Duck and Pho Spiced Dumplings at Urbanbelly
Yes, there is a Part 2 to Monday’s Chicago post. That’s because I had two back-to-back trips to the Windy City, one in late May and the other in early June. Work turned me into a traveling fiend for a few weeks (including my trip to Atlanta for Food & Wine Festival), and although it was exhausting, I’m definitely not complaining about all of the incredible food I got to experience!
Urbanbelly Short Ribs with Scallions
Karl and Sarah of Nashville’s Biscuit Love truck are a bit addicted to Chicago’s Urbanbelly and for over a year, on each trip I took there, they recommended that I add it to my eating itinerary. Unfortunately, each time, it just never worked out.
But on my last visit, I arrived into the city early on a Sunday afternoon with a couple of hours to kill before I needed to be somewhere, so I decided it was time. I summoned Uber, and in the car on the way, tweeted to Karl asking him exactly what I needed to order. His response: #4, #9, #13, #16, #18.
Um, that’s sounds like a lot of food for one person! Sure enough, when I arrived at my destination and looked at the menu, it was more than I thought I’d be able to handle, so I narrowed it down to 3 of the 5.
Urbanbelly Wrinkle Beans
A few minutes later, as I was waiting for my order to arrive at my table, my server brought me a bowl of short ribs, courtesy of the kitchen. Apparently someone at Urbanbelly figured I could handle 4 dishes instead of 3. They seem to know me better than I know myself, because I had no trouble polishing it all off!
Urbanbelly Rice Noodle: Hominy, Kimchi, and Spicy Pork Broth
I totally get why Karl and Sarah hit this spot every time they visit Chicago. In addition to the incredible food, they also have an awesome staff. If you find yourself at Urbanbelly any time in the near future, ask for Will and tell him that Beth from Nashville sent you!
3053 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
Girl and the Goat’s Squash Blossom Rangoon with crab, chive yogurt, toasted almonds
Another restaurant I’ve had good intentions of visiting for ages is Girl and the Goat. For as much as I loved Stephanie Izard during her season of Top Chef and for as many times as I’ve been to Chicago since the Girl and the Goat opened, you’d think I would have dined there by now. It really wasn’t for lack of trying. I’d attempted to get reservations on several occasions, but the only times available always seemed to be 5 pm or 11 pm. So each time, I just said, “oh well! I’ll try again on the next trip”. And then I would, and the same thing would happen.
Finally I decided to just take a chance on walking in the door without a reservation. I knew they allowed for some walk-ins, but had heard that the wait could be up to a couple of hours. Note: I’m not a person that likes to wait that long. However, because I had such a fantastic (and late in the day) lunch at Urbanbelly, I wasn’t dying of hunger, so figured I could tough it out.
Wild King Salmon with braised peanuts, strawberry chimichurri, spiced beef, and shallot yogurt at Girl and the Goat
As luck would have it, we were able to get a seat in less time than it took us to finish even half of a cocktail!
After eating outrageous amounts of really oustanding food – wood grilled broccoli with smokey blue cheese, chickpea fritters with trumpet mushrooms, kona kampachi crudo (crispy pork belly with chili aioli & caperberries), squash blossom rangoon with crab & chive yogurt, wild king salmon with braised peanuts & strawberry chimichurri, and pig face (yes, you read that correctly) – I am kicking myself for not making more of an attempt to get there before now.
Lesson learned. I will now risk a long wait and be a walk-in diner at super popular establishments, particularly this one. Long or short, it’s worth the wait.
(PS – sorry these pics aren’t better. Again a case of bad lighting that even Photoshop couldn’t fix!)
809 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
I cannot believe I haven’t blogged about my last couple of trips to Chicago. It’s shameful really.
This beautiful meal at Acadia was my very special Chicago birthday dinner courtesy of my lovely friend Libby. Yes, my birthday was in MAY. And yes, that was two months ago. But, no matter. Even if a year had passed, I would still make sure I shared this with you. This 5-course prixe fixe menu was too good not to share!
Asparagus, yolk gel, morels, truffle vinaigrette, watercress
While we went the prixe fixe route, it’s good to note that there is also a la carte ordering, which is a nice option for those that may not want to splurge quite so much.
That said, the entire menu, both prixe fixe and a la carte, is an incredible value. I know there are a couple of other restaurants (who shall remain nameless) in Chicago that are very similar in both food quality and experience that are significantly more expensive.
Halibut Cheek at Acadia
Corned Smoked Beef Tongue, Confit Yukon, Truffle Emulsion, Trumpet Mushroom, Lenten Espagnole, Sea Froth
Acadia received its first Michelin star this year, and has been named both Best New Restaurant and Best Fine Dining in Chicago. On top of that, they have amazing cocktails. You know me- gotta have good cocktails to be named one of the best of the best in my book!
Acadia’s Heavenly Little Biscuits
(not their official name, but gotta call them what they are!)
Somehow I managed to lose the photo of probably my favorite dish of the meal, the English Pea Agnolotti. (How in the world I managed to lose 1 photo out of all of these photos, I have no idea. Thus is my life these days.) With pea tendrils and oyster mushrooms, it was not only delicious, but one of the prettiest dishes! Oh well.
Swan Creek Rabbit at Acadia
Cherry Bacon, Rabbit Sausage, Sicilian Pistachio, Sunchoke Puree, Garlic Custard, Spring Onion
If in Chicago and looking to celebrate something special, check out Acadia. Heck, even if you aren’t celebrating something special, check it out. Simply celebrate good food and service and treat yourself to an amazing evening!
1639 S Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
Caviar Service at GT Fish & Oyster
This next meal was equally incredible, yet a very different experience. Where Acadia was refined and quiet, the space at GT Fish & Oyster was energetic and lively.
GT Fish & Oyster Oysters
We went a little crazy ordering, but that’s what’s so great about this menu. It’s meant to be shared, and there are so many options that there is surely something for everyone. As you can see above, we started with caviar – a splurge, but so fun! – and oysters.
(Please forgive the grainy photos. I so wish they were better, but alas, the room was pretty dark and I was using my iphone, so they’re not the greatest.)
Baja Shrimp Bruschetta at GT Fish & Oyster
shrimp, avocado, toasted pistachio, grapefruit, cilantro
Next up was the shrimp bruschetta, which I was dying over. And Oyster Po’ Boy Sliders with kimchi and peanuts. And the Octopus. Love, love, love. I wish I had some of all three right here, right now.
Octopus at GT Fish & Oyster
Octopus, beer mustard wasabi, purple potatoes, jicama, pickled mushroom
If you like seafood, I really, truly, cannot encourage you enough — you must go to GT Fish & Oyster when in Chicago. If this place was in Nashville, I’d probably drop in once a week. It is that good!
531 N Wells St
Chicago, IL 60654
Husk Nashville’s Chilled Tomato Soup with Georgia Olive Oil and Radishes
My answer is now: YES.
The question: Have you eaten at Husk Nashville yet?
For weeks it seems like almost everyone I’ve come in contact with has asked me this question. After saying “no, not yet” several dozen times, I was finally able to answer “yes” last week!
Besides the fact that I was traveling a lot in May (when it opened) and June, I also wasn’t in a huge rush to get in there. I was pretty certain it would be a great meal because I’ve been to the one in Charleston and it was wonderful. Maybe that’s part of the reason I wasn’t in a big hurry– I knew what to expect. It wasn’t going to be any big surprise that the food and service were solid.
I’d read a ton of articles about the opening before it even happened. I had followed their blog to see the progress of the restaurant design as it came together. Maybe it was all just a little too much (too much hype turns me off), and that’s why I took my slow sweet time getting in there.
Smoked Chicken Wings with Scallion BBQ Sauce and Peanuts at Husk Nashville
Whatever it was that kept me from foaming at the mouth to get in the door the minute it opened, I will say, by the time I was walking out the door, I was truly thrilled with every aspect of the experience.
My friends and I chose to have a leisurely lunch on a Friday. We were seated right next to the expansive set of windows overlooking the garden. We ordered a bottle of sparkly. We chatted with our server (who, by the way, couldn’t have been more perfect for our group. He knew his stuff, but he was also fun. Amusing. I get so annoyed when my server has zero personality).
Fried Green Tomatoes with Heirloom Cape Bean Hummus at Husk Nashville
A little background on Husk (in case, unlike me, you haven’t already read umpteen articles on it): they source locally and use seasonal products, which means the menu changes constantly based on what is available each day. Some dishes might stay somewhat the same from day to day, but for the most part, you shouldn’t expect to go in there tomorrow and order anything you see here today.
That said, I won’t go too crazy telling you how amazing each dish was, because then you might be really jealous and a bit sad that you aren’t able to taste it on your visit ;-)
I will say that all three of our starters- chilled tomato soup, chicken wings, and fried green tomatoes with hummus- were excellent. I’d never even thought of putting hummus with fried green tomatoes, but that combo was a winner!
Husk Nashville’s Shrimp and Grits, Preserved Tomato Broth, Shiitakes, Poached Egg
Of the entrees on the menu, I was first drawn to the shrimp & grits, because, when they’re done well, I absolutely love them.
However, my friend Sherri was certain that’s what she wanted, so I decided to choose something else. I’ve learned my lesson in the past- when dining with friends that are willing to share, never order two of the same dishes at a table unless you’ve had it before and are absolutely positive that it is to-die-for. Since none of us had been before, and, as I’ve mentioned, the menu changes daily, we each chose a different dish.
Husk Nashville’s Catfish, roasted over embers, Anson Mills Farro, Mustard Greens, Tomato Gravy
And I am so, so, so happy about that decision. While Sherri loved the shrimp & grits, I have to say, it wasn’t my favorite entree. In fact, of the three we had, it came in third place.
My friend Charmaine ordered catfish, something she said she would never typically order but the server highly recommended it — and for good reason. This may have been the best catfish preparation I’ve ever had.
Bear Creek Beef with Bells Bend Garlic Scapes, Roast Cauliflower and Herb Dressing at Husk Nashville
But the dish that really got me? My own. It’s such a great feeling to hit the ordering jackpot!
The Bear Creek Beef was incredibly tender and delicious, but the best part was the roasted cauliflower and puree. I wanted to lick my dish. Okay, maybe I did kind of lick my dish. No one was looking, I promise.
Bear Creak Beef at Husk Nashville (full description above)
Because this was my favorite of the meal, I decided it deserved two photos. Just so you clearly understand how good it was.
Peach Buttermilk Pie at Husk Nashville
And last, but certainly not least, was the amazing Peach Buttermilk Pie made by Husk’s pastry chef, Lisa Donovan. My buddy Karl from Biscuit Love tweeted a pic of it earlier that week, so it had been on my mind ever since. Now, after eating it, it will probably be on my mind for years to come. Serious yum factor.
Something to keep in mind if you’d like to dine at Husk – if you want to go for dinner, you need to plan well in advance, as it can be a bit difficult to reserve a table for a decent hour (but if you want to do early bird dining or late night, you should be fine). However, if you’re really dying to go asap, and you have a schedule that will allow for lunch, those are definitely much easier reservations to score.
Any of you out there been yet? If so, what did you have and what are your thoughts?
37 Rutledge Street
Nashville, TN 37210
Lunch 11am-2pm Mon-Fri
Brunch 10am-2pm Sat and Sun
Dinner 5-10 Sun-Thurs
Dinner 5-11 Fri-Sat
Last week I told you guys about our new toy, the Mastbuilt Smoker, and I mentioned that I was going to attempt smoking a cabbage in it.
Well, I did, and OH MY.
Dare I say that it is now tied with Cabbage Au Gratin as my favorite cabbage dish? Maybe it even beats the au gratin?? In addition to the sheer deliciousness of it, it gets extra points for being so darn easy to throw together. In addition, the smoking gives it an almost meaty flavor, so even a carnivore like me didn’t miss having meat at my meal(s).
Wow. I’m seriously already thinking about making it again this week!
Smoked Stuffed Cabbage
Serves 4. Adapted from the Dadgum That's Good cookbook
1/2 cup diced tomato (from can, drained)
3 Tbsp chopped onion
3 Tbsp diced green chiles
2 Tbsp shredded sharp cheddar
2 Tbsp shredded mozzarella
6 Tbsp unsalted butter (3/4 stick), softened
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 head of green cabbage
Load the wood tray of your smoker with one small handful of wood chips (I used hickory chips) and preheat the smoker to 225 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix diced tomatoes, chopped onion, green chiles, cheese, butter, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Core cabbage, cutting out a good-sized cavity. (Make sure you don't core the base; leave the cabbage open only at one end.) Place the tomato mixture in the cavity and wrap cabbage with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place cabbage in smoker, cored end up*, and smoke for 5 to 6 hours at 225 degrees.
Remove cabbage, cut into wedges and serve.
*Be sure you keep the top side up so the toppings don't run out!
Riffs Supper Jam
Saturday, July 13th
5 pm and 8 pm Seatings
Second Harvest Food Bank
331 Great Circle Rd
Nashville, TN 37228
$85/person with cocktail pairings
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I pretty much love just about everything the guys from Riffs create. From the food truck to their private catering and pop ups, I always leave a happy (and very full-bellied) girl.
Now B.J. (Lofback, owner of Riffs) is adding yet another concept to the repertoire, ‘Riffs Supper Jam’. Each dinner will be set up with an open kitchen, offering attendees the opportunity to interact and participate in the meal experience. In addition, there will be a rotating series of culinary friends joining B.J. in the kitchen for each dinner. For the July supper, the team from Brentwood’s popular Soy Bistro will be his guests.
Tickets must be reserved in advance, and can be purchased by clicking this link. 20% of proceeds will benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.
Hey Bartender Opening at the Belcourt
Monday, July 15th
2102 Belcourt Ave
Nashville, TN 37212
The documentary “Hey Bartender” had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March and its theatrical release in NYC last month. Now it’s our turn.
On Monday, July 15th, Nashvillians can head over to the Belcourt, grab a drink, and watch this cool documentary about the rebirth of the bartender and the comeback of the cocktail. Sounds like the perfect date night to me!
Check out the trailer here and visit the Belcourt website to purchase tickets.
Dinner Lab Nashville
Thursday, July 18th
Central Thai cuisine
Wednesday, July 24th
Puerto Rican cuisine
Cost of Membership: $100/person
Cost of Dinners: $50/person (drinks included)
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Brian and Drew from Dinner Lab, a membership-based dinner club that holds a couple of meals a week in different non-traditional locations, announced just 24 hours before the event takes place. The guys live in New Orleans, where they first started this concept, but a while back they also expanded the club to Austin, TX. Guess what? Now they’re launching right here in Nashville!
Take a look at this short video to get a feel for the Dinner Lab experience:
The basics of how it works is this: For a membership fee of $100/year, members have access to the local calendar of events and are able to purchase an event ticket for themselves and one non-member guest for any meal. Event tickets vary in pricing based on the number of courses and complexity of the cuisine, but an average cost is $50/person. A meal is typically 5+ courses and all the drinks, tax and gratuity are already included in the price.
For the first two dinners here in Nashville, the menus can currently be viewed on the Dinner Lab site. This will be the only time that menus will be open for public viewing. After these soft launch dinners, all menus will only be accessible to members.
Visit the Dinner Lab Nashville home page for more details, to purchase your membership, and reserve your spot at one of the first meals in Nashville. I’ll be at the July 24th dinner, so let me know if you’re planning to be there too so I can say hello!
You guys, I have a new toy.
One of the major perks of having my food blog is that I get many offers to try out new products. While this is certainly an awesome thing, I often pass up opportunities presented to me. We don’t have much extra space in our house for a lot of stuff, and I just don’t have time to write much these days, so before accepting, I like to be sure we’ll definitely put it to good use.
Enter the Masterbuilt Electric Digital Smokehouse Smoker! When a representative from Masterbuilt emailed asking if I’d like to test out a smoker and some cookout cookbooks from John McLemore, the CEO and spokesperson for Masterbuilt, I was pretty darn excited.
You see, when it’s 90+ degrees outside, the last thing I want to do is turn on the oven and heat up the house, so our grill gets a lot of action in the summer. But to be honest, lately I’ve been feeling kinda bored by the grill. It seems like I’m always doing the same old things the same old way. Boredom be gone. Now I’m embarking on Adventures in Smoking!
Last weekend, while my husband seasoned and readied the smoker for its inaugural run, I was in the kitchen prepping our first test subject, a 5 pound chicken. I wanted to go fairly basic, so I followed the recipe in John’s cookbook, Dadgum That’s Good, Too!, for a smoked whole chicken rubbed with his special combination of spices and seasonings.
I think I can say without a doubt that this smoker is going to be seeing quite a bit more action than our grill in the weeks to come! It’s easy to use, brings out incredible smokey flavors, and if the chicken was any indication, leaves meats super juicy.
Today we’re planning give burgers and a head of cabbage a go, and later this week, a pork butt, all recipes from the Dadgum That’s Good cookbooks. There are also several interesting dishes I’d like to try on John’s blog, including Four Cheese Smoked Mac and Cheese. Um, yes, please!
So what about you? Do you have a smoker or have you ever done any smoking on your grill? What are your favorite things to smoke? I’d love to hear your recipes or tips as I have a feeling I’m going to be a bit obsessed with our new toy this summer!
Disclaimer: While I was given a free Masterbuilt Smoker and copies of Dadgum That’s Good! and Dadgum That’s Good Too cookbooks, I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are solely mine.
If, when 2013 comes to an end, I name The Optimist as the place I had the best meal of the year, don’t be surprised. Everything about this meal was just incredible. Absolutely, positively incredible.
Maybe part of the reason I was blown away was because I didn’t go in with such high expectations as I have to some places. Sure, I’d heard some good things, but just hadn’t heard a whole lot. Or maybe it had something to do with it being called a “fish camp”. Not exactly the sexiest of terms, and doesn’t really conjure up a picture in my mind the type of spot I want to go for a girls’ night out on the town.
In fact, up until just a few days before leaving for Atlanta, I was on the fence about switching our reservation to another place.
Man, oh man. What I would’ve missed out on if I had done that.
When I say everything was incredible, I do mean everything. From the moment I stepped out of the car, I was completely enamored with this space.
While every inch of the interior of the restaurant is beautifully designed and so well thought out, it’s the exterior that had me at hello. Putt-putt golf on the front yard? Adirondack chairs, a guy strumming his guitar and little lights sparkling overhead? Yes, I could settle in and stay here for a spell.
Green Curry Mussels at The Optimist
Basically The Optimist experience already had my heart going pitter-patter even before any food touched my lips. But then, the food touched my lips and it just kept getting better and better.
I wish my photos did this meal justice, but they don’t. For once I decided to leave my nicer camera at home and only had my iphone on me. Remember – I went into this meal with not such high expectations, so I thought I’d snap a couple of pics, maybe put them on Instagram and be done. Oh well. Hopefully you can still appreciate the beauty of this meal even if my photos aren’t so beautiful!
After a round of cocktails at the bar, we began our dining experience with seared and chilled scallops with grapefruit, coriander and cilantro. A lovely light start. Then came The Mussels. Oh my gosh, the mussels. With green curry broth, chile and herbs, they were the best mussels I’ve had in my life, hands down. No competition. If they were here in Nashville, it would be hard for me to resist eating them at least once a week. Oh, mussels, I miss you. Sigh.
Charred Octopus at The Optimist
Even though I was lost in love with the mussels and focused on trying to soak up every single ounce of that green curry broth, I finally tore my attention away and moved on to the charred Spanish octopus. Can I say this might have been the best octopus I’ve ever had? Okay, now I’ll try to stop saying everything is the best ever. (But I’ll still be thinking it!)
Even the freaking sugar snap peas were ridiculously good!
Without going through every single thing we ordered – because I’d surely run out of descriptive adjectives – just know that it was all delicious. Fish is usually the dish I’m drawn to at restaurants because I don’t cook it that often at home, but the preparations on all of these seafood dishes was above and beyond almost any other I’ve had before.
For instance: Duck Fat Poached Swordfish. Yes, you read that correctly.
Duck fat poached swordfish with creme fraiche and garlic chile relish at The Optimist
Apparently we couldn’t even be bothered to pause and take a photo of this dish before devouring it. Words can’t even begin….
The Optimist Hushpuppies
And then there were the hushpuppies. Two orders of them to be exact. The corn milk hushpuppies at The Optimist are served “beignet style” with cane sugar butter. Yep. That. I do believe I died and went to heaven.
914 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
Cardamom Hill’s Pork Vindaloo
For an entire year I’ve been looking forward to a meal at Cardamom Hill. In my look back at Atlanta Food & Wine 2012, I named their Indian spiced fried chicken breast the Best Bite I Didn’t Eat. After everyone and their brother was overheard at the festival talking about how to-die-for it was, I knew I HAD to have it.
So it might have be a full year later, but I finally had it- plus several other incredible dishes from Chef Asha Gomez.
From the vindaloo, a pork shoulder slow cooked in a vinegar sauce and served with appam, to the curry chicken puffs (we may have waved the server down to request a 2nd order after just one bite…), to the famous fried chicken, it was an amazing Indian feast.
Curry Chicken Puffs at Cardamom Hill – empanada style with curry chicken filling served with spicy mango sauce
So you’re probably wondering what makes the fried chicken here so special? A dish of South India, it’s served over rice and vegetable pilau and finished with a drizzle of coconut oil, then topped with a spicy mango sauce. Definitely not your grandma’s fried chicken– unless, of course, your grandma hails from South India!
Cardamom Hill’s Kerala Style Fried Chicken
Actually, there wasn’t much on our table that I’ve ever eaten before, even at Indian restaurants in Nashville and other cities. Each dish was unique and interesting. Even something that sounded so simple when reading it on the menu – Beef Curry- wasn’t simple at all. Served with a cooling yogurt rice and served on a banana leaf, it was completely unlike any curry I’d had in the past.
And then there was the goat. Yes, goat. Specifically, a rice biryani with boneless goat simmered in mint, cilantro, and green chili masala. Garnished with cashews, raisins, and fresh cilantro, the biryani was delicious, and possibly my favorite dish of the entire meal.
That is, if you don’t count my dessert… a cocktail called Lord Brown’s Estate: Bulleit bourbon, amaretto, coconut milk, allspice dram, and cinnamon syrup. Definitely the perfect ending!
1700 Northside Dr Northwest
Atlanta, GA 30318
Empire State South’s Georgia Coffee served in the coolest koozie I’ve ever seen
On our last day in Atlanta, we brunched at Empire State South, and what a brunch it was! It was a beautiful day for the short walk down the street from our hotel, and when we arrived at the restaurant, we were thrilled to see that we’d have the option to dine al fresco.
Which leads me to a question I’d been asking ever since our visit to The Optimist on that Friday night. Why aren’t there more cute outdoor dining spaces like this in Nashville???
Yes, that is a bocce ball court and adirondack chairs you can see in the window reflection of Empire State South. A bocce ball court, on the lawn, right next to the outdoor dining area. I want this. Are you listening Nashville restaurant owners? Oh wait. Maybe at least someone is…. sort of? Maybe? I guess we’ll see…
Empire State South’s Pimento Cheese with Bacon Marmalade
Alright, alright. Enough about aesthetics. (Except I’ve got to mention those koozies shown in the first photo- how cute are they??)
Honestly, I probably don’t even need to say much, as I think all of these photos paint a pretty vivid picture of the best brunch I’ve had in a long, long time.
Ham Biscuit – ESS sambal, peach butter, cilantro, brown sugar
Hanger Steak with creamed English peas, radish, fine herbs, hot sauce
Farm Egg – crisp carolina gold rice, onion puree, bologna, shiitake, green onion
English Muffin – chicken and pork sausage, arugula, candied bacon, egg, pepper jelly
Isn’t it great dining with friends and sharing food? Looking at this spread again, I’m both hungry and stuffed at the same time. Of course, I could definitely go for some of that pimento cheese with bacon marmalade right now. I don’t think there will ever be a time in life that I’m too stuffed to eat it!
Suffice it to say, if you go to Atlanta for the weekend and eat at any of these 3 restaurants mentioned here, you’d be a very happy camper. So go. Do it. You can thank me later.
999 Peachtree St NE #140
Atlanta, GA 30309