Nashville Scene: Visiting Off The Radar Restaurants

PHOTO: Daniel Miegs

PHOTO: Daniel Miegs

I know of several people who judge a Thai restaurant solely by its execution of pad Thai. While I can understand that being the measuring stick, if that’s all you consider, you’re missing out on a lot of the menu at many, many decent-to-good Thai spots around town. That being said, I tend to rank my favorites by how much I like their take on pad kee mao, or "drunken noodles." I like it hot enough to make me break a sweat but not so spicy that I can’t taste the Thai basil in the dish.

For years my favorite pad kee mao came from Thai Star, with Smiling Elephant and Thai Phooket occupying the rest of the winners’ podium. Even when Thai Star was hidden in a tiny strip mall next to the Kroger near where Thompson Lane meets Briley Parkway, I would make the trip for that dish. When they moved into modern new digs on a different stretch of Thompson Lane across from Hearth and Grill (and just as soon as you pass through the railroad tunnel where the Tuba Dude entertains afternoon commuters), I was excited that they were a little closer to home.(Even if the left turn into or out of the parking lot ranks among the most dangerous in town.)

So I was a little bummed when I heard that Thai Star was closing and reincarnating into a new restaurant named The Eastern Peak. In fact, I pretty much forgot about it until I got one of those notifications from none other than Yelp saying that “a new restaurant has opened near you with great reviews.” Sure enough, I recognized the address and checked out what the Yelpers were saying, and the early reviews were indeed overwhelmingly positive.

I quickly carved out some time to check The Eastern Peak out for myself, and since then I’ve probably carried a dozen people there for their first visit, to universal acclaim. After a modern redo of the interior to create a nice Zen-like organic atmosphere, it has become a downright classy place for lunch or dinner. The addition of a cocktail program designed by bar consultant Ryan Yamada (of whom I’m a huge fan), plus great happy hour prices on drinks, sushi and appetizers, has made The Eastern Peak a favorite happy-hour stop for me. I mean, if you’re gonna be stuck in traffic, would you rather be sitting down enjoying creative sushi rolls and well-executed cocktails or being serenaded by a sousaphone? Just sayin’ …

The Eastern Peak is actually part of a small chainlet of Asian restaurants based out of Kentucky, with the other two named Jasmine and located in Murray and Paducah, Ky. The menu features traditional Thai dishes made with exceptionally fresh ingredients and bright flavors, and they’re not afraid to blow the top of your 

head off with spice if you challenge them. I’ve enjoyed both their green and red curries, but pad kee mao is still my go-to.

Other entrees are a little more pan-Asian or fusion-ish, with Miso Salmon and Basil Duck being excellent choices if you’re looking for something more exotic. Given that ordering sushi when you’re not in view of the ocean is always a risky proposition, I can report that the rolls and sashimi that I’ve sampled at The Eastern Peak have always tasted fresh, if not especially flavorful, and the skilled knifework of the sushi chefs brings out the best that they can out of the raw material. Since most of the work takes place behind the walls of the kitchen, it’s not necessarily a place to go for the omakase experience, and I wish there was an easier way to get recommendations from the chef about what is best on a particular day. But for the prices they charge, it’s a worthy place to order widely off the menu to find a new favorite roll.

Open from 11 a.m. until late seven days a week, The Eastern Peak is a dependable alternative for anyone looking for some really solid Asian food in an attractive and comfortable ambiance. This is a real under-the-radar find that I’m happy to share the secret about. Just be careful making that left turn! 

Author: Chris Chamberlain