Thursday, October 19, 2017

Turning 30 in New Orleans

During my last trip to New Orleans, it became clear to me as to why I love this city so much. In New Orleans, eating and drinking in (reasonably responsible) excess is the norm. It's a no-judgment city. You want a dirty martini after a bottle of red wine? Sure! You want 2 orders of bananas foster? Why not? You want a shot of brandy in your milk with breakfast? Let's do it. NoLa reminds me of Vegas in the sense that it can indeed be Sin City - the bars are open 24 hours and they'll serve you anytime you're willing to buy it. But it's much more than that - it's a beautiful merging of cultures. You can see French, Spanish and African influences in the food, architecture, accents and music, which is playing on every other street corner. NoLa indulged my inner glutton for my 30th birthday celebration, and it's now my happy place. I'll be returning for every major birthday, half-birthday, and my friends' and family's major birthdays, too. Really as often as I possibly can.
At Restaurant R'evolution, an old fave!
Planing the restaurant/meal itinerary for my mom and me was an utterly exhilarating challenge - how could we possibly eat everywhere we wanted to?! There are literally not enough hours in the day! If we had an early enough breakfast, we would have time for an early lunch, a late lunch, day drinking, dinner and night time drinking! It's difficult not to fill up on breakfast at Cafe Fleur de Lis, where I enjoyed the best omelette of my entire life - a CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE omelette. Are they trying to ruin all other food for me? The buttery, peppery sauce was studded with pink, tender crawfish, and gooey provolone cheese only enhanced the dish. Pair this with their Sweet Cream Pancakes and wash it down with a Strawberry Mimosa, and you've got a great start to a great day.

If you find yourself in the Garden District for some strolling and shopping, you might want to check out the American Horror Story: Coven house and snap a few pics (optional) but you'll definitely want to dine at Commander's Palace (mandatory). They have 25 cent martinis at lunch during the weekday. Are you kidding me? SIN CITY!!! We opted for a 3-course brunch with the highlight being the Pecan Crusted Fish with corn cream, spiced pecans and prosecco-poached blue crab. It was a life-altering food moment (my first life-altering fish moment was the Brioche-crusted fish at Restaurant August in New Orleans, for those of you taking notes). The sauce was out of this world. This was a no-judgment day for sure, because we were there for the Bananas Foster, but our 3-course brunch came with a dessert included. So we opted for the Praline Parfait (with ice cream, spiced pralines, gooey praline sauce and chantilly cream), and the Caramel Roasted Apple Cobbler (with pecan streusel topping, Creole cream cheese icing and brown butter ice cream) as dessert appetizers while we waited for the main event. Finally, the bananas foster cart wheeled around, and before long, the scent of butter and brown sugar filled the air. Rum and banana liquour was added, and the syrupy sauce topped vanilla ice cream alongside slices of that syrup-poached banana. It's my favorite dessert ever. (Watch Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table on Netflix for a really great documentary about the family that started Commander's Palace, Brennan's and several other restaurants in NoLa).
All teal everything!
Coven house!
Never too early for a cocktail here.
Praline Parfait!
Bananas Foster!
Continue exploring the city and you'll find that you are indeed hungry again and could go for a bite. Willa Jean is a nice change from the rich Creole/Cajun fare, and it's one of Chef John Besh's babies. The prettiest, most picturesque meal we had was the Braised Lamb Pasta with mint pesto, tomatoes, peas and feta, adorned with edible flowers! The lamb was so tender, almost unctuous, and the pop of pea and tang from tomato cut right through the savoriness. I loved the color in this dish. But my favorite morsel from Willa Jean was the Cookies + Milk dessert. Cookie Dough on a beater, studded with chocolate CHUNKS, is served with 3 warm, freshly-baked, chocolate chunk cookies, sprinkled with sea salt. If that isn't enough, there's some vanilla-infused milk for your dunking/gulping pleasure. It's as amazing as it sounds.
Beautiful lamb pasta!
This is what I came for.
If you're getting hungry, please, go make yourself a snack. We're not quite done here.

My mom ate at Brennan's nearly 30 years ago, so we were super stoked to return and find it as fabulous as she remembered. The restaurant is gorgeous - everything is light pink and light green - and they even brought me a birthday treat! But first, order a Watermelon Mimosa to stick with the light pink theme. Then, opt for the Rock Shrimp Risotto with asparagus and truffled parmesan butter (WOW) or the Eggs Cardinal with crispy shrimp boudin (sausage), spinach, lobster sauce and black truffled hollandaise. Seriously, this is decadence at its finest. As Tony Bourdain once described while dining at the famed French Laundry, this dish was like driving a Rolls Royce while wearing fur underwear. Pure extravagance. You should order the Bananas Foster here too, because it was actually created here (and dare I say it's a little better than Commander's?) and if it's your birthday, you'll get a Cotton Candy ice cream sundae with a cherry nectar ice cream and pink whipped cream to boot. So whimsical and tasty!
Cotton Candy birthday delight!
MORE FOSTER.
Antoine's is the first (and therefore oldest) family-owned restaurant in the US. My mom and I had always heard of this classic New Orleans dining spot, but we weren't sure if it was still as good as it once was. I'm so pleased to tell you that it is. This place knows how to do a Wedge Salad. They've got a kickass Filet Mignon. And the Pompano Ponchartrain - topped with lump crabmeat and sauteed in butter - is out of this world. We had to save room for one of their old school desserts, and we were just about to order the Cherries Jubilee, when we switched to the Baked Alaska. Pound cake is topped with real vanilla ice cream, and covered with a sweet meringue that's like a marshmallow. It's torched to a beautiful tan hue and more decorative meringue is piped on. We devoured the entire thing. I can't imagine splitting it with more than one other person. It was too good to share!!
Baked Alaska heaven.
If you've made it to the bottom of this post, you can clearly sense my passion for this city - more specifically, the food and drink of this city. (And you'll also notice that I ignored the allotted number of exclamation points for a blog post, which further expresses my enthusiasm for this city). There's just something in the air in New Orleans. You feel right at home, and like the people can't wait for you to come back and visit. It was a very big birthday to celebrate, and it's a very special place to do it in.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Crossroads Chapel Hill

Ah, Chapel Hill. One of the happiest places on Earth - probably tying with NYC and NoLa for my favorite place ever. I spent 4 wondrous years here and look for any reason to go back for a visit. I had the great privilege of returning last week, to The Carolina Inn's restaurant, Crossroads Chapel Hill, for an exclusive preview of their new signature autumn tasting menu. I was delighted to be included in this group of diners, and even more thrilled with the creativity and execution of the menu. From Tiradito of Hamachi (raw fish) to Black Truffle Risotto (pure decadence), all the way to savory Robiola Cheese in a dessert course, this menu was thoroughly cohesive, intentional and well thought-out. Not to mention, overwhelmingly delicious! Executive Chef and 7-time Michelin Star recipient Brandon Sharp has brought this beautiful six-course menu to life. His 7 stars are very much deserved. This was an exceptional meal.

An amuse bouche of Lobster Knuckle with mustard, apple and celery ignited our palates with a jolt. This reminded me of a lobster roll, in bite size form. From the way these sweet and tart flavors played with each other, and the tender lobster meat, I knew we were in for a culinary adventure.
Amuse Bouche - Lobster Knuckle

Our first course echoed the amuse bouche: Tiradito of Hawaiian Hamachi, which is a Peruvian way of eating fish. The hamachi was raw and sliced about half an inch thick. Hamachi is a white fish, texturally like tuna, but richer. Puffed rice was a nice and nutty crunch, with perfectly cut cubes of green tomato and a Fresno Chile Cirtus sauce for heat and brightness. My favorite part about this dish might have been the wine pairing: a pear-cider like wine, that is made like champagne but meant to be consumed as a wine. My palate was wide awake after this course.
Tiradito of Hawaiian Hamachi
I got whiffs of truffle the moment the next course appeared in the room. The overwhelming scent just begged me to dive in to the Black Truffle Risotto, and as my fellow diner and friend John Batchelor remarked, it's like I had a Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally" moment. It was unbelievably rich and one of the best dishes I've ever had. I mean that so sincerely - it deserves a Michelin Star or a  James Beard Award all on its own. The risotto was surrounded by a sweet yellow corn zabaglione (like a thick "juice") which cut through some of the richness. The Stags' Leap Chardonnay was a beautiful match, and the acid helped cut through the full flavors, as well. I would marry this dish if it were legal!
Black Truffle Risotto
Our third dish was presented as Rabbit Loin with Rabbit Ragout, but it's really rabbit three ways: a beautifully cooked rabbit loin, surrounded by mouslin (rabbit sausage - YUM) and a slowly braised leg - the rabbit ragout. Each presentation of the meat was cooked perfectly and the earthy Mole Verde and Charred Orange sauces brought out different flavors in the protein. I loved the salinity of the dried olives, the sharpness of the pickled raisins, and the crunch of the pumpkin seeds. Everything on this plate was well-executed and intentional. I was beginning to see a trend - Chef Brandon is a master of his craft. I would have loved another pour of the Clos del Portal Negre de Negres Spanish wine (60% Grenache). You could really taste the slate soil this wine came from, which matched perfectly with the earthiness of this dish.
Rabbit Loin with Rabbit Ragout
My favorite part of the next dish, grilled Flatiron American Kobi, was the crust of the meat. Or the perfectly cooked medium rare center. No, it was definitely the sweet Cippolini Onions. Wait, I take it all back. I read the words Crispy Bone Marrow and my eyes lit up. It appeared as a fried mozzarella stick, but when you cut into it, the savory, unctuous bone marrow oozed all over the meat. The cauliflower puree benefited from this additional flavor too, and it was a nice contrast from the bright, lemony thyme gremolata. What better to pair with a dish like this than a beautiful California Cab from Stonestreet Estate? Red meat and red wine are a match made in heaven.
Grilled Flatiron American Kobe
I have a tremendous sweet tooth, but I could not get enough of this next pre-dessert course. It was truly satisfying as a complete dessert course, or as a fellow diner remarked, perhaps even a breakfast course! Buckwheat Blinis (like mini pancakes) are stacked high and should be spread with "thousand-layer Caramel Apples" (apples cooked for 16 hours with salt and sugar) and the star of the dish: Boxcarr Creamery Rocket's Robiola Cheese. It reminded me of a Brie-Goat Cheese hybrid, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper. It was so fun to build your own bite, and the super sweet, floral Moscato D'Asti was the perfect accompaniment. This was my favorite pairing, and the wine would have sufficed as a dessert all on its own.
Buckwheat Blinis with Thousand-Layer Caramel Apples and Robiola Cheese
Not being a chocolate fan, I was relieved when I saw that the last course was a Chocolate Cake. I thought phew, my tummy can take a break and I won't be miserable eating this last course! Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), this was an incredibly light chocolate cake, studded with figs, so it reminded me of a fig newton in the BEST way possible. The flavors were stunning! The cake was topped with syrupy figs and a buttery Honey-Oaked Gelato, which I would have loved just on its own. The Royal Tokaji Late Harvest was a syrupy dessert wine that went beautifully with this dish. Pairing dessert wines is an art and they nailed it both times. Really, any wine pairing is an art, and they truly thought through every single element of every single course, and paired the right wine consistently.
Chocolate Cake with Fig and Honey Oaked Gelato
You can enjoy Crossroads Chapel Hill's fine dining menu and wine pairings Thursday-Saturday from 5:30-9pm. This expansion from their a la carte menu will further establish the restaurant as a culinary destination in Chapel Hill. It's only $75 for 6 courses, and an additional $65 for the wine pairings (which honestly, makes the dinner that much more enjoyable!) I haven't left a dinner this impressed in a long time. I'm so eager to return.

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.