Hungry in Chicago? Go here!

One of the best salads I've ever had was at Blackbird at lunch. It consisted of endive, dijon and pancetta in a crispy potato nest topped with a poached egg. Unbelievably creamy and full of flavor on top of the crunchy potatoes.

One of the best salads I’ve ever had was at Chicago’s Blackbird at lunch. It consisted of endive, dijon and pancetta in a crispy potato nest topped with a poached egg. Unbelievably creamy and full of flavor on top of the crunchy potatoes.

Sixteen hardy Knoxvillians have just returned from an action-packed trip to Chicago. The purpose of the trip, organized by the Knoxville Museum of Art for members of its Collectors Circle, was to take in a wide variety of art, some of which will be coming to Knoxville within a year or so and some the museum has an eye toward acquiring.

The next post on the Blue Streak will show you some of the art we saw. But this post will deal with another kind of art — the culinary kind — that obsessed us almost as much as the framed and sculpted variety.

Chicago is home to many great chefs and many great eateries. With just a couple of exceptions, the trip planners at the KMA wisely left time on the schedule for our group of travelers to split up and make our own dining plans. Alan and I did research and then made reservations in advance for four to six people at each meal, figuring we could always adjust our reservation downward if no one was interested in joining us at the places we picked. Fortunately, we didn’t have to do that. Others took the same approach, resulting in different groups dining together at a different fabulous restaurant at every meal. Continue reading

Filed under: Food, Travel, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Downtown pitch for Knoxville’s new maestro

Downtown dweller Bill Lyons, left, with new Knoxville Symphony music director Aram Demirjian at the final stop of our progressive dinner Saturday.

Downtown dweller Bill Lyons, left, with new Knoxville Symphony music director Aram Demirjian at the final stop of our progressive dinner Saturday.

On the first stop of our downtown progressive dinner last Saturday, I tapped my cellphone to my wine glass in order to get everyone’s attention for an announcement. “D-flat,” stated Aram Demirjian, the Knoxville Symphony‘s new conductor, in a matter-of-fact tone. “What?” I asked. “That’s a D-flat,” he said, referring to the sound that emanated when I tapped the glass.

Demirjian, who along with his new wife, Caraline Craig, was a guest of honor for our dinner, explained that he has what is known as “absolute pitch.” That, according to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge), is “a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.” Researchers estimate that about 1 in 10,000 people have absolute pitch.

This, I thought, is not a bad characteristic for a music director. On the other hand, however, Demirjian related that he is color blind.

As many readers of the Blue Streak know, a group of us downtown residents hold a progressive dinner a few times a year, and we often invite an extra couple to join as our guests. Our motive in this is to convince the invited couple to follow our lead and move downtown. We have been very successful with this strategy. Now we have Aram and Caraline in our sights. Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Events, Food, Knoxville, Music | 12 Comments

Symphony in Park was sublime. Season will soar!

The KSO's new music director, Aram Demirjian, conducts the "Star Spangled Banner" to open Symphony in the Park on Sunday.

The KSO’s new music director, Aram Demirjian, conducts the “Star-Spangled Banner” to open Symphony in the Park on Sunday.

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra launches its 81st season tonight and Friday with new conductor and music director Aram Demirjian taking the podium at the Tennessee Theatre for a program called “Russian Passion” featuring the works of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.

But Demirjian started his week in a much more pastoral setting with the 31st annual Symphony in the Park at beautiful Ijams Nature Center on Sunday. The weather could not have been more perfect and, as the sun set and the moon rose, it was almost magical to hear the ambient sound — cicadas and the occasional high-flying jet — mingle with the ethereal melodies wafting from the bandstand.

While attendance was down this year — something apparently was going on in Bristol the evening before! — those who made it to the 300-acre urban green space were treated to music ranging from that of Rossini and Elgar to Nat King Cole. And local composer and pianist Ben Maney, one of the guest artists, provided three works of his own, one performed by the riveting vocalist Yasameen Hoffman-Shahin. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Knoxville, Music | 10 Comments

Harboring thoughts of Baltimore — and crab cakes

Dawn Ford takes on a heap of crabs. They didn't stand a chance!

Dawn Ford takes on a heap of crabs. They didn’t stand a chance!

When Alan and I decided with our friends Dawn and Richard Ford to visit Baltimore Labor Day weekend, we had a serious goal in mind: Eat the best crab cake we could find. And we did.

Of course the trip also featured visits to the National Aquarium and the Baltimore Museum of Art. The guys took in an Orioles/Yankees baseball game at Camden Yards. And we loved our afternoon touring the harbor on a water taxi. But, for the rest of my life, one thing will always come to my mind when I think of Baltimore: crabs, crabs, crabs.

When I tell folks we just got back from a pleasure trip to Baltimore, we mostly get this question: Why? Well, a few months ago I visited Baltimore for a convention. My hotel was on the water and I could see the beautiful harbor. But I didn’t have any time to enjoy it — except from afar. I thought it was such a shame to visit one of America’s great cities and not really be able to experience it. So, when I got home to Knoxville, I mentioned to Dawn that I wanted to go back. “Well,” Dawn said. “You know I’m from Baltimore.” Duh! I had completely forgotten that. Although she had not been to Baltimore in 16 years, she agreed to be our tour guide. We picked a weekend when the Baltimore Orioles were playing the New York Yankees (Richard’s favorite team) and made the arrangements. Continue reading

Filed under: Food, Travel | 13 Comments

J.C. Holdway: great first night; horrible second day

Grilled North Carolina catfish, Carolina gold rice, tomatoes, squash, basil pistou and tomato vinaigrette. This was my order and it was fantastic. Beautiful, too, don't you think?

Grilled North Carolina catfish, Carolina gold rice, tomatoes, squash, basil pistou and tomato vinaigrette. This was my order and it was fantastic. Beautiful, too, don’t you think?

I awoke this morning to the terrible news of a fire in the building housing J.C. Holdway, the thrilling new restaurant that was opened just last night by James Beard Award-winning chef, Joseph Lenn.

J.C. Holdway, located at 501 Union Ave., in the historic Daylight Building, is named for Lenn’s late bachelor uncle, a great socialite and raconteur who dined out for every meal. The opening has been much anticipated as Lenn, formerly executive chef at The Barn at Blackberry Farm, is among our area’s small cadre of “celebrity chefs.”

It is unclear at this moment when the restaurant will re-open. But, rest assured that when it does, you will want to have your name on the reservation list.

The space is spare and lovely with a large open kitchen rimmed by a bar on two sides. A dining area on the Walnut Street side of the space, which used to be a photography studio, leads to a larger dining room in the rear, which is where my husband, Alan Carmichael, and I were seated last night. Continue reading

Filed under: Business, Downtown, Food, Historic preservation, Knoxville | 20 Comments

Liquid olives and octopi, oh my!

Here's guest Bestey Bush after she tasted the welcoming drink -- an ice cold dirty martini with a liquid olive! Yeah. A liquid olive!

Here’s guest Betsey Bush after she tasted the welcoming drink — an ice cold dirty martini with a liquid olive! Yeah. A liquid olive!

Crescent Bluff, the mansion at 3106 Kingston Pike that once was home to the Dulin Gallery of Art, will turn 100 years old next year.

As a run-up to that historic event, current owner John Trotter earlier this month hosted a Summer Supper benefiting Knox Heritage. We’re talking octopus, raw oysters, foie gras, duck breast and butter poached lobster. And that’s about half of it!

Chef Matt Gallaher of Knox Mason and Emilia (my current favorite Knoxville restaurant) prepared a seated dinner of six courses with wine pairings by sommelier Connor Coffey. It was a fantastic evening for 24 guests and about an equal number of hosts.

The home was designed by famous architect John Russell Pope. How famous was he? Well, he also designed the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art.

The dinner featured a French theme in honor of the home’s Neo-Classic Revival style based on English, French and Italian influences and popular celebration menus of the era when the home was constructed. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Historic preservation, Knoxville | 7 Comments

Heavenly Hale Barn; harrowing hayride

Rose Byrum welcoming everyone to her barn.

Rose Byrum welcoming everyone to her barn.

Even a confirmed city girl like me can enjoy a visit to the country. Especially if it’s to a beautifully restored barn like the Hale Barn, located in deep southeast Knox County.

Rose Byrum loved her visits to her grandparents’ farm when she was growing up. The barn, built in 1947, in particular held special memories. Her grandfather, who was a banker and a lawyer, really thrived as a farmer, which he became for 27 years after he retired. Every year, Rose said, he would buy 40 head of cattle and raise them until they were ready to be sold.

Rose has painstakingly turned the huge barn on her grandparents’ property into a house. She kept the original tin roof, but put insulation and another roof on top of it. Her plan is to entice her own grandchildren to fall in love with the place the same way she did.

Rose offered her place last weekend for a Knox Heritage Summer Supper. Although the hayride about scared the pants off me — imagine sitting on the back of a flatbed truck with no sides hurtling down country roads at 40 miles per hour! — I had a great time.

Now, back to city life. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Historic preservation, Knoxville | 10 Comments

News Sentinel Open is in full swing

Play action yesterday on the 18th green of the News Sentinel Open at Fox Den Country Club. When the rain stopped, it was a beautiful day for golf.

Professional golfers in action Thursday on the 18th green of the News Sentinel Open at Fox Den Country Club. When the rain stopped, it was a beautiful day for golf.

Of course sports fans love the News Sentinel Open, being played at Fox Den Country Club through Sunday. A stop on the Web.com tour, it offers an opportunity to get a firsthand look at up-and-coming professional golfers, guys who could make it big in the next few years. Continue reading

Filed under: Business, Events, Knoxville, Media, Public Relations | 8 Comments

‘Le Diner en Blanc’ — Knoxville style

A traditional "napkin wave" started the White Picnic at Knoxville Botanical Garden last Saturday.

A traditional “napkin wave” started the White Picnic at Knoxville Botanical Garden last Saturday.

In Paris, the traditional Le Diner en Blanc, also known as the White Picnic, attracts upwards of 10,000 folks. In Knoxville, I thought the 150 or so who gathered at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum last Saturday for our version of it was a pretty impressive turnout.

Here’s how it works. The organizers — Debbie Allen and Mary Collins-Shepard — send a “save the date” email a few weeks out. But the folks on the email list don’t know the secret location of the event until the afternoon of the day it’s going to happen. That’s when they get another email telling them where to come.

In Paris, where this all started, it’s so as not to alert the authorities — and to preserve the clandestine nature of the soiree. That’s part of the strategy here, too. When the picnic is held on public property — like last year’s, which was at Volunteer Landing — the laws prohibiting alcohol can be problematic. That’s why attendees are urged not to bring beverages in their original containers, but, instead, to pour them into something else. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Historic preservation, Knoxville | 28 Comments

Sommeliers do battle; diners win!

Sommeliers Blake Parrish, left, of Citico's, and Matt Burk of Old City Wine Bar, met in a battle last week.

Sommeliers Blake Parrish, left, of Citico’s, and Matt Burk of Old City Wine Bar, met in a battle last week.

Who wins when two popular local sommeliers challenge each other to a “battle?” The diners, of course.

Matt Burk of Old City Wine Bar and Blake Parrish of Citico’s met at Old City Wine Bar for a tie-breaker last week after competing against each other at Citico’s in July and coming in even.

Here were the rules of engagement. Both sommeliers were given a list of three courses to be prepared by Old City Wine Bar’s head chef, Sadie Daniels. They were asked to select wines to pair with each course. But a fourth course would be a surprise, and they would have to select wines from the restaurant’s wine cellar just a few minutes before the course was served.

Guests, who paid $75 each to attend, would be asked to vote, course by course, on which wine was the best pairing with the food. This was so much fun! Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Food, Knoxville | 10 Comments