Where We Ate: Nashville Edition!

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Nashville for work, so Matt flew in a couple of days later for a mini vacation. I got a few incredulous reactions to this—and to be fair, I guess it’s not the most conventional vacay spot for 2 Asians—but why not explore a new city? And like all good trips, wherever Our Happy Jar goes, good food follows…

Where We Ate

Etch

Our experience at Etch was great. Impeccable service and really delicious food! The restaurant is also right across from the Country Music Hall of Fame 🙂

What We Ate: 

  • Butter tasting (prosciutto truffle, smoked parmesan black pepper, ginger cashew, and malt vinegar butter): It’s really just bread and butter, but the butter is amazing! Mixing them together was even more awesome!
  • Tempura catfish with watermelon and blueberries: Yummy, but the least memorable.
  • Roasted cauliflower with truffled pea pesto, almonds, and feta crema: Delish!
  • Pork chop with gnocchi, trio of mushrooms, asparagus, basil, frisee, smoked ham jus potato, and chorizo: The pork was really tender… to die for!
  • Orange creamsicle (white chocolate vanilla bean ganache, orange sorbet, white chocolate crumble, mango orange sauce, lemon macarons): This was really light and so yummy, which was a perfect way to end the meal!

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Etch on Urbanspoon

The Pharmacy Burger Parlour and Beer Garden

The Pharmacy was really out of the way for us and hard to get to without a car, but it was definitely worth the trip. I know burgers are a dime a dozen, but the burgers at this place are out of this world (the photo below doesn’t do them justice)! I would go back again just for those burgers… the large selection of beers doesn’t hurt either! It was also like eating in someone’s large backyard—plants, picnic tables, strings of lights—which I absolutely loved. What We Ate

  • Farm burger: Tennessee beef, country ham, applewood-smoked bacon, egg, and maple mustard
  • Stroganoff burger: Tennessee beef, mushroom stroganoff bechamel, sour cream, caramelized onion, and swiss cheese
  • Black bean and corn salad and hand-cut sweet potato fries

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The Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden on Urbanspoon

Husk

Husk was also a little out of the way, but not too far of a walk from downtown. It was a really cute restaurant set up in a house, with a herb and veggie garden out front. What We Ate

  • Deviled eggs with pickled ramps
  • Ember “grilled” pimento cheese sandwich
  • Shrimp and grits with mushrooms, ham, and egg: This was one of the best parts of the meal!
  • Buttermilk chess pie with Georgia peaches and cream: SO good… it reminded me of the basque cake from Bar Isabel!

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Husk on Urbanspoon

Rolf and Daughters

Another restaurant that was pretty out of the way for us (are you seeing a theme here?) Also, Rolf and Daughters has been written up extensively, so it was understandably busy. We were told that it’d be an hour wait, but fortunately, it was much shorter, and we got to hang out with drinks outside for a bit. The restaurant is located in an old warehouse, which was cool. What We Ate

  • Chicken liver pate with green tomato marmalade and cacao: YUM.
  • Dry-aged beef tartare with salsa verde and toast
  • Polenta with charred and pickled eggplant and bonito
  • Squid ink trofie,with shrimp, squid, pancetta, and lemon: Really, really good, but wasn’t quite like Joso’s squid ink pasta.
  • Mixed roast of pork with corn, squash, okra, and bay laurel: This was pretty awesome too.

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Rolf and Daughters on Urbanspoon

The Southern

Live music, oysters, and blood orange mimosas for brunch? Hell yeah! Matt’s fried chicken and waffles was pretty darn good too.

What We Ate

  • Oysters!
  • The Highway (fried chicken breast on a waffle with maple syrup): Crunchy, just the right amount of heat, and perfect with the syrup!
  • Steak & Biscuit Benedict (grilled beef tenderloin, poached eggs, and hollandaise on a blue cheese biscuit): Meh.

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The Southern Steak & Oyster on Urbanspoon

Mason Bar

Mason Bar was located in our hotel, the Loews Vanderbilt. We decided to go for happy hour (4 to 6 pm), which was awesome: $3 for all draught beers and half-priced appetizers! The bar is also really cool… all decked out in mason jars! The theme of the bar is especially cute to me because 1) so many happy jars! and 2) if Matt and I ever have a son, we want to name him Mason 🙂

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What We Ate

  • Crab corn dogs: These were surprisingly good. We expected mini corn dogs, but they were generous portions and stuffed full of crab meat! Definitely worth getting, especially at half the price.
  • Truffle fries

Mason's on Urbanspoon

Merchants

The restaurant is located in a beautiful building (which has a long history), and it’s right in the middle of Broadway, nestled among all the surrounding honky-tonks. Unfortunately, we were really full, so we only had a bunch of apps.

What We Ate

  • Duck fat tater tots with chipotle mayo, bearnaise, ketchup: So bad for you, but they are made perfectly crispy!
  • Fried green tomatoes with spicy pepper jam and house pimento cheese: This was only okay.
  • Shrimp corn chowder: Nothing special.

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Merchants Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken

This is a good bang-for-your-buck place (their fried chicken plates range from $8.50 to $11.50 and are served with 2 sides), but I didn’t think the chicken was overly amazing. We waited in a long line though, so it’s obviously very popular!

What We Ate

  • Small white (breast and wing)
  • Large dark (2 thighs and 2 legs)
  • French fries, mac and cheese, southern greens, and potato salad

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Hattie B's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

Other Eating and Drinking

Nashville Farmers’ Market and Legato Gelato

We did a lot of walking on this trip, which was probably good because we needed to burn those calories. One of those long walks was to the Nashville Farmers’ Market, which was really fun! We obviously couldn’t buy any fresh produce, but we did get to hit up the Legato Gelato stand.

The guy there was very nice—he let us sample as much as we wanted—and the gelato was so good! We opted to try the donut gelato since that was something different, and it was surprisingly light-tasting but still sufficiently donut-y. I wish we had time to go visit their storefront location!

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The Breweries: Yazoo, Jackalope, and Tennessee Brew Works

These were all within walking distance of one another, so Matt and I decided to do a little brewery-hopping before our dinner at Etch. Yazoo had the best selection and a good sampler for us to try, I liked the picnic tables at Jackalope, and Tennessee Brew Works had a big patio, nice indoor space, and live music. Hitting up these breweries was so much fun, and I had a really nice buzz by the end!

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Phew… looks like we crammed a lot of eating and drinking in during our trip to Nashville! Our next trip is to Boston in September, so we’re looking forward to more good eats (and past favourites)… stay tuned 😉

Where Our Happy Jar’s Been: Our My Places Map of Toronto

I absolutely love My Places on Google Maps (Lifehacker has a good article on this topic). I was first inspired to start creating/using personalized maps a few years back when visiting our friends G & M in San Francisco; M had created a map of all the places they’d been, which was super helpful for visiting friends like us!

I now use My Places almost every time Matt and I travel to a new city. That way, the eateries, landmarks, and points of interest I’ve earmarked are at our fingertips! I’ve been putting off creating one for Toronto because it was pretty daunting, but I finally took the plunge and started one.

Access the map via my Where Our Happy Jar’s Been: Toronto page!

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You can also access the map by clicking this image!

So far it’s all food (surprising, right? 😉 ), and I’ve only made a dent in the places we’ve been, but I’ll continue to add more restaurants, places we love in Toronto, and points of interest. If you have a map to share (Toronto or otherwise), I’d love to hear from you!

Where We Ate: Boston Edition!

Happy 2014! Our Happy Jar has crossed my mind a lot, but blogging has admittedly fallen by the wayside recently. In my Thailand post, I had intended to blog about the Hong Kong portion of our recent Asia trip, but there’s so much to say about the city, my family, and my longtime friends that make it hard to fit into a single blog post. Maybe the inspiration to write my heart out will come soon…

Anyways, this past Family Day long weekend, Matt and I had planned time off to go somewhere, one of the options being a close city like Boston. As luck would have it, I had an offsite meeting at our Burlington, MA office last week, so Matt and I decided to tack on some days at the end to make it a weekend getaway.

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The weekend got off to an interesting start, with the big snow storm falling on the day that Matt was supposed to fly in. His afternoon flight was canceled, but he was fortunately able to catch an earlier one on standby. I ended up sharing a cab with a stranger who was rushing downtown to catch a train to New York. The trip from Burlington to downtown Boston took us 2 hours, but we made it! Definitely would want to visit Boston again (and Cape Cod) in the summertime; I’m sure it’s beautiful!

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Where We Ate: The Highlights

Neptune Oyster

Neptune Oyster has received a number of glowing reviews, and rightfully so—everything was delicious! The oysters were fresh and perfectly shucked, the buttermilk johnnycakes (with honey butter, smoked trout tartare, and caviar) were outstanding, and the lobster roll with hot butter was to die for.

The restaurant is incredibly small, and as promised in reviews, there was a line (even at 3pm on a weekday!). Luckily, our wait was short, and we were seated in a roomier table in the back. Definitely recommend going on a weekday during off-hours.

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Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry

Other than Neptune Oyster, there were a LOT of places we wanted to try in the North End. We were fortunate enough to hit up two pastry shops. The cannolis at Mike’s Pastry and the giant lobster tails at Modern Pastry are AMAZING!

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Mike's Pastry on Urbanspoon Modern Pastry on Urbanspoon

Marliave

Dollar oysters and clams every day between 4–6 pm and 9–10 pm… need I say more? We arrived much earlier than our original 9pm reservation, so we ended up starting off some wine, beer, escargots, Brussels sprouts, and artisan cheeses and meats. Everything was really good, and the oysters and clams were worth the wait. They also had a variety of oysters to choose from, which is kinda great because many buck-a-shuck places often limit you to one kind.

Marliave on Urbanspoon

Shōjō Restaurant

Our hotel was right on the edge of Chinatown, which is where Shōjō was located. Matt and I are fans of tapas-style restaurants and it had good reviews, so we decided to give it a shot. We ordered the suckling pig bao with kimchi and jalapeno, duck confit dumplings with parsnip puree, almond shrimp balls with pumpkin chili puree, BBQ pork ribs, kimchi fried rice with quail egg, and the charcuterie board. I personally thought some items were hit or miss (dessert, sesame balls filled with chocolate, was definitely a big miss), but overall, it was a yummy meal. The mural in the restaurant is also really cool!

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Shojo on Urbanspoon

Boston Kitchen Pizza

Matt and I had a low-key Valentine’s Day—we generally avoid dinner at fancy restaurants like the plague. And because we had a very late lunch at Neptune Oyster, we wanted to have an inexpensive, casual dinner. After a lengthy search (and a long nap for me :P), we ended up picking up a pizza from Boston Kitchen Pizza in nearby China town and taking it back to the hotel to watch the NBA all-star rookie-sophomore game. The pizza was not bad at all!

Shojo on Urbanspoon

Atlantic Fish

We visited the Back Bay area in search of Cole Haan and Niketown. Unfortunately, Niketown Boston is closed until spring (the same thing happened to us during our first trip to Chicago Niketown!) Before our Niketown plans got cut short, we stopped off for lunch at Atlantic Fish. To me, the restaurant was a bit more old school (I also didn’t like being segregated in an area with all the other Asians, but I think that might have been a coincidence), but the food, especially the clam chowder, was really good.

Atlantic Fish Co. on Urbanspoon

The Good Kind of Muffin Tops

And last but not least, the muffin tops! SO many coffee shops seem to have these in Boston… why aren’t they more common in Toronto?

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This week it’s back to the usual grind… thank goodness for a short week!

Where We Ate (and Played): Thailand Edition!

Happy Holidays, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted on Our Happy Jar. Matt and I recently returned from a 20-day trip in Asia, where we attended a wedding, visited family and friends, and celebrated our long-awaited honeymoon, so I have a lot of blog catch-up to do!

I thought I’d start with a few highlights of our time in Thailand, where we spent 1 week—a few days with friends in Phuket for my good friend R’s wedding (where we also got a lot of sun, beach time, and the resort life) and another block of time ourselves in Bangkok for our honeymoon. This was a fun and eventful lag of our trip, so this is going to be a long post!

Phuket

Phuket is definitely a destination for R&R. We all stayed at the Cape Sienna Hotel Phuket, which is where the wedding was held. The views were stunning, and the resort it beautiful! The best part was getting to hang out with all my childhood friends, who I miss a lot. Because I don’t live in Hong Kong anymore and only visit every other year, this was one of the longest stretches of time I’ve been able to spend time with them in a LONG time. Definitely made the trip that much more fun and memorable!

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Most of the time was spent at the resort hanging out by the pool (our favourite spot was the infinity pool across the street from the hotel), but we did manage to experience a bit of the nightlife at Patong Beach and the sun and waves at Surin Beach.

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Lotus Restaurant

We also got to try Lotus Restaurant at Bangtao Beach with a small group of our friends. The restaurant has an awesome view of the beach and is known as a spot to watch the sunset, but unfortunately, a storm rolled in while we were there. The food at Lotus was good though (it’s one of those places where you can go out and pick your seafood before they cook it), and it was fairly inexpensive for the amount that we ordered!

Bangkok

Public Transit

After the wedding, Matt and I flew from Phuket to Bangkok for our honeymoon! I haven’t been there since I was in my teens, and the city has changed a LOT since then. One of the best changes is the updated transit system.  I remember having to cab everywhere with my parents back in the day, which was a nightmare given the notoriously bad traffic in the city.

If you don’t have a ton of luggage, I’d highly recommend taking the Bangkok Airport Train. It didn’t take a long time to get to our hotel, and the transit maps were fairly straightforward to understand (they also have everything in English, so no worries there!) We did have to walk up/down some stairs with our luggage though, but that was fine!

We also took the BTS everywhere during our visit to Bangkok. While you can purchase single trips, we stayed for almost 5 days, so we purchased Rabbit cards; issuing and deposit fees plus a package of 15 trips equated to around $20 CDN per person, which is not bad at all!

Prepaid SIM Cards

Another lifesaver was getting prepaid SIM cards, which were available at the airport—it was about $10 CDN for unlimited data for a week. It was extremely useful to have data to access Google Maps to find our way around the city and to be able to look things up on the spot. Also, because the protests in Bangkok were ongoing while we were there, my parents were really worried, so having data allowed me to keep them posted.

The W Hotel Bangkok

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The jeweled wall in the lobby; tablet-controlled room functions; cute labels on everything!

 Because Matt and I got married at the Westin, we racked up enough Starwood points to use toward our week-long stay at the W Bangkok, which is very stylish and high-tech. They gave us free drinks and had cupcakes sent to our room for our honeymoon, which was a nice touch! While we did do a lot of things outside of the hotel, we also enjoyed a lot of time in the hotel, watching movies, chilling in the deep-soak tub (I never take baths anymore!), and lounging by the pool.

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We had a cute pair of “lights out” sequined Thai boxing gloves on our bed

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The twinkling lights in the pool at the W Bangkok and hanging out in the private cabanas

The location of the hotel is also super convenient! The W is right by the Chong Nonsi BTS station, so we were able to take access skytrain really easily to get around the city.

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A view of the BTS from the pool

Shopping

We briefly visited Siam Square (Siam station is also a major interchange station), where they have a lot of restaurants and a number of big brand-name malls like Siam Paragon. I personally didn’t love the mall because a lot of the stores are ones that we see here, along with a lot of high-end ones.

My friend R actually recommended Terminal 21 at nearby Asok station; each floor of the mall has a theme of a different city, which is pretty cool. The stores are also somewhat unique (a mix of brands we might see here, as well as some more local brands). The food court there is also decent and really cheap: Matt and I had lunch there and spent less than $5 CDN for two meals plus drinks!

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Massages

We also managed to visit Health Land, where you can get massages and other spa services, almost everyday while we were in Bangkok. It’s a reputable and clean place, and the prices were more than reasonable. There are multiple locations, but we liked the one near Asok station more than the one near our hotel.

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During our multiple visits, we got to try the aromatherapy body massage, traditional Thai massage, and foot reflexology—almost 5 hours of massages—for only just over $50 CDN! That’s unheard of in most other places (like Toronto, for one), so massages are definitely a must in Thailand!

Asiatique Riverfront Night Market

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Saphan Taksin station was not too far from our hotel, so we were able to easily get there to access the boats to Asiatique, a night market located along the riverfront. The converted warehouses are now home to little shops, cafes, and restaurants, so you can spend a good few hours there just browsing the stores and eating.

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As a little tip, the market itself doesn’t open until around 5pm (the first ferry there runs at 4:30pm) and the last boat back is at 11:30pm. The ferry ride is free (there are signs indicating the correct line-ups), but we saw a number of people hastily jump onto tourist boats, where they charge you for the ride there. Luckily, we’d done our research!

The Grand Palace and Wat Pho

That same pier was where we took a river boat to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. I’d visited both with my parents before, but it seemed like a must-see for Matt’s first time in Bangkok. The structures are really grand and beautiful, so it was definitely worth it!

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Because the tour packages cost an arm and a leg, we decided to do our own self-tours instead. We followed this handy article on how to get there and what boats to take; this is because tourist boats can charge you ~$5 CDN compared to local boats that cost ~50 cents per person (granted, it’s not a lot of money in general, but still)! That same article also has some tips to avoid getting scammed by people who approach you outside of the palace gates. Another tip for visiting these tourist sites is to do some research on what clothing is appropriate. Out of respect for the king and the temples, you should wear long pants/skirts and tops with sleeves.

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Local Cheap Eats

There were a lot of street vendors near our hotel—one day, we stopped to buy a yummy, filling lunch for less than $4 CDN total—but my friend R also suggested we try Soi 38 night market at Thong Lo station, near where her boyfriend lives. In total, we spent less than $10 CDN on juice, skewers, BBQ pork dried noodles with dumplings, pad thai, mango sticky rice, and banana pancakes, all of which were delicious!

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Somboon Seafood and Issaya Siamese Club

One of my mom’s former colleagues actually lived and worked in Bangkok for a brief time, so he provided us with a lot of recommendations. Two of the sit-down restaurants we decided to try were based on his recommendations.

The first was Surawong location of Somboon Seafood, which is known for their curry crab and is apparently popular among HK tourists. The seafood was very good!

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The real highlight though was Issaya Siamese Club, which serves modern Thai food. We went on our last night in Bangkok, and it was an awesome way to end our trip! The location is quite hidden—going to this restaurant is the only time we cabbed during the entire trip—but the restaurant is absolutely beautiful (this article has some good photos of the interior).

Source: Issaya Siamese Club

We decided against the tasting menu because it looked like a lot of food, so we went for the next best, the set menu. It was around $50 CDN per person for a total of 8 courses! Every course was delicious, but the boneless curry lamb shank and spice-rubbed pork baby back ribs were to die for, as was the dessert. Even the complimentary take-home marshmallows were just as yummy!

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It was such a treat to eat there, and an absolutely amazing meal to mark the end of a wonderful honeymoon in Thailand!

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Overall, Matt and I had a blast in Thailand—such a great way to spend our honeymoon! Stay tuned for a future post about the Hong Kong portion of our trip 🙂

Where We Ate: The Pie Plate Bakery & Cafe (Niagara-on-the-Lake)

I plan to blog about some of Matt’s and my favorite restaurants in Toronto, but today I came across some photos taken during a road trip this past summer, so I thought I’d start with The Pie Plate Bakery & Café. Despite the title of my post, it’s technically located just outside of the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Virgil, Ontario, which is about 1.5 to 2 hours away from Toronto.

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I first came across The Pie Plate when planning a trip to NOTL with my parents in July. I’m all about word-of-mouth, so I often scour the web for blogs or articles, along with reviews from Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Trip Advisor. I read a lot of positive things about this place, so we planned a trip there. I’m still kicking myself for not checking (because my mom and dad would have LOVED this place), but they were closed the day we went (NOTE: they are closed on Mondays!).

We did finally get to go in August, when Matt and I made an impromptu winery trip with our close friends T and W (who took almost all the photos that I’m using for this blog post), and The Pie Plate definitely lived up to its positive reviews! It’s a cute little place with baked goods, thin-crust pizzas, and sandwiches.

The Pizza:

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The four of us shared the seasonal pizza (I can’t remember exactly, but I think it had peaches, spinach, prosciutto, and goat cheese) and the my kaptain (tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy Italian sausage, and roasted red peppers)—both were delicious! It’s a couple of hours away from Toronto, but I would gladly make a trip there just for the pizza alone!

The Pies & Tarts:

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For dessert, we had the mini lemon meringue pie and butter tarts. They were really good, but my personal favorite was the mini peach pie that we brought home. We didn’t know it was the Peach Festival that weekend (so by chance, we got to experience some of the events going on in town), but it meant that peaches were in season, which we could definitely taste in the pie.

The overall verdict? We’ll definitely be visiting again. We love the Niagara wineries, and now we love The Pie Plate too!

The Pie Plate Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Where We Ate: Chi-Town Edition!

This past weekend, Matt and I made a road trip to attend a family wedding in Chicago, which I can honestly say is one of our favourite cities to visit. Our first time there was last year, and we absolutely loved it! The architecture is amazing (the Chicago Architecture Foundation‘s boat tour of the Chicago River is a MUST), and there is so much good food! Because we did all the touristy stuff last year, this trip was just about hanging out and getting some good eats.

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Where We Ate: The Highlights

For those of you who’ve read this post, this was definitely a “food splurge” type of weekend. I did have my BP monitor with me during this trip, and we’ve been back to eating healthier meals this week!

Chicago Eats

Au Cheval

We finally made it this time! We were a bit tired when we got there because it was a long wait (after a half day at work and an 8+ hour drive to Chicago), but it was definitely worth it! We sat at the bar where we could see the three chefs in action, which was a lot of fun. The food was divine—for those of you from TO, it’s Black Hoof-esque, but more comfort food—and our server was really friendly. She recommended a few places for us to try, including GT Fish & Oyster (see below), which was awesome!

Au Cheval on Urbanspoon

GT Fish & Oyster

Seafood for brunch is amazing! We had the smoked whitefish quiche, crab benedict, and biscuits & lobster gravy. That sounds really heavy, but the dishes were surprisingly light, and there were plenty of veggies. I also loved the décor inside the restaurant! We got to dine on the little patio… happiness.
GT Fish & Oyster on Urbanspoon

La Madia

Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza, which is pretty great, but this time, we decided to try thin-crust pizza. Based on one of the recommendations on the bride and groom, we hit up a restaurant near our hotel. The cracked organic egg pizza was really yummy!

La Madia on Urbanspoon

Publican Quality Meats

We headed back to the meat packing district for our final meal in Chicago, and Publican Quality Meats did not disappoint! It’s really homey and cozy inside—I loved the big communal tables and the cute place settings. I’d definitely recommend the charcuterie plate, and their sandwiches were really good (Matt’s PQM’S Combo Beef was pretty amazing)! The servers were also all really nice… Chicago is a friendly city!

Publican Quality Meats on Urbanspoon

Glazed & Infused

I’m not usually a huge fan of donuts because I find them too sweet (I’m really boring, and I like the plain donuts—no sprinkles, no icing, no glaze—at Tims), but I do occasionally enjoy them, and the one we had at Glazed & Infused was actually very good. Who can say no to crunchy PB&J?

Glazed & Infused on Urbanspoon

While I miss Chicago already, it’s nice to be back home, and tomorrow, we’ve scheduled a Fine-Dining (In) Friday! Matt and I are going to break out the newest addition to our kitchen, which we purchased in Chicago. So exciting! More about that tomorrow 🙂