There are places I do not resent calories at, because the food and the experience are worth each and every bit of sweat needed to burn them up. Calories spent on subpar bar and quick-serve food annoys me. It didn’t always. If it’s not amazing, what’s the point? I might as well eat a tomato and call it a day.
I have arrived at a point in my life where most of the time delicious isn’t good enough. My daily food needs to be nutritious. What am I getting out of spending the calories? And, if there isn’t any nutrition in the food, no redeeming qualities in it, I’m not eating it. I get annoyed.
There are some food experiences that are worth not overthinking. They’re that extraordinary. If I’m going to overspend the numbers in my bank account and scale, I need for the experience has to be worth it. Otherwise, I regret the calorie expense.
My splurge-worthy places
In Rochester, Minnesota:
300 First (300 1st Ave NW)
Many a Monday Night Date Night has been spent by Chris and I at 300 First. I’d call the ambiance upscale coziness. Our favorite server is Amber, because she’s amazing, kind, and fun to talk with. My favorite dish there is the Chicken Cordon Bleu Wellington. It features grilled chicken wrapped with honey smoked ham, Swiss cheese, volute, wrapped in French puff pastry; and, is served with garlic mashed potatoes and choice of vegetable side dish. I skip the mashed potatoes and get double asparagus. Even when I’m treating myself and not focused on being good, I do try to make some positive choices.
Terza Ristorante (30 3rd St SE)
Again, this has been a Monday Night Date Night favorite of ours. The music and ambiance exude class. Nowell is our favorite server there. He and I worked together almost twenty years ago. Chris’s favorite is Chicken Parmesan. Mine is Chicken Piccatta. It’s parmesan-herb crusted chicken with wild mushrooms, shallots, capers, and lemon butter. Instead of the angel hair pasta, I ask for the homemade pasta. Yum.
Bleu Duck Kitchen (14 4th St. SW)
Chris and I enjoy stopping in for Friday Collider Happy Hours at Bleu Duck Kitchen now and then. The craft cocktails are delish. The last time I was in, I drank a Hemingway Daiquiri that was NOT blended and was NOT overly sweet. I thought I hated daiquiris. Not so. I guess I only can’t stand the sugary ones that were so popular in the ’90s.
I recommend giving their chef tasting and wine pairing a try. The chef asks about any food allergies, what sorts of things you enjoy, where you think your culinary limits are, etc. Then, he crafts 6 courses. We both tried lamb for the first time and loved it. Portions were small enough to allow us to enjoy each and every one. We had just enough room for dessert and thank goodness for that.
Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery (78757 Minnesota 16, Spring Valley, MN)
It’s worth the calories and the short road-trip it takes to get from Rochester to Spring Valley for the wines, the meals, and the desserts at Four Daughters. We’ve had great service whenever we’ve been. During our first time spending Monday Night Date Night there, we decided that it was the just right place to get married and hold a reception at. Among other honors, in 2016 Sundance Institute asked Four Daughters to be the Official Provider for the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Firefly Grill (1810 Avenue of Mid-America Effingham, IL)
It was getting close to dinnertime and we were close to Effingham, somewhere in the middle of Illinois. We were driving home from Atlanta.
We’d wound our way through the Appalachian Mountains that morning and negotiated Nashville’s traffic. I was behind the wheel for both of those parts. While Atlanta’s traffic seemed far heavier than Nashville’s, in Tennessee the death toll from highway accidents is posted on highway signs. We were at a full stop for about 30 minutes somewhere in Tennessee due to an accident. Once we were back to full speed, we passed what looked like a early ’90s model SUV burnt to a char. My morbid mind couldn’t help but wonder if the person died; and, if so when were they added to the posted tally.
By the time we made it to Paducah, Kentucky; we were about 6 hours into our road trip and had 11 hours to go according to Maps. It was about three in the afternoon. A couple of hours later, we were near Effingham, Illinois. Chris wanted to eat dinner there. I did a search on my phone for places to eat in Effingham. Firefly Grill was first on the search list. I read the description to Chris, “Eco-conscious New American eatery serving locally sourced fare in a rustic-chic lakeside setting.”
We decided to go there and were both so glad that we did. The place was pretty packed, yet our wait was only 15 minutes. Our server was knowledgeable, kind, and made it seem as if she had all the time in the world to answer our questions. We hadn’t had lunch, so we started with Fried Ravioli. Neither of us had ever had it before. Again, we were both so glad we did. We followed it up with burgers. I had the Mushroom Onion Swiss (portobello mushroom, red onion jam, swiss, served with garlic steak fries). Chris had the All-American (burger sauce, american cheese, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle).
The place is more than 7 hours from where we live and I’m tempted to find a reason to drive back on through and eat there again.
Lockwood Restaurant and Bar (17 E. Monroe Street, Chicago, IL)
Located in the Palmer House Hotel, a historic hotel in Chicago’s financial and theatre district. We went there for my 40th birthday. At that time (and I believe still) it also has the distinction of being across the street from where Hamilton is performing. In addition to having fantastic steaks (it was my birthday after all), the service is exemplary. When the server overheard Chris and I talking about my birthday, he brought over a glass of champagne with a strawberry on it to wish me a Happy Birthday.
Chelsea Market (75 9th Avenue, New York, NY)
It is the place above most all others that makes me miss Manhattan. Foodie heaven is the best way for me to describe it. The place is an indoor food hall. Food Network calls Chelsea Market home. Its studios are located on the upper levels. While there are no studio tours available, when one walks around Chelsea Market it is so easy to understand why Food Network would want to call this place home.
On our first trip to NYC, we ate Carne Asada Tacos at Los Tacos No. 1 in Chelsea Market. Once home, I knew I had to order The Chelsea Market Cookbook, because we were still talking about the tacos. I made them for Chris’s birthday. He thought they were even better. Maybe they were, because they were cooked with love for him.
During our second trip, I enjoyed a fresh crepe at Bar Suzette Creperie and shopped at Chelsea Market Baskets (so many goodies to bring home from there!!!). I’ve made Tuck Shop’s Roasted Brussel Sprouts recipe at home and loved it.
The energy at the market is both vibrant and chill. I can’t wait to go back and try something else there.
Blue Smoke (116 East 27th Street and 255 Vesey Street in New York, NY)
When we traveled to New York City with Chris’s children, this was by far the most favorite place that we dined at. While I am no expert in Southern Barbecue, I’m pretty sure they served us Southern Barbecue at its finest. It’s almost a year later and I remember trying Cornbread Madelines, 5 Pepper Beef Brisket, and Beignets. I’d never tried a beignet before. Oh my gosh. Worth every calorie!
Bank & Bourbon (1200 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA)
Located in a Loews Hotel, the place is sophisticated and the service is efficient and elegant. It was classy without being intimidating despite the sign.
I’m from a meat and potato family in the midwest. For my family and friends, steak houses were where we ate fancy. Chinese takeout was exotic. Organic wasn’t in our vocabulary. Much has changed in my life, so there is a certain level of sophistication that can feel a touch intimidating from time to time. Though that feeling hits me less and less.
I had the Roasted Lancaster Chicken. Chris had a steak. After, we had a Vanilla Doughnut. I don’t like doughnuts. This was warm with ice cream melting over the top. I loved it.
If the food isn’t splurge-worthy, I’m not splurging. I have in the past. Sometimes, because I’m hungry. Other times, to be polite. I have my goals and if I’m going to spend the calories, they need to be well-spent ones.