Stanford Medical School Zen Den Reunion in Nashville

zen den reunion

From L to R: Ji, me, Kerry Ann, Natalia, Hiwot, and Raymond. This group of doctors never ceases to inspire me!

Medical school is like hazing; you go through it and the tough experiences makes you bond even closer with your classmates! I came out of Stanford Med with 5 best friends, four of whom I lived with in a house in downtown Palo Alto my third and fourth years. The house was owned and managed by a super sweet and surprisingly agile 80-something year old Chinese man, and the house was filled with Asian influences from the koi pond in the front to the Asian art and furniture scattered in the house. Naturally we named our house “Zen Den” and our group was formed.

We are scattered all over the country now doing our medical residency training: Dr. Stewart is doing plastic surgery at USC, Dr. Tsai is doing family medicine at UCLA, Dr. Son (see her profile here!) is doing plastic surgery at Case Western, Dr. Callaway is doing ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer, and Dr. Araya is doing internal medicine at UCLA. It is definitely hard to keep in touch sometimes because of our crazy schedules, but what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is you MAKE time for the people you care about. Just as you trim the fat and cut out people who aren’t true friends, you also make extra effort (swapping call days, working Christmas, etc.) to see the people you care about the most. We all came together this weekend in Nashville, TN, for some good BBQ, live music, and Southern fun.

The baddest cowgirl of them all, Dr. Son!

Where to stay

“Joyce get in front – you’re the shortest!” #foreverinfront

H&M lace dress (old, similar here)

Coach sunglasses (old, similar here)

Ann Taylor woven chain belt (love this — makes every outfit more classy!)

Kendra Scott Candice Cuff in silver (received through Rocksbox; use my code teawithMDxoxo for 1 month free trial!)

Franco Sarto booties

Tory Burch Mini Kira Cross Body Bag

We stayed in Brentwood, which was about 30 minutes south of downtown Nashville. The homes here were straight up mansions, and our Airbnb was no exception. We found out after looking through some photos hung on the walls that we were actually staying in the house of a country singer! Ray even recognized some of her hit singles. Her beautiful home had my dream backyard: a hot tub, a waterfall, a grill for summer BBQ, and a fire pit for s’mores and just hanging out. The home was pretty affordable too, averaging out to the same we would pay if we were to stay in a hotel. Seeing her beautiful home made me realize that real estate is so much more affordable in areas outside of California and NYC! For big groups visiting Nashville, I would recommend going the Airbnb route, since Ubers/Lyft’s and other car services are cheap and this way you can all spend time together in the home. It also helps to do Airbnb with a bigger group so you have more people to split the cost; this way, Airbnb is way cheaper than hotel rooms.

Where to grub

I had quite a few delicious meals in Nashville, and a whole list of other places that I wanted to try but ran out of time. The Southern cuisine does tend to be heavier on the fried batter and rich sauces and butter in everything so by the time I left I was ready for salad, salad, and more salad. (Of course, then I flew straight to Paris where I have been eating croissants, macarons, and pastries at every turn. More on that later!) Here are some of the spots I tried or wanted to check out:

  • Moto Cucina & Enoteca: Super swanky Italian restaurant that easily could have been airlifted straight from LA, NYC, or Miami. We went family style so we could try everything, and man was it all GOOD, though rich, as usual. Starters that were standouts were the truffle mushroom pizza, Ceasar salad, the artichoke hearts, and the wagyu beef meatballs. For our mains we spit the blueberry lasagna (balsamic + blueberry sauce), the guanciale (pork cheek) carbonara, and the Osso bucco. My favorite was the lasagna which was tangy and sweet, and don’t forget to order a side of brussels sprouts too.
  • Husk: I came here for our final dinner in Nashville, wanting to try a taste of the famous Southern chef Sean Brock’s cooking. The restaurant is in downtown, about 5 minutes’ walking distance from the river. What I loved about this place was the ambiance; the restaurant was located in a charming Southern style home with an open kitchen. I highly recommend the shrimp and grits, beef tartare, and the catfish in okra gumbo stew. Service was on point as well.
  • Etch: Really wanted to try this place and we had reservations but ended up ordering BBQ in. This is a new American style seafood restaurant which has BUTTER tastings (different types of flavor infused butter served on a baguette as an appetizer). This is definitely on my to try list when I return.
  • Hattie B’s Chicken: Ji and I read the rave reviews on Yelp about Hattie B’s fried chicken and biscuits, mac n cheese, and banana pudding, and by the time we arrived around 2 pm there was over an hour wait. Come early and wear sunblock because that line is ALL outdoors in the hot sun.
  • The Patterson House: another one I sadly couldn’t visit but is definitely in my to-try category. Based on the reviews, this is an elegant speakeasy in downtown Nashville with amazing cocktails made by some talented mixologists who can whip something up for you depending on what you like.

Where to go out

Getting ready

Getting ready in the pink room. Ray did not get the memo about the black lace theme, but then again, this was a totally unplanned matching to a T!

Fending off those crazy photo bombers. Seriously guys, why photo bomb strangers?! Ruined a perfectly good photo. This was taken at Whiskey Bent Saloon.

ASOS Midi Knot Lace Back Dress (old, similar here and here)

Kendra Scott Candice Cuff in silver (received through Rocksbox; use my code teawithMDxoxo for 1 month FREE trial!)

Tory Burch Mini Kira Cross Body Bag

The main street crammed full with honky tonk bars is Broadway St, specifically lower Broadway St. This is where you’ll see a good mix of bachelorette parties, elderly couples out to enjoy the music, people rocking cowboy hats, and birthday party goers. I found this comprehensive guide on Thrillist rating every single bar on Lower Broadway which is pretty impressive and I imagine a fun article to research and write. My group kind of went with the flow and went into whichever bar seemed to have good live music blaring from the big open windows. I love live music and I wish we had more of it in NYC, but I found that I can only take so much country music after a while. I liked the bars that kept it interesting with a mix of hip hop, top 40’s, country, and old school rock. Some of the ones we visited:

  • Robert’s Western World: stopped here for a simple lunch while listening to live music. Love the boots lining the walls from the days the store was an actual boots store. Did not love the greasy food and wasn’t as into the music.
  • Margaritaville: Big two story space, sugary standard alcoholic drinks. I feel like this experience you could get at any Margaritaville across the world and wasn’t truly Nashville.
  • Honky Tonk Central: huge 3-4 (not sure how big!) story bar with a live band on each floor. This was by far the most crowded bar on a Saturday night and there was an actual line down the block to get in. Once inside you’re crammed in with tons of other bachelorette party goers. This place was drama central; somehow we got sucked into an argument between a bachelorette and her friends and then a fight suddenly broke out from a different party and security guards and the rowdy gentleman starting the fight nearly pummeled into my group. It was pretty impressive to see the bartender leap over the bar quicker than a flash of lightning to pull the guy aside though. This place is fun if you’re down for crowds and a diverse rambunctious younger crowd.
  • Whiskey Bent Saloon: probably my favorite one out of the night. The live performers were quite talented and kept the crowd going strong with a huge mix of songs from Taylor Swift to Prince to Lil Jon and the Eastside Boys to Luke Bryan. There was plenty of space to sit at the bar or at small circular tables at the back of the dance floor and I never felt like I was being crowded. Drinks were reasonably priced ~$7-10 for a drink or shot.
  • Tin Roof: Ji and I were walking home from dinner on Sunday night and the music was so good that we were drawn in from the street. Loved this place! The performers were amazing with one vocalist / guitarist, another on the drums, another playing the bass, and one guy on straight up rap duty. They played anything and everything, and they were able to get a Sunday night crowd riled up too. Plenty of dancing space (and people were actually all dancing to the music, not just sitting down listening to the music like at other bars) and lots of seating at the huge bar and at tables around the stage. Really liked this place and would come back!

Overall, I had a fun time in Nashville! I didn’t know what to expect going in; I had been there twice before to interview at Vanderbilt and to revisit for Admit Weekend for medical school, but I hadn’t been there purely for pleasure before. The nightlife is definitely unique with all the live bands and country music, and I appreciated how the city really embraces its culture with its food, music, and apparel. Worth visiting and experiencing if you haven’t before!

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