Pull out a pencil, let’s make a list.
As quickly as you can, name your top three neighborhoods for dining in Nashville. OK, is Green Hills in there? If the answer is yes, start over. Is it in your top five? Start over.
The fact of the matter is that Green Hills — even if someplace like Table 3 or Chinatown holds a place or certain dish in your heart — won’t make the top 10 on most people’s list of areas of town to go for dinner. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but most of them come down to rent — you’re going to pay more per square foot off Hillsboro Pike than almost any other place in town. The restaurants that survive usually have high volume (we’re looking at you, Cheesecake Factory) or high prices, and creative, chef-driven spots are rarely drawn to that kind of environment. Economics are bitchy like that.
Into that reality steps Etc, chef Deb Paquette’s 80-seat restaurant tucked into the Bedford Commons development off Crestmoor Road. It was originally supposed to be called Truss and located in Sylvan Park, but the developers built that space incorrectly and got into a dispute with the neighborhood association, so Paquette and partners decamped for Green Hills and the relatively quiet area behind Marriott’s Courtyard hotel.
When you pull up to the restaurant, you may be forgiven for thinking you’ve wandered into planned-community territory or onto some vanilla movie-studio backlot. The wide sidewalks and unadorned buildings look like they’re waiting to be dressed for the next sitcom exterior to be shot there. But step inside Etc and you find a comforting space, bathed in dark wood and ready to treat you well.
Fans of Etch — Etc’s sister restaurant downtown — will be familiar with the style, as larger portions abound, even for starters. Paquette pulls heavily from Mediterranean influences, and every dish arrives plated to grab your attention. There are arcs of dots and piles of greens. There are layers upon layers of flavors and sometimes a smear of sauce. There are auxiliary piles of crumbles and flavored butters. There is nothing untouched, and that includes the sourdough, which has been grilled smartly and topped with microgreens.
When it works, it really works. The lamb ($32), cooked perfectly medium-rare, comes with crispy coconut potatoes on top of a sauce of curried parsnips and some mung beans that have been sprouted and tossed with mint. It’s perfect Paquette. Her point of view might originally be Mediterranean, but she’s region-agnostic and unafraid to seek complementary flavors from anywhere.
The fowl trio ($34) was the same way. Seared duck breast slices were topped with just a little foie gras butter, but working opposite them was a chicken breast, splayed out on a corn husk and slathered with a red mole sauce. It was a lot to take in, but there was nothing left on the plate at the end.
In general, Paquette edits her starters a little harder, so while a scallop crudo ($14) comes with orange segments, curried mustard seeds and bits of tempura, it somehow feels simpler. Same for the Vietnamese-inspired short rib ($12), which had a glorious nearly caramelized richness to it. Even in the cases where the plate was too busy, her staff’s technique was spot-on, producing some of the most tender octopus ($13) I’ve had in a while. Just bump those greens over to the side of the plate and slide a piece through the smoked bean puree.
Lunch featured some mixed results. The shrimp salad ($15) was at war with the greens and the slightly soggy flatbread, but the Indian chicken tacos ($10.50) with a touch of hot peach jam left me smiling. It should be your first stop.
You can see Paquette’s proper Culinary Institute of America training everywhere. Even when dishes missed — oh, how I’d like a mulligan on that Portuguese ravioli ensopado ($37), as it was just a hodgepodge of seafood that never came together — all the components were cooked expertly. And as the menu has started to evolve over time (and season), dishes like the lamb have improved.
I never got less than excellent service, no matter the time of day or where I sat, whether by myself at the bar, lingering with a larger party or even just as half a couple on a weeknight. The staff was knowledgeable about the seemingly endless components and made good recommendations from the wine and cocktail list. (If you see their version of a whiskey smash on the list — rye, mint, lemon — grab it.)
Etc might not break any new ground for Nashville, but for Green Hills it feels positively progressive. Will Paquette get an area better known for retail and traffic into the dining top 10 anytime soon? Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn’t have a shot without her.