Having lived in Nashville for 1.33 years now, I am still not familiar with many restaurants this fine city has to offer. This is a shame because I know I’m missing out on plenty of great dining opportunities. One of these opportunities I can’t believe took me this long to try is Virago, an award-winning Asian fusion and sushi restaurant. Surprisngly Haley was the one who tried it first and recommended it to me months ago. Better late than never, we both made a decision to have our NYE dinner at Virago with reservations at 8 PM.
Virago has been around in Nashville since the year 2000 and is owned by restaurant owner & entrepreneur Chris Hyndman (who also owns Whiskey Kitchen). While I’ve never been or seen the original in Midtown, Virago recently made a move to The Gulch on the corner of 12th Avenue and McGavock Street. Virago boasts “world-class sushi, outstanding design, pioneering fusion cuisine, and a vibrant bar and lounge scene.” I’ve had Asian fusion before as well as sushi from numerous restaurants in the past, but I really wasn’t sure what to expect. All I know is the area around McGavock Street is supposed to be a “new restaurant and entertainment destination development” spearheaded by Hyndman’s company, M Street Entertainment.
Upon walking past the valet, the words Virago illuminated the wall in front of us via a projector. A quick turn into the door presented us with a nicely decorated hostess area and the entryway into the trendy Virago. Taking quick snapshots of the restaurant, Virago is a host to multi-level, multi-section atmospheres that are all seemingly different from one another but are tied together with a subtle Asian-inspired design. Simply put, Virago is so ultra-hip, it looks as if it were taken straight from an upscale, fashionable clubs from LA or NYC where patrons come to “see and be seen”.
Already off to a good start by the awe of the atmosphere, I couldn’t wait to see how the rest of the restaurant fared. For an appetizer, we ordered the Pork Shu Mai ($9), a series of five open-faced steamed pork dumplings served with spicy sweet & sour soy sauce. Each dumpling measured about the size of a large walnut and contained a meaty pork filling that was intensely seasoned with spices. When paired with the soy sauce, it added additional flavors of salt and sweet, followed by a mild heat.
Virago is home to sashimi, nigirizushi (hand-formed sushi) and makizushi (rolled sushi). Price ranges fall in the $3-$4 range for sashimi, $5-$8 for nigirizushi, and $9-$21 for makizushi. Personally I prefer the makizushi simply because of the incorporation of different ingredients and the fact that it comes in several pieces (which makes for easier sharing). The makizushi offerings at Virago are quite extensive with 30+ different types with about half of them labeled as “Virago specialties”. As much as I wanted to order several rolls, I showed some constraint and limited myself to two specialty rolls: Spicy Strawberry Maki ($13) and Tiger ($13).
The Spicy Strawberry Maki consisted of tuna, avocado, asparagus, mango, and jalapeño topped with thin slices of avocado and strawberries with a honey fire sauce and strawberry Sriracha. I selected this roll because I wanted something with sweet characteristics. It was a tossup between this one and the Aloha roll (tempura shrimp, toasted coconut, crispy bacon, fresh pineapple, and macadamia nuts with ginger-sour and peanut sauces) but my love for strawberries won me over. The Spicy Strawberry Maki was exactly what I expected. Each roll had a very slight sweetness to it with warmth stemming from the jalapeños. The avocados gave it a silky, creamy texture while the asparagus added a firm crunch to each piece. To top it off, both sauces added additional hints of fruity sweetness and heat.
The Tiger roll is made up of tuna, jalapeño, cucumber, scallions cilantro, wasabi mayo wrapped in nori (seaweed) and topped with shrimp sashimi, jalapeño slices, wasabi tobiko (wasabi-infused flying fish roe) and orange ponzu. In basic form, this roll is probably more akin to a spicy tuna roll with additional subtle flavors and textures. The admission of fresh vegetables to the roll adds a texture of crunchiness. Heat comes from the wasabi infused components as well as slices from the jalapeños. The shrimp sashimi is an added luxury of meatiness and the wasabi tobiko provides a slight burst of saltiness.
For our main course, Haley chose the Chicken Stir Fry ($17) and I chose the Lamb Lo Mein ($19), both of which are bigger entrees and are actually big enough to feed two people. Haley’s Chicken Stir Fry actually surprised me. Expecting generic fried rice with vegetables, it was the complete opposite. Ample vegetables, large chunks of chicken, on top a extremely flavorful fried rice with the right amount of soy sauce was almost enough to make me like as much as my Lamb Lo Mein.
I’ve always preferred rice over lo mein when it came to Chinese dishes, so this entree marks my first attempt to try lo mein seriously. The lo mein and vegetables were available in plentiful quantity but by itself, this would not be anything more than a simple noodle dish. What made this dish amazingly better was the addition of the fried egg and chunks of lamb. Buried deep under the pile of noodles and vegetables was a generous serving of lamb. Succulent, tender, and full of flavor, the lamb was the highlight of dish.
At the end of dinner, we were presented with a dessert menu and I selected the Chocolate “Between The Sheets” dessert ($8). This dessert was presented on a plate and resembled a chunky egg roll topped with mint and an assortment of berries. Along the four corners of the plate were a mix of Frangelico creme Anglaise and raspberry coulis. The shell was actually a flakey pastry that was home to a chocolate dessert resembling a brownie or very dense cake. When combined together, you got a delicious, chocolate-y, decadent dessert.
Last but not least, the service at Virago is superb. The friendliness of our waitress and her promptness was excellent. She was not overwhelming and gave us ample time to look over the menu. When it was time to order, her knowledge helped guide me to the right selections. What more could you ask for?
When our dining experience came to an end, I was sad to leave. Had I known that Virago was as good as it was, I would have came a lot sooner. The food here is worth every penny. I’m not a sushi connoisseur but it definitely ranks highly on presentation, creativity, and taste. The atmosphere is energetic and the service is some of the best. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of Virago and it is clearly one of my new favorites in Nashville.
1126 McGavock Street
Nashville, TN 37203-2703
Bill Total:$99.53 For Two