Saturday, December 28, 2013

12 Years A Slave

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director: Steve McQueen
Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Rating: R

"12 Years A Slave" is a remarkable film, based on a remarkably true story. It's incredibly hard to watch, but you probably should, because it's going to win the Oscar. Hans Zimmer's score soars, as we spend over a decade with Solomon Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. It lingered a bit in some scenes, but the performances in this movie are gut-wrenching, emotional and raw.

Why hadn't the world really heard of Chiwetel Ejiofor (pronounced CHOO-it-tell EDGE-ee-oh-for) until now? This supporting-turned-leading man shines as Northup, a wrongly enslaved man from New York. He soon realizes that it's his word against a white man's word, and in the days before cell phones and fax machines, there was no chance he'd be able to get a hold of his free papers before being sold. The fear he experiences will give you shivers. SNL favorite Taran Killam portrays one of his kidnappers. This made me even more sad.

I was pleased to see the odd face of Benedict Cumberbatch (love Sherlock!). Cumbie plays Northup's first master, Ford, who seems to have the slightest glimmer of a heart. He is well aware the Northup is an exceptionally smart man, and he quickly becomes the "favorite" at the plantation. Unfortunately, Ford does nothing about Northup's circumstances, and instead sends him to work everyday under the overseer, Tibeats (Paul Dano.) Dano keeps popping up as disturbed characters and his performances are outstanding.

It's going to be difficult to pull for Michael Fassbender to win Best Supporting Actor, but he deserves it. The ease with which he portrays Northup's heartless and cruel second master is scary. Fassbender is gorgeous, but unrecognizable as this drunkard, Edwin Epps. He was a terrible, terrible man. Alfie Woodard stands out in her 5 minutes, as a former slave who didn't push away her horny master, ended up marrying him and gained her freedom. She tries to tell Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), the apple of Epps' eye, to just go along with things. This is disastrous. Brad Pitt's two scenes make an impact. There is little that man can't do.

The quiet intensity throughout the film leads to a tear-jerking climax. There were a violent few scenes that seemed to last entirely too long. I would have really appreciated a timeline throughout the film, telling us when and where he was the longest. Northup's memoir was published in 1853. I imagine reading it will be as difficult as watching it, though it is a tremendous tale that we shouldn't try to pretend never happened. I predict this movie will sweep the awards shows this season.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Blu Margarita

Still in the "soft opening" stages to work out the very few kitchen kinks, Blu Margarita is on the right track in so many ways. Located in the former "Ganache" space on Elm Street in downtown Greensboro, Blu Margarita is gorgeous, with aquatic colors saturating the walls. TVs mount the wall beside the swanky bar, so oddly reminiscent of an aquarium that I had to do a double take. Impressive Mexican cuisine and a killer bakery selection, Blu Margarita has my name written all over it. A revisit to the inconsistent pricing and clarifying the hostess - server - bakery counter roles would be an improvement.

Crisp, thin, salty tortilla chips are served with technically perfect salsa, containing just the right amount of heat and cilantro. Seconds of both were brought, as if the server could read our minds. The Perfect Margarita is essentially that, combining Tequila, Cointreau, Fresh Lime Juice and Simple Syrup. The words Cointreau and Margarita are a match made in heaven. (Seriously. My uncle introduced me to the addition of the Orange Liqueur to the tartness of a Margarita and it has rocked my world.) The Epic Sunset is a whirlwind of Stoli Orange, Grand Marnier and Campari with Orange and Passion Fruit juices. This is for bitter drink fans. I'm looking at you, Negroni-lovers of the world, ie. my sweetie. I will be back for the Spicy Samba - Tanteo Jalapeno Tequila, Lime Juice, Jalapeno Infused Agave Nectar, Cilantro and Cucumber Slices. Olé!

The taco selection is awesome, and upon first glance, super affordable. Tacos are ordered a la carte, and the most expensive one is $3.45. They don't skimp on the fillings, if that's what you're thinking. Taco de Camarones features plump, Grilled Shrimp with a Roasted Bell Pepper Aioli. The Shrimp is cooked perfectly, and was falling out of the Corn Tortilla. Taco de Pescado is described as Marinated Fresh Fish, with a Spiced Yogurt Sauce. I very much enjoyed this, though I would have like to know that the fish is fried, not grilled. For some reason, I associate the word "fresh" with "grilled." My bad. Still tasty. The Taco Al Pastor rocks Pork and Pineapple, in a savory sauce. All tacos are supposed to be served with Avocado, Radish, Lime and Grilled Jalapeno, but upon my second visit, I was shorted on the Radish and Jalapenos.

A colleague's huge lunch of 1 Taco (+protein), 1 Enchilada (+protein), Spanish Rice, Refried Beans and Pico de Gallo Salad was $5.95. My two tacos were $6.25, and smaller than the taco my colleague was served. I would have paid $3 extra had I opted to get the rice and beans combo. A suggestion to diners - look for the better deal. A suggestion to management - revisit the pricing structure on certain items.

I would be remiss if I did not go on and on (and on) about the bakery display. It's as if Ganache has been reincarnated, under a different pastry chef. Just about any cake imaginable is available, and they all look just delectable. Italian Cream Cake is moist, with thick layers of frosting, with Coconut and Pecans piled on. It's a winner. I was let down by the Raspberry Cheesecake, but I was intrigued by the Almond crust. (I just had Cheesecakes by Alex the night before so it's almost impossible to compare). I was hoping that the Tres Leches Cake would be drippingly moist, but it was moist-ish. It features a layer of flan in the middle, with a light whipped topping. My favorite part of this was the Butterscotch Candy glass shard that perched out of the cake.


With the addition of an outdoor bar upstairs, I know where I'll be come summertime. I just hope they survive the winter. Blu Marg could gain a cult following. They've done a tremendous job with the place, and my reviews are (mostly) soaring.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Frozen

Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad
Director: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Running Time: PG
Rating: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Upon seeing "Frozen," I'm 8 years old again. I'm transported to the innocent world of soprano-voiced princesses, Barbies, gowns, long hair, jewels, castles and dashing princes that every young girl fantasizes about. I've been waiting for this movie, it's the epitome of Disney - stunning visuals, soaring ballads - but there's much more to it than that. This time, though there is magic, the antagonist isn't an evil sorcerer, witch, colonist, what have you - it's the "self." Yes, Disney gets deep.

Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel bring sisters Anna and Elsa to life. Growing up, the girls are best friends, and relish in Elsa's ability to freeze things with her hands. A late night game quickly ends in a near-death experience for Anna, resulting in the separation of the two girls for the remainder of their childhood. Anna has no recollection of the accident, and grows up down the hall from her sister, who has become a stranger. The sadness here penetrates the screen.

When she becomes Queen, Elsa's ability to control her powers spirals out of control, and a harsh winter is cast upon their village. She retreats into the woods, singing (and nailing) "The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway." We've been waiting to Idina to belt like this since 2005's movie version of "Rent." Surprisingly, Kristen Bell gives Idina a run for her money, but I think it's because she has more solos. Idina is still queen.

The film is absolutely beautiful. I saw it in 2D, and the colors and effects still practically jump out at you. I hadn't seen an animated movie on the big screen in quite a while, so I was almost wondering if it was supposed to be quite SO "in your face." Though it further separates her from the world, we can't wait for Elsa to use her magic and create another ice sculpture. The frozen palace she builds is breathtaking. (Pun intended - this movie gave me the shivers! It's funny how watching characters in the cold snow will make you reach for your jacket.)

Supporting characters are especially noteworthy. Olaf : Frozen :: Dory : Finding Nemo. Voiced by Josh Gad, Olaf is the most lovable snowman, who has no idea that he will melt when the winter curse finally ends. His much anticipated one-liners will make you laugh out loud. The Duke of Weselton (jokingly mispronounced as Weaseltown) was also standout in his dance sequences, as his toupee flopped on and off his head.

This story is a unique concept. It is heart-warming for kids and the young at heart alike. I would have liked a few more songs, though they weren't all up to Disney standards, but you should see this movie. You'll be beaming for the entire thing.

**Golden Globe and SAG noninations are out!!! Award show season is upon us!!


Monday, December 9, 2013

The Book Thief

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nelisse, Ben Schnetzer
Director: Brian Percival
Running Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Oi. I was so hoping to LOVE this one. Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, "The Book Thief" takes us on a journey through Nazi Germany, and our protagonist is a young girl, Liesel. The film seems to have so much promise, but I was disappointed that this turned out to be kind of a doozie. There are shining moments, namely every scene with Geoffrey Rush, but it went just a little too long, where it could be much tighter in spots. The film’s narrator is Death, which brought me down a little, even more so than a story about the Holocaust would anyway.

Hitler’s removal of all suspected communists from Germany includes Liesel’s mother, so the young girl is sent to live with Hans and Rosa (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson.) For each one of Rosa’s nags and complaints, Hans gives a wink and a grin. Geoffrey Rush gets better and better with every role. Illiterate when she arrives to their house, Hans teaches Liesel to read and write, using a chalkboard that covers the walls of their basement. I would have had so much fun playing school with this! It is touching – the only book little Liesel has to read is one about grave digging.

One evening, there is a knock at the door: it is Max, the son of family friends, to whom Hans and Rosa owed a favor. They are essentially forced into hiding Max (Ben Schnetzer), being that he is a Jew, but they don’t seem to think twice about helping out this young man and keeping their word to his parents.

Max and Liesel’s friendship revolves around reading, writing and books. Liesel begins breaking into people’s homes (namely the Mayor’s), bringing home books to read to Max. The family’s secret is almost ruined when Liesel’s friend Rudy catches and confronts her. Rudy is played by the adorable Nico Liersch. He’s sweeter than Dennis the Menace, but reminds me of him. I want this blond headed child.

Thinking back, I still don’t fully understand why Death had to be the narrator of the story. I would have much preferred it to be Hans, Max or Liesel. Or anyone else. That was kind of a downer. Several scenes could be shaved off to pick up the pace. I didn’t necessarily see the point of showing Hans going to serve in the Army for about a week, or little Rudy’s fascination with Jesse Owens. The story shifts its focus so much that we sometimes forget about Max hiding in the basement.

I did enjoy Geoffrey Rush’s accordion playing. See this movie for that charming element, but be warned that you won't feel good at the end.




Monday, December 2, 2013

Prisoners

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Running Time: 2 hours, 33 minutes
Rating: R

This isn’t the easiest movie to watch, but you won’t really be able to look away. The tone of the movie is dark, the story is gloomy, even the cinematography is super grayscale, with spouts of rain and snow in nearly every scene. Hugh Jackman's intensity as a father dealing with the abduction of his daughter is frightening, as he chooses to take matters into his own hands. The all-star cast shines in their own moments, but Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis get lost in the background.

On Thanksgiving Day, two young girls are abducted, and the primary suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) couldn’t look more creepy and guilty. When he is released due to lack of evidence, Keller (Jackman) decides to take it upon himself to force a confession out of the boy. The torture he puts this kid through is inhumane. 

Melissa Leo is such a brilliant character actor. Her turn as Alex's aunt is almost unrecognizable, though her distinctive voice gives her away. This woman could win an award for every film she's in. As Detective Loki, Jake Gyllenhaal is wonderful. Loki hasn’t left a case unsolved since he was hired by the Pennsylvania Police Department. On “Inside the Actors Studio,” Gyllenhaal discussed his reasoning behind adding the character’s eye twitch, and how he notices similar tics in people of extremely high intelligence. This makes sense when watching the film - there are moments when we want Loki to say what he’s thinking, because we can see the wheels churning in his head. 

The story quickly becomes a game of cat and mouse, as Loki (and the audience) begin to suspect Keller. Could he possibly be related to the crime? Is he wrongly suspecting and torturing Alex? Everyone becomes a suspect, and you won’t see the end coming. Everyone in the story is a ‘prisoner’ at one point or another - whether it’s mental, emotional, physical, temporary or permanent. There are many times when you don’t know who to trust or believe, though the clues do make some moments more predictable than others. This one will stick with you long after you leave the theatre. 


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from Cuisine and Screen!


I cannot wait to dig into my Pumpkin Italian Cream Cake, recipe courtesy of Mississippi Kitchen!

I had the pleasure of reuniting with some friends at Milner's in Winston-Salem last night, and enjoyed their Bourbon Pecan Pie with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. This is unlike any Pecan Pie I've ever had. Luxurious, velvety, uber rich - this is the stuff dreams are made of. Go Friday, after your turkey coma has worn off!

Dining out today? Check out this list of restaurants open in Winston-Salem: http://www.journalnow.com/news/ask_sam/article_1c7983f0-53f9-11e3-bda0-001a4bcf6878.html

For you Greensboro folks, get your gobble on here: http://www.news-record.com/life/food/article_664582d8-5767-11e3-b938-0019bb30f31a.html

Hoping to see "The Book Thief", "Dallas Buyers Club" or "12 Years a Slave" today. Anyone planning to go to the movies too?

Take a moment to be thankful today. Now get eating!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Europa Bar and Cafe

I think everyone in Greensboro can agree that Europa Bar and Café is a wonderful place to spend an evening. This happens to be a very special place to me personally, but if you’re looking for a ladies’ night out (see Wednesday's half-off already inexpensive wine), or a place to take your parents when they visit (you really can’t beat the brunch value), Europa has been my go-to for a while. 

A lovely, spacious patio makes me want it to be 75 degrees year-round. Inside, the wooden accents and long bar invite you to picture Hemingway and the like sitting there, enjoying a cocktail. Whenever you have a craving, just give the bartender a wink and say the word “Pimms” or “Cointreau” and he’ll whip you up just what you were looking for.

Essentially everything on the menu is tremendous bang for your buck. The Grilled Chorizo appetizer gives you two deliciously plump links of Spanish Chorizo, served with Pesto and Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, which is reminiscent of hummus. Warm pita is a nice base for these spreads. The Garlic-Lime Shrimp appetizer may be my favorite thing on the menu. Black Tiger Shrimp is saturated with flavors of Garlic, Lime Juice and Cilantro, and served in a boat of buttery sauce, featuring all of those flavors. You won’t be able to resist dunking the Italian bread that comes alongside in this. The flavors are robust.

I spoke too soon - the Niciose Salad is my favorite thing on the menu. Mixed Greens with Tomatoes, Hericots Verts, Boiled Potatoes, Hard Boiled Eggs, Olives and Grilled Tuna are dressed with the best Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing I've ever tasted in my life. This is an exquisite salad. The dressing wowed me big time. This is not your average BV. The Cuban is phenomenal. Pork, Ham, Mustard, Swiss and PICKLES are too classic a combination to be altered. Order the cold herb and vinegar-based Pasta Salad as your side, and you'll swear off the Ranch dressing-based stuff for life. It rocks.

Unforunately, Europa is like all of us humans, and thus cannot be *perfect*. The Crab Dip is Cream Cheese-based, and baked and topped with Parmesan and Breadcrumbs. It’s pretty rich, and not my favorite rendition – I detected very little crab against all the cheese. It’s served with fried, greasy pita, which makes it even more overwhelming – simple grilled pita would be preferred here. I was deceived by the list of ingredients in the Pork Belly and Jalapeno Sandwich description. These are all “Amanda” words, but the dish leaves a lot to be desired. Pork Tenderloin is wrapped in Pork Belly, layered with Gruyere Cheese and Jalapenos on a baguette. I needed more flavor from the pork, and less grease. Also, the Croque Madame is better in Paris (but what isn’t?) A little tweaking (and salt) to their Beschamel would do this mama sando right.

Europa is perhaps the best brunch in town, and without a doubt the most wallet-friendly. The three egg Western Omelette serves as a bed for Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, Red Peppers and Pepper Jack Cheese, alongside Hash Browns (the fried potato cube kind), fruit and a miniature muffin. For $6.50. Unreal! Fancy yourself a Gruyere Omelette with a Blue Cheese Wedge Salad? Just a meager $6! Cappuccinos are the proper size and potency. Bring me a split of Spanish Cava and just the right amount of OJ to fill it to the top, and I’m a happy girl.

You’ll see me here a few times a month, and wished you’d discovered this spot sooner if you haven’t already.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Table 16



Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Counselor

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: R
Rating: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Put Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in a film and every woman on Earth is happy. Unfortunately, these beautiful all-stars couldn’t save this sorry excuse for a film. Loose beginnings and loose endings really don’t leave you much to contemplate. If you ask me where it went wrong, it was when "The Counselor" started. I sat there the entire 117 minutes wondering what exactly the point was, and it’s never really addressed. All talk and very little action make for a really poor movie.

Ridley Scott is known for making long movies, and Cormac McCarthy is a pro at writing obscure scripts with long scenes and lots of dialogue (see "Robin Hood" and  "No Country for Old Men," respectively). Combine the two men, and it’s a recipe for disaster. The casting is the only saving grace of the film, except for Cameron Diaz. She just isn’t quite the badass broad her character is supposed to be. Angelina Jolie, someone with easy sex appeal AND bad bitch-dom would have been stronger here. I won’t get the ridiculous car scene with Diaz out of my mind anytime soon, though. You don’t want to watch this with your parents.

Michael Fassbender is just yum. He isn’t given a name other than “the Counselor” during the entire film. He embarks into the world of drugs and the Cartel, but before he can get his foot in the door, a coincidence paints him in a very bad lighting – not good when you’re dealing with the Cartel. This is just begging to be a little more like “Savages,” but you never get any of the heart-pounding action and suspense.

Westray (Pitt) and Reiner (Bardem) are in the Counselor’s drug ring, with Bardem’s character looking especially wiggity-whack. The beautiful Cruz is phenomenal as Laura, the Counselor’s naïve and concerned fiancée. John Leguizamo has a terrific cameo, but don’t blink.


The only thing I got out of this film is all the eye candy and two terrific lines. Westray tells the Counselor "you don’t really know someone until you know what they want" (universal truth), and the Counselor tells Laura “being in bed with you is life, everything else is just waiting.” Swoon. But seriously, don’t waste your time on this one.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Captain Phillips

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Catherine Keener
Director: Paul Greengrass
Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Rating: PG-13

What “Gravity” did to your desire to go into outer space, “Captain Phillips” will do to your desire to go out to sea. The true story of Captain Richard Phillips’ survival after being kidnapped by Somali pirates is unbelievable, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t follow the story more closely when it happened in 2009.

We meet Captain Phillips on the day of his departure. The hand-held camera gives you an uneasy, wave-like sensation from the beginning. If you get motion sickness in films with hand-held shots, sit on the back row. As his wife, the unrecognizable Catherine Keener has about 2 minutes of dialogue with him. Producers could have saved the cash for that role – we don’t even see a straight shot of her face. Actually, the camera follows the cast from the back for the majority of the beginning. I like seeing the characters walking towards me, rather than following them. I noticed this in the first 30 minutes, but became quickly engrossed when the hijacking occurs. Your brow will stay furrowed the entire rest of the film.

Barkhad Abdi makes his film debut as Muse, the Somali pirate leader. This is spot-on casting, and the chemistry between Hanks and Abdi is undeniable. Muse is a brilliant villain. In the first 10 minutes, we see the pirates’ motivation to rob ships – in fact, we see that they have no choice but to do it. It’s heart-breaking, how these men are forced into robbery as a lifestyle. In one scene, Muse tells Phillips that “maybe in America” you get a choice in what you do with your life. The cat and mouse dynamic between them is so tense and frightening. It’s a constant game of outsmarting one another. Just when you think Phillips has a checkmate, Muse spins the game in his favor.

Once Captain Phillips is kidnapped, the hellacious ride on the lifeboat soon spirals out of control, as the crew gets hungry, dehydrated and even more nervous. One line Muse kept telling Phillips was “Everything gon be ok. Everything gon be alright.” We believe that as dark-hearted as Muse is, he truly didn't want to hurt Phillips. He was just in it for the money. It’s “just business,” after all. Muse is the only one who understands that Captain Phillips must be kept alive if the pirates have any shot at getting ransom money. Najee is the most volatile of the pirates, like a cannon ready to erupt. His crazed eyes almost pop out of his head and into your popcorn.

The rescue took forever. Days. The Navy kept thinking they had control over the situation, when really, they had none at all. By having Captain Phillips, the pirates had the power. Discussing the rescue scene is really no secret, though to watch how they finally executed it was intense. Phillips actually went back to sea the very next year. Real life members of Phillips’ crew are calling the film “blasphemy,” that Phillips was no hero, in fact, an asshole. Regardless, this is definitely one you should see on the big screen. It will make you happy to plant your feet on dry land. 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Louis CK
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Rating: PG-13


Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” is yet another one of his masterpieces that focuses on a fallen woman, set in one of the world’s most eclectic cities: San Fran. Cate Blanchett should look for an Oscar nod as Janette, who changed her name to Jasmine in an attempt to make a better life for herself. Cate nails this neurotic, depraved character. And she looks like a J. Crew model in every scene. As her money-scheming ex-husband Hal, Alec Baldwin gives you little to like, though Jasmine isn't much better. The film bounces between present day and flashbacks, as we see Jasmine trying to get back on her own two feet, and what made her fall in the first place.

In the first 60 seconds, we can tell that Jasmine is uptight, uber-wealthy, and a bit wacko. She moves in with her sister Ginger, played by the adorable Sally Hawkins (where has this woman been all my life?) As the antithesis of Jasmine, we really care about Ginger and her strained yet sweet relationship with Chili (Bobby Cannavale, aka “funky-tasting spunk” guy Samantha "dated" on “Sex and the City.”) The tension between Jasmine and Chili is apparent from the start, and we kind of encourage him to continue pushing her buttons.

Photo Courtesy Sony Pictures Classic; Cate Blanchett Fan Blog
I'm not sure if Allen or Blanchett deserves more credit for this, but we somehow pull for Jasmine to succeed, even considering how unlikable she is. Jasmine is like a ticking time bomb, full of Ketel One and Xanax. I became anxious just watching her. When it’s finally revealed what made her crack, you can’t help but wonder if she was always a little unstable. It was engrossing to see the meltdown build up in the flashbacks.

I would have liked a few extra scenes with Louis CK, who has a brief flirtation with Ginger, but I’m glad he didn’t stick around too long; at the end of the film, you just want to hug Chili and Ginger. These two, though not wealthy or necessarily hygienic, they seem to have this love thing figured out. This is one of Allen’s darker stories, and the few bits of comedic relief don’t shine too brightly. Blanchett’s performance makes it worth watching, though it may leave you feeling “blue.”


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gravity

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Director: Alfonso Cuarόn
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Seeing “Gravity” will kill any desire you have of wanting to go into space. For 90 minutes, you’re paralyzed with anxiety, as you watch Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski’s (George Clooney) hellacious and frightening attempt at survival after their space shuttle gets blasted and ruined by debris. You're truly along for the ride. Seeing it in 3D is visually spectacular, though I’m not totally convinced that it was necessary. I would have preferred to see it in 2D, but for my fellow weak stomachs out there, the additional dimension and glasses didn’t bother me like I thought it might.

My colleague likened Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” to Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” meets “Apollo 13.” Bullock nails this role. And she’s totally ripped. The Academy really should have saved her Oscar for this role, instead of wasting it on “The Blind Side.” Memories of Stone's daughter, and a monologue that has her wondering if anyone will mourn for her if she doesn’t survive, will bring you to tears. It’s a good thing I was wearing those 3D glasses.

As Kowalski, Clooney’s quips are expected but appreciated. His confidence in space balances her apprehension. Saying that the cinematography is stunning is an understatement. Seeing from Stone's POV, namely from inside her astronaut helmet, is an awesome perspective, one many of us will never have. When her O2 levels drop, you suddenly feel short of breath as well. Throughout the film, you wonder how many breaks Stone won’t get. Her character is a fighter, and the climax is nothing short of extraordinary.

This is unlike anything I’ve seen before. I’ve heard it’s supposed to be the next “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily accurate. This is on a different level of scary. It’s spectacular.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ethnosh: Da Sarang

Ethnosh is the brainchild of Face to Face Greensboro, Triad Local First and BlueZoom Advertising. It aims to “guide you to the most delicious ethnic food in your area, garnished with the stories that bring the flavor to life.” I was sold when I heard the description. New friends – foodies, nonetheless – ethnic cuisine, and for only $5 a plate? Sign me up.

The first Ethnosh took place last month at Pho Hien Vuong, a Vietnamese hole in the wall that serves a mean Egg Soda. I couldn’t attend, but was thrilled with the second Ethnosh pick: Da Sarang. I was a Korean food virgin, and couldn’t wait to try authentic Kimchi.

Six serving dishes displayed beautiful items, and I asked to sample everything. Naturally, the Kimchi was the first item I tried. Spicy, vinegary cabbage – this is like crack to Korean BBQ taco fans. A little goes a long way, and it’s definitely better paired with something, especially when that something is Bulgogi. Holy Bulgogi. I couldn’t get enough of this savory, tender, slightly sweet meat, cut like a skirt steak. I relished each bite.

Cellophane Noodles are fun to eat, especially when you slurp them. They lacked heat and a huge punch of flavor, so it was a nice contrast to the crazy pop of Kimchi. Seaweed Salad and Bean Sprout Salads are also nice palate cleansers. The Bean Sprouts provide a nice crunch and texture, and the Seaweed is topped with White Sesame Seeds. My favorite preparation of seaweed to date!

Spicy Zucchini is reminiscent of a dill pickle, but crazy spicy. Sticky Rice is a staple, and wonderful with a bite of Bulgogi. My favorite of the evening though, had to be the Kimchi Pancakes. These are the bomb. I caught a glimpse of the recipe, consisting of Kimchi, flour, water, and very little else. These sound pretty simple, surprisingly, and are texturally like a sweet potato. I believe it’s Korea’s answer to the latke. The spiciness settles down and is really wonderful here.

I can’t wait to see where the next Ethnosh will be! I hope it’s somewhere that I can get sweet, sticky rice with mango, but if not, I hope it’s something I’ve never introduced my palate to. Come out and go with me!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lucky 32

I have to get the word out before Lucky 32's summer menu leaves us. Summer has already slipped through my fingertips, but if I have to wait a whole 8 months before I can have this again, I think I’ll just die. The second I read the description for the Whimsical Watermelon, I was sold. Juicy, perfectly ripened Watermelon serves as the base of a unique salad, featuring Country Ham (which was a bit more like Prosciutto than the warm, crispy country ham I’m used to), Mint and Housemade Ricotta. This flavor combination danced in my mouth, and has an incredible depth of savoriness. The use of vinegar is remarkable and so much smarter than just table salt. This is a quintessential summer dish.




To continue my a la carte lunch, Beans and Kale Greens trick you into eating something healthy, because it's so darn good. You'll think you’re eating vinegary Collard Greens since the kale is cooked and seasoned perfectly. This is another wonderful savor-bomb. Don’t fear kale, especially when roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper – but that’s for another blog. All dishes are served with homemade wheat bread. Spread a bit of soft, salted butter on and you’re in heaven.

The only other dining experience I've had at Lucky 32 was with the Carolina Cobb Salad, a classic "ladies who lunch" meal. Roasted Chicken, Blue Cheese, Avocado and Egg are wonderful to dip in Buttermilk Herb Dressing. Again, the crispy Country Ham that I’m used to was missing and was quite similar to Prosciutto (and there was a heavy hand making my salad that day), but the dressing is something to return for.

I hear the Fried Chicken rocks the house, and luckily that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Chef Jay Pierce came over to say hello to my dining partner, and was as pleasant as he could be. I look forward to his fall creations which, if I'm lucky, will feature an exquisite pumpkin dish.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Taste of Thai

 Located near two other Greensboro favorites (Cleopatra's Restaurant and Saffron Indian Cuisine), Taste of Thai is a peaceful, flavorful escape into the exotic cuisine of Thailand. The restaurant is rather large, yet maintains an atmosphere that's intimate. Attentive service, outstanding dishes and modest pricing make this an obvious new favorite.

Four tender, juicy chicken breasts comprise the popular Chicken Satay appetizer. The chicken is served on skewers and drenched with a Coconut Peanut Sauce. A small dish with sliced Cucumbers, Red Onion, Jalapenos and Vinegar comes as a condiment - my kind of condiment. The vinegar was a nice cut to the slightly sweet sauce, and the seeded jalapenos provided just enough heat to warm the back of your throat without murdering your taste buds.

My dining partner and I opted for the Taste of Thai Delight, which seemed to be the best bang for our buck. In fact, it seemed too good to be true. For $10.95, you get enough food for 3 people. Though the starter salad was doused in a creamy peanut dressing, we didn’t need it anyway. We had way more to look forward to. Beef Kung Pao is pot roasted, fall off the bone tender, sprinkled with scallions and peanuts for a lovely crunch. Thai comfort food. Chicken Curry with Coconut lacks the traditional heat you find with curry, but gives you a pleasant sweet note from the coconut milk. The mound of white rice soaked up this sauce beautifully.

My favorite, the Sweet and Sour Vegetables with Tofu, is an umami dream. The broth tasted like it was made from water chestnuts, in the best way possible. It was too good to let one drop linger in the bottom of the bowl. Pineapple, Onion and several other exotic vegetables were delightful bites. It’s always fun to try unusual Thai veggies that I’m not familiar with.

My dining partner deemed the Chicken Patty with Mild Pepper Sauce the “Salisbury Steak of Thailand.” Partly a mystery meat, and almost like a good, homemade veggie burger, the patty consistency was odd, though the flavor was good. The Pepper Sauce was like a tangy and sweet Hot Pepper Jelly. This would be good on my leftover Thanksgiving sandos. Because there had to be a weakest link, the Shrimp Salad with Lemongrass and Lime Dressing was my least favorite. The lemongrass was so potent it tasted almost artificial. I also would have preferred the shrimp to be warm, as opposed to chilled. Green Beans were a nice crunch and palate cleanser, but not necessarily essential to the meal.

Sweet Sticky Rice with Egg Custard.
Don't judge it til you try it.
I’ve been on a huge Sweet Sticky Rice kick lately. I can’t get enough. This variation came with an Egg Custard on top, as opposed to the traditional Mango. The substitution kicked ass. The sweet rice suggests notes of toasted popcorn, and the Egg Custard was reminiscent of a Pumpkin Pie Mousse. This is a flavor and texture combination I would never have dreamed of, and I can't believe I'd gone my whole life without experiencing it until last year. Though my favorite serving of this dessert is at Bangkok Café, words seriously can’t do it justice. It’s in my top 5 favorite foods of all time.

There are several Thai restaurants in Greensboro, but this one stands out. Go on the condition that you’ll get the Sweet Sticky Rice. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spring Breakers

Starring: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Gucci Mane
Director: Harmony Korine
Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Rating: R

If you’ve seen the 1995 movie “Kids,” you know exactly what it means when I tell you that the same guy wrote and directed “Spring Breakers.” Inappropriate, filthy, suggestive, hypnotizing, hilarious, disconcerting – I felt kind of ridiculous watching it, not knowing if my occasional chuckle was right or wrong. You end with the same sick feeling in your stomach as you do at the end of “Kids.” “Spring Breakers,” however, is not necessarily a warning or a story of redemption, it just ends and you feel kind of at a loss. Writer/director Harmony Korine really likes to make a statement, but the message isn’t totally clear here.

Four college friends with idle hands head to St. Petersburg, Florida for SPRING BREAK to let loose and get away from their mundane daily surroundings. We immediately get the feeling that three of the four girls are a little off. Vanessa Hudgens appears to be the most far gone, almost without a conscience. Selena Gomez is the naive friend, leaving behind her prayer circle group in an attempt to reconnect with her childhood pals. There is a lot of awkwardly overlapping dialogue in the first 20 minutes of the movie. At moments, the acting seemed exaggerated and overdone, but it’s obvious that we’re definitely not supposed to like these characters.

Realizing they are short on cash for their trip, three of the girls decide to rob a diner. We first see the robbery from the outside, and it's as if they are just running amuck. When we view it the second time, we go inside with them. The brutal and vulgar things they shout at people would scare anyone to death. The ease with which the girls do this is remarkable.

Finally they make it to paradise, though it is short-lived. Enter James Franco as gangster rapper Alien, who bails the girls out of jail when their partying goes awry. (Side note – the girls didn’t even have time to find a cover-up before going behind bars, and appeared in the courtroom in bikinis.) Franco is unrecognizable. Repulsive. Comical. It’s really unclear why he comes to their rescue, because his initial intention is not to pimp them out. The relationship he has with these girls is disturbing. Is he a father figure? Is it sexual? This is such a departure from Franco’s usual characters, and he’s awesome in this role. He is the comedic relief without trying to be, though his Southern accent could use some work. I’ll be happy to tutor him; he’s in Asheville all the time, isn’t he?

Photo Courtesy of The Superficial; NYU Local
Robberies are juxtaposed with Britney Spears songs, Gucci Mane stars as Franco’s rival, and the idea of dreams vs. reality vs. nightmare, is played with a lot here. Skrillex is also played a lot, which I very much enjoyed. Every party song that you want to hear is sampled, and you’re both disgusted with and envious of the freedom these 18 and 19-year-olds have.

Perhaps people are so shocked by this film because two of the main stars are former Disney Channel princesses (Hudgens and Gomez.) Any time a loveable young actress plays a suggestively sexual role, we’re upset. (See Dakota Fanning, Hounddog, but that’s honestly a different level.) You’re in for a ride with “Spring Breakers.” You’ll want to turn it off halfway through, but you won’t be able to look away.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Spring House

I was eager to dine at Spring House in Winston-Salem after seeing Chef Tim Grandinetti on Food Network’s "Challenge" and "Chopped," and sampling his Ostrich concoctions at Fire in the Triad. The restaurant is in a 93-year-old white house, which is grandiose, complete with an inviting patio and outdoor water fountain. Atmosphere aside, I have to admit that while I loved a few of the dishes I sampled, I was definitely underwhelmed with others.

We were seated upstairs in a room with 3 other tables, which made for a noisy evening. Not knowing the restaurant layout, I would have much preferred to sit downstairs where the doors and windows were open, letting in some of this refreshing cool air we've been having lately. Instead, we were confined to the little room, and had frequent and appreciated service check backs, though it took an uncomfortable amount of time to receive our food.

I devoured General Tso’s Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with Ham Jam, and once again told my mom to Google it AFTER our dinner. The Ham Jam was more like a garnish than a jam - salty and crispy bites sprinkled around the dish. The Sweetbreads were served on French bread rounds, with Hot Mustard Sauce drizzled around the plate. The sauce lacked heat, but gave a nice, creamy element to the appetizer. Seeing other tables with bread, and not anticipating as long of a wait for food as we ended up having, we asked our server for a basket. I was a bit confused when I was told they serve bread as a course, and that it would be $5. It wasn't listed on the menu as an appetizer or shared course, but we said we’d take some. My fingers were starting to look tasty at that point. Unfortunately, the bread never came, and we had to ask for it to be removed from the bill.

The Bahnson Burger (named for the prior tenant) was the most outstanding entrée of the evening. Topped with Country Ham, Pimento Cheese, Crispy Onions and a slightly sweet Tomato and Saffron spread, this is one of the most flavorful burgers I've tasted in quite some time. Served with Yukon Gold Potato Chips, sprinkled with Seasoning Salt, this is one dish that you shouldn't look over.

There are certain words I consider food magnets. Truffle, White Chocolate, Scallops, Red Velvet – chances are, if the dish contains one of these words, I’m going to have to try it. Kobe Beef, being one, I couldn’t resist the Slow Cooked Kobe Beef Cheeks. The consistency is like that of a ridiculously tender Pot Roast – I almost couldn’t pick up a bite with my fork. While the meat was awesome, I was pretty disappointed in the accompaniments. Asparagus Tips (cut so small it was difficult to pick one up), Mushrooms (all 2 of them) and Cherry Tomatoes decorated Pappardelle Pasta. It needed a good dose of salt. In fact, I had to salt it twice before finding it pleasurable to eat.

Chef Grandinetti’s Shrimp, Tasso Gravy and Grits is different than what you’d expect, but in a good way. The Tasso Gravy seemed Tomato-based, bringing an unexpected sweetness to the dish. It’s a huge pet peeve when shrimp dishes arrive with the tail intact – dipping your fingers in a large bowl of Gravy Grits to tear off a shrimp tail isn’t what I’m looking to do.

Being that it was my birthday dinner, I was pleased when a free dessert was offered. Again, pet peeve, I would have appreciated the option of selecting my own, but instead was presented with the Babysitter Cake, which is more like a Chocolate Mousse with a fondant center, accented with a fresh Hibiscus Cherry Infused Cream. It was actually pretty sublime, though very rich.

I would return to Spring House, with the opportunity to sit downstairs or outside. There are many other dishes on the menu that intrigue me, but will be very disappointed if my expectations are once again not met.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

10 Days of Italian Paradise

My mom (aka Pammers, aka BFF) and I had the pleasure of spending 10 days eating, touring and frolicking throughout Italy. And for 10 days, I ate more bread, pasta and cheese than I ever had in my entire life. It was so worth it. The quality of fresh ingredients is outstanding, and it’s obvious how much we “Americanize” traditional Italian dishes here. After walking all over Rome, Florence and Sorrento in 97+ degree heat, I didn’t feel one bit guilty about indulging. And I didn’t have a bad meal.

Like the Germans, Italians begin their day with extremely strong coffee – cappuccino in my case – and a variety of cold cuts and sweets. I chuckled whenever I saw a sign offering a “big American breakfast” – including, eggs, bacon and sausage. I enjoyed my European yogurt and thinly shaved Pecorino each morning, and couldn’t get enough of the juicy, perfectly ripened Nectarines!


There is one truth that unites all of Italy: wine is plentiful and delicious, and house wine is cheaper than water. I’m struggling to decide which of the cities was my favorite, but when it comes to food, there is no contest: Rome has the best. My first meal really stuck with me – Rigatoni all’Amatriciana, sprinkled with salty Parmesan - OH the PARMESAN! There are recipes all over the internet for this tomato-based sauce, with red pepper flakes and pancetta. This was my favorite meal of the trip. I was also eager to try Cacio e Pepe after hearing Tony Bourdain rave about it on his episode of No Reservations: Rome. Unfortunately, it was a rare find on menus, and our encounters with it weren’t that mind-blowing. But who doesn’t love buttery, cheesy noodles? I was just looking for something unique. Enter Tripe. I was very pleased with my first experience with it. If you aren’t sure what Tripe is, Google it. The red sauce masked any unfriendly flavors, but it was indeed chewy. Probably best described using the words of my mother: “I’m not really sure what I’m eating.”

Over the course of the trip, we sampled three variations of pizza. My favorite was in Florence, topped with Eggplant and Olives. The tomato sauce was pure and fresh, the cheese was high-quality and the crust burst with a flavor all of its own. I couldn’t get enough. I was expecting to get the best seafood at the Amalfi Coast in Sorrento, but alas, it was the worst food of the trip. Not that it was bad, but compared to Rome and Florence, it seemed the most touristy and Americanized, ie. ice cubes and lemon slices in the water, and salty peanuts and potato chips as freebies. I was shocked by the number of bones in the fish in Sorrento, and the lack of herbs in the Pesto Ravioli – it was more like green cream. Rome offered a wonderfully grilled Swordfish, topped with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes. Add a squirt of lemon and call it perfection on a plate.

I had been dying for a thick wedge of authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, and finally on the last night, my wish came true. The flavor is so wholesome – salty, crumbly, buttery – it will be impossible to go back to buying the pre-shredded variety in the refrigerated section of Harris Teeter. Other notable dishes include Panzanella (Italian bread soaked in tomato water and tossed with tomatoes, cucumber and onion – WOW), and a vinegary Chickpea salad with red pepper flakes and celery. I’ve never had a flavor bomb in my mouth quite like this. I cannot wait to try and recreate it. Even a common dish, Prosciutto and Melon, seemed decadent.

We sampled Gelato in each of the three cities, and Rome’s offering won. Flavors like Stracciatella, Coconut, Strawberry, White Chocolate, Pistachio and Mint are irresistible, and available on literally every single corner. We were looked at a bit funny when we asked restaurants about having dessert only. After checking with the manager to see if we could even get a table, we were pleased with our Tiramisu, much more so than what you’d find in the States. I wish we could have bar/restaurant-hopped a bit more, like one does here, but I understand that they don’t want to waste a table for just a 4 Euro purchase.

On the evenings we didn’t indulge in Gelato and Tiramisu, we sipped Limoncello, a lemon liqueur produced mainly in Southern Italy and Sorrento. How convenient! We were introduced to a yummy creamy version – it seemed like the love child of Vanilla Gelato and Limoncello, resulting in a cold, milkshake-like experience.

Italy is a foodie’s dream. You’ll never visit the Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill again. In fact, Italy is any vacation-lover’s dream. The art, history, culture and sights are astounding. The Vatican is indescribably grandiose, and the most spectacularly ornate thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Touring the Colosseum, throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain, seeing Michelangelo’s David, cruising the Island of Capri, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea – it will be hard to ever top this experience.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Best Quest - Cheesecake

Earlier this year, my beau and I decided to go on a “Trail of Cheesecakes,” in an attempt to find the best in Greensboro. I’ve also noticed a trend in my dining habits lately. I don’t want to taste something that’s “pretty good.” I want to taste the best. I like knowing what the restaurant’s specialty, go-to item is. What are they known for? What's the best thing they make? I want to be able to say with confidence that Restaurant X has the best baklava, burger, pizza, cheesecake, falafel, and so on. I’ve decided to start Amanda's “Best Quest,” surveying the Greensboro restaurants that claim to have “the best” of something - chains not permitted. After trying several "homemade" cheesecake places that have top-notch reputations, I can say with confidence, that we found the best in Greensboro.


First Place: Cheesecakes by Alex. Surprise, surprise. But we had to try several slices to be sure, right? This is absolutely the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. Flavors like Strawberries & Cream, Kahlua, Cookies & Cream, Espresso and even Regular NY Style don’t disappoint. The quality of ingredients is notable, and you can tell that they only use the best.

Honorable Mention: It’s actually really unfair to name the others in the same sentence as Alex’s. None of their cheesecakes quite hold a candle to it. (Don’t bother getting it at Maxie B’s, but their layer cakes are a totally different story, and I'm obsessed - check out my review here!) A Sweet Success! Bakery would probably be the runner-up, but I would have to try another variety besides Snickers to solidify the decision. The peanut flavor was a bit overpowering, but the cheesecake itself was kickass.

Up next is my Mediterranean Quest – Gyro, Baklava and Falafel. I already have a few suggestions from my friends and readers, so if you think you know where to get the BEST, leave a comment!

**For a bit though, I must say Arrivederci! I’m spending time in Rome, Florence and Sorrento and will fill you all in on my food adventures abroad, upon my return of course. Ciao!
 

Monday, July 29, 2013

1618: Brunch

I'm afraid it's nearly impossible to describe how fantastically delicious 1618 Seafood Grille’s brunch is. I would spend every Sunday morning here for the rest of my life if I could. It’s not as expensive as you might think, especially if you don’t order a cocktail, but as soon as you read the mouth-watering descriptions, you'll be ordering one. Nearly everyone in the restaurant was sipping on a yellow or orange drink.

The 1618 Mimosa will just about knock you on your butt. Clementine Vodka, Ginger Liquor, Fresh Orange Juice and Sparkling Wine give quite the twist on the traditional brunch favorite. One of these and you’ll be good for the rest of the day. The Little Brother combines Chipotle Vodka and Bloody Mary Mix in a Balsamic Reduction-drizzled martini glass, garnished with a slice of Raw Ahi Tuna, ceviche style, if you will. The acidity of the Bloody Mary Mix and Balsamic Vinegar cook and flavor the tuna ever so slightly, so it’s best to save that bite until the end. This is spicy and robust – it will wake you up. The Pamplemosa combines Citrus Vodka, Grapefruit Juice, and Sparkling Wine. This cocktail is pink, flirty and lovely for summer. The Day After features Tito’s Vodka, Pickle Juice, Spicy Bloody Mary Mix, freshly grated Horseradish, Lime Juice and three olives on a skewer. Wonderfully spicy.

Homemade muffins are served with salted butter and strawberry jam. The seasonal varieties I sampled were Blueberry one morning, and Banana Pecan another. Delightful. After perusing the menu for the 100th time, I settled on what just might be the most delicious morsel I’ve put into my mouth all year long: a Buttermilk Chive Biscuit, served open-faced, topped with Canadian Bacon, Hot Soppressata, a Fried Egg, Avocado Salsa, Grilled Red Pepper and Havarti Cheese. The flavors are perfect together – the Avocado Salsa cools your mouth from the salty Soppressata (a spicy salami), and the Fried Egg yolk runs all over the plate, giving you a chance to use that fluffy biscuit to sop everything up. My mouth is watering just thinking about it again. This is what dreams are made of. It is sensational.

The Sweet Potato Biscuit is savory, not too sweet, featuring notes of Cheddar Cheese. The open faced-biscuit offers three juicy pieces of perfectly seasoned Pork Tenderloin on a bed of wilted Kale, and is topped off with a Poached Egg. The other side of the biscuit presents three slices of tomatoes on a bed of Lingonberry Cream Cheese. This spread is super creamy and tart, much like the hybrid of a raspberry and a blackberry. It is a perfect complement to the savoriness of the biscuit.

Alongside these works of art, you have your choice of indulgent sides. Anything from Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese, to Grilled Asparagus and Cheesy Hollandaise, to my choice – the Cinnamon Roll. Warm and gooey in the middle with notes of lemon, it was larger than the biscuit, and what we're all looking for in the perfect breakfast pastry. Or side dish.

The Breakfast Tacos are also not to be missed. After having several taco varieties at 1618 Wine Lounge, I knew these would be tasty. Plump Blackened Shrimp, salty Chorizo and fluffy Scrambled Eggs fill grilled Flour Tortillas, and are topped with shredded Lettuce, Pico de Gallo and Jalapeño Sour Cream and Manchego Cheese. I missed the heat from the jalapeno, but the cool cream was much appreciated, and the Manchego was the perfect cheese choice, bringing wonderful saltiness.

The Potato-Crusted Alaskan Halibut is presented in true 1618 fashion, as all of their dishes tend to be aesthetically pleasing. The juicy fish is stacked on top of a Bacon, Spinach and Cheese Quiche, with a Deviled Egg on the top of that, surrounded by Brussels Sprouts that have been sautéed in Duck Fat and Bacon, drizzled with a Tobasco Cream Sauce that warms the back of your throat. I think Chef Neal takes everyone’s favorite words and ingredients and puts them together. Everything he makes is a masterpiece.

I will be back to work my way down the menu, all the way to the Bacon and Eggs Cocktail. Service is spot-on, and it’s clear that everyone is working together toward a common goal: making the customer happy, comfortable and blown away. I definitely was.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

World War Z

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena
Director:
Marc Forster
Running Time:
1 hour, 46 minutes
Rating:
PG-13

Zombies are the new vampires. They're everywhere these days. That being said, I didn’t mind “World War Z.” Brad Pitt seems to slide into the role of “Superdad” fairly easily these days, but the role of “Superhero” takes a little more effort. As a former UN employee, Brad, as Gerry Lane, is blackmailed into helping stop a zombie epidemic before the apocalypse occurs. In order to keep his family safe on a US Navy vessel, Gerry must travel into the unknown and find a solution. Sounds simple enough. Though it slowed down in the middle, the crumbs and clues left throughout the film lead to a plausible and riveting conclusion.

Based on the 2006 novel by Max Brooks, “World War Z” definitely gives you a few jumps and a reason or two to clutch your armrest or your sweetie. The brief exposition allows you to peek into the comfortable, crave-able life of Gerry, Karin and their two daughters, in the peaceful suburbs of Philadelphia. Five minutes later, Gerry is fleeing with the fam through the streets of Philly, running from something...not quite human. His former UN buddies rescue them from the top of an apartment building in a helicopter and they flee to safety. Of course. We’re watching this movie because we know the protagonist will life, and surely he has connections and a plan.

The film quickly turns into "The Brad Pitt Show," as the supporting characters aren't given enough dialogue or arc to really make an impact. Stops in South Korea, Israel and Nova Scotia finally lead Gerry closer to an answer, all the while dodging somewhat laughable albeit frightening-looking zombies. The final 20 minutes are pretty interesting and keep you on the edge of your seat, after Gerry develops a theory about the epidemic and is forced to test it himself.


This is the type of film that has you checking over your shoulder when you exit the theatre. The conclusion definitely leaves it open for a sequel, and I hear there is already one in the works. I will probably see it because honestly, it IS Brad Pitt after all, and seeing his face on the big screen, if anything, is definitely worth $8.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Saffron Indian Cuisine

Indian food is definitely an acquired taste, one I’m very glad I have become accustomed to. I find myself craving the exotic, warm flavors, tender meat and the garlicky, doughy naan. Oh, THE NAAN! Saffron Indian Cuisine is nicer than I anticipated, with a black and white tile floor, an orange accented wall and no sign of a grocery store in the back. The lack of carpet makes for a loud atmosphere, but my dining partner and I quite enjoyed our evening. Except for one little problem.

When you think Indian food, you think lamb. It’s the most tender, succulent, flavorful preparation of the meat I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, my fantasies of sinking my teeth into a tender hunk of the meat was brought to a startling halt when our server announced that they were OUT. Come again? It’s as if McDonald’s told me they were out of McNugs. How can an Indian restaurant be out of lamb at 7:30pm on a Saturday? Perplexed, my dining partner and I regrouped and perused the menu a bit longer.

The Assorted Vegetarian Platter is a fun way to try a lot of different items to see what you like. Particularly with foreign cuisine, this is a safe way to introduce your taste buds to new flavors, in small portions. Samosas are scrumptious pastries with a curry potato filling, almost like an egg roll. Aloo Tikki are thin potato croquettes, and Cheese Pakora are fritters, with notes of chickpea and corn flours. My favorite on the platter were the Vegetable Paloras - deep-fried veggies, almost tempura-style. The tastiest veggie? Cauliflower! Totally not what I was expecting. The Mint and Tamarind Chutneys that accompanied the platter were wonderful and essential; the mint variety is cool and refreshing, featuring notes of cilantro, versus the Tamarind Chutney’s tangy and syrupy essence.

Still a little thrown from our denial of lamb, we decided the Tandoori Mixed Grill would suffice as a second course. Chicken Tikka features tender chicken on skewers that has been cooked in the famous tandoor clay oven. Similarly, the Tandoori Chicken is prepared with just a slightly different marinade. The Tomato Cream sauce that’s served alongside is to die for. The Basmati Rice with toasted coconut is just asking to be drowned in this sauce and ladled into my mouth. The Seekh Kebab is definitely for meat lovers, looking and tasting like sausage. Two Tandoori Shrimp are plump and juicy – I could have used a few more of those.

We decided that we needed one more dish to round out our feast. Nargisi Kofta was kind of a blind order. Grated vegetable dumplings are steamed and served in a velvety, yellow sauce, garnished with dried fruits. The word “fruit” intrigued us, though it only imparted a slightly sweet flavor. These were pretty good, but not great. We hated to waste what seemed like a gallon of sauce for the 5 little dumplings. The servers must have thought we were crazy for not lapping it up with Naan. Or our spoons.

Besides consoling us for the lack of lamb, the servers were incredibly attentive with the water refills, which were necessary to cleanse our palates from all the savory flavors. I need to return to sample their lamb dishes, but otherwise, I was pretty satisfied with my experience. If you’re a curry or Indian food virgin, ye shan’t be afraid! Go with an experienced diner, and you’ll be a convert by the end. The more you experiment, the more you’ll fall in love with it. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

BLT Steak

Two weeks ago, my mom and I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite bands of all time: Fleetwood Mac. I’ve been a fan of Stevie Nicks for as long as I can remember – trying to dress, sing and write songs like her as a child – but there is only one Stevie, the incomparable Ms. Nicks, and she’s definitely still got it. They rocked the house. Prior to the concert, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner, to give us energy for all that singing and grooving. After a tasty sip at Bubble Charlotte, a new champagne bar in the Epicentre, we ventured to BLT Steak. Connected to the Ritz-Carlton, where the Mac was staying, I had my eyes peeled the entire meal. Save up your bones, because this will cost you a pretty penny, but it is outstanding. Very NYC.

HOLY POPOVER.
A seasonal drink of Strawberry Juice, Vodka and Lemon-Thyme Syrup quenched my thirst, but I was more excited by the three humungous Popovers that arrived to our table. They were the size of my head. Flaky, warm, with notes of parmesan cheese – I could get used to bread service like this. The Beefsteak Tomato Salad presents three beautifully ripe, juicy tomatoes, dressed with a Grilled Onion Vinaigrette, Stilton Cheese (Blue Cheese’s sister) and fresh Basil. This is perfect for summer, especially with such high-quality, fresh ingredients. I want to try and replicate this in my kitchen.

The entrée special was plenty to share. A Grilled Halibut Filet is topped with a Green Tomato Salsa, Pattypan Squash and Fried Squash Blossoms. I had never had squash blossoms, but see them featured all the time on “Iron Chef,” so I was pleased to finally have a taste myself. The batter was light and delicious, with a salty, almost juicy bite of the squash inside. The green tomato salsa was a colorful and fresh addition to the fish, which had a crunchy exterior, but wasn’t fried. I like that form of preparation.

As a side, Grits & Gorgonzola seemed perfect. Served in a tiny cast-iron dish, they were creamy, savory, with a flavorful layer of Gorgonzola on top. I couldn’t wait to dip my spoon into that cheesy crust and ladle them onto my plate. I may have used my popover to wipe up some of the grits. Shh.

My favorite part of the meal was perhaps the amuse bouche dessert, if you will. Three bite-sized Mocha Macarons hit the spot – crunchy and flaky on the outside, with a chewy filling on the inside – how did they know I love to end my meal with just a little bit of sweetness?

Performing hit after hit - “Second Hand News,” “Landslide,” “Don’t Stop,” – the Mac is back. All of them except Christine, that is. If you don’t have the “Rumours” album, I just insist that you get your hands on a copy and engulf yourself with the magic. It will change you. Now if any of you have killer popover recipes, send them my way.

video

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Bling Ring

Starring: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann
Director: Sofia Coppola
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rating: R

Sofia Coppola’s latest flick chronicles the “Bling Ring” robberies that took place between 2008 and 2009 in Los Angeles. The story surrounds 5 stupid, spoiled teens that allegedly broke into the houses of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan and the like. It's hilarious that they actually thought they could get away with it.  And it's pretty unbelievable how easy they make it look. And, who are these celebrities, not locking their doors? If I had 300 pairs of Louboutins, 10 Rolexes and miscellaneous furs lying about my pad, I think I’d have a pretty tight security system. Granted, a few of the houses had security cameras, but not even locking the doors? Nuts. My jaw was dropped during the entire movie.

New kid at school Marc (Israel Broussard) gets approached by rebellious Rebecca (Katie Chang) and is soon roped into her adrenaline-junkie lifestyle. Breaking into houses, taking Porsches for a spin when the owners are out of town – it seems Marc will go along with anything just to feel included. He doesn’t seem to get as much of a rush as Rebecca; he's just happy to have a friend. We seem to be most sympathetic towards him, being more of an accomplice, and really the only one with a conscience. In terms of casting, Katie Chang seemed a bit flat. I was hoping she'd really play up the “HBIC” role (Head Bitch In Charge.)

After discovering Google Maps and Perez Hilton one boring afternoon, Marc and Rebecca decide to break into Paris Hilton's mansion while she's out of town. (Note - Hilton let Coppola film in her actual house for these scenes.) Enter friends and fellow partiers Nicki, Sam and Chloe (Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga and Claire Julien) who have nothing better to do, and decide to come along. Emma Watson’s character was the most annoying I’ve seen in a while, though she was supposed to be; Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of Vera Farmiga, was a super dud (no surprise there), so my favorite by default was Chloe – typical gangsta white girl. It’s disgusting how much money these Calabasas kids have.

After a few successful runs at various houses, we’re ready for them to get caught. We're also curious to see just how far they’ll go. It makes sense that these celebrities didn’t realize they had items missing – it would be a while before they noticed a few of their 400 bags missing. Ultimately, the kids are busted one by one, and don’t show the slightest remorse. If anything, they are just sorry they got caught. The E! Network capitalized on the story, and gave Emma Watson’s character a series called “Pretty Wild.” This show only ran for one season, before she had to go serve 30 days of her one year sentence.

Leslie Mann is wonderful as the mom who wants so desperately to have her daughters’ approval, much like Amy Poehler's character in “Mean Girls.” A random cameo by Gavin Rossdale, on the other hand, left me a bit confused. Maybe he just wanted a few extra dollars since Bush can’t compete with the Harajuku Girls.

“The Bling Ring” is fun, baffling, a bit angering, and has a great soundtrack. It harkens me back to my days as a senior in high school – it’s a shame that some of my fashion icons and role models were Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan, but it’s easy to understand how obsessive these kids got. America loves to idolize celebrities, especially since their every move is so accessible to us. It's a bit frightening.