Sunday, June 22, 2014


As a newly converted country music fan (freak), I had been itching to visit Nashville for the past few months. Fortuitously, my awesome job sent me to the Americans for the Arts Conference, which was in Nashville! While I filled my days absorbing arts knowledge and new ideas, I filled my belly during my free time. I was so impressed with the city's architecture (the conference was downtown - everything is so new and shiny!) and I LOVED the live music at the honky tonks all night...not that I was out that late...I did have workshops to attend! But, when in Rome!

When I'm not conferencing, I'm a tourist.
First things first: I had to visit the Grand Ole Opry. Before the show, I decided to dine at Husk, which recently opened after the success of Husk in Charleston, SC. It's safe to say that dining here altered me. Homemade Parker House Rolls are topped with Sea Salt and Sesame Seeds and are even more divine when you slather on Pork Fat Butter. Crispy Pig Tails remind me of General Tso's Chicken - incredible Asian flavors, and a natural gelatinous bite, not at all fatty. A Short Rib is accompanied by a trio of the humble Cauliflower and Oyster Mushroom. Peach Cornmeal Cake is complemented perfectly with Black Walnut Sorbet - this dessert is not too sweet, so you can eat the whole thing. (I did, duh.)
(L-R) The Commencement Cocktail, Crispy Pig Tail, Peach Cake, Short Rib with Cauliflower

Damn Hot. They mean it!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Etch, where I consumed what may have been an entire head of Roasted Cauliflower by myself. But the Truffle Pea Puree and Whipped Feta were fabulous accompaniments. Hattie B's Hot Chicken is a Nashville institution. Levels of heat include "Southern," "Medium," "Hot," "Damn Hot" and "Shut the Cluck Up" - I decided "Damn Hot" would probably give me the heat I was looking for, and it did, plus a collagen lip injection and a free sinus clear-out. The chicken breast itself is so insanely tender and juicy, but they mean serious business with the heat here! Another Nashville institution is the Country Music Hall of Fame, where I saw Elvis' gold Cadillac, a Reba exhibit, and Miranda Lambert's dresses from the past few years. This was a treat.

At Merchant, I checked another exotic ingredient off my list – SQUID INK. It’s a rich, black, buttery ingredient and turns anything it touches a gorgeous dark hue. The Squid Ink Risotto is insanely buttery and looks like a bowl of Black Beans. Throw in tender Scallops, chewy Calamari and lemony Sunchokes and you’ve got a killer dish.

Not Black Beans - Squid Ink Risotto!
Each Honky Tonk I went in is a reminder of why Nashville is “Music City, USA.” The level of talent these singers and musicians have is just ridiculous. You question why all of them aren’t signed to record labels. One girl in particular tore UP her fiddle to “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” after a (most likely drunken) sir paid $100 to hear it.

The Southern is where it’s AT for brunch. It’s brunchgasmic. Brown Butter Linguini is coated with the yolks of two Poached Eggs, Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts. I don’t care if pasta isn’t technically a brunch food – I would eat this for every meal of my life if I could. Not to mention the Lardons - OH - the Lardons! The thick-cut pieces of Bacon make this dish even more indulgent. Add to it a Blood Orange Mimosa and consider me done.

Brunch HEAVEN. Yes, Pasta is a brunch food, since it has Eggs.
Two dear friends will inevitably have their bachelorette parties in Nashville (and join the 1,000 other parties I saw that weekend), so I look forward to my return. I'm going to go sing "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," now that I know which "Broadway" Big & Rich are referring to. 

New friends on Broadway!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Marshall Free House

Marshall Free House has finally opened their doors, and it was most definitely worth the wait. The woodwork was meticulously hand-crafted, the bourbon collection would impress any aficionado, and the ambiance is dark and sexy, as if you're in the library of a castle - except it's way more bustling. Ample seating, fire pits, attentive and pleasant service – I'm really at a loss for anything less than positive to say about this place.

During my visits, I had the pleasure of sampling several of their cocktails, and they are all quite delightful. They never muddle fruit or ingredients; they use flavor-infused simple syrups. You can also hear them cutting specialty square ice cubes for the most outstanding Old Fashioned you’ll ever have. Even non-bourbon lovers will flip over it. A Gin-based drink features flavors like Raspberry, Lemon and Rosemary (perfect for summer) and their spin on a Margarita offers a whimsical cloud of Sea Salt Foam.

Margarita with Sea Salt Foam!
Price points vary so that nothing is out of reach. I'm thoroughly impressed with their rendition of a Grilled Chicken Sandwich. Grilled Sourdough (?) Bread is brushed with an herby, garlicky Pistachio Pesto Mayonnaise; crispy, salty Prosciutto; tender Chicken and a warm Tomato Confit, a Ketchup-like element. Chips (fries) are less crispy than I’d like, but they are salty and slightly vinegary. The Cornish Pastie is made nightly, and thus limited to first-come, first-served. I’d compare it to a British Calzone. Buttery, flaky pastry is stuffed with Minced Meat, Potatoes and Carrots, and it's served with spicy, vinegary Pickled Vegetables.

Chicken Tikka Masala is a tip of the hat to Indian food that’s so incredibly popular in Great Britain. Tender Chicken bathes in a creamy curry sauce, alongside sticky Jasmine Rice and grilled Naan. I loved the charred flavor of the Naan, but I could have used a dash more curry – I like it hot. Those with more mild palates will appreciate this dish. The Salmon is cut thick, served with a killer Fig, Date, Swiss Chard and Root Vegetable combo. I detected a slight Bourbon flavor in this, which was especially nice. Bangers and Mash are a classic, and MFH’s hit the nail on the head. I love when the Sausage casing pops in my mouth, and these plump Bangers definitely satisfy. Potatoes are buttery and chunky, and the tang of the Onion Gravy (much like a jam) brightens up the whole dish.

The infamous Sticky Toffee Pudding!!! Beware.
MFH’s STP – OMG. Let me break it down. This is the most insane Sticky Toffee Pudding (STP) I’ve ever had. It’s worth saving room for, but I wouldn’t judge you for ordering it as your drink, appetizer, entrée AND dessert. (Yes, I said drink – the butterscotch “gold” sauce they pour over the pudding really is pure gold; you’ll want a straw.) Upon ordering this, my dining partner who has had Marshall’s rendition of STP before, asked if I brought an extra pair of undergarments with me…that’s how much I was going to fall in love with this dessert. The plump dates and golden raisins nestled in the tender pudding, and I would like to do the same. Banoffee Pie is like STP’s cuter, younger sister. I enjoyed it, but nothing can compare to the hot, older sibling. The Pie crust is obviously homemade and the Toffee-Sweetened Condensed Milk sauce compliments fresh Bananas and homemade Whipped Cream nicely. It’s scrumptious.

Each visit has been a very fun evening. It’s quickly becoming a personal favorite. It was packed at 8:45pm on a week night. People have been itching to get in here, and now they won’t want to leave. Marshall Free House is doing many things right.

Monday, June 9, 2014


Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
Director: Robert Stromberg
Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Rating: PG

Think what you will about Angelina Jolie – love her, hate her, still can't believe she boned Billy Bob Thornton – I think we can all agree that she’s sickeningly beautiful and born to play this role. In “Maleficent,” she is utterly spell-binding. It’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off her - the cheekbones, porcelain skin and glowing eyes - she absolutely nails this character. This film is a very different interpretation of the classic “Sleeping Beauty,” and you actually cheer on Maleficent’s story of revenge. To my surprise, the film eliminates the “Prince Charming to the rescue!” idea that so many Disney films preach.

Stunning! Photo Courtesy E! Online
We meet the actress who plays young Maleficent (what a compliment to her!) in the enchanting world of The Moors. This a fantasy world, full of mystical creatures, and Maleficent protects and soars over it all. I’m usually NOT OK with all things bird and wing-related, but in this case, her wings are beautiful symbols of power. You go girl!

Maleficent’s heart is broken when the “love of her life” steals her wings. She curses his first-born, Aurora, and we find ourselves in the familiar “Sleeping Beauty” story line. This film portrays Maleficent as a victim. You really understand her unrelenting need for vengeance.

Everyone but Angelina is miscast. Elle Fanning is too young and smiley – we don’t connect with her, though we aren’t necessarily supposed to. The King is too ugly for Angie, and the 3 fairies were hard to bond with, and no comedic relief. They even changed their classic names - Flora, Fauna and Merryweather - what gives?!

The film is not as dark as the trailer predicts. It reminds me of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” It also gives a fresh perspective to the idea of “true love,” and whether or not it exists, and where you can find it. Drop everything and go see this, then tell me you’re not thinking about how Brad Pitt is the luckiest guy in the world.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale
Director: Jon Favreau

Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Rating: R

I haven't been this excited to review a film in quite a while. Interviews on NPR and articles in nearly every food magazine totally whetted my appetite for "Chef." Jon Favreau's writing, direction and acting humors us and tugs at our heartstrings. This film is food porn. All foodies need to see this. I'm hungry for more.

This heartwarming story begins in the kitchen of a famous LA restaurant. Favreau shines as Carl Casper, a Bryan Voltaggio-Bobby Flay type, who feels heat from - not the saute station - but his boss. Dustin Hoffman graces us with his presence in a few scenes as the restaurant owner, who doesn't support Carl's creative streak when the most important food blogger in LA comes for a meal. The menu bores the blogger, a gut-wrenching post is published and Carl loses his shiz. (It was fun to hear the gossip about food bloggers - I can only imagine the whispers that surround me when I walk in a new place. JUST KIDDING.)

John "Toulouse Lautrec" Leguizamo and Bobby "Funky Spunk" Cannavale give a very insightful look into the testosterone-driven kitchen, and are hilarious as Carl's sous chefs Martin and Tony, respectively. They give Carl inspiration to walk out of the corporate kitchen and follow his passion. That passion is realized with the help of his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and ex-wife Inez. In this role, Sofia Vergara isn't unlike Gloria on "Modern Family," but she's so freaking gorgeous, and I appreciated her minute character tweaks.

Carl, Percy and Martin open up El Jefe, a Cubano food truck, and they cruise through the South. The whole time, Percy is Tweeting, Instagramming, Vining and Facebooking, so everywhere they go, the crowds are waiting for them. Kids schooling parents in technology will be the trend for a long time. The bond Carl and Percy develop is truly touching.

The soundtrack is fantastic. The one-liners are even better. Food is in every scene. Someone is either eating or cooking - most memorably the DELUXE grilled cheese Carl makes for Percy, the garlicky pasta he preps for Maitre'D ScarJo, and the montage of the 5 courses he should have cooked for the food blogger. You really gain respect for what these chefs do every day and what goes into each dish - the quality of ingredients, preparation, presentation - it makes you empathize with these creative culinary geniuses, how they put their heart and soul on a plate at the risk of having it torn apart. You'll leave with respect for good food and several crazy cravings. I will re-watch this several times.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


The Shadow Springs wine dinner at Artisan Restaurant was one of the most fantastic wine dinners (and dinners in general!) I’ve ever attended. Artisan resides in Kernel Kustard’s former home in downtown Winston-Salem, and has been winning over diners for the past 18 months that they've been around. Executive Chef Kevin Reddick introduced himself and spoke about each course, giving a very personal touch to the evening. The aromatics and presentation of each dish really knocked my socks off, and wine pairings were spot-on. This event was quite a treat.

The first course was good, but it was my least favorite (this just tells you how phenomenal the following 4 courses were!) Celeriac Bisque is creamy, earthy and topped with a spoonful of Truffles in Arbequina Oil. The Shadow Springs Seyval Blanc was a perfect match – slightly sweet to offset the subtle bitterness of the Celeriac. The two types of bread offered at the table (what I believe were a Salty Sourdough and Cheesy Sourdough - both divine) were tasty to dunk in the bisque, too.

Clockwise from top right: Salmon Tartare, NC Grouper, Panna Cotta, Pork Belly.
The next dish was absolutely fabulous. Salmon Tartare with Crème Fraiche, Hard Boiled Egg, Capers and Shallots is a brilliant interpretation of the classic dish. For a girl who typically doesn't enjoy salmon, this rendition wasn’t fishy, and it rolled on the tongue nicely, like good caviar. The pop of acid from the capers and the sharpness of the shallots brightened the dish, and the Crème Fraiche was a most luxurious touch. Shadow Springs’ Viognier was slightly dry and opened up beautifully with this plate. I was in love!

I couldn’t believe my taste buds when I dug into Dish #3. A thick filet of NC Grouper rested on a smooth bed of Parsnip Puree, alongside Fava Beans and Cabernet Cipollini Onions, and to top things off, a dollop of Fava Bean Pesto. The flavors married beautifully, and were almost slightly reminiscent of (bear with me here, and I mean it in the BEST way possible) a pizza! Let me explain – the Parmesan and Herbs in the Pesto; the creaminess of the Parsnip Puree; the salty, meatiness of the Grouper; the acid from the Cipollinis – it was like a deconstructed pie. Words really can’t do it justice. The Barrel Fermented Chardonnay was lost on me; I was way too focused on the food to care about the wine here.

As if things couldn’t possibly continue to be this outstanding…here came a gorgeous, thick-cut piece of Heritage Farms Pork Belly with Pea Puree, fresh Pea Shoots, a Tempura-Fried Goat Lady Dairy Goat Cheese-Stuffed Squash Blossom, with a tangy NC Sweet Potato Vinaigrette. This acidity brightened up the whole dish, and the Goat Cheese-Stuffed Squash Blossom is a perfect representation of seasonal produce. The Pork Belly though…this deserves its own blog post. Never have I had more tender, meaty Pork Belly. The fat melted into the meat perfectly – there was no “grissle” here – it was like butter. The Shadow Springs Crimson Sunset is a medium-bodied red, oakey – a nice complement.

By some stroke of magic, I found room for the fifth and final course – a Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, much like a cheesecake but more gelatinous, with Chocolate Ganache, Crème Anglaise, and Farmer’s Market Berry Jam. The velvety Panna Cotta had the perfect amount of jiggle, and the Berry Jam was a nice tang to the rich sweetness of the dish. I may have preferred a White Chocolate Ganache with this plate, because the Milk Chocolate was slightly too bitter. The French Kiss Chocolate Strawberry Wine was also a bit too dark as a match, but I really didn’t care. I was in a fantastic place.

Chef Reddick loves working with people to create custom, special occasion menus - even family-style. The team seems very easy to work with and willing to accommodate their guests. I’m considering sending in a list of my favorite food words, and asking for a custom birthday dinner. I would literally die. I will be returning in the very near future. Now I know why so many of my colleagues can’t get enough of this place.