Monday, April 30, 2012

Mama Ricotta's

Don’t let Mama Ricotta’s appearance fool you. It’s in a strip mall, unassuming, and looks like a quaint restaurant with the usual Italian fare. For dinner though, it’s hard to find a parking place, and people were waiting outside for tables; obviously they’re doing something right. The dim lighting, bustling atmosphere and innovative menu make for a festive, yet family-friendly environment.

Service can totally make or break a restaurant visit. Our server was on her A-game, describing numerous dinner specials, and taking our order from memory. Garlic yeast rolls were promptly brought to the table alongside a lovely, spicy red-pepper infused olive oil. I’ve never had anything like this, and it was a welcome change from the usual herb or balsamic-laced oil.

I was intrigued by the classics of course, but wanted to order something a little different, as per usual. Wild Mushroom Polenta is a dish I will remember for a long time (and tried unsuccessfully to replicate at home.) Seriously, I dream about this bowl of velvety polenta, which had saltiness from goat cheese, creaminess from mascarpone cheese, and meatiness from wild mushrooms, which were coated in Marsala. This is a great Vegetarian option, and I had to resist licking the bowl. One of the best dishes I’ve enjoyed since moving to Charlotte. (*That being said, it was not ready for its close-up. I've chosen to spare you the photo.)

To counteract the lusciousness of the polenta, the Chopped Salad served as a great palate cleanser. Chopped romaine was topped with some of my favorite salad mix-ins: gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, tomatoes, olives, red onions, chickpeas and pepperoncini. Light balsamic dressing enhanced the veggies, and each bite had a fresh flavor and crunch. You know the restaurant is good when something as simple as a salad hits a home run.

Mama Ricotta’s serves their dishes either individual or family-style, though the individual servings are huge. I can’t wait to go back, and if you haven’t been, you need to go immediately. You’ll probably see me there licking the bowl.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rated: R

Every girl I know has fallen in love with Ryan Gosling in the last year. I’m no exception. Besides the hilarious tumblr posts that portray him as a sensitive poet, success with “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “The Ides of March” both earned him Golden Globe nominations. Though I’m a little late seeing it, “Drive” shows us another side of Gosling – he can play a badass.

The song playing during the opening credits (“Nightcall” by Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx) sets the bar for a killer soundtrack. In a high stakes opening scene, we’re introduced to a stunt car driver, assisting a robbery. He’s cool under pressure and sports a toothpick in his mouth, though when something goes wrong, I don’t know how he doesn’t swallow it. This awesome intro scene leaves us wanting more, but instead we get a too long (and too slow) exposition.

Gosling’s character is never given a name, but we know he’s a baller behind the wheel, and works as a mechanic for Bryan Cranston. Huge fan of Cranston - loveable on “Malcolm in the Middle,” brilliant on “Breaking Bad,” and shines in this supporting role. He is crippled and vulnerable, and he’s the closest thing to family Gosling has. That is of course, until he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan - love her!) and her little boy. As soon as they’re introduced, Gosling departs his bad boy image and becomes a shy yet flirtatious gentleman as he bonds with this pair. Mulligan is a natural beauty and effortlessly portrays a believable mom. The audience is forced to wonder the true relationship between Gosling and Irene - does she fall for him romantically? Or does she just appreciate having a good father figure/role-model for her son?

The plot seems to go a bit awry for more reason than one when Irene’s husband, Standard, gets out of jail. Though he’s slightly threatened by Gosling’s relationship with his family, Standard asks for his help in getting revenge on some bad dudes. Gosling choosing to help could not have been a worse decision. 
Albert Brooks is the heartless antagonist, and the gore starts halfway through the film. It’s not as bad as I was anticipating, though it definitely warrants an “R” rating. Unconventional action scenes feature opera music and slow-motion cuts. This was innovative, but took me out of the scene.

Though the ending leaves some questions, “Drive” takes you on a great ride. It seems Ryan Gosling can do no wrong.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I spent four glorious years in Chapel Hill – not nearly long enough. During my time there, my meals consisted of delicious sorority house cooking, and brunches at Elmo’s and Sutton’s Drug Store. Though I’ve always been a foodie, I didn’t exactly have $30 to spend on an entrée at Lantern, but the restaurant’s reputation always intrigued me. Executive Chef Andrea Reusing is the 2011 winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. The James Beard Awards are the Oscars of the food world. In addition, the restaurant has been featured in numerous publications, including Southern Living and Gourmet Magazine. When an opportunity to dine at Lantern finally presented itself last week, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

The only reservation time available on a Tuesday was at 5:30pm. When you’re in NYC, dinner isn’t until 9 or 10pm, but down South, I’m totally fine being an early bird. By the time we left, each table was full. Minimalistic décor and Chinese lanterns (how appropo) adorn the quaint restaurant. The back bar is dark, romantic and cozy. There’s even a small stone garden outside, perfect for meditating, or settling into your food coma. In a Wall Street Journal article published last year, Reusing said “Fusion became a stand-in for confusion,” so she makes a point to stay true to Asian flavors, and doesn’t “Americanize” her menu.


Our server was very well-versed in dinner specials and prices. I began my Lantern experience with the Cunning Kimono, a crisp and refreshing cocktail consisting of jasmine flower vodka, fresh lemon and honey. It was garnished with a lemon curl, and tasted earthy, in a good way.


The Bento Box is essentially “build your own sushi.” The box was delivered to the table with the top on, so it was like opening a present! Great presentation. Sake and tea-cured Arctic Char, house-pickled ginger, red cabbage, miso mayonnaise, sticky rice, fresh wasabi and nori (seaweed) were each in their own section of the box. The pickled ginger tasted like straight vinegar, not the usual sweet and sour flavor I was expecting. The red cabbage and miso mayonnaise were the star ingredients, and it was a fun, hands-on dish.

Crispy Duck Soup was presented in a pot, covered with a lid, so again it felt like Christmas morning to open this gift. I was greeted with a cloud of steam and was pleased with the feast that awaited me. Our server told me I would be extremely satiated after eating this dish…obviously he underestimated my palate. I didn’t find it too satiating at all. Fresh egg noodles and a confit duck leg floated in a clear duck broth, along with oyster and shiitake mushrooms, bok choy and scallions. If the broth had been cream-based, it definitely would have been too rich. Schezwan pepper and chilli oil were presented in little dishes, to use as a condiment for the soup. The Schezwan pepper had a sweet heat that I didn’t care for, while the chilli oil would have been delicious to dip bread in. I used every drop of it. I decided it was too classy an establishment to drink straight from the bowl, but I hated to leave all the broth since that’s where so much of the flavor was.

I had extremely high expectations for Lantern, and for the most part, they were met. It’s been open for 10 years, so it’s not a secret anymore – this place (and Chef Reusing) have quite the reputation now. And we should all be proud to have a James Beard winner so close to home.