Le Sel, a New French cuisine restaurant in Midtown, opened in October 2015 as part of the Strategic Hospitality restaurant group owned by brothers Ben and Max Goldberg. Last week, Elizabeth Fox, Alex Hendrickson and I were finally able to make it in, and our expectations were exceeded on all fronts …
Finding ourselves indecisive on what to order for lunch last week at Le Sel, as it all looked so good, we had the sincere pleasure of Max Goldberg ordering for us. Lunch turned into a two-and-a-half-hour tasting of most of the lunch menu — sometimes we luck out with perks of this job, and we were more than grateful! The entire experience left us craving our next meal from this Midtown eatery located in the Adelicia, which is serving up seriously great food under the supervision of Jason Brumm, director of culinary operations for Strategic Hospitality (SH). In our fast-paced world of go-go-go, being able to sit and linger over a French meal with Max proved one of our highlights of 2016 that will be hard to beat.
The Le Sel interior distinguishes itself from all other spaces in Nashville, and the eight-person raw bar is the center of it all.
Before I have you salivating over photos of our feast, you need to know the story behind why this food tastes so good. When vacationing in France, something that is enjoyed by all is the French cuisine. It’s delicious, and it’s also some of the most regulated food in the world. The way the food is made, sourced and presented is overseen by French law, food societies and tradition. This leads to the best butters, the freshest seafood and breads like nowhere else.
At Le Sel, the quality of the food similarly starts by how it is sourced. An emphasis on both responsible and fresh ingredients is the cornerstone of what makes this food stand out; it all starts with how it enters their kitchen. As Max explains, it’s impossible to create world-class food without world-class ingredients. Le Sel sources locally when possible, and they purposefully source sustainably, so diners are assured that their oysters and seafood are harvested responsibly and their meats are from animals raised ethically. As Le Sel is under the Strategic Hospitality umbrella of restaurants, they are able to form partnerships with respected purveyors, guaranteeing business to many of their restaurants’ kitchens.
Le Sel is washed with natural light during the day.
As we sat in our plush, pink velvet booth, listening to French music play, observing oysters being shucked for our order at the raw bar and enjoying the blend of traditional French decor mixed with modern local and international art, our group was struck by the unique yet comfortable approach the Le Sel interiors provide. It ends up being the perfect companion to the menu options, as each presents something familiar with an undercurrent of pleasant surprise.
And, of note, Le Sel continues to be highly in demand for dinner, so consider booking in advance. But for now at least, lunch and weekend brunch are a bit under the radar. Many restaurants of the Le Sel caliber simply don’t serve a weekday lunch, which makes the experience that much more special. And, with a price point no more expensive than the crowded lunch spots of Bricktop’s and J. Alexander’s, we’re speculating that the ease of currently getting a table for lunch at Le Sel will cease as word gets out. We suggest taking advantage now for business and celebratory lunches to even a post-tennis meal (yes, white tie to workout clothes are acceptable and seen simultaneously among patrons!).
Now, get ready for your hunger pangs to begin …
We started off with some oysters. Le Sel always offers at least one variety from the East Coast and one from the West Coast. We sampled the Kusshi oysters from British Columbia and the Powder Point oysters from Duxbury Bay, MA. Several mignonette sauces accompany the oysters, which are served in antique vessels sourced specifically for Le Sel.
While mussels make a great option to share, or to eat as your main meal, we may never eat mussels the same way after hearing this tip: a French patron told Max to remove all the mussel meat from the shells and add it to the broth. Remove the shells and add French fries and eat. Did your world just rock a little like ours did when hearing this? YUM!
It’s New French cuisine, so there is more than just wine and Champagne to accompany your meal! While the wine menu, purposefully and artistically sourced by General Manager Tim Rawding is tempting, the cocktails make for an eye-catching choice. Matt Tocco, the Strategic Hospitality beverage director, creates and curates these and other SH venue cocktails, including at Pinewood Social and Merchants.
As Le Sel actually is on three levels, with a cocktail lounge downstairs and a private dining room upstairs, there are plenty of opportunities to come for a meal or to come simply to sip on libations.
While not all these dishes are found under the “PREMIER” section (starters) of the menu, each can start off a meal well or be a meal unto itself; several are perfect for sharing: 1) There is a daily crudo special. Order it! We tried the tuna crudo, which was fresh and flavorful with a generous amount of fresh herbs. 2) The French onion soup is hearty and can be ordered sans crouton for the gluten-intolerant. 3) This Bibb salad was just like they serve in Paris: simple lettuces with fresh herbs and a light, bright dressing. 4) Steak tartare is hard to find, but when executed as well as this, it’s worth the hunt. 5) The foie gras terrine with poached pears and micro greens melts in your mouth. 6) Art weaves its way throughout the Le Sel space including this “Ça Va” string art by local artist Jeff Stamper which greets you at the host stand.
Expertly seasoned tuna complements the haricots verts, potato, olives, peppers, egg, anchovy, capers and fines herbes in this niçoise salad. It’s large enough to split with a friend and then you both can get some French onion soup for a perfectly French meal (order Champagne, too, okay?!).
SANDWICHES (note: these are only available on the lunch menu)
This double-stacked cheeseburger with fries for $13 competes for best burger in town. The buttered, toasted bun, 8 ounces of beef, two slices of cheddar cheese, house pickles, onions and royale sauce means that maybe you don’t need dinner!
The biggest oohs and ahs we had upon sight were attributed for the lobster roll. It’s simply gorgeous. Ample slices of avocado are hidden under all that lobster, which is mixed with tarragon, chervil and chives with Bibb lettuce.
The French dip … these onions, like the onions for the French onion soup, are slowly caramelized over 12 hours and served on a soft baguette with horseradish crème and, of course, served with au jus. Watching Max, you could tell this was his go-to sandwich here.
Traditionally served in brasseries in France, steak frites is a simple dish that is packed with flavor, and Le Sel’s version of this dish does not disappoint. New York Strip steak is topped with classique butter and served alongside perfectly prepared pommes frites.
The fresh fillets of petrale sole are accompanied by a sauce verte, lemon and pickled fennel. This fish has sweet and nutty undertones with an overall mild flavor.
Many culinary experts have spent years perfecting a roasted chicken, and Le Sel’s chef is no exception. This roasted half chicken, which sits atop pomme purée, will transport you to a French outdoor market from the moment the aroma hits your nose.
By this time, we didn’t think we could fit in one more bite of anything, but then we saw and smelled dessert and we couldn’t resist. These are also available for dinner: 1) Crème brûlèe: malted milk, pumpkin seed granola, Laurel Bay milk ice 2) Bombe: white chocolate, passion fruit, financier, grapefruit sorbet 3) Apple & pear galette: pecan rye brittle, brown butter and honey ice cream 4) Pot de crème: coffee and chocolate, olive oil ice cream, pistachio dentelle
The silver, textured wall is actually made up of thousands of little sea creatures, making it a functional piece of art created by Jeff Stamper. Note the black-and-white painted floors.
Access the cocktail lounge through its own street entrance or down the stairs from the main restaurant. Soon, the cocktail lounge will be serving the full Le Sel menu. The graffiti-like walls are by artist Alic Daniel, and the sea-diving dog is a tribute to Max’s French bulldog, Jolene, created by Jeff Stamper.
Our host who took all of the guesswork out of what to order, Max Goldberg. Note the pocket square, which is part of the uniform at Strategic Hospitality’s Pinewood Social, featuring the “mascot” rabbit and the button, similar to the one commissioned for the staff to wear (theirs is a bit larger with a red handshake) at Strategic’s newest project, Bastion.
We were impressed by pretty much everything at Le Sel and are now among the growing crowd of cheerleaders for this Midtown restaurant that has made French cuisine fun and approachable, while maintaining the high expectations that French food deserves.
Le Sel is located in the Adelicia: 1922 Adelicia St., Nashville, TN 37212. Valet parking is available. It opens at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Friday and at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. It closes at 11 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday and at 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
For more information or to make reservations, see leselnashville.com.
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