A Nashville Restaurant That Tastes as Good as It Looks

Posted January 2, 2018 10:46 p.m. EST

Henrietta Red, a restaurant in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee, that opened in February, has many of the telltale trappings of Instagram clickbait. While there’s no millennial pink, the black sandwich board and expanse of marble at the bar, coupled with the wishbone chairs and tile-framed wood-burning oven in the dining room, fit a certain envy-inducing aesthetic. But unlike other places that hit those idealized notes, Henrietta Red lives up to its image as a place where you actually want to be.

Start your meal with something fun — a craft cocktail Jell-O shot, perhaps. The potent, jiggly cubes offer reassurance that, despite the restaurant’s cool interior, it’s OK to relax. They come in flavors like Fernet and Coke, are served skewered, and, like liquid cocktails, come with a garnish.

Next up are more things to slurp. One of the goals of Julia Sullivan, the chef and an owner, who opened the restaurant with the general manager and sommelier Allie Poindexter, was to fill the void in Nashville’s oysterscape. A small, perfectly nice selection hailing from both coasts, Canada and the Gulf, comes with a seasonal mignonette (in our case, juicy watermelon) in addition to the usual condiments. The best oysters, though, come out of the wood-burning oven, slathered with a grassy pesto-like green curry then cooked until custardy.

But the sleeper hit of the raw bar was the snapper tartare, a symphony of textures and pastels — gumdrop-tender fish the shade of rose quartz, crunchy lavender daikon and pale green compressed cucumber, punctuated with serrano chili, toasted nori and crispy quinoa.

Sullivan, a Nashville native who previously worked at Michelin-starred spots Blue Hill and Per Se in New York, has a special talent for making humble foods the hero of a meal. The anchovy butter that comes with the order of warm flatbread is pungent, smoky and irresistibly salty, like the perfect marriage of garlic butter and lox cream cheese. The red leaf lettuce salad, tossed with olives, toasted almonds, Asian pear and pickled turnips, is dressed with a mouthwatering mustard vinaigrette that hooks you anew with every bite. An entree of sausage and beans is in fact a delightfully garlicky, loosely packed pork link made in-house, served with pleasingly firm black-eyed peas and mustard greens, slicked with that same dressing.

Desserts, from the pastry chef Caitlyn Jarvis, are a bit more elaborate. A refreshing vegan coconut pudding with melon-y cucumber sorbet, coconut chips, mint “snow” and bits of angel food cake change angel food to coconut is one of many superb animal-free options on the menu. “It’s a point of pride for us,” said Sullivan, whose pistachio-crusted cauliflower steak has been a best seller (currently, there’s a turnip steak in its place). “My mom is vegan, so I knew I had to be prepared.”

For fans of more intense desserts, the “malted chocolate” offers up malted chocolate ice cream with whey caramel, crunchy hazelnut-chocolate nuggets and blondie cubes that are fudgier than the finest brownie. It photographs fine. But the food here is best experienced in person.

Henrietta Red, 1200 4th Avenue North; 615-490-8042; An average dinner for two, without drinks and tip, is $70.