Monday, November 30, 2015

1703 Restaurant and Catering

If you don't follow Chef Curtis Hackaday's Instagram, please pause reading right now, and go follow @curtishackaday1703 but beware - his photos will have you drooling. Those photos are actually how I chose where to dine the other evening. I hadn't been to 1703 Restaurant and Catering in Winston-Salem in several years, and with all the "liking" of Chef Hackaday's photos I was doing lately, I knew exactly where to go. And I am so freaking glad I did.

Fried Foie Gras on Matcha Milk Buns
When we walked in, our thoughtful, attentive and personable server Leslie made us feel right at home. I asked for a gin cocktail, and she quickly concocted the classic French 75, while my dining partners enjoyed a Dona Paula Argentinian Malbec. Saying that we were totally blown away with the presentation and flavors of our appetizers would be an understatement. Milk Buns are all the rage right now, and Chef Hackaday adds Matcha (Green Tea Powder) to his for a beautiful pale green bun. Fried Foie Gras is encased in the delicate bun - are you serious right now? Fried foie? I had never seen this done before, let alone ever dreamt of it. The foie gras literally melts in your mouth and is so savory. A tangy Pumpkin BBQ sauce has a perfect sweetness and bite to cut through the richness of the meat. This dish is outstanding.

Head Cheese, Mushroom Jerky, Pig Chicharron with Pimiento Cheese!
Another starter trio presented me with something I had never tried before, and was quite eager to - head cheese! Contrary to what you might suspect, head cheese is actually a meat spread or cold cut made from a pig's head. I was so excited to find that I enjoyed it, reminding me of a pate. It's studded with peppercorns and topped with pickled carrots, and perfect to spread on peppery crackers. Mushroom Jerky is slightly sweet and presents a unique umami flavor. It's better than any questionable meat jerky I've ever had. The most whimsical of the bunch was a Pig Chicharron that's about a foot tall. It was still crackling when it got to our table! This is not your typical 7-11 pork rind, folks. Especially when it's served sticking out of a bowl of fantastic Pimiento Cheese (and I would know, I KNOW pimiento cheese.)

Curry Octopus Risotto
With every plate, Chef Hackaday was proving that his creativity is unparalleled. He wowed us with a Curry Risotto with Octopus, Fennel Powder and Squid Ink, beautifully painted across the plate. The artistry in the plating of all his dishes is so beautiful! The octopus was tender, like a scallop, not rubbery at all. We were so impressed with the way Chef Hackaday plays with flavors - pairing curry with fennel and squid ink? It totally works.

Scallops, my love!
French Bread and Cheese Bread is served with Chive Butter and was a nice interlude as we awaited our entrees. Chef Hackaday's Sea Scallops are perfect. 4 plump scallops are seared, and served on top of rich Pimiento Cheese Grits, with Wilted Greens and Broccoli. Having something green in this dish is essential to cut through the savoriness. Everything is seasoned just right, and Jalapeno Vinaigrette isn't spicy, but adds a nice peppery element.

Chef Hackaday's Salmon is roasted and topped with a Chili Crab Sauce, which has a nice spice. This dish is light but packed full of flavor. Mashed Sweet Potatoes were a fabulous precursor to Thanksgiving! It's also served with wilted greens.
Salmon with Crab and Greens
Creme Brulee trio
The dessert list is long, but when we spotted the words Creme Brulee trio, we didn't need to read much further. The trio includes Vanilla, Chocolate and Coffee varieties, and you really can't go wrong with any of these flavors. The custard is smooth and velvety, and rests underneath a crunchy shell of bruleed sugar. I just love breaking through the glassy topping with my spoon. Berries are on the side for a pop of color and tartness.

I'm so glad Winston-Salem has Chef Hackaday! His Instagram proves that social media marketing works, and his unique and creative play with flavors is worth a trip to 1703, y'all. Trust me. I look forward to many future meals here.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Emma Thompson
Director: John Wells
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Rating: R

Bradley Cooper plays a chef in the new foodie movie "Burnt." Say no more - I'm in. The film "Chef" was one of my favorites last year - one of my favorite food films ever, actually - and I thoroughly enjoyed "Burnt," though it lacked the comedy and food porn that "Chef" gave us so much of. (Well, this movie has food porn for the bourgeois foodie.) However, unless you read cookbooks, food magazines and menus for fun like me, you may want to sit this one out, or at least wait to watch it at home. Bradley Cooper continues to prove that he can tackle just about any role though, and does a fantastic job channeling the feared and revered Chef Gordon Ramsay (a chef consultant for the film). Cooper's portrayal of Adam Jones, a 2-star Michelin chef seeking his 3rd, is incredibly believable though the story line may not be very strong.
Photo Courtesy Yahoo
Chef Adam Jones has a few obstacles standing in his way of getting that third Michelin star. He screwed over all of his friends and colleagues when he went on a drug bender and walked out of his restaurant in Paris. He attempts to soothe the edges and put his old crew back together in a new restaurant, owned by former colleague Tony (played by Daniel Bruhl, who I'm afraid has too much screen time.) A newbie to the line of sous chefs includes Helene, played by Sienna Miller, who reunites with Cooper since last year's "American Sniper." Their chemistry is as hot as the pan-seared turbot she works so hard to master. Emma Thompson's turn as Adam's therapist doesn't do a lot to add to the film - she shines in comedy - but her line "there's strength in needing people, not weakness" serves as a catalyst for Adam to strive more to connect with others.

It's not really fair that all we see in film and TV these days are chefs being portrayed as ill-tempered, aggressive, perfectionists that tend to have substance abuse issues. But this film reinforces that. Chefs Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali apparently didn't mind, and did a fantastic job as chef consultants on this film. Cooper chopped, plated and talked shop, seemingly like a real chef. The beads of sweat and his bloodshot eyes only add to his credibility. I haven't seen a chef this hot since I met John Besh (that's right, folks -my fave!)
What a handsome pair we make. I still can't believe this moment happened.
Though there's a flirtation, this is not a love story. Instead, it's a story of Adam's journey, for better and for worse, and how he rediscovers himself through food. A few plot twists and constant battles in the kitchen keep you entertained and emotionally invested. Also, blink and you'll miss Uma Thurman. It's like the director owed her a favor and threw her in the film for fun. If anything, this film will make you fall in love with Bradley Cooper's baby blues, and crave a plate of milk-poached turbot or brown butter-basted halibut with fennel fronds and pea shoots, at $39/plate, natch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Martian

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 2 hours, 24 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Is "The Martian" a fantastic film? Indeed. Is this one of Matt Damon's best performances? He's pretty freaking great. Is the film a visual spectacle? Not exactly. What I expected from Ridley Scott (director of "Alien" and "Prometheus") was way more than what he delivered. Sure, the shots of Earth and Mars from outer space are beautiful, but they are few and far between. The film stays pretty close to Andy Weir's novel, thankfully without as much scientific jargon that I admittedly skimmed right over while reading. If you enjoyed "Gravity" or "Interstellar" you will probably enjoy this film. Just be prepared - it's awfully lengthy.
Photo Courtesy Fox Movies
You've all seen the trailer - Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney who gets left on Mars after his crew presumes he's dead. Surprise! He's very much alive, and has to figure out how to spend the next 3 years (when the next planned Mars mission lands) alive on a planet that doesn't grow food and has nearly every element that would work against him. Luckily, his botany skills come into play and allow him to grow potatoes, and his chemistry knowledge enables him to create water to help them grow. But just about every time something goes his way, something throws a kink in his plan.

Back on Earth, when NASA discovers that he's alive and well, engineer Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor, whose star continues to rise), PR specialist Annie Montrose (a surprisingly boring role for the usually lovable Kristen Wiig) and Head of NASA Teddy Sanders (solid Jeff Daniels, as per usual) set about devising a rescue plan. They also decide to not inform Watney's crew that he's actually alive. As plans are hurried and ultimately fail, NASA is forced to inform the crew, and also partner with the China National Space Agency to make Watney's rescue a reality.

The beautiful Jessica Chastain plays Commander Lewis, who feels the most guilt at leaving Watney behind. Chastain's talent isn't really showcased in this film - she didn't have much to work with. The same can be said for Michael Pena and Sebastian Stan, supporting crewmates and solid supporting cast members, who got very little screen time and material. Damon does a wonderful job at keeping Watney's sense of humor throughout the film, as Weir depicted in the book. Watney never really loses it, and we don't ever see him get totally desperate and just give up. The fact that everyone on Earth is rooting for him and the smartest people in the world are working towards finding a solution must have given him hope.

The final shots left me wanting a little more visually and emotionally. What's intended to be the film's climax almost gets you there, but doesn't give you a full emotional release. That may be partly due to the filming and choice of shots, but it also might be that we've watched him struggle for 140 minutes and are frankly ready for something to finally go his way. I enjoyed this film, for the most part. (I especially enjoyed looking at Damon's hunky bod, until that awful body double scene.) This film remains #1 at the box office after a month. It will be one of Damon's most memorable roles, and will last long into Ridley Scott's film legacy.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Recap: Got to be NC Competition Dining - Battle of Champions

This past Saturday, the two remaining chefs in the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series battled it out in the Battle of Champions. It was a tight race between Chef Brent Martin of The Summit Room in Charlotte, and Chef Ryan Conklin of REX Healthcare in Raleigh.

The chefs had to work with two very intriguing featured ingredients: Jarrett Bay Oysters and Outer Banks Sea Salt! What I would have given for a plate full of fried oysters, or a bowl of salted caramel...but alas, the photos and descriptions from Competition Dining's Facebook page will have to suffice! And they are mouthwatering for sure! (Thanks to the Competition Dining team for the photos I've used in this post, too!)

Course 1: Chef Martin's Smoked Jarrett Bay Oyster, Lump Crab and NC White Shrimp Ragout, Low Country Grits, Tasso Ham and Chile Oil is an inventive play on Shrimp & Grits!
Course 1
Course 2: Chef Conklin had the highest scoring dish of the night: a Cornmeal-fried Jarrett Bay Oyster with slow-roasted Tomatoes and Rosemary Chimichurri was alongside pan-fried NC Grouper, Cauliflower puree sprinkled with OBX Sea Salt, and a Black Truffle, Sorrel and Langoustine salad.
Course 2
Course 3: Chef Martin's Maple Leaf Farms Duck Rillette was served with Jarrett Bay Oysters Two Ways: Pickled and on the half shell with Shallot Mignonette, Compressed Bread & Butter Pickles, Field Pea Succotash, Red Pepper Syrup, Caper Berry, OBX Sea Salt and a Ran-Lew Dairy Buttermilk Cracker.
Course 3
Course 4: Chef Conklin's Poached Jarrett Bay Oyster Duo sounds divine: Carolina Pork BBQ with a Celery Seed Cabbage Salad and Silver Queen Corn Chowchow; and a White Sweet Potato with Kale and Bacon Colcannon, sprinkled with OBX Sea Salt and Guinness Melted Leeks with a Parsnip Butter Sauce.
Course 4
Course 5: It's like Chef Martin is speaking right to me with his Roasted Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Marcona Almond Streusel, Cream Cheese Icing, OBX Sea Salt Caramel, Candied Pepitas, Cinnamon Shards and Pumpkin Gel. YUMMERS!
Course 5
Course 6: As if the next dessert couldn't sound any better, Chef Conklin comes out of nowhere with his Tres Leche Carrot Cake topped with a Saffron Mascarpone, Cloister Honey Frozen Custard, J&J Farms Apple Butter, OBX Sea Salt-Salted NC Strawberries, with a High Rock Farms Chestnut Flour Tuile. I'll have 4, please.
Course 6
It was finally the moment we've been working towards since January. And the winner of the Battle of Champions is...Chef Ryan Conklin! His score of 29.694 to Chef Martin's 27.088 secured him the title of champion. If you haven't been to a battle, what are you waiting for? See you next year, foodies! We'll start all over again with more hopeful chefs all across the region!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

MJ's Steak and Seafood

MJ's Steak and Seafood is a hidden gem. High recommendations from my neighbor solidified our decision to make this the spot where we should celebrate my mom's birthday, and we couldn't have been more pleased with our experience. A peach-colored house-turned restaurant on Dolley Madison Road in Greensboro was bustling with Furniture Marketers as we walked in, with an intimate but eye-catching bar to our left. We were seated in the nearly private enclosed back patio. Outdoor and upstairs seating is also available. Servers are knowledgeable and friendly. Let's get to the cocktails.

The Harvey combines Hendrick's Gin and Ketel One Vodka, and is served with Blue Cheese-stuffed Olives. Add some olive juice to make it dirty, and they may as well have just named it The Amanda. Locally baked Asiago Cheese bread is warm and crusty and comes with a dry spice blend that you can add oil to, to make it as potent and flavorful as you like! This was the first time I had seen this done in a restaurant and it's pretty genius. It's also genius that they offer Foie Gras as a side dish.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimiento Cheese
Fried Green Tomatoes are a perfect starter to share. Three thick green tomato slices are fried, and stacked atop homemade Pimiento Cheese and drizzled with Balsamic Vinegar, surrounded by Arugula. This is how Southern comfort food gets taken to the next level. I am a pimiento cheese afficionado, and this was close to perfect (my grandmother's recipe is the best of all time, though). The balsamic adds necessary acid, and the arugula is some nice green, to make you feel less guilty for indulging.

I've been on a Fried Oyster kick lately (it all started at One Eared Stag in Atlanta - their chef's breakfast is to die for). When I saw Fried Oysters & Grits on the menu, a play on Shrimp & Grits, I knew it was my destiny to have this dish. And not just any grits - Pimiento Cheese grits! I thought it only appropriate to echo my start with even more pimiento cheese. While the flavor wasn't as strong in the grits, they were still buttery and creamy and a nice bed for the crunchy oysters - nearly 15 of them, no joke! It's all drizzled with a tangy Chipotle Aioli. I would have preferred the slightly sweet Collard Greens to be slightly spicy, but they still rounded out the dish nicely. Bravo to this whimsical and inventive idea.

Sea Scallops, Sundried Tomato Grit Cake
It's rare for me to turn down Sea Scallops when I see them on a menu. I've decided they're my favorite food. Along with cookie dough. (Not necessarily together, but maybe.) MJ's scallops are fantastic. They're cooked perfectly with a hint of smokiness, or perhaps that's the Maple Bacon Creme. A Sundried Tomato Grit Cake is perfectly crisp and brightly flavored. Asparagus is a solid side.

The fish of the day was a thick-cut Mahi Mahi, perfectly cooked, topped with Crab Salad and a bright Lemon Dill Hollandaise. This dish is a 10 on its own, but the Lobster Mashed Potatoes totally steal the show. They are utterly sinful. Asparagus stars in a supporting role once again. Always welcome, but your pee is going to smell.
Mahi Mahi with Lobster Mashed Potatoes
Major thanks to my neighbor who stressed that I needed to visit MJ's. I will be returning very soon, for what I know will be another wonderful experience and meal. If you haven't been yet, it needs to be added to your list immediately.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Back in February, I got a sneak peek into LaRue, the new French-inspired restaurant in downtown Greensboro. I couldn't wait for it to open. Several visits later, I continue to be thoroughly impressed. Chef Trey Bell and his team are doing a fabulous job of making French food accessible, not allowing their customers to be intimidated by their menu. And of course, not to mention the professional, knowledgeable and courteous servers, and their wiz of a mixologist, whipping up dueling cocktails each night.

Following the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction, Chef Bell invited a few blogger friends and me over to LaRue to sample some items from their new menu (running through November 2) and I cannot stress enough how quickly you need to get there. Though their wine list is a winner, their mixologst is so fab that you can suggest he make you something spicy with gin, or combine ginger and tequila and he'll hook you up.

Chicken Liver Canoli, Foie Bread Pudding, Frog Legs
The Chicken Liver Canoli is one of the most inventive dishes I've ever seen. Not to mention one of the tastiest. A perfectly crisp shell encases buttery, velvety Chicken Liver Mousse. This would taste good on tree bark. Literally, feed me anything covered in this mousse. A whimsical green herb gelee brings a nice tartness to cut through some of the richness of this dish. LaRue's Bread Pudding is decadence at its finest, combining Foie Gras, Pear and Maple. This should be on their brunch menu, as it combines that sweetness you get in a French Toast and the savory richness of the Foie. It's sensational.

My first Frog Legs ever remind me of - you guessed it - chicken! Except they're tender, and pack much more meat on the bones than I expected. What they're paired with though, makes the dish. A Black Garlic and Parsnip Puree is a beautiful dark gray, while a bright green Parsley Chip sticks out, bringing a fresh, salty bite. I'll have a basket of these, please.

Thai Noodles with Quail
The Surfs and Turfs on the dinner menu is a spin on what Chef Bell presented at the March of Dimes dinner event. Sweet Potato Risotto is a bed for Uni, Frog Legs, and shaved Black Truffles. It's a perfect winter dish - the meat is tender, the sweet potato paired with uni is creamy and the risotto perfectly al dente. Anything with truffles is a winner in my book, too.

Be sure and check out their late night offerings Thursday-Saturday, starting at 10:30pm. The Thai Noodles are to die for. Thin noodles are coated with a salty, spicy peanut sauce, and combined with a fried egg, veggies and a protein of your choice (I chose quail over pork belly and beef). It's a remarkable bowl. The Pho is topped with a Sunny Side Up Egg and the broth is robust with flavor, as good Pho is.

Visit LaRue for their lunch specials, too. The day I went, I had the option of adding one of their daily proteins to a salad, totaling a reasonable $14. The Beets+Berries+Citrus Salad is fresh, and a perfect portion size. Chevre Cheese and Pistachios add creaminess and crunch. This one has been a menu staple for a while, with good reason.

LaRue is a perfect date spot, pre or post-Triad Stage show spot, bring your parents here, hit it for happy hour, grub on some Thai Noodles after few drinks out - they even have brunch on Sundays! This is everything Greensboro has been needing for a while. I'm so thrilled that it's ours!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction

Attending the Signature Chefs Auction to benefit the March of Dimes was one of the most enjoyable evenings I've had since I moved to Greensboro three years ago. It was my first auction ever, which proved to be highly entertaining as well as beneficial for the March of Dimes, raising thousands of money for the organization. The mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, permature birth and infant mortality. Dining for a cause, any cause, is a terrific way to spend your evening, but this one was especially memorable.
With two of my favorite bloggers, Nikki (NikSnacks) and Jennifer (The Onyx Plate)
LaRue: Sweet Potatoes for days.
10 of Greensboro's most beloved and popular chefs presented small plates as the silent auction got underway. Autumn Creek Vineyards sponsored the wine - the Cabarnet Franc was light and easy to sip! My favorite plate of the night was from LaRue, the new French-inspired restaurant in downtown Greensboro. Chef Trey Bell did justice to the Sweet Potato, presenting a Sweet Potato Bisque, Sweet Potato Risotto with tender Quail Confit and Chocolate Shell candies with a Sweet Potato Mousse filling. This plate was perfection and certainly appropriate for the incoming fall weather. (The after party continued at LaRue following the event - post coming soon!)

B. Christopher's: Surf and Turf
Another favorite of the evening, and winner of the People's Choice Award, was Chef Chris Russell of B. Christopher's Surf and Turf - tender braised beef with a Red Wine reduction, creamy Lobster Bisque and the best Horseradish Mashed Potatoes I've ever had in my life. Chef Anders Benton from Gia was another highlight, with his Pulled Pork and Caramlized Pears on Naan, alongside smoked Caramel Corn.
Gia: Pulled Pork and Pears on Naan
Mark's: Duck Liver Pate and Duck Confit Cassoulet
Chef Bruno Catuhe of Mark's Restaurant gave me my first ever sampling of Duck Confit Cassoulet. I'd like this every night during the winter, please. Unfortunately, their Duck Liver Pate had a pink peppercorn flavoring that was too overwhelming, and ruined what could have been a perfectly good pate. Starmount Country Club's Chef Todd Jones smoked Beef Brisket for 6 hours, resulting in a flavorful BBQ sandwich, topped with Mustard Onions and spicy White Slaw. These flavors made me miss summer, bad.
Starmount CC: Smoked BBQ Brisket Sandwiches

I haven't been to Giovanni's Italian Restaurant, but after sampling Chef Robert Holden's Bruschetta and Chicken Saltimbocca, I can't wait to go! The freshness of the tomatoes and herbs in the bruschetta, with the acid from the Balsamic Vinegar is a wonderful balance to the richness of the White Wine, Proscuitto and Mozzarella Cheese in the Saltimbocca. Chef Michael Harkenreader's reputation at Undercurrent goes almost unmatched, but his Sticky Rice Cake with Hoisin Bacon was a departure from what I typically see from him. I applaud the risk though, and it worked in my favor because I love anything with an Asian flare.

Painted Plate: Banh Mi and Crab Fried Rice

Chef Brad Semon of The Painted Plate took a chance presenting a Banh Mi sandwich - Pork Belly is pretty unforgiving, and if it's overcooked, you can kiss it goodbye. Luckily, their Crab Fried Rice was the bomb and made up for a pretty tough piece of Belly. Southern Lights Bistro's Chef Matthew Adams presented beautifully pink Duck Breast atop a Cornmeal Cake with pickled Red Onions, resulting in one of the prettier presentations.

Sedgefield CC: Sweet Potato Waffle

Sedgefield Country Club's Chef James Patterson went all out, presenting a 5-star dish of a Braised Chicken Leg with Mashed Potatoes, Carrots, Chanterelle Mushrooms and a nice jus, but a sprinkling more of salt would have made this exceptional. Their Sweet Potato Waffle with Spiced Candied Pecans is among one of the best I've ever had, but I could have done without the Smoked Whipped Cream. It was supposed to be reminiscient of a toasted marshmallow, but it took away all the delightful sweetness of the waffle.

Sedgefield CC: Braised Chicken Leg
Angel Konfections
Photo Courtesy The Onyx Plate
A box of truffles from Angel Konfections by Krecek Kakes in High Point was at each of our seats, a lovely way to cap off the evening. They were more of a cross between a cookie bar and a candy bar than an actual truffle, which I appreciated. My favorite were the Smores and Chocolate Caramel with Sea Salt, but the Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Caramel Apple were decadent too. A trip to High Point is in the works, specifically for more of those truffles.

Tons of tasty bites, raising awareness as well as money, and time with friends made for such a special evening. I'm honored and thrilled that I got to be part of it. And if you're feeling generous, make a donation to support the March of Dimes!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

WFAEats: Pumpkin Perfection: A Showstopper Recipe

It's not often that I post recipes on my blog, but when my lunch club dish is such a hit, it's hard for me to not share it!

The lunch club members blindly chose a color to be the prominent one in our dishes. I got orange. Being a pumpkin fanatic, you can imagine my thrill when I started thinking of all the pumpkin recipes I could possibly do. I wanted to do a showstopper dish and do the pumpkin justice, so I decided to go with a challenging savory option - baking something inside a pumpkin!

What resulted was an absolutely divine, decadently rich and flavorful Baked Pumpkin Cheese Bread Pudding Souffle. It looked candied, even fake, as I pulled it out of the oven.

My friends "oohed" and "ahhed" as I set it on the table. I might be telling the turkey to take a hike during the holiday season so this pumpkin can get all the love from the oven.

Thanks to WFAEats for posting this article for me! You can read it here!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Scrambled Southern Diner

Being a huge fan of Josephine's Kitchen in Greensboro, my heart broke a little when I heard it was closing earlier this summer. I should have had more faith in owners Chef Chris Blackburn and Sarah Keith, as they re-branded and re-opened as something exceptional: Scrambled Southern Diner. It was a brilliant concept and a strategic move, being that the establishment is surrounded by more divey spots like Hops and Fat Dog's, that UNC-G students flock to. And who doesn't love breakfast? But, who is ever actually able to have it at a restaurant from 6-9am? At Scrambled, you can get it anytime of day (or at least until 3pm.) Like I said, brilliant.

At 12 noon on a Friday, my party just had to wait momentarily for a table to get cleared off. Needless to say, business was booming. My eyes feasted on the menu, darting all over the place. Did I want a Waffle with Caramel Sauce? Perhaps Pancakes with Butterscotch Chips? Or the house-made Corned Beef Hash? Maybe The Forester, featuring Brie, Mushrooms and Truffle Oil. I could have even dug into the lunch menu - The Maine Roll would have been quite satisfying. But I stuck with breakfast and I'm so glad I did.

Green Eggs and Ham!
I literally played eenie meenie minie whilst perusing the "Scrambles" section of the menu. My server was very patient with me, answering questions about several, as I tried to nail down my decision. I chose the whimsically named "Green Eggs and Ham" Scramble, which combines a mildly spiced Chorizo, Scallions, Queso Fresco, fresh Salsa Verde, tangy Chili Lime Crema and eggs any way - I chose scrambled - atop your choice of Grits or Shredded Hash Browns (which I opted for), served in a monster-sized skillet. The balance of the savory Chorizo and acid from the salsa and lime crema is perfect. Everything kind of oozes onto the hash browns, which are an ideal base for a dish like this. I loved how the salsa verde even tented the eggs green! I chose a large, fluffy biscuit over toast, and was delighted with it.

Care for a swim in this gravy ocean?

A dining companion chose the "Country Style" Scramble, combining Sausage, Cheddar Cheese, Mushrooms and Sausage Gravy over grits or hash browns. That gravy is sensational. I find that most gravies are too heavily seasoned with sage, or the gravy to sausage ratio is way off - but not this gravy. I was offered a spoonful to taste and it nearly killed me to not dive face first into her dish. Red Eye and Vegetarian Mushroom Gravies are also available, but stick with the original sausage and you will be quite pleased.

Waffle with Bananas and Caramel!
I face several questions when I have brunch. Coffee or cocktails? Bloodies or Mimosas? Sweet or savory? I felt it my responsibility to try something from both departments - I owed it to you, dear readers, to explore both sweet and savory. Scrambled's Waffles err more on the side of Belgian style-thickness, which is more exciting than their flatter counterparts. They're incredibly light and would be tasty on their own, until I looked at the toppings list which included everything from a Banana, Rum and Almond Compote to Apple Butter. I thought house-made Caramel and Bananas would make fabulous toppings, and they did. I can't imagine a better brunch than alternating between bites of savory sausage gravy and chorizo, and these fluffy, caramel-drenched waffles.

I'm so excited for Scrambled. It's incredibly accessible for the people and students that frequent that part of town, and Greensboro doesn't have enough places that serve breakfast during the week, all day long. I do look forward to returning on a weekend to explore the Saturday and Sunday only specials!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Straight Outta Compton

Starring: O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti
Director: F. Gary Gray
Running Time: 2 hours, 27 minutes
Rating: R

If you don't think you want to see this movie, think again. You'll bop your head, cringe and even tear up during this biopic of the first gangster rap group, N.W.A. The 5 members hailed from Compton, CA during the late 1980's, when being an African American male in Los Angeles was not the easiest thing to be, to put it lightly. I had no idea how horribly these men were treated, and the discrimination they faced. It's very timely that this film came out now, with all the disturbing racial turmoil we've been hearing about in the news. Besides the harsh realities the film reveals, their's is an incredibly engaging story. For a rap fan, I was in it every single minute. Non rap fans will still appreciate the history and drama. It's not to be missed.
MC Ren, DJ Yella, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre
Photo Courtesy Jaimie Trueblood, Universal Pictures
You've likely heard of 1 or 2 of the artists that comprise N.W.A: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella. From the moment we meet each of these men, we're introduced to the problems and roadblocks that stand in their way of making it out of the streets: drug dealing, guns, thugs - these are just a few of the daily occurances. As Ice Cube put it, "our art is a reflection of our reality." O'Shea Jackson, Jr. is Ice Cube's son in real life and brings a calmness and grace to the screen in portraying his father.

Eazy-E quickly rises to the front of the group, catching the eye of sleazy but seemingly good-hearted manager Jerry Heller, played expertly by Paul Giamatti. We are under the impression that his intentions are true, only to wrongly fall for him like the members of N.W.A. All but one, that is - Ice Cube's skepticism leads him to a solo career, followed shortly after by Dr. Dre. These two ultimately have the most mainstream success. Corey Hawkins brings a charm and quiet strength to Dre, while Jason Mitchell's Eazy walks and talks bigger than he is, and seems to have the most street smarts and strongest backbone, while also showing vulnerability.

We see the rise and ultimate fall of N.W.A, and get a look into what the future held for these men. Ice begins his first draft of "Friday," while Dre heads to Death Row Records to work with Snoop Dogg, Tupac and Suge Knight. We also see Eazy's tragic battle with AIDS, and a reconciliation between these formerly feuding men. I would have continued watching all night to see Dre's discovery of Eminem and ultimately 50 Cent (and even to see Ice's work on TBS's "Are We There Yet"!)

What these men brought out of Compton and into the world is remarkable. What they went through to be able to write and rap about such extreme and violent topics is also outrageous. "Straight Outta Compton" does their story justice.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series: the Battle of Champions

The champs are ready. They've waited all year for this. The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series culminates on October 28-31 in Raleigh, featuring the winners from battles throughout the year. Tickets go on sale in just 9 days - Thursday, September 24!

Don't miss what will undoubtedly be some fantastic dinners, featuring Chef Ryan Conklin of Rex Healthcare in Raleigh; Joseph Cornett of The Flipside Café in Fort Mill, SC; Todd Warden of The Cliffs Valley in Greenville, SC; Brent Martin of The Summit Room in Charlotte; and Winston-Salem's own Richard Miller from the fabulous Graze!

An official press release is below! Don't wait to get your tickets - they will FLY!

Raleigh, North Carolina – The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series, a single-elimination tournament highlighting the best of the Carolina’s food, agriculture and culinary talent, is gearing up for its Battle of Champions series in which five top regional chefs will battle it out to take home the coveted annual championship title. Foodies from the Carolinas and beyond are invited to attend the four live dinner events Oct. 28 to 31 in Raleigh, savoring the full-service, six-course meals and serving as judges. Tickets to these interactive battles go on sale Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7pm at and are guaranteed to sell out quickly.

The five chefs competing in the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series Battle of Champions, who each won their regional series to earn a place in the championship, randomly drew knives to determine the bracket and the schedule is as follows:

·       Wednesday, Oct. 28: Ryan Conklin, Rex Healthcare (Raleigh) vs. Joseph Cornett, The Flipside Café (Fort Mill, South Carolina)

·       Thursday, Oct. 29: Richard Miller, Graze (Winston-Salem) vs. Oct. 28 winner

·       Friday, Oct. 30: Todd Warden, The Cliffs Valley (Greenville, South Carolina) vs. Brent Martin, The Summit Room (Charlotte)

·       Saturday, Oct. 31Oct. 29 winner vs. Oct. 30 winner

Each of the Battle of Champions dinner events, just as at all dinners throughout the year-long series, includes two chef teams battling it out preparing three courses centered on a featured ingredient that comes from a regional farmer or artisan producer. Featured ingredients are revealed to the chefs the morning of the dinner event and must be used in each course.

“This is going to be an extremely competitive championship series,” said Jimmy Crippen, Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series founder and host. “The level of culinary talent this year has exceeded all expectations and we’re confident the four Battle of Champions dinner events will be an impressive culmination of the fun and creativity we’ve seen and tasted throughout 2015.”

The first-ever South Carolina series recently culminated with Chef Warden of The Cliffs Valley restaurant winning the title after rising to the top of the 14-chef Greenville tournament.In front of a sold out crowd of more than 160 people, Chef Warden earned the final spot in the Battle of Champions cooking with the night’s featured ingredient, Greenbrier Farms​ pork loins and jowls. Also, for the first time in competition history, the chefs started their final battle day shopping. The two teams were each allotted $300 to spend at Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery and they had to use at least one local produce item in every course.

All five of the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series regional winners will come together for the fist time in the October Battle of Champions to compete for bragging rights, a grand prize of $4,000 cash, two handmade chef knives by Ironman Forge and a trip to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, California, compliments of Kikkoman and the Pro Chef Program. All Battle of Champions events are held at Renaissance North Hills Raleigh, located at 4100 Main at North Hills Street. Tickets to attend the first three battles are $129 each excluding beverage, tax and service fee. Tickets for the final championship battle are $149 each excluding beverage, tax and service fee. Learn more and buy tickets starting Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. via

About Competition Dining Series

The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series has hosted annual chef tournaments throughout North Carolina for years with the goal of celebrating local products and agriculture, and showcasing the culinary ingenuity and talent across the state. It is sponsored by the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, Certified Angus Beef®, Pepsi Bottling Ventures, ALSCO, NC Egg Association, Hits Technology and Joyce Farms. For the first time ever, Competition Dining expanded outside North Carolina in 2015 with a series in Greenville, South Carolina. For more information, visit or get in on the conversation at and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Tavern in Old Salem

Stepping into Old Salem transports you to another world, and another time. A class field trip in middle school didn't make a huge impression on me, but returning as an adult, I found it to be pretty spectacular. You'll want to be sure and go during the daytime when Winkler's Bakery is open, for one of their fabulous warm Moravian Sugar Cakes. (My dad and I ate an entire one on the sidewalk one day.) The Tavern in Old Salem was built in 1816, serves traditional Moravian food with a modern flair, and servers even wear historic Moravian attire at lunch! After reading one of my foodie friends' articles about her recent trip to The Tavern, I realized I had never been, and that needed to change, fast.
Excited to be here!
Servers are incredibly knowledgeable about the food and beverage menus, recommending wines to pair with different entrees. But I chose to enjoy the cocktail of the day, which combined Covington Sweet Potato Vodka, Limoncello, Lemon, Lavender, Almond Extract, Poppyseed and Coconut Creme. WOW! This was coconutty, citrusy, creamy and tart. I fell head over heels for this drink. Warm yeast rolls and homemade pumpkin spice muffins arrive in a wicker basket, and the muffins can serve as a dessert, for those of you who have sweet teeth like me!

Being a sucker for Brussels Sprouts and Kale, I couldn't resist the Kalettes, a hybrid between the two. The Tavern pan fries them, with a few leaves being extra cripsy - as they should be! - served with a savory Wild Boar Reduction, melted Hoop Cheddar Cheese and smoky Debreziner Sausage. If you have your thinking cap on, you'll dip your yeast roll in the reduction. The wild boar gives a unique umami flavor to the dish. It's outstanding.

Duck 3 Ways
If Duck is listed on a menu, there's a very high chance that I'll be ordering it. (The Crispy Duck at Fabian's showed me the light and I've been in love ever since.) At the Tavern, you get it 3 ways in one dish: a roasted Duck Breast, Duck Confit in the most sensational Parmesan Spaetzle, and lastly, Duck Bacon. You read me right, bacon lovers. The tender confit just melts right in with that cheesy Spaetzle, which is a German noodle or dumpling. The duck breast is cooked to perfection and drizzled with a lovely spicy pepper jelly. I appreciate the idea of the duck bacon, but it reminded me too much of a dried smoky meat or jerky. Sauteed spinach rounds out the dish, and is a nice touch of fresh greenery.

NC Lemon Pepper Catfish
I'm a little weary of Lemon Pepper seasoning. I can take the heat, but there's a flavor in this spice and in a lot of Cajun/Creole cooking that can be offensively hot to my palate. The Grilled NC Catfish was a little heavy-handed on the Lemon Pepper, so I couldn't really taste or enjoy the fish. The accompaniment though, was wonderful: Sundried Tomato and Heirloom Bean Ragout, Brussels Sprouts, Lemon Butter and Sweet Pepper Jelly. The heat in the jelly would have been enough! But the Bean Ragout totally made up for it.

Wild Boar Shank

The Wild Boar reduction in the appetizer only whetted our appetite for more Wild Boar. This slow-roasted, Red Wine-braised shank is fall off the bone tender. You could nearly just pick up the bone and hold it upside down, and the meat would slide off. It is served on a bed of that fabulous Parmesan Spaetzle with Haricot Verts and Roasted Carrots, with a Red Wine reduction. This is what I think of when I picture old school, stick to your ribs, sitting by the fireplace, Moravian food. I dined here when it was toasty out, so I will need to return in January.

Desserts are all made in-house, but we opted for more pumpkin spice muffins. I'm so glad the current owners have upheld the reputation of The Tavern. It's certainly a favorite among locals, and is a nice way to end your evening after walking around beautiful Old Salem.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Leblon Brazilian Steakhouse

For my birthday (my mid-to-late 20's birthday, to be vague) I wanted to do something different. I had been driving past Leblon Brazilian Steakhouse in Greensboro for years, but was perhaps intimidated by this crazy idea of "all you can eat meat." When my dad suggested it for my birthday dinner, I decided it was time to ignore the "meat sweat" myths and see what this place is all about. To call it a carnivore's dream is an understatement. (That's not to say that herbivores wouldn't be satisfied by the ample salad bar and side offerings!) Dining here isn't just a meal, it's an experience.
The birthday squirrel with her Caipirinha!
When I think Brazil, I think Caipirinhas, a delightful drink with Cachaca (alcohol made with sugarcane juice), Lime and Sugar. I opted for the Hot Brazilian Caipirinha, adding Jalapenos and Cucumbers. When I'm promised heat, I want my face to melt off. It was the perfect amount of zing, not for the faint of palate. 

Do not be smitten by the amount of food you're offered prior to the meats. Know what you came here for. Parmesan Popovers are the size of your thumb, and quite tasty. Stick to 1. The salad bar offers standards like carrots, beets and mushrooms, but you'll also find cold marinated shrimp, mussels, parmesan chunks, mozzarella balls, and even major appetite whetters like Moqueca, a salmon and tomato stew, and Feijoada, a black bean stew with sausage, steak and rice. Being that this is all you can eat, you'd think "I'll try just 1 bite of everything!" But limit yourself to the seafood and Brazilian novelties - you know what carrots and mushrooms taste like.

Not following the rules very well.
You're given a coaster that's green on one side and red on the other. Green = bring on the meats. Red = I'm pacing myself. We were all very bad at this system. The servers would casually walk by with a juicy looking skewer, and we'd all say "let's have some of that!" as opposed to finishing what we already had on our plates and letting them circle back by. But one look at these meats and you would have done the same thing.

Favorites included Bacon-Wrapped Turkey, Garlic Filet Mignon and Skirt Steak. This isn't to say that the Top Sirloin, Parmesan Pork Loin, Prime Rib, Lamb, Baby Back Ribs, Chicken, Sausage and Bacon-Wrapped Filet weren't also my favorites - it's impossible to choose! You can even specify how you want the meat prepared - if you like medium rare, they'd shave it from one end - but every piece has a perfectly seasoned crust, and the marinades are robust with flavor.

Add to that cinnamon-sugar coated Pineapple, Fried Plantains, Mashed Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes to break up some of the richness. I couldn't get enough of these warm, roasted fruits! Just when I thought I couldn't handle another bite, it was time to get serious about some real dessert.

When there's a Dulce De Leche Cake offered, it's hard for me to pass up. This didn't have the wetness that traditional Mexican Dulce De Leche Cakes have, but it had all the flavor. Deep caramel between layers of spongey yellow cake, with a whipped caramel frosting - this is my kind of happiness. Chocolate Pie on the other hand, is loaded with Hazelnuts, Walnuts and Chocolate Chips. Let the vanilla ice cream melt on top and you'll be fighting over every last spoonful. The Creme Caramel Flan is a lighter dessert option, reminiscient of a Creme Brulee custard, with a slightly citrus Grand Marnier sauce.
Chocolate Pie, majorly a la mode
Dulce De Leche cake
Creme Caramel Flan

Apologies for the lack of meat photos. Nothing sat on my plate long enough for me to snag even one picture! I'm already looking for the next special occasion (ANY special occasion) to return to Leblon. It's an incredible deal too, considering all the food you get. This outstanding family-run business and exceptional food will have me dreaming of this meal for a long time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ricki and the Flash

Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald
Director: Jonathan Demme
Running Time: PG-13
Rating: 1 hour, 41 minutes

C&S readers know many things about me: I have a sweet tooth. Leonardo DiCaprio will always be my #1. I sincerely believe Meryl Streep can do no wrong. So what I'm about to write may not be the easiest thing I ever have: I did not fall head over heels for Meryl's new film "Ricki and the Flash." I was still enamored with her and her performance, of course (how does she not age? She's like friggin' John Stamos.) but the film was slightly more lackluster than what I was hoping for. I feel the glares coming at me through my computer screen, but I'll go on.
Mamie and Meryl, looking (sort of) like twins.
Photo courtesy Entertainment Weekly
We meet Ricki and her band, the Flash, in a bar in Tarzana, where they are the house band. While they tear it up, we can tell they never had quite the star power to really make it big. Ricki, whose real name is Linda, left her husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and three kids in Indiana and set out to become a rock star. Plans didn't exactly go as expected, and she spends her offstage time working as a cashier at a Whole Foods-type grocery store.

She gets a call that her oldest daughter Julie, is going through a divorce. Mamie Gummer plays Julie and is Meryl's daughter in real life. Julie is clearly devastated and looks worse than rough, but is quietly hilarious. Mamie shines more than you'd expect she would having lived in Meryl's shadow all her life. Ricki's charisma slowly helps Julie out of her depression, and there are some really beautiful moments among this broken family. We don't get nearly enough Kevin Kline, though, who charms us in the 20 minutes he has onscreen.

Non-Broadway junkies will wonder who the beautiful Audra McDonald is, while fans will wish she had more than 1 scene with slightly shallow dialogue. I wanted to see more of this family dynamic, but instead Ricki returns to California and her band and Greg, her Ken Doll-looking boyfriend played by Rick Springfield. I got tired of hearing played out 80's ballads sung slightly off-key (that's the lowest insult I could possibly give her), until "Drift Away" came on. This is the best cover I've heard of this song.

I remember not loving the film "Juno," also written by Diablo Cody. She and I must not jive. I enjoyed seeing Ricki rediscover herself as she reconnects with her family, but I think the film plateaued halfway through when she returns to California for the second half of the movie. Ok, enough Meryl bashing. She is still the Queen! But don't rush to the theatres for this one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Spring House: Luv Luv Festival

Spring House has become an institution in downtown Winston-Salem. For the past 6 years, the Dr. Brownstone's Sweet Summer Luv Luv Festival has brought local and national chefs to the Spring House Restaurant, to prepare a delicious multi-course dinner. This past Saturday night's guest chef was Chef Tim Recher, Executive Chef at The Army Navy Club in Washington, DC. Sitting outside under a candlelit tent, among 60 or so guests, listening to live blues, and spending time with one of my favorite foodie friends, it comes about as close as you can get to a perfect evening.
With NikSnacks herself!
After a happy hour reception that included wine from Raffaldini, Oysters on the Half Shell, Hummus with Pita, Grilled Shrimp, and Shishito Peppers with a Teriyaki Glaze and Sesame Seeds, I could have been good to go. But how could I possibly walk away from a menu that included the words "Truffle Mousse," "Roasted Heirlooom Beets," "Bison Tenderloin" and "Salted Caramel Gelato"? Spoiler alert: I didn't.

Chicken & Dumplings
The first course had my mouth watering with solely the description: an interpretation of Chicken & Dumplings. Quail stuffed with a Truffle Mousse rests on a tangy Chive Veloute Sauce, alongside Gnocchi and a fluffy Herb Biscuit. The Biscuit is exactly what you want at a Thanksgiving dinner, especially when you use it to mop up the savory veloute. One of my favorites of the night, Chilled English Pea Soup arrived in a shot glass beside a perfectly cooked piece of Sea Bass. Coriander was sprinkled atop the Pea Soup, and while it was tasty to sip on its own, I enjoyed dunking the fish in it. I appreciated the peas being served two ways, which also included raw peas in a salad with shallots and chanterelle mushrooms. At course two, we were already seriously rocking and rolling. It's important to pace yourself at these dinners because chances are, you'll like everything. But a note to the novices, if you like it, eat it, because you may get a flub course.

Beautiful Sea Bass with Peas
Beet Salad
Unfortunately, the third course was a bit of a let down for me. The colors were beautiful and the ingredients obviously fresh, but call it the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner salad, because the flavors didn't marry well together. Roasted Baby Heirloom Beets were the star of the show, alongside Belgium Endive and Frisee (not my favorite leaves), Watercress, Pickled Apples, Macadamia Nuts and a Coriander Yogurt. This was doused in a Beet Vinaigrette. The Macadamias offered a fantastic nutty crunch and the puree was nice and cooling, but the greens were a little too tough, with too many stems, and the beet vinaigrette was a bit too earthy. I was glad I filled up on courses 1 and 2, so I let some of this slide. 

Bison Tenderloin Perfection
Photo Courtesy Nikki Miller-Ka
I'm not a huge meathead. I'll gladly take it when it's presented, but I typically don't order it (or even prepare it at home!) but I devoured every single bite of this Coffee-Rubbed Bison Tenderloin, cooked perfectly Medium Rare and sprinkled with flakes of Sea Salt. It was tender, with a more salty than coffee-flavored crust, and when you spread some of the Sweet Corn Puree and BBQ jus lie sauce, it's absolutely ballin'. I would die for this corn puree. A Smoked Brisket and Potato Croquette is a fried flavor bomb, with much more than you'd expect inside. A touch of Smoked Black Garlic sauce echoed the Vidalia Onion Ash inlay inside the meat - something I'm still not sure how they did. This dish had me thinking about it long after I had finished it.

S'MORES. Heaven.
Photo Courtesy Nikki Miller-Ka
My sweet tooth is pretty insane. When you say the word "S'mores," you get my attention. When you say Molasses Spice Graham Cracker Cookie, Toasted Marshmallows and Salted Caramel Gelato, I stand up. This dessert is heaven on Earth. You can build your own s'more, or just eat it deconstructed as it comes. The Dark Chocolate Cremeux (like a ganache) was definitely dark alright, but the creamy richness of the Gelato and the cloud-like fluffiness of the Marshmallows lessened some of the bitterness. I was tempted to go say hello to the other tables, just so I could see who hadn't finished theirs, so that I could.

I'm so happy I got to participate in this year's Luv Luv Festival - I couldn't have luved the experience more. I look forward to the chefs that we'll welcome next year, and in the meantime, I'll be dreaming about that Bison and Salted Caramel Gelato.