Audrey is what happens when Sean Brock, a chef with as much name recognition as any, gets to build his dream restaurant — with zero obligation to play the hits. Anyone looking for burgers and fried chicken, Brock’s signature dishes from his years leading essential Charleston-based restaurant Husk, can take a short drive over to Joyland, where the menu is burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. What’s left as Audrey’s purview, then, is the freedom of possibility, both in aesthetics — the walls display some of the most haunting folk art I’ve seen — and content.
The restaurant occupies the ground floor of a mod East Nashville building that’s also home to Brock’s upscale cocktail bar, the Bar, and tasting-menu spot June, where trophy hunters can revel in the Southern-meets-kaiseki courses while peering into the glass-walled test kitchen. From a culinary history buff like Brock, Audrey’s salt-risen bread delights when it’s more indulgence than esoterica; the puffy Appalachian rolls come with an orb of cultured butter that, sliced through, reveals a bright orange spill of sweet carrot jam that will have you calculating how much to slather so you’ll have enough for each bite. Heirloom grits with black truffle puree, bay oil, and a sorghum-cured egg yolk are familiar yet totally unlike any other rendition of the Southern staple. Pastry team Keaton Vasek and Michael Werrell serve lemon and African blue basil cake with sherbet that looks enough like the grocery-store kind to confound and charm when a spoonful tastes like summer-fresh melon. These aren’t B sides, they’re totally new hits. — Hillary Dixler Canavan
Photography by Danielle Del Valle
809 Meridian Street
From a 22-seat room in D.C.’s sceney Blagden Alley, Lima-born chef Carlos Delgado strives to capture Peru’s bounty over six immersive courses. A vibrant coupe of homemade chicha morada and a tableside handwashing service set the stage for a parade of bouncy mashed potato (causa) bites and juicy beef tongue, skewered and flecked with Peruvian panca peppers and fragrant black mint (huacatay). To get macambo from the Amazon, Delgado relies on his own lifelong connections as well as those of chef de cuisine Alex Lazo, who grew up in the region (Lazo “has a guy” who helps wrangle the cacao-like tree pods). Delgado uses the seeds to whip up a creamy, white chocolate-like finale topped with matcha, passionfruit gel, and more toasted macambo seeds. That you might be scraping up the last exquisite bite with your spoon when the bill arrives only adds to the shock of finding your dinner clocked in under $100 per person.
The night doesn’t have to end there. Head upstairs to Amazonia, the bar whose palm trees and jungle murals are an invigorating contrast to the tasting temple below. Pay special attention to the pisco list; the ambitious collection, curated by co-owner Glendon Hartley (Service Bar), is among the nation’s largest. With a menu of compelling bites like beef heart skewers and glistening ceviche, the city has embraced Amazonia as a nightlife destination in its own right. Together, the two-story tribute to Peru takes diners on an all-inclusive getaway — just pick the itinerary that suits your mood. — Tierney Plumb
Causa / Amazonia
Photography by Rey Lopez
Causa / Amazonia
920 Blagden Alley NW
The cocktails embody what makes Amazonia so special: its massive pisco collection, the way smoky flavors weave through both food and drink, and how distinctly Peruvian ingredients are the star. Amazonia proves that sitting at the bar of a fine dining destination doesn’t have to be a consolation prize. — Jaya Saxena
The Tipping Point