It's hard to decide whether to open a story about Kayne Prime, the dazzling new steakhouse in the Gulch, with a paean to the exquisite decor or a conversation about its breathtaking price point. We could lead with the food, but that aspect of the eatery might not make the biggest impact on the reader — or the diner, for that matter.
Kayne Prime owner Chris Hyndman knows something about making an impact. His M Street ventures, including Tavern, Virago and Whiskey Kitchen, consistently rank among Nashville's most visually impressive establishments, and the last two have helped transform a forgotten railroad scar into a dining destination. Kayne Prime, which takes its name from the adjacent Kayne Avenue rail yards, is predictably spectacular. If it were a Cirque de Soleil production, it would be Taureau to Virago's Poisson and Tavern's, well, Taverne.
To grasp the drastic transformation from Radius 10, which previously filled the space, try this exercise: At your seat in Kayne Prime, attempt to remember what the correlating spot in Radius 10 was. If you can get your head around the fact that the airy concrete-and-glass eatery once occupied this clubby cavern of rough-hewn woods, sumptuous leathers and sultry lighting — from smoky topaz pendant globes to red-crystal-rope chandeliers — you might realize you're sitting in a private dining chamber, just behind the site of the former hostess stand at the McGavock Street entrance. Then again, sitting against a backdrop of massive reclaimed timbers and butcher-block walls with columns fashioned of birch-white tree limbs, you might not figure it out at all.
As for the food at this modern-day steakhouse, the carnivorous canon is represented at its finest, with USDA Prime, Wagyu and local beef available. Our server was well-versed and enthusiastic about the details of dry aging and about the high fat content and marbling of meat from American and Australian Wagyu cattle. He was less boosterish about the local meat and steered us away from the filet and rib-eye from Montgomery County.
With steaks starting at $24 for a 10-ounce skirt and topping out at $59 for a sirloin sampler, we did not complete an exhaustive survey, but our 6-ounce petite filet ($30) was excellent by all accounts. Cooked under an infrared broiler between 1,200 and 1,600 degrees and finished on a Spanish-style flat-top grill, the plump puck emerged juicy, delicately crisped but without grill marks, tender enough to cut with a fork, and salted to mouthwatering perfection. Meanwhile, diners at the table next to us couldn't stop praising the so-called Progression of New York Sirloin, a trio of 3.5 ounces each of USDA Prime and American and Australian Wagyu, cooked in the sous-vide style.
Beyond the bull, there's plenty of variety in meat, seafood and vegetables. Appetizers range from oysters on the half-shell to heirloom tomato salad with burrata mozzarella, while entrées include line-caught salmon with cucumber and raita, whole lobster with three butters, and roast chicken.
For starters, we followed our server's direction to surf-and-turf poppers. Four peppers (two stuffed with braised short ribs and two stuffed with minced Maine lobster and mascarpone) emerged from the fryer cloaked in a slightly sweet batter, but both the seafood and beef versions were dominated by the thick-walled jalapeno. The better recommendation was a trio of duck nachos — crisp sesame wontons piled with moist duck confit and finished with avocado salsa. For anyone tempted by the housemade bacon, don't expect crispy sugar-coated rashers of finger food. Kayne Prime delivers two thick straps of fat and meat laced with maple syrup and littered with fresh cracked black pepper, which require fork, knife and a passion for pork belly.
Among the non-steak entrées, we opted for halibut prepared sous-vide, served with a sweet-and-tangy topping of candied kumquat marmalade and a curious pile of brown grit on the side. This sandy sidecar, billed on the menu as "pancetta crumbs," is crisped ham blended with breadcrumbs to create a textural element that can be sprinkled over the smooth firm flakes of white fish, without competing with the vibrant fruit. This thoughtful detail ranked among the most interesting elements of the menu.
Four bones of Colorado lamb emerged from a sous-vide bath bearing gorgeous succulent meat, but the popular process of cooking in a vacuum-sealed sachet in low-temperature water deprived the lamb of the charred texture and smoke that come from grilling. The blunt presentation, with pools of balsamic reduction and red pepper sauce, did little to elevate the meat.
Kayne Prime sticks with the steakhouse tradition of à la carte sides, so proteins arrive largely unembellished and in need of accompaniment. (Think naked steak on white plate.) Three sides were ample for four people, and we enjoyed spins on the classics: cream corn brûlée with a crisp caramelized top; broccoli roasted with peppers, garlic, lemon and, according to the menu, "really good olive oil"; and creamed spinach topped with a soft-fried egg. Other usual steakhouse suspects include potato gratin, tempura onion rings, lobster mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, grilled mushrooms and french fries. A selection of steak sauces, including blue cheese butter, creamy horseradish and bone marrow butter, are available for $3 to $4 a piece.
In such a palace of protein, we'd expect herbivores to get short shrift. On the contrary, it was in the Green Plate Special where we saw some of Chef Robbie Wilson's most creative and seasonal flair. The four-course presentation opened with blistered grapes atop a cool cloud of ricotta with honey and black pepper, followed by three snack-size squares with fried layers of bread and potato shreds, topped with molten gruyere, reminiscent of latkes. The third course was the unexpected standout in our meal. Wilson's preparation of shredded kale studded with chewy currants and pine nuts and tossed with lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan was stunning in its balanced simplicity. But it was also showstopping in its price tag. As a standalone starter, the kale cost $13. Meanwhile, the Green Plate Special, which culminated in a bowl of pasta with tomatoes, spinach and parmesan, was $38 — a steep price tag for grapes, latkes, kale slaw and noodles.
But pricing isn't everything for some diners, nor is culinary finesse — points we were reminded of while strolling among the tables of well-heeled guests. When we asked one diner how she felt about the massive flat-screen TV broadcasting a sports program right above her head, she responded, "It's not really my taste, to watch TV in a restaurant, but I guarantee when my brother and his friends learn they can sit in a private room, eat this meat and watch sports, this will be their new favorite place."
Kayne Prime serves dinner nightly starting at 6 p.m. Bar opens at 5 p.m.