Charles Walton, IV
St. John's Restaurant
This restaurant cooks--no, really boils--with startlingly fresh local vegetables and the finest meats, a 210-bottle wine list (40 of which are less than $30), a career waitstaff with a deep knowledge of the menu, and a genius in the kitchen. Chef/owner Daniel Lindley, a Chattanooga native, worked in some of New York's most famous kitchens before moving home to found St. John's. The result is a blessing. The menu, which changes daily, contains dishes that are inventive but don't strive so hard for uniqueness that the result looks like a food challenge from a reality TV show. To start my meal, I ordered Scottish pheasant soup with a touch of cognac and topped by a light puff pastry ($9). I followed the devilishly rich concoction with an entrée of sliced Kobe beef atop pureed kohlrabi (a sweet turnip) and alongside roasted potatoes ($32). The beef itself was as soft, tender, and as easy to cut as a pat of butter. Don't miss the unbelievably decadent banana split, made with homemade ice cream ($7). If dinner at St. John's would blow the household budget, go next door to St. John's Meeting Place, a more casual dining room where prices range about a third lower. 1278 Market Street; (423) 266-4400. Entrées: $18-$32.
Intimate and charming, this small restaurant gives St. John's strong competition. Just across the street, Bella Bellagio, too, uses incredibly fresh vegetables and meats. I was awed by an appetizer of tiny sweet peppers, cut to resemble miniature pumpkins and stuffed with goat cheese, pine nuts, golden raisins, and breadcrumbs ($8). I sampled the restaurant's rabbit, Kobe beef, and bigeye tuna entrées, all of which were outstanding in their freshness and presentation. Bargain on the menu: The three-course "Chef's Tasting" menu for $35 (or $50 with a wine pairing) is well worth the money. Absolutely opt for dessert--the Brazilian vanilla bean ice cream is an explosion of dense, intense flavor. 1269 Market Street; (423) 634-7731. Entrées: $16-$30 .