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First Taste: Butchertown Hall

It has been quite a while since we have sent out a “First Taste” on our site, but Butchertown Hall has inspired us to do so today. Butchertown Hall is the brand new Texas Hill Country-inspired restaurant in the Germantown neighborhood, fusing smoked meats and Mexican cuisine in the most visually appealing restaurant in Nashville.  We already love many things about Butchertown Hall – the price point, the decor, the service, the beer list, and the menu/cuisine are all excellent thus far. Butchertown Hall shows immense potential to be one of our favorite restaurants in the city.  We tried the brisket sandwich, the elote salad, the borracho beans, the mezcal pie and our favorite dish of the day the short rib barbacoa tacos. The daiquiri with mezcal was excellent as was the Jackalope Single Hop Series: Simcoe, made exclusively for the restaurant. We look forward to returning very soon to explore more of the menu.

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Your Austin Bucket List – 2013

If you have lived here all your life, just moved here or are barely realizing that there are some pretty amazing places in town, here is our take on what you must eat and drink in Austin before you die! (in no particular order)

1. Brisket with Burnt Ends – Franklin Barbecue

2. Take a friend and “order the menu” – Barley Swine

3. Alma Blanca Cocktail – La Condesa

4. Iced Turbo – Jo’s

5. Gyutoro Nigiri (wagyu beef belly) – Uchiko

6. Bucket O’ Chicken – Lucy’s Fried Chicken

7. Bowl of Ramen – East Side King

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8. Michelada on their Courtyard Lounge – Hotel San Jose

9. Goat Cheese, Thyme & Honey Ice Cream – Lick Ice Creams

10. Mexican Martini – Trudy’s

11. #5 Pizza (Pepperoni & Mushroom) – Home Slice Pizza

12. Large Pretzel, Live Oak Hefeweizen and a game of Ping Pong outside – Easy Tiger

13. Cheeseburger with Fries – P. Terry’s

14. Family Style Meal – The Salt Lick

15. Duck Enchiladas – Fonda San Miguel

16. Miss Shortcake Donut – Gordough’s

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17. Latte with Stumptown Coffee Roasters “Hair Bender” – Juan Pelota

18. “Don Juan” – Juan in a Million

19. Hudson’s Mixed Grill – Hudson’s on the Bend

20. Partake of the Sake Social Menu – Uchi

21. Dinner and a beer while watching an independent movie – Alamo Drafthouse

22. Bulgogi Burger – Chi’Lantro

23. Pork Ribs – Franklin Barbecue

24. Local Farm Vegetables – Lucy’s Fried Chicken

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25. Hazelnut Chocolate Budino – Backspace

26. Nitrogen Infused Cold Coffee – Cuvee Coffee (inside of Salt & Time)

27. Joe’s Margarita – Maudie’s

28. Half Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell while people watching on South Congress Avenue – Perla’s

29. Smart Tart – Flour Bakery

30. Tejas Trio – Z Tejas

31. Beef Ribs – The Salt Lick

32. Espresso – Houndstooth Coffee

33. Tres Leche Cake – Michelle’s Patisserie

34. Tortilla Chips with Creamy Jalapeno Ranch Dip – Chuy’s (the original on Barton Springs)

35. Smoked Italian Sausage after a long night on 6th St. – Best Wurst

36. Muffuletta Sandwich – Salt & TIme

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37. Carrot Cake French Toast – South Congress Cafe

38. Avocado Kama – Musashino Sushi

39. Lone Star Beer and Juke Box music – Deep Eddy Cabaret

GNG – “Good, Not Great”

“It was good, not great.”

How many times have you found yourself saying this after a dining experience? Not spoken in anger, but simply stated as a matter of fact. It wasn’t terrible, but it was certainly uninspired and unmemorable. The bottom line, it could have and should have been better.

We have often found ourselves saying this and we refer to it as “GNG”, good, not great. We have been fortunate to have had many times where we stop and say, “Wow, this is great!” These are the moments that all of us want to have. These are the moments that create long lasting memories. These are the kind of experiences that inspired us to start our blog and share our excitement with others. We are not alone, the world of Twitter and Facebook is full of people with this same desire. The desire to be inspired by something, somewhere or someone. So, what is it that makes something great? And why is it so hard to find?

It is obviously far easier to be good than it is to be great. Certain things by their very nature are good. Pizza, hamburgers, Mexican food and bacon all taste good even if prepared by a rank amateur if one were hungry enough. So, opening an average pizza joint would be plenty adequate for a large number of people and would likely be financially successful if it were in the right location. To us, great financial success does not mean that something is great. It doesn’t even mean something is good. But should financial success be the goal? We do not feel that it should. We believe that great things are the fulfillment of passions and that the success comes as a result of inspiring others.

From our standpoint what makes a restaurant great?

Quality – Great food is subjective to some degree, but we believe that it is a lot more objective than most people actually think. If presented with a truly great dish we believe that most people would be more in agreement than disagreement. Being great usually requires that someone has travelled and experienced the life, culture and food in other cities. How does your pizza really stack up to the best NYC pizza? How does your sushi compare with Uchi? So you make doughnuts, have you been to Voodoo?  You would be surprised to know how many of your customers have and they can tell the difference.

Service – Service is free. This is one of our biggest issues with many restaurants. Treating your customers with respect and kindness should be a given. Yet, it is so often lacking. Nothing will guarantee someone won’t return to your restaurant more than being treated rudely. The taste left in your mouth from bad service lasts far longer than that of poorly cooked food. Great service isn’t necessarily formal either. We’ve had some of our best service in casual restaurants. It is being attentive, knowledgeable and adaptable. If something unforeseen goes wrong, they can “make it right”. They know the menu inside and out, how the food is prepared, and can offer helpful suggestions.

Atmosphere – Is the design of the restaurant thoughtful or an after thought? Is this a place that you want to return to?

Consistency – If you love a dish you want it to taste the same when you have it again and again (and again).

Originality – Being great is not often derivative. Simply copying what someone else is doing in another city does not make something great. Sure you may have the first Norwegian cuisine or Nose-to-Tail dining in your city, but that alone doesn’t make it great. It doesn’t even make it unique. It just makes it unusual for your city.

Attention to Detail  – There are many moving parts to any business, but is seems like the restaurant business has more than most of the others. Managing all of these moving parts and being aware of them makes all the difference.

Passion – Being great has to be an intentional goal. The passion is the critical component, the financial success may be the outcome of the greatness but it cannot be the reason for being. Being great can also change neighborhoods and cities. From Paul Kahan and Rick Bayless in Chicago to Tom Douglas in Seattle to Barbara Lynch in Boston to Tyson Cole in Austin, these people have brought many truly great unique establishments to their cities and have changed the culinary landscape in each.

So, strive for greatness, take the time to hone your skills and do the hard work that it takes day in and day out. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Austin 4.0

This trip was special for us because it was our son, Oz’s first time in Austin. We had been craving some sunshine and time in TX.  There were also several restaurants that we were excited to try . We had wonderful weather, fantastic food and a great stay at Hotel St. Cecilia. For many, Austin in the Spring means SXSW. Not for us. Waaaaaay to crowded, especially when you are toting your child with you everywhere. This Spring we went at the perfect time, the week AFTER SXSW. Everyone was so relaxed and glad to get back to life as usual.

Those marked with an asterisk (*) indicate establishments that are also on our Austin City Page.

(*) Clark’s Oyster Bar – gorgeous oyster bar and neighborhood seafood restaurant from Chef/Restaurateur Larry McGuire on West 6th.  Kind of a “little-sister” restaurant to Perla’s, but more quaint.  Nice selection of West and East coast oysters (12 varieties in all), delightful Bread and Butter, and the Shrimp Toast and Crab Cakes were both top notch.  All washed down with a cold Anchor Steam on tap. Hard to beat that.

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(*) Franklin Barbecue – let’s just state the fact – this is the best brisket in the country. As if it needed any more positive press, Franklin was crowned the best BBQ in Texas this week by Texas Monthly in its first year of eligibility. But, unless you have been, you may not be aware of the insane lines that inevitably await you. We’ve previously stated that you need to get there 30 minutes before opening in order to get food, well, that no longer applies. You are looking at at 2-3 hour wait on the weekends now for food, and the chances are good that they may sell out before you even get your BBQ.  If you have never eaten this brisket you should brave the lines at least one time, it is truly that great. What can you do if you don’t want to fight the line and don’t have all day to kill? You can plan in advance and send them an email order (several weeks in advance) to pick it up at 10:30 before it opens. Downside? You need about $75 worth of an order.  We ordered in advance this trip and took a big feast to our family in Austin.  The brisket, pork ribs and sausage were all as perfect as we had remembered them.

(*) Barley Swine – our favorite meal of the week (and of 2013) was at James Beard nominated Chef/Owner Bryce Gilmore’s Barley Swine. We had been wanting to go here for quite a while but finally pulled the trigger when we discovered they began taking reservations on certain nights.  This is one of those places that you will just have to trust us on. You can’t look at the menu, it will deceive you. Combinations that seemingly make no sense or just sound odd (hay roasted beets with mole or grilled pig face with trotter or brussels sprouts with hoe cakes) are pulled together with effortless ease.  The relaxed vibe and the reasonable prices also make Barley Swine stand out among it’s peers. Next time in Austin we are going to “order the menu” and try everything.

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(*) Uchiko – “Pristine”. The word that keeps coming to mind when I think back to our meal at James Beard award winner Chef Tyson Cole’s Japanese farmhouse, Uchiko. The look of the restaurant, the service and the food itself all just pristine. Uchi and Uchiko are two of the few restaurants around that still prioritize knowledgeable and attentive service and their efforts are greatly appreciated. We trusted our server, Marco, to guide us through the menu and we loved every dish he selected. Standouts were the Hama Chili (baby yellowtail with thai chili and orange), Brussels Sprouts (crispy with lemon and chili) and the Gyutoro Nigiri (an incredible melt in your mouth Wagyu beef that was the single best bite we had all week and a guaranteed spot on our list of Bites of the Year for 2013).

(*) East Side King – Top Chef Season 9 winner Paul Qui’s East Austin food trucks have been popular well before he appeared on national TV. Recently, he has taken his “greatest hits” from his 3 food trucks and put them into a brick and mortar site in the back end of a dive bar called Hole in the Wall near the UT campus. The Kimchi Ramen with bacon dashi, pork belly and cabbage kimchi was a beautiful, filling and delicious dish and a great value for $8 for a massive bowl of soup. The Thai Chicken Kara-age and Brussels Sprouts Salad were also fantastic (the Beet Home Fries and Poor Qui’s Buns were less memorable).

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(*) Salt & Time – previously a farmer’s market favorite now turned brick and mortar in East Austin. Salt & Time functions not only as an artisan butcher shop but also as a restaurant and coffee shop featuring the first outpost of local roaster Cuvee Coffee. Our first stop in town, their mortadella sandwich on foccaccia bread with house made chips was an ideal way to start our trip. We expect to hear great things from Salt & Time in the future.

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(*) La Condesa – one of the things on our list every time we go to Austin is to get a great margarita and La Condesa has become our favorite in town.  The Margarita la Clasica with a cactus-lemongrass infused salt rim and the Alma Blanca with habanero-infused tequila and hibiscus rose salt rim were both the perfect mid-afternoon cocktails. In La Condesa, Chef Rene Ortiz has demonstrated how to properly elevate Mexican cuisine.

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Elizabeth Street Cafe – last visit we loved the look of this upscale Vietnamese cafe on S. 1st but didn’t feel that the food quite lived up to the elevated prices. We thought we’d give it a second chance this trip for brunch and really enjoyed it this time around. Maybe it was their Vietnamese Coffee with Stumptown beans or the Sticky Rice with ginger sausage and poached egg or their excellent housemade croissant with Lychee raspberry jam. Maybe it was just that this place is so lovely inside. Either way, we will gladly return again.

(*) Lucy’s Fried Chicken – our favorite dish of the week had to be the Local Farm Vegetables dish we had at Lucy’s. We had been craving their fried chicken since we were last in Austin but it was their veggies dish that brought us back for a second visit while were were there this time. The grilled kale salad with pickled beets, grilled broccoli and cauliflower was so simple yet so good. Grilled with a char on the veggies and dressed in lemon and lightly salted, we have been trying to replicate this dish at home ever since. In addition to their fantastic fried chicken, they also have a great chicken salad sandwich using their moist fried chicken on a housemade pumpernickel bread.

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(*) Hotel Saint Cecilia – when you walk onto the grounds of Hotel Saint Cecilia it is hard to believe that you are a brief walk from South Congress. Quiet, immaculate and oozing with cool. The poolside bungalow is a perfect place to spend the weekend. This beautiful boutique hotel is from Liz Lambert, who also owns Hotel San Jose.

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Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon – There is no shortage of opinions about this walk up/drive through Mexican chicken restaurant on the internet. Many bemoan the prices for what they feel they can get much cheaper in other areas of Austin. Others mention the use of organic chicken and higher quality ingredients than most of the more authentic Mexican trucks use. Our take? We thought it was great – nice downtown location near Whole Foods and the torta classic, 1/4 chicken, beans, rice, chips/salsa were all tasty. We would pick up from here regularly if we lived in Austin and wished we had one of these near us in Nashville.

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(*) Royal Blue Grocery – you know Austin is officially a big city when you have 3 of these cool small urban groceries downtown. Basic grocery staple needs sit along side some of our other favorites: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Chameleon Cold Brew (coffee), and a rapidly growing list of Austin Craft Beers. Breakfast tacos and sandwiches also available.

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Hopdoddy Burger Bar – man, people in Austin love this place. It’s a simple concept, craft beers and artisan burgers in a slick looking South Congress location. A bit of an awkward ordering system where you wait in line, order your food at the counter, then get an assigned seat and then wait for your food to be delivered to your table (not sure why they don’t have a true waitstaff). That said, the burger and fries were very good and the beer was massive. Expect consistent lines out the door if you come on a weekend.

henri’s – European-esque corner market with a thoughtful selection of cheese, wine and charcuterie. Nice to see our favorite salumi from Portland’s Olympic Provisions on their shelves. Salads and sandwiches also available.

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Coffee Shops:

(*) Patika Coffee – one of our favorite places to get coffee in Austin is this coffee cart, Downtown. (Side note – downtown Austin is becoming a serious hot spot for high quality coffee. Within several blocks are Houndstooth, Patika, Juan Pelota, Jo’s and Caffe Medici.) Expert baristas, excellent pour over featuring Cuvee Coffee beans and wonderful pastries from Flour Bakery (see below about Flour Bakery).

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(*) jo’s – you can’t leave Austin and not get a coffee or Iced Turbo from Jo’s on South Congress. Great place to sit outside and feel the unique vibe that is Austin – bicycle obsessives, hung-over tourists, and tattooed vegan dog-walkers all congregate in a symbiotic Zen-like way.

(*) Juan Pelota – we have tried most all of the top coffee shops in Austin and our favorite coffee this trip (and last) is from this tiny cafe inside of Lance Armstrong’s bicycle shop Mellow Johnny’s. We’re not sure if the Stumptown coffee they serve is on performance-enhancing drugs or not but we do know that it is delicious. In wine equivalents – Stumptown is like a great Malbec or Cab, whereas many coffee roasters these days more resemble Pinot Noir (a little too light and thin for our palates).

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Cuvee Coffee – this local artisan coffee roaster has been supplying coffee shops with their beans since 1998 but had not had their own shop until they recently opened within Salt & Time. One of their standout features is a coffee “on tap” infused with nitrogen creating an effervescent refreshing coffee that will be a hit when the thermometer hits 100 consistently in the summer.

(*) Houndstooth Coffee – there seems to be three main types of “Third Wave” coffee shops. 1) those that roast their own high quality beans, 2) those that have a relationship with and brew beans from a single artisan coffee roaster, and  3) those that brew with beans from multiple different roasters from around the country. Houndstooth Coffee fits into the third category (much like Nashville’s Barista Parlor) utilizing beans from Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee, Durham’s Counter Culture , LA’s Handsome Coffee Roasters and Austin’s Cuvee Coffee.  Now open in two locations, one on North Lamar next to Uchiko an the other recently opened in the Frost Bank Tower downtown. Both are great and worth checking out. The other thing that we love about this place (and Austin in general) is that they have several local beers on tap and wine available.

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Caffe Medici – this popular Clarkesville coffee staple has recently expanded to the Austonian downtown.  Interesting take on their house coffee – the batch is all French Pressed and then stored at proper temperature for easy dispensing, bypassing the typical long waits for individual  prepared coffee.

Bakeries/Sweet Treats:

(*) Lick Ice Creams – fresh, creative and wonderful ice cream using local and organic ingredients. One of our favorite places in Austin and hands down better than Amy’s Ice Cream in our opinion. Through our week we went three times and had the Caramel Salt Lick, Goat Cheese with Thyme and Honey, Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil and Sea Salt, Vanilla with Local Honey, Cream with Strawberries, and Milk Chocolate. Our favorite? The Caramel Salt Lick, but they are all great. They are more than willing to let you sample all of the flavors. Another nice thing for those not wanting dairy are a host of flavors utilizing coconut milk.

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Flour Bakery – excellent artisan bakery that had previously only been available at the Hope Farmers Market, now delivered daily to Houndstooth Coffee and Patika Coffee. One of their specialties is the Smart Tart, a re-invented Pop-Tart also being done at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco. The Lime Curd Smart Tart, Blackberry Smart Tart and croissant with Strawberry-Lemon jam were all great and paired perfectly with our Patika coffee.

(*) Gourdoughs Speciality Doughnuts – we usually can’t resist ordering the Miss Shortcake (strawberries with cream cheese icing) but this time we ventured out. The Funky Monkey with grilled bananas, cream cheese icing and brown sugar and the Naughty & Nice with sugar and cinnamon both left us happy and full (and just a little bit of guilt). They also have recently opened a restaurant called Gordough’s Public House, but I don’t think we are willing to make that leap to eating a burger with a donut bun.

San Francisco 3.0

We were unable to make it to San Francisco last year due to the impending birth of our son (see our post from last March – Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda), but this spring we were determined to return to possibly our favorite city (with son and mother-in-law in tow).  We were blessed with beautiful weather the entire trip and we had a lot of great eats as well (with one notable exception, see State Bird Provisions below).  Here is a run down of all of the stops we made in the city by the bay. Those marked with an asterisk (*) indicate those establishments that are also on our San Francisco City Page.

* Nopalito – Our best overall meal in San Francisco.  We previously loved this Mexican taqueria near the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood but we were even more impressed with it this trip.  The Totopos con Chile were some of the best tortilla chips that we have had –  tortilla chips with just the right thickness and a salsa de arbol that left a nice slow spicy burn.  The carnitas were the best that we have ever had – the pork tender and moist from its bay leaf, cinnamon, milk and beer braising with perfect hand made yellow corn tortillas.  Their cocktails have likely inspired a summer obsession for us – drinks with mezcal. We loved the smokiness that the mezcal tequila brought their drinks, particularly in the Killer Bee (with lemon and honey).

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* Foreign Cinema – it is a rare occasion when you walk through the doors of a restaurant and immediately know you are going to have a memorable meal. Our brunch at Foreign Cinema was one of those rare occasions. In what appears to be a movie theater on the verge of bankruptcy on the outside, once we walked down the dark hallway to the restaurant you are transported to one of the most beautiful restaurants we’ve seen.  On the left is an open outdoor patio where movies are projected at night for dinner service. On the right side is a beautiful high ceiling dining room with rich wood tables and chairs and exposed concrete walls. The meal lived up to the decor – pristine Kumamoto Oysters, fantastic cocktails, wonderful Croque Madame and some of the best bacon we’ve eaten anywhere – slow cooked brown sugar bacon that melts in your mouth.  Easily on our short list for Best Atmosphere and Best Brunch for 2013..

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* Flour + Water – Handmade pastas and pizzas from a James Beard Rising Start Chef of the Year Nominee Chef Thomas McNaughton in the Mission District. A visit here was high on our priority list and the food met our high expectations. The Duck Tortelli with king trumpet mushrooms and green garlic was one of the best pasta dishes that we’ve had – this stuffed pasta dish with tender duck confit left us contemplating how much of a faux-paux it would be to lick the plate in the middle of the restaurant.  The squid ink spaghetti and the calamari pizza were also stellar dishes.  The only flaw seemed to be the noticeable length of time between dishes.

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* Nopa – one of the most popular restaurants among locals for good reason. This big sister restaurant to Nopalito features organic and seasonal ingredients prepared in a wood-fired oven.  The vibe is fun, energetic but not hectic or pretentious.  One of the first restaurants to be famous for both their upscale hamburger and their rotisserie chicken – we tried and enjoyed them both.

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* Canteen – tiny but charming restaurant from Chef/Owner Dennis Leary (The Sentinel).  There are 4 courses (5 if you count the addictive buttery brioche buns with sea salt) for a very reasonable $50.  The menu is sort of a prix fixe menu – the salad and soup are set items, but there are two options for the entree and dessert. He is running a “100 Menus Project” currently, where he features a menu based on the 1971 cook book, “The Hundred Glories of French Cuisine”.  Standouts were the brioche buns, the smoked trout salad with endives and mustard as well as the Spring lamb with baby onions and asparagus jus. If we lived in San Francisco this would be a place we would come to often.

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State Bird Provisions – It is hard to explain how disappointed we were with our food and experience here. This restaurant has not only been touted by Bon Appetit as their #1 Best new restaurant in 2012 but also a finalist for the James Beard Best New Restaurant in America this year. After eating here we were left thinking, does the Emperor have no clothes? The concept is great, creative small plates served dim sum style.  The execution and the food, however, were what we would describe as “not-good” to “average” at best. Hot dishes that should have been served hot came around the room semi-cold and oysters were served near-room temperature.  The decor was reminiscent of a kindergarten play room.  We were so looking forward to this meal and regretted starting out our San Francisco culinary excursion in this way. (Note, in general we do not give bad reviews on this site, so this obviously struck a chord in us to write this).

* Nettie’s Crab Shack – We have yet to have anything that wasn’t delicious at Nettie’s Crab Shack.  On a beautiful day, sitting on the porch in this Cow Hollow gem having an Anchor Steam on tap and a Dungeness Crab Roll is about as good as it gets in our book.  The Fish and Chips were also fantastic and we were blown away again by their desserts.  (On a side note – restaurants pay attention to what Nettie’s does with it’s desserts – it is not about how “fancy” or “creative” your desserts can be, it is about leaving a lasting memory of some delicious treat in the customers’ minds.  Keep it simple and keep it tasty).  We inhaled the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream and the Dirty Blondie with Caramel and Chocolate Chips.

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* The Sentinel – Although we STILL have not had a sandwich from this FiDi artisanal sandwich shop from Chef Dennis Leary, we did stop in for some very tasty pastries and oatmeal.  Next time!!

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* Bi-Rite Market – if you want to know what a neighborhood grocery store should look like, visit the Bi-Rite Market. This legendary market has been open since 1940 and is as popular and relevant as ever.

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* Ales Unlimited – Specialty beer store tucked away on a quiet corner in Pacific Heights. Surprisingly excellent selection of microbrews and Belgian beers. We picked up a bottle of The Bruery’s “Sour in the Rye” – a great barrel aged sour ale from one of our favorite breweries that we can’t seem to get our hands on in Tennessee yet.

* Molinari Delicatessen – classic old-school Italian sandwich shop in North Beach.  Get a number, then pick out your bread from the bin and get in line.  The tough part is deciding which meat to get on you sandwich – they all sound great. They also have a nice supply of cheese, wine and olive oils.  In my mind, I picture this place looking identical to this 60 years ago.

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Ferry Building/Ferry Building Farmer’s Market:

Il Cane Rosso – salads and sandwiches all with local ingredients and an Italian leaning.  We tried several things and enjoyed them but the best thing we ate was their Acme bread and butter.

* Blue Bottle Coffee @ Ferry Building – more of a coffee/espresso and pastry shop than the Blue Bottle in Mint Plaza, but still a must nevertheless. A few menu items are featured, however, including their liege waffle and sandwiches on an Acme Baguette.  Try the excellent Affogato with Humphry Slocombe Brown Butter ice cream if you are craving a sweet pick me up.

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* The Acme Bread Company – when you get truly great bread there is something magical about it.  Trust us, go to Boccalone and order a Salumi Cone ($3.75), then walk over to Acme and get a Rustic Roll ($0.80) – it will be the tastiest $5 you have had all year.

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* Boccalone – this salumeria from Celebrity-Chef Chris Consentino’s with “Tasty Salted Pig Parts” turns out some of our favorite charcuterie.  For further instructions, see Acme Bread Company above.

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* Out the Door – casual Vietnamese take out attached to and run by Slanted Door. We previously enjoyed the Banh mi and this time found the Lemongrass Pork Vermicelli Bowl and Curry equally tasty, but perhaps a tad bit pricey.

* Biscuit Bender – why is it inordinately hard to find a great biscuit?  What is the secret? Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill, NC cranks them out by the hundreds every day. We were starting to lose hope that we wouldn’t find another until we ate a Classic Buttermilk Biscuit with Cinnamon Butter from the Biscuit Bender. It had just the right amount of heft and flakiness and yet still moist and flavorful – just the kind of biscuit we had been craving.

People’s Donuts – these vegan donuts tasted, well…vegan-y. Apparently butter, eggs and milk are key ingredients for a good donut.

Roli Roti – maybe we are more in love with the thought of a Porchetta Sandwich than the actual sandwich itself. I mean, it sounds perfect – moist tender slow-roasted pork sliced on a roll. What could be wrong with that? Don’t get us wrong – this is a very good sandwich and  I am sure in many people’s books a great sandwich. For us, I think it is just a little too much pork fat. Next time we will try the Range Chicken – it looked great.

Mijita – we can be pretty tough critics when it comes to chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants but we enjoyed them at this cantina from renown chef Traci Des Jardines. The carne asada taco and margarita were both good as well (not so much for the unmemorable fish taco).

Namu Gaji Street Food – although we were sad that we could not make it to this Mission hot spot Namu Gaji for their upscale Korean food –  we were happy that we got to taste their food at the Farmer’s Market. The bulgogi “tacos” (with seaweed playing the roll of the tortilla) were just how we like bulgogi – salty and juicy.  A side note – bulgogi is the next banh mi.

4505 Meats – it is never a good thing when your chiccarones taste like cotton candy and leave a strange film in your mouth. And trust us, we were with some expert chiccarones eaters.

Coffee Shops:

* Blue Bottle Coffee @ Mint Plaza – when we tell people that this Blue Bottle Cafe has  “The World’s Best Toast and Jam” and “The World’s Best Oatmeal”  we often get puzzled looks. Looks that suggest inside they are thinking, “Ok? Toast and Jam?! Oatmeal?! Whatever.” But until you have had this toast and jam and this oatmeal you should just trust us – they are unbelievable. The thick cut Acme bread is perfectly toasted and the whipped butter and jam (raspberry) makes for the perfect bite. The Steel-Cut Oats with brown sugar and whipped butter were every bit as good as we remembered.  Out of all of the coffee we had all week (and it was a lot, our kid barely slept a wink) the best was the Burundi coffee made at the Siphon Bar. The siphon creates an even cleaner smoother version of a pour over without any paper filter taste.  Not only that, we are also officially declaring their Poached Egg with Buttered Thick Cut Acme Toast as “The World’s Best Egg and Toast”.  We could seriously eat Blue Bottle every morning for the rest of our lives.

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* Sightglass Coffee – we’ve been to hundreds of coffee shops all over the country but none of them are as good looking as Sight Glass in SOMA. This breathtaking location serves as booth their roasting site and coffee shop. Two stories with beautiful wood work and an open airy feel. The upstairs view is fantastic and occasionally they host coffee teaching classes up there. Their coffee is also exceptional – my Ethiopian pour over was one of my favorite coffees of the week.  This is what Heaven would look like for a Coffee Geek Hipster.

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* Jane – exactly what you would want from a cafe while shopping on Fillmore in Pacific Heights. Great decor and tasty baked goods and the best part – they serve Stumptown Coffee. To us, it is what coffee should taste like.

* Reveille Coffee Co. (Brick and Mortar) – great friendly corner coffee shop where Financial District meets Chinatown.  Nice airy vibe and I loved the triangular corner lot.  Friendly and engaging baristas.  One of the best pour overs of the week.  Nice selection of pastries as well as breakfast and lunch options.

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* Reveille Coffee Co. (Coffee Truck) – slick black truck that also serves a mean pour over.   A mere 4 minute walk from their brick and mortar site.

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* Ritual Coffee (Brick and Mortar) – popular coffee shop and roaster in the Mission District.  Love the flag/logo.  High quality beans expertly prepared.

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* Ritual Coffee (Coffee Stand) – open aired coffee shop on the back side of Smitten Ice Cream in Hayes Valley. Their roasts were perhaps a little lighter bodied than we usually prefer but still a good pour over nevertheless.  The Hayes Valley area there has changed a lot in a few short years – now a nice small park with great options for coffee, ice cream (Smitten), and beer (unfortunately we were unable to go to Biergarten, next time).

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Bakeries/Sweet Treats:

* Tartine Bakery – many times since we last went to San Francisco have we woken up in the morning and said, “I wish I had a Morning Bun from Tartine right now.”  Truth be told, we have been craving delicious pastries and bread since our last visit out West. The Morning Bun(s) (we got several) were even better than we remembered, a truly memorable pastry – chewy and flaky with just the right hint of orange rind.  The Almond Croissant and Plain Croissant are delicious and the Lemon Almond Pound Cake was flat out insanely good – so moist. Tartine Bakery may be our favorite bakery anywhere.

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* Humphry Slocombe – it would be a huge mistake to think that Bi Rite Creamery is the only legit ice cream shop in the Mission.  Humphry Slocombe brings world class ice cream with an unassuming charm.  It would be easy to pass it by, if not for the winding line out the door. They rotate their flavors regularly but they are most known for two – Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee and Secret Breakfast, both of which are featured daily.  The Coffee is easily our favorite ice cream ever – a perfect balance of sweetness of the cream and (I presume) condensed milk with the earthiness of the coffee left us wanting much more.  The cheekily named Secret Breakfast features vanilla ice cream with Corn Flake Cookies laced with Bourbon.  A guilty pleasure for sure.

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* B. Patisserie – very cute neighborhood pastry shop in Pacific Heights.  The Kouign-Amann – their signature pastry, basically a flaky croissant with a gooey inside -fantastic.

* Smitten Ice Cream – talk about a great idea! Ice cream made fresh to order! How? With machines that pump liquid nitrogen and freeze/mix/make the ice cream on the spot. It allows them to add fresh ingredients and create many different flavors without the ingredients getting soggy.  We had their Rhubarb Crisp and at first the texture threw us off, but by the time we finished the cup we grew to love it. Not to mention the cute shop is in a beautiful part of Hayes Valley.  A pleasant surprise for sure.  Sorry Dippin’ Dots, Smitten is the “Ice Cream of the Future”.

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Happy Donuts – straightforward donut and pastry shop in the Financial District. Good, but not worth going out of your way for.

Dynamo Donuts – whenever you read about top donut shops in the country, Dynamo Donuts seems to find its way onto the list. If you read our blog regularly, you know that we have been obsessed with donuts ever since our trip to Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon. After trying on multiple occasions to find a donut to live up to the Voodoo standard we have found only pretenders to the throne. The Dynamo donut is a little too cake-y and dense for us – not even close to Voodoo quality. So, as of now, sadly, we are officially shutting down our journey and declare Voodoo the best.

Shopping:

* Le Labo – we have been obsessed with Le Labo since our stay at Hotel St. Cecilia in Austin.  We were thrilled to find out that this NYC fragrance company has opened a site on Fillmore.  The service could not have been any more kind and welcoming. Their scent Santal 33 (with hints of cardamom, violet and sandalwood) is now my wife’s signature scent.  One of the best parts of all – they actually make the perfume right there while you are waiting and create the label with your name on the bottle.

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* Nancy Boy – we fell in love with the signature scent of Nancy Boy in 2010 and it is now the official scent of our home. This fresh lavender scent is calming, soothing and just smells great.  Stop in their Hayes Valley shop to smell their other scents and sample their  artisan home, bath and body products or buy online.  We’ve done both.

Warby Parker Class Trip Bus – on my way to get a cup of coffee at the Reveille truck I turned the corner to find the Warby Parker Class Trip Bus sitting there. If you haven’t heard of Warby Parker yet, you will soon. They are a new eyeware company that makes boutique frames but sells them at a remarkably low price point. Glasses and prescriptions for as low as $95.  Not only that, for every pair sold, they give a pair to someone in need.  We were able to spend some time with Phineas and the great crew from Warby Parker when the bus was in Nashville several months ago.  The bus has been on a journey around the country introducing their brand at a grass roots level. Low and behold, Phineas was still on the bus!  Not only was it great to catch up with them, I also picked up a great pair of Aldous sunglasses.

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Activities/Things to Do:

Sunday Streets San Francisco – We had no idea this event was even going on when we went to the Mission on Sunday but we could not have been more pleased. Every so often in the Spring and Summer the city shuts down a neighborhood on a Sunday and people just walk the streets and have FUN! There were literally tens of thousands of people walking through the entire Mission area that day – some families with their kids on bikes, some marching playing drums, some dancing, some just taking a stroll in the neighborhood. Everyone just seemed so full of life and vibrant.  It helped that it was 70 degrees and sunny the whole time.  This is the kind of thing that makes so many people say that San Francisco is their favorite city.

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Dolores Park – absolutely gorgeous park in the Mission District that overlooks all of downtown. The grassy elevated perimeter is open to everyone and the whole area was full of blankets and people relaxing (and some smoking medicinal cigarettes).  The interior is a fantastic playground area that is only open to kids and adults that are accompanying kids. I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, us or Oz.

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Fitness Court – National Fitness Campaign – okay, so how do we get one these in Nashville? This thing is great. An open, free workout facility to the public right near the water in the Marina/Cow Hollow area. You can get a full body workout in this well designed court. Sort of San Francisco’s sleek answer to the meat heads of Venice Beach.

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Palace of Fine Arts – we were breath taken by the beauty of the Palace of Fine Arts. Though we just strolled the grounds, you can see how the design and beauty would transport you back 2000 years to Ancient Greece or Rome.  If the weather is nice, we’d consider a walk through this area high on our list of things to recommend. Not surprisingly, there were about 10 people getting wedding photos the same time we were there.

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Austin 4.0 Preview

Time for some sunshine!

We are heading back to Austin soon and wanted to give you a preview of our trip.  Although we will miss the madness that is SXSW (intentionally) we thought that our agenda may be of help to anyone heading down to ATX this week.

We will be in town for 4 nights – that ends up being 4 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 4 dinners plus a bunch of grazing in between. We won’t be able to make it to all of these places, but we are hoping we can hit most of them.

(*places we will be visiting for the first time)

Hotel –

*Hotel Saint Cecilia – we decided last visit that we’d stay here on our return to Austin and we are glad that we followed through. Absolutely gorgeous. Right now, as the clouds are gray and dreary outside, not much sounds better than having a drink while sitting poolside at Hotel Saint Cecilia.

Breakfast –

Coffee is on our agenda this trip and we plan to check out a few new coffee shops, as well as return to some of our old favorites.

*Houndstooth Coffee – the original shop is on North Lamar in the same strip as Uchiko but they have just opened up a new downtown shop in the Frost Bank Tower.  They use beans from multiple roasters including Counter Culture and brew using several techniques.  They also serve pastries from Bakerman Bakery and have beer on tap.

Jo’s – no trip to Austin is complete without a stop at Jo’s for an Iced Turbo. We love both the South Congress walk up outdoor cafe as well as the 2nd Avenue shop with full menu and indoor/outdoor seating.

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Patika Coffee – we loved this downtown coffee truck from our last visit and plan to hit them up after a run on Town Lake Trail for a latte and some of the delicious looking pastries from Flour Bakery.

*Frank – great coffee at a hot dog joint? It sounds weird to us too, but everything we’ve read sounds as if they take their coffee program seriously. Their beans are from up and coming Handsome Coffee Roasters in Los Angeles a La Marzocco GB5 for their espressos and Hario V60 for their pour overs.

Caffe Medici – we tried the Clarksville location last time but they have a newer location in the Austonian downtown that we’d love to try.

Elizabeth Street Cafe – we loved the decor and the pastries last visit but were not blown away by their vermicelli or their banh mi. We want to give it another try and plan to head there for breakfast with some good friends. We also love that they brew Stumptown Coffee.

Saturday Brunch – (Which one of these we head to will be a game time decision)

South Congress Cafe – known for their brunch we are hoping to try their famous Carrot Cake French Toast

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*Downtown Farmer’s Market – if we are too stuffed to imagine eating French Toast then we may head here to sample some fresh organic food from quality farmers and artisans before we head back to TN

Lunch –

Lucy’s Fried Chicken – why is it so hard to find good fried chicken?? Since we last had Lucy’s, other fried chicken has left us disappointed. We plan to gather the in-laws and head here for a family feast – one of the best places in Austin to bring the whole gang. We can see Lucy’s becoming an Austin tradition for us.

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*Lick Ice Cream – we likely won’t leave Lucy’s without having some of their delicious pies but we will still find room to try out this creative ice cream shop on South Lamar.  The hard part will be deciding which flavor to get – Lemon Poppy Seed or Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil and Sea Salt or Strawberries and Cream??

Franklin Barbecue – we didn’t go last visit and have regretted it ever since. Aaron Franklin’s brisket is in a league of it’s own and we find it impossible to believe anyone anywhere is making it better.

*Clark’s Oyster Bar – this is one of the new places that we are most excited about trying. This little brother to Perla’s has taken over the former Portabla site in Clarkesville and the photos of it look beautiful. We love fresh oysters and Clark’s has a nice selection along with very tasty sounding seafood options.

*Sway – this upscale thai restaurant from Chef/Owner Rene Ortiz (La Condesa) was on our ‘Must List’ since we read about it’s opening. Open for lunch and dinner we thought we’d opt for lunch, sit on their patio and try some upscale Thai cuisine. Everything on their menu sounds delicious.

Dinner –

Uchiko – although Paul Qui is no longer in the kitchen (he’s opening his new namesake restaurant, Qui, in the next few weeks) we have heard that the kitchen is still at the top of it’s game. Always tough to decide between here and Uchi – arguably the two best upscale restaurants in town. The Ham & Eggs roll with pork belly and yolk custard is a must.

*Barley Swine – We have always wanted to try Chef Bryce Gilmore’s critically acclaimed creative small plate gastropub. We had been deterred by the reported long lines. They now offer some reservations Mon-Thurs and we jumped on it.

Home Slice Pizza – What can we say? We love us some Home Slice.

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*East Side King @ Hole in the Wall – amazingly we have never tried any Paul Qui’s East Side King food trucks. He has recently opened up a brick and mortar site in this bar on the Drag near the UT Campus featuring some of his greatest hits from his trucks.  We checked to be sure we could bring our 9 month old (they said “Absolutely”).

Food Artisans –

*Salt & Time – new butcher shop and salumeria in East Austin selling meats and sandwiches. Opened up the first official Cuvee Coffee shop inside as well.

*Chameleon Cold Brew – cold filtered highly caffeinated bottled coffee. Available in the uber-cool Royal Blue Grocery (please open up a grocery in Nashville) and Whole Foods.

Bars/Drinks –

*East Side Showroom – cocktail bar in East Austin. Has been on our list for some time.

Easy Tiger – great beer selection and great vibe

Doc’s – if it’s nice outside we are for sure going to be watching some March Madness having a drink here.

Rainey Street Bars – I am itching to check out this happening area downtown featuring multiple bars and food trucks.

*Hopfields – gastropub with tons of quality beer on tap and small Belgian style fare
Shopping –

No trip to Austin is complete for us without shopping at Stag, Service Menswear and By George

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The twentyfive:thirtyfive Formula – “Is It Worth It?”

After several years of working on twentyfive:thirtyfive we thought that we should explain a little bit about how we decide which places make it onto our site.  In order to explain this we have created

The twentyfive:thirtyfive Formula.

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Value: The overall perception of whether something is “Worth It”

Quality: A key factor regarding the quality of something is whether or not it would stand up to competition if it were in a different city. Just because something is the “best” in (Your City Here), does not necessarily mean that it is actually high quality. For example, Antico Pizza is not just “great pizza for Atlanta”, it would be considered great pizza if it were in any city – including NYC and Chicago.  We not only consider the absolute quality of the product but also whether or not it consistently delivers the same quality on repeat visits.

Experience: This is a combination of several factors including the service that you receive as well as the atmosphere.  For example, a beautiful sit-down restaurant with excellent service is virtually always a higher quality experience than a food truck where you are eating out of a paper plate while standing in a parking lot. This factor is sometimes under-appreciated by places but it is nearly as important as the quality. A great tasting meal is ruined by a rude waiter and makes it highly unlikely that you will return there again.  Additionally, we love aesthetics and design (do not read “fancy” or “expensive”) and that factor in and of itself heightens our overall impression.  Basically, did you have an enjoyable time while you were there and was it something that you will remember?

Cost: This is pretty self-explanatory, the more expensive it is, the higher our expectations.  We also don’t want to pay brick-and-mortar prices for food trucks and we don’t want to pay restaurant prices for pop-up dinners and supper clubs.

Effort: This is the overall energy expenditure that you exert to eat this meal. We factor in the length of time it takes to arrive at a place, the amount of time you have to wait, how far out of the way a place is, how comfortable is it while you wait, etc…

Atlanta Update

We made a quick trip this past weekend to see friends in Atlanta and we were able to try a few new places that we wanted to tell you about.  The food scene in Atlanta is expanding at a rapid rate and there are many more places that have still yet to visit.  These are the ones that made the cut (and are also included on our Atlanta City Page).

The Optimist – fantastic upscale seafood restaurant and oyster bar from Chef/Owner Ford Fry with Executive Chef Adam Evans manning the helm.  The decor is a beautiful and creates an atmosphere that feels like a fish market-meets-warehouse-meets Grand Central station.  The main dining room is large and bustling and features more fish entrees.  They also have an attached Oyster Bar with more oyster options with a scaled down menu.  We loved the Florida grouper with smoked vidalia onion and horseradish broth as well as the Duckfat poached swordfish with pickled sweet peppers and crispy pancetta. The fish and chips featured a tasty but astonishingly large beer battered Haddock with shoestring chips. Wash it down with one of their signature cocktails or an Allagash White on tap.  The honey ice cream was a great way to end the evening.  This restaurant is receiving well deserved accolades.  If you are going for dinner plan to get a reservation in advance.

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Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano – Chicken and pastas from the owner’s of Antico Pizza (and right next door). The roasted lemon chicken is tender and flavorful and the skin is crisp and savory (i.e. – nice and salty).  We loved the Diavola chicken with Calabrian peppers, garlic, fresh crushed pepper and olio picante.  The portions are generous and great for sharing several plates. Available for take out or dine in.

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No. 246 – rustic Italian from Chef/Owner Ford Fry in Decatur featuring handmade pastas and wood fire grill utilizing local and seasonal ingredients.  The Porchetta sandwich is delicious and comes with its own roasting jus for dipping.  The spaghetti with Georgia shrimp and crisped bread crumbs was a standout as was the Paper Pilot cocktail (12 yr Elijah Craig with chili-infused Aperol and lemon). Open for lunch and dinner.

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The Adjective Animal

Have you been to The Adjective Animal yet? If you haven’t, let me tell you all about it.  The first thing that you will notice is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  You can tell immediately when you walk through the doors that it wants to be approachable, fun and whimsical.  Certainly, “unfussy” would be one word to describe it.  The decor may be minimal but it still feels comfortable and modern.  The ambiance is vibrant and patrons are encouraged to enjoy each others company, making for a great eclectic mix of people in the place.  The wait staff may be dressed casually but they are still attentive and helpful.  Make no mistake, though, the food and drink here is intended to please even the toughest foodies out there.  So, next time you are in town don’t forget to stop in and give it a try!

Well, if you haven’t heard of The Adjective Animal that is because it doesn’t exist – we just made it up.  We’ve noticed that almost every week a new restaurant or bar opens somewhere named with an adjective followed by the name of an animal.  Here’s a list of some of these “Adjective Animal” restaurants – we’re sure we missed dozens more, so let us know and we’ll add them to the list!

Atlanta, GA

Austin, TX

Charleston, SC

Chicago, IL

Dallas, TX

Las Vegas, NV

Los Angeles, CA

London, England

Louisville, KY

Nashville, TN –

New York City, NY

Philadelphia, PA

  • Loco Pez (loose translation: Crazy Fish)

Portland, OR

San Francisco, CA

Seattle, WA

Washington, DC

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The Purple Pig

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Best of 2012

2012 brought several wonderful changes to our lives – the most obvious and profound was our baby, Oz, who was born in June. Before that we bought a home in February and have spent most of the last 10 months trying to furnish it.  With that as the backdrop, it is obvious why our travels were limited this year compared with prior years.  We were able to return to Atlanta, Austin, Chicago and Tampa this year as well as exploring new restaurants in Nashville.  We were still able to have some wonderful (if not less “fancy”) food this year and wanted to share our Best of 2012 list with you.

Restaurant of the Year:

mas tacos por favor, Nashville, TN

What characteristics would one want to have in the Restaurant of the Year?  First of all, the food should be delicious.  It should use quality ingredients. It should be consistent.  It should be a good value.  The chef should have a passion for the food. The restaurant should be inviting to both locals and those from out of town.  Service should be friendly and warm.  You should be craving the food and planning your return when you leave.

When we looked at it from that standpoint it became clear that the one restaurant that stood out to us was mas tacos por favor. Teresa Mason’s small East Nashville taqueria met all of these criteria and then some this year. Her dedication to deliver the highest quality authentic Mexican food stood out among the rest this year.  Most folks are acquainted with mas tacos as a Winnebago food truck that was a staple at the Supper and Song at imogene + willie.  But the restaurant provides many more options that we were happy to discover this year. The Sopa Tarasca (a wonderful pureed black bean soup) and Chicken Tortilla soups became almost weekly staples for us.  The Tamales, Chilaquiles, and Breakfast Tacos are also all crave-worthy.

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Honorable Mention:

Rolf and Daughters, Nashville, TN

Best Atmosphere:

Oxford Exchange, Tampa, FL

This was perhaps our most pleasant discovery of the year. Visually stunning. The pictures speak for themselves (see our previous post). A return here will be a must whenever we visit family in Tampa.

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Honorable Mentions: 

Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden, Austin, TX

Elizabeth Street Cafe, Austin, TX

Big Star, Chicago, IL

Dish of the Year:

The Bongo Room, Chicago, IL –

Vanilla Bean Brioche French Toast (with warm white chocolate cream, triple berry coulis, fresh berries and topped with oatmeal streusel crumbs)

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say, “Man, I wish I could have some (blank) this morning?”  Well, for us, it is this most perfect French toast.  We fear it may have ruined us forever for other French Toast.

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Honorable Mentions:

Rolf and Daughters, Nashville, TN –

Garganelli verde, heritage pork ragout, pecorino

Squid ink canestri, gulf shrimp, squid, chorizo

La Pietra Cucina, Atlanta, GA – (now rebranded as a more casual restaurant called LPC and dish not available)

Hand Cut Pappardelle with bolognese ragu and grana padana

Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Austin, TX –

Bucket O’ Chicken

Sandwich of the Year:

XOCO, Chicago, IL –

Ahogado Torta

For the second straight year a roasted pork sandwich claims our title of Sandwich of the Year.  Tender and flavorful carnitas with black beans and pickled onions and bread that stays chewy despite coming dipped in sauce.  The arbol chile sauce in tomato broth brings the heat and makes the dish.  Just make sure to get a refreshing cold drink to wash it all down.

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Honorable Mentions:

Mitchell Delicatessen, Nashville, TN –

Turkey Avocado and Bacon

Muss and Turner’s, Atlanta, GA

Smoked Salmon BLT

Bocado, Atlanta, GA

Roasted Cauliflower with Chinese and Thai eggplant, cilantro, spicy mayo

Dessert of the Year:

Legato Gelato, Nashville, TN

And the gelato flavor of the year is Banana…oh wait, it is Graham Cracker. No, that isn’t it, it must be Burnt Sugar and Bourbon Brittle.  Or was it Dark Chocolate combined with Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla.  But, shoot, that Coffee is fantastic too.  Oh well, we can’t decide which flavor we love the best so we will just say that all of the flavors are our Dessert of the Year. If you don’t believe us, just go sample a bunch of flavors yourself and thank us later.

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Honorable Mentions:

GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL

Salted caramel tart with bananas, chantilly cream and chocolate

Edison food + drink lab, Tampa, FL

edison cruellers with cardamon glaze, carrot ice cream, white raisin purée (deconstructed Carrot Cake)

Drink of the Year:

Tie:

Mindy’s HotChocolate, Chicago, IL

Cappucino with Burnt Honey Infused Milk

And

Barista Parlor, Nashville, TN

Salty Tennessee Whiskey Caramel Latte

We went back and forth on trying to decide who’s espresso drink reigned supreme this year. Finally, we decided that Mindy’s and Barista should share the title.  Normally we aren’t ones for extra sweetened espresso but both of these may have changed our minds for good.

Honorable Mentions:

Chateau Guirdaud Sauternes ‘88 (from our friend ‘s cellar at a special dinner at Midtown Cafe, Nashville, TN)

Topo Chico mineral water with a lime (Dee Dee’s drink of choice while pregnant)

Bite of the Year:

Barista Parlor, Nashville, TN

Pop’s Waffle

Very few times will you ever find a Belgian waffle and have it taste this light, crisp and delicious. This waffle gets it right, made with Hatcher Dairy buttermilk, Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Sugar and Vanilla Maple Syrup.

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Honorable Mentions:

The Purple Pig, Chicago, IL

Tomato Smear

Do-Rite Donuts, Chicago, IL

Cinnamon Crunch doughnut

Food Obsessions 2012:

Calabrian Hot Chiles from DeSano Pizza Bakery, Nashville, TN

These chiles come standard on their delicious Diavola pizza but we just couldn’t stop there.  We get a few cupfuls of these guys, put some more on top and then polish off the rest afterwards.  Antacids not provided by DeSano.

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Bananas – the banana gelato from Legato Gelato started a summer long craving for anything banana in desserts for us.  Whenever it was on the menu, we’d get it.  We also loved the banana in the GT Fish and Oyster dessert (see above).

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