Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Into The Woods

Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, everyone else in Hollywood
Director: Rob Marshall
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Rating: PG

I wish! More than anything, more than life! That all stage musicals would be made into movies! Especially with the care that Rob Marshall brings to his film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's beloved musical "Into the Woods." People are very protective of this show (and musical theatre in general), and being a fan, I thought this was a solid portrayal. Several kids were sitting in the audience and were amused and entertained by the numerous fairy tales intertwined into one story. You've got Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel - this is a town I'd like to live in. Everyone is beautiful and has killer pipes.
The great one: Meryl Streep.
Photo Courtesy Vanity Fair
Though some of the casting may have caused uproars when it was announced earlier this year, everyone truly brought heart to their role. Emily Blunt is freaking gorgeous and can sing like a canary. The one and only Meryl could play a chair and it would be the perfect choice, though it's impossible not to compare her to the other great one, Bernadette Peters, who originated the role of the Witch on Broadway. Meryl's performance of "Last Midnight" didn't give me quite the chills the climactic song typically does when I hear Bernie sing it, but that's me being VERY picky. Meryl evokes a lot of sympathy as the Witch, bringing another dimension and emotional level to the character that we traditionally choose to root against.

The other great one: Bernadette Peters.
Photo Courtesy Fanpop
Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen's duet "Agony" is the most hilarious scene, worth seeing the movie for. Every line Pine's prince delivers is of utmost narcissism. He is fantastic in this role and is getting to be so good-looking it's disgusting. Anna Kendrick was a casting choice I questioned but now appreciate. She isn't the traditional Cinderella I imagine, but she is likable and relatable and kills all of her songs. Don't blink, or you may miss Johnny Depp, a strong choice as the Wolf. Though his "Hello Little Girl" gets a little child molestery on poor Little Red. I suppose this song has always been a bit chi-mo but I didn't notice it until now.

Besides the set looking a little fake, I have very few complaints about this film. If you're a fan of this musical, you will no doubt enjoy singing and bopping your head along, but if you aren't familiar, you will probably be dying for one spoken word (surprise! there are none). This is a refreshing take on the soundtrack, and a thoughtfully done production.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Rating: PG-13

I had some serious doubts about Christian Bale portraying Moses in Ridley Scott's latest snoozefest epic tale "Exodus: Gods and Kings." He won't be winning an Oscar for this role, but he was believable for the most part. Props though to Bale, for going from playing the love of my life in the 1994 classic "Little Women," to every little boy's hero in Nolan's Batman trilogy, to the Chosen One in arguably the most famous story in the Old Testament. Beautiful cinematography, extravagant costumes and a fairly strong supporting cast makes this a successful film overall, though it could have been shortened by about 45 minutes. And by the way, Egypt is supposedly banning its release.

Moses was hot!
Photo Courtesy of Wall Street Journal/20th Century Fox
Biblical films and TV shows are apparently trending this year ("Noah," "Son of God," NBC's "AD".) You know the story: Baby Moses' life is spared when his mother sends him down the Nile in a basket, where he is found and adopted by the royal Egyptian family. He ultimately leads the Israelite slaves to freedom in Canaan through the Red Sea. Joel Edgerton gives an honest performance as Ramses, Moses' adopted brother and the heir to the Egyptian throne. Ramses is clearly conflicted as a leader and as his father said, "those who want most badly to lead are those who are least equipped to do so."

Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley are familiar faces, who only grace the screen for a combined total of 7 minutes. Same goes for everyone's favorite meth maker sidekick Aaron Paul, though his first line really wasn't until the parting of the Red Sea. It's a risk, trusting writers and directors to present stories you've always heard about in the way they've always imagined them. God appears to Moses in the form of a 10 year old boy, an interesting choice, one I don't feel strongly about one way or the other. The 10 plagues that were cast upon Egypt took an impressive 25 minutes, and were beautifully portrayed, as horrid as they may have been. Scott's parting of the Red Sea wasn't at all like I imagined, but over the top special effects exist for a reason.

I was expecting this to be more of a holiday blockbuster, but I'm afraid this one has already gotten swept to the side. It's the strongest Biblical take I've seen in a while, but don't worry if you wait to RedBox this one.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Texas: Part Deux

My love affair with Texas has gotten out of control. It seems like a different world down there, one that I can't seem to get enough of after a brief taste of it in the spring of 2014. After exploring more of the sites and bites that Houston has to offer, and dipping my toes into the funky, music-heavy, food truck haven that is Austin, it's safe to say I'll be back many, many times. It's also safe to say that it's nearly impossible to want to be a vegetarian in this state.

I thank my trusty host and BFF Kate for selecting the best of the best when it came to our dining experiences. Sweet Paris Creperie is one of the best breakfasts I've ever had. Torn between sweet and savory, we opted for both - Le Mexicain, offering Pork Carnitas and Chipotle Salsa, and the Toasted Bueno, my first food "moment" of the trip. I seriously paused to savor the sticky Dulce de Leche, marrying Bananas, Coconut, Cinnamon and Vanilla Bean Sugar. It was sensational.

Underbelly's Executive Chef Chris Shepherd received the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. Naturally, his joint was on my list. Pork Carnitas, Lamb Barbacoa, Korean Goat Dumplings - see above re: hard to try vegetarianism here. Everything's bigger in Texas, especially the flavors. And the variety of cuisines - my gosh! Everything I ate topped the last. Istanbul Grill is outstanding Turkish food. The Kofte Kebab lamb patties are juicy, tender and boast huge flavor. The Iskender Kebab reminded me oddly of Italian food - doner meat is topped with toasted pita crumbs and tomato sauce, with a pool of cooling yogurt around the dish. Mind blown. I couldn't get enough.

These days, Austin is known for two things: the music and food truck scenes. In a 12 hour span, I indulged in BBQ, Thai and Tex-Mex, all from food trucks. It's all the rage there, but I can't help but wonder how long they will continue to be so popular. I couldn't wait to get my hands on some authentic Texas-style 'que, so stop # 1: La Barbecue. This place has become an institution in Austin. Pulled Pork piled on top of Chopped Brisket with Pickled Red Onions sits on a soft bun. It was nearly the size of my face, and so easy to devour. I'm a vinegary Carolina BBQ gal at heart, but this was to die for.

After perusing the happenings on South Congress Street, we decided to check out East Side Kings' Thai-Kun, which made Bon Appetit Magazine's list of Top 10 Best New Restaurants. Yes, a FOOD TRUCK made this list. (As well as Huffington Post's and Travel Channel's). Did I mention the creator, Paul Qui, won Top Chef? I couldn't have been more SOLD on this place. But if you can't handle spice, this is not the truck for you. I typically can't get things hot enough to satisfy me, but the Black Noodles and Waterfall Pork melted my face off. I'm disappointed that the spice totally overwhelmed the other flavors, besides Fish Sauce. Luckily, I spotted a taco truck later that night (or earlier the next morning, depending on how you look at it) which made up for it.

Brunch at Searsucker in Austin gave me my second food "moment" of the trip: a Duck Fat Biscuit, swimming in Duck Fat Gravy with Chicken Fried Steak. Duck ME it was tasty. Ducking delicious. The savoriness and richness of the dish really only allowed you to eat about 3 bites, but I will remember the salty, crunchy, buttery flavors for a very long time. Brown Butter Bourbon French Toast was absolutely gorgeous and picturesque, but missing all notes of Brown Butter and Bourbon! What's that about! But eating the fruit garnish made up for all the indulgent dishes I had tried this weekend.

Look at that cream!
This drink is prettier than me.
Honorable mention bites include Shipley's Do-nuts, giving me the fullest cream-filled donut I've ever had. The elasticity of the yeast dough almost pops in your mouth when you bite into it, and the cream just oozes out. For future reference, these can be devoured in 2.5 bites. My new favorite cocktail from Anvil ingeniously combines Gin, Lambrusco, Lemon and Rose Syrup. Sweet, tart, acidic - heaven! Thanks to my fantastic tour guides and friends for indulging in my indulgences! Texas loves Texas and so do I!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2

Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Christoph Waltz
Director: Sean Anders
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Rating: R

I could watch Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis all day. Seriously, they're cracking me up more than any comedic actors right now, and they're all hot, in a weird "you're only hot because you're funny" kind of way. (In all honesty, Bateman is slowly creeping into my #3 spot, right after DiCaprio and Fassbender, for those of you taking notes). I'm a big "Always Sunny" fan, so if this is the first time you're experiencing Day, I admit he's a little polarizing, but give him time to win you over. Anywho, if you saw and enjoyed the first installment of Horrible Bosses (it grossed $300 million, so some of you definitely did), you're bound to love the second one. A similar plot, hilarious cameos, eye candy galore - this is a guaranteed 2 hours of FUN.

Yum, yum and yum! Photo Courtesy of Hollywood Reporter
Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) are at it again. Dissatisfied with their employment, looking to be their own bosses, getting screwed over by the man - same old song and dance. As they try to come up with something less illegal to do than killing your boss (like in the first movie) Kurt suggests "kidnaping," to which Nick replies that adding a "p" would actually make it a real thing. Conundrums like these fill the movie, including witty improvised bits - "I would marry Snap, bone Crackle, and kill Pop."

We're thrilled to welcome back the familiar supporting cast of Jen Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, who reprise their roles of sex-addicted former boss of Dale, insanely inhumane former boss of Nick, and hit man instructor/coach, respectively. They all shine. We're thoroughly pleased to have Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine join the cast as a father-son pair. More like pair of a-holes! Their greed and deranged heartlessness is almost laughable, but it's no laughing matter to our three musketeers.

If I had it my way, there would be an HB3, HB4, HB5 and so on. I didn't tire of the predicaments, as silly as they may have gotten. I can only imagine how much laughter came from the set of this film. This will definitely have you rolling.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Starring: Matt McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 49 minutes

This is a pretty polarizing film. For every "I loved it," I heard an "I hated it." Readers, I didn't love it, I didn't hate it - rather, I didn't NOT love it, if that makes any sense. Matt McConaughey is an absolute gold mine in this role - the more I see of him, the more I like him - and I wouldn't be surprised one bit if the Academy pulls another "two Oscars in a row," a la Tom Hanks (Philadelphia and Forrest Gump). If you're into Sci Fi, you will adore this movie. As a fan of "Gravity" and "Alien," I appreciated the spacial and Sci Fi elements of it, but could have stood for it to be about 30 minutes shorter. Don't they know people can't sit through nearly a three hour long movie? I mean, I was engrossed for as long as possible, but they lost me about 2 hours and 15 minutes in.
Lincoln Commercial or Interstellar?
Photo Courtesy DoddleMe
This film is as much about Sci Fi as it is about family relationships. Several scenes between McConaughey and the beautiful, brilliant child who plays his daughter will nearly bring tears to your eyes. He is so believable in this role and seems truly genuine, showing depth that I haven't seen before. (Though some moments reminded me all too much of his infamous Lincoln commercials, see: monotone monologues, gazing out into traffic space.) Joking aside, McConaughey will win you over, even if that's the only thing you take from this film.

Kudos to Chris Nolan for writing such a thought-provoking and captivating story, one I'd never seen or heard before. Former NASA pilot Cooper (McConaughey) and his family live in a time and place that isn't clear to the audience, but one thing is certain - mankind and the future of the Earth as our home as we know it, is in trouble. Cooper is recruited by NASA to fly into space and explore a wormhole/portal outside of Saturn, to see if it is possible to support human life once the Earth inevitably fails us. Much to the chagrin of his daughter, he heads out into space. Alongside him is Anne Hathaway, who plays a scientist with no social life or social skills - perfect for her! (That was a dig at Anne, whom just I can't stand.)

The females who play Cooper's daughter Murph shine. Mackenzie Foy (as young Murph) had such real chemistry with McConaughey - your heart breaks for her as he drives away to his mission after a reluctant goodbye. I can't get enough of Jessica Chastain, who plays older Murph. Such a beauty and natural talent. John Lithgow isn't in the film long enough as Cooper's father-in-law, and several cameos make for nice surprises (Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, Matt Damon and Topher Grace being among them).

This film is without a doubt going to receive several award nominations this year. You'd be missing out to not see it, but be prepared for a long afternoon, to pay attention, and to hear a lot of McConaughey's Southern drawl and "whistle S," as I like to call it. The ending is a bit far-fetched, but I was glad to know how they wrapped up the story, though it could have been done a lot sooner.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
Director: Dan Gilroy
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Rating: R

In "Nightcrawler," Jake Gyllenhaal is possibly the sexiest creep the big screen has ever seen. It's hard not to be mesmerized by his blue eyes, charming smirk and dark hair (especially when it's twisted into a bun, oi!) but unfortunately, my high hopes for this film were not met. I imagined it would be in the same vein as last year's hit "Prisoners," or perhaps even my favorite Gyllanhaal film "Brothers". Alas, it was entirely too long and at times oddly reminiscent of "Network." In the first 15 minutes, I thought I had the plot figured out. I was way off. This tour de force by Gyllenhaal will earn him several nominations this season, but that's about all this movie will get. It won't be on at the theatre another week.

Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, an outcast with terribly awkward social skills and just enough nervous tics and oddities that you know immediately not to trust him. It's hard to put your finger on what's wrong with him, but something is definitely off. He's looking for work, perhaps a purpose, and will do just about anything to make a name for himself. Enter Bill Paxton, everyone's favorite twister chaser/Titanic historian/polygamist. Paxton plays a stringer, a freelance journalist of sorts, who inspires Bloom to become one as well. He and his partner Rick (a fabulous performance by Riz Ahmed) begin selling their footage to a dying news station, and questioning their morals each time they arrive on the scene of a brutal crime.

Rene Russo (you read me right, where has she been? OH, being married to the director.) is brilliant as Nina, the TV station manager who recognizes Bloom's talent as well as his creep factor. Suggestions of blackmail and foul play make for an incredibly uncomfortable confrontation at a Mexican restaurant between these two. This tension leads to one of the best "behind the scenes" scene I've ever seen (wow, 3 times in 1 sentence!) Getting a taste of what it's like in the news control room during a broadcast is something I'm not familiar with at all, and it was incredibly intriguing.

You'll be close to passing out during the final climactic 15 minutes. I was holding my breath, clutching my armrest, tapping my feet - it's seriously intense for a while. But there is definitely some humor in this film - you just have to appreciate dark comedy. And for a mentally unstable person, Bloom actually makes some very thoughtful observations about running a business and surviving in a dog-eat-dog world. I'd save your $5.75 - $18 (depending on what city you're in) and hold out for the other guaranteed hits this season.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hakka Chow

I've seen many restaurants come and go in the space that Hakka Chow currently fills in Winston-Salem. From my recent dining experience, this one will be sticking around. Word of mouth, social media - the rave reviews kept this place on my radar until I was finally able to see what all the fuss was about. Think of it as a Phoenix (popular Asian spot in Greensboro) or even a PF Changs (a favorite chain among many). The menu is extensive, with more dishes that I wanted to try than I could order! The restaurant is dimly lit with Asian-themed decor, and would be a perfect date spot, though I saw several families and business partners enjoying themselves here too. They're re-working the menu to make it a little more concise, and introducing some new dishes. I need to return ASAP in case some of the enticing things I had my eye on disappear!

The Singapore Rice Noodles were the best thing we tasted that evening. Chicken, Shrimp and vegetables like Carrots, Bean Sprouts and Scallions are tossed with thin rice noodles and coated with a light Curry sauce. This wasn't overly spicy, and the curry wasn't offensive in the least - it was a fantastic balance. The noodles clung to the curry so that each bite had the right amount of sauce!

Kung Pao Shrimp serves a substantial number of plump, lightly battered Shrimp among veggies like Zucchini, Carrots, Peppers and Onion, with Peanuts for a perfect and necessary crunch. The little pepper beside the item on the menu fooled me - it wasn't as hot as I was hoping, but a dash (or 5) of Sriracha got it to the heat level I needed to clear out my sinuses. (I never know if I should trust those little peppers in the menu...how hot are we really talking?) This is a yummy dish, nonetheless!

Spicy Asparagus is a very well-satisfying side. Julienned-cut, the al dente veggie is stir-fried with a spicy red chili sauce and garlic. When a dish promises me heat, I expect it. This definitely delivers. They prepare Green Beans the same way.

Not in the mood for stir fry? Hakka Chow even offers sushi. I'm telling you, this place has it all! The fish that comes with an order of Nigiri is quite substantial - you definitely get your money's worth. The safe but tasty Winston roll features Shrimp Tempura, Avocado and Cucumber, with a Spicy Mayo and Sweet Eel Sauce.

The Crispy Boneless Duck with Sweet and Sour Sauce, and Spicy Sizzle Lamb are screaming my name so hard. The excellent service and tempting menu has me ready to return. I can't wait to go back.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Da Reggae Cafe

Da Reggae Cafe was packed when my friend and I dined there for lunch last week. I'd never had authentic Jamaican cuisine, and when I walked in, I caught fragrances of spicy, sweet meats cooking, and possibly a hint of incense (I couldn't decide which smelled better). Service is friendly, food is reasonably priced and flavors are more exciting than what you're likely to eat any other day of the week. They're not kidding about their spice levels though, hence the frequent and appreciated water refills, so prepare your taste buds. (But they will thank you.)

Coco Bread is slightly sweet, and perfect to sop up the sauce that we were to about to enjoy. You can kind of peel off the bread in layers, and it's much thicker than Naan or Injera (the much-admired breads of Indian and Ethiopian cuisines, respectively). Plantains are much like bananas, but not quite as sweet, and "fun-sized." Though we ordered them fried, it seemed more like they were grilled, but I enjoyed the crispy char more than I would have batter anyway.

Jerk Chicken
I foolishly assumed Jerk Chicken would be much like Cajun cuisine. It's definitely got the spice, sweetness and tang that you would expect, but it's a different flavor profile than I imagined. The heat from the sticky brown sauce is serious business, but the chicken is tender, and you get a leg and a thigh. Entrees are served with rice and red peas, and the most insanely delicious cabbage I've ever tasted. I asked, rather, I begged, "what is the secret ingredient?!?" They wouldn't let me in on it. It could very possibly be butter, but it's tender, savory and rich. I didn't think cabbage could taste so spectacular. Oxtail is cooked on the bone, so the bites that aren't grissly are extremely tender. This brown sauce also contains high levels of heat, and is similar to the one served with the Jerk Chicken, but noticeably sweeter.

Oxtail. I spy Plantains!

Banana Coconut Cake

You'll want to save room for dessert. The combination of Banana Coconut Cake seemed too good to pass up, and this incredibly moist cake reminded me of a light banana bread, with a thick, slightly coconutty frosting. It was difficult to resist eating the entire piece in one sitting. I can only imagine how lip-smackingly good their other flavors are.
You were nice too, John!

I will most definitely return to Da Reggae Cafe. The Curried Goat is calling my name. I think what made this experience even more fantastic is how our table was noted on our check. It made our day.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Kitchen Roselli

Kitchen Roselli is one of those perfect first date places. Or a quaint spot for your birthday. Maybe even a special dinner with mom and dad. Located in East Bend (just 15 miles from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem), Kitchen Roselli is located in a small house with an inviting porch, dim lighting and some of the best Italian food in the Triad. Owners David and Laura Roselli are doing it right here, and I was lucky enough to meet Laura during my dinner. She is as kind as her food is tasty. You'll want to make a reservation since they're only open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The secret about this place is getting out quickly, if you can even call it a secret anymore.

Entrees are served with warm, crusty, salty Laura's Focaccia. Olive Oil and Balsamic really isn't necessary for this - it's strong enough to stand on its own. You also have your choice of a Sunny Italy Salad with Romaine, Roma Tomatoes, Onion and Celery with a sweet Italian dressing, or House Antipasto, a delightfully vinegary combination of Artichokes, Olives, Tomatoes, Peppers and Mozzarella cubes. (Try dipping the Focaccia in the marinade at the bottom of the dish.)

After dining here a few years ago, I remembered how much I adored the Tomato Sauce. (I still do.) It's absolutely divine. I couldn't get enough of the Spaghetti with David's Award-Winning Meatballs. Beef, Pork and Veal make up some of the most tender, juicy meatballs I can remember having, with just a touch of Pecorino Romano and Basil. The tender, al dente noodles hold that slightly sweet, perfectly tangy Tomato Sauce, and I appreciated that they weren't shy with the ladlefuls! This is quintessential comfort food, and Kitchen Roselli is where you'll want to get it.
One of the evening's specials was Pan-Fried Jumbo Fantail Shrimp (10 of them!) with Texas Pete Horseradish Sauce and Scampi Butter Dip. A side of spaghetti rounds out the dish. The shrimp are tender and encased by a flavorful breading, not greasy in the slightest. The Texas Pete Horseradish Sauce contains just the right amount of heat, and the Scampi Butter Dip is another fabulous surprise for Laura's Focaccia.

If you don't reserve a Cream Puff when you arrive, you'll likely regret it. These gems fly. Typically, Cream Puffs aren't my first choice dessert, but this rendition is irresistible. A flaky Puff Pastry houses a thick, rich Vanilla Custard, and is enrobed with a blanket of Dark Chocolate Ganache. This dessert has it all. It's so satisfying, but oddly enough, it doesn't weigh you down.

I have fallen hard for this place. Winston peeps, you have no excuse to not cruise the beautiful drive out Highway 67 (aka Reynolda Road) and experience this. Greensboro friends, it may be a bit more of a hike, but trust me, it's well worth it. The atmosphere is charming and the food will bring you back.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tickets for NC Competition Dining's FINAL FIRE

The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series has "got to be" one of my favorite events in the entire year. Since January, regional tournaments have taken place in Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte, and the moment we've all been waiting for has finally arrived: the FINAL FIRE! The 5 winners from each of the regional battles are sharpening their knives and donning their chef whites with the hopes to take home the ultimate title, and $4,000 cash, two handmade chef knives by Ironman Forge and a trip to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, compliments of Kikkoman and the Pro Chef Program!

At the battle, the chefs are assigned an NC ingredient or product, and they must prepare 3 courses with it. Diners have no idea what the ingredient will be, but trust me, you're guaranteed 6 tasty dishes. Perhaps the most fun part - YOU are the judge! Using your smartphone (or pen and paper), you'll vote on elements of the dish like appearance, taste and execution of the secret ingredient.

Me at Fire in the Triad earlier this year!
The first showdown is between Fire on the Dock champion Antione Murray (Cape Fear Country Club in Wilmington) and Fire on the Rock winner Michelle Bailey (Season's at Highland Lake in Flat Rock). That winner will take on Fire in the City champ Jon Fortes (Mimosa Grill in Charlotte). Fire in the Triad champion Tim Thompson (Marisol in Greensboro) will face Fire in the Triangle winner Dean Thompson (Flights in Raleigh). These are seriously tough brackets. The Final Fire will be a close one.

For those of you who haven't been to a battle, it's a fantastic thing to do with your sweetie, your parents or your friends - just as long as they're adventurous eaters! You can read about my experiences at Battle: Rabbit; Battle: Honey; Battle: Ostrich; and Battle: Chestnut Flour.

Hungry? You can purchase tickets this Wednesday, October 29 at 7pm, and you better believe these tickets will FLY. Last year, tickets were sold out in 8 minutes!

The Final Fire events will be held November 19-22, at Renaissance North Hills Raleigh. Tickets to attend the first three battles are $129, and tickets for the final championship battle are $139.

About The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series
The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series is sponsored by the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, Certified Angus Beef®, Pepsi Bottling Ventures, the NC Wine & Grape Council, Hits Technology and local partners in each region of the state. The goal of the series is to celebrate local North Carolina products and agriculture, and to showcase the culinary ingenuity and talent across the state. For more information, visit www.competitiondining.com or get in on the conversation at www.facebook.com/competitiondining and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram.

Mom's Birthday Celebration in NYC!

3 days of gluttony and debauchery in the Big Apple. I can't think of a better way to spend my mom's birthday weekend than in our favorite city. Besides walking around gorgeous Central Park and admiring all the beautiful people in the West Village, the highlight of the trip had to be attending the NYC Wine and Food Festival's Absolut Bloody Mary Brunch, hosted by the cast of "Chopped" on the Food Network. I didn't really know how much we'd get to eat, drink and be merry with the cast, but my expectations were exceeded 1,000 fold.

Bartenders from across the country submitted their best Bloody recipe, and we got to sample the top 12! The garnishes were my favorite part - everything from Pickles to Pork Belly, Hot Peppers to Hush Puppies, and more Celery than I ever want to see again. 20 or so "Chopped" contestants and celebrity chefs, most notably Paulette Goto of "Unique Sweets", prepared tasty bites for us, including a BBQ Duck Steamed Bun, Bulgogi Steak Tacos and Absolut Raspberri Cream Doughnuts!

"Chopped" Judges! (Clockwise L-R: Moi with GZ (Geoffrey Zakarian), Alex Guarnaschelli, Chris Santos, Scott Conant)
As soon as the "Chopped" judges walked out, people whipped out their Smart Phones and cameras and basically lost it. Fortunately, my mom pushed me into almost all of them, to snag a few photos. Notice how chummy I look with GZ! Perhaps it's because my mom had just confessed her love for him. They were all lovely and happy to make small talk and pose. The moment I spotted NoLa's OTHER famous chef John Besh, who was a surprise to the attendants, it's as if the clouds opened up and a bright light shone behind him. The few glorious moments I had with him gave me butterflies, and he is more gorgeous in real life than he is on TV. The eyes are bluer and the pearly whites are pearlier. Smoking hot and funny. I tried so hard to charm the pants off him (literally and figuratively) and I can now die a happy woman. (Well, I still have to meet Leo, but then yes. A happy woman.)
With John Besh(!!!) and Aaron Sanchez. A DREAM. Don't we make a precious threesome?
Samplings of Bloodies!

Other notable epicurean moments in NYC:

Sea Salt Caramel Eclair at Dominique Ansel Bakery. Really, no words.
The "Cronut" trend led us to visit Dominique Ansel Bakery, and heads up, if you're not in line by 5am, you're not getting one. I'm almost glad we didn't, because we purchased a Sea Salt Caramel Eclair instead. I would do just about anything to get my hands on another one. The flavors wrapped around my tongue like a warm towel right out of the dryer. And the flakes of Sea Salt took each bite to another level. This was my first "other-worldy" experience of the trip, and there were so many more. We even saw the man himself, and I would have complimented him on this treasure had I not been too shy! (ME shy? I know, right.)

Beauty & Essex on the Lower East Side is one of our faves, not just because we saw the entire cast of Modern Family there in 2011, but because the food kicks ass. The Chicken Meatballs with Sheep's Milk Ricotta and Truffled Cream are exceptional, not to mention the complimentary champagne in the ladies' bathroom (sorry, guys).

Del Posto is one of those places that was on my "bucket list," especially after becoming such a huge fan of "MasterChef." Joe Bastianich is one of the judges on the show (meaner than Gordon Ramsay, if you can believe that!) and a co-owner of the Tribeca establishment, along with Mario Batali. I'm so charmed by the idea of the Amuse Bouche. At Del Posto, you get 3. As soon as I took a bite of the Sea Bass with Truffled Mushroom Sauce and Escarole, I was no longer on this planet. Top things off with a box of "Amuse Bouche desserts" and I'm an ecstatic girl.

The DB Burger at DB Bistro. Just LOOK at that juicy interior. 
The Original DB Burger at DB Bistro Moderne has also been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Daniel Boulud's infamous Sirloin Burger (grilled to your liking) is stuffed with Braised Short Ribs, Foie Gras and Black Truffles, and served on a Parmesan Bun, reminiscent of the flavors of an Everything Bagel. If this isn't a delicacy, I don't know what is. Watching the juices run down my hands as I dove into this sensationally rich burger is a memory I will cherish for a long time.

Restaurant Marc Forgione is another long-time favorite. This was one of the first restaurants I visited that really made me think about food differently. The Halibut with Forgione's Sauce Proposal remains a staple, and the folks there made our celebratory evening extra special with complimentary Chocolate Truffles, Apple Cider Muffins and even shots for my mom's birthday. Not to mention the Pumpkin Souffle with Bourbon Cream Cheese Sauce and Butternut Squash Sorbet. HOLY DESSERT. This was the most perfect ending to perhaps the most perfect trip.

With the birthday girl at Restaurant Marc Forgione!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gone Girl

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry
Director: David Fincher
Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Rating: R

I've been struggling with how to write a non-spoiling yet satisfying enough for my readers kind of review of this film. It has the darkness (obviously) that director David Fincher gravitates towards (see "Se7en", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") but it seemed like an interesting choice to take on what some consider a "girls book club" project. Thankfully he did.

If "Argo" didn't send me head over heels for Ben Affleck, oddly enough, "Gone Girl" did. He charms us and disgusts us, though I'll say that we see more of NPH (or shall I say "NPeenH") than the over-hyped Affleck frontal. As Nick Dunne, Affleck struggles with the sudden disappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Amy is cold, Nick is slimy, something is definitely off here, but you can't quite put your finger on it. Rosamund nailed this role, one of the most coveted since Rooney Mara landed "Dragon Tattoo."

Margot (Carrie Coon) is Nick's sister, and perhaps the only person we trust. She is supportive and relatable in a time of utter chaos. ATL's baby boi Tyler Perry doesn't grace us with his presence long enough as Nick's defense attorney. Neither does "Boy Meets World" turned "One Tree Hill" sidekick Lee Norris. UNCSA alum Missi Pyle is fantastic comedic relief as a Nancy Grace character, who leads the media frenzy against Nick.

Also against Nick (for the most part) are lead detectives Boney and Gilpin (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit). These two have such chemistry. The score sets the mood, but is oddly more optimistic than looming, thanks to Trent Reznor of "Nine Inch Nails" and Atticus Ross. These two have a musical chemistry not unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. What are written as chapters in the book are flashbacks in the film. It's highly effective. Kudos to Gillian Flynn for writing such a cohesive and engaging screenplay.

If it sounds like I'm skipping over major plot points, I am. This story is too good to let any spoilers out. I thought the book was creepy and this film nailed the creep factor. The plot has multiple personality disorder. It has more twists than a year's worth of Kardashian relationships. Divulging further into the plot would be a real shame for those of you who have covered your ears each time the words "Gone Girl" have been uttered, or changed the channel when you saw Ben Affleck on the talk shows. You may lack closure at the ending, but when you think about how ridiculous said ending may be, remember what you just sat through.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

This is Where I Leave You

Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda
Director: Shawn Levy
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Rating: R

Films about dysfunctional families tend to either be hilarious or distressing. “This is Where I Leave You” is a bit of both, but with more laughs than tear-jerking scenes. The all-star cast really carries their weight; these are all incredibly strong performances. The film reminds us that we’re put on this Earth to need people - as much as we may try to distance ourselves from those we call “family,” the unconditional bond is steadfast.
Photo Courtesy of Huffington Post
This film is full of eye candy. (Upon first glance, it may not seem like it, but just wait.) The story line most closely follows Jason Bateman, who stars as Judd Altman, a man whose life is turned upside down when he discovers his wife's affair (with the hilarious Dax Shepard) and his father passes away, within just days of each other. Enter siblings Wendy (Fey, at her best since "30 Rock"); Phillip (Driver, who definitely differs slightly from his role on “Girls”); and Paul (Corey Stoll, from "House of Cards"). Quarreling, joking and reminiscing ensues, as each grieve the loss of their father in a different way.

As the matriarch of the Altman family, Jane Fonda’s breast implants steal more scenes than she does. As does Timothy Olyphant in a supporting role as Wendy’s long-lost love, the one that got away. Seriously, what a babe. Wendy’s brief indiscretion with him isn't the only fling that takes place during the family's Shabas: Judd reunites with high school crush Penny (Rose Byrne) and is torn between just wanting to get back at his deceitful wife and his genuine feelings for this girl. Connie Britton is freaking beautiful as Phillip’s shrink-turned-girlfriend. We see how she easily falls for this tall drink of water, big ears and all, but as the self-described “family screw-up,” we want so badly for him to just grow up. 

I loved this film. The dialogue seemed natural, though a bit heavy in some scenes. As a fan of all these actors, it’s a fun hour and 43 minutes to spend with them.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dishcrawl: Free Ticket Giveaway!

For my fellow "Walking Dead" fans, I'm so stoked to partner with Dishcrawl Winston-Salem for a free ticket giveaway to their Walking Dead Dishcrawl event on Sunday, October 12!

I'm hoping to see some Blood Orange and Calves Brains in some dishes, but I'm sure the (secret) participating restaurants will come up with plenty of creative, diner-friendly, zombie-themed plates!

Never been to a Dishcrawl event? You're in for a fantastic adventure. I've been to countless (Dishcrawl: Battledish; Dishcrawl: Paleo; and Dishcrawl: Secret Supper, to name a few)!

To be entered into the giveaway, just leave a comment below with your answer to this question:

If and when the zombie apocalypse does occur, what city will it be in?

Read more about the event here, and stay tuned for the announcement of the winner on Wednesday, October 8!

Photo Courtesy: walkingdead.wikia.com

Monday, September 8, 2014

Banh Mi Saigon

Bahn Mi-Oh My. This place is kind of a Greensboro institution. Maybe you've heard of it, perhaps your friends have raved about it, or you could be a long-time fan. Either way, Banh Mi Saigon is one of the only places in the Triad (if not the most famous spot) to get classic, authentic Vietnamese sandwiches. At Ethnosh's most recent dinner event, I sampled to my heart's desire, and even the items that I thought sounded "questionable" (coconut tapioca black-eyed pea pudding, anyone?) proved to be delicious.

Bubble Tea is basically a tea-based milkshake. The list of flavors gets as exotic as you want (I indulged in Taro) and the tapioca pearls at the bottom are especially fun to suck through the larger than life straw. The Shrimp Spring Rolls taste fresh, clean - you could eat as many of these as you want guilt-free. The fun part is swirling them in a small dish of a spicy peanut chili sauce.

Coconut Tapioca Cake, BBQ Bahn Mi, Bahn Mi Ga and Taro Bubble Tea!
The Baguette that serves as a vessel for these sandwiches stands alone. The only way to really improve it is to add items like pork, pate, cilantro, jalapenos, pickled daikon...you get the idea. The classic Bahn Mi offers ham, pork, pate, with crunchy vegetables and bright cilantro. There's really nothing else like this flavor combination. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the humble sounding Banh Mi Ga (Rotisserie Chicken) but when such high-quality, fresh ingredients are used, you know it's got to be good. For extra flair and flavor, the Banh Mi Thit Nuong adds a Barbeque dimension. Did I mention that all of these sandwiches are $3? Where can you get a full-sized sandwich for that price these days? I had to do a double take, expecting to see a price like say, $7.95, which would be absolutely appropriate.

As far as dessert, it's worth experimenting. The aforementioned coconut tapioca black-eyed pea pudding was unlike anything I'd ever heard of, but oddly enough, the texture and butteriness of the black-eyed pea was a fantastic complement to the tapioca and flavor of the coconut! Other varieties come with corn and sweet potato. Who knew? Coconut Tapioca Cake is dyed green, using a special food coloring from Thailand. It's gelatinous, a bit gummy, and reminiscent of Rice Krispie Treats. I can't explain it. Once you get past the initial egginess, it's RKT all the way.

Do yourself a favor and get on Ethnosh's email list. They'll introduce you to so many amazing spots that you drive past every day. And go visit Banh Mi Saigon! You will be charmed by the hospitality of the staff and blown away by the authenticity of this cuisine.

Friday, August 22, 2014

NC Competition Dining : Cook Like a Chef!

Kevin Reddick, the mastermind behind Artisan Restaurant in Winston-Salem, and Chris Russell (aka downtown Greensboro's steakhouse king) of B. Christopher's, put on a fantastic demo at the Got to be NC Competition Dining "Cook Like a Chef" event at the new Belk Home Store on Green Valley Road last Thursday. The store is crisp, clean and welcoming, with large windows to let in the bright sun. Displays are prominent - nothing is crowded, unlike several department stores I've been in. Salespeople are abundant, ready to tell you about the various juicers, chinaware and record players(!). The DJ cranked out some fabulous tunes, putting everyone in a good mood and ready to kick off the weekend.

Chef Sandwich! Me, with Chef Kevin Reddick and Chef Chris Russell. What hunks!
Chef Reddick prepares a Corn Aioli while
Chef Russell looks on!

Earlier this year (April - June), Chefs Reddick and Russell competed in the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series - Fire in the Triad (for which yours truly was a Guest Blogger!) Think Iron Chef, but YOU get to be the judge, and the chefs have to use a secret ingredient in each of their 3 courses! It's an absolutely awesome event. While the chefs were preparing their tasty dishes for the Belk shoppers, they told Fire in the Triad "war stories." Chef Reddick regaled us with his Buttered Pecan Syrup adventures, while Chef Russell described his experience cooking with Chestnut Flour for the first time. They made for an entertaining duo, while the fabulous Heidi Billotto played emcee.

Chef Russell's Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
with Orange Cilantro Sauce

As for the food, both chefs presented a Crab Cake, and it's nearly impossible to call the winner. They were different enough to not be redundant, but both embodied what you want in a perfect summer bite. I could have eaten 50 of Chef Russell's Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Orange Cilantro Sauce. Using store-bought Orange Marmalade is a great short-cut for this sauce, a tasty complement to the scrumptious, salty protein. Chef Reddick's Grouper with Compressed Watermelon and Tomato was a generous serving (I didn't realize I'd practically have dinner here!) and cooked to perfection. I love the salty-sweet combo of fresh produce in the summer!

Love my Got to Be NC swag!

To top it all off, tons of prizes were given out, and I was lucky enough to win some "Got to Be NC" swag like Texas Pete 'Cha, Nature's Pearl Muscadine Juice and Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce, among other delightful treats. Not only are Chefs Reddick and Russell two of the hottest chefs in the Triad (literally, just look at them!), they served up some killer summer dishes and gave several good take-home tips (like using corn puree to make a healthier aioli!) I have a feeling I'll be a regular at the new Belk Home Store. I need to purchase a few things to help me cook like these guys.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Taste of Ethiopia

Until about a week ago, Ethiopian Cuisine was a totally new concept to me. When I moved to Greensboro, I started eating my way up and down West Market Street, home to several international restaurants. A friend and I deemed the first Thursday of each month our very own "International Food Day." I missed Ethnosh's visit to Taste of Ethiopia, so I knew it had to be at the top of our list. The restaurant is a quaint, tucked away spot off West Market, with thoughtfully crafted artwork and handmade tablecloths. Flavors reminded me slightly of those you'd find in Indian cuisine, so if you're a fan, you definitely need to pay Taste of Ethiopia a visit.

Ethiopian cuisine is usually eaten with your hands. Provided we were offered cutlery, I opted for the more traditional method and used my paws. Ethiopian Coffee is no joke. It comes in a delicate little pot, but don't let that mislead you - it's brewed dark and strong. I saw the word "Wot" all over the menu, which is a stew or curry prepared with different veggies and meats. Kay Sega Wot is tender beef cubes marinated in red wine and spices, then finished in a red pepper sauce. The meat is unbelievably tender, and you'll want to get every last drop of the savory sauce. Good thing each dish is served with Injera, a spongy, yeasty, sour tortilla-like bread. I'd never had anything like this. I ordered an extra one.

Look at that spongy Injera "plate"!
Doro Wot is sweeter and less hot than the Kay Sega Wot, presenting white and dark meat chicken that's been marinated in lemon juice, ginger and garlic, then finished with a red pepper sauce. The Hard Boiled Egg that comes with this dish is memorable, as are the vinegary Collards and what reminds me of Farmer's Cheese.

Noteworthy sides are Miser Wot, Red Lentils in a red pepper sauce (the sauces all have varying levels of sweetness and heat!) and Kik Alicha, Yellow Peas in a turmeric sauce. It's hard to pick a favorite - they're all unique and present a different flavor profile when you pair them with the slight sourness of the Injera. The Yebig Tibs (lamb with rosemary, tomato and jalapenos in a hot pepper sauce) is screaming for me to return. This was a truly wonderful meal and experience.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Starring: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Rating: R

To call this a coming of age story is an understatement. To call this one of the most unique movies I've ever seen is even an understatement. I'd never heard of a concept quite like the film "Boyhood." Production began in 2002 and was completed in 2013. We follow a boy and his family from the time he is 6 years old until he leaves for college. By the end of the film, they genuinely feel like family to us. It seems unreal in Hollywood that the same cast was attached to this project for 11 years and filmed a few weeks each year. The reason this film is so enthralling is because it isn't sensationalized - it's totally relatable. The dialogue is nothing special, yet that's also what's so special about it. If you read no further, at least watch the trailer below. I'm covered in goosebumps each time I do!

The majority of the film takes place in Houston (yee haw! Texas loves Texas!). I loved hearing music throughout the years - "Soak Up The Sun" to "Soulja Boy" to "Somebody That I Used To Know" all reminded me of where I was when those songs were popular. I'm not so sure that Ellar Coltrane, who stars as Mason, had aspirations to be an actor - not that he needed them. He was pretty one-note and emotionally monotone throughout the film, but what a DOLL! How did director Linklater know he would turn out to be such a cutie? I would have watched his story until he was 50. 
Photo Courtesy of IFC Films; The Wrap
Both Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, daughter of the writer/director) do a nice job of not over-acting. These characters seem so lifelike. I did have a hard time believing that some of the hardships they went through as children didn't affect them as teens/young adults. Or at least, they hadn't yet. Props to Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, two actors I wasn't a huge fan of before now (though Linklater is clearly a big fan of Hawke, having worked with him on the "Before Sunrise" trilogy.) As Mason's divorced parents, they both give honest and touching performances. Hawke's "fun dad" vibe is totally matched by Arquette's "desperate to do what's best for my family" mom. 

The film shouldn't necessarily be called "Boyhood" - "Parenthood" and "Familyhood" are also very appropriate titles. The tumultuous things the family goes through aren't exaggerated or too fantastical - it's stuff we all could face. Two abusive relationships, bullying at school, struggling to pay the bills, day-to-day conversations like ones I've had thousands of times with my friends and family. Following in the same footsteps as "Chef" and "Life Itself", this is one of the best movies of the year.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Next Supper: Underground Dining Collective

Dining outside with friends is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening in the summer. Granted my fellow diners weren't my friends (yet), we all had a few things in common: we love food, and we were thrilled to have a seat at the table for “The Next Supper,”an Underground Dining Collective in Greensboro. My friend John Jones and his colleague Kerrie Thomas are the masters behind this exclusive dining experience. A diner at my table said “you initially come for the food, but you return for the people.” Every morsel was delicious, but the leisurely conversations about recipes, restaurants and Triad happenings were possibly even more satisfying.

Chilled Buttermilk, Potato and Leek Soup!
The evening’s menu was a vegetarian one (aside from the one course that bacon snuck its way into!) so each plate tasted like it came straight out of the Farmer’s Market. The dinners are BYOB, and after a casual happy hour and initial mingling among guests, close to 40 people took their seats inside and on the front porch of a beautiful home on Summit Avenue (locations change each month.) The first course was a chilled Buttermilk, Potato and Leek Soup with Cornbread Croutons and a sprinkling of Chives. The texture was lovely and the flavors were perfectly balanced. A good chilled soup is ideal for summer, and although it was cream-based, it wasn’t overly rich or filling!

Are those noodles or Zucchinis?

I’ve always wanted to julienne Squash and Zucchini to make "healthy" noodles, so I was eager to twirl my fork around this Summer Vegetable Pasta! I really couldn't decipher the difference between the noodles and vegetables since they were both perfectly al dente and tossed with a tangy, herby dressing. What a smart alternative to pasta!

Tomato Heaven.

There's something to be said for quality ingredients. A dish of the most beautiful, brightly colored tomatoes was placed in front of me, and with a whiff of the fresh Basil, Truffled Cheese and splash of vinegar, I couldn’t wait to dig in. Heirlooms, Yellow, Beefsteaks, oh my! The simplistic approach to this dish was outstanding. I loved the way the flavors popped in my mouth. This plate was a Tomato lovers’ dream.

Cantelope Tequila Shooter - bottoms up!

Time for a palate cleanser! A Cantelope-Tequila-Elderflower shooter is a tropical treat, and a clever, tasty marriage of salty from the Tequila and sweet from the ripe melon. Why haven't I tried this flavor combo before? I’m remembering the taste as I write this and I want to be on a beach.

Corn and Crowder Pea Succotash

Bacon just couldn’t stay away from our vegetarian feast. Honestly, I hadn’t missed meat all night, and didn't necessarily need it here either! A Succotash of skillet-roasted Corn, Crowder Peas, Red Peppers and Mushrooms is my idea of summer heaven. The Bacon added a nice smokiness, but the texture and flavor was pleasing enough without it. Put this on Tacos, eat it with Tortilla Chips, top a Spinach Salad, put it on Vanilla Ice Cream (maybe? Really, though…)

Not cheesecake!
The courses improved with each serving and I was impressed with the consistency among plating. Enter course 5 – my favorite of the evening. I was expecting dessert, and upon first glance, assumed this was Cheesecake with a strawberry glaze on top. Oh, was I a fool to assume. Inspired by a Japanese dish, a lentil pancake cupped sautéed Cabbage and a Baked Egg. The “strawberry glaze” turned out to be a sweet and sour soy sauce that would make even a flip flop taste good. The umami flavor that came from this dish was mind-blowing. It was a radically new idea to me. I love tasting a flavor combination that I could have never fathomed, let alone being introduced to an entirely new concept!

I would have eaten all night long, had they kept sending plates out. I was so hoping they’d use my favorite summertime fruit (well, tied for first place with watermelon) for dessert, and when I saw a bowl of juicy, ripe peaches appear, I squealed with delight. (No photo - I was too busy talking, and it was getting dark out!) The most tender, sweet peaches were macerated with local Honey, and topped with Basil and fresh Goat Cheese from Goat Lady Dairy. The peaches left an irresistible juice that settled in the bottom of my dish, which I quickly downed with one lift of my bowl.

The pacing of the evening was perfect. You leave around 8:40pm, full but not overly stuffed, and with several new friends. If you're lucky enough to get added to "the list," act quickly - seats can apparently fill up in 30 minutes! Once you’re on the list, you can share it with your foodie colleagues who get off on events like these as much as you do.