NASHVILLE: The Bachelorette Capitol

img_2659When my friend warned me about the number of bachelorettes in Nashville, I thought he was exaggerating. But when Saturday night came around, the streets were swarming with roving bands of identically dressed women. Gaggles of ladies in black or pinch tank tops with witty marriage-related sayings followed behind their queen bees, brides-to-be dressed in revealing white outfits, more often than not, with cowboy boots and a hat. They marched/stumbled through the streets like they owned the city. Inside, I had to elbow my way to the bar and my rather tall male friends were groped as they tried to wrap their heads around what was happening. It was all a tad surreal.

Nashville MuralOf course, outside the wild nights of downtown, Nashville is a beautiful city with abundant public art, a wide variety of restaurants and a strong culture.  I think the murals left the strongest impression, representing a commitment to artistic expression in both music and art. Below barely scratches the surface of Nashville’s many offerings, as I was in the city for a mere 46 hours. Truthfully, the best part of the weekend was sitting on the porch and chatting with my longtime friends, but since that’s of no help to you, here are a few reviews that might guide you to good times:

BAR: Craft Brewed Beer

2502 Franklin Pike, Nashville, TN 37204

After we dropped off our bags on the first night, we headed out for some libation to accompany our catching up. This self-titled “Bottle Shop and Tasting Room” features  shelves of alcohol, a stand-up bar and a wall of beers to choose from. My beer-loving friends had no complaints as they picked from the wide variety. A non-beer lover myself, I was content with the cider in tap, though I warn you there is no wine. I hadn’t had dinner and for some reason the only place open nearby was a Little Ceasar’s.  All seemed lost until I saw a golden savior in the corner – a dispenser full of goldfish!  Self-serve and paid with a donation,  goldfish in a cup was the perfect snack. We sat on the outside deck until it closed at 1am.

img_2638Vanderbilt Campus

My friend, a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt, showed me around his campus and lab. Shaded by thick, vibrant green trees, it felt like a campus from the movies. His roommate calls it “dark”, but I’d just say there’s ample shade. Modern art statues pop up here and there. The lab… was a lab (as it should be). But we got to walk through a very cheery, decorated children’s hospital to get there.

Downtown Franklin

If you’re into quaint downtowns and gift shops, head to nearby Franklin, TN for a few hours.  Check out more here:  (http://downtownfranklintn.com/)  We spent a few hours here at my friend’s recommendation after driving through (over? beside?) Natchez Trail. If you’re more hike-minded, wikipedia says this area encompasses a section of a 440 mi trail.

RESTAURANT: The Row

the row nashville110 Lyle Ave, Nashville, TN 37203

We skipped the more crowded #1 Hot Chicken restaurant across the street for a 0 min wait time at The Row.  My two friends were positive they wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the two hot chickens, though they don’t claim to be experts.  The restaurant is split into two: the bar with live music and the separate restaurant with more tables and booths. We didn’t stay at the loud bar so that we could talk and catch-up, but I did like how high the ceiling was and the amount of windows. Basically, it was live music and a country bar, without a dark, claustrophobic feel.

the row nashvilleThe main dining room is decorated with wall paper highlighting the musicians and songwriters who were discovered there over the years. My friends had hot chicken, but I took a light route with a delicious pecan salad and a pickled deviled eggs taster appetizer. Warning: the jalapeño margarita is TOO hot.

Broadway: Drinks and Dancingnashville baby

Most major cities have a main drag… a street lined with restaurants, bars and clubs that serves as a hub for debauchery into the late hours.  Broadway is that street for Nashville.  The fun local twist is the abundance of live music, and if you get there in time, a good number of leather boot stores. And no need to fear, the souvenir shops stay open late. We bounced around the street getting the general feel before settling on The Stage.

img_2653BAR: The Stage

The live music pours out onto the street, so you’ll know what you’re getting before you walk in. The dance floor is large, and there’s second floor balcony in case you want to chill and watch the dancers below. The long bar, and additional small bar across the room, help the crowd get their drinks fairly quickly. It has a strong southern flavor, with a few couples dancing in the center, but mostly caters to a young, party crowd. We had a good time besides the predatory bachelorette party girls.

RESTAURANT: Wild Eggs

333 Union St, Nashville, TN 37201

BRUNCH!!!! Clean, bright, and popular at around 11:30am on Sunday.  All the other places we called had a 30 minute wait, but I don’t think we could have asked for more.  A diverse menu of interesting options at reasonable prices kept me happy.  I had a Florentine Eggs Benedict… nothing unique… but the Grits of the Day was chorizo and green pepper – mind-melting good!

Opryland Resort

2800 Opryland Dr, Nashville, TN 37214

Oh boy. To those outside the country music universe, you may not fully understand what this is… The Grand Ole Opry started as a radio show in 1925 and has grown into country’s most famous stage, featuring classic artists and today’s hottest chart toppers.  The Gaylord Opryland Resort is a massive, nearby hotel/botanical garden/amusement park/convention center hybrid. Essentially, it is a hotel with its inner walls connected, and the massive courtyards they create are covered like a greenhouse. The courtyards include “outdoor” restaurants, tropical plants, winding pathways, a mini-town center, and even a short waterway with a boat ride. It feels a bit like you’re walking through a Southern-themed Disney World. However, with the only ride – the slow-moving boat – being priced between $7-12, don’t think that there is much to do besides observe your surroundings and maybe grab a drink. Not too far from the airport, this may be a fun place to kill sometime on your way home.

**Pro-tip – skip the $23 parking by using the mall parking lot next door. There is a gap in the wall between the mall and the hotel.

Overall, Nashville is a nice stop, but would probably be even more satisfying with someone who lives there or has an inside scoop on what to do when.

Kura: Sushi-palooza 2016

Sushi in NYC

As a part of my job, I was browsing the internet for telegenic chefs.  Time and time again I came across beautifully shot, mouthwatering videos on sushi and the chefs who create it.  The chefs themselves didn’t fit the bill for what I needed, but my understanding and appreciation for sushi grew exponentially.  Then Netflix’s I’ll Have What Phil’s Having‘s Tokyo episode pushed me over the edge.  I needed lovingly crafted, top notch sushi, and I needed it NOW.  Luckily, I’m friends with the amazing writer/food blogger of The Uni Diaries.  A quick text put into motion my Sushi-palooza weekend.  The goal: Have real omakase experiences – one well-known place (even if the price tag reflected it) and one lesser known, reasonably priced restaurant.

Sushi chef

Omakase: Term equivalent to “Chef’s Choice.”   You choose the number of pieces you want to pay for and the chef presents them to you from lightest to heaviest dish.

Kura Restaurant

130 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003

This restaurant was chosen by my lovely guide.  This small, true hole-in-the-wall, 12(ish)-seater restaurant is famous because of the jolly, experienced Norihiro Ishizuka.  Just read the beginning of this review from the NY Times:

Norihiro Ishizuka“At the sushi counter at Kura, there is no sentinel in white; no silent, coolly appraising overlord. Norihiro Ishizuka, 70, stands alone, wearing not a crisp chef’s coat but a samue, traditionally a monk’s work robe, that slouches at his waist like a dressing gown.  He has a benevolent and slightly rakish air, with his faint pencil mustache and white-gray hair peeking out of the bottom of his cap. He nods and grins, already halfway to a laugh, and the meal has not yet begun.”

 

We sat for a 9:45 pm Friday res (the only time available when we looked a week before).  After ordering a carafe of sake, I was ready to go… Clueless and excited, I just waited for the experience to happen.

Salmon Roe, Yam & TunA, squid

I love roe, and it was great safe start.

The grated yam over marinated tuna was sooo delicious.  So much flavor – smoky and rustic.

Plowed through the squid, but not terribly memorable.

Scallops, Fatty Tuna & Snapper

The sea scallops were a silky delight.

This fatty tuna was the first proof that I was at a new level of sushi.  The average sushi eater is used to tuna, but fatty tuna is a whole new thing… a very melt-in-your-mouth bite.

King Salmon, Amberjack & Mackerel

These were all smooth and delicious.  I was thanking the ocean for its bounty with every bite.  The seared mackerel had a crunch and salt that I appreciated after the more subtle salmon and amberjack.

Ark Shell Clam, Shrimp, Live Octopus

The baby shrimp was a visual thrill.  This was certainly something I wouldn’t be able to get just anywhere.

After slicing the octopus, the Chef tapped each piece to prove it was still alive; the white pieces seized up at his touch.

Mentis Shrimp, Tuna & Eel

These three gave a nice range of texture, the ocean eel being a favorite.

Uni!

The uni courses had arrived!  My fellow eater knew exactly what was coming, calling out the Santa Barbara uni vs the Japanese Hokkaido Uni.  Uni is from sea urchin, and many sushi fans have a love/hate reaction to uni’s distinct taste.  If you lose the taste of the ocean, you’ll love uni.  A fan of oysters’ salty-flavor, I’m now a fan of uni’s concentrated burst of ocean.

Fattiest Torched Tuna

The fattiest torched tuna was the crown jewel.  I literally woke thinking about it.  We ordered an additional bite after it was all over, and my friend was in chock that it was even better than the first time around.  What a treat!  This may be what spoils other sushi for me for good.  Mushroom soup finished out the meal.

The overall take way is that omakase is a unique, elevated experience, but with the price coming in at $135 for 18 pieces, it’s a treat.  A bucket list item, every penny was worth it.  Thanks to my friend’s dedication to sushi photography, I won’t forget a single course.  The plan for tonight is Sushi Yasaka, a cheaper omakase experience.  The goal is to compare the two to get an idea of the spectrum.    Looking forward to it!