Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Cuisine & Screen: Home Edition, Part 2

How's everyone doing today? Practicing social distancing? Staying home, save for taking a few walks to enjoy the beautiful blooms that spring brings? (I'm grateful for this beautiful wisteria in my backyard!) I thought I'd just check in and offer a brief recess from the crazy news updates with a few things I've been cooking and watching lately.
Beautiful Wisteria!

CUISINE

I had all the ingredients for a classic Pasta Puttanesca, so I thought I'd do my own riff on that. It's really savory and satisfying, and you likely have most of these ingredients in your pantry (maybe not the anchovies, but they should become a pantry staple!)

-olive oil (eyeball it, go around the pan twice)
-1/2 onion, diced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-8 mushrooms, chopped (I used button)
-1/4 green olives, pitted and chopped
-1 TB capers
-3 anchovy filets, minced
-14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
-2 TB tomato paste
-splash of white wine (I had some open so thought I'd splash it in!)
-red pepper flake to taste
-8 ounces long pasta such as linguine, spaghetti (or when those are both GONE from the shelves, try a fun noodle like Fusilli Col Buco)

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes, then add in the mushrooms with a sprinkle of salt. Meanwhile, bring some water to a boil and cook your pasta. Once the mushrooms have cooked down a bit, add in the olives, capers, anchovies, diced tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Add a splash of wine only if you have it open because you've been drinking it. I like spice, so I added a generous amount of red pepper flake. Taste the sauce for seasoning (it should already have plenty of salt with those ingredients!), then transfer the cooked pasta to the sauce and serve it up.
Pasta Puttanesca
I've been straying from my usual egg breakfast to indulge in some super satisfying Overnight Oats that you can customize and make however you want:

-1/2 cup oats
-1/2 cup milk OR plain greek yogurt
-1/4 cup craisins OR raisins
-1/2 an apple OR pear, diced
-palmful of nuts
-1/2 TB brown sugar
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1 tsp vanilla
-pinch of salt

Combine all of these, cover and put in the fridge overnight. Eat the next morning. It's so yummy!!

SCREEN
City of Gold - documentary about beloved LA food critic Jonathan Gold's impact on the food scene in LA and beyond. As a food blogger, I LOVED this film.

Citizen Kane - Rosebud...if you don't know, you'll know at the very end. I watched this in a Film Studies class at UNC but can't say for certain if I was 100% sober during the viewing (it was a night class and we had to make it fun!), so I decided it was worth a re-watch. It was indeed very good (it should be, as it's widely regarded as the best film of all time), though it dragged a bit in places. Cinephiles will appreciate.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - a pretty dated concept (obviously); decent performances by iconic movie stars

Close Encounters of the Third Kind - entertaining with beautiful visual effects, but a touch too long. Ahead of its time at the time!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Cuisine & Screen: Home Edition

How is everyone doing these days? Hanging in there? It's certainly weird times we're living in, but we're all in it together and we'll get through it. I've been doing a lot of cuisining and screening at home (you should be, too!) and thought I'd share a few recipes and films I've enjoyed lately.

CUISINE
I have finally mastered the art of oven-baked salmon. The trick? A meat thermometer! Truly, it is the best kitchen gadget I own. It takes all the guesswork out of cooking meat. Below is an incredible topping for salmon (though it would be fabulous on just about any fish, or even chicken and pork):

-Mince equal parts flat leaf parsley, garlic, capers and anchovies, then squirt with a bit of lemon. It's a flavor BOMB and really addicting. I usually start with about 1/4 cup parsley, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 TB of capers and 3 anchovies. I cannot recommend enough!!

Green Rice is a recipe that's been in my family for over 100 years. It comes from my great-grandmother on my dad's side. It makes a TON and is really satisfying:

-1 cup uncooked rice (don't add salt)
-1 beaten egg
-1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
-1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
-1 medium onion, chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
-1 green pepper, chopped
-1 cup milk
-1 TB salt
-1/2 tsp pepper

Cook the rice. Then add milk, eggs and all other ingredients. Stir to combine. Put this in a buttered casserole dish (1 quart) and bake for 45 minutes, uncovered, at 350.

Salmon with Anchovy topping, Green Rice and Brussels (I ate all my roasted ones before remembering to take the picture!)
I also have been living for Rachael Ray's Korean Sloppy Joes, and I baked an old-school recipe, Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Coconut Icing, and it's nearly impossible to stop eating. (I added craisins and subbed sweetened condensed milk for the cream in the frosting because it was all I had!)

SCREEN
I love a good Netflix binge, but I also love watching old films. Here's a few you might enjoy if you can get your hands on a copy:

-Funny Girl - the Babs Streisand classic, and she won an Oscar for it

-Moonstruck - Cher was fabulous, as per usual, and won an Oscar for this

-Urban Cowboy - not a feel good John Travolta musical but entertaining if you like Honky Tonks and Texas (like me)

-Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - only worth watching (kind of) if you were a fan of the first one

-Lawrence of Arabia - widely regarded as many famous directors' favorite film, and it was absolutely stunning, rightfully winning the Oscar for cinematography, but being 4 hours long? I just can't.

I hope this provided you with a little bit of humor and that it was a brief distraction. Now y'all seriously need to go try my anchovy topping. It's a showstopper!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Beefmastor Inn

The Beefmastor Inn is iconic. It's an institution. And it is as good as they say. No menus, and no worries. This is top-quality beef in an old-school environment. If you find yourself in the proximity of Wilson, NC, do yourself a favor and have dinner here. Arrive early to avoid the line (they only have 10 tables!) and if you're in the know, you'll show up with a beverage to pregame in the parking lot with (they have cornhole set up for that very reason). This place has been on my culinary bucket list for quite some time. I knew I was especially in for a treat when the owner opened the door to the awaiting crowd and said, "come on in, let's have some fun."
I finally made it!
The Beefmastor has been around since at least the 1970s, because my dad ate here shortly after moving to Wilson for a job. He's detailed his Beefmastor experience enough times for me to know I had to check this place out. Red and white checkered tablecloths adorn the tables, and a stick of softened butter is ready for your baked potato or your steak. Prompt and friendly servers come around taking drink orders (they do sell wine and beer), and then the chef comes around with an enormous slab of rib eye. He positions his knife (machete) at 8 ounces and asks how much more you want. I stuck with 8, and asked for medium rare. The only other choice you have is whether or not you want a baked onion (you do). The chef visits one table, then slices, seasons and starts searing your steak before advancing to the next.
Slicing my 8 ounces
The salad bar contains the usual suspects, as well as some that got me excited - sardines, dill pickle spears - they even offer pineapple and cottage cheese if you want a sweet start to the meal. Not 5 minutes after I finished my salad, my sizzling hot entree arrived. The steak was absolutely phenomenal. Seasoned and cooked to perfection. The fat melted right into the meat, and for not being a huge steak gal, I would eat this every week, easy. The baked potato is a classic side (I like all potatoes with ketchup - don't judge) and the baked onion brought a nice sweet acidity to break up the richness of the meat. A piece of buttered, grilled bread is also lovely to dunk in the sweet onion juice. You can really just lose your mind here. They want you to. That steak was out of this world.
Beauty in simplicity
Dessert is not an option, but don't worry, you won't have room for it anyway. I am so thrilled to finally try such a historic NC spot that my dad has been telling me about for years. It didn't disappoint. Frankly, it was much better than I could have anticipated.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Machete


At last. Foodies all over Greensboro have been patiently waiting for Machete to expand their dinner parties to a brick and mortar. We have been so eager for them to open their doors in the space previously occupied by Crafted Street Food. We have salivated over their Instagram posts, read dish descriptions in awe ("Cornbread, Popcorn, Cream" anyone?) and I'm thrilled to say: the wait is over. And it's been worth the wait. Machete's doors will open to the public tonight.
Love that glow light
The creative culinary team at Machete is churning out "Iron Chef" or "Master Chef" quality dishes, so my dining companions and I decided that they deserved an Iron Chef review. Meaning, everything was excellent, a few dishes we never could have possibly imagined, and a few tweaks might make some dishes outstanding.

I took advantage of the "Roll the Dice" offering on the cocktail menu, which literally means that you roll 3 dice containing different spirits, flavors and techniques, and let your bartender do the rest. I rolled "spicy", "vodka" and "shaken" and was delighted with the Vodka Gimlet with Spicy Bitters I received. I also appreciated the wine tastings to help me determine which glass I wanted.


I was encouraged by other friends to try the Bread Service - Focaccia with Carbonara Butter. The perfectly fine Focaccia is clearly just a vessel for the Carbonara Butter, which is the star of the show. The butter is super airy and whipped - frankly I don't know how they managed to get it quite this light - and boasts major umami from smoky bacon (liquid smoke?), sweet corn and saltiness from the butter itself. I would have appreciated another piece of bread to go with all this butter!
Bread Service

Simply described as Yellowfin Tuna + Charcoal Crisp, this was my second favorite bite of the night. The charcoal crisp had great flavor - more savory than smoky, which was my preference. Incredibly flavorful and tender raw tuna was nestled into each crisp,  just waiting to be devoured. Each crisp was topped with small strands of seaweed. I would eat 100 of these.
Yellowfin Tuna, Charcoal Crisp

While perusing the menu, my eyes went immediately to the Short Rib with Coal-Roasted Cabbage and Kimchi Butter. The Short Rib was reminiscent of a really good pot roast - no bones, complete with gravy. While I was hoping for the promised tang of Kimchi, I got more of a smoky, charcoal flavor from the cabbage. I was disappointed at first, notably missing that acid, but then tried the bites together and was able to find a nice acid in the gravy, so when paired when the cabbage, it kind of made for a riff on kimchi. My party later spoke with the very gracious owner, who explained that their vision for this menu is to suggest flavors, and suggest that you alter your expectations. The dishes and their explanations are not necessarily promising you flavors, but suggesting them. It's a very cool concept, if your diners are willing to go along with it. My dining partner noted that he would have liked a base to soak up all the gravy - potatoes, riced cauliflower, maybe even polenta. I don't disagree.
Short Rib, Cabbage, Kimchi Butter

My party wanted to try several things on the menu, and we were especially pleased with the reasonable price points. Nothing seemed out of reach, and it was nice to be able to try a variety of dishes. We noticed that the dishes were staggering out of the kitchen a bit slowly, but we agreed that this time between each course really encourages conversation about the dish. The environment promotes a culinary adventure. Servers don't hover, so you can speak your mind with your dining companions. Discussing the meal is party of the meal. This place really isn't for non-foodies. We also found out that they've only been in this space for 6 weeks, and the staff has only been together for 1 week! Crazy impressive.

Roasted Cauliflower is hot right now, and pairing it with Aji Amarillo Peppers and Smoked Tomato sounded divine. There was a yummy roast on the cauliflower - the veggie itself was tender and the tops were crispy.  This was a very satisfying dish, and fabulous with the itty bitty aji amarillos, which provided a slight sweetness and spice. One of my dining partners remarked that they wanted an aioli from these peppers - again, I don't disagree!
Roasted Cauliflower, Aji Amarillos, Smoked Tomatoes

We ordered the Double-Fried Chicken with Grilled Lemon and were slightly surprised to get what reminded us of tempura-fried chicken nuggets on a skewer. But the chicken was incredibly moist and really shines with the grilled lemon aioli. Again, we didn't quite receive what we were expecting, but we were happy to just roll with it. My dining partner once again offered his thoughts and would have liked to see a spicy element to this dish, maybe in the aioli, with a charred lemon half to squirt on top. (If you couldn't already tell, this dining partner has several opinions, but many of them are thoughtful and good suggestions).
Double-Fried Chicken with Grilled Lemon

The desserts were my favorite part of the meal. They were absolutely sensational. Come for the dinner, but STAY for the dessert. The Fruity Pebbles ice cream is incredibly nostalgic. Being millennials, we all lost our minds when we bit into balls of cereal milk ice cream, rolled in slightly salted fruity pebbles. No spoon required, but it might make this last longer. All of a sudden, it was 1994 again and there were zero worries in the world.
Fruity Pebbles Ice Cream

The pièce de résistance was the "All Cheese, no Cake", which upon my cursory review of the menu, I thought meant a cheese course. That would have made perfect sense for a dessert course, but when my bartender acquaintance insisted we order this, I knew there had to be a trick up their sleeves. I would have been utterly devastated if I had missed it. Immediately, my entire party had a physiological response to this dish. We couldn't eat it fast enough but wanted desperately to discuss it - what in the world were we eating?! We decided it was a deconstructed cheesecake, with notes of buttered popcorn, sweetened condensed milk, salt, spice from the meringue and graham cracker cookies - this dish was literally everything. Perfectly balanced, and in my top 3 (maybe top 2?) best ever restaurant desserts. DO NOT MISS.
All Cheese, No Cake

We loved the opportunity to chat with the owner, who came around and spoke to every table. He asked for feedback and initial thoughts prior to their grand opening, and they really want to make a home in our community. I was eager to tell him how excited we all were to welcome them, and can't wait to see the awesome things they'll do.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

RiverRun International Film Festival

Y'all - tickets for the RiverRun International Film Festival are now on sale! This is such an awesome event and I'm so proud that it's in my hometown every year. What a cool thing for Winston-Salem to have! The Festival runs March 26 - April 4, and this year, the staff had a record 2,100 submissions to screen. That's pretty unreal! They've selected some incredible films, shorts and documentaries, and they're even showing some throwbacks. Red Cinemas in Greensboro will run some screenings, so whether you live in Winston or GSO, you can take part in the Festival!

I was thrilled to attend the 2020 Festival Launch Party at the Carolina Theatre's Crown Room this week, where they announced the lineup. It's exciting to see so many people of all ages and backgrounds unite around film. We got to see several reel clips and previews, and there's seriously something for everyone.

I'm most looking forward to seeing "Love Sarah", "Blue & Gold Marching Machine" (part of the NC shorts), "Standing Up, Falling Down" and "Slay the Dragon" and will see as many more as I can possibly fit in my schedule. You can read about each film here.

I encourage you to get involved and go check out a film. And more importantly, secure your tickets before they sell out (and they will!) I'll meet you at the movies!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Just Mercy

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes
Rating: PG-13

The first time I heard of Bryan Stevenson (I'm embarrassed to say) was just back in 2017, when he spoke as part of Guilford College's Bryan Series. He spoke about his book Just Mercy, and the work he's done to exonerate wrongly accused death row prisoners. I was moved by his speech and got my hands on a copy of the book. In more than one instance, the book brought me to tears. So when I heard they were making a film based on Just Mercy and Bryan's work, I was thrilled to hear it. Again, more than once, the film brought me (and several people in the audience) to tears, and left me very troubled with startling stats at the end (you can read some of them here). I'm stunned the film hasn't gotten more critical acclaim, especially during the current awards season. While it was long in parts, I thought it was fantastic and a film everyone should see.

We meet Bryan, played by the always delightful and delicious Michael B. Jordan, as he's pursuing a law degree at Harvard. Much to his mother's chagrin, he turns down fancy job offers to work in Alabama, giving poor inmates on death row legal advice. His clients are all men, mostly African American. Some are guilty and admit it, and some insist they are innocent, just guilty from the moment they were born, because of their skin color. Jamie Foxx plays real-life former death row inmate Walter "Johnny D" McMillan. This performance might be my favorite of Foxx's to date. A jury convicted him of murder, based on the false testimony of a convicted white felon. Johnny D questions Bryan's ability to get any traction on his case, because the jury ignored the 20+ African Americans who testified that Johnny D was at a fish fry that day, and nowhere near the murder scene.

Brie Larson brings quiet strength to her role of Eva Ansley, the current Operations Director at Bryan's company Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). She is bound and determined to help Bryan's cause, even if it means getting threats from people in the community. Just when the team thinks they have a crack in the case, it gets shot down. The system seemed to be corrupt, and there was no way to change it. I admire their persistence and resilience to pursue justice at any cost. As Bryan said in the film, "it's never too late for justice."

There were several side stories regarding other prisoners, including the one who falsely testified against Johnny D. There were really beautiful moments and fantastic character work. I do think a few scenes could have been a bit tighter and shorter, but I would have watched these stories all day. The tears really flowed at the end, when we get to see real-life footage of wrongly accused death row inmates reunited with their family. EJI has become a powerhouse organization, overturning 140 wrongly accused sentences. Go see this movie. If you can hear Bryan Stevenson speak in person, do it. If you like to read, pick up a copy of Just Mercy. He will quickly become a hero of yours, as he has become for me.

Monday, February 3, 2020

2020 Oscar Predictions

Best Picture
1917
Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood
Parasite

Should Win: Of this random and somewhat unimpressive list, my favorite films were "Jojo Rabbit" and "Parasite". I don't believe "Jojo" has quite the chops to pull off a Best Picture Oscar win, though it was hilarious and cute and fresh and moving. So my vote goes to "Parasite". It was also darkly hilarious and fresh and moving, and as Director Bong Joon-ho said during his Golden Globe acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film, if we could just get used to subtitles, our worlds would be opened up to films beyond belief.

Will Win: I think it's a toss-up between "1917" and "Parasite". The latter is likely to win for Best International Feature Film, and the Academy has never awarded an International Film the Best Picture award. And as much as Hollywood loves stories about Hollywood, I think the Academy will look to "1917" for the big award.

Best Actress
Cynthia Erivo, "Harriet"
Scarlett Johansson, "Marriage Story"
Saoirse Ronan, "Little Women"
Charlize Theron, "Bombshell" 
Renée Zellweger, "Judy"

Should Win: Renée all day. She slayed this performance, which was heart-breaking, and she brought enormous empathy to the role. She did her own singing and was totally unrecognizable. No contest.

Will Win: Renée.

Best Actor
Antonio Banderas, "Pain and Glory"
Leonardo "my husband" DiCaprio, "Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood" 
Adam Driver, "Marriage Story"
Joaquin Phoenix, "Joker"
Jonathan "Peron" Pryce, "The Two Popes"

Should Win: It's difficult for me to not be biased toward Leo, because I think he is fabulous in every role. He was truly exceptional as aging, has-been actor Rick Dalton. But for his heart-wrenching performance in "Joker" and for his body of work, it's Joaquin Phoenix's turn.

Will Win: Joaquin's got it in the bag.

Best Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates, "Richard Jewell"
Laura Dern, "Marriage Story"
Scarlett Johansson, "Jojo Rabbit"
Florence Pugh, "Little Women"
Margot "queen" Robbie, "Bombshell"

Should Win: J. Lo, except that she wasn't even nominated! If I'm to pick from the actual nominee list, I would vote for Florence Pugh. She was the best part about "Little Women," and she stole the movie. She gave the Amy character more depth and well-roundedness than I have seen in other productions. 

Will Win: Laura friggin' Dern. I don't particularly get why she was nominated for the brief time she was in "Marriage Story," and I didn't particularly like the movie. But she's everywhere these days and has "paid her dues," I suppose, so I'm pretty sure it's hers.

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"
Anthony Hopkins, "The Two Popes"
Al Pacino, "The Irishman"
Joe Pesci, "The Irishman"
Brad "yum" Pitt, "Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood" 

Should Win: This is really tough, because I think Tom, Al and Brad all did exceptional work here. However, because everyone else has already won an Oscar, and because he really was fabulous in the film, and because of his body of work, I think this deserves to go to Brad.

Will Win: Brad.

Best Director
Man # 1 - Martin Scorsese, "The Irishman"
Man # 2 - Todd Phillips, "Joker"
Man #3 - Sam Mendes, "1917"
Man # 4 - Quentin Tarantino, "Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood"
Man # 5 - Bong Joon-ho, "Parasite"

Should Win: My man Q has never won an Oscar for directing, and I see it possibly happening here. However, Bong Joon-ho has burst on the screen with a film everyone is talking about. My vote is for one of these two men. Out of the five men nominated. 

Will Win: "Parasite" could not be hotter right now, and on the tails of 2019's Best Director win for Alfonso Cuarón for "Roma," I'm predicting a win for South Korea's Bong Joon-ho.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Butcher & Bull

Chef Richard Miller's newest venture into the culinary world is a knockout. Located inside the Marriott in Downtown Winston-Salem, Butcher & Bull is doing so many things right. From their ample bar, to prompt and courteous service, and from the excellent cooking techniques all the way to the plates and glassware - I could not have been more thrilled by the meal and experience I had there last week. Chef Miller stays true to his passion for local ingredients, and many NC farms and butchers are found on his menu. Throughout the month of January and February, they're participating in downtown Winston-Salem's "The Big Eat," so you can try a featured dish for half the price! That should be enough to lure you there, but the experience itself will have you returning. I can't wait to go back.

My dining partner and I were there for "The Big Eat" special, but we wanted to try a handful of other dishes, so we opted to start with the Spanish Octopus. When done correctly, octopus is phenomenal. And at Butcher & Bull, it's done to perfection. The octopus is charred, and not rubbery at all. It reminded me of a thick slab of bacon. It's served with a Roasted Red Pepper sauce, Red Island Sea Beans that reminded us of Crowder Peas, thinly sliced Celery and thickly cubed Chorizo. This might seem like a risky dish, but I promise you - if you're an adventurous eater and haven't tried Octopus, try it here. It's outstanding!
Charred Octopus
The Big Eat special is something I definitely would have selected on my own. Perfectly cooked, melt in your mouth Scallops sit atop buttery, velvety Parsnip Puree, and are topped with crispy, salty fried parsnip strips. Chef adds in a few local mushrooms for meatiness, and drizzles some Smoked Shoyu Butter on top for good measure, and to give it a boost of umami flavor. One of the most outstanding scallop dishes I've ever had. The parsnips are more exciting than mashed potatoes, and the addition of mushrooms and fried parsnips for chew and crunch is imperative, since the scallops and puree have a similar texture. Brilliant dish.
Scallops with Parsnips
Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Tenderloin is cooked absolutely perfectly. There's a slightly salty crust on the outside, and the meat itself is unbelievably tender. It's tea-brined, but don't let that deter you. If anything, it just adds another layer of flavor, but doesn't alter the beautiful taste of the meat. It's served with slightly sweet Mushroom Spoonbread (I'm a fan of any sort of spoonbread or corn pudding) and a Walnut Apple Chutney because apple and pork are a match made in heaven. Thankfully, the Red Eye Gravy isn't too coffee-forward, it's more of a nice, salty jus.
Pork Tenderloin with Apple Chutney
We lost our minds for the Creme Caramel, a flan-like, custardy mound that is rich beyond words. It's served with a Honey Bourbon Drizzle, Walnuts and garnished with what should be Marigolds, but my companion remarked that they were more like purple pansies. We could not get enough of this decadent dessert. We both scraped the plate so hard, I thought we would permanently scratch it.
Creme Caramel
If the food is any indication of whether or not a restaurant will succeed (hint, it is), I am very confident in Butcher & Bull's success. I hope people will realize that parking in downtown Winston is not difficult (the Cherry Marshall Deck is always a great option!) and they should come support local spots. Great food is great food, and I promise you'll find something you like here. We didn't even dive into the steak menu, which is their specialty! They have something for everyone and you're sure to enjoy it too.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Social on Friendly

The Social on Friendly has been many things over the years - Ham's and Madhatter to name a few - but lucky for us, the restaurant has a brand new head chef who's doing some very exciting shake-ups to the menu. The Social sits conveniently between the Sunset Hills and Westerwood neighborhoods in Greensboro, and it offers incredibly delicious food that's very reasonably priced. The ample bar, numerous TVs, wine offerings and craft beer selection make The Social an ideal hangout for millenials, though people of any age will enjoy it. Their plan is to slowly introduce more tapas and small plates, and offer less entrees. Based on my experience here last week, I can definitely see myself becoming a regular.

My friends and I started with a lot of appetizers, since they all sounded pretty irresistible. The Bangin' Shrimp lives up to its name. About a dozen shrimp are lightly breaded and fried, and tossed in a slightly spicy, slightly sweet house bangin' sauce. The shrimp are large, super tender and cooked perfectly. The crispy crust even retained its crunchy texture after being drizzled with the sauce. Scallions offer a nice bite and color.
Bangin' Shrimp
Brussels Sprouts are truly having a moment. They're one of my favorite things to cook at home, and one of my favorite sides to get at restaurants. These Crispy Brussels were flash fried and incredibly tender - not a tough cabbage in the bunch! They're tossed with Bacon and Parmesan, which make everything better, and drizzled with a tangy balsamic vinegar reduction. These are difficult to share.
Crispy Brussels
Crispy Green Tomatoes are a pretty presentation, feautring buttermilk-breaded, thickly sliced green tomatoes. They're sprinkled with creamy, tangy goat cheese, crispy bacon, scallions and bangin' sauce. The acid from the tomato, creaminess from the goat cheese and spice from the sauce make this a nearly perfect bite. These are particularly tasty, not greasy, and like many of their apps, could almost suffice as a full meal.
Crispy Green Tomatoes
Chicken Tender fans will lose their mind for The Social's rendition. These tenders are thick, moist and enormous. There's a lovely crust on the outside that clings to your choice of dipping sauce (we tried all three) - ranch, BBQ and...that's right...bangin'! These are extremely satisfying for kids and adults alike.
Chicken Tenders
The Chef's Seasonal Catch sounded awesome to many people in my group. Jerk Salmon with a Strawberry Balsamic sauce was cooked to perfection. The fish was moist, tender and boasted authentic Jerk flavors. The sweetness of the strawberry and the tanginess of the balsamic made this a beautifully well-rounded dish. I got to choose two sides to accompany the salmon, so I opted for rich, cheesy grits and a side spinach salad, complete with radishes, carrots and tomato. Both sides were high-quality.
Chef's Seasonal Catch - Jerk Salmon
A meal for me isn't complete without a little something sweet at the end, so we opted for the featured dessert: homemade Chocolate Pudding. And you can tell that it was homemade. It was thick in texture but light and not too rich in flavor - just perfect so that you can enjoy the whole dish. Fresh whipped cream is always a great addition, and the chocolate chips on top added a nice crunch. I swore I tasted something similar to a toasted marshmallow, because I got a major s'mores vibe, but the chef insisted it was just high-quality ingredients. I'd like to dip graham crackers in this though, and do my own riff on a s'more.
Dessert special - Chocolate Pudding
I am so excited to see these changes at The Social, and even more excited for what I know will be a successful "new beginning" and re-branding for the restaurant. They offer brunch on the weekend, and I am eager to try their Huevos Rancheros and their plethora of brunch cocktails. If you've dined here in recent months or years, you definitely need to return - it's different, and it's better. You won't be disappointed.
Some of the best people you'll ever meet.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cuisine in LA

LA (at one point) was known for being a city with incredible food that no one eats. Well, on this recent trip, we ate. A LOT. We had some absolutely fabulous meals, and one not-so-fabulous experience at a restaurant that had been on my bucket list forever...but I'll start at the beginning.

True to LA fashion, our first stop after we landed was In-N-Out. And I gotta say, I finally realized that I am just not an In-N-Out fan. I get why people like it...it's not greasy or whatever...but neither are Bobby Flay's burgers from Bobby's Burger Palace. Neither are Shake Shack's burgers. Neither are the ones I make at home using ground beef from Red Oak Brewery (it's the best ground beef and the best kept secret in town). Not to mention the hyper-sweet Strawberry Milkshake - just licking the straw was enough to know that I was not going to enjoy it. So yeah, no more In-N-Out for me!

Catch LA is one of the trendy restaurants I researched, and though we waited 20 minutes past our reservation to be seated, it was the best food of the trip. The star of the show was the Truffle Sashimi Tuna and Hamachi with Chile Ponzu and Caviar. Unbelievable. The pièce de résistance though, was the dessert: Sticky Coconut Cake with Coconut Sorbet and Mango Sauce, a terrific take on my second favorite dessert of all time, Sticky Rice with Mango. I'm salivating right now just thinking about it! Sadly, both of these dishes were ravished before any photos could be taken.


We grabbed a drink at the Chateau Marmont (the Bleu Velvet Martini, obviously), and learned that we can't take pictures in there! I snuck one anyway. I had to! We zoomed over to The Bazaar by José Andrés. ("Zoomed" is quite the figure of speech; everywhere in LA takes 30 minutes.) I knew this place would be excellent, because Chef Andrés is an inventive, whimsical chef with restaurants all over the country. From the chairs to the glassware, everything about this place was indeed, bizarre. Particularly the food! The first thing that caught my eye was the "Philly Cheesesteak", in quotations on the menu. The description read: Air Bread, Cheddar and Wagyu Beef. Of course we ordered one, and of course it came at the end of the meal. This was like a cracker thin eclair topped with thin beef shavings, and when you bit into it, garlicky, melted cheddar oozed out. It was sensational! We also went crazy over the lamb shank. For dessert, we were taken into a separate room with a dessert bar. Smart, because you eat with your eyes first! We loved the Vanilla Mousse Cake with Caramel and Speculoos Crunch. YUM!

I had to!

The Bazaar

Dessert bar at The Bazaar

Moonshadows in Malibu was right on the beach, and it was an absolutely spectacular day to dine al fresco. (Side note, our server looked like a combination of John Stamos / Jonathan Rhys-Myers, so we would have sat there all day). We were concerned that a place as beautiful as this wouldn't have good food, but au contraire - the food was fantastic. We particularly loved the Tuna Tartare. And the champagne. Always champagne.

Lunch at Moonshadows

I was stoked out of my mind to dine at Spago in Beverly Hills, which is Wolfgang Puck's flagship restaurant. Unfortunately...it was the biggest bust. We were seated in what felt like a hallway, between the two dining rooms, with air vents below and above us. So it felt like we were in the way, and we were cold the whole time. It wasn't until we were 3/4 through our meal that a manager handled the air problem! We did enjoy the food - Uni with Soft Scrambled Eggs, Chestnut and Mascarpone Agnolotti (it really was amazing) and Sea Bass with Black Bean Sauce - but the bad experience overwhelmed the good food. A real shame. And there were no heaters outside for the valet. And it's ranked #2 on TripAdvisor! I just don't get it.

Overall the food on our trip was outstanding, though it was second on the priority list for this trip. We were there for the Golden Globes. The good food was just an added bonus.