Just one week ago I was far, far away in a fairy-tale land. A place where eating pasta twice a day is not only accepted but expected. A land of corner cafes and breakfast pastries and gelato galore. A country that romanced me through fluffy carbs and fresh seafood, wooing me to never leave. Here’s the full story.
How delicious is Thai food? Warm, spicy noodles, loads of fresh veggies, and peanut sauce. Oh, glorious peanut sauce.
The Smiling Elephant has become my favorite Nashville Thai spot. Located only a few blocks from my house, this authentic Thai restaurant is cozy and addictive. The cute owner (who built the place himself) generally takes to-go orders and acts as the cashier, all while wearing this adorable T-shirt.
I decided to try my own hand at a little Thai cooking when I came across a super simple recipe for Thai beef cups. So easy. So yummy. So making this again.
Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from Cooking Light
3 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ red onion, sliced vertically
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Green leaf lettuce, rinsed & dried (or cabbage if you prefer)
Dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped if you like
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add 2 teaspoons oil to pan. Cook ginger and garlic for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add beef and brown.
- Whisk together remaining oil, sugar, the juice of two limes, fish sauce, water, and red pepper in a large bowl. Add the beef mixture, onion, and cilantro. Toss well.
- Fill lettuce leaves with beef. Top with peanuts and serve with lime wedges.
A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to explore Salt Lake City, UT. I could not get over how lovely the city was—the mountains, the architecture, the cleanliness, and (of course) the food.
After touring the impressive (albeit a little eerie) Temple Square, Les Madeleines was the first stop on my culinary list. Every city guide I read mentioned this French patisserie café and their famous Kouing Aman (pronounced “Queen Aman”). Described to me as “a croissant’s hot, older sister,” the buttery, crunchy, flaky pastry did not disappoint. I was just in time, too—the shop ran out of them while I was munching on mine, and it wasn’t even 10:30 am. Several patrons left empty-handed and some call-in orders did not get filled. I, however, walked away in a dreamy sugar coma with cookies in my purse.
Lunch was much-needed after trekking about 5 million miles (you know, if I did the math right) to the 9th and 9th area—a cozy corner of neighborhood shops and restaurants. Mazza Middle Eastern Cuisine was the cool oasis I needed.
Personally, I’m not that familiar with this type of fare outside of falafel, tabbouleh, and hummus. But the menu included detailed descriptions and my server was super helpful in making selections. I opted for the sampler plate, which was an excellent way to try three dishes for only $10, and I chose well! Rich and creamy hummus, warm ful mudammas (a thick mash of fava and garbanzo beans), and muhamara, which was like a zesty, orange, Middle Eastern pesto paste made from ground up walnuts and lots of spices. Everything was served with warm pita bread and cool, crisp lettuce for dipping. This meal put me in a very happy place.
My final stop was Red Iguana, which turned out to be some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten. And you know that’s saying something. Along with perfectly thin chips, smoky salsa, and chile con queso that looked like Rotel dip (not that there’s a thing wrong with that) but tasted even better, I got to test a mole sampler of seven unique flavors. One made with pumpkin seeds tasted like fall, another was thick and chocolaty, some were spicy, some were mild. The sampler was all over the place in a really good way, but I ended up opting for the Cochinita Pibil based on the server’s recommendation.
This Red Iguana signature dish was a huge hit with me. The tangy, tender, slow roasted pork had the texture of thick pot roast and was delightful wrapped in toasty flour tortillas.
All in all, Salt Lake City was beyond what I imagined. Not only was the setting exceptionally beautiful, but the food was so well-rounded. French, Middle Eastern, Mexican—who would’ve thought I’d experience such a cultural variety of cuisines in a place known for their conservative white people?
Charlotte Avenue is peppered with many lovely Nashville dining establishments. French treasure Miel sits just behind the beloved Bobbie’s Dairy Dip. And a few streets away there’s Coco’s Italian Market which I know has fabulous pizza and I hear has a delicious dining-in experience. These restaurants, along with several other ethnic eateries, might be the best motivation to venture west, but I have just discovered another reason—the L&L Restaurant Equipment store.
A plethora of commercial pots & pans, dinnerware, and heavy machinery sit inside. If you were opening a diner, it’s the place you’d go to buy things like plastic baskets, Parmesan cheese shakers, and napkin dispensers. The good news: This business is open to the public, and you can get restaurant-quality cookware at dirt cheap prices. The bad news: There is no AC up in this place! Just one fan pointing directly at the checkout girl. Even while you’re paying you get no breezy relief. So, I managed to escape before having heat stroke with four items which cost me $20 total.
I purchased a glass liter carafe for chilling iced coffee ($5), a ladle for dishing up soup ($3), a stainless steel turner to use with my cast iron ($3), and a heavy-duty baking sheet to replace the ones I currently have that scare the crap out of me every time they get hot and buckle in the oven ($8). Not too shabby, eh? I probably could’ve made out with more goods, but I could not take the heat so I had to get out of the kitchen supply store. I have a feeling I’ll be back. Probably just not until October or so.
Living in a landlocked state doesn’t always make for fresh seafood. But I love, love, love snacking on crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic fare. So between coastal visits, a girl’s gotta get by, and the Red Lobster isn’t gonna cut it. Luckily for me, there are a few choices around the Nashville area. And when it comes to sushi, I’d say Samurai Sushi is one of my best options.
Of course I start with a house ginger salad, because it’s what you do. But this ginger dressing is so good. It’s thicker and creamier than most, and I find it downright drinkable.
But the real reason I show up is for the Volcano Roll, introduced to me by MKR.
This roll combines avocado, tuna, asparagus, and just the right amount of cream cheese. Sitting on top is their Dynamite Roll filling, which is a basically a mountain of spicy crabmeat. Let’s take a closer look.
Mmm … crab … I will be going back for this soon! I can’t seem to stay away due to all the cravings.
Side note: Who do you think was the first person who looked at a crab and thought to himself, I’m gonna figure out a way eat that thing? A brave soul, I tell you. But I sure am glad he did.
And speaking of crabs, watch these 150 million Christmas Island crabs migrate and have babies. Totally makes me feel better about the 13-year cicada swarm that’s gonna happen to us this month. Nature is so weird and fascinating.
It’s been said that good things come in small packages. And when it comes to East Nashville gem Silly Goose, I’d say this is one restaurant that truly fits that clichéd bill. With only four tables, I put off a trip to the Silly Goose for a while since it can be a bit of a logistical nightmare, but this weekend Christi and I arrived at just the right time with no waiting. (We also learned that SG is expanding, so they will probably be closed for most of May, but it will be totally worth it. Still charming, but easier to navigate.) Stepping into the SG feels a bit like stepping into an illustrated fable. Christi had the roast beef. I had none. But I did have the Lyle’s Surprise, which is one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten (hot cappicola, thommé cheese, arugula pesto, basil, shaved fennel, & balsamic syrup on rosemary focaccia). It will be incredibly hard for me not to order the exact same thing on my next visit, but there is so much to try! And Christi assures me that everything is as delicious as my Lyle. I trust her.
Aside from their inventive sandwiches, drinks & ice creams, SG is known for their couscous, which you can get as a fancified entree or as a side. The best part? You can get a little couscous and a little salad as your side. How great is that? I love options where I get to try more food. These locavores use organic, sustainable ingredients, and they even press their own carrot, beet, etc. juice right in front of your eyes! Very fresh. Very impressive. Very, very good.
Christi and I cleaned our plates. And we were so full that we just had to get dessert. We ordered the Sweet Jane—cinnamon cannoli with orange and honey cream filling, shaved dark chocolate, and blackberry sauce. Light, crispy, creamy, tasty goodness. I can’t wait to try one of their snazzy house-made ice creams next time.
Don’t be silly—get yourself to the East Side and try this fantastic eatery. And if it’s busy, don’t let that deter you—order something to go.
Watch out Marché! The goose may just give you a run for your money in my favorite lunch spot hierarchy. This food makes you want to shake your caboose. (Yeah, shake your caboose.)
One of my current obsessions is artichokes. And since I’ve been ordering them all over town, it seems I accidentally entered myself in a local artichoke-off.
Contender #1: J. Alexander’s Steamed Artichokes
Served with a rémoulade, these were nice and salty, but something was missing. It was too plain. (BTW—their site shows a photo of a grilled artichoke, but when I ordered it, the thing was just steamed. Promise. Also, there’s not a menu available online. What’s that about? Psh.)
Contender #2: City House‘s Steamed Artichokes with Crab Dip
I thought the crab dip would come on the side, but it was all right on top. The concoction of creamy dip & fresh artichoke topped with crunchy breadcrumbs was tasty, but it was a little awkward to eat. I wasn’t sure if I should pull the leaves off and dip them, or just eat the dip with a fork to get to the heart of the matter. It was too much.
Contender #3: Bricktop’s Grilled Artichokes
Grilled with butter and/or olive oil, these artichokes came with a salty-charred flavor, plus aioli and drawn butter for dipping. It was juuuuuust right! My bestie Amy (who has good taste in food and design, as you can see from her blog) and I have gone back many times simply because we are craving this.
Bricktop’s version was the clear winner, so I wanted to try and recreate it at home. I found this recipe that I tweaked ever so slightly. The result was divine! I cannot wait to make & eat these again. So simple. So delicious.
Garlicky Grilled Artichokes
Makes 4 servings
- Fill a large bowl with cold water, and squeeze the juice from one lemon into it. Trim the tops off the artichokes, cut them in half lengthwise, and scrape out the fuzzy choke with a spoon. Place the halves into the bowl of lemon water to keep them from turning brown.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat.
- Add artichokes to boiling water, and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain and refrigerate until you are ready to grill.
- Squeeze the remaining lemon into a bowl. Stir in the olive oil, garlic, and salt & pepper.
- Using a brush, coat the artichokes with the garlic dip. Grill the artichokes for 5 to 10 minutes, basting with dip and turning frequently, until the tips are slightly charred.
- Place a small cube of butter in the center of each hot artichoke half. Sprinkle artichokes and remaining dip with parsley, and serve immediately.
Here are some photos of the process. Enjoy!
Next time, I think I will:
- Not share these with anybody.
- Maybe look for a stuffed version that I can broil in the oven and get the same charred goodness.
Don’t let the tinniness of Rhode Island fool you—New Englanders have managed to pack a multitude of flavorful restaurants into a square footage the size of the county I grew up in. I took a long weekend trip to The Ocean State to visit Kristen & Anne Marie, and we had many amazing culinary adventures along the way. AM even had these cute signs drawn up for the event.
Our first night’s dinner was shared in Providence at Al Forno, which we had planned on visiting solely based on the lavender panna cotta. Unfortunately, said dessert wasn’t available that night, but I managed to stay happy between homemade grilled pizza, linguine with creamy egg & duck bacon, and the three desserts we ordered for the table to split. It was a grand dinner, to say the least, and I can’t wait to go back.
The second day we headed to Newport—the quintessential city-by-the-sea. On our way to lunch we randomly saw a restaurant AM had told us about, so we stopped and made dinner reservations. (I mean, this is the original killing time between meals crew—would you expect anything less?) Anyway, New England is famous for chowder, pronounced “chowdah” up there, so we headed to The Black Pearl to sample the city’s finest.
Oh. My. Gosh.
Hands down, the best I have ever eaten. Not too many potatoes. Lots of clams. Thick, creamy, goodness potent with dill. It was bowl-lickable. The best news? You can buy it by the case here.
Kristen and I then shared a lobster salad on croissant. I don’t usually care for lobster (I find the meat too tough, so I’d rather eat crab), but as a salad, it was delectable.
I would add a photo of us dining at The Black Pearl, but AM is our resident photographer, and I only took pictures of food.
A few hours later we (minus Kristen, who wasn’t feeling well) headed to Fluke for dinner. Let me just start by saying that I would get arrested to eat this meal again.
I knew I was gonna like this place when they started us off with roasted rosemary puréed garlic for our bread. (I have a small obsession with garlic, but that’s for another post.)
Um, yes please. (I plan to attempt to make this myself soon. I’ll let you know how it goes.)
After an extra order of that garlic and fire roasted octopus, I moved on to a grilled pork tenderloin. It was cooked to perfection, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t a stroke of good luck as the restaurant’s name suggests. As a matter of fact, Fluke’s chef Neil Manacle worked as Bobby Flay’s sous chef on Iron Chef America and in many of Flay’s New York restaurants.
We also ordered the wild mushroom risotto with truffle oil for the table to share.
Another successful, delicious trip to RI! And wouldn’t you know, we’ve already started planning the restaurant tour on my next visit.
Mexican food is like a food group to me. You’ve got fruits, grains, meats, veggies, and cheap Mexican.
I think I’m the go-to girl for each one of my friends when they want Mexican food. I rarely say no. Until tomorrow.
For Lent, I am giving it up. That’s right—40 days and nights sans chips, burritos, and cheese sauce on top. Except when I go to Texas for my cousin’s wedding in April. I plan to take a Sabbath that weekend. But other than that, you will not see these feet walking into a Las Palmas. Cheese dip will not pass my lips.
To commemorate this fast, Christi and I decided to gorge ourselves on Mexican today at lunch. And it was exactly the cheesy, crunchy, spicy, gooey Fat Tuesday meal you would want right before you were giving it up for 40 days.
Let’s take a closer look at my plate.
Not to worry Las Palmas on 8th—your retirement plan will be back after Easter!
MK and I shared everything, as we often do, so that we both get more variety. A good plan, no? I recommend it.
We started with the octopus. It was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and salty-good. Some people are weirded out by octopus & squid, but I love it. Some say it’s too chewy for their taste, but if it’s cooked correctly, it should be tender, not rubbery. If you’ve never tried it, start with ordering calamari. It’s not as intimidating (or scary-looking, for some people) since it’s usually sliced into rings and fried. And who doesn’t like fried stuff?
For the main course, we shared the turnip green pizza and the bread gnocchi. Both were awesome, but the pizza blew us away. Turnip greens on a pizza? Yes. Cooked in a wood-burning over and paired with spicy chilies, garlic, pecorino, and the perfect crust, the pizza made our taste buds freak out. In a good way.
To polish things off, we ordered the “Caramel Custard Pie, Marscapone Crema with S + P Pecans” for dessert.
Oh. My. Gosh.
Stop whatever you are doing and go eat this. It was heaven. I’m talking, plate-lickable, people. The caramel custard was creamy and sweet and velvety and a-mazing. I am still dreaming of this dessert. Thanks, Chef Tandy.
Just another delightful visit to City House with wonderful company. Already looking forward to next time!