All the Nashville diners who’ve been waiting years for Chef Deb Paquette to have her own restaurant again are about to have that dream come true.
Etch, the restaurant Paquette is presiding over in the Encore condominium tower downtown, is scheduled to open sometime in the last week of August.
Both Paquette, who is Etch’s executive chef, and veteran restaurateur Doug Hogrefe of Amerigo, who co-owns Etch with his business partner Paul Schramkowski, say Etch is racing toward the final stretch.
“It’s finally here,” Paquette said with a laugh.
Etch aims to fill a vital niche in the scene south of Broadway (the neighborhood called SoBro) as the area primes for an explosion of diners once the Music City Center is completed next year. Like its neighbor The Southern (the restaurants are locatedat different corners at Demonbreun Street and Third Avenue South), Etch aims to serve a diverse cohort of tourists, downtown workers, concert patrons and plain old fine-cuisine-loving Nashvillians.
Paquette said one facet of Etch’s fare is that the lunch and dinner menus will be quite different, giving folks an incentive to come by for both meals.
It’s not like Paquette ever has a shortage of menu ideas. The chef who thrived at pioneering Nashville restaurants like The Bound’ry and Cakewalk Cafe, and whose previous restaurant, Zola, was a West End favorite for many years has flexed her skills in a variety of kitchens.
In the break between Zola and Etch, she helped out at various spots, including Miel, and helped craft menus for The Local Taco and the new Urban Grub in 12South.
As a Culinary Institute of America grad, Paquette’s base is classic French, but she’s perpetually inspired by various exotic flavors.
“I hate the word ‘global,’ ” Paquette said, before conceding that, well, her menu is pretty globally inspired. “I love Moroccan, Spanish, Turkish, Latin. I just put them all in,” she said. “And for the first time I’m putting in some Asian food. I’m pretty excited about that.”
She credits her head cook, Kenji Nakagawa, who she’s worked with as far back as Cakewalk, with helping introduce the Asian flavors.
Of course there will be an emphasis on fresh local produce. “We’re opening with a lot of things that can be adapted to vegetarian,”
Etch’s pastry chef is Meghan Williams, a veteran of Capitol Grille who helped launch the desserts at Urban Grub before departing for Etch.
“I want people to have a nice place to have dinner before the symphony, and after the symphony have a nice dessert” Paquette said, (Etch’s front door faces the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.) “We want people to stop by before and after their events.”
The wide-open kitchen is “the artwork of the restaurant,” Paquette said. “You can see all the equipment. It’s cool.”
Etch is at 301 Demonbreun St. For updates as the late August opening approaches, follow Etch on Facebook. Hogrefe says it’s also wise to keep an eye on Open Table, the site that will provide Etch’s online reservations. “When we’re ready, we’ll just turn it on,” he said.
Meanwhile, over in East Nashville, another classically trained chef is preparing to open another promising restaurant, on a little bit smaller scale.
Chef Jamie Watson, who trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York, and business partner Sandra Westerman have operated the high-end catering operation Delicieux for four years, with Watson teaching and cooking for private clients.
Now they’re opening Cafe Fundamental, located at Porter Road and Greenwood, across from Family Wash. (It’s the space formerly held by the Greek restaurant Zavos.)
Watson describes his venture as a brasserie and patisserie — the latter meaning the delirious prospect of French pastries, which will be available in the morning for folks starting their day on the east side. The restaurant will also serve lunch Tuesday through Saturday and dinner Thursday through Saturday.
If Watson’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s a frequent television guest, both locally on Channel 4 and on the Food Network with his friend Bobby Flay. In New York, Watson worked with luminaries such as Jacques Pepin and Andre Soltner.
Like Paquette, Watson said he hates to use overworked culinary taglines, but concedes that one, “farm to table,” is apt.
“We’ll use as many local and regional ingredients as possible, including beef and pork,” he said.
Speaking of beef, he said not only will he grind his own beef, but all the meat in any one burger will be sourced from a single cow.
The menu will be inspired by the French techniques Watson knows so well, combined with the bounty of Southern ingredients. Basically, he said, it’s classic French with a little bit of a Southern twist.
Watson expects to offer just 40 seats in the cafe, to keep things intimate and perfectly paced. He’ll run the kitchen and Westerman will run the front of the house.
And what of the name “Cafe Fundamental”? It doesn’t refer to any religious or political leanings. Watson said it’s an homage to the philosophy that was drilled into his head in his years learning, using and teaching the classic French skills and approach. “It’s all about the fundamentals,” he said.
Cafe Fundamental is expected to open Aug. 21 at 1115 Porter Road.