Fancy Jell-O shots. That’s how I lured my friends to Henrietta Red on the first night of a recent girls trip.
As promised, dinner kicked off with jiggly gin-and-apricot Princess’ Smiles, gelatinous slabs served elegantly in paper boats, a step up from the finger-in-a-Dixie-cup scooping method from college.
The restaurant is serious about its raw bar, which has its own menu: There were 16 varieties of oysters that night, accompanied by tasting notes like the ones you’d see in a winery. Maybe you’d like the clean and light-bodied Malpeques or the creamy Murder Points with notes of salted butter and seagrass?
We opted for sweet and minerally, chasing our Jell-O shots with Saucey Lady Shells from Florida, and then a serrano-pepper-spiked seafood cocktail called the Return to Life.
(Those names, I suspected with a not-insignificant amount of concern, foreshadowed how the weekend would progress.)
Henrietta Red opened last year in Germantown, a warehouse-heavy historic neighborhood that has in recent years become a hotbed of trendy restaurants and coffee shops.
Chef Julia Sullivan and sommelier Allie Poindexter appointed the big boxy space with clean lines, white brick walls, splashes of slate and midnight blue, gray-veined marble countertops and a sliding wooden farmhouse door. It’s a dining room you’d take a photo of and keep as inspiration for your own dream remodel, or at least I did.
Sullivan’s menu is laced slightly with Southern influences: a warm and gooey Old Bay-flecked crab dip that emanates a subtle heat; a Kentucky raw honey tart with apple cider vinegar ice cream and honey-vinegar-infused apples (green tomatoes and okra make appearances on the menu too).
But she’s not afraid to incorporate flavors from further afield. A nutty squash salad is done up with Thai flavors, the orange fruit ribboned into wide curls resembling pappardelle; smoked mussels are topped with dill and nestled into a thick spread of whole-grain mustard butter on toast; a trio of oysters are roasted in pools of bagna cauda, the garlicky anchovy sauce amping up the powerful brininess.
The kitchen has a special touch when it applies heat to seafood. Many of the dishes appear to spend very little time near the flames at all, which is to say they’re cooked just right. A hefty cut of red snapper paired with broccoli, Brussels sprouts and turnips was sumptuously succulent, and flavored further by the addition of curry butter; and the scallops – a staple of so many small-plates New American restaurants – were best in class, seared to a caramel-mahogany, the insides a small step above raw, the dish texturally invigorated with crunchy Honeycrisp apples, pistachios and beets.
Booking a flight to Nashville, I figured what I’d most remember was hot chicken or a meat and three or poorly line dancing to a live band at a honky tonk, but it turns out a seafood restaurant is the one that sticks. And that’s not just the Jell-O shots talking.
1200 4th Ave. N, Nashville, Tenn., 615-490-8042, henriettared.com.
This is an occasional feature that highlights a recent meal outside Los Angeles.