We were having dinner one night at home and started talking about our travel credits due to cancelled trips from the pandemic. We jokingly said we should use our credit to go to San Francisco for a night and have dinner at Atelier Crenn to celebrate our anniversaries. The joke kept going for several weeks until we started looking at flights and realized that we could actually pull this trip off. We were waiting by our computers for reservations to open on Tock, and just like that, our anniversary dinner dreams came true.
Atelier Crenn had been on our bucket list for a long time now thanks to an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix. Dominique Crenn is the first woman chef in the United States to receive three Michelin stars, and we were insanely excited to finally try out her menu. We arrived at Atelier Crenn for our reservation at 6:00 PM. The outside of the restaurant is very understated and almost unnoticeable with the other bright and loud restaurants near by. We made sure to take our obligatory “we are at a 3 star Michelin restaurant” photo before we headed in for dinner.
We were greeted by a host who knew exactly who we were before we said a word. He welcomed us to the restaurant and we were seated immediately. The restaurant itself is simple but special in décor. All of the art was made by Chef Crenn’s father. If you have watched the Chef’s Table episode on her, you will know how important and special her relationship was with her dad which is reflected all throughout the restaurant. We kicked off our dinner with a champagne toast (thank you mom and dad!) and were taken through the most amazing 15 course dinner.
Atelier Crenn’s menu is always presented by way of poem leaving both a whimsical and mysterious nature to the dinner. The menu is now fully pescatarian, a change they informed us was implemented within the past few years in an effort to be more sustainable. Chef Crenn draws influences from her home in France and the bay area, weaving a delicious menu combined with traditional French techniques and modern coastal cuisine. Many of the ingredients are sourced from the restaurant’s farm upstate in the Napa Valley. We enjoyed dishes like geoduck clam, abalone with cabbage, trout mousse, and a playful spin on “oysters and rose”. We ate the most beautiful tomato dish comprised of 6+ types of tomatoes and were beyond indulged by a seasonal white truffle course that was irresistible. We don’t like to spoil the experience by sharing what each dish was but can tell you that between the four of us, we each walked away with different favorite dishes because everything was just that creative and memorable.
10/10 we would recommend this unique experience to anyone who finds themselves (or purposely goes out of their way) to be in San Francisco. It was such a special and memorable way to celebrate our anniversaries together and cross another Michelin starred restaurant off our never ending dining bucket list.
We decided to splurge for our anniversaries this year and treat ourselves to dinner at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. With busy schedules to consider, we ended up booking flights to have just about 24 hours in San Francisco before we needed to get back home to Denver. We were not going to let any of those hours go to waste, and set upon making a Google Map of all of the restaurants we were hoping to hit during our day in the city. We will give a play-by-play of everything we ate in 24 hours so that if you happen to have a quick stop in San Francisco you can retrace our footsteps.
Stop #1: Breakfast & Irish Coffees at Buena Vista
The Buena Vista is a restaurant located near Fisherman’s Wharf that has been around since the early 1900s. They are credited with making Irish coffees a world famous beverage and have been in institution for over 100 years. We started our morning with a round of Irish Coffees and some breakfast essentials to fuel us for walking around the pier.
Stop #2: Chowder In A Bread Bowl
After walking through Ghirardelli Square and down Fisherman’s Wharf we stopped for a quintessential San Francisco dish, clam chowder in a bread bowl. We went to Boudin Bakery, which is a little bit touristy down by the wharf but an excellent choice for getting in and out without having to commit to a sit down meal. Their sourdough is top notch and they have lots of outdoor seating to enjoy the pier.
Stop #3: Caffe Trieste
We walked from Fisherman’s Wharf back to our hotel, which was located closer to the Theater District area of town. On the way back down Columbus Ave you’ll start to see red, white, and green flags on all of the poles, showing that you have clearly stepped into Little Italy. There are dozens upon dozens of restaurants to chose from along this walk, but we settled for an afternoon pick me up iced cappuccino at Caffe Trieste. It is a cute little mom and pop shop that has been open since 1956. They also have lots of outdoor seating to sit and enjoy a coffee before continuing the food adventures.
Stop #4: Dim Sum in Chinatown
No stop to San Fran is complete without some dim sum from Chinatown. We could have spent the entire day sampling dumplings and noodles from various restaurants around Chinatown, but due to our limited eating window we settled for getting dim sum at just one place: Yank Sing. We sat down at a table and ordered potstickers, xiao long bao, and sticky green beans. The XLBs were some of the best we have ever had and we only wish that could have ordered significantly more of the menu to sample!
Stop #5: Dinner at Atelier Crenn
Dinner at Atelier Crenn was our primary reason for going on this trip to San Francisco and it did not disappoint! Dominique Crenn is the first woman chef in the United States to win 3 Michelin stars. Her menu is inspired by the similarities of her hometown of Brittany, France and San Francisco. The menu consisted of 15 courses of fresh, coastal seafood with many ingredients grown on their their farm further upstate. We will keep the details brief in this post as we will have a full rundown of our experience on a post later in the week. Spoiler alert: it. was. amazing.
Stop #6: Breakfast at Tartine Bakery
Is it possible to be hungry for breakfast after 15 courses of fine dining the night before? Yes, it turns out. We believe that no trip to San Francisco is complete without a trip to Tartine Bakery, even if that means waiting in line for pastries at 8 am after a big night out. The smell of buttery croissants while you wait makes the minutes standing in line worth it. If you go to Tartine croissants are a must. We ordered a pain au chocolate, ham and cheese, and almond croissant as well as a gougere and croque monsieur. The mix of sweet and savory was just what we needed before heading out to the airport and back to Colorado.
We lived in Nashville while Ryan played baseball for the Sounds in 2017 and loved every minute of it. Since living there, we are often asked for recommendations about where to eat and what to do when friends and family have visited for a weekend. We went back a few weeks ago for baseball and got to familiarize ourselves with what has changed in the last few years. With this new information we were inspired to write our list of recommendations once and for all! Without further delay, here is everything you should know about planning your trip to spend two jam packed days in Music City.
Nashville City Neighborhoods
If we have one complaint about Nashville, it is that it isn’t the most walkable city. There are cute neighborhoods and pockets throughout the city, but getting from A to B on foot isn’t always easy or convenient if you are short on time. When planning out an itinerary, it’s important to note which neighborhoods you plan to go to so that you aren’t going back and forth and spending more time transporting than you are actually experiencing the city. Here is a map courtesy of Nashville Guru so that you can familiarize yourself with Nashville’s neighborhoods.
Day 1 – Welcome to Music City!
Most people that we know are headed to Nashville for some version of a bachelorette party or friends getaway. If dancing, music, and drinks are your thing, you’ll want to stay as close to the bars downtown on Broadway as you can. If you are looking for a weekend that is a little more low key, try to find a place to stay in Germantown, 12 South, or near the Vanderbilt campus. When introducing anyone to Nashville, we like to start with a morning of shopping and eating in The Gulch followed by a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Gulch has plenty of breakfast options – Milk & Honey and Biscuit Love are our favorites – along with stores for window shopping. The lines at both of these restaurants can be insane so make sure you get to them early in the day (ideally before 10 am). While you’re waiting in line make sure you take a picture in front of the famous angel wings. From The Gulch it is an easy walk to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Hall has a number of rotating exhibits and has a little something for anyone that loves country music.
From there take a quick walk to Assembly Food Hall, which is a newer eating establishment right downtown and something that was desperately needed for foodies near Broadway. They have two of our favorite hot chicken spots – Hattie B’s and Prince’s – as well as a dozen other food stalls. There is everything from donuts to Thai, Indian to pizza, and sushi to cheeseburgers. If you’re traveling with a group and can’t narrow in on a cuisine, this is definitely the place for you. They also have live music going most of the day and night, which is one of our favorite things about living in Nashville. There is a lot to see in this area, including the Ryman Auditorium and the Gibson Garage, for any guitar buffs.
For those looking to continue walking around and exploring the city, hop in an Uber and head to 12 South. There you will find a number of cute stores including Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James and imogene + willie. There are a bunch of restaurants on this street as well, including Bar Taco and Epice, which is a delish Lebanese restaurant. If you need an afternoon sweet treat stop at Five Daughters Bakery or the famous Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Music lovers can also visit the Gruhn guitar showroom just a few blocks away.
A Little Ditty About East Nashville
East Nashville is not one of the areas we would recommend you spend a ton of time, particularly during a quick weekend trip. There isn’t much to do there in terms of tourist attractions, however, you will find some of the best restaurants in the city in this neighborhood. If you are like us and pretty much plan every meal on vacation before you’ve even booked your flights, then this is a neighborhood you need Uber over to. Most restaurants are on Main Street, Gallatin Ave, or the intersection of the two. Grab a coffee and giant slice of coffee cake at Slow Hand Coffee + Bakeshop, brisket tacos at Red Headed Stranger, and dinner at Pelican & Pig, our favorite restaurant in all of Nashville. If you’re still hungry for more, Butcher & Bee is an excellent Mediterranean spot for dinner or weekend brunch.
Wild Nights In Nashville
Almost anyone we know visiting Nashville wants to check out the bars and night life on Broadway. Walking along the bars on Broadway can feel like walking the streets of Vegas. Bars have live music most hours of the day and there is an atmosphere for any type of bar goer. We particularly like to go to the bars that have rooftop options, and luckily most places there have them. If you’re looking for traditional country music check out The Stage and Tootsies. If country isn’t your thing head towards the rooftop at The Valentine or FGL House, which plays a nice mix of many types of music. During the day we like the live music at Assembly Food Hall and ACME Feed and Seed, a smaller food hall that also has fun weekend events like rooftop yoga and boozy jazz brunches.
Day 2 – A Grand Ole Day in Nashville
Country music fans will know that Nashville is home to the Grand Ole Opry. Opryland is about 10-15 minutes outside of the city, but well worth a visit if it’s your thing and you have a half day available. The official tour of the is well worth booking and a great look into the history of the Opry. You get to see the main theater and each of the themed dressing rooms backstage. If you book a show there, you never know what famous artist might show up for a surprise performance! The Opryland Resort is very Disneyesque and worth walking around as well. They have immaculately manicured gardens, restaurants, and a huge mall to check out while you are there.
Sports! Go Sports!
For travelers that would rather be in the city, make sure you check out some of the athletic events happening around the city. Between the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators, the Vanderbilt teams, and our beloved Nashville Sounds, there is almost always a team to root for year round. The Nashville Sounds play in Germantown, and in addition to a great stadium there is also a sports bar in the outfield from which you can watch the game and anything else on TV. Our favorite type of multitasking.
Our Favorite Restaurants, By Neighborhood
You know that eating is by far our favorite activity on any vacation, and usually the driving force behind our trip planning. Below we are highlighting all of our favorite restaurants by neighborhood so that you always have a recommendation no matter where you find yourself in the city.
Henrietta Red – oyster bar with a farm fresh feeling menu. Great for dinner or brunch. Reservations recommended.
Butchertown Hall – Tex-Mex and bbq vibes. They have a great food and drink happy hour!
City House – a little Italian, a little southern. Reservations recommended.
Rolf & Daughters – modern American with Italian highlights. We still talk about the squid ink pasta from four years ago.
Milk & Honey – great coffee and breakfast shop. Arrive early to avoid the lines!
Biscuit Love – another classic for breakfast. Arrive early and order the bonuts.
Chauhan Ale & Masala House – Indian inspired brunch and dinner.
LA Jackson – rooftop bar at The Thompson Hotel. Our favorite spot to start off a good night.
Broadway & SoBro
Assembly Food Hall – a little bit of everything, Prince’s Hot Chicken & Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in particular
Sixty Vines – wine bar on the upper floor of Assembly. Reservations recommended, great for brunch.
Husk – Sean Brock’s flagship restaurant for all of your southern favorites.
Peg Leg Porker – classic, delish bbq.
Pinewood Social – bowling alley meets summertime pool spot meets a weekday lunch or weekend brunch.
Five Daughters Bakery – donuts and cronuts…. need we say more?
Bar Taco – one of the only chains on our list but a great spot for a margarita and tacos.
Edley’s Bar-B-Que – another great bbq spot across town.
Epice – really delish Lebanese food for when you’re over hot chicken.
Slow Hand Coffee & Bakeshop – biased because Jamie worked here; not biased because the cream cheese sugar cookies will change your life.
Red Headed Stranger – the brisket tacos are a must… you won’t be disappointed.
Two Ten Jack – ramen and izakaya dishes. One of the only restaurants we ate at in Nashville twice.
Butcher & Bee – great Mediterranean for dinner or weekend brunch. Reservations recommended.
Pelican & Pig – our fave restaurant in Nashville! Order the ribeye and lots of vegetable side dishes.
We have moved to a lot of new cities for baseball season over the past few years; probably 8 in the last 5 years alone. Moving to a new city is both exciting and a little overwhelming, so we try and get our boots on the ground and familiarize ourselves with the city and neighborhoods as quickly as we can. One of the ways that Jamie does this is her famous “restaurant list”. Whenever we go to a new city (be it for a baseball move or a vacation), Jamie gathers some internet intel to create a list of restaurants we need to try while we are visiting. When we got to Columbus, Ohio this year for baseball and began digging around for research, we realized that the work had already been done for us. The Experience Columbus visitor’s bureau has two maps to help explore the city: The Columbus Coffee Experience and the Columbus Ale Trail. You can go to each of the locations on the two maps and get a stamp after visiting. This concept is a dream come true for type A foodies like we are. Not only have we expanded our exploration of Columbus well beyond what we would normally explore in a baseball season but we have been able to support a number of local restaurants in the process.
So let’s talk coffee. There are about two dozen coffee shops on the Coffee Experience map. We were glad to see that most of the shops have survived Covid shutdowns, but there are a few changes as to what is open with the current map. You can pick up the map in any of the shops participating and start your coffee experience. Rather than go through each of the shops one by one, we wanted to highlight our favorite shops and add a few more that deserve a spot on the map.
Judging the best coffee out of over 40 coffees is a difficult task. Some people like a straight forward beverage, and others (looking at you Ryan) like to order the coffee that most resembles dessert. Keeping those extremes in mind, here are the standout beverages we had along the way:
Winan’s – peaches and cream breve latte
Bexley Coffee Shop – strawberry latte
Roaming Goat Coffee – perfect cappuccino
Crimson Cup – french toast crunch latte
Brioso – their shop is closed for beverages, but their coffee beans were the best we purchased
While food isn’t a requirement for a “coffee experience”, we are not ones to turn down a good breakfast to pair with our morning caffeine. For the sake of research we ate more muffins, breakfast sandwiches, and pastries than we care to admit. Here were our favorites:
Fox in the Snow – hands down one of the best breakfast sandwiches in Columbus. The food is so good we went there twice! The pastries are also incredible if you are in the mood for something sweet.
Pistacia Vera – lots of traditional French breakfast items. The almond croissant is still discussed regularly as one of the best things we have eaten in Columbus. The croque monsieur and smoked salmon sandwich are perfect for a heartier, savory option.
Coffee Connections of Hilliard – maple waffle breakfast sandwich. It’s a little sweet, a little savory… the perfect start to any morning.
The Brekkie Shack – this shop is not on the coffee experience map, but is one of our favorite stops for breakfast and had to be added to our recommendations. The “all the feels egg sandwich” gives us exactly that, with an unusual combo of egg, bacon, cheddar, and crispy brussels sprouts.
Boston Stoker – after accompanying us to about two dozen coffee shops, Tuck thinks that this is the standout shop for furry friends. Their pup cup was his favorite!
Most of the time we are grabbing coffee on the run, but every once in a while we want to relax and enjoy the morning. These shops had our favorite places to enjoy our coffees or have such a cute storefront that we would want to bring visitors just to experience the vibes of the place.
Kittie’s Cakes Bexley – we love the patio at Kittie’s and the cute bookstore they share a space with. Kittie’s was also the only shop that made Jamie’s favorite drink (an iced cappuccino) so they earn bonus points for that alone. The neighborhood is great for a stroll, which is exactly what we did after downing a cinnamon roll and cappuccinos.
Luck Bros’ Coffee House – another shop that is not on the coffee experience map but is a great experience in Columbus. They are in Grandview Heights right across the street from a cute park and have a good sized patio to enjoy your coffee. Pre-covid they offered a coffee tasting flight, and we hope they bring that back soon.
Pistacia Vera – we already mentioned them before, but the aesthetic of this shop is Jamie’s favorite. They sell gorgeous flowers and have an open atmosphere that makes them stand out on the list. They do not offer seating post-Covid, but we were recommended to take our food and drinks to Frank Fetch Park a few blocks away. This little tiny park might be the cutest spot in German Village, and perhaps all of Columbus.
Stauf’s Victorian Village – there are quite a few Stauf’s shops on the coffee experience, but the Victorian Village location is definitely the standout. The shop is located in an old church and they did a great job of modernizing the space while keeping true to the building’s roots. They have a good sized shaded patio that is perfect for enjoying your morning coffee.
We have planned two trips to Napa in the last few years, and for both trips, we have centered our plans around a fancy dinner. For our first trip in 2017, we had dinner at The French Laundry; a bucket list dining destination in Yountville for any foodie. For our trip this year, our original plans were unfortunately disrupted by the California fires. As people who travel to eat, we felt lucky to steal a reservation at La Toque – a Michelin star restaurant located in the Westin Hotel in downtown Napa. La Toque, run by chef Ken Frank, has earned a Michelin star every single year that Michelin has awarded stars in wine country and from our experience, rightfully so.
Fine Dining During Covid:Before we dive into the details of our meal, we wanted to give a quick update for how dinner went during COVID. Some people might think that sitting down for a multi-course, three hour dinner is crazy during a pandemic, but we felt La Toque went above and beyond to ensure the safety of their staff and diners. We were asked to fill out a contact form and our temperatures were taken upon arrival. We were asked to wear masks until our orders had been placed, and after that we were free to enjoy our dinner! The staff was seamless in their efforts for safety and we were in great hands to celebrate our vacation together.
Making A Reservation: Reservations for La Toque can be made on Tock. At the time of making your reservation you can choose between the tasting menu or the a la carte menu. We opted for the 6 course tasting menu but did not choose to do the wine pairing. Due to our busy day of visiting local wineries we went for cocktails and glasses of wine. The restaurant has over 2000 bottles in their cellar and the extensive menu is presented via iPad. Out of all the fancy dinners we have been to, the wine list was very reasonably priced and there were plenty of options for people who weren’t looking to spend tons of money on alcohol.
We were offered two amuse bouches to start our meal. Our first bite was a brunoise of fresh garden vegetables and our second bite was a mussel with chorizo.
First Course – Puffed Rice Bowl with Dungeness Crab.
A few of us left dinner with this as our favorite dish. The beautifully served bowl felt like everything you wish a poke bowl could accomplish but never quite does. A perfect bite of soft crab paired with an Asian infused sauce atop the crunch of puffed rice.
Second Course – John Dory with Artichoke Puree.
An absolutely delectable bit of pan seared John Dory with a rich and unctuous artichoke puree. This is the preparation for fish that we always strive to create at home, but never quite achieve. This was the other favorite dish in our group.
Third Course – Fresh Spaghetti with Roasted Sunchoke and Fresh Burgundy Truffle.
The truffle dish of everyone’s dreams. Creamy, rich, homemade spaghetti topped with an embarrassing amount of freshly shaved truffles. This is the course that always makes us feel like we are at a really special dinner.
4th Course – Veal Variations.
Three preparations of veal; braised, roasted, and seared accompanied by a bean and carrot stew.
5th Course – Choice of Cheeses or Dessert.
We had a lot of fun with this course since we could pick and choose our own adventure. Calli and Jamie opted for the cheese course and the boys chose dessert. Our waiter helped us navigate the 8+ offered cheeses based on our preferences of texture and funk. Jamie was a bit more adventurous and went with two pungent options while Calli went for milder cheese, and were both very happy with our selections. The cheeses were presented on a personal cheese board with fresh bread, fruit, fig jam, and roasted almonds. The boys both chose the milk chocolate creme brulee and were very happy with their sweet selection.
6th Course – Six Textures of Chocolate. As we were getting full we thought “there’s no way we can eat more”, but as this final course came to the table we knew we were willing to make more room. A playful presentation of chocolates on a dish that was shaped like a painter’s palate. The palate included a traditional chocolate truffle, chocolate brittle, hazelnut biscotti, pate de fruit sweetened with cocoa sugar, a chocolate curry truffle, and last but not least, a miniature pumpkin white chocolate latte. The desserts were small and decadent; the most luxurious way to end a delicious dinner.
Overall Experience: Dining at La Toque was the perfect way to say “thank you” to Calli and Kidd for extending their home for almost four months. The food and service were great and the meal felt special. We highly recommend La Toque to anyone visiting Napa – it is a great way to experience multi-course fine dining without the heavy price tag that comes with eating at The French Laundry. The staff went out of their way to ensure a safe dining environment and we will be thinking about the food for a long time to come.
If you follow us on Instagram you know we just spent the weekend in Napa. During the peak of the pandemic, Jamie and Ryan temporarily moved in with Calli and Kidd. What we thought would be a two week stay ended up being SIXTEEN WEEKS of living together under one roof! To say thank you, Jamie and Ryan treated everyone to a special weekend in Napa. One of the ways we all maintained our sanity was wine, so this felt like an appropriate way to celebrate. Despite the California fires and COVID cases on the rise, we had a safe, fun, and healthy trip!
If you are planning a trip to Napa, you likely have eating and drinking on your mind. With hundreds of wineries and restaurants in the region, your options for a weekend trip are endless; the difficulty in planning the trip is choosing where to go. One of our strategies for creating a weekend itinerary was intersperse eating and drinking with other outdoorsy activities like hiking and biking. We went to Napa October 22-25th and the weather was perfect for moving around outside. Adding these to the agenda helped break up the drinking and allowed us to see wine country in a new way.
French Laundry, Bouchon Bakery, La Toque, Restaurant at the Meadowood, Oxbow Market, Gotts Roadside, Girl and the Fig
Activites / Things To Do
Riding bikes from Napa to Yountville, Hiking, Wine tastings
Planning Out Where To Drink
There is so much to see in Napa and the surrounding wine towns, it is hard to know where to start when it comes to planning out winery visits. Reservations are required at most wineries and restaurants with the exception of bakeries and coffee shops. Reservations are limited and fill up quickly, so much so, that you won’t be able to get same-day reservations at most wineries on weekend days and are unlikely to get them even 48 hours in advance for a Friday or Saturday. Trip planning is essential but can be really helpful in mapping out where to go and what to see on vacation.
During our first trip to the Napa region in the fall of 2017, we spent most of our time in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. This trip we wanted to focus our time on Yountville, Napa, and a little bit of Sonoma. Although the towns look relatively close on a map, driving to each town takes longer than you think it will. We suggest sticking in an area for at least half a day to make sure you aren’t spending the majority of your trip in the car. There are so many vineyards and wineries that it is nearly impossible to narrow down where to go unless you have suggestions from friends. Our best advice is to focus on what type of wines you prefer to drink and choose wineries that way. We don’t love chardonnays, so we try to avoid wineries and tastings that focus only on that type of wine. We also try to do a mix of larger and smaller wineries – some of the smaller brands give some of the best tasting experiences and are often the places that we bring home bottles of wine for later. The larger wineries offer breathtaking views and often have the most Instagram worthy picture opportunities. During our two trips thus far, here are some of our favorite wine experiences:
Priest Ranch (Yountville) – the tasting room for Priest Ranch is right in downtown Yountville, so you won’t get the vineyards and rolling hills for views. You will, however, get a relaxed tasting and some of the best wines we had on our trip. The Double Barrel, Malbec, and Block 72 were some of our favorites. They have cheese boards if you are in the mood for a snack, otherwise Bouchon Bakery is right down the street.
BR Cohn (Sonoma) – Calli is a member of this winery and they have a large variety of wines to sip on during a tasting. On the weekends they have a pizza food truck roll in, so you can sip and graze all afternoon long. We love their cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and their sauvignon blanc. They also sell olive oils, which make a great gift to bring home to loved ones!
Hanzell (Sonoma) – a great winery in the hilltops of Sonoma. Of all of our wine stops on our first trip to Napa, this is the vineyard we took home the most bottles from. Their chardonnays were some of the few we really liked during our first trip and the tour of the grounds and wine making process was also very entertaining.
Ram’s Gate Winery (Sonoma) – this was one of our favorite experiences from our first trip to Napa. We did the wine and food pairing- a multi-course lunch that had excellent food. The decoration and setup of the vineyard are spectacular.
Passalacqua Vineyards (Healdsburg) – one of our favorite stops on our first trip to wine country. If you find yourself in Healdsburg and like a good zinfandel, this is your spot!
Pro Tip: If you plan to bring wine home, most wineries will cover the cost of your tasting if you purchase 2 or 3 bottles. They will usually ship larger orders as well, which will help you travel home as lightly as you came!
Planning Out Where To Eat
If you’re going to Napa you are likely planning on doing some great eating while you are there. There are tons of “food and wine” experiences to be had at the vineyards in the region, but some of the best restaurants in the world are also located in wine country. During our two trips we have visited some of the best of the best, and here are our recommendations:
Brunches & Lunches:
Bouchon Bakery – Thomas Keller’s traditional French bakery, located in Yountville. Stop here for a coffee and pastries as a warm up for wine tastings.
Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company- a great local coffee shop serving up all our caffeine favorites.
Model Bakery – another great bakery located in the Oxbow Market. We stuffed ourselves silly with scones, croissants, and danishes and we have no regrets.
Bounty Hunter – excellent barbecue in Napa with views right on the river. They also have a great whiskey list and beer flights for those of you looking for a break from the wine.
Gott’s Roadside- great burgers and fries for a more casual lunch or dinner.
Oxbow Market- a great food market with everything from coffee to oysters, sushi to empanadas. The perfect stop for a group that can’t narrow down on what they want to eat.
If fine dining is in your itinerary, be sure to check the reservation policy for each reservation. Most Michelin restaurants take reservations only 30 – 60 days in advance and are booked full the day reservations open.
The French Laundry – if you are a foodie, you know of Thomas Keller’s institution for fine dining. Located in Yountville, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can we only hope to enjoy for a second time in the future. The service, food, and overall experience are second to none.
La Toque – another Michelin ranked restaurant located in the Westin Hotel in Napa. This is everything you want about fine dining with a bit of a smaller price tag than The French Laundry.
Restaurant at the Meadowood- the restaurant we were supposed to visit in St Helena this trip. Unfortunately it was one of the buildings lost in the California fires. We look forward to their reopening and cannot wait to eat here once they are back on their feet!
Our Suggested Two Day Napa & Sonoma Itinerary
Day 1: Explore Sonoma. Start with a quick breakfast in town. Enjoy a leisurely, food and wine filled lunch at Ram’s Gate Winery before making your way back into town. Enjoy some of the wineries in Sonoma (our favorites are Hanzell and BR Cohn). Have a delicious dinner at Girl and the Fig.
Day 2: Explore Napa and Yountville. Rent bikes from Napa Valley Velo and ride on the Vine Trail from Napa to Yountville. Enjoy breakfast at Bouchon Bakery and a wine tasting in Yountville (we recommend Priest Ranch). Make your way back to Napa (there are plenty of wineries on the path between) and stave off your hunger with a hearty lunch at Bounty Hunter. Stop by another tasting room in downtown Napa before some downtime. Have a fancy dinner at La Toque, The French Laundry, or any of the highly rated restaurants in the area.
A brief summary of how Tuck’s parents plan their winter vacation: Step 1: San Pellegrino updates their 50 Best Restaurant List. Tuck’s mom then reviews which of those restaurants have an episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Last February she found one about was Chef Gaggan Anand and his progressive, avant-guard restaurant, Gaggan, in Bangkok. It was ranked 4th in the world by San Pellegrino. Step 2: Tuck’s mom requests a reservation at said restaurant for sometime during the baseball offseason and starts praying to the food gods that they get in. Step 3: Tuck’s mom and dad “coincidentally” watch the same episode on Chef’s Table. Step 4: Tuck’s dad really wants to go! “How amazing does that look?!” he usually says. Step 5: Tuck’s mom magically has a reservation and has already booked plane flights to eat at said restaurant.
The Story: The story above pretty much summarizes how we booked our trip to Thailand. It may seem absolutely absurd to most people to plan an entire trip around the world for one dinner, but food is our favorite hobby (hello, food blog). If said hobby happens to take us somewhere new and exciting, even better. Chef Gaggan has become famous for his “rebel” attitude when it comes to fine dining; he brings to the table a completely new approach to haute-cuisine. Eating a meal at Gaggan Anand gives you all of the taste, flavor, and surprise of the elite fine dining experience with absolutely none of the pretension that usually comes with. You are supposed to let loose and sing along while you enjoy a 25 course dinner. It was truly one of the most incredible dining experiences we have ever had.
The Reservation: This part of the experience is the only aspect that was a little stressful and less traditional than other dining experiences we have encountered. You can submit for a reservation via their website for any particular day- to our knowledge there is no length of time too far away. If you are dying to go here and traveling to Bangkok we would recommend submitting requests for each day that you are available to go. There is nowhere on the form to submit for multiple days, and if the one day you request is not available you aren’t given any alternatives. It can take between two or three weeks to get a response, so don’t bother refreshing your email every 30 seconds like we did in the days that follow your reservation request. There are two options for seating at Gaggan Anand and you have to request which of the seating options you want at the time of your submission: “Arena G” is the regular restaurant with 4 (ish) seating times. “The G Spot” is a community table with a single seating each night. The menu is the exact same as Arena G but the alcohol pairing is included with this seating and you have significantly more interaction with the chefs while you eat. At the time of our reservation, reservations for Arena G were about $300 per person (no alcohol) and $600 per person (with alcohol). We opted for Arena G and had a table for two at 9:30 pm. Here is where the reservation process gets a little tricky- once you receive an email that you have received a reservation, you have to pay the full price of the meal via Pay Pal and send them a copy of your receipt. You’re hit with a 5% Pay Pal fee which kind of stinks on a $600 tab, but otherwise it all worked out okay. They will email you once they have received your Pay Pal payment and you are all set to dine at Gaggan Anand – again this could take as long as a few weeks so don’t panic if you don’t hear right away!
The Experience (many spoilers ahead!): From the second we walked into the restaurant, we knew this was going to be unlike any other fine dining experience. Gaggan is a professed rebel and rock lover, and we were serenaded by the likes of Lizzo and The Foo Fighters throughout our three hour dinner. The decor in the restaurant is fun and contemporary with outer space vibes. The entire experience is relaxed; the waitstaff and chef crew clearly take their jobs very seriously but have a fun time doing it. Once we were seated we were presented with a teal box- the box contained pieces to a wooden puzzle and each piece had a picture of an emoji on it. Each dish of the dinner is presented and diners guess what emoji matches each course based on the explanation the waitstaff provides. Each table builds their puzzle throughout the dinner as opposed to receiving a menu of any sort.
As Gaggan says in the Chef’s Table documentary, his goal is to “assault” diners with food- 25 courses in all- and constantly surprise guests with what is coming next. Each course feels completely different from the one before- dishes are served piping hot and then ice cold, one is incredibly crunchy and the next is meant to be licked off the plate (literally). We did not receive a single eating utensil until the 14th course. The dish ware is exquisite and the entire meal truly feels like a giant surprise. We have never tasted many of these flavors, eaten these types of ingredients, or been as challenged to think outside the box of what Indian cuisine can be.
What we appreciated most about the experience was the balance of extravagance and simplicity in each dish. Every detail is thought out. The menu is a biography and reflection of Gaggan’s life and a collection of his experiences. The dish each plate is served on help reinforce those themes. For example, the dish pictured below was a cauliflower puree with raisin and chili jelly dots; it was represented by the rainbow emoji on our menu. The colors of the powders are all flavored with Indian spices and pays homage to the Hindu Holi Festival (the color festival that takes place in India every spring). In true Gaggan fashion, you are not given a fork to eat this dish- you are asked to lick it off the plate with your tongue. Dinner at Gaggan Anand was one of the best dinner experiences we have ever had. It felt new, exciting, and was just plain fun! If it wasn’t so far away from home, Tuck’s mom would already be plotting how to return.
Thailand Tip: Navigating Suvarnabhumi International Airport. If you land late at night, like many flights into Bangkok, we suggest taking a cab from the airport to your hotel. When you reach baggage claim at the airport you will see a number of cash exchange kiosks. This exchange rate is actually one of the best you’ll find, and we suggest exchanging a bit of cash here to get your trip started. Street food, taxis, and many restaurants are cash only, and we found ourselves spending more cash on this vacation than any other we had previously taken. Follow signs to the the official taxi stand of the airport- do not get a ride from someone offering them. There is a kiosk and you pull a ticket to see which cab you are taking. The cabs at the airport are cash only, and it will take about 600 baht to get from the airport to downtown Bangkok. Before arriving in Bangkok, make sure to have your hotel name and address (even cross streets) written in Thai and saved on your phone. Many cab drivers at the airport cannot read English and it is very difficult to explain where you need to go without this information.
See Wat’s Up: the primary thing to see in Bangkok are the main temples (wats) and Buddha’s located throughout the city. The “must see” temples and Buddha’s are the Emerald Buddha located in the Grand Palace, the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), and Wat Arun- a military temple across the river from the main downtown epicenter. These temples are massive and depending on the heat, can be done all in one day or over the course of your time in Bangkok. Most temples require a cash ticket to get in. In general Bangkok is much larger than we anticipated, and while we thought we were going to walk most of the city we ended up taking Grab cars to many sites for a break from the heat and to avoid wasting time walking aimlessly from site to site.
Thailand Tip: Getting Around Thailand. We suggest downloading Grab, which is the Uber of Thailand. The rates are incredibly cheap and you can avoid many translation snafus by typing in the location of where you are trying to go in English and having it translated to Thai by the app.
Visit Chinatown at Night For Street Food: one of the busiest night markets in Bangkok is in Chinatown, on Yaowarat Road. The crowds are almost overwhelming, but there is street food for blocks and blocks. Don’t be afraid to head off the main road and onto some of the side streets, which have incredible options to choose from as well. If you are going to do a guided tour in Bangkok, we recommend doing a night tour for street food. The scene can be overwhelming and it really helps to have someone there to guide you along and help explain the different foods.
Day 2- Bangkok Dine in a Boat: we spent the morning traveling to a floating market, which was absolutely one of the highlights of our trip. We splurged and ended up using a private guide for this as opposed to a large tour group and we really enjoyed the private experience because we were able to ask our guide tons of questions about all the foods that vendors sell in the markets. After a 90 minute drive, we were taken by boat from the outer canals to the center of the floating market. From there you float from stall to stall and purchase any foods you want to try. We suggest coming hungry! After a lap through the canals we were dropped off to visit the shops on the streets of the market. The vendors sell mostly cheap souvenirs if that is your thing, but there are also some art vendors, spice vendors, and a number of sit down restaurants. We sampled a few things from the markets and purchased a few souvenirs before heading back to the hotel.
Must Try Foods at the Floating Market: boat noodles (noodle soup), fried bananas and vegetables, coconut water in a fresh coconut, mango sticky rice, street meat.
Dine at a Three Star Restaurant The Same Day: We traveled to Thailand specifically to eat at the restaurant Gaggan– a top restaurant in the world in 2019. There are a number of amazing fine dining experiences to have in Bangkok and the change in scenery is great when you are over eating street food. Gaggan, Nahm, Gaa, and Bo Lan are all excellent restaurants to browse through if you are looking for a high end restaurant to end your time in Bangkok. On your way, have a cocktail at Sky Bar, the rooftop bar at the Lebua Hotel that was featured in Hangover 2. Cocktails are very expensive but the views of the city are incredible. If the price tag for Sky Bar is too much, make sure you experience a rooftop bar somewhere else in the city- there are a number to choose from.
Day 3 – Travel Day- Koh Samui Thailand Tip: One thing we learned about inner-Thailand travel is that flight prices change dramatically depending on what route you take. For example, the flight from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai was half the price of doing the same trip in reverse. Look at the flight prices of Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways before deciding your trip itinerary.
Island Hop – if you are traveling all the way to Bangkok, we suggest you take a quick flight to one of the many islands for some beach time. We chose to fly to Koh Samui, and like many of the islands, feels like the Hawaii of Thailand. The island is primarily resorts along the the beaches with a few town centers if you are looking for something more urban. Most of the hotels sit along the north and east coastlines of the island, and prices range everywhere from $30 USD per night to staying at the Four Seasons for $500+ per night. We chose something in the middle of both the eastern coastline and price ranges, and stayed at the Silavadee Resort.
Visit A Night Market: there are two town centers in Koh Samui- Lamai and Chaweng. Each hosts a night market on Wednesdays and Tuesdays, respectively. After visiting the floating market in Bangkok, we quickly learned that night markets tend to sell the same cheap souvenirs, and if that doesn’t interest you, go for the street food. Vendors line the streets selling everything from pad thai to mango sticky rice to street meat. For just a few USD you can eat until you explode. The markets are pretty similar and many vendors will go to both during the week, but the Chaweng area has more shops and bars if you are looking to make a full night of it.
Day 4-Koh Samui – Make New Friends: One of the essential items on our Thailand Bucket List was to spend time with elephants. Finding an ethical elephant experience is extremely tough; Thailand has a history of using elephants in the logging industry, and after the government shut it down, the people who owned the elephants started using them for tourist attractions to continue making money. If you are looking for a sanctuary that rescues elephants and treats them well, you might have to do a significant amount of research. A quality experience will mean that 1) you do not ride the elephants 2) you aren’t “taking them for a walk “or “giving them a bath” and 3) that you can’t touch them more than giving them a pat on the trunk. It was discouraging to find that high end hotels and tour groups will still promote facilities that let you ride elephants or that openly treat the elephants like circus pets for human entertainment. My advice for researching sanctuaries is to sort the reviews of the sanctuary by lowest to best. I genuinely believe people take the time to comment about the treatment they witness because they were hoping to support a quality rescue.
My research path led me to find Samui Elephant Sanctuary. They are a small sanctuary that was established just over two years ago. While the experience was expensive compared to other options ($100 USD pp), we left feeling like our money was supporting a wonderful organization. The number one rule for visiting Samui Elephant Sanctuary is “no food, no friend.” It takes the staff many months to help assure the elephants that they are safe; humans will only interact with them if they are giving them treats, so that eventually they learn every human interaction is a positive one. Our three-hour visit included walking the grounds of the sanctuary, learning the stories of each elephant (seven total- all female) and about elephants in general, and giving them lots of bananas.
Get a Massage: You will see signs just about everywhere for Thai massage. A traditional Thai massage is a combination of pressure point massage and stretching. You are often times fully clothed for the massage as it involves much more movement than a traditional deep tissue massage. We had a beach-side massage that we found walking back from our hotel. We paid 300 baht per person for what ended up being 90 minutes (this is approx. $10 USD) and tipped another 100 baht after the massage was over. 300 baht is about the going rate for massages, and you will find that nicer hotels charge significantly more than this. Look at reviews online if a street location offers massages and you’ll be happy paying nearly nothing for an afternoon of relaxation.
Day 5- Koh Samui – Hop on a Motorcycle: You will quickly find that most people get around the islands via motorcycle. We rented a motorcycle for the day through our hotel and suggest you go a similar route if you decide to rent. The hotel charged us 250 baht for the day compared to 100 baht rates on the island, but for a few dollars more you won’t have to leave your original passport sitting in a shack downtown. Driving on the left side of the road takes a bit of an adjustment, but you’ll find it’s much easier to see some of the remote parts of the island this way. We went from the Silavadee Resort to the Tan Rua Waterfall. We hiked a small bit around the waterfall area, left the jungle and went to Fisherman’s Village for lunch. There are a ton of restaurants and cute shops in this area and it’s a great place to spend an hour or two. From Fisherman’s Village we hopped back on the bike and went to the Big Buddha. To finish the day we had High Tea at the Vana Belle Resort- an experience we highly recommend doing at a nice hotel on the island.
Day 6 – Koh Samui – Set Sail: One of the primary reasons we decided on going to Koh Samui was so that Tuck’s dad could scuba dive. Koh Samui has some of the best access to dive sites in the country, which are about an hour away on a speedboat. We booked the trip via The Dive Academyand highly recommend them for any scuba trips in Koh Samui.
Day 7 – Travel Day – Chiang Mai
Thailand Tip: eat ALL the khao soi in Chiang Mai. Khao Soi is a northern Thai, chicken curry, that can only be found in Chiang Mai and surrounding towns. Every food stall and restaurant has their spin on the recipe, and we could not get enough. It costs about 30 baht ($1 USD) for a large bowl, and we suggest eating it everywhere you can before you leave! You’ll miss it dearly when you are gone.
Chiang Mai was our favorite city in Thailand. We loved that we could walk most of the city; it was much smaller and more approachable than Bangkok. We also loved the night markets and the hipster vibes that we felt throughout the city. There are tons of cute coffee shops, art galleries, and boutique stores to peek your head in on the main streets. Visit A(nother) Night Market: we were very lucky that Ryan’s cousin Justin happened to be in Chiang Mai for three weeks before we arrived. He was our resident tour guide for the night and made our first night in Chiang Mai one of our most memorable of the trip.
The prominent night markets and food markets are located outside of the east gate of the main city. Ploen Ruedee is a very western feeling food market with a number of food vendors. Prices are higher here compared to other markets but the food is more approachable if you are having a hard time digging into the street food concept. Chill Square at Anusarn Market is another food market – it is larger than Ploen Ruedee and has more traditional local foods. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, at the intersection of Chang Khlan Road and Loi Khro Road, is one of the largest markets in the country. There are thousands of vendors selling art, souvenirs, and food products. You can spend hours upon hours sight seeing at these nighttime markets!
Day 8 – Chiang Mai- Take a Hike: One of the main activities Tuck’s mom wanted to do in Chiang Mai was the Doi Suthep Hike. The Doi Suthep Temple is up a steep mountain just outside of downtown Chiang Mai. You can take a truck cab up to the top of the temple or you can hike from town, which is a steep 2 hour hike. If you are physically fit, this is one of our favorite things we did on our entire trip. Tips for doing the full hike are as follows:
Use the instructions from this website to get to the start of the hike. The website has incredibly specific instructions, and without them, we would have never found the starting point. Bring extra cash to tip your Grab driver because it is nearly impossible to find this point specifically on a map.
The hike starts with a 30 minute leisurely climb that brings you to the first temple- we don’t know the name of this temple but it was our favorite of all the temples we saw. Contrary to the website above, we didn’t see many orange flags on the route but we never felt lost. The temple looks like it simply grew out of the jungle and has a very different feel than the other temples throughout Thailand.
Here is where things got a little tricky and the website above was less helpful. After you pass the first temple, you will hike until you reach the main driving road. The trail will look as though it has stopped and you will be sure you are lost. When you reach the road, cross the metal barrier and walk a few minutes uphill. Across the street you will see another entrance to the remainder of the hike. This next part of the hike is very steep and much harder than the first part. It took us about 90 additional minutes to get from temple 1 to the Doi Suthep Temple, and we were hiking pretty hard. It was SO rewarding and we suggest it if you are interested, but having water, quality shoes, and leaving early in the morning are essential. Once you cross the second steep part of the hike you will get to the same road again at a different point. Follow the road on the side of the street until you get to the Doi Suthep Temple entrance. You have to pay a small fee (always have cash on hand!) to enter. From the top you have incredible views of Chiang Mai.
Eat Where Anthony Bourdain Ate: All of Thailand is known for its street food, but one of the more famous stalls is the Cowboy Hat Lady outside the North Gate, at the Chang Phueak Food Market. Anthony Bourdain made the trip to see her, so you know what she’s serving must be some good stuff. The Cowboy Hat Lady serves stewed pork over rice and it is simple but incredibly delicious. So good, in fact, we ate there twice. There are a number of other food vendors outside the North Gate, and we sampled fresh coconut, khao soi, and pad thai on the nights we ate there.
Day 9 – Chiang Mai – Take a Cooking Class: One of the signature activities in Chiang Mai is to take a cooking class. We booked a class at the Yummy Tasty Thai Cooking School via AirBnb Experiences. Noodle, our host, picked us up at our hotel and took us to a local food market. She gave a great presentation about different Thai ingredients, how to pick them, and what dishes they are used in. After the market trip was a quick drive to her cooking studio. We loved this class and recommend it to anyone in Chiang Mai because you each get to pick 5 dishes to make during cooking class. This means that between the two of us, we were able to make two soups (Tom Yum and Tom Kha Gai), two appetizers (Green Papaya Salad and Thai Spring Rolls), two noodle dishes (Pad Thai and Pad See Ew), two curry pastes and two curry dishes (Khao Soi and Massaman Curry), and two desserts (Mango with Sticky Rice and Coconut Sweet Potato Rice). We paid $55 total for the two of us, left so full we needed a nap afterwards, and learned so much about Thai food. An absolute must-do if you are in Chiang Mai!
Thailand Tip: Book a cooking class for the beginning of your stay in Thailand, particularly if you are struggling to enjoy the food while you are there. This helps explain the ingredients and makes things feel much more approachable when you are looking at menus when you are out to eat. Shop Around Town: we loved Chiang Mai because the city is meant for walking and street shopping. There are tons of shops, boutiques, art galleries, and cute restaurants to experience- most of which can be found on the main streets. Soi Prapokklao (runs north to south) and Soi Ratchadamnoen were two of our favorite streets to window shop.
Tate has a very special relationship with Chicago as it is where he was born and raised. Spending his first few formative years in the Windy City allowed him the opportunity to explore the best of Chicago. Chicago is a huge city with many historic sites, amazing museums and of course, delicious food.
Most of the foods that Chicago is known for (deep dish pizza, hotdogs) are not the foods that we would typically seek out during our travels. We have included a few recommendations for where to go if you are dying to try some of these local specialties. Don’t get us wrong, none of this is BAD food, it is just that Chicago’s food scene has become much more sophisticated and we think there are foods a bit more worthy of your time. To be honest, our B list for food could easily be an A list. Check out our recommendations but also do your research to make sure you are dining at the places that suite your appetite and budget!
Alinea, Girl and the Goat, Portillos, Schwa, Fat Rice, Ema, Lula Cafe, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, Sushi-San, Monteverde , Peaquods, Cindy’s Rooftop Bar, Eataly
Local Foods to Try
giardiniera, deep dish pizza, italian beef sandwiches, chicago hot dog, gastronomy, malort (only if you’re brave and have a strong stomach), garrets popcorn
Things to See
Millennium Park & The Bean, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Magnificent Mile
Neighborhoods to Visit
River North, Wrigley, West Loop, Lincoln Park
Architecture Boat Tour
Duck Duck Goat, The Publican, Smythe + The Loyalist, Gibsons, The Aviary, Roister
Things to See/Places to Visit
Willis Tower, Logan Square, Navy Pier
Neighborhoods to Visit
Logan Square, Wicker Park, Chinatown
Welcome to the Windy City! Get your walking shoes on because today you will be exploring the city by foot. Head out of your hotel and make your way to Eataly in River North to grab an espresso and a breakfast pastry. Spend your time walking around the store to explore the beautiful displays of fresh pasta, seafood, meats and cheeses. Exit Eataly and head a block east to Michigan Avenue, also know as the Magnificent Mile. Enjoy shopping or window shopping and if it is the winter, looking at the holiday displays.
Off of Michigan Avenue you can venture to the John Hancock building to get amazing views of the city at the 360 Chicago Observation Deck. There are also activities for those not afraid of heights such as the Tilt. When hunger strikes, head to Ramen San or Sushi San – both off of Michigan Avenue for lunch. Depending on if you want ramen or sushi, both of these spots by the Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant Group will bring you an ambiance of 90s hip hop and most importantly, amazing food.
Once you are filled up, head back to Michigan Avenue and walk south until you get to Millennium Park. Spend an hour or two exploring the park and be sure to visit the famous Chicago Bean. If you are an art fan, don’t miss the Art Institute of Chicago. However you spend your afternoon, don’t miss stopping by Cindy’s at the Chicago Athletic Association for a cocktail, snack and amazing park and lake views.
If you are like us, you will be ready for a nap at this point. Relax for the rest of the evening because for dinner, you will be going to the coveted Fat Rice in Logan Square. It is hard to describe Macanese cuisine at Fat Rice as it is a blend of Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisines. The flavors are incredible, unique and will fill you up after a long day of walking through the city. Make sure to make a reservation in advance. The food is amazing. Just go. Trust us on this one.
Day 2 is going to take you through a few of Chicago’s neighborhoods that are outside of the main downtown area. Start you day with breakfast at Lula Cafe in Logan Square. Lula does take reservations which are highly recommended on the weekend. If you have to wait for your table, no problem! Walk around the Farmers Market if you are there on a Saturday or explore the many unique shops near the restaurant. When you are done with breakfast, take a long walk, south, down Milwaukee Avenue and you will soon be in the neighborhood of Wicker Park. On this walk, you will pass many coffee shops, breweries, and stores. Take your time and enjoy these two unique neighborhoods. Hungry for more? Try the famous burger from Small Cheval or a piece of pie from Bang Bang Pie Shop.
When you are through walking and exploring, hop on the Blue Line to the Monroe Station. Get above ground and you will be just blocks from the Willis Tower. Head on up for views of the city and the Skydeck where you can walk on top of a see-through glass floor. Don’t forget to look down! Head back to your hotel and get some rest before your big night out at Alinea. We wrote a whole post about this very special dining experience that you can read through here.
We know you are probably very full of food by this point in the trip. No plans for you this morning! Sleep in. When you are ready make your way towards the lake and walk up and down the lake shore path. Venture north and you will make it to Lincoln Park where you can go to the zoo (for free) or head south to Navy Pier. If you head north, we recommend venturing to Old Town for lunch. On Wells, you will find many, many restaurants and bars to enjoy.
The last stop for your day will be back to Michigan Avenue where it crosses with the river to board the Architecture Tour . This is a very unique tour, done by boat, and will teach you about the history and architecture of the city and is a great way to see the skyline from the water!
There is no better way to experience food than by sharing a meal with good friends. A little over three years ago, we met our new foodie friends Kaitlyn and Aaron. Over the years we have formed a friendship around discussing restaurants, cooking, and enjoying new foods together. Our foodie entourage took our first trip together this past weekend to Chicago to have dinner at the renowned restaurant, Alinea.
In order to have the full picture about Alinea, you have to know more about its head chef and creator, Grant Achatz. We highly recommend watching his episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix for a full history, but we will give you a quick background. Achatz is a rock star in the culinary world. He is known for taking molecular gastronomy and the dining experience to an entirely new level. His MO is to heighten all of your senses while dining through a combination of scent, taste, sound, surprise, and visual stimulation. Dishes at Alinea are rarely what they initially appear to be and the entire meal is an explosion of sensory experiences.
The Reservation Process
Alinea uses Tock to open monthly reservations to the public at 11:00 AM central time on the 15th of every month, two months in advance. This means our November reservation was available at exactly 11:00 CT on September 15th. Small tip: be sure to log into your Tock account in advance of the time reservations are released; this way if you get a table you won’t lose it during the login process. If you login at exactly the correct time, you should be able to get any table for any day that you are interested in.
There are a number of different seating options for Alinea. The Gallery is the main dining room of the restaurant, serving their full experience menu. It seats parties in groups of 2 or 4 people at either 5:00 pm or 9:00 pm. This seating costs about $400 per person which includes tax and gratuity, but does not include alcohol. The Salon at Alinea is an abbreviated experience of the restaurant. There are a number of seatings per night and that experience will cost you about $325 per person including tax and gratuity, not including alcohol. The final experience at Alinea is The Kitchen Table– the most exclusive of the experiences- at a private table in the kitchen. It seats six guests and costs about $530 per person including tax and gratuity, no alcohol. Because we were a party of six…. you guessed it…. this kitchen table was our dining destination!
The Experience (Spoilers Ahead!)
To give you some of the details without giving the entire dinner away, we will give you a full account of our first and last courses. After watching the Chef’s Table episode, we walked into the restaurant wide eyed and ready for everything. We were taken to our table in the kitchen, which was decorated like a fluffy ball of pink cotton candy. There were birds hanging above, flowers at the center, and a number of elements on the table that were clearly items to be eaten. The “show” began with the waitstaff pouring liquid into the vases that held the flowers. The result produced a smoke that smelled like pink lemonade. To accompany the smell, we had frozen pea soup (it looked like dip and dots) delivered to our plate . It was served with edible flowers and a cold broth that was hidden within the centerpiece of the tables. The birds hanging from the ceiling ended up being sesame stuffed cracker pastry doves that were cut down for the second bite. A gold dome on the table revealed the most delicate and perfectly cut melon with jasmine. The beautiful flower dish held two “puffs” flavored with tea and honey. Ladies and gentleman – that was JUST THE FIRST COURSE.
The rest of the courses throughout the meal were a similar adventure. We had a course in the kitchen, our room decoration completely changed while we weren’t looking, and a number of other surreal experiences throughout the night. Every single aspect of the dining experience is thought out while we ate our meal. The music, brightness and color of the lights, and scents being pumped into the room all changed with each of the foods we ate to heighten the experience of our dinner.
The dessert courses, and the conclusion of our dinner, were menu items that are mentioned in the Chef’s Table, so we don’t feel too bad about giving those away. Dessert starts with Alinea’s famous apple balloon. Each person at the table is served a balloon that is fully edible, string and all. The next and final performance is the dessert art that is featured in the episode. Two chefs come to either side of the table, remove plexiglass that was hanging from the ceiling, the music changes, and the lights go out. The chefs plate the dessert in a synchronized dance onto the glass; each element goes onto the glass one color at a time. The final product can only be described as beautiful, edible, graffiti.
This is one of the most unique and fun culinary experiences in the world. You will be hard pressed to find a more amazing, sensory dining journey. While we loved everything about our dinner, we would be hard pressed to go back again given that the menu would largely be the same and that the “show” would not have the same surprise that is did this first time. Should Alinea produce a new concept as they did a few years ago, you can expect a new review!