, and even aroma generators to create the illusion of being in the middle of somewhere other than 12th Avenue. Designed for flexible uses like broadcasting live sporting events or multimedia presentations, Nightscape also partners with culinary teams to present special dinners. I attended the current offering called “Taste: and Italian Villa” which aimed to transport diners to the gardens and ballrooms of an estate in Tuscany. In its own way, it was also very entertaining.
Now let’s get to the details.
Not only was Yolan showcasing his new menu, he was also introducing Nashville to his new head chef, Joey Fecci. The 24 year old prodigy of a chef had previously worked with Mantuano from a stint at every station on the line in the kitchen of Spiaggia, the Chicago restaurant where Mantuano earned his Michelin star. After Spiaggia closed and the Mantuanos moved south to start Yolan, Fecci found himself taking a short vacation in Nashville at the start of the pandemic.
While jogging through SoBro, he ran into a few of his former Chicago colleagues who told him about Yolan’s plans. Although he had no prior knowledge of the restaurant, Fecci accepted an invitation to join the opening staff as sous chef before rising through the ranks to run the kitchen.
For such a young chef, Fecci demonstrates great finesse in the kitchen, as well as a knowledge of local and seasonal products. A first round of marinated mussels served with fermented ramp cream and Calabrian chili oil was a lovely fusion of Puglia cuisine with an Appalachian twist. Other highlights of my tasting included the orecchiette with broccoli rabe and a brilliant olive risotto served with a Kalamata olive caramel that was brackish, sweet and revealing.
I had never had (or heard of) ravioli di grano arso, but the delicious al dente pasta made with ‘burnt wheat’ and served with a mushroom stew was delicious. Although I didn’t quite understand the flavor combination of the next main course, halibut and chicory, some of my table mates enjoyed it. It was soon forgotten when the lamb sausage arrived under a bright and fresh asparagus verde salsa and braised shallots. I really enjoyed that one.
Yolan’s pastry cooking never let me down and the two desserts were both wonderful. A pavlova made with pickled raspberries and goat’s milk was tangy and refreshing, and the finishing girasole was meant to represent a sunflower from root to bloom. The combination of caramelized SunButter, burnt sea salt, sunflower sprouts, bergamot and infarct was a great way to end a meal.
These same dishes are available as a five- or eight-course tasting menu, with wine pairings also available. In order to maintain a good timing between the plates, the whole table has to make the trip to Puglia together, but it’s quite a ride! Book your trip on the restaurant’s website.
With the popularity of immersive events like traveling Van Gogh and Monet exhibits across the country, it’s no surprise that a concept like Nightscape has emerged here in Nashville as a destination for tourists and locals alike. I thought the addition of the culinary component was a nice touch, but I was curious how good the food could be.
When I saw that Zane Dearien, the executive chef of Pastaria had designed the multi-course dinner menu, I was thrilled. In fact, Chef Dearien was working in the Nightscape kitchen alongside the in-house kitchen staff the night I dined.
While the intention is that the specific culinary concept and surrounding digital vibe will change periodically, they will rule the Italian villa for at least a little longer with some possible pop-ups from other cuisines over the weekend. Nightscape offers two seats per night, at 5:15 and 8:15, and we were happy to be early risers. Since parking is scarce and optional wine pairings are suggested, carpooling is highly recommended.
The experience is $129 per person, with wine available in 3-ounce pairs, by the glass and bottle, plus cocktails from the bar. After check-in, diners are escorted into the lounge for a welcome cocktail, a nice amaro-forward appetite-stimulator. As diners mingle and enjoy their drink on comfortable sofas or high tables, they get their first taste of the multimedia experience with projections of serene Italian landscapes to set the mood.
Doors open after about 20 minutes and patrons find their tables by table and seat numbers projected from the ceiling onto the tables. It was a cool idea, but if you’re a big Instagrammer (which I’m decidedly not), you’ll find that the pixels on the table make all the photos of your food look like they were taken through a door. mosquito net.
The walls are covered with surrounding images of landscapes in and around the virtual villa, and the images change with each class. These are digitally created images, not actual photography, so the effect was a bit like being inside a 20th century video game, like Myst Where dragon’s lair. While not entirely realistic, it was novel, especially when the perspective changed as the footage moved from scene to scene. There were a few glitches like when a computer crashed for a few seconds turning a section of the wall blue. The audio component of the Illusion is directional, which means if you’re sitting under a surround speaker like we did, you might get a little distracted by the buzzing of insects and the chirping of birds. It’s still better than battling bugs while dining al fresco.
Although I didn’t notice if the scent diffusers were used to add to the ambience, the fact that it didn’t smell like I remember 12th & Porter is a very good thing!
The meal was exactly what I expected from a Pastaria inspired menu. A bread and olive oil service was quite good, and our basket was neatly filled before the appetizer even came out. This starter was a briny presentation of olives and marinated artichokes that was flavorful enough without swimming in oil. This was followed by an antipasto dish of dried scallops in salt and citrus, thinly sliced and garnished with trout roe, citrus fruits, pine nuts and herbs.
As the scene moved from the vineyard to the grand hall of the villa, sounds of creaking bridges and doors added to the illusion as the attentive staff carried away the first plates. The second antipasto was a plate of salt-roasted beets served with an umami-rich miso puree. My dining companion usually cannot accept the beets, and although substitutions are not part of the normal experience, the kitchen carefully substituted the roasted carrots after an email request. I offered her a taste of my beets, and she didn’t back down, calling them “almost as good as Deb Paquette’s!” That’s high praise.
The insalata course was an untypical Caesar salad, made with kale instead of romaine. The Caesar dressing was heavy with anchovies, a good thing in my opinion. Topped with strong red onions, roasted walnuts, pecorino and more trout roe, it was reminiscent of one of the Pastaria salads we already order often. You have to be a kale fan to really love it, and the reappearance of trout roe demonstrated the shortcomings of the kitchen space where they seemed to repeat a few elements in multiple dishes.
The primo was a really solid pork agnolotti XO ricotta in a grana brodo. The broth the agnolotti were served with was delicious and deeply flavorful. When I learned that one of the chefs in the kitchen was a Black Dynasty Secret Ramen House veteran, I understood why this broth was so complex, because these guys really know how to infuse flavors into a bowl .
The dessert was served with a little amaro from Montenegro instead of wine, a nice accompaniment to the delicious lemon mascarpone with strawberries and oatmeal crumble. I took a moment over dessert to look around at our other guests who seemed to be having a good time on their virtual journey. Some were dressed for a fancy night out while others were decidedly casual. I expect future crowds to be a combination of tourists and curious locals discovering the newest experience in the city.
Was that a little cheesy? Sure. Was it fun? Absolutely! Was it delicious? Yes, exactly what I expected from Pastaria, one of my favorites. Probably the most novel part of the evening was walking out of the restaurant to find it was still light outside. Now I won’t say this is the first time I have walked out of this building to be illuminated by God’s spotlight, but in the past it was after dawn instead of before sunset. . I must say that I prefer the current situation at my age. If you want to try it, make a reservation on the Nightscape website.