Restaurant Under Glass – Old Hickory Steakhouse, Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center
I’d only driven through Nashville, on my way to someplace else, only stopping for gasoline on a few occasions. I was always on the Interstate, so I had passed by this complex, but it was usually well after dark and I really didn’t know what lay, just beyond the pavement. I did a bit of research, when I knew that we were headed to Nashville for a meeting, and looked around CH for some fine-dining recommendations. When I got the details on where we were to stay, I located the Old Hickory Steakhouse at the Gaylord Opryland Resort:
From the comments on CH, I began to develop a picture of what this sprawling resort might be like. I was about 60% correct in my vision, but that did not prepare me of the actual place. It started out as a few hotels, that were then enclosed in a glass canopy – everything under glass. Over the years, it expanded and expanded. It is a bit like Disney World, but covered, with elements of several theme parks included. References on the Web site indicated that the Old Hickory was in the Delta Atrium. It’s a free-standing building, built to resemble the P. G. T. Beauregard House in New Orleans, and is, in fact, in an atrium – one of many in this complex. A map is a necessity, and I had to rely on mine even after two days of wandering the premises.
The Old Hickory Steakhouse is perched on a series of waterfalls, that cascade to a lake in the center of the Delta Atrium, though this feature is not really evident from the restaurant, but best viewed from behind it. The structure has a very nice “clubby” feeling bar, several indoor dining areas, an expansive courtyard dining area and several others on the second floor. We ate both nights in the first-level courtyard, and did start out in the bar the first night. I did not have a chance to explore the upper-level, as there were functions occupying it on both nights.
The courtyard is a bit of old New Orleans, but with other elements thrown in. The tables are well-spaced and the seating comfortable. I’d typify it as being fine-dining, but with a resort air to it – not too formal, but definitely a linen tablecloth space. The only complaint that I had was the darkness. When I say “darkness,” I mean darkness. I’ve been on amusement park rides, like Disney’s Space Mountain, and there has to be more light in the tunnels there, than in the Old Hickory. First night I had my +2.5 reading glasses, but these were not even close. The wait staff has an array of LED flashlights and lighted magnifiers for help reading the menus. I’m glad that I had downloaded the PDF of the dinner menu, so I had some idea of what I was going to have. Same for their wine list. Note to the management: brighten the place up a few thousand lumens. The light fixtures that are interspersed about the courtyard all had 7W bulbs. Go with 75W bulbs.
The next night, I eschewed my contact lenses and wore my glasses, so I could lift these and get down to the fibre-level of the menus, plus I brought my own flashlight. Other than an inability to actual read the menu and wine list, it was too dark to really see the presentations of the food, without the flashlight. This made me uncomfortable, as I like to see what I am eating, especially in a place that ought to have a great presentation. If they were going for” romantic,” they probably scored, as I have no idea what any of the surrounding diners were doing. It was just too dark to see them.
The fare can best be described as Old South meets NYC steakhouse. The dinner menu is not that long, and is biased toward steakhouse fare, but with a decidedly Southern bent. Nice, as I grew up in the Deep South and that is a culinary subject that is not often well-covered in our travels. I was looking forward to this meal, not realizing that we were to be guests there the very next night. I’ll cover both meals, but you have to understand that on the second night, we were two of twelve diners, and I did not pick up the tab, so that one will be a bit spotty. Bear with me on this.
We arrived a bit early for our reservation on the first night, and were seated in the bar. We started off with a couple of glasses of Chardonnay. Unfortunately, the bar’s b-t-g list is different than that of the restaurant, and I did not take notes, thinking that I had the info in my PDFs – mistake. The wines were served far too cold, but the glassware was acceptable, though not up to what I have come to expect from this caliber of restaurant. A small quibble, but at these prices, one expects all aspects to be up to the level of dining. The two b-t-g Chards totaled $33.50. OK, when I got the bill for these, it came to $41+. Hey, I thought, they made a mistake. I asked for an itemized bill and the wine did come to $33.50, but by the time that all of the taxes were added, there was a approximately 25% surcharge. Part of this, I found out, was Tennessee’s “sin tax,” on all things deemed to be inherently evil. Wine is one of those things. Well, at least we were not in a “dry county!” (Note: AZ is about as bad with its myriad of taxes on anything that a tourist is likely to spend $ on, lodging, food, wine, car rentals, etc., to pay for a new doomed, er, I mean domed, stadium for the football Cardinals. Car rentals here get about a 65% kick, when all of the various taxes, use-fees and surcharges are added in.) The Assistant General Manager, Michael Klein was doing duty as sommelier, and explained the situation to me. He spent the rest of that evening, plus the next evening, as well, checking in to see how things were going. Excellent service!
After a few minutes, we were shown to our table by the hostess. Along the way, she introduced us to Richard Peterson, the Maitre Fromager, who was busy at his cheese cart. We were asked if we wanted a “cheese course,” and I replied that we’d love to do one, but only after the meal. This struck the hostess as odd, but Richard well understood.
We started off with more Chardonnay, going with the Chanson Puligney Montrachet ‘04. I guess, had I been thinking, I’d have just ordered a bottle of the white Burg, and carried it to the table, but then it might not have been possible, as it was not on the list in the bar. Next time, I’ll ask for all of the particulars, as things like this are not always straightforward, as I found out on our next stop, Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN. Some of it probably has to do with local laws on wine and some of it is because of billing systems for bars and restaurants, even within the same building. The wine was too cold, and I had to wrestle the server to leave the bottle on the table, and NOT place it into a bucket of ice water. The glassware did get better, but I had to ask for specific glasses for each wine, as most had bowls, that were too small, etc. Not a big deal, but I like my white Burgs in glasses shaped more like those for red Burgs, but will take Bdx stems, if these are not available. I do not like the tiny-bowled “restaurant white” glasses.
We started off with the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with spicy Cole Slaw & Remoulade Sauce, which we split. I’m glad that we did, as the cakes were quite large. The cakes were mostly crab with little filler, and the slaw and sauce were about perfect – maybe not the best, but very nice. The Montrachet went well with the crab, and held its own with the Remoulade. There was a hint of a spicy kick to it, and I’d likely go with a Spätlese Riesling, which would work with the crab. Still, the Chard was not bad, and was excellent by itself. I followed with the Vidalia Onion Soup, which was excellent. The broth was rich with beef, or veal, stock, and the onions were chopped just about right. Too many onion soups have such large pieces of onion, that eating it is a challenge. The Vidalias were wonderfully sweet with just the right amount of piquancy. I do a three-onion version, with Vidalias, Mau`is and Bermuda, that is about as good (when I can get Vidalias and Mau`is, that is). The only weak spot was the cheese atop a crostini. I normally use Gruyére, and that would have made this one of the best “French-style” onion soups, that I have had. With Richard, the Maitre Fromager on staff, I think that the soup-chef needs a bit of direction – use cheese with some character. I’d guess that this was Kraft “Baby Swiss,” from its blandness. It had no bite and nothing to recommend it. Too bad, as an otherwise perfect dish got graded down a bit. It was still very good, but could have been at the all-time tops list. The Chard held up well with the soup.
Wife went with the Beef Steak Tomato Salad with sliced Beef Steak Tomatoes, Mau`I Onions and fresh Mozzarella. I tried a bit of this, and agree with her comments. The tomatoes were OK, as were the onions, but the Mozzarella was mealy and lacked much taste. Hey wait, is the kitchen even talking to Richard? My wife recently did a cooking/wine class with Chef John Besh (Restaurant August & Besh’s Steakhouse, NOLA), a recent Iron Chef America winner, and his tomato concoctions blew this one away. The Chard held up, but a sparkler would probably have done better, or maybe a King Estate Reserve Pinot Gris, or Loire Chenin Blanc in an off-dry style (neither on the wine list). Luckily, the Montrachet had enough acid to work, where most CA-Chards would probably have fallen flat.
As we were still nursing the Montrachet, and my wife had some early meetings, we opted for a half-bottle of the Staglin Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ‘00. Normally, with a bigger ‘00 Cal-Cab, I’d have decanted at about the first course, but in the half-bottle, a bit of swirling did all that I could have asked for.
For mains, I chose the Filet Mignon (10oz., but it was closer to 16oz.) with the Stilton topping, on the side, medium-rare. It was pointed out that the Stilton would likely not melt, if it was served on the side, and I was fine with that. The steak was excellent – maybe #6 on the all time list, but it was a monster filet! The Stilton was superb and accompanied the grilled beef perfectly, melted, or not. At last I had found some good cheese!
Wife chose the Braised Kobe Beef Short Ribs with Creamy Cauliflower Risotto. These were quite tender, but were a little dry. The cauliflower risotto was sublime, with a good creme/cheese sauce blended in. We both rated the short ribs as “middle of the pack.”
We added a side of the Baked Lobster “Mac & Cheese,” which came out in a portion large enough to feed a party of four! This was a very tasty dish. I could not find the lobster, but that did not matter. The noodles were just right and the cheese was tangy with a great texture. Maybe it only had an essence of lobster, but the tastes were so good, and the texture so perfect, that I would not quibble. Remember, I’m a diner, and not an inspector for the FDA, or the Truth in Advertising Board. Only problem was that quite a bit of this went back, as did ⅓ of my steak. Portion sizes were just too large. I know, Old South, comfort food, etc., and maybe I’ve been dining on too many amuse bouche-sized courses, but there was just too much food for two people.
Now, that said, I was ready for Richard to arrive with the cheese trolley, and we did a six-course tasting. I encouraged him to pick, plus add a wine to accompany the cheeses, and pointed out the Montrachet and Cab, still on the table. He returned with Pierre Robert Cow’s Milk (FR), Selles Sur Cher Goat’s Milk (FR), Comte Cow’s Milk (FR), Montgomery’s Cheddar Cow’s Milk (UK), an Aged Gouda Cow’s Milk (HOL) and Rogue River Blue Cow’s Milk (US/OR). The wine was Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Tawny. We played with each of the cheeses and the three wines, mixing, matching and missing. It was all great fun, and a perfect way to end a very good meal. With wines, tax and gratuity, the bill came to just over $400. Not bad for this level of dining, but it could easily have been even better. Michael Klein indicated that they were going to add back an 8oz. filet to the menu. It had been there until fairly recently, and had been removed. All things considered, I’d have had a bit less guilt were it offered, when we dined. I like multiple courses that are adequate to get a real taste of the dish. I seldom leave any restaurant hungry, but then I usually do a multi-course dinner. I would heartily recommend Old Hickory Steakhouse as a fine-dining destination restaurant. The service is very good, though there was a bit of a pause between the soup course and the mains, but nothing that a few sips of wine could not handle. The prices are fair for both the food and the wine, considering the level of this restaurant. Portions are large enough to split some of the first-courses, the mains, and definitely the sides.
Old Hickory Redux:
As fate would have it, we were the guests for the next night’s dinner and it was the Old Hickory, once again. This time, we had a party of twelve, that grew to about sixteen at points in the evening. I do not know how the servers kept it all sorted out, but they seemed to do a fine job with good humor.
Once more, we were introduced to Richard at the cheese trolley. Before anyone, including our host, could accept a cheese course as a starter, I set us up for after the mains. The hostess was really puzzled, but I do not care what might be the regular insertion point in the meal with most of the customers, I have my strong preferences and insinuated them on the group. For this meal, I was not ordering the wines, and it’s probably a good thing for our host’s budget.
We had the mixed appetizer plates: Crab Cakes, Fried Oysters Rockefeller with Cornmeal, Parmesan and Swiss Chard and Smoked Salmon (cold) with crispy Artichoke Hearts, Citrus and Herb-crusted Goat Cheese, Lemon Caper oil and Miso Greens. All of these were excellent and the crab cakes seemed a bit more moist than the night before. The Oysters Rockefeller were as good as any that I’ve had in NOLA, but the standout was the cornmeal setting. Our starter wine was the Trefethen Napa Chardonnay ‘04 and it went well with most of the appetizers, except for the salmon. Here, I would have gone with the above mentioned Pinot Gris (though not on the wine list), or the Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.
I once more opted for the Vidalia Onion Soup (and spoke to Richard about working more closely with the kitchen on this dish, regarding the cheese), and it was just as good as the night before. The Montrachet had paired better, but the Trefethen did an adequate job. Wife went for the Old Hickory Iceberg Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing, Sun-dried Tomatoes and chopped Bacon. This was better than her previous Beef Steak Tomato Salad.
Our host ordered the Beringer Knight’s Valley Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon ‘04 and I suggested that it be brought to the table immediately and light pours be done for those who wished a red. I’m familiar with this wine, as it’s one of our “value” Cabs, and I had just finished off the last bottles of my ‘97 (all the ‘98s were consumed quite young). I knew that the ‘04 would either need to be decanted (all six bottles), or given some time to open up. I’m glad that I did, as it needed a good thirty minutes in the glass. I’m not a believer in just un-corking a bottle to “let it breath... “ I did play with my Cab with wife’s Blue Cheese dressing and salad and it was not bad. If it had had some walnuts in the dressing, I think that the tannins would have seemed smoother. By the time that the mains arrived, it was drinking nicely. I did have to explain to the servers that if they kept “topping up” the glass, the wine would never open up and that we were going to drink a lot of it, so they did not have to “push” it on us. They immediately paced their re-filling of the red glasses better. Now, for some of the diners, this might not have been a big deal, or made any difference, but I try to always get the most out of any wine that I drink. At least the servers “got it,” and changed their normal flow instantly – extra points for them.
I once more went with the filet, and the Stilton, but specifically asked for the smallest one in the kitchen. I let them put the Stilton on the meat, and decided that I like the sprinkle of unmelted cheese better from the night before. Though noticeably smaller than the previous filet, I still couldn’t finish the whole thing. Man the guilt was really building up. My mother would have forbidden me from having my cheese-course, if she’s seen the amount of beef I was leaving on the plate!
Wife ordered the Niman Ranch Farms Pork Tenderloin with Vidalia Onion Sourdough Bread Pudding and Apple Chipotle Glaze. Her pork was juicy and luscious and the bread pudding was a knockout. She thought that this main was better than the Kobe short ribs she’d had the night before. I’d have gotten a Pinot Noir for her main, had I been in charge of the wine list, but the Beringer Cab was OK, especially with an hour in the glass.
The table got several side dishes: the Lobster Mac & Cheese (as good as the night before, but I still could not locate the lobster, as if it mattered), The Sautéed Wild Mushrooms (very good, but would have benefitted from a nice red Burg, or OR Pinot Noir), the Brie-Creamed Spinach and the Bleu Cheese Au Gratin Potatoes (very, very good, though it seemed that we either had a lot of these, or that the table did not do their share with them, as there was still quite a bit of this dish left over). I am not a creamed spinach fan, so I cannot comment on it, except to note that all the dishes that contained this were empty, when they were bussed, unlike the au gratin potatoes. Oh well, different dishes for different tastes. Still, and with my warnings, there was a lot with the sides. By the mains, we were a party of about sixteen and three sides of each was still a little over the top.
The cheese courses came and we had a few repeats from the night before, but larger portions and a few extras. It seems that we had six selections per platter, with three platters that were different. These were all passed around, and I do not have a list of exactly what we got, but with only about 90 selections to choose from, Richard did a fine job, as before. I ended with another glass of the Taylor 20 Year Tawny.
Since I had learned a few lessons from the first night (bring flashlight, wear glasses and not contacts, do not order too much, etc.) I think that the meal was maybe a bit better, except for the wines, though these were quite adequate. I have not idea what the tab was, but I think one could do the math from the links to the PDFs.
In conclusion, I’d comment to the management of the Old Hickory on a few things: work on the lighting in the courtyard, kick up the wine glassware a notch, or two, cut back on portions and encourage more courses, expand the wine list in a few areas (more Zinfandels for one, and more half-bottles and b-t-g selections) and acquire some older vintages for the Cabs especially, and sort out the necessary steps to get the full wine list into the bar.
For a fine-dining/steakhouse experience, I recommend the Old Hickory. The staff is very good, the prices fair and the setting is very nice, even with the glass ceiling towering above. The service was nearly flawless and even with the large group, all silverware was cleared between courses. Plan on spending roughly $125/person with adequate wines and a bit of planning on the ordering due to portion sizes. Were I in Nashville again, I’d definitely dine with them again.
PS thanks to all the folk on this board who helped me make up my mind and then sort out the Gaylord Opryland facility