Where: TerraMae Appalachian Bistro, 120 E. 10th St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday (lunch); 5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday (dinner)
Price range: $8 (soup or salad)-$28 (filet mignon)
The past year brought many changes to the restaurant scene in downtown Chattanooga. Even as several restaurants closed in a still-sluggish economy, more ventures entered the market to offer new choices for dining out.
High-end dining has taken its share of hits as well, but a new option recently debuted to serve that segment.
TerraMae Appalachian Bistro opened last month at the Stone Fort Inn on East 10th Street, providing a new alternative for fine dining with a distinctive menu.
The restaurant's website describes the concept as using flavors from throughout the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Georgia and preparing fresh meals in creative ways.
TerraMae's menu is ambitious, but in fine dining this is good - so long as the preparation can match the ambition.
Starters such as Lamb Nachos ($13) and foie gras ($22) lead through a salad and soup course ($6-$8) to main selections of chicken, beef and fish.
Even with items that seem familiar, there is usually a different take. The chicken and dumplings dish ($19) is served with rainbow chard, glazed asparagus and zucchini, and is prepared in a very different fashion from what most of us grew up on.
Lunch service, which debuted this week, is better suited for the moderately priced sandwiches on the menu, such as the burgers (one made with bison, venison and Kobe beef, $15) and Duck Pastrami and Rye ($11).
The meal began with lamb nachos and a trio of shrimp, quail and beef brochettes wrapped in bacon ($9).
The nachos were served over blue chips with goat cheese, candied jalapeño and onions, certainly not your run-of-the-mill nachos.
The appetizers at TerraMae are an interesting selection of starters, with truffle infused beets ($9) and Duo of Quail ($16) also being tempting options. The soup and salad course was well done, but if it comes to a choice, it's hard to go wrong with just a selection of appetizers to start the meal.
For the main course, Fried Buttermilk Chicken stuffed with bacon ($19) was too tempting to pass up, although the Cloud Crest Farms 72-Hour Short Ribs dish ($27) was tempting. The chicken was wrapped around bacon and sliced before being fried in a delicate batter that didn't overwhelm the flavor of the meat.
The chicken was served with mashed potatoes and roasted corn, giving the unique meal a down-home feel.
A trio of vanilla, chocolate and espresso creme brulée ($8) finished off the meal nicely.
Executive chef Robert Stockwell's commitment to using fresh ingredients was evident throughout the meal, even on a cold night in late December, and all of the dishes were presented with the care and precision expected from a high-end eatery.
The service was outstanding, even with the restaurant open less than a month and well over half full of customers on a winter night.
The waiter was knowledgeable about the menu and willing to find answers to any questions and offer helpful suggestions.
In addition, other members of the staff not directly involved with serving our table made a point to check on our party and make sure everything was well prepared. They kept water glasses topped off and empty plates cleared quickly.
For those who remember the previous restaurant that occupied the bottom floor of the Stone Fort Inn, the space has been given a facelift.
Gone is the wooden bar at the back of the building. It has been replaced by a small, comfortable bar area near the entrance.
Despite the fireplace and stuffed chairs giving the bar area a mountain lodge vibe - in keeping with the Appalachian theme - TerraMae is quite contemporary. Modern lighting and updated seating give the restaurant an urban feel that's still comfortable and inviting.
The kitchen is open to the main dining area, giving diners a view of the staff preparing the food.
TerraMae offers a new take on gourmet cuisine, taking local flavors of this region and beyond, preparing them in a different manner with a sophisticated presentation.
Fine dining isn't for everyone, and for most of us, it's not in the budget every week. But there are times when a well-prepared and properly presented meal can make an evening out that much more memorable.
TerraMae meets the challenge of its ambitious menu and succeeds in delivering a quality meal in a setting that complements the experience.
Contact staff writer Jim Tanner at jtanner@times freepress.com or 423-757-6478.