Chato Brasserie-March 3, 2012

Living Social is a fabulous thing. Thanks to Living Social, we got $20 worth of food at Tremont Tavern last week, I paid $10 plus shipping for $50+ worth of business cards and bumper stickers (!) Friday night, and last night, we got $40 worth of food for $20 at Chato.

I’ve been wanting to try Chato ever since I saw them featured in the Dining Out insert in the Sunday edition of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press when they first opened. They feature food with a slight French flair but it’s not really a “French restaurant”. The food is upscale and the atmosphere is as well, but we wore jeans and did not feel out of place at all. We saw a party, people on dates, older people, younger people, and families with children dining here….it’s definitely an “inclusive” environment, unlike some of the other upscale restaurants in town that shall remain unnamed….and that you will not likely see reviewed here. Chattavore and pretentiousness don’t mix.

One of the first things that I noticed was that the chef-owners were not in the kitchen, for the most part. One of them appeared to be expediting, and I even saw him taking food to diners, and the other was walking around interacting with diners. I have a slight case of amnesia, but I think he may have brought our appetizer to us…I do remember that he stopped to check on us on two different occasions. That may be the first time that this has ever happened, and it definitely made an impression on me.

The menu is divided into three sections: Small Plates (small appetizers), Medium Plates (slightly larger appetizers?), and Large Plates (entrees). It didn’t take us long to decide on a small plate: Crisp Pork Belly, served with chipotle slaw and onion petals. The slab of pork belly was served on top of the slaw with the onion petals on the side. The onion petals were, well, onion petals….they tasted fine, but alone I didn’t think they were much to get excited about. The slaw was good, slightly sweet, slightly vinegar-y, with just a slight hint of chipotle that definitely did not leave my mouth burning, which is a good thing. The pork belly….oh, the pork belly. The crispiness was just on the top, and the rest, well, it’s pork fat, people. Delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pork fat. Oh my. I was sold. We only ordered one small plate, but I was intrigued by the Chato salad, which includes a poached egg with bacon lardons on greens, and the southern biscuits with honey-truffle butter, as well as the Caesar salad with basil-caper dressing and the potato-leek soup with crispy shallots on the medium plate menu.

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I agonized a bit over my choice of an entree. The sweet-tea brined, roasted chicken was tempting…but seemed a little normal. The sugar-cured pork tenderloin was tempting, especially since it was accompanied by pimento cheese mashed potatoes…but I knew that my mom had mentioned having a pork roast at our Sunday family dinner. So, I decided on the braised boneless short ribs, with hoisin sauce, herb-mascarpone polenta (mascarpone is an Italian soft cheese similar to cream cheese), and garlic spinach (one of my favorite at-home veggies). Our server, Alex, told us that all of the meats are cooked sous-vide, which means that the meats are vacuum sealed and cooked in a water bath. This renders the meats very tender, and then the meats are finished to produce browning, crispness, etc. I loved the polenta and the spinach, both of which were cooked perfectly and seasoned just right. As for the meat….well, I’m not going to lie. I am not a huge fan of hoisin, which is sort of a Chinese barbecue sauce. The short rib could have stood on its own without the hoisin sauce. I scraped most of that off, and found the meat to be very tender and flavorful. So, the only issue that I had was one that I had not with the meat but a standard sauce that I don’t like in any dishes.

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Philip wrestled with what to order as well, but he kept coming back to the Maple Leaf Farms Duck Confit Cassoulet. It was a duck leg/thigh with crispy skin, served on a bed of cassoulet (a sort of bean casserole with sausage-chorizo, in this case) and arugula with carrots. He had ordered duck once before in another popular restaurant in town and did not like it one bit, but decided to go for it again. First of all, let me say that they had him at chorizo. He loves chorizo, and really loved it with the cannelini beans in the cassoulet. He was nervous about the duck….but needn’t have been. This experience was 100% different than the time before. The skin was wonderfully crispy and the duck cooked perfectly. It tasted like a slightly saltier, slightly fattier (not in a bad way!) dark meat chicken or turkey. Delicious!

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About halfway through our large plates, Alex came by and mentioned to us that their dessert special was a lavender souffle with honey-chevre creme anglaise poured in the center, and that it took about twenty minutes so if we were interested he would go ahead and put in our order. Since we had looked at the menu prior to going to Chato, we knew that they had crème brûlée on the menu, and Philip is a crème brûlée fiend, so we told Alex that, while the souffle sounded great, we were going to have to stick with the tried and true. Besides, I’m not so sure about honey-chevre creme anglaise. Chevre is goat cheese, and I am not a fan, so…..anyway, the crème brûlée was a white chocolate-raspberry. The raspberry sauce was on the bottom of the dish and on the top of the custard, just under the bruleed sugar. I was impressed at the size of this dessert. Usually, when we order this in restaurants, it comes in a ramekin that’s about 1/8 of an inch thick and we each get 2.5 bites of it…not this one. I didn’t really detect much of a white chocolate flavor, but it tasted very lemony, which was fine by me-I love lemony desserts. After we got home, I told Philip that I wanted another one. Great dessert!

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Chato also serves brunch on Sundays from 11-3, and I am anxious to try their brunch. The brunch menu includes a whole list of Eggs Benedicts (I love Eggs Benedict!) as well as some sandwiches/burgers, waffles, and a few interesting entrees. Count me in!

Chato is not inexpensive, but for a special, occasional night out, it is worth the price. I especially love that, like I said in the beginning, it is an upscale restaurant that avoids pretentiousness. They are open from 5-9 Monday through Thursday, 5-10 Friday and Saturday, and 11-3 Sunday. Chato is located at 200 Manufacturers Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405. You can reach them at 423-305-1353. Check out their website, http://chatodining.com. You can find them on Facebook as well.

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