Yes, there are now two restaurants in Chattanooga with the word “Terra” in the name. Yes, I wrote about the other one (Terra Mae Bistro) yesterday. It is sheer coincidence that I am writing about Terra Nostra Tapas & Wine today. I purchased a Groupon for Terra Nostra some time back (September? October?) that was specifically to be used in December. I’m having surgery Friday so we figured if we were going to use this thing, now was the time….so we made our reservation.
We’ve never eaten tapas (basically, a meal comprised of “small plates” or small portions of everything, ranging from appetizers to salads to items that would normally be served in a larger portion as a main dish). I have a funny story about tapas, though, and will forever associate this story with Terra Nostra: several years back, when Philip worked at Unum, he was having a conversation with a lady at work about restaurants. He mentioned that he really wanted to try the tapas restaurant. She thought he said “topless” restaurant and punched him in the arm in shock. Um, no. Anyway…
Philip had to drop me off because we were running way late after an unsuccessful attempt to take a self-portrait with our camera (set up on the tripod, with a timer). I was wearing stilettos and we did not see the sign in the front that says “parking in rear”, so Philip dropped me at the front door and parked in Coolidge Park. Oops. Oh well. I then entered the restaurant and told the hostess, “I have a Haymaker….I mean, I have a reservation for Haymaker…” Good grief. I was seated immediately and the hostess brought water to our table. Our server, Catherine, came to introduce herself and I perused the menu while waiting for Philip.
The menu is divided into seafood, meat, and vegetarian sections, and each of those sections is divided into hot and cold tapas. A triangle signals house specialties and a little squiggly that kind of looks like a backward 6 indicates gluten-free items. We knew almost immediately that we wanted some bacon-stuffed dates with Spanish blue cheese-a house specialty. Catherine agreed that this was a good choice. They came out quickly and, well, wow. The sweet date, the salty bacon (not overpowering but a nice background note) and the pungent blue cheese worked perfectly together. These didn’t last long, so we had to make another decision (making decisions here: not easy).
Upon Catherine’s recommendation, we ordered the avocado and shrimp, baby shrimp tossed in remoulade, served on an avocado half with a side salad with white wine vinaigrette. Shrimp and avocado? Yes please. We also ordered the spinach filo (similar to spanakopita, phyllo/filo dough stuffed with spinach, onions, and feta). Sadly, Catherine returned to our table and told us that she had just found out they were out of avocado (tear!). We decided instead to order the smoked salmon, served with capers, Boursin cheese, and housemade bread. While I was disappointed that I didn’t get to try the avocado and shrimp, I thought that the smoked salmon was delicious. It was wonderfully salty and smoky and paired perfectly with the herby Boursin (I puffy-heart love Boursin) and the soft yet crusty bread. I even ate some capers. Happily. The spinach filo was delicious, the cheese melting out of the hot pastry, the spinach seasoned just right and cooked till perfectly tender. It was served with a side salad and their white wine vinaigrette was pretty much perfect.
Finally, we decided to order a prime beef empanada (another house specialty): beef, onions, raisins, and olives stuffed into a puff pastry, and Darda’s artichoke dip, with roasted onions and a panko crumble. The artichoke dip came out first, bubbling and looking like someone’s hot chicken casserole (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing). The dip was cheesy and creamy, the panko crumbs on top buttered and crispy. There were some wheat crackers served with it, and they were okay…but I was happy eating it with a fork. It was wonderful, but then I have to admit that you could put artichokes in just about anything and I’d love it. Philip liked it too, though, so it must have been good. There was just a slight peppery spice to it that I didn’t quite catch until I’d eaten several bites. Mmmm. The empanada was tasty too…I liked it more than Philip did, though. The spiced beef tasted of cinnamon (admittedly, different for my American tastebuds, but interesting. In my opinion, it worked) and sweetness, with salty whole green olives hanging out. Bravely I ate an olive…..that was a big step for me. They are not usually my favorite, but I felt like they worked beautifully with the meat.
Dessert was not an easy decision for us. Philip has a knee-jerk reaction to seeing crème brûlée on a dessert menu, which is, of course, to order it. I was interested in the flan, though, with Mexican chocolate, coconut, and Brandy Alexander. In the end, we ordered both. Good decision. The vanilla bean crème brûlée was topped with sugar so burnt it was bitter (this is a very, very good thing) and cracked into shards when we tapped it with our spoons. The bottom was full of black flecks of vanilla bean, and Philip’s eyes rolled back into his head when he took a bite. The chocolate flan was spicy on the back end, creamy and a little gelatinous at the same time (Catherine had described it to us as a cross between Jell-o and pudding) and so, so darkly chocolate. Both were worth ordering again.
This wasn’t an inexpensive meal….before our $40 Groupon, the total was $56 and some change. The food was amazing, though, and to some degree you are paying for the experience. The atmosphere is fun and Catherine was a terrific server, making helpful suggestions and handling Philip’s sarcastic humor like a pro. Supposedly the sangria is fantastic here, and I was so, so tempted to try one, except that (as you all well know) I hate wine so I probably would have ended up being very unhappy. They definitely have something for everyone, as the vegetarian menu was fairly large and I definitely could have made my entire meal off of it (Pear and walnut quesadilla? Artisan cheese tasting? Asparagus au gratin? Yes, yes, and yes….). Don’t go expecting a quick, inexpensive meal…but go. Just do it.
Terra Nostra is located at 105 Frazier Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37405. They are open Monday-Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30-11:00 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30-9:00 p.m. You can call them at 423-634-0238 or email them at email@example.com. Check out their website: http://www.terranostratapas.com and like them on Facebook.