Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cucina Forno

If you haven't been to Revolution Mill lately, it's worth a visit. The openings of Cugino Forno and Natty Greene's Kitchen + Market have people very excited, and the development reminds me a lot of downtown Greenville (a much, MUCH smaller version!) There's a large bridge that crosses over a creek, leading you to Natty's, and around the corner is Cucina Forno, an authentic Neapolitan pizza joint. I felt like Julia Roberts in the scene from "Eat Pray Love" when she devours a pizza in Naples. This pizza was incredible! I am so excited to have this place in town!

Meaning "oven cousin", Cugino Forno's atmosphere is bright and clean, and several picnic tables invite you to take a seat. I was worried about the noise level - hard-wood floors with an open kitchen tend to lead to extravagant volumes - but it was actually very quiet and relaxing. You order at the front, and pizzas come in one size: 16". They come on a large tray, in about 8 slices. The Livorno combines Italian Sausage, San Marzano Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil and Garlic atop a thin, Neapolitan-style crust. It literally took about 90 seconds to come out the oven, which I imagine is about 850 degrees. There's even a spice bar where you can load up on red pepper flakes, parmesan, ground basil and oregano, and spicy olive oil. A side container of their red sauce is served with each pizza, and is absolutely amazing. We decided we had to try another pizza with a red sauce base.
The Livorno
The classic Margherita Pizza is classic for a reason. It's simple and beautiful, and I practically swallowed 2 slices whole. The thin crust is covered in that San Marzano tomato sauce, and the Buffalo Mozz, Basil and Garlic melt in your mouth. As good as the first pizza was, this one was a thousand times better, because of the red sauce. I want a slice wrapped around me like a blanket. It was insane.

You should order the Lecce Salad because it's tasty, and because the greens cancel out how much pizza you eat. Spring Mix is tossed with cherry tomatoes, shredded buffalo mozz, chick peas, carrots and served with housemade ranch dressing. It's a solid salad on its own. They also serve beer and wine, and the Gabbiano Chianti is lovely. (Side note - the bottle says "established in 1124" - um, that's old!!)
Lecce Salad
VINO




















I can't recommend this place enough. The staff is kind, friendly and want you to have a good time and a great meal. I'll be back often. Go check out the haps at Revolution Mill! 

Monday, August 14, 2017

NC Chef Showdown

If you're like me and enjoy a humongous foodie gathering, you won't want to miss the NC Chef Showdown coming up on August 21 in Raleigh! Yes, it's the same day as the solar eclipse, but after the sun and moon wow us, 22 culinary stars are sure to impress us, too! Approximately 400 hungry mouths will show up to sample savory dishes from 12 chefs, sweet dessert concoctions from 4 pastry chefs and craft cocktails from 6 mixologists. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Local celebrity chef Tim Grandinetti (Spring House in Winston-Salem) will be representing the Triad, and pastry chefs are from hot spots like Vidalia in Boone and Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte!

The chefs are competing for the titles of NCRLA (North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association) Chef of the Year; Pastry Chef of the Year; and Mixologist of the Year. I'm especially excited to see TOPO and Covington in attendance. “This year’s selection brings together some of the most innovate mixologists in our state. At the showdown, these competitors will use North Carolina liquor and ingredients to demonstrate their creativity and will showcase the quality of the hospitality industry in North Carolina. Event attendees and judges will get a taste of how the state’s food and beverage scene has advanced,” said NCRLA President and CEO Lynn Minges.

Check out the list of participating chefs here and get your tickets while they're still around!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Big Sick

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter
Director: Michael Showalter
Running Time:2 hours
Rating: R


This movie is so good. It's kind of flying under the summer blockbuster radar right now, but if you're like me, and not really into summer blockbusters, "The Big Sick" is the perfect ticket. It's clever, not your predictable romantic comedy, and the chemistry between main and supporting characters is palpable. It's a comedic take on a sensitive topic - a Pakistani boy and a white, American girl fall for each other, to his family's dismay. The film was actually written by real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, chronicling their real-life romance. I'm glad it worked out for the two of them. This film is fantastic.

Kumail plays a modern-day version of himself: Uber driver by day, stand-up comic hopeful by night. He meets Emily, a graduate student, NOT interested in dating. Hangouts and hookups turn into dates (obviously) and soon enough, they are "official". Things take a turn when Emily finds a box of headshots of potential wives for Kumail, while tries to explain that it's his mother's doing, not his. Tensions that had been simmering are now bubbling over the pot. Things fall apart and the two split up.

When Emily falls terribly ill and is put into a medically-induced coma, Kumail is at the hospital nearly everyday with Emily's parents. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are a romantic comedy match made in heaven. I guess you could pair Ray Romano with anyone and they would be funny, but I am so impressed with Holly Hunter's comedic chops! Note to self - go back and watch more of her films, even the dramas! Emily's parents don't like that Kumail is hanging around the hospital - he did hurt their daughter after all - but the three bond over this tragedy and soon friendships are formed.

It's no spoiler to say that Emily survives the coma and ends up with Kumail. But there are several one-liners, plot twists and cameos that I won't reveal. Though it gets a little slow in the middle (most of the scenes take place in a hospital waiting room), stick with it. I'll remember this heart-warming story of love overcoming all for a long time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Beguiled

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning
Director: Sofia Coppola
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Rating: R


I had a lot of mixed thoughts going into this film. Reviews weren't great, but the trailer intrigued me to no end, not to mention the all-star cast. And with the gorgeous sepia shots of an old, moss-covered mansion, I knew this film would be a feast for the eyes. As my viewing partner remarked, this film is a slow burn, that never really catches on fire. So much potential and so many moments could have built into a riveting climax, but it just doesn't really happen. Save this one for a rainy day Netflix binge.

Nicole Kidman, exquisite as always, stars as Miss Martha, a headmaster at a girls' school in Virginia. We're nearing the end of the Civil War when young Amy comes across a wounded soldier in a nearby meadow. The more I see Colin Farrell's work, the more I enjoy it, and this film is no exception. Needless to say, Corporal McBurney's appearance at the school is quite startling to the 7 women who haven't been near a male in quite sometime. Even the younger girls are taken with him, most notably in a scene when they try to "one up" each other when he compliments the apple pie after dinner.

Edwina (Kirsten Dunst, in a welcomed return to the screen) catches the Corporal's eye, and the two share a few private moments and frequently exchange glances, though Alicia (a fabulous Elle Fanning) is the most forward and flirtatious of the bunch, thus catching his eye as well. And we can't forget Miss Martha, who enjoys a nightly brandy with the Corporal after the girls have retired to their quarters.

The Corporal (and the audience) are very aware that everyone wants him, but none of them are quite aggressive enough to go for it. Until one night, when things don't go the way anyone expects. What could have been a tremendously climactic moment just lingers in the air, and the last quarter of the film just turns into an odd 20 minutes. It's as if no one really knew where to take the characters after this incident, so they just made it up on the spot.

Too much exposition and too little pressure around the later scenes left me feeling pretty unsatisfied. The most satisfying thing was the gorgeous cinematography, but this film kind of leaves me thinking "what a shame."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Portland / Vancouver

How can I possibly choose my best bite from my trip to the Pacific Northwest? It might have been the White Truffle-Pink Salt Macaron; or maybe the Lamb Shank with Cilantro Black Beer Sauce; lest I forget the Bacon, Egg and Cheese on an Apple Fritter; perhaps even a sip of the Passionfruit-Habanero Vodka Martini...it's nearly impossible to choose, folks. I'll do my best to highlight some of the most outstanding spots we visited for nosh.

Mom and me in Willamette Valley, wine-tasting. Our happy place!

Portland
This city has a happening food and beer scene, if you didn't already know. It can be quite overwhelming to navigate your way through the city without some recommendations. Here are some of mine!

-Cheryl's on 12th: the aforementioned egg sando on an apple fritter was the ultimate sweet and salty breakfast dish. Just slice a glazed, apple-studded fritter in half and stuff it with a fried egg, gouda (NOT SMOKED), arugula and onion-bacon jam and you will feel a wave of euphoria.

-Andina: currently the #1 restaurant in Portland per TripAdvisor. The lamb shank and martini were perfect accompaniments to stuffed Piquillo Peppers and Scallops with Brown Sugar Tamarind sauce. Literally every bite was perfection at this Peruvian gem.
Monstrous lamb shank with unctuous cilantro black beer sauce

-Pok Pok: for adventurous eaters only. I didn't recognize a single dish on this Thai menu. It's not your average Pad Thai (not on the menu). Spicy and sour glass noodle salad was our favorite here, because of the dried shrimp. Mind the heat!!

-Salt & Straw: it would be a sin to visit PDX and not try this infamous ice cream joint. I tasted flavors like Pear & Blue Cheese and Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper before deciding on Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons. This has ruined all other ice creams for me. I would eat this after (or for) every meal of my entire life.

Pre-life-altering ice cream.

Vancouver
A dear friend likened this city to "Tomorrowland" which could not have been a more accurate description. Multicultural. Stunning views. Incredible food.

-Granville Island Public Market: not unlike Reading Terminal Market in Philly (or any other metropolitan indoor market). You absolutely must visit Bon Macaron Patisserie for flavors like Goat Cheese & Fig, Blueberry & Taro, Sake, and the most interesting thing I think I've ever tasted: a White Truffle-Pink Salt Macaron. It absolutely blew my mind. Earthy, salty, sweet and umami all at the same time.
Our collection of macarons!
-Cactus Club Cafe: the view at the Coal Harbor location is absolutely spectacular. The menu almost sounded too good to be true, until you eat and realize everything really is delicious. I have to remove salmon from my "Do Not Eat List", because this rendition with lentils, bacon, daikon, carrots and a port wine reduction was so overwhelmingly flavorful and delicious.
See what I mean?  THIS VIEW.

-Nightingale: these folks know how to elevate a dish. Halibut Ceviche is made sexy with watermelon radish, avocado and crispy quinoa. Roasted Cauliflower gets an upgrade with green harissa for heat and sunflower seeds for crunch. Sticky Toffee Pudding stays stellar with Maple Chantilly Cream.

I realize I'm leaving out a lot of fabulous bites like the FRESH Cherry Pancakes with cream cheese custard and the Cheddar Waffle at Cora in Vancouver, and the Banana Caramel Pie at Lechon in Portland. But then I would literally be telling you about every meal I had on my vacation. But the food scene there is so exciting! OH, and if you happen to find yourself in Willamette Valley, first of all - lucky you! And secondly, stay at La Bastide Bed & Breakfast for yummy dishes like Brie and Apricot-stuffed French Toast. Divine!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Table 16: The Reboot

Table 16 has been one of my favorite restaurants in Greensboro since I moved here 5 years ago. In the past year, there have been some shake-ups in the kitchen, leaving many people wondering if Table 16 is still "as good as it once was". I'm here to tell you that yes, it is still absolutely fabulous. The front of house and kitchen staff are both working incredibly hard to remind people why this restaurant is so special. I dined on the first night of their new menu, and had a difficult time not ordering every item. And I found out they're serving Sunday brunch, to boot!

Appetizers are quite adventurous, including a lovely presentation of Foie Gras. A sliver of tender foie rests on a smooth pistachio butter, drizzled with raspberry coulis and topped with fresh greens. Crispy brioche croutons provide great crunch and a savory element. This could almost be interpreted as a dessert dish! The sweetness of the pistachio and raspberry brought out the sweetness in the foie, and the pop of bright pink against the earthy green was beautiful on the plate.

I loved the Tiger Shrimp appetizer, with slices of avocado, tangy balsamic tomatoes, red onion and crispy tortilla strips atop a sriracha aioli. This was a burst of flavor, and one of the best appetizers I've ever had. 5 large shrimp made this a pretty decent serving that you could easily turn into an entree with a side salad.

Every Wednesday, Table 16 has a Steak & Scotch special pairing. This week featured a Laphroaig 10, a peety, smoky Scotch (not recommended for Scotch novices!) alongside a petite tenderloin with romanesco, potatoes, crispy leeks and an insane butterscotch demi-glace. This made the dish. The umami flavor in the butterscotch went surprisingly well with the flavor of the meat. This needs to be a steak sauce option on every menu everywhere!! (Yes, I've allotted two exclamation points for that.)

I'm a sucker for scallops and Table 16's presentation sounded right up my alley. Three beautifully plump scallops rested on a bed of quinoa, with an orange hue from romesco sauce peeking out underneath it all. Nicely seasoned kalettes (so tasty in fact, that I never would have guessed it was kale!) and crispy leeks round out this stunning dish.

Desserts at Table 16 have always been memorable, and this was no exception. We enjoyed a honey-mint creme brulee, boasting flavors of fresh mint, which is perfect for this time of year. It was like eating mojito custard. Delightful. Then this show-stopper came out:
Key lime curd, strawberry mousse, fresh berries and edible flowers rest on a honey-drizzled filo dough. Thin sheets of chocolate stand upright, to give the dish a 3D feeling. It seemed too beautiful to eat, until we tasted it. Then we had no trouble devouring it. The fresh key lime was the star here - I'll take one of these over key lime pie any day. Such creativity!

The chef stopped by to ask about our meal, and he said he has worked hard to make this menu finally "all his". I am so thoroughly impressed with his vision, flavor profiling and execution. Table 16 is definitely worth a re-visit if you haven't been in a while.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Snatched

Starring: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes
Director: Jonathan Levine
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rating: R

Love her or hate her, I'm a pretty big Amy Schumer fan. I'm not sure if it's her comedic timing or the fact that she reminds me of my best friend (who may in fact be funnier than Amy is), but short story long - I love me some Amy. I just finished her book and was so excited to see "Snatched" starring one of my other faves, Goldie Hawn. I didn't want to get my hopes up, because I heard mixed reviews, and have such great expectations for these ladies. Luckily, I enjoyed just about every single minute of this. Were there cheap laughs? Sure. Was this absolutely perfect for me to watch with my mom? Without a doubt. Do I still love Amy Schumer? Absolutely.

Goldie and Amy play mom and daughter, Linda and Emily. Their chemistry is palpable, and while they're the clear leads of the film, the supporting cast gives them quite a boost: Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Christopher Meloni and the always enjoyable Ike Barinholtz are welcome additions to the cast. We meet Emily (Schumer) in a very funny manner. She encourages (ahem, rather, forces) her recluse mother to join her on a non-refundable trip to Ecuador. Emily has recently become single, and can't bare to go 5 minutes without posting a selfie, so how could she possibly stay home from this trip and not give everyone the opportunity to see her looking fabulous in such an exotic location?! (Emily's character in a nutshell).

The jokes between this mother and daughter pair are pretty universal. Mom: "I haven't heard from you in weeks; you only call me when you need something." Emily: "You're posting on my wall, mom, this is not a private message." The two seem to bicker more than get along, but they set off to South America regardless.

It's not spoiling too much to say that Emily and Linda wind up in the hands of some gangsters, due to Emily's poor judgment - a running theme in the film. The two women must stick together to find their way back to the resort, and ultimately, the US. Humor and chaos ensues. While some of the comedic scenes show off Amy's comedic mastery, a few are over the top. A few scenes even seemed ad-libbed, which I think is a true testament to this comedian's talent.

This film is definitely a fun time. And it's a chick flick, for sure. It was a delightful welcome back to the screen for Goldie Hawn, who hadn't done a film since the 2002 classic, "The Banger Sisters".  And it proves that Schumer is around for much more than "Trainwreck".

Monday, April 3, 2017

Blue Denim

Blue Denim in downtown Greensboro has certainly found its stride. They're doing something unique to the area, specifically a Southern - Cajun - Creole hybrid. But the cuisine doesn't stop there: I noticed Asian and Mexican-influenced dishes on their menu. On one dining occasion, a low country boil was the nightly feature, complete with paper tablecloths! On another, a live bluegrass band entertained diners. Blue Denim is approaching their 2-year anniversary this fall, and they certainly have a lot to celebrate.

The cocktail list is limited, but I think this is more of a beer joint anyway, and they definitely don't disappoint there. My dining partner's "favorite beer of all time" is in stock - La Fin Du Monde - and at 9%, it was surprisingly too easy to drink. Starters are whimsical and not to be missed. They are famous for their Crawfish Beignets which are indeed tasty, but a little rich for my taste. I found too much batter to the crawfish and peppers that supposedly stud the delicate balls, but the "comeback sauce" makes anything great. I found the Delta Chinese Ribs to be one of the most unique rib preparations I've ever enjoyed. They're smoked and charred and fall off the bone. The char effect comes from the char siu technique - after they are slow-cooked, they are finished over a flame. YUM! I loved the tangy, molasses-like, five-spice-infused sauce that was drizzled on top - just the right amount. Peanuts and fresh cilantro totally brought the dish together. I highly recommend.

I had my first Crawfish Etouffee in New Orleans, arguably the best food city in the world, so I was eager to try Blue Denim's rendition. The base is made with a blonde roux, making it a little lighter in color than gumbo, but thicker than gumbo, too. (Not to be confused with jambalaya, which I would liken to Cajun paella). I lost count of the number of crawfish in my etouffee - there seemed to be hundreds of sweet little bites of the coral-colored fish! The rice was a little gummy and stuck together, which I loved. It didn't just break up and crumble into the stew. The dish had a slight heat to it, tingling in the back of my throat. Spring onions give the dish a pop of color and nice fresh bite. This is a large serving and it's even better the second day.

For a little Mexican-Cajun flavor, try the Duck Tamales. Tender duck confit is tucked inside delicate masa and covered with a rich, umami-forward mole sauce. Most mole sauces tend to be a little too sweet for me, but this had a nice balance of flavor. Tangy cotija cheese is sprinkled on top, and to make sure you get your greens, the tamales rest on a bed of cooked spinach. Jicama slaw comes alongside and is spice-based, not mayo- or vinegar-based, which was a welcome change and provided a wonderful crunch.

At one point in time, the menu featured New Orleans' famous style of barbeque shrimp with a dark, vinegary, buttery sauce. Blue Denim did a fabulous version of this, but it's missing from the menu as of late. I certainly hope they bring it back. I look forward to returning for the White Chocolate Pecan Bread Pudding, topped with Whiskey Creme Anglaise. (At the time of publication, the writer has given up bread for Lent, which sadly includes Bread Pudding!) I'll probably have my Easter brunch here, just for that dessert. And I'll get a po'boy to go alongside it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Beauty and The Beast

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald
Director: Bill Condon
Running Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Rating: PG

I grew up loving animated Disney films like any other child born in the late 1980s. I'm also a fan of the live action remakes of late, which prove to be both entertaining and nostalgic. "Beauty and The Beast" is just that: it reminded me of songs and quotes I hadn't thought of in decades, and it left me smiling and humming as I left the theatre. It ran a touch long, and it was a little too gray scale for me - even the infamous yellow dress Belle wears seemed kind of dull! But for the most part, I was happily transported back to my childhood. Audiences of any age will be entertained.

This cast is incredible, though you might not realize it until the end. Many of the supporting actors are in disguise throughout the film - Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts - the list goes on and on. Emma Watson does a fine job in such an iconic role, bringing a fierce girl power attitude, more than I remember being in the original. 2017 Belle is fiesty! She turns down frequent marriage proposals from Gaston (played by Luke Evans, though it should have been Chris Pine) which pleases LeFou, Gaston's sidekick. LeFou is eloquently played by Josh Gad, bringing an honorable dimension to the first openly gay character in a Disney movie. After an excellent opening montage, Belle's father (Kevin Kline) goes missing in the woods. She sets off to find him as Alan Menken's soaring score begins, and we get ready for the adventure ahead.

The Beast's castle is stunning - I think we all remember that gorgeous library! The gradual building of Belle and the Beast's relationship is handled well and delicately. Many articles have been remarking how interesting it is that she is indeed being held captive by a non-human, and that they end up falling in love. The film does a good job at showing the Beast's human qualities, which is really the only way this would work. I would be remiss not to mention the classic "Be Our Guest" montage - it is over the top with a combination of live action and animation. It's beautiful but a little dizzying!

No spoilers here: the spell is broken, Belle and the Beast fall in love (Dan Stevens really is a sight for sore eyes), the household objects return to human form and you'll find yourself with a huge grin on your face. I'm eager to re-watch the original for comparison, but this film honors the legacy of the animated classic, and does it justice. I was delighted with this film and think you will be, too!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Seafood Feast with Friends

No, this isn't a new movie starring Jon Favreau, or a CNN special with Anthony Bourdain, or a new restaurant in downtown Greensboro. This was one of the most fun and memorable evenings I've had at someone's house - the News & Record's John Batchelor to be precise. My dear friend invited me to join him and a few other folks for a seafood feast at his home, with Nasi Kajana, co-owner of Fortuna Enterprises LLC (among many other things). The presentations, demonstrations, food and wine were spectacular. I wish every Saturday night could be like this.

Italian Reds and fresh seafood were the star of the show (literally everything we ate and drank). I'm not very well-versed in Italian Reds but each one was more delicious than the last, especially the 2011 Bacca Barolo. Our first course was absolutely stunning. Vibrant bright pink slices of watermelon radish looked like enormous flower petals and served as a bed for shrimp ceviche. I will dream about this dish for a long time. The shrimp was tender and boasted notes of lemon and just a touch of heat. Cherry tomatoes were also present, but my favorite part was the pop of pomegranate seeds. Radish sprouts garnished the dish. I ended up eating the watermelon radishes tortillas, making mini tacos. This dish screamed springtime and would give any restaurant a run for its money.
Plating the beautiful first course!
Stunning!
Course #2 was a whimsical spin on shish kabobs, with a rosemary sprig serving as the skewer. Gorgeous shrimp, scallops and cherry tomatoes absorbed that herbaceous rosemary flavor. A fresh, creamy pesto was a wonderful compliment to the shrimp. It was so smooth and more like a sauce than the traditional pesto I try to make at home. Another dish contributing to my spring fever.
Rosemary skewered-shrimp, scallops and tomatoes
Tiger prawns are a cross between a shrimp and a lobster. I've never seen anything like them in my life. They were about a foot long (not exaggerating) and Nasi coated them with olive oil and garlic before smoking them with 125-year-old wood, pine needles, pine cones and rosemary. This was such a wild thing to watch - he got the wood burning, then added the other aromatics, creating a really unique fragrance. After getting some great smoke going, he let the prawns cook for about 10 minutes. Then he torched them to ensure they were done cooking. The texture was exactly how you'd imagine a shrimp-lobster hybrid would be - it was creamy, buttery and sensational. I would have eaten four more.
Tiger Prawns!
Smoking the prawns!

So aromatic!

With the humongous prawns.
To round out the seafood feast, John treated us to an oven-roasted flounder, coated in Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and lemon. The fish melted in your mouth, and the salty bite from the Parmesan crust was addictive. Bright green, oven-roasted broccoli and asparagus made us feel less guilty for indulging in the thick, creamy grits (more like polenta) made by his lovely wife. I was full from the first three courses, but couldn't resist eating every bite on this plate.
Serving up the flounder!
This was such a delightful evening with wonderful company and delicious food. Every bite was perfect. It's also an inspiration that you can make some pretty fantastic seafood at home - and even more fantastic if you have a grill, 125-year-old-wood and a blowtorch. I will remember this evening for a long time.