Hotel restaurants

Nashville hotel restaurants do COVID-era dining well

A necessary meeting coupled with Zoom fatigue prompted my foray into a restaurant, the first since early March.

Three of us chose the Hotel Hermitage for our face-to-face from a safe distance. With a briefcase, a mask and a bit of apprehension, I headed downtown. My anxiety eased when the doorman in the top hat, black mask, and gloves ushered me into the Hôtel des Beaux-Arts. Once down the burl oak staircase into the dark and cool Oak Bar, I felt at ease. Soon a member of staff, dressed in black and white with matching black mask and gloves, served me a glass of sparkling water and offered me a menu. My companions arrived and our meeting ensued. After about thirty minutes of talking, sipping and biting, I had an “aha!” moment: I felt almost normal before COVID.

Little by little, our city is reopening. With close attention to detail, management, chefs and staff have been diligent in following protocols and redesigning their spaces to welcome guests safely. My experience at the Hermitage Hotel spoke of a gold star in attentive and unfailing service that gave me the confidence to visit other downtown hotel sites. For visitors, these spaces offer a distinct taste of Nashville hospitality. But they are also useful for us inhabitants.

Just being in the lobby of a big hotel can make you feel like you’re on a trip. In times of COVID, that’s a good feeling. Who knows, maybe you’ll extend the visit, book a room and go on a vacation.

Capitol Grille and Oak Bar (the Hermitage Hotel)

231 Sixth Ave. N., capitolgrillenashville.com

Reservations: recommended

Although tables have been moved and some furniture removed, the Capitol Grille and Oak Bar retain their elegance — serene and civil and steeped in Nashville history. Throughout its 110 years, including the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the Great Depression, two world wars, and now COVID, the hotel has remained open. It was also the epicenter of the fight for women’s suffrage: the 100th anniversary of Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th Amendment will take place in August. You can learn some of this fascinating history in an organized corner of the hotel lobby and when you order one of the suffrage cocktails. Each is named after the women who made a difference, along with a miniature biography of the accomplishments. The Carrie, named after suffragist leader Carrie Catt Chapman, is a sweet and bold blend of bourbon, sour apricot, lemon and bitter orange. The Anne, after Nashvillian Anne Dallas Dudley, is a beautiful swirl of gin, lemon and hibiscus in a coupé.

The Garden at Glen Leven offers executive chef Derek Brooks an abundance of produce inspiring a rotation of seasonal dishes, such as strawberry and arugula salad with candied fennel, burrata and Meyer lemon; and warm potato salad with pearls of shallot-sérès vinaigrette. You can count these mainstays: the fried green tomatoes – the lightly brined slices coated in crispy cornmeal, layered over pimento cheese and finished with red pepper jelly – as well as the sweet onion bisque, with bacon, chives and grilled brie cheese, at the ladle table.

“As an iconic Nashville landmark, we know we play an important role as a leader in the community,” says general manager Dee Patel. “Our goal is to build trust and empathize with our guests, while demonstrating the thoughtful, gracious and very personal relationships that the Hermitage Hotel is known for.”

L27 Rooftop Lounge (Westin Nashville)

807 Clark Place, www.l27nashville.com

Reservations: essential

Cleanliness and care: You are struck by it from the moment you enter the Westin, past the display case of sanitizers, the touchless Purell dispensers mounted in strategic locations throughout. As you would expect, all staff wear masks and guests are asked to do so when moving around the hotel. Once you get to the 27th floor, you will notice space beacons in the hallway to approach reception. Step out onto the rooftop and everything changes: it’s breezy, full of wacky blue skies and views of the big city. Tables are properly spaced and cabanas, staggered to accommodate each other, are available by reservation.

Book one! Then sit down and enjoy a handcrafted cocktail. Among the novelties of the summer, the sparkling Violette of prosecco, lemon, violet cream and lavender bitters. For a great citrus refresher, try the Desert Flower, a heady blend of Bacardi Limon rum, agave, apricot, lemon juice and prickly pear puree.

To accompany it, Executive Chef Jake Strang has crafted a concise all-day menu. Bean hummus, sprinkled with roasted garlic and crushed red pepper and served with toasted flatbread, is a great starter. With its high-end bun topped with pieces of sweet lobster meat in a tarragon mayonnaise, the lobster roll is a must. General manager LJ Zrnic says his popularity means he will never leave the menu. Thank goodness it’s absolutely delicious.

New this season is the panzanella zucchini salad, a mixture of squash with heirloom tomatoes, basil, red onion and sourdough. This is one we can’t wait to try as we approach summer. We chose the salmon starter: The fillet was perfectly seared, brushed with shallot vinaigrette and stashed on a ratatouille and rice.

Zrnic has trained his staff well, instilling this ideal: “I tell them that if you feel comfortable, you do whatever it takes, it will reflect on your guests.”

Kitchen in the United States (Dream Nashville)

210 Fourth Ave. N., www.dreamhotels.com/nashville

Reservations: encouraged

Always stunning, Stateside Kitchen’s Frank Gehry-style glass atrium inside the Dream Nashville Hotel is modern, open, and airy. You will immediately notice how the seating at the bar has been modified – pairs of chairs spaced at least 6 feet apart before and then after. Guests are seated in booths the same way, on top of each other. Pump hand sanitizers in mason jars are placed throughout the dining area. According to the protocols, there are no table settings, condiments or menus on the table. However, you will see the QR code placed in the center of the table, this is how you will use your smartphone to digitally access the menu. Very clever.

Restaurant manager Sean Lyons told us about another of Stateside’s clever ways, this one for keeping staff up to date.

“Every thirty minutes, a song by Michael Bublé will appear on the playlist.” he explained. “When staff hear his voice, they know that’s the signal to sanitize, especially high-touch areas.”

Order a wine or cocktail from the Golden Hour menu before considering the food. The hot crab dip is certainly good, but you can never resist the appetizer of grilled artichokes. The trio of well-charred and seasoned demi-chokes and Creole remoulade is a delight to savor with a crisp rosé.

New to the main menu is the veggie burger we’re delighted to delight you with: it’s a concoction of rice, beans, quinoa, nuts, mushrooms and, surprise, umami-laden cranberries. The galette, under a gruyere melt, is garnished with avocado, tomato, lettuce and sun-dried tomato aioli. For the fries, you get both cilantro mayonnaise and ketchup for dipping. The jumbo prawn bucatini are ultra-rich and succulent, three huge prawns placed over pasta in a cream sauce of basil pesto and walnuts. The finishing ball of the burrata effectively gilds the lily.