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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).

Austin 3.0

When we returned from Austin we were left asking ourselves a question: What is it about Austin that everyone loves? After thinking about this question for some time we finally stumbled upon the obvious one word answer….Austin is FUN!

Whether you are a hipster peddling through town on a fixed gear bike, a triathlete training for the Ironman or a beer guzzling college kid looking for a memorable Saturday night, Austin is just the spot you are looking for. So, if you haven’t been, check it out (but you may want to wait until the Fall, it was already starting to get pretty hot down there). We checked out a lot of new places that we had yet to try on this trip. Here’s our take on what we saw, drank and ate. Check out the Austin City Page to see which places made the cut.

Gourmand’s Neighborhood Pub – new East Austin pub in an old Tejano night club featuring “Fat Sandwiches” and plenty of beers on tap – including a great variety of the many new Austin microbrews that have popped up in the last few years. The Second Deadly Sin with smoked turkey, bacon, swiss and fried avocado was tasty and enough sandwich to feed the hungriest Austinite.

Lucy’s Fried Chicken – perhaps our favorite new stop on our trip, this restaurant grew from the popularity of chef/owner James Holmes’ Sunday Brunch fried chicken served at his upscale restaurant, Olivia. This restaurant hits the right notes – cool, laid back vibe with predominantly patio seating (both covered and uncovered), good selection of beer and cocktails, nice side dishes and most of all – delicious fried chicken! The Bucket O’ Chicken easily serves 4-5 and we found the chicken tender and moist and the skin was light golden crisp and loved by children and adults alike. Their Corn on the Cob had a great jalapeno kick and left our mouths on fire. Don’t leave without the Lime Pie – a heavenly treat with lime custard and coriander-wafer crust topped with whipped cream.

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El Primo – small taco truck on S. 1st Street with tasty breakfast tacos. Right next to Once Over Coffee Bar – a Latte and Migas Breakfast Taco is a great Austin way to start the day.

Once Over Coffee Bar – nice little coffee shop on S. 1st with one of the better Americanos and Lattes we had all week. Brews with locally roasted Cuvee Coffeebeans.

Izzoz Tacos – creative and tasty breakfast and lunch taco truck on S. 1st.

Elizabeth Street Cafe – highly anticipated casual French-Vietnamese restaurant on S. 1st from restauranteer Larry Maguire and his team (Perla’s, Lambert’s). As usual for Maguire’s team – they nailed the decor – the spot is small but beautiful with indoor and outdoor seating featuring pink and light blue hues reminiscent of the Miami Vice logo. We stopped in both for breakfast and for lunch. We loved the breakfast pastries from La Boite and were thrilled to have a Vietnamese coffee featuring Stumptown Coffee Roasters beans. Unfortunately, we were lukewarm about the banh mi, unimpressed by the Vietnamese Fried Rice and highly disappointed by our Bun (Vermicelli bowl).  The prices are high for sure and would not be unreasonable if the food delivered, especially given the great decor. It seems to violate The twentyfive:thirtyfive Rule #16: If a restaurant is going to serve an “elevated” form of a cuisine it needs to be sure to elevate it to a level that warrants its elevated prices.

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Hillside Farmacy – new East Austin eatery and artisan grocery. They have done a tremendous job in converting an old drugstore while creating a retro chic vibe. They feature breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. They were definitely still working out some kinks when we were there and the sandwiches were a bit on the small side for the price but we’d like to return when they get the place fully up and running smoothly.

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La Boite Cafe – we loved both the sweet and savory patries from this eco friendly pastry shop. Two locations, one on S. Lamar and one on Congress downtown, both inside of repurposed shipping crates. Give the Ham and Cheese Croissant and the Almond Croissant a taste.

Patika Coffee – delicious little coffee trailer on Congress and 2nd. Friendly baristas serve up espresso drinks from Cuvee Coffee beans. Would be one of our go to coffee stops if we still lived in town, especially after cooling down from a run on Town Lake.

Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden – another one of our favorite spots from the weekend. Though it is located in the not-so-nice part of East 6th right by 35, the actual place is fantastic. Upstairs, breads and soft pretzels are made and you can stop in and grab one to go. Downstairs a low roofed interior with wood tables resembles a European pub. But, the best part is through the back side downstairs – a large beer garden with long wooden tables, faux rock walls and ping pong tables. The soft pretzels with salted whipped butter were excellent (though not quite up to our high standards ofBrave Horse Tavern in Seattle) as was the beer selection and smoked turkey breast sandwich. We plan to return to check out the house made sausage sandwiches and pastries.

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Lenoir – new creative small plate 3 course prix fixe restaurant with a cute tiny dining room. Choose any 3 dishes from their field, land, sea, and dessert menu for $35. We enjoyed our meal and found it to be a great value to get such high quality and unique ingredients creatively prepared.

Asti Trattoria – although this Hyde Park restaurant has been around for 10 years, we had not been there until this trip. We are pleased to say we enjoyed our entire meal. The Frisee & Fontina salad with poached farm egg and truffle was absolutely delicious. We also loved our Duck Confit Ravioli, Braised Lamb Sugo with papardelle, and wood oven pizza with house made sausage. Topping the meal off were two fantastic desserts – ricotta creme brulee and affogato with beignets. Despite the number of new restaurants in Austin, Asti is tried and true and remains at the top of their game.

A few microbrews sampled this trip:

Thirsty Planet Brewing – Thirsty Goat Amber (hoppy but not overly caramel-y)

Austin Beerworks – Pearl Snap Pilsner (clean crisp, hint of citrus)

South Austin Brewing Company – Golden Ale (belgian ale, rich, smooth)

Now, 10 random thoughts about Austin and our trip:

1. Topo Chico mineral water with a lime is delicious and refreshing on a hot day.

2. There are literally 300 places to get a breakfast taco in Austin.

3. The infiltration of Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters coffee in Austin (Juan Pelota, Hillside Farmacy, Elizabeth St. Cafe) is not good for local roasters but it is great for coffee lovers. Stumptown, please make your next destination Nashville.

4. Austin restauranteurs have done an amazing job in the aesthetic and design of many of the new restaurants. Places like Easy Tiger, Elizabeth St. Cafe, Hillside Farmacy, and Haddingtons look and feel fantastic.

5. Maybe it is our weakness for great donuts, but Gourdough’s is officially our favorite food truck in Austin. The Miss Shortcake with strawberries and whipped cream is always so good and the Flying Pig  with bacon and maple syrup glaze tasted like a great brunch meal with every sweet/savory bite.

6. Next time back we’re staying at Hotel St. Cecilia. The grounds and pool were gorgeous and remarkably there was a wonderful laid back quiet vibe despite it’s location just off of South Congress.

7. Although you may be tempted to try, do NOT eat barbecue or Mexican food at every meal in Austin. Trust us.

8. Running on Town Lake Trail (Lady Bird Lake) is one of the truly great things aboutAustin.

9. That being said, we can’t guarantee that your seasonal allergies won’t flare if you do choose to run on Town Lake.

10. When in Austin, do what the Austinites do – get your workout in early then go get yourself a drink outside somewhere.

First Taste: Rolf and Daughters (@RolfnDaughters)

Rolf and Daughters is the wonderful new “modern peasant food” restaurant in the Werthan Lofts in Germantown and I went there last night with some good friends.  Chef Philip Krajeck, who has received a James Beard nomination for Best Chef in the South for his work at Fish Out of Water in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, has brought his unique take on Northern Italian and Mediterranean cuisine to Nashville by crafting it with seasonal Southern ingredients.

The decor hits all of the right notes with it’s exposed brick walls, communal wooden tables, pendant lighting (creating a comfortably dim ambiance) and beautiful bar. They have also thoughtfully installed reclaimed wood along the ceiling which quite effectively dampens the din that can often accompany open restaurants inside of brick buildings.

The cocktails were among the best I’ve had in Nashville and I loved the smooth bitters of the bourbon-based Man Around Town as well as the refreshing gin and ginger beer combination in the Milan Mule.  These creative, complex and high quality cocktails are also a great value, with all cocktails between $10-12.

The pate campangola with house made crostini was rich and smooth and the brussels sprout salad brought just the right amount of acid and crunch (with apple and walnuts). The parsley garganelli with heritage pork ragout and pecorino as well as the squid ink pasta with gulf shrimp, squid and chorizo were both fantastic and deemed the standout dishes of the night by our table.

We have already lined up our return visit where we can try more of their larger plates as well as explore the dessert menu. You may want to get a reservation soon as we are predicting instant success for Rolf and Daughters.

First Look/First Taste: Oxford Exchange

When we told our good friend in Tampa that we were heading there recently he said one thing…”You have to go to Oxford Exchange”.  We had no idea what that was but we couldn’t be happier that we took his word for it.  The Oxford Exchange is a brand new restaurant/home decor store/bookstore/coffee shop/tea shop located next to The University of Tampa and instantly became one of our favorite places anywhere.  The aesthetic is perfect – a gorgeous combination of wood, marble, and brick with a black-white-dark walnut and brass color scheme.  Not only were we impressed by the selection of goods but were also taken aback by how affordable everything was.
Initially going for lunch, we loved it so much we proceeded to return the next day for breakfast.  We loved the Super Simple Sandwich –  eggs, cheese, bacon on perfectly toasted bread, the Mini Waffles with warm bananas and toasted nuts and the Smoked Salmon Bruschetta with chive creme, pickled onion and fennel salad.  The coffee shop is from Buddy Brew – fantastic Tampa coffee roaster – and can make delicious pour-overs and espressos from a variety of their hand roasted beans.  We loved the smooth and rich Colombia Santa Barbara pour over.

If you are ever in the Tampa area a trip here is an absolute must.  Sometimes a few pictures are worth a thousand words…

Chicago 3.Oz

In honor of Oz’s mega successful first trip out of Nashville, we decided to name this post “Chicago 3.Oz”. We felt very blessed that our trip was a hit in pretty much every regard – Oz was  Oz-some, the weather was beautiful, the people were nice and cool to us with Oz,  the new places we tried were delicious, and the old faves we returned to were even better than we had remembered.  We also learned a few things on our first trip with a baby that will help us in our future travels.

New Places:

Mindy’s HotChocolate – this Wicker Park gem has been open for 7 years but has just recently received national attention when chef/owner Mindy Segal won the James Beard Award for Pastry Chef of the Year. The restaurant also underwent a nice renovation this year and serves brunch, lunch and dinner in addition to their delectable desserts. Their cappucino with burnt honey infused milk was easily the “Best Coffee” drink either of us has ever had. A return here for that cappucino will be a must on future trips. We’ve also heard their burger is one of the city’s best.

David Burke’s Primehouse – located just off of Magnificent Mile in The James Hotel, critic favorite David Burke’s Primehouse has been specializing in preparing top quality aged steaks with creative side dishes since 2006. The 40 Day Aged Prime Steak Burker with bacon mayonnaise, crispy shallots and garlic spinach with a heaping dose of perfectly crisp truffle fries is an absolute steal for $12 on the lunch menu. The Cobia B.L.T. may have even been better with a beautiful cut of fish served open faced with Benton’s bacon and addictive garlic fries.

Slurping Turtle – new casual/chic noodle bar from Takashi in the River North area. The Duck Fat Fried Chicken and Hot Udon Noodles with tempura shrimp and vegetables were both excellent.

Au Cheval – popular new upscale diner in the West Loop from Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Doughnut Vault).  Their housemade fried bologna sandwich and french fries covered with a fried egg were as decadent and savory as they sound. Wash it all down with one of their 30+ beers on tap. Similar to Gilt Bar in it’s dim lighting and hip clientele.

The Goddess and Grocer – gourmet corner market in Wicker Park and Gold Coast with sweets, soups, salads, sandwiches and nice selection of wines. We picked up a tasty inexpensive Spanish Garnacha-Monastrell blend called Laya.

Wormhole Coffee – 80’s kitch coffee shop in Wicker Park. Movie posters adorn the walls and they have an actual Back the Future-esque DeLorean in the back of the shop.

Sofie Beer from Goose Island – Belgian Style Farmhouse beer that we got at XOCO – wine barrel aged with citrus peels and a refreshing effervescent crisp beer.

Doughnuts:

In our search for the best doughnut in the city we went to 3 doughnut shops and consumed 10 doughnuts. We love the $1 coffees that come with your doughnuts that these places offer (we didn’t realize you could get a cup of coffee for less than $2.50 anywhere anymore).

Doughnut Vault – get up early, find the line around the side of Gilt Bar and get in it. These doughnuts from Brandan Sodikoff are fantastic and they go quickly. Some mainstays (3 kinds of Glazed, Gingerbread Stack, Buttermilk Old-Fashioned) as well as rotating daily flavor (check their website for the flavor of the day). The vanilla glazed was an oversized fluffy moist treat.

Do-Rite Donuts – this small shop near The Loop had the best selection of creative doughnuts of the 3 places we tried and had the best overall doughnut – the Cinnamon Crunch which reminded us of the warm buttery cinnamon toast our moms made us as kids. The Carrot Spice was like a small round carrot cake for breakfast.

Glazed & Infused – we picked up some from Grahamwich as well as in Wicker Park. Their vanilla glazed was very similar to Doughnut Vault’s in appearance and taste.

Winners:

Overall Best Doughnut Shop – Doughnut Vault

Dee Dee’s Top 3 Doughnuts – 1. Cinnamon Crunch from Do-Rite Donuts, 2. Vanilla Glazed from Doughnut Vault, 3. Vanilla Glazed from Glazed & Infused

Steve’s Top 3 Doughnuts – 1. Cinnamon Crunch from Do-Rite Donuts, 2. Buttermilk Old Fashioned from Doughnut Vault, 3. Double Chocolate Yellow Cake from Doughnut Vault

Old Faves:

Bongo Room – we’ve had a lot of breakfasts in our lives, but we unanimously agreed that the Vanilla Bean Brioche French Toast with warm white chocolate cream, triple berry coulis, fresh berries and topped with oatmeal streusel crumbs was hands-down the Best French Toast we’ve ever had. The Breakfast Burrito, a cilantro-jalapeno tortilla stuffed with avocado and scrambled eggs, was an amazing savory feast. It has been and will continue to be a Chicago tradition for us.

The Purple Pig – this Michigan Ave. Mediterranean tapas restaurant is dollar-for-dollar and dish-for-dish one of the best food values you will find anywhere. The Charred Cauliflower, Fried Deviled Egg and Prosciutto di Parma were as delicious as last visit and the Tomato Smear (their uber-fresh version of bruschetta), Fried Eggplant Parmesan Balls, Housemade Veal Mortadella Sausage and Mussels with Pancetta were some of our new favorites.  9 amazing dishes (plus tax)- $78!

Big Star – we are determined to work our way through the menu at our favorite Wicker Park taqueria from Chef Paul Kahan. This time we tried the Taco de Panza (crispy pork belly), Taco de Pescado (beer battered tilapia) and Salsa de Frijole con queso (pinto bean dip with al pastor) with a refreshing La Paloma (Lunazul Blanco, grapefruit, lime, Mexican fresca). Everything was perfect – including friendly and excellent service. There aren’t may places we’d rather be on a beautiful day.

XOCO – we dined at this Rick Bayless casual Mexican eatery twice during our stay. First, to try their tortas – we had the Ahogada with carnitas, black beans, pickled onions, tomato broth and spicy chili sauce and the Pepito with shortribs, caramelized onions and pickled jalapenos. We returned for their caldos (soups) and had the Pork Belly Vermicelli and the Pozole. We loved everything we ate.

GT Fish & Oyster – we wanted to at least go back here for a dessert and we are glad that we did. The Salted Caramel Tart with bananas foster, chantilly cream and chocolate was every bit as good at the Key Lime Pie (our 2011 Dessert of the Year). It remains one of the most attractive restaurants around.

Shopping:

Although we did not do as much shopping on this trip as we normally do, we were still able to go to a few places that we loved.

Apartment Number 9 – Wicker Park men’s clothier with brands like Band of Outsiders, Paul Smith, and wings + horns. We picked up a great pair of Warby Parker sunglasses there.

Haberdash – both a casual work wear and bespoke men’s shop featuring brands like Woolrich, Gitman Bros., Alden and Filson.

T-Shirt Deli – hip Wicker Park shop that let’s you design and make your own T-shirts. We couldn’t resist making an “Oz-some” onesie while there.

Activities:
Oz Park – Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, once lived in the neighborhood around this cute park near Lincoln Park. It provided a great photo op with it’s statues of the Wizard of Oz characters.

Lincoln Park Zoo – fun, free zoo and great place for a stroll. We particularly loved the baby zebra whose fuzzy hair reminded us of baby Oz.

First Taste: DeSano Pizza Bakery (@DeSano_Pizza)

When our good friends in Atlanta took us to Antico Pizza last year we said to ourselves, “Why doesn’t Nashville have a great pizza place like this?”  Now, Nashville does, and it..well, is Antico Pizza, just with a different name. The owners of Antico have recently opened DeSano Pizza Bakery just off of the Music Row Roundabout on 16th Avenue.  DeSano boasts three similar wood burning ovens in the back of an open warehouse-type design with communal seating (perhaps a few more seats here vs. Antico). Some of their delicious signature pizzas include the San Gennaro (sausage, peppadew, buffalo mozzarella, caramelized onions) and the Verdura (Broccoli rabe, mushroom, tomato, garlic, buffalo mozzarella) and come out of the oven with a slightly charred chewy crust. Wine, beer and desserts also available. You better go now before the secret gets out – the line in Antico in Atlanta is usually out of the door!

Jiro Dreams of Great Quotes

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a delightful documentary about 85-year-old Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono.  He runs a tiny sushi restaurant in the bottom of a Tokyo subway station and is felt by many to be the best sushi chef in the world. He has been mastering his craft for 75 years and has received the rarely awarded 3-Stars from Michelin. The documentary follows him and his older son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu, in their daily lives in their attempt to perfect the art of sushi. In addition to being a wonderfully fascinating look into their world, it was also full of memorable quotes about life, work and passion.

Here are some of our favorite quotes:

Jiro: “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Yamamoto (Japanese Food Writer): “If you were to sum up Jiro’s sushi in a nutshell..Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.”

Yoshikazu: “The techniques we use are no big secret. It’s just about making an effort and repeating the same thing every day. There are some who are born with a natural gift. Some have a sensitive palate and sense of smell.  That’s what you call ‘natural talent’.  In this line of business, if you take it seriously you’ll become skilled. But if you want to make a mark in the world, you have to have talent. The rest depends on how hard you work.”

Yamamoto: “A great chef has the following 5 attributes: First, they take their work very seriously and consistently perform on the highest level. Second, they aspire to improve their skills. Third is cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good. The fourth attribute is impatience. They are not prone to collaboration. They’re stubborn and insist on having things their own way. What ties these attributes together is passion. That’s what makes a great chef.”

Jiro: “In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food.  The quality of ingredients is important, but one must develop a palate capable of discerning good and bad.  Without good taste, you can’t make good food.  If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customers how will you impress them?”

Shrimp Dealer: “These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills. When you work at a place like Jiro’s, you are committing to a trade for life.”

Jiro: “Studying hard doesn’t guarantee you will become a respectable person. Even if you’re a bad kid, there are people like me who change…Always doing what you are told does not mean you’ll succeed in life.”

Yoshikazu: “Always look beyond and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.”

The Ballot Box (@NashvilleScene)

The Nashville Scene Reader’s Poll is about to close (on Sept 12) and we thought that we would submit  our open ballot for our favorites in Nashville this year.  Here is a list of what twentyfive:thirtyfive chose for Food and Drink and why. (Vote Here)

 

Original Menu: The Catbird Seat – as you will see on our list, The Catbird Seat has raised the bar on fine dining in Nashville. Nobody in town is doing anything remotely close to what they are doing here in creativity and originality – both in food and drink. For as much press as it has gotten we feel that it may still be under appreciated because it is Nashville and not one of the bigger food cities like Chicago or San Francisco.

Bagel: Bagel Face Bakery – we love these small, dense and nicely salted bagels. Available at multiple coffee shops (see the link) and their own store in East Nashville

Bar that Makes You Feel like You are Not in Nashville: The Patterson House – the first and still the best speakeasy in Nashville. The drinks here rival any of the cocktail bars that we have been to throughout the country

Barbecue: Edley’s Bar-B-Que – coming here from Austin, we had been quite disappointed in the barbecue scene in Nashville (have you ever been to Franklin Barbecue!?!?!) until Edley’s showed up. Their brisket sandwich (when you can get it at lunch before it dries out) is easily the best brisket in town. The sausage and cheese plate is also great. (Our suggestion for Edley’s to help make it better – Table Service – the place can be quite a cluster when it is busy and you have to go to the bar separately if you want a beer or cocktail. Often your food will come out before you even have a table or a beer)

Bread: Silke’s Old World Breads – these delicious artisan breads are used in the sandwiches at Mitchell’s Delicatessen as well as at Marche. You can also buy their breads at The Turnip Truck and Marche.

Burger: M.L.Rose – it was a tough call between this burger, the Local Burger from Fido and The Pharmacy Burger at Pharmacy, but we decided to go with this excellent version of a straightforward traditional cheeseburger this year.

Cheap Eats: McDougal’s Chicken Fingers and Wings – nothing fancy about the decor here, just a hodge-podge of 70’s album covers and old license plates but their chicken fingers and fries never disappoint.  We also love the anytime 2-for-1 beers.  This is our go-to meal for Saturday College Football.

Chef: Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson (The Catbird Seat) – these two have national James Beard award winning-type talent and brought a much needed swagger to the dining scene in Nashville . We just got back from Chicago and could envision them being this city’s version of Paul Kahan (Blackbird, avec, Violet Hour, Publican, Big Star).

Coffeehouse: Barista Parlor – this new East Nashville coffeehouse edged out Crema this year for it’s prime location in East Nashville, fantastic decor, great selection of beans from some of the best roasters in the world, tasty breakfast offerings featuring Porter Road Butcher meats and prices that seem just a bit lower than Crema’s.

Delicatessen: Mitchell’s Delicatessen – we live a couple hundred yards from an artisan sandwich shop in 12South but we drive the 10 miles for these amazing East Nashville sandwiches regularly.  Trust us, they are worth the drive. The Turkey Avocado and Bacon, B.L.T. and Banh Mi are some of the best versions of these we’ve had.

Fish Taco: mas tacos por favor – most folks by now have seen the mas tacos truck but it seems like not that many people know of their East Nashville restaurant. Check their menu on Twitter to see what they are serving for the day but their Fish Tacos are usually on Fridays and are delicious (and only $3!)

French Fries:  M.L. Rose (Loaded Waffle Fries) – we aren’t usually fans of waffle fries but the ones here come covered with cheese, bacon and green onion. A guilty pleasure of ours.

Hot Chicken: Prince’s Hot Chicken – we’ve tried the imitators, but the chicken here really does taste a lot better (and hotter). We think it may be that they also marinade the chicken in the hot sauce too so that it isn’t just hot on the crust. We wish they weren’t so far away but our bodies thank us that it is.

Gelato/Ice Cream: Legato Gelato – the Banana Gelato here was our food obsession of Summer 2012. The Graham Cracker, Burnt Sugar, Cream Cheese and Coffee flavors weren’t too far behind. One of our favorite places in town.

New Restaurant: The Catbird Seat – it is hard to believe that it just opened up last October based on the national press it has received. Expect to hear much much more.

Original Drink: The Catbird Seat – what Beverage Director Jane Lopes is doing with the drink pairings is equally as impressive as what the chefs are doing with the food. You could put almost any of her original creations and infused drinks on this list.

Patio: Pharmacy Burger Parlor – the beer garden here is easily the best patio in town, not that every one else doesn’t already know this based on the lines.

Romantic Dinner: Margot Cafe – still our favorite place to go to for a romantic dinner. We love the exposed brick and quaint yet not crowded vibe. We also love to see what Chef Margot comes up with for her ever changing Daily Menu.

Restaurant: The Catbird Seat – our most memorable dining experience last year and we are eagerly awaiting our next chance to get back. Most people would find it hard to believe, but it is truly a great food value at $100 per person. If you got this quality of food and dining experience in NYC, Chicago or Napa you would easily pay 2-3 times as much!

Service in a Restaurant: The Catbird Seat – it is impossible to top being able to interact with and being served by the two chefs and Beverage Director Jane Lopes.

Specialty/Grocery Store: Lazzaroli Pasta – great husband and wife Italian specialty store in Germantown. We love the Fresh Mozzarella on Saturday and a great place to pick up some pasta and sauce for restaurant quality Italian easily warmed up at home.

Steakhouse: Kayne Prime – original, local steakhouse with great decor. The main gripe online seems to be the prices, but to us they seem on par with other chain steakhouses (Ruth Chris, Fleming’s) and is a much tastier choice.

Sub Sandwich: Savarino’s Cucina (Ed Pontieri sandwich) – this Italian meats sandwich is one of our favorite go to’s for a good sub sandwich

Sunday Brunch: Marche – one of the best and most consistently great meals in Nashville is brunch at Marche.  Never disappointing..worth the wait.

Thai: The Smiling Elephant – the freshness of the ingredients separates this 8th Avenue Thai restaurant from others. A little more pricey than it’s competition, but we feel that it is worth it.

Chicago 3.0 Preview

We will soon be heading to Chicago – however, this time our trip will contain a 3rd member to our team. This will be our first trip with Baby Oz – to one of our favorite cities to visit and a straight shot from Nashville (and a place where we don’t need a car to navigate).

As usual, we want to explore and try new places but still hit up some of our old faves. We hope to return to Bongo Room (our Chicago “tradition” breakfast), Big Star, XOCO and The Purple Pig while we’re there. After having Voodoo Doughnuts on our trip to Portland, OR last year we’ve also been on a mission to find the best doughnut in every city.

For those with kids, I’m sure you understand – our itinerary is not written in stone (and this also means no Alinea, Next or upscale/fine dining on this trip). Here is our preview for Chicago 3.0

 

To Stay –

The James – we are heading back here this trip. Last time we loved the modern aesthetic, service and central location (near but not right on Magnificant Mile)

 

New Places to Try –

Doughnut Vault – creative doughnuts from the Gilt Bar team. Lines are reportedly enormous, so we plan to get there shortly after opening.

Publican Quality Meats – artisan sandwiches and charcuterie from Paul Kahan, who’s track record has been spot on so far in our book (Blackbird, Big Star, Publican). Special Burger night is Tues at 6pm!

Avec – although we just heard that their chef, Koren Grieveson has recently left the kitchen, we are still interested in trying some of their famous small plates.

Mindy’s HotChocolate – we’ve passed by this Wicker Park restaurant/dessert shop before but were usually too full to try anything. After her James Beard win this year as Best Pastry Chef we may have to save some room. We’ve heard they also have one of best burgers in town.

Cafe Spiaggia – more casual Italian next to upscale/legendary Spiaggia on North Michigan Ave with pizzas, pastas, soups, and salads.

Au Cheval – chic diner in West Loop (think – homemade fried bologna sandwich)

Balena – new Lincoln Park Italian eatery featuring a wood burning oven from the same team as GT Fish and Oyster and The Girl & The Goat (Boka Group).

Glazed and Infused Doughnuts – though the Doughnut Vault gets most of the press, we’ve heard good things about these creative doughnuts – as well as shorter lines. Several locations (Wicker, Lincoln, West Loop).

Do Rite Donuts – if we haven’t already OD’d on fried dough, we will try get here to try one of their many flavors of doughnuts, including vanilla bean glazed.

Franks n Dawgs – these Lincoln Park haute dogs may be a good place to try after a jog through Lincoln Park Zoo.

Heritage Bicycle General Store – this Lincoln Park coffee shop/bike store serves Stumptown coffee and we’ve been itching to find more coffee shops in Chicago in addition to Intelligentsia.

 

Old Faves –

Purple Pig – we loved their small plates and wine list last visit and are looking forward to sampling some more of their pig-centric menu just around the corner from our hotel.

XOCO – we plan a return to Rick Bayless’ casual Mexican restaurant for breakfast and/or lunch to try their churros and tortas, both of which we didn’t get to try last time around

Big Star – Paul Kahan’s whiskey-taqueria was one of our favorite places that we went to last year (and still wish there was something like this here in Nashville).

GT Fish and Oyster – if nothing else, we hope to get back to this beautiful fish/oyster restaurant to get another one of their ridiculous Key Lime Pies – deconstructed and served out of a jar

Bongo Room – a trek to Wicker Park followed by a decadent breakfast and shopping has been one of our favorite things to do in Chicago. We hope to continue that tradition this trip as well.

Grahamwich – these creative sandwiches from Graham Elliott were fantastic and it’s location near The James Hotel may bring us back around for more this trip.

 

Activities –

Shopping on Magnificent Mile – touristy, we know, but still tons of great shopping to be had in this area

Lincoln Park Zoo – a free fun excursion and reason to get up to Lincoln Park

Wicker Park – a morning and afternoon here for great food and boutique shopping

Oz Park – we don’t know much about this park other than it has the same name as our son. We’d love a pic of him in front of it’s sign.

Millenium Park and Lakeshore Drive – the run on Lakeshore Drive right by the water is one of our favorite places to run followed by a walk through the park for some photo ops

West Loop – a foodie destination with several places we are interested in trying this time around – Publican Quality Meats, Au Cheval, avec, and possibly Grange Hall Burger Bar (if Au Cheval is no good for a 3 month old)

 

First Taste: The Coffee Truck (@CoffeeTruckNash)

It seems that Nashville is becoming quite the coffee hot spot. Today we stopped by The Coffee Truck in East Nashville and we can say that we are already looking forward to our next Cubanito. Costa Rica natives and siblings Juliet and Sutherland Seals serve specialty coffees out of their beautiful green truck on the corner of McFerrin and Eastland (right near The Holland House and mas tacos). They make all of their espresso drinks with coffee beans they get directly from small batch roasters in Costa Rica – and who are also family friends. The Cubanito is a combination of espresso, steamed milk, and condensed milk and is one of the best coffee drinks we have had in town. Follow them on Twitter: @CoffeeTruckNash

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