You might remember a while back, I penned a review titled "Where the Boys Are," about Edley's Bar-B-Que. Given that the Edley's clientele is consistently heavily male — though the males themselves are not consistently heavy — I made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that girls ISO boys follow their noses to the smoke rings of 12South's shoulder-smoking dude magnet. In the wake of the review, some prickly bloggers took offense at my insinuating that women go to restaurants to find men. Sorry. Right. Women never do that.
Well, all you thin-skinned irony-free bloggers, get ready to take offense again, because my Jane Austen-fueled middle-aged urge to match-make will not be denied. In the interest of equality, this time I'm sending the boys to where the girls are.
The girls are at Rumours Wine Bar.
It's not news to anyone — at least not to anyone with HBO — that ladies love to drink wine together. Nor is it news that Nashville ladies love Rumours, the cozy, corky pioneer that helped put 12South on the map. What is news is that this winter founder Christy Shuff decided to relocate the beloved wine bar she opened in 2004. After selling her interest in Rumours East in 2009, she closed the flagship in 2012 to make room for the upcoming 12South Flats development.
Now Shuff and business partners Tammy Baker and Jenn McCarthy (who also serves as general manager and sommelier) have transformed a bare ground-floor corner of the Icon high-rise into a sleek and inviting nightspot, adding a welcome touch of independently owned flair to the gleaming Gulch.
From its early days, when Shuff envisioned a wine bar that could lure traffic into her art gallery, Rumours has always been a neighborhood spot. It still is, particularly for (beautiful) women in the neighborhood of 18 to 35 years old. On a midweek evening at 6:45 p.m., the crowd was almost exclusively female, while by 8 p.m. on a weekend, the tables had taken a slightly more coed turn.
But while Rumours may draw the fairer sex in greater numbers, by no means do Shuff, McCarthy, Baker and chef Jo Ellen Brown overlook the Y-factor when it comes to sexy fare. On two visits, our group was 50/50 ladies and gents, and both sexes approved the food and drink menus.
Unlike the original oenocentric 12South establishment, Rumours in the Icon has a full bar, with an intriguing list of cocktails that's fun to peruse and even more fun to drink. Our satisfaction with head bartender Caleb Kimberley's beverage list came on the heels of a recent dining experience elsewhere, when the only signature cocktail had a goofy name and a girly appearance, which the men in our group couldn't swallow. So as we lifted our glasses of elegantly styled, well-mixed and gender-neutral concoctions such as the Boulevardier (bourbon, vermouth and Campari), Last Word (gin, Chartreuse, Maraschino and lime) and Bluegrass Revival (rye, vermouth, Fernet Branca, St. Germain), we toasted the absence of blush-colored silliness.
As if to underscore the lack of girly-girlness, our meal opened with deviled eggs studded with lardons of Benton's bacon, then progressed to a no-nonsense hands-on course of mussels. While the excellent curry-basil mussels had us sopping up every last drop of broth and nugget of zesty garlic, the Thai version drove us absolutely cuckoo for coconut. So decadent was the Asian-inspired layering of coconut milk, lemongrass, garlic-chili paste and mussel liquor that we resorted to scooping the sultry soup with our discarded half-shells. We could have used our spoons; we would have preferred straws.
In early sharing rounds, we passed excellent char siu meatballs (two-bite globes of ground pork laced with anise, cinnamon and allspice) served with a lightly dressed salad of carrot ribbons, cilantro, green apples and fennel. Meanwhile, a platter of roasted Brussels sprouts left us marveling at how the tiny Balsamic-accented cabbages could achieve such a perfect balance, at once soft, caramelized, crisp and salty.
Working our way through the majority of the well-curated repertoire, we were consistently delighted by our dishes. Crabcakes had a perfect pan-seared patina, and a cool pineapple slaw to balance the warm seafood. Tender flank steak was cooked to a perfect pink (as requested). Three grill-kissed scallops on a creamy bed of tangy mushroom-studded risotto raised only one complaint: Why aren't there more scallops for $24?
Among the unexpected standouts was the quinoa-sweet-potato cake, whose bronzed surface and pearly texture made for a sturdy and intriguing alternative to meat.
Despite its new sleek digs, beneath a jewel-roped chandelier in a burgundy-and-black suite of rooms, Rumours retains the air of easygoing elegance, along with several original artworks rescued from the flagship.
With wine happy hours, $9 cocktails, lots of small plates, and all entrees under $25, prices lend themselves to frequent visits. That said, on our two visits in one week, we ordered about a half-dozen items that arrived with identical sides of mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli and carrots. As much as we love roasted broccoli and carrots, and as well executed as Rumours' al dente vegetables were, that's a lot of orange and green on the table. For the sake of frequent diners, we'll hope the kitchen mixes up the veg. That challenge that should become easier as spring arrives, bringing a bounty of leafy greens and other seasonal delicacies.
Meanwhile, as the days grow longer and warmer, we'll look forward to balmy urban evenings on the patio facing Division. Tulips are already in bloom there, and if you look closely, you'll see a quirky section of crooked picket fence — a reminder of the early days on 12South, when Rumours first became a favorite neighborhood eatery a few miles down the road.
Rumours opens at 4 p.m. daily, with dinner service beginning at 5 p.m.