Friday, January 25, 2013

Seoul Garden

Once you dine at Seoul Garden Korean Cuisine, you will be “Seould.” I’d never had authentic Korean cuisine, and this spot is truly a hidden gem in Greensboro. From the outside it looks like a hole in the wall, but the spacious seating area, exotic aquarium and fascinating menu are worth returning for.

I was unaware of the number of complimentary appetizers, or rather, amuse bouche we’d be served. My eyes feasted on the 6 colorful dishes that arrived at our table – 2 holding kimchi; a seaweed salad, comparable to collard greens; pickled onions and zucchini; apple and carrot potato salad with a potent bacon flavor; and a grilled corn and bean sprout salad, which was my favorite. These bites could have possibly been a meal all on their own, but we opted to go big. When in Korea…

My dinner companion and I chose to share the Sam Kyup Sal, 7 slices of pork belly, mushrooms and onions, grilled on a hibachi grill right at our table. What makes this dish is the spicy soybean paste stew served alongside, laden with spring onions, potatoes and the most delicious silken tofu I’ve ever enjoyed. It seriously melted in my mouth. This is what tofu is supposed to taste like. It will cure anyone suffering from “tofobia.”

Sublimely sticky rice is perfect for soaking up the stew. Cue further fuel to my condiment addiction: red bean sauce, salty peanut oil, jalapenos and garlic cloves were perfect highlights to the pork belly. Crisp romaine lettuce leaves make a wonderful wrapper for the meat, upon which I piled the various toppings. I was having way too much fun with my food.

If anything, you must visit Seoul Garden “Seouly” for the after-dinner drink. (I’m reaching for as many puns as possible.) It’s like big red gum, in liquid form - an intensely concentrated apple-pear cinnamon juice, served cold, to sip. It is unbelievable alone, and would have been outrageous with a little bourbon. My mouth is watering just writing about it.

Go and see for yourself. You will succumb to the striking, bold flavors. It is oh “Seoul” good.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Life of Pi

Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu
Director: Ang Lee
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Rating: PG

After reading Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, a colleague said the story “altered” him. Although Ang Lee’s film version didn’t have quite the same effect on me, the stunning visuals left me fulfilled, almost hypnotized, and the questions about spirituality had me thinking long after the credits rolled. The not-too-distracting CGI (computer-generated imagery) was beautifully reminiscent of “Avatar,” most notably a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. We feel as if we’re truly in this magical world – I almost felt seasick from being on the lifeboat with Pi – and we remain engaged in this story of discovery and survival for the entire duration of the film.

We first meet Pi, born Piscene, in present day. Irrfan Khan’s beautiful portrayal of this character makes it seem as if he truly lived the story. As a child, Pi’s family ran a zoo in India, and from an early age, Pi is heavily influenced and intrigued by religion. His father tells him that he’d rather have Pi believe in something he did not agree with, than to believe in everything. His family decides to relocate to Canada, bringing the majority of their zoo animals with them. After a wildly powerful storm sinks the ship, Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra and Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger.
One of the most prominent conflicts in the story is Pi’s relationship with Richard Parker. We, like Pi, are frightened by the beast, yet our heart breaks when Pi almost chooses to let him drown. It’s also difficult to believe that Pi and Richard Parker could share something more meaningful than “you’d be a yummy snack,” though it’s what we root for.

We become totally invested in Pi’s and Richard Parker’s survival. A pencil and a survival guidebook quickly become Pi’s most cherished treasures, until he sadly loses them both. It’s apparent that Pi wants salvation – both physically and spiritually. The conflict of real versus imagined is present throughout the film – do any of us know what truly happened? Perhaps Pi’s spirituality allowed him to experience this adventure in the way that he did.

I won’t say too much about the ending, though it is a bit open-ended. We’re not given all the answers we want. Though the film is saturated with metaphors, the beautiful animals (namely the hilarious meerkats!) and striking images are enough for young children to enjoy. I opted not to see this in 3D, but have no doubt that those who do will be even further transported into this world. It’s too easy to call this a “coming of age” story; the revelations Pi experiences in this film are on a much grander scale.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cuban Revolution

Durham is home to dozens of fantastic restaurants - Geer Street Garden and Bull City Burger to name a few favorites - but I should have known that the weird emoticon beside the word “open” on the sign outside Cuban Revolution was a red flag. In fact, I chose to ignore all warning signs – an uneducated server, not nearly enough lighting, no complimentary chips and salsa – but I decided against my gut and perused the menu anyway. Or rather, squinted at it. Unfortunately, the four people in my party also had difficulty identifying anything that sounded remotely appetizing, and we all left satiated but not satisfied.
Creepy emoticon = bad news
The description of the Santiago Wrap sounded delicious – Adobo Chicken, rice, black beans, mushrooms, onions, peppers and cheese, all in a nicely toasted tortilla. I could have made this at home. Correction – I could have made something better than this at home. I asked for what I thought was the Adobo sauce on the side, but was given ¼ teaspoon of what was essentially garlic salt. Someone was very confused. Why would anyone want Adobo seasoning on the side? Having said that, the wrap desperately needed pico de gallo or some form of salsa to bind everything together and give it some wetness. The rice was essentially sushi rice, the black beans must have gone on strike, as they were nowhere to be found, and the under-seasoned vegetables were disappointing. The entire meal tasted like nothing.

The menu wasn’t sure how to describe the Burrito Bowl. What was listed as "a salad OR rice and beans bowl” was essentially offering a bowl of rice and beans, on which you could build a salad at the salad bar, or an empty bowl for a trip to the salad bar, for the same price. Keep in mind that the restaurant just re-did the menu. I’m surprised no one realized this item needed a little more clarification.

Besides the untimely and sparse check backs, our server asked if it was our first time in the restaurant, and although it was, he didn’t provide any guidance to the menu, and seemed rather baffled by our many questions.

Sorry, Cuban Revolution. When I think Cuban food, I think bold flavors, and these were terribly weak. The restaurant seemed totally disjointed and did nothing to honor their so-called “theme" -1960s Cuba. My four dining companions and I question how the restaurant has stayed in operation so long.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Hitchcock” is the result of a love triangle between a dark comedy, a nail-biter and a love story. In 98 short minutes, we’re exposed to the private life of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, in the prime of his career. Anthony Hopkins’ embodiment of the film icon is spot-on: we’re both fascinated by and disgusted with him. Hitchcock seemed to be quite the glutton – one scene in particular shows him scarfing down cans of foie gras in the middle of the night - and he was no stranger to toddies at any hour. Helen Mirren brings grace and authority as Alma, Hitchcock’s doting wife. She attempts to keep him healthy – both physically and creatively. It’s obvious that Alma and Hitch, as they called him, need each other: Alma’s creative influence is detailed in this film. She assisted him with his many masterpieces, much more than the public realizes.

Photo courtesy of
I’ve always been fascinated with the movie “Psycho.” It was so revolutionary for its time, and it was the first film that truly terrified me. “Hitchcock” essentially surrounds the making of this classic. After “North by Northwest” soars at the box office, Hitch is on the hunt for his next feature film, and stumbles across a book called “Psycho,” based on a true story. This is where the film gets a little hokey. The director lets the fourth wall drop, and Hitch begins addressing the audience. He is transported to the occurrence of the crime on which the book is based and interviews the characters, perhaps to show that he gets totally immersed in the story.

Scarlett Johansson is beautiful (as always) as Janet Leigh, the leading lady who gets killed off 30 minutes into “Psycho,” per Alma’s suggestion. Jessica Biel is not likable (as per usual) as Vera Miles. She sees through Hitch’s talent, for what he really is – a creep. Alma overlooks Hitch’s obsession with young women – blondes in particular – until a creative partnership with a male friend becomes a temptation for her, and she becomes the one with the wandering eye. Hitchcock’s classic suspense is mirrored in this part of the film. We’re terrified for Alma, as Hitch’s suspicions about her affair grow. He sneaks up on her, leers over her while she sleeps – it’s no surprise he had such success making thrillers.

A terrific score adds to both the suspense and comedy, and the fact that it’s only 98 minutes allows it to really hold your attention. I'm thankful that Helen Mirren’s strong monologue ¾ of the way through secured her some recent nominations, but I was disappointed that neither the Hollywood Foreign Press nor SAG recognized Hopkins for his portrayal – his mannerisms and voice were so meticulous. Perhaps it's appropriate: Hitchcock never won an Oscar.