Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Pretensions of Dining

OK, I was at J. Alexander's for lunch the other day, and a more confused confluence of fine dining and fern-bar excess has rarely been seen. Not that I did not enjoy my lunch, or the atmosphere, or the service. But they seem to be suffering from some confusion as to what their niche is in the Nashville dining world.
Hostesses in black, wait staff in white shirts with black ties, white cloth napkins. Dim lighting, dark lacquered wood finishes, a visible wine cellar with rows of bottles. The large, heavy cardstock 1-page menu had the entire back devoted to the wine selection. Oh, ok, it's leaning towards Sunset Grill-quality Fine dining.
Then I examine the menu. Typical selections, until I spot this: Mr. Jack's Chicken Fingers Dinner. The description starts something like this:
Made with Mr. Jack's famous South Carolina low-country recipe...

OK, folks - we are talking CHICKEN FINGERS here. Strips of boneless fried chicken, put on all menus to order for finicky children or as comfort food for the adults. They are not regionally famous - I don't go on vacation and think to myself, "Hmmm, I think I'll order a local delicacy... where's the chicken fingers on the menu?" Secondly, they are not state specialties, either. South Carolina is not famous for it's chicken fingers, let alone the LOWER HALF of the state. 
I ordered the chicken salad open-face sandwich on foccacia bread. When the plate was finally placed in front of me, its contents rose almost to my chin - a good half-pound of chunky chicken salad, on an 8 x 6 inch slab of foccacia, with another slab of foccacia off to the side with tomatoes, lettuce and a dab of dressing to place atop the heap and squash it into submission. Plus the huge portion of thin-cut french fries, rising majestically from the plate like a golden haystack.
This was fern-bar quantity, not the discreetly cautious portions of a fine dining establishment, where everyone working there is slim and café-chic stylish, and the food reflects similar restraint. I could not finish half of it. It was worthy of TGI Fridays... and perhaps, was a last respectful gesture on the part of the JA kitchen staff, since the local TGIF had been closed down recently. Their competitor had died because it had been unable to adapt to the changing diets of a more sophisticated population, and yet J Alexander's acknowledged their kinship, and in sorrowful respect, heaped my plate high.