Monday, July 25, 2011

Traveling to Four Countries in a Weekend

Four countries in forty-eight hours? We did it this past weekend without getting on a plane.  We had a foodie vacation that took us to Thailand, Mexico, India, and Turkey plus a stop in the 1920s and in Ohio to boot!  Here’s our itinerary to travel throughout the world (and time) by eating our way through Nashville.

Stop 1: Thailand

The Smiling Elephant has been getting great reviews since it opened, and we were jonesing for some good Thai food.  That’s a component that is lacking in Nashville; very few Thai places around here are any good.  The Smiling Elephant puts them all to shame.  We started with the chicken dumplings. They had a nice hit of garlic, and you can taste a hint of the olive oil that it is cooked in. They came out so piping hot that I drank about half my iced lemongrass tea before they were non scalding.  Once they cooled down though, they were great!  The wrapper isn’t rubbery or slimy from over cooking, and the chicken was moist and tender.

For our entrees, my man got the green curry with chicken, and I got the pad koonsen noodles with chicken.  WE each ordered our dished with medium heat. Good God, the portions are large especially for the price! I made my way through 3/4 of my thin rice vermicelli cooked in a spicy, sweet sauce with minced chicken, cilantro, broccoli (which was promptly picked out and passed over to curry man), napa cabbage, snap peas, and carrots.  The veggies were fresh and still crunchy like a true stir fry.  The curry packed more heat than the noodles, and they weren’t kidding about it being green. The sauce included spinach, cilantro, and some more green veggies to keep with the theme.

My advice is to go off peak dining hours or you will find yourself waiting for a table.  The dining room seats maybe 25 max, but once you are seated, the food is freshly cooked to order and comes out quickly but not instantly.  We will definitely return for our Thai fix.  Our drink, appetizer, and two entrees clocked in under $30 with tax.

The Smiling Elephant on Urbanspoon

Stop 2: Mexico

We were pretty full from our Thai dinner, but we both had a craving for something sweet so we headed over to 12 South for Las Paletas.  Paletas are Mexican popsicles that come in creamy or fruity flavors since as avocado, spicy chocolate, lime, and hibiscus.  My man got the creamy berry while I got the creamy chai.    The chai was like having the drink frozen; it captured all of the flavors from black tea to clove to cinnamon to the sweetness from the added milk.  They are cash only, and they come in at $2.50 a pop.  They do have certain popular flavors available at Whole Foods in Green Hills and at Hot & Cold in Hillsboro Village.

Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles on Urbanspoon

Stop 3: India

On Saturday, we stopped by the Nashville Farmers Market to pick up some produce and to peruse the offerings of the “food court” in the middle building. Originally, we were going to try the Jamaican spot after seeing it on Food Network, but it is closed on Saturday so we went to Swagruha.  For $6.95, you get a huge pile of either veggie or chicken rice, 1 meat, 1 veggie, 3 pieces of naan, and some raita.  I ordered the amazing butter chicken, veggie rice, chickpea curry, and a sample of the chili chicken.  My man got the veggie rice, goat and lamb curry, and chickpea curry.

He absolutely decimated his meal, though the goat and lamb curry packed more heat than he expected.  I had only had breakfast 2 hours earlier, but I put a good dent into my ginormous serving.  The butter chicken is so tender that it falls apart , and the rice has a nice spice without being oily or salty.  The chana masala was a bit more tomato-y in this batch than in the week prior, but it was still pretty tasty.  The chili chicken was super spicy, but the heat paired well with the raita. I couldn’t eat a whole portion, but I might keep getting a taste of it with my order. In fact, if you just want a taste of everything, they can do that at no extra charge.

Swagruha Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Stop 4: 1920s and Ohio

After some major gluttony in India, we were only a little peckish 6 hours later. Combined with the stifling heat, we agreed that something light with a good drink were all we needed.  Holland House was the perfect place to fill both cravings.  We ordered a spinach salad with strawberries, red onions, and candied pecans and the local cheese plate with Clingman’s Tomme, Rupert, and Manchego-style cheese. The plate came with almonds, candied pecans, honey, and olive oil brushed crostini.  The Tomme had a Gouda-like texture but had a very neutral, sweet taste. The Rupert is a hard, cow’s milk cheese that reminded me of what Parmesan must be like before it is fully aged. It has a bite, but it’s softer than a Parmesan.  My man didn’t like the bite of this one so he stuck to the other two. The Manchego one was everything I love about my favorite Spanish cheese: nutty, sweet, perfect with some honey and something salty.  He washed it all down with an Abbey high gravity beer, and I had a Gin Gin Mule. Ginger plus gin = match in heaven.

Afterwards, it was still a bit toasty so we headed to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream for our sweet teeth.  Nashville is home to the only Jeni’s Ice Cream outpost outside of Ohio, and you can see how Ohio has influenced some of the signature flavors. The Wildberry Lavender called my name, and my man, ever the adventurous ice cream eater, got the Ugandan Vanilla Bean.  I’ll give him credit for a gourmet vanilla.  The Wildberry Lavender had the sweet-tartness of blueberries and raspberries before you got the lavender smoothness in the finishing taste.  I loved the smooth texture, it was almost like gelato with just a touch less sugar.  Don’t feel like going to East Nashville? Hot & Cold in Hillsboro Village scoops out a few of her flavors.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams on Urbanspoon

Stop 5: Turkey

Okay, I cannot shut up about our upcoming trip to Istanbul.  After watching Anthony Bourdain wax poetic about the gorgeousness of Turkish pizza, we had to find a local offering to try.  Anatolia Turkish Restaurant (on White Bridge near the Stein Mart) serves Turkish pizza on Thursday and Sunday only. So after church, we decided to take advantage of the rare availability.  The crust is thin but not cracker-like. Rather, it is like a cross between a chapati and a crepe.  Add flaky ground lamb and spices then bake. Sounds simple, but the lamb is really good quality and doesn’t have the weird texture of ground meat. It’s more like tiny shavings of meat than hamburger.  It is served with lemon wedges, sliced tomatoes, and parsley.  We spritzed away with our lemons and cut manageable pieces to roll up burrito style.  My man added the tomatoes and the veggies from our shepherd salad, but I kept mine simple with just lemon and parsley.  The pizza is pretty manageable, I’d say it was 14 inches at the most.  But the lightness and the fact it was so flavorful for such a simple dish is what made it amazing.

We were stuffed afterwards, but if you manage to save some room, order the kunefe for dessert. It is big enough to be shared by four people, and it is basically baklava with crispy noodle shaped pastry instead of phyllo layers plus the addition of pistachio on top.  I box it up and eat the rest for breakfast during the week.

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant on Urbanspoon

That, my friends, is how we globetrotted this past weekend.  It definitely whetted our travel appetite, and it was a great way to experience all that Nashville has to offer on the foodie front.

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8 Responses to “Traveling to Four Countries in a Weekend”

  1. 1

    lorna - the roamantics — July 25, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

    yay for adventures in stillness (sort of!) and don't you just love that those options exist for you? love it.:)

  2. 2

    ehalvey — July 25, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

    I love that: "adventures in stillness"! I love uncovering what my city has to offer before I move on to other places, plus now I'm motivated to do some detective work for our Istanbul trip. I want to have as much as an awesome foodie adventure that I had at home.

  3. 3

    amy @ fearless homemaker — July 26, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    such a cool post! i've been to all of the places you mentioned except smiling elephant, which is high on my to-try list. you were right down the road from us at jeni's – we just live less than a 5-minute walk away. =)

  4. 4

    ehalvey — July 26, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

    Thanks, Amy! The Smiling Elephant is to die for! Oh, if I lived 5 minutes from Jeni's, I would have a serious ice cream problem.

  5. 5

    Kira — July 27, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

    All of those are definitely some of my favorite places, though I haven't tried Jeni's yet. I really love the complexity of flavors that Smiling Elephant offers vs. other Thai places in town. Great post!

  6. 6

    ehalvey — July 27, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    Thanks Kira! Yeah, you can really taste the difference at Smiling Elephant. It tastes fresh, sweet, savory, and spicy whereas most Thai spots in Nashville just taste like the main component of the sauce. Like one note, super peanutty pad thai, blech.

  7. 7

    Ayngelina — July 30, 2011 @ 12:20 am

    When I read this headline I was quickly trying to thing of where you went! But I too love that you can have this kind of adventure in your own city.

  8. 8

    ehalvey — July 30, 2011 @ 1:30 am

    It's a great way to pacify the travel bug when you can't take a quick trip. Actually, it was quite nice because we didn't really do much besides eat that weekend, kind of like a vacation.

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