What is Date Night Dining?
This column is about the experience of food in Chattanooga. I will take people out for dinner and lunch dates at various restaurants in the Chattanooga region. It is not meant to be a review per se, but an account of a one-time experience at a restaurant. Your mileage may vary depending upon your expectations.
This week, I met up with recent Chattanooga transplant Jasmine Clark for an early dinner at Terra Nostra Tapas & Wine. Jasmine is a freelance marketer who only recently moved to the city from New York. You can follow her on Twitter. She invited me on a “date,” and after a few false starts, I was able to meet her this past Tuesday.
“Tapas” is a Spanish word for appetizers and snacks. These can be mini versions of larger entrées or a simple cheese plate with olives or hummus; there isn’t really a rule other than being served in smaller portions. The idea is to choose a few items-not unlike the Izakaya-style dining of Two Ten Jack-and sample as much as you can until you are satisfied.
Of course, there’s plenty of alcohol to sample, too. Terra Nostra offers a full survey of wine to pair with anything from the kitchen. It had been several years since I’d visited Terra Nostra and I was looking forward to what owners/chefs Efren and Gema Ormaza would be cooking up.
I arrived a few minutes before Jasmine, and our server, Kat, set me up with a table in the front of the room. You’ve heard the phrase “Chattanooga upscale,” where the prices and quality might be high but the dress code is lenient. Those are my kinds of places. And Terra Nostra is one of those places.
Jasmine arrived and we immediately started having a hilarious conversation as if we were old friends. Having not been to Terra Nostra, she said the interior reminded her of a “family-owned restaurant” and described it as “homey.” My initial concerns that her culinary experience standards might be too high for the restaurant were abated.
I ordered a “Mr. Darcy” cocktail to begin the evening, while Jasmine drank water throughout the night. The cocktail was essentially a gin and tonic with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, of which the floral element might be an acquired taste for some. I enjoyed the cocktail and would order it again, especially when the temperature outside exceeds 95 degrees. Later on, I tried the house martini of the night, which was essentially a lemon drop shot served in a sugar-rimmed glass. It was sweet and refreshing, but I wouldn’t call it a proper “martini.”
Kat might be my favorite server I’ve ever had at a restaurant in Chattanooga. She was lively, knowledgeable and made us feel like we could tell her our darkest secrets-which, in my case, are pretty dark indeed.
Per Kat’s suggestion, Jasmine and I ordered from the cold tapas menu to start. We got a sampler platter of seasonal hummus, assorted European olives, artisanal cheese and giant Greek white beans. I will always enjoy an olive and the white beans were tasty and big, as we expected. The hummus was good, but the collection was somewhat underwhelming until we tried the cheese. Whatever this was (and selections change often), it was spicy and delicious. Jasmine enjoyed the hummus, saying the “slight burst of flavor coupled well with good conversation.” I was so into the conversation and platter that I forgot to snap a picture before we started eating. Sorry about that.
It is easy to overindulge at Terra Nostra. My eyes were much bigger than my stomach and I almost ordered way too much food. But the beauty of the place is that every dish is quickly prepared, so you might as well take your time to savor each bite and give yourself time to digest.
For our second course, I ordered the shrimp diablo. This bowl includes enormous shrimp sautéed with garlic, pecorino Romano cheese and spicy cayenne cream sauce. It was, not unlike a shrimp and grits dish without the grits. I enjoyed every bite. Jasmine, limited by a few dietary restrictions, ordered the simple but elegant marinated beef tips. The dish was served with a garlic soy marinade, peanut sauce and greens. Jasmine said she “loved the beef tips … [and] enjoyed the texture medium. It was soft like butter and well-seasoned.” I agree. The tips were the highlight of the meal for me, followed closely by the shrimp diablo. Unless you require a palate cleanser, I think I would skip the cold tapas menu next time and get right to the meats.
Having exhausted our stomachs, Jasmine and I decided to split a few scoops of raspberry sorbet. There was nothing remarkable about this sorbet, but it was exactly what I wanted to end the meal. I think it might be worth saving room for crème brûlée or something more decadent in the future.
Would we go back?
I was surprised at how hungry I was when I arrived and how full I felt after just a few dishes. The sheer variety of menu items offered makes return trips necessary just because you want to try everything available. And although the food is rarely discounted (why should it be?), Terra Nostra offers a happy hour each day until 7 p.m., which helps with the price. I think Terra Nostra is great, always has been great and will continue to be a jewel of Chattanooga’s restaurant culture. I’ll definitely be back. Jasmine said she would be bringing her boyfriend next time. They always have boyfriends. Sigh.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.