Saturday, January 28, 2012


Charlotte Restaurant Week really lets you get a bang for your buck. I’m getting too accustomed to these upscale, three-course meals in such fine-dining establishments! I should probably change my blog to “Cooking at Home with Amanda,” but I digress… If you can squeeze in a reservation to Aria Tuscan Grill in Uptown Charlotte before the Queen’s Feast is over, do it. The restaurant sits across the street from the Omni Hotel, and the dining room is below street level. The architecture is aesthetically pleasing, with a stairwell leading down to a vast seating area, a glass cabinet displaying a huge wine selection, and abstract décor adorning the walls. I always love a restaurant that lets you have a view into the kitchen, too. 

I’m a red wine fan, but I also enjoy the occasional bubble, and if you’re in the same boat as me, have I got a wine for you! I had Lambrusco for the first time last week and fell in love. It’s the best of both worlds – a sparkling, chilled red wine. The Medici Ermete Lambrusco Solo was a spectacular start to the meal. Warm ciabatta bread and a chunky white bean and onion relish was brought to the table. This was an interesting, yet tasty change from the usual Olive Oil dip (which was also on the table) and I should have avoided eating so much of it since I had three courses coming!

Caramelized Gnocchi featured pillow-like potato dumplings, with a scrumptious gorgonzola and truffle oil sauce. Everything is better with truffle oil. It’s like ice cream on peach cobbler, avocado on your burger – it’s culinary gold. Prosciutto added a salty bite to the dish, and julienned pears added crunch, though the sweetness was unrecognizable against the strong gorgonzola flavor.

I sampled a slice of my companion’s Wild Mushroom Pizza (a large serving) with goat cheese, caramelized onion, arugula and more of that yummy truffle oil. The goat cheese was salty and creamy, a standout against typical mozzarella. This was a tasty oil-based pizza. 

I went out of my comfort zone for a protein I had never tried, and it won me over. Slow Cooked Veal Risotto was rich and delectable, and I cleaned my plate. Large chunks of veal were served in a succulent red wine sauce with perfectly cooked risotto, pine nuts for texture, alongside Roasted Bone Marrow. I’ve had bone marrow once before, and it has a soft and almost slimy texture, though it has great flavor from being roasted in the bone. Anytime meat is cooked on the bone, it’s extremely tender and flavorful. The dish was topped with celery leaves, and though I’m not the biggest fan of celery, the sharp and bitter flavor provided nice contrast to the creamy sauce. Overall, the dish was a beautiful blending of flavors, and I appreciate the fact that the risotto was not undercooked, as it oftentimes gets stuck in your teeth...not okay.

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli was served in a lovely, nutty browned butter sauce, alongside small bites of spicy sausage and wilted greens. Browned butter is on the same level as truffle oil – it just takes the flavor up a few notches. (Ever tried browned butter cream cheese frosting? Out of this world.) The sausage bites were so small that I thought it was bacon at first, and the butternut squash filling played between sweet and savory notes. A splendid dish.

Dessert finally arrived, and of course I made room for a few bites. Mascarpone Cheesecake was complemented with a strawberry sauce that tasted fresh, obviously not from a plastic bottle. Mascarpone is a savory, creamy cheese (very similar to cream cheese) so this made for a really fluffy cheesecake. It’s hard to mess up this classic dessert, but the use of mascarpone was a noticeable and fantastic choice. 

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake is definitely a chocolate-lover’s dream. The chocolate cake itself wasn’t too sweet, but layers of hazelnut gelato and chocolate ganache made for a rich dessert. Toasted hazelnuts on top provided a nice crunch, and it was almost like eating Nutella in cake form! A scoop of strawberry gelato was served on the side oddly enough, but this fruity cream broke up the chocolate flavor nicely.

Aria transported me to beautiful Tuscany with wonderful modern Italian cuisine, and provided an attractive atmosphere as well. You’ll absolutely get your $30 worth if you come here for Restaurant Week - which ends tomorrow, so hurry and make your reservations!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Alton's Kitchen and Cocktails

I now live for two things in this world – Award Show Season and Charlotte Restaurant Week. For ten days, restaurants in Charlotte and surrounding areas offer three (sometimes four) course meals for just $30 a person. This is incredibly affordable if you’re lucky enough to find a deal that includes a glass of wine, or if you go with a large group and can sample several dishes. My dining partner and I chose Alton’s Kitchen and Cocktails in Cornelius, 20 miles outside of downtown Charlotte. We settled in for a four course meal, and left no less than completely satisfied (and satiated.) 

The hardwood floors and cozy gas log fireplace invite you in immediately. The spacious bar is the perfect setting for a drink while watching the big game. But enough about the space, let’s get to the real treasure: the food. Peninsula Nachos are one of the most innovative and delicious appetizers I’ve ever indulged in. These upscale nachos feature crispy, salty kettle chips topped with a gorgonzola cream sauce (instead of queso), tender beef tenderloin tips (instead of ground taco meat), gorgonzola crumbles and scallions. I could have eaten this entire dish, but knew I had three more coming. I will be back for another order. 

My companion enjoyed the Prime Rib Stuffed Mushrooms as an appetizer, though the mushrooms weren’t as tender as we would have liked. Prime rib, cheese and horseradish sauce filled the caps and were a nice combination of flavors.

Though the salad course might seem like the least appealing, the Romaine Wedge was anything but substandard. Huge chunks of bacon, tomatoes and onions sat atop the wedges, which was served with bleu cheese dressing. I’m not usually a fan of this overpowering cheese, but thankfully this was very mild. The acidity of a balsamic glaze was a nice offset to the creaminess of the dressing.

The star of the show was my Braised Colorado Lamb Shank. My taste buds could not have been more pleased. Two huge bone-in lamb shanks were served on a bed of chunky Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and tender carrots, all floating in a succulent sea of cabernet au jus. I think only a Viking (or two) could have finished this portion, but I was very tempted to lick the plate. The server kindly packed up enough leftovers for two more meals, and I still ate my heart out! Between the fall-off-the-bone tender shank (the meat surrounding the bone below the knee), the velvety sauce and garlicky potatoes, this is one of the most phenomenal meals I’ve ever had.

The other entrée we ordered was the Surf & Turf - always a winner. The Filet Mignon was cooked perfectly and was extremely juicy, while the Lobster made for a rich topping. The Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes were again served as the side, and we noted that no extra seasoning or use of salt and pepper was necessary for any of our dishes.

By course number four, we were beginning to regret wearing pants that buttoned, but we thought we could make room for what sounded like my kind of desserts – White Chocolate Bread Pudding and Apple Cobbler. The White Chocolate Bread Pudding could have been just a degree or two warmer, but the gooey bread with caramel sauce and crispy topping was very satisfying. I was also looking for a few more white chocolate chunks, but the flavor was there. The Apple Cobbler was lucky enough to be paired with Vanilla Ice Cream, and featured large chunks of apples and walnuts under a crunchy cinnamon top. My favorite part of the meal is usually dessert, but in this case, the Nachos and Lamb Shanks take the cake. Pun intended.

Charlotte Restaurant Week, consider your goal accomplished. I don’t know when I otherwise would have discovered this hole-in-the-wall gem in Cornelius and enjoyed four outstanding dishes. Readers, do yourself a favor and go before the week is over. I’m venturing to Uptown Charlotte next to try another multiple course meal, so I’ll try and remember to wear a more forgiving outfit. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright
Director: Bennett Miller
Running Time: 2 hours, 13 minutes
Rating: PG-13

I’m not a huge sports movie kind of gal, but “Moneyball” is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The film is based on a true story, one I wasn’t familiar with – it’s ridiculous how many inspiring, true stories there are in the world. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s, and with the help of math-whiz Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), the two create the infamous team with the most consecutive regular season wins in baseball history. 

Brad Pitt is like a fine wine. He just gets better with age – except for when he’s sporting that ridiculous beard (maybe Angelina likes that look, but not me.) Joking aside, he’s still gorgeous, and is owed an Academy Award over just about anyone in Hollywood (“Benjamin Button” and “The Tree of Life” anyone??) The film begins on the night the Oakland A’s lose to the New York Yankees in the playoffs, and as a result Beane feels pressure to find a team who can actually win. Flashbacks of Beane as a young baseball star who chose pro ball over a full-ride to Stanford are thrown in, and kudos to the casting director who found a young man with an identical jawline to Pitt’s. 

When Beane’s path crosses with Yale graduate Peter Brand, he knows things will turn around for his team. This role was a departure from Jonah Hill’s usual stoner-comedies, and an awesome change, I might add. Though he’s unrecognizable now after losing 40 pounds, he’s basically unrecognizable in the film as a soft-spoken, shy newbie to the professional baseball world. He’s afraid to admit how intelligent he really is, until Beane hires him to help recruit a winning team, by using mathematical equations instead of obvious talent. Philip Seymour Hoffman is familiar, as a typical baseball coach who has little faith in what Beane and Brand are trying to accomplish.

There are a few touching scenes with Beane and his daughter, which show his sensitive side. It’s clear they have a strong bond – maybe Pitt was using one of his six kids as inspiration for these scenes. The musical score is beautifully melodic (Mychael Danna deserves a nod), and it encourages the audience to pull for those little signs of success. Throughout the film, we know victory is impending – it’s just a matter of time. Ultimately, Beane and Brand help each other: Beane gets the winning streak he so desperately needed (a record 20 consecutive games undefeated!) and Brand gains the confidence and experience necessary to succeed as a professional. 

I highly recommend this movie for family movie night, date night, girls’ night or guys’ night, and hope that Pitt and Hill get recognized for their wonderful work come Oscar season (just right around the corner!)

Trailer, via YouTube:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Enso sits in a prime spot of Charlotte’s EpiCentre and presents itself as an upscale Asian bistro and sushi lounge. Its swanky atmosphere, dim lighting and enticing music made me feel like I was in a restaurant that the girls from “Sex and the City” would have frequented (however, my SATC bubble popped when I saw a video of men doing martial arts playing on one of the walls.) The velvet chairs and satin curtains add to the alluring environment and the experience provided for a very enjoyable evening. 

I’ve always heard Sauvignon Blanc is the best wine to enjoy with fish, but one of my companions recommended the Ergo Temperanillo Rioja, 2009, which I had never even heard of. I now have a new favorite wine. We ordered Edamame, Sushi’s answer to Mexican’s Chips and Salsa. It was almost overcooked, but I appreciate the fact that it wasn’t too crunchy – many places don’t cook their soybeans long enough, making it nearly impossible to bite the beans out of the pods! 

There must be 50 sushi options on Enso’s menu, from Sashimi to Nigiri, from Maki to Tataki, and the oh-so-daring Tempura Rolls. One member of my party humorously remarked that “eel is the gateway sushi” – meaning that new diners of sushi usually choose the standard California and Spicy Tuna Rolls, but once you try eel, you’ll become more adventurous with your orders. I went with one of their specialties, the Kiwi Roll. Shrimp Tempura, Sweet Potato and Avocado filled the rice roll, topped with Sliced Kiwi and Sweet Eel Glaze. I was impressed with this unique combination of flavors, as I’d never experienced fruit in my sushi! I was delighted to see something like this offered on the menu.

I also sampled the Mango Roll, featuring Spicy Eel, Blue Crab, Shrimp Tempura, Spicy Mayo and of course, Mango. Two fruit sushis in one night – pretty outrageous! It was harder to detect the mango than the kiwi, but the roll was still outstanding.

I can’t wait to return to Enso and sample more of their delicious creations, not to mention the pages and pages of Asian Fusion cuisine. I already have my eye on another roll – the Surf and Turf Roll sounds like a foodie’s dream. 

210 East Trade Street
Charlotte, NC 28202

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Week with Marilyn

Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench.
Director: Simon Curtis
Running Time: 99 minutes
Rating: R

I imagine the pressure of playing Hollywood’s most infamous bombshell is pretty high. Michelle Williams does a decent job of it. Simon Curtis’ “My Week With Marilyn” takes the audience inside Marilyn Monroe’s personal life during the peak time of her career, and shocks us with his depiction of her as a shattered and damaged woman. The year is 1956, and a young production assistant Colin Clark (newcomer Eddie Redmayne) gets a job on Sir Laurence Olivier’s latest film with Monroe. Clark tells the story of his relationship with the actress, and how it was just another addiction for her.

Though the film is based on a true story, I have to wonder how much of it was exaggerated. During her first few days on the film set, Monroe was annoyingly self-conscious, constantly coddled by her acting coach, and needed multiple takes just to remember her lines. Kenneth Branagh is spot-on as a larger-than-life Olivier: an over-bearing yet brilliantly talented (and he knows it) diva. His patience is tried as Monroe second-guesses her every move in the film, and it’s hard not to agree with his overly critical reaction to her. It’s a good thing she was hot, because she made filming a nightmare.

All of you Dame Judi Dench fans out there may hate me for what I’m about to say, but the Dame is truly like herpes – she just keeps coming back. Dench is once again brilliant as an encouraging friend and maternal figure to Monroe, and reminds the audience why she won an Oscar for appearing in just 8 minutes of “Shakespeare in Love.”  

Though Colin’s friendship with Monroe starts very innocently, his naivety eventually gets the best of him. A date with a film costumer (Emma Watson) doesn’t compare to the attention he receives from Monroe, and he ultimately falls hard for the star. 

Williams shows three sides of the troubled celebrity. First, we’re introduced to the sexpot we all know and love, singing on-stage in a slinky dress, surrounded by men. In one scene, she references this role and asks “Shall I be her?” – Monroe clearly made a choice to become a ravishing icon for the public eye. Secondly, Monroe appears more down-to-earth, innocent and naive. And finally, she becomes the drug-addled, tormented being that few of us are familiar with. In a few scenes, she is utterly unreachable, and can only be comforted by Colin. As the film progresses, the audience truly experiences her suffering, as a simple day of shopping is ruined after she’s mobbed by fans on the street. Another pleasant afternoon spent with Colin was quickly brought to a halt when her bodyguard announced it was time for her to go home.

At times, it was hard to remember that I wasn’t actually watching Marilyn Monroe on-screen, from the way Williams carried herself, to the familiar breathy dialect. At other times, the obviously fake padding around Williams’ hips stood in the way of me wholly believing it was indeed Monroe. The film doesn’t reveal whether or not Monroe and Colin stayed friends after the movie wrapped, and it’s hard to tell how truly affected she was by their relationship. It seems as if she just picked up one innocent fellow after another on these movie sets, while it’s apparent his life was changed forever by the experience.

To everyone who lives for Award Show Season like me, don’t miss the Golden Globe Awards tonight at 8pm on NBC!
Trailer, via Fandango

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vida (Mexican Kitchen & Cantina)

It’s hard not to be lured into Vida (Mexican Kitchen & Cantina), with its large pictures of margaritas and bright colorful sign outside. The restaurant is at the corner of Trade and College Streets, one of the most bustling intersections in Uptown Charlotte, and part of the three-story nightlife-staple EpiCentre

Upon my entry, I immediately noticed the floor: the tiles look like miniature tree stumps! Large windows beside the bar provide a great view of the city. I was seated upstairs, where another bar was located. I felt very “VIP” up there, where I could overlook the entire restaurant. It’s nearly impossible for me to resist margs with my Mexican food, so I inquired about the restaurant’s signature ‘rita. Our waiter claimed their version of the “SkinnyGirl Margarita” hit Bethany Frankel’s out of the park, so I ordered one. It was delicious. I didn’t pucker from the traditional sour mix, like usual. It tasted clean and refreshing…well, as clean and refreshing as Tequila can taste.

I’m one of those weird people who likes salt on their tortilla chips (I also like ketchup with my scrambled eggs, but that’s another post…) so I was very pleased when the chips were perfectly pre-salted. The salsa was slightly chunky and had a noticeable kick – so delicious I practically drank it. 

I ordered the Mushroom Enchiladas, filled with grilled portobellos, spinach and caramelized onions. While the filling was delicious, I found the corn tortillas a little dry and bland. Goat cheese, pico de gallo and a chipotle cream topped the dish, which complemented it nicely. 

For my two sides, I chose Grilled Corn with Queso Fresco and a Ripe Plantain and Black Bean Mash (plantains are very similar to bananas, but not as sweet.)The Grilled Corn tasted like that deliciously salty and buttery corn you get at the fair, but better, since it was topped with Queso Fresco. The Mash was exactly that – a mash. If it had been more visually stimulating, perhaps I would have enjoyed it more. 

Vida does a terrific job of delivering upscale Mexican cuisine with a twist. It’s the perfect restaurant for dinner before a show at the Blumenthal, or a night out in Uptown Charlotte!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Descendants

Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause.
Director: Alexander Payne
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Rating: R

This may come as a shock to you all out there, but I don’t find George Clooney to be the heartthrob everyone else does. Ok, pick your jaw up off the keyboard! I’m more of a Leo woman, myself. Though I didn’t have any eye candy during the film, I actually really enjoyed Clooney’s performance as a troubled father in “The Descendants.” It was nice to see him in a role as a dad, one we haven’t really seen since “One Fine Day.” 

The film opens with exotic music and beautiful landscapes of Hawaii, but we soon see shots of traffic, poverty and dirty streets, reminding all of us on the mainland that it’s not all paradise and luaus over there. (Kudos to Dondi Bastone, music supervisor, for creating the next movie soundtrack I’ll buy.) Clooney plays Matt King, a father forced to re-connect with his daughters after his wife, Elizabeth, lands in an irreparable coma.  His daughter Scottie is 10 years old, and rebellious Alex (an awesome debut from Shailene Woodley) is 17. Woodley is a natural in this role as a disrespectful and unresponsive-to-authority teen who was sent away to boarding school. It’s unclear as to what caused Alex’s behavior until we learn more about her relationship with her mother, who was having an affair.

Though we don’t immediately bond with Alex, the most touching scene of the film is when her dad informs her that her mother won’t survive the coma. She is determined not to publicly cry, and instead sinks into the swimming pool. We see a beautiful yet heartbreaking shot of her sobbing underwater.

As if dealing with the loss of a wife/mother isn’t enough, Matt is determined to find the man who was fooling around with his wife. He does this first out of anger and curiosity, and then out of compassion: he wants this man to have the opportunity to say “good-bye” to Elizabeth before the doctors pull the plug. With the help of Alex’s stoner friend, Matt and his daughters set out to track down Elizabeth’s lover and discover a surprise. 

The “other man” is an unlikely candidate – but one of my favorite character actors from the 90s! Matthew Lilliard is a real estate agent with a family of his own, and is goofy and loveable, as always. We don’t hate him like we probably should. The stoner friend, Sid (Nick Krause, another terrific newcomer), provides the comic relief. At first he just seems like a nuisance, but in one scene he opens up to Matt about losing his father, and explains how Alex was such a source of comfort to him. It’s obvious now that he’s tagging along not because he wants to get in Alex’s pants, but because their friendship is essential to their coping with difficult situations.

Between getting grief from his father-in-law, and an underlying stressful business plan, we feel for Matt and his current situation. But by the end, it’s apparent that this curse was in fact a blessing. Matt learned how to be the star parent as opposed to the back-up parent. Unfortunately, I found Matt’s good-bye scene with Elizabeth a bit hokey. He bad-mouthed her throughout the entire film, and then he tears up and calls her his “best friend” and his “joy”? I don’t think so. 

The ending scene represents the new transition for everyone. We can assume Alex will not return to boarding school, as she ultimately found peace from this tragedy. Clooney should play in this sandbox more, and show his sensitive side, and maybe eventually I’ll fall in love with him like everyone else. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Beef & Bottle

Beef & Bottle opened in 1958 on South Boulevard in Charlotte. The outside looks unassuming, but once inside, it immediately presents itself as an old-fashioned, classic steakhouse. There’s both a front and rear entrance, leading into a dark dining room with 8 foot ceilings, and black and white photos of celebrities hang on wooden walls. I immediately loved this atmosphere, and felt like I would see Don Corleone sitting in the back booth. 

Waiting for us on our table was a basket of crackers and a delicious cheese spread – a sharp cheddar cheese whiz, if you will. This was a departure from the usual bread and butter freebie, but a nice change. After our server offered us a sample of a Coppola Cabernet Sauvignon (I never pass up a sample of wine!), we chose a 2009 Kendall Jackson Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. We surpassed the appetizer special, Prime Rib Chili (which sounded crazy good!) for Oysters Rockefeller. Four large oysters on the half-shell were topped with sautéed spinach and parmesan cheese, and were beautifully presented on a bed of sea salt, a tip of the hat to the oysters’ former home.

I asked for a special order, which wasn’t listed on the menu, to which the server said “no problem.” I had a 6 ounce Filet Mignon and 6 Scallops, all cooked perfectly. Though an overcooked onion ring topped my filet, the steak was extremely tender, and every bite was lusciously juicy. The scallops were dusted with breadcrumbs, and served in a dish with butter and herbs. 

There were a generous number of sides to choose from, and each entrée came with two options, so I was able to sample quite a few! Baked Potato toppings were vast and came on the side. Unfortunately, the Baked Sweet Potato was overcooked, thus having the consistency of mashed sweet potatoes. The asparagus was shoestring-skinny, and while it had a good flavor, was difficult to cut because it was so limp. Without a doubt, the Sautéed Mushrooms were the star side – button mushrooms sautéed with wine, butter, garlic and worcestershire made for salty and flavorful mushrooms – the best I’ve ever had. The money bite was a piece of filet drenched in the mushroom juice…succulent! 

The restaurant orders all their desserts from a bakery in Uptown Charlotte, but their signature dish is Apple Pie with Cinnamon Ice Cream. I had to indulge. The ice cream was velvety, and the cinnamon flavor was a perfect match to the flaky crust and large apple chunks. I would have liked one more scoop, though!

The festive atmosphere and upscale cuisine make Beef and Bottle a prime location for an outstanding dinner and evening.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Christopher Plummer.
Director: David Fincher
Running Time: 158 minutes
Rating: R

After reading the first installment of the late Stieg Larsson‘s trilogy, I was highly anticipating seeing “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” (I’ve heard awesome things about the Swedish version of the film, and look forward to seeing, or rather reading, it too.) A techno version of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin plays during the opening credits, and sets the badass mood of the film. Androgynous figures, black leather and melting flowers are among the confusing, yet visually stimulating images. 

After 100 pages in the book, or 15 minutes onscreen, the plot unfolds. The CEO of a major corporation in Sweden hires Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) to solve a mystery that’s been haunting him for decades. Blomkvist is soon in need of an assistant, and looks to computer hacker and loner Lisbeth Salander (played beautifully by Rooney Mara) for assistance. I found Mara’s portrayal of Salander much more likeable and accessible than Larsson’s character in the book. She was given subtly humorous lines and a more obvious sexual side, which made her more human than Larsson’s conflicted and unreachable heroine. Craig was strong (though ironically he looked a little thin!), but was nothing standout, as was Stellan Skarsgard in his portrayal as the antagonist – I expected more from him in this role. 

The director, David Fincher, was able to capture the paralyzing cold that these characters suffered in Sweden’s winter, and I was impressed with how well he delivered the incredible detail from the story. In the beginning of the book, there is a page showing the family tree (which I referenced often while reading!) but the movie omitted just enough details so as to not overly confuse the audience. Fast cuts from scene to scene were a wise choice – I don’t know how else they could have presented so much information in so little time…well…2 hours and 38 minutes.

There are numerous disturbing scenes in the book, and Fincher handled these delicate issues cautiously. This movie contains one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever watched in a film. It involves Salander and her guardian, who was not cast as I pictured him from the description in the book, but still a pig, nonetheless. Christopher Plummer (who I’ll always remember as Captain Von Trapp!) was lovely as the CEO who hires Blomkvist, and had a heartbreaking scene towards the end of the film - I won’t reveal this and spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet! 

If you’re ready for a roller coaster, check out "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." You’ll be rooting for Salander the moment she slides onscreen. 

Trailer via Fandango


The day I decided to start my blog was my parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary. We had dinner reservations at Meridian in Winston-Salem, and I thought I’d write my first entry based on our experience. Talk about starting off with a bang.

Meridian Restaurant opened in 2007, and has become a staple of fine dining in downtown Winston-Salem. The huge floor-to-ceiling windows and cozy bar make the atmosphere elegant yet modern, and a view of the kitchen offers excitement.

Our first choice wine was unavailable, but the server recommended a 2009 Michael David Petite Sirah, which we greatly enjoyed. (I’m not as big a wine snob as I’d like to pretend, but I do LOVE Petite Sirah!) Bread and olive oil was presented, and they re-filled this upon our request.
I began my meal with Sausage and Sauerkraut Soup with Root Vegetables. I had never heard of Sauerkraut Soup before (I’ve only consumed it on a hot dog!) so I eagerly picked up my soup spoon. I didn’t get the deliciously bitter bite one usually gets from sauerkraut; instead, it was spicier than expected. The addition of potatoes and carrots was interesting – I think cabbage would have done wonderfully in the soup. Alas, it was a huge bowlful instead of just a cup, so I have no portion complaints!

I had only eaten duck once before (Fabian’s Crispy Duck changed my life) so I ordered the Duck Four Ways. Our server told me the “Four Ways” included a grilled breast, a crispy leg, foie gras, and fried duck pate. Being a Food Network junkie, I hear the term “foie gras” frequently, and when it’s done correctly, it is a delicacy. The server couldn’t identify each of the four servings on my plate, but I figured it out based on my aforementioned Food Network knowledge. My favorite (go figure) was the crispy leg. The grilled breast was a bit chewy and hard to cut, compared to its leaner cousin, the grilled chicken breast. The foie gras had a succulent flavor, though the texture was really slimy – it IS duck liver. The fried duck pate was my least favorite, as it was crispy and tasted like liquorish. 

The duck was served with the most delicious garlicky braised escarole I’ve ever had. (Escarole is a leafy green, and braising it is to simmer for a long time, to draw a tender and flavorful result.) Mashed sweet potatoes with a cranberry apple chutney rounded out the dish perfectly, and all of the flavors married beautifully in my mouth. The money bite was some of that crispy dark meat, garlicky escarole and tart chutney…heaven.

Our first choice dessert, Eggnog Ice Cream, was unavailable, but we found a more than acceptable replacement with the Peppermint Crème Brulee. It was a lovely surprise! The creamy mint custard was a perfect palate cleanser. We decided we couldn’t resist the French Toast Bread Pudding with Pralines and Butterscotch, though maybe we should have. The sauce was lovely, but didn’t make up for the dry and bland lump of bread. I won’t hold this against them though, as the rest of my meal entirely made up for it!

I couldn’t imagine a better restaurant to begin my blog with. I recommend Meridian to anyone looking for an outstanding meal and service, and look forward to my next trip.