Saturday, June 27, 2015


Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been to. Saying that it's absolutely gorgeous would be an understatement. I first went 17 years ago, when I was 10, and laugh when I think back on the memories that stood out from that trip - playing with my cousins, having a fish thrown over my head at Pike Place Market, a life-changing makeover at the MAC counter at the mall - as you might expect, experiencing this city as an adult is way more fun.

Beef & Cheese Piroshky
My family on the West Coast did a terrific job hosting me and taking me around the city for 4 of the warmest and most beautiful days Seattle has seen all year. The city is a smorgasboard of cultures, and therefore, cuisines. You'd be out of your mind not to spend the afternoon perusing Pike Place Market, where you can get Russian, Korean, French and Chinese cuisines and more, just by walking down the street. My favorite bite of the day was the BBQ Pork Bun at Mee Sum Pastry. Imagine a yeast donut with a very elastic dough, filled to the brim with savory, saucy BBQ Pork. It practically pops in your mouth, filling it with that divine meat. Le Panier has the most sensational French Macarons I've ever tried. My cousin proclaimed the Vanilla and Pistachio were the best flavors and I'll take his word for it. I happily dove into these pillowy yet slightly crunchy cookies, filled with a creamy, not overly-sweetened filling. You can smell the baked goods coming from Russian bakery Piroshky Piroshky as you walk by. It practically wraps its' yeast arm around you and invites you in(to the line that was formed outside). The Beef & Cheese pastry is the most popular, though they are all beautiful and uniquely shaped. It was worth every bite. I didn't want to get too full though, as we had a Savor Seattle Food Tour later that day! Small bites and drinks from 5 different establishments in the market - there's truly no better way to spend a Saturday.
Loved spending time with my cousin Spencer!
West Seattle is a a hip neighborhood near beautiful Alki Beach. We stopped for brunch at Hawaiian spot Ma'Ono, where only in Seattle would you find Mac'N'Kimcheese and Pork Fat Soup with Spam on the menu. You should definitely try Hawaiian fave Loco Moco (Portugese Sausage, Neck Bone Gravy and Grilled Pineapple), but save room for when you're exploring the neighborhood - you'll want to stop for treats at Cupcake RoyaleTop Pot Donuts and the famous Bakery Nouveau!

White Truffle Cheesecake!
One of my favorite bites during the whole trip was the White Truffle Cheesecake at Joule. You read that correctly: WHITE. TRUFFLE. CHEESECAKE. I love a savory cheesecake, but this was on the dessert menu, so naturally I was even more intrigued. Sure enough, the slightest note of rich truffle was among the lightly sweetened cream cheese, and the earthiness was a nice match to the Pecan crust. It was remarkable - one of the oddest and most exciting desserts I've ever had.
Cider Insanity!

The moment I read the words "Sriracha Lime Cider," I knew I was all in. Schilling Cider House in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle is where I would like to spend every lazy Sunday. My cousin and I each got a flight of 6 ciders, and the Sriracha Lime variety tasted like a tortilla chip, in the best way possible. Pair this with some salty chips and salsa verde and you've got happiness. Any cider fan would dig exploring all the unique options, which include Habanero, Blackberry and Pineapple, among others. I would be remiss not to mention Cafe Turko, right down the block from the Cider House. This restaurant honors Turkish cuisine in all the right ways. Start with velvety Yam Hummus, but you must order a Pide, which is like a flatbread boat. Ours contained every type of meat you'd want - lamb, beef, chicken and sucuk (dry, spicy sausage). I also gobbled up the Betyi Kebab, succulent beef wrapped in lavash bread and rolled like a burrito. You truly can't go wrong here.
Pide at Cafe Turko
I'd go back to Seattle in a heartbeat (DUH.) In fact, I'd go back tomorrow! There's still so much of the city for me to explore, though we knocked out quite a few neighborhoods and items on my "to eat" list. I can't thank this girl enough for making my trip so special. PSA to everyone: Seattle rocks.
With my cousin Jill. Love you girl!

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Starring: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven
Director: Doug Ellin
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Rating: R

If you were a fan of the hit HBO show "Entourage" like me, you will love everything about this film. Inside jokes, people from the crew's past, cameos from nearly everyone in Hollywood - this is pure entertainment. You don't really need to be familiar with the TV series, which ran from 2004-2011, there's enough backstory at the beginning to give you an overview of everyone's "role" in the bunch. These are 5 charismatic (and mostly attractive) actors that have incredible on-screen chemistry. Dare I say this is like "Sex & The City" for men, set in LA? I'll watch as many of these movies as they're willing to make.
Photo Courtesy Eclipse Magazine
Vincent Chase (Grenier) is the star and still a charmer. Eric (Connolly) is the manager (formerly of Sbarro's Pizza and now of Vince) and oddly enough has become quite the ladies' man. Drama (Dillon) is Vince's less than fortunate looking half-brother, chef and wannabe actor, who still steals every scene he's in. Turtle (Ferrara) is the driver turned-Tequila mogul that doesn't have enough lines this go-round. Ari (Piven) is Vince's former agent, who is now a studio head and the most dynamic (read: offensive) on-screen. Piven owns every scene he's in. They couldn't have done a better job casting these gents.

With Vince behind the camera directing for the first time, it's easy to understand why the financiers of "Hyde" are hesitant to sign a check for more money upon request. Ari treks down to Amarillo, TX to meet with said financiers, played by Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osment. This is a wondrous return to a major motion picture for Osment! He doesn't look his best, but his portrayal of a Southern sleazeball is hilarious and quite believable. BBT can really do no wrong, and can really do it all.

A cameo from film producer Mark Wahlberg reminds us that the TV series was loosely based off his life and rise to fame alongside his friends and family. It wouldn't be "Entourage" without a slew of F-bombs, gratuitous sex scenes and glamorous shots of LaLa land. These boys still have the urge to party and a ton of cash, but more importantly, they have each others' backs. I was always sad that the TV episodes were only 30 minutes short, so it was fun getting to watch the boys for thrice that long. I hope they make a sequel - the ending doesn't rule one out. It's not like these guys are doing a WHOLE lot else (unless of course you count Piven in Mr. Selfridge.) Let's get cracking on another, fellas. ASAP.

Friday, June 19, 2015

This Week's Recap: Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series

The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series is getting HOT. Two chefs are headed to the Semi-Final Battles and will face off on June 29. (Thanks to Grace Riddle and Heidi Billotto for the photos!) ICYMI:

Monday, June 15 (read all about it here!)
Matchup: Chef John Bobby (Noble’s Grille) and Chef Dion Sprenkle (Chef Dion Sprenkle) 

Featured Ingredients: The Specialty Farmer Rainbow Carrots and Green, Purple and Savoy Cabbage; and Windcrest Farms Organic Pattypan, Zephyr and Dunja Squash 

Highest Scoring Dish: Chocolate Pomegranate Cake, The Specialty Farmer Carrot Anglaise, Ran-Lew Dairy Iberico Bacon Iced Milk (by Chef Dion Sprenkle)

Outcome: Chef Sprenkle is victorious by less than 1 point! 

Tuesday, June 16: 
Matchup: Chef Michael Harkenreader (Undercurrent Restaurant) and Chef Christian Froelich (Hearth Restaurant at Sanders Ridge)

Featured Ingredients: NC Dayboat Yellowfin Tuna and Mahi-Mahi; and New Town Farm Yukon Gold, Purple Viking, and Red Thumb Potatoes

Highest Scoring Dish: Chef-made New Town Farm Potato Roll, Ginger-Kentuckyaki-Glazed NC Dayboat Mahi-Mahi, Little G Farms Bibb Lettuce, Pickled Red Onion, New Town Farm Potato Chips and Potato Salad, Green Onion Remoulade (by Chef Michael Harkenreader) 

Outcome: Harkenreader takes the win by less than 1 point!

These victories by less than 1 point can only mean one thing: these chefs are bringing their A-games to each and every battle. I've seen Chef Sprenkle win two so far, so he's definitely found his stride, but Chef Harkenreader is also on a very hot streak. Get your tickets here to see them compete on June 29!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series: Battle Summer Harvest

This battle of the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series was one of the best I had ever been to. When it was announced that the Quarter Final battle between Chef John Bobby (Noble's Grille) and Chef Dion Sprenkle (Chef Dion Sprenkle) would be Battle: Summer Harvest, I started salivating immediately. This is the best possible time of year for a produce and harvest-focused battle! You get a variety of proteins! AND you know the desserts will be brilliant! It seemed too good to be true. Every course topped the last one. (Thanks to Heidi Billotto for the beautiful photos!)

I was at one of the most happening tables at the Benton Convention Center - what better way to spend an evening dining than to be with fellow foodies so you can discuss every single element of the plate? The Specialty Farmer provided Rainbow Carrots and Green, Purple and Savoy Cabbage, while Windcrest Farms Organic offered up Pattypan, Zephyr and Dunja Squash. The veggies were literally picked the morning of the battle - you don't get much fresher than that.

Course #1
As I leaned in to get a better whiff of the outstanding aroma of Course #1, I nearly dove in face-first. Braised Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Cheek is some of the most unctuous and tender meat, with a tangy and slightly gingery SF Roasted Carrot Broth. This was beside a WFO Zephyr Squash and Uno Alla Volta Agnolotti, which was softer than a pillow and perfectly al dente. I'd like to be wrapped up by this pasta dough and lounge around among the filling. Basil and Pickled WFO Pattypan Squash lighten up what could have been an entree with another Agnolotti or two (which I happily would have scarfed down.) This was a beautifully composed and balanced dish.

Course #2
If I thought Course #1's Pork Cheek was tender, I had another thing coming when I sliced through the Roasted Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast and Duck Confit. Perfectly al dente Ravioletti were delicately filled with Uno Alla Volta Ricotta and Truffle (!). This dish was slightly sweet, but The SF Rainbow Carrots (both roasted and fried), Wild Mushrooms and WFO Dunja Zucchini provided earthy notes.This seemed more like a fall harvest plate, which made it that much more endearing! Use some of that La Farm Bakery bread to soak up the broth. (And save a bite of the White Chocolate Mini Baguette to eat between dessert courses. YUM.)

Course #3
Upon reading the description for Course #3, my eyes stayed glued on the words "Ham Foam." The Foam trend was HUGE a few years ago, which I was a fan of, so I was delighted to get some that tasted like one of my favorite pork products. Duck Boudin (sausage) was topped with a Manchester Farms Soft-Boiled Quail Egg, Crispy Shallots and that gloroius Ham Foam. The flavor marriage was smoky and savory, and the crunch of the shallots were perfect to break up the richness. This mountain was surrounded by a WFO Squash Stew and SF Rainbow Carrots with Lemon-Dill to lighten it all up. I'm continually impressed with how the chefs can get so many components in a dish, and how they all work together so well.

Course #4
We were halfway home when Course #4 presented a flavor rarely seen in Competition Dining, because it can be quite polarizing: CURRY. I was practically jumping out of my chair with excitement from every bite. Roasted Marcho Farms Lamb Loin is perfection and melts in your mouth. All other proteins should bow down to this. It rested on a bed of Curried Israeli Couscous and a tangy Tomato Fondue. This was the most outstanding bite I had all night. WFO Zephyr and Pattypan Squash sits atop, and add in some SF Braised Savoy Cabbage for a slight crunch and you have my favorite dish of the evening. It's Indian comfort food, and mine too - this makes me want to curl up with a glass of Malbec and read by the fireplace. Grab a blanket. Excuse me for a moment.

Course #5
I surprised myself with how unprepared I was for the dessert courses. I knew they would be phenomenal with such versatile summer produce to work with, but considering the outstanding execution of the first 4 courses, I was in no mood to stop with the savory plates! I had my fingers crossed though, that one of the dessert courses would be a play on a Carrot Cake, and I was pleased when a SF Carrot Cake topped with Cream Cheese Mousse appeared! A tangy Strawberry sauce and light Honey Tuille cookie made up a very well-rounded dish, and Carrot Sprinkles could trick any kid into eating some veggies. The sponge was nice, but not terribly saturated with Carrots. The mousse on the other hand, should be my new body butter.

Course #6
Just as the Ham Foam got a gasp from the crowd, so did the words "Bacon Iced Milk." Think a Bacon Milkshake, minus any sugar. I'm not a huge bacon fan (I know, shocking), and this was basically just smoky milk, but it was incredibly inventive so I had to give it props. The Blueberries inside the Ran-Lew Dairy Iberico Bacon Iced Milk were a nice tart pop, otherwise, a little sugar would have helped me enjoy it more. A deeply dark Chocolate Pomegranate Cake was incredibly rich and not too sweet. The warm, almost liquid center of the cake was a nice contrast to the iced milk. My favorite element was the creamy SF Carrot Anglaise, which reminded me of one of my favorites - Indian Carrot Pudding. The Anglaise is so buttery and delicious. If the mousse (see: above) were my body butter, this Anglaise would be what I bathe in.

The difference in scores between Chefs Bobby and Sprenkle was 0.75 - an unbelievably close call - but Chef Sprenkle walked away with the victory, defeating a former champion! Who knew Chef Sprenkle had swagger like this?! He says this competition keeps him young and helps him prove that he can still hang with the younger chefs, and indeed he can. I was so tremendously impressed with both of these chefs. It was an honor to have Chef Sprenkle's food in two battles this year; it will be hard not to cheer him all the way to the end! Get your tickets while they're still available!!
Congratulations on such outstanding food, chefs!
Chef John Bobby and Chef Dion Sprenkle

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Director: George Miller
Running Time: 2 hours
Rating: R

I've been working on my "pop culture classic" movie list. You know, films that I'm embarrassed to say I haven't seen - Space Jam, Caddy Shack, even Star Wars (I KNOW, I KNOW). The 1979 Mel Gibson cult classic Mad Max is on the list, and I'll get around to it eventually, but while I can see Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron on the big screen in the 4th installment/continuation, I'll do just that. But brace yourself, "Mad Max: Fury Road" is incredibly stylized and fast-paced. Actually, those are both understatements. Tom Hardy does his best, which may still not quite be good enough, as Charlize easily outshines him. It's worth seeing even if you aren't typically into futuristic action flicks, if not for the eye candy and adrenaline rush.

You jump right into this film. There's very little dialogue during the first 20 minutes, and you'll barely be able to catch your breath after what seems like the film's climax. But alas, the opening credits begin to role. It's post-apocalyptic, it's dystopian, it's a frightening world in which these people live. Furiosa (Theron) is introduced to us driving a War Rig on what appears to be a simple gas run. Unbeknownst to Immortan Joe (the leader), the Rig is actually transporting his 5 wives away from their hellish society, and towards the "green place." Once it's discovered they're missing, the disturbingly pale War Boy Army sets out into the desert to retrieve them. My favorite moment in the entire film was the introduction of the army band, most notably the guitarist, whose sole purpose is to play heavy metal music for them to get pumped to during the desert chase. Utterly hysterical.

Enter Max, a prisoner being used as a blood source for one of the sickly War Boys (Nicholas Hoult). Max goes on the hunt with the army, but as you can imagine, things go awry. Max separates from his leech and he joins forces with Furiosa and the 5 stunning wives. They don't have many lines but they're gorgeous and include Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough (Elvis' granddaughter!) and Zoe Kravitz. Naturally I worried about the lack of visible eating and sleep time for these people, because it seems like they were constantly being chased by one group or another.

This is simultaneously a basic and detailed overview of the film. They are chased. They fight. They drive through the desert. Repeat. You kind of get the point. I have a few issues with the casting of Tom Hardy as Max. He's as hot as the desert, but he got a little Bane-ish, and Charlize's piercing blue eyes and kick-ass attitude totally steals the spotlight. Nicholas Hoult has come a long way since his "About a Boy" days. He made us feel sympathy for a hopeless, brainwashed puppet. His star will continue to rise. I enjoyed it this film, though I'm glad I sat close to the back row and would consider taking a Dramamine if viewing it again.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Recap: Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series

It's been an exciting few weeks in the Triad, with the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series full underway! If you're reading this, you're just in time for a recap on the Preliminary Rounds, and you still have time to purchase a ticket for the Quarter-Final Rounds! You don't have to be a "foodie" to have fun at these events. You don't even have to know what all the words mean, or even what all the ingredients are! 9 times out of 10, you'll love every bite you put in your mouth. Check out what's been happening so far! (Thanks to Grace Riddle at Competition Dining for all the lovely photos!)

Tuesday, May 26 - the kick-off battle!
Matchup: Former champ Chef John Bobby (Noble's Grille) and Chef Tammy Harper (Belle at the Jones House) 

Featured Ingredients: Coldwater Creek Grains (whole wheat flour, cornmeal and grits) and Plum Granny Farm Organic Lambsquarter

Highest Scoring Dish: Coldwater Creek Grains corn flour-crusted Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Belly, cornmeal Gnocchi, Benton's Bacon, Corn Nage, Plum Granny Farm Organic Lambsquarter Spuma, Pickled Britt Farms green Strawberries (by Chef Bobby) Green Strawberries!? Does anyone remember green ketchup?!

Outcome: Chef Bobby takes the victory! Come see him compete with me on Monday, June 15 - get your tickets here!

Wednesday, May 27  (read about my experience!)

Matchup: Chef Matthew Montandon (The Phoenix) and Chef Dion Sprenkle (Chef Dion Sprenkle)

Featured Ingredients: Windcrest Farms Organic Herbs

Highest Scoring Dish: Cast Iron Skillet Scallop, Sweet Cream-Black Garlic Poached Royal Red Shrimp, Parsnip Puree, Benton's Bacon, WFO Bronze Fennel, Olive, Fried Lovage Leaves, Lime Caviar, Orange Confit (by Chef Sprenkle) This first course truly set the bar. It was phenomenal.

Outcome: Chef Sprenkle advances!

Monday, June 1

Matchup: Chef Michael Harkenreader (Undercurrent Restaurant) and Chef Kevin Reddick (The Screaming Radish)

Featured Ingredients: Black Mountain Chocolate and Bertie County Peanuts

Highest Scoring Dish: Black Mountain Chocolate Cocoa Nib-Sea Salt rubbed Certified Angus Beef brand Ribeye, Benton's Bacon, Bertie County Peanut Risotto, The Specialty Farmer honey-glazed Rainbow Carrots, Britt Farms Asparagus, Black Mountain Chocolate Dark Chocolate Glace, Dried Cherry Aioli (by Chef Harkenreader) This sounds divine. I love me some Black Mountain Chocolate. If you haven't been to the storefront on Trade Street yet, it's a unique, must-do experience. My dear friends the Peters are doing wonderful things in downtown Winston-Salem!

Outcome: It's Chef Harkenreader's for the taking!

Tuesday, June 2

Matchup: Chef Anders Benter (Gia) and Chef Christian Froelich (Hearth Restaurant at Sanders Ridge)

Featured Ingredients: Goat Lady Dairy Sandy Creek and Snow Camp Cheese, and Accidental Baker Crackers

Highest Scoring Dish: Savory Goat Lady Dairy "Snow Camp" Cheesecake, Accidental Baker Rosemary Garlic Cracker Crust, Fig and Red Onion Marmalade (by Chef Froelich) How I would so LOVE to try this!! Savory cheesecakes are underrated!

Outcome: Chef Froelich for the win!

Wednesday, June 3

Matchup: Chef Mark Grohman (Meridian Restaurant) and Chef Dave Nicoletta (Giannos)

Featured Ingredients: Joyce Farms Pheasant and Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses

Highest Scoring Dish: Meyer Lemon-Mint White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Mascarpone, Blueberry Compote (by Chef Nicoletta) So many of my favorite words in this description!

Outcome: By the closest call to date, Chef Nicoletta squeaks by with the win!

Monday, June 8

Matchup: Chef Travis Myers (River Birch Lodge) and Chef Alex Pierce (Greensboro Country Club)

Featured Ingredients: Carolina Bison and The Specialty Farmer Beets

Highest Scoring Dish: Chocolate Chess Pie, Torched Meringue, The Specialty Farmer Ruby Beet Buttermilk Ice Cream, Candied High Rock Farms Pecan "soil," Beet-Infused Cherry Gastrique (by Chef Myers) Beets are nature's food dye. How refreshing does that ice cream look, and how decadent does that Chess Pie look?!

Outcome: The victory belongs to Chef Myers!

Tuesday, June 9

Matchup: Chef Richard Miller (Graze) and Chef Michael Roberson (The Iron Hen Cafe)

Featured Ingredients: NC Chicken Eggs and Boy & Girl Farm Hakurei Turnips

Highest Scoring Dish: Bertie County Peanut-Crusted Chocolate Torte, Ran-Lew Dairy Buttermilk-Boy & Girl Farms Hakurei Turnip Ice Cream, Berry Jam, Pink Peppercorn Dust, Cloister Wildflower Honey Ganache (By Chef Miller) Turnip Ice Cream?! I'd definitely be curious to taste this!!

Outcome: Chef Miller takes it home!

Wednesday, June 10

Matchup: Chef Tim Barbrey (Perky's Bistro) and Chef Trey Prescott (J. Pepper's Southern Grille)

Featured Ingredients: Ran-Lew Dairy Cream Top Milk and Buttermilk; Uno Alla Volta Ricotta and Butter

Highest Scoring Dish: Uno Alla Volta Ricotta Pound Cake, Cloister Honey Semifreddo, Amarino Cherries, Meyer Lemon-Ran-Lew Dairy Creme Anglaise (by Chef Barbrey) I bet this evening was sinful and heavenly at the same time. I would house this plate in a heartbeat.

Outcome: Chef Barbrey for the win!

Scrumptious, right? Wipe the drool off your keyboard so you can click this link and purchase your ticket for Monday, June 15! I'll see you there!!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Crafted: The Art of Street Food

Kristina Fuller set the bar high when her restaurant Crafted: The Art of The Taco opened in Greensboro. When rumors of a new restaurant beside Preyer Brewing Company started swirling, people started surmising, what will it be the “Art of” this time? When it was finally revealed, I was intrigued by the "Street Food" concept, and knew that if anyone had the guts and talent to pull it off, it would be Fuller and Co. I dined there last night. My mind was totally blown. It was everything I was hoping for, and far exceeded my expectations. The place was packed, and it proves that Greensboro wants new spots like this – if you build it, we will drop everything and flock there.

The menu is broken up into 4 sections: Snacks, Latin America/Caribbean, Asia and Sweets. Whilst perusing, my dining partner and I sipped on the Scottish Cuke (a refreshing blend of Hendricks Gin, Elderflower Liqueur, Muddled Cucumber and Lime) and the Cackalacky Manhattan (TOPO Whiskey, Bitters and Sweet Vermouth). A complimentary basket of fresh popcorn sprinkled with Cumin appeared. This was going to be a very good evening.
Entrees are served in either small or large portions – 2 small was just perfect for me, though I wanted to order a small everything. One of my favorite Asian dishes is the Bao, a steamed Chinese milk bun stuffed with deliciously yummy things. They aren’t the easiest to find in these parts. My eyes were immediately drawn to it on her menu, and it’s one of the best renditions I’ve ever had. A generous amount of Pork Belly and Braised Pork fill the pillow-like bun, atop a bed of tangy, crunchy Kimchi. Add a drizzle of Hoisin Sauce, a sprinkling of Scallions and a whole lot of Cilantro to round it out. Not kidding you – Cilantro for days, nay, YEARS. I literally died for this dish. It was a balanced flavor bomb. Utter perfection.
Cilantro for days, nay, YEARS.
Just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, I dug into my dish of Prawn Sambal. Three large, juicy prawns (with the tail on) are coated in a spicy chili sauce, atop the most wonderful chilled, slightly sweet Coconut Rice. The cool sweetness of the Coconut Rice is a great match to the heat of the Prawns, and the ample use of earthy Cilantro in their dishes gets them an A++. Choosing between this and the Bao would be like choosing my favorite child. (I could do it, but I wouldn't admit it publicly.)
Prawn Sambal, I adore you.
The Cubano is a non-traditional presentation, served on its side and on thicker bread than the usual pressed baguette. Pork Belly and Braised Pork are substantial, with Swiss Cheese and Pickled Veggies furthering the unctuousness of the sandwich. Dijon Aioli is drizzled on top and is a nice cooling acid.

Jerk Chicken
My dining partner claimed Fuller's Jerk Chicken to be the best he's ever had. In the small portion, you get a Leg and a Thigh, resting on Yellow Rice with Kidney Beans and Gravy.The heat level was tolerable for milder palates, and the spices didn't give an overt punch to your taste buds, as you can sometimes find with Jerk. This is an outstanding rendition. 

I had room for dessert (my favorite part of any meal), and the Rice Pudding with Vanilla Bean and Coconut, Chocolate Sauce and Caramel seemed like an appropriate palate cleanser. Served cold, the rice still has a bite, but the Vanilla Bean and Coconut Cream is good enough to slurp through a straw. A whimsical spiral of Chocolate and served in a tea cup, this is a sweet way to end one of the best meals ever.

Rice Pudding
It will be hard to not get this exact same order upon my next visit, but I know everything else will be just as exceptional. I was tempted to return tonight for dinner. If you haven't been yet, holler at your girl. I will gladly accompany you.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Got to Be NC Competition Dining - Battle Organic Herbs

Got to Be NC Competition Dining is one of my favorite events of the year. I’m always thrilled to partner with them and believe in their mission of strengthening farmer and chef relationships, and putting small, locally-owned farms and food businesses on the map. Founder and Host Jimmy Crippen told me several stories last week of how this event has saved several businesses and quadrupled the size of others. And I’m always intrigued as to how they select their secret featured ingredients! When FRESH ORGANIC HERBS from Windcrest Farm Organics was announced, I squealed with delight.

I just planted my herb garden, so you can imagine the mint and oregano that’s been growing out of my ears. I was so excited I couldn’t stand it! The Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem has proved to be a wonderful new host site for Competition Dining, where competitors for Battle #2 included Chef Dion Sprenkle from Chef Dion Sprenkle in Lexington and Chef Matthew Montandon from The Phoenix in Brevard. The timing and pace of the evening was perfect. Let the courses begin. *Special thanks to Grace Riddle at NC Competition Dining for the wonderful photos!

Course #1
And start out with a bang they did. Course # 1: A Cast Iron Skillet Scallop (cooked perfectly), with Sweet Cream-Black Garlic Poached Royal Red Shrimp (also cooked perfectly) atop a Parsnip Puree, Benton's Bacon, WFO Bronze Fennel, Olive, Fried Lovage Leaves, Lime Caviar and Orange Confit. (How do they fit this all into one dish, you ask? I wonder the same thing!) The poached shrimp couldn’t have been more juicy and tender. Lime Caviar is a hot commodity these days – appearing as a lime on the outside until you open it and surprise! - little caviar bubbles! This was a perfect pop of acid and possibly my new favorite summer ingredient. Though the WFO Herbs weren’t the most exciting thing on the plate, the Fennel paired nicely with the shrimp, and the Lovage brought a lovely bitterness to match the Parsnip Puree.

Course #2
The second course was perhaps my favorite of the night, because it hit on such a sweet and savory flavor combination and was reminiscent of breakfast! The aroma was sensational. La Farm Bakery's White Chocolate Baguette French Toast had a wonderful touch of sweetness, and was covered in a rich WFO Dill-Duck Hollandaise sauce. I even detected some Truffle flavor, which I would certainly never argue with. It was succulent. On the side, Tomato Confit melts in your mouth. The Brussel Sprouts are salty, balsamic goodness – the best I’ve had in my life. These are no long the boring, overlooked, obligatory green vegetable at Thanksgiving. Some Brussel Sprout fairy worked his (or her) magic on these. Would you even believe I preferred these to the Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Belly? I would order this for any meal in a heartbeat.

Course #3
Course #3 perhaps strayed a little too far from the garden. Calasparra Paella had an overpowering flavor - a little heavy-handed with Saffron? Or maybe a dash too much of the WFO Oregano? It unfortunately lacked balance. The trio of sausages (San Giuseppe Spanish Chorizo, Merguez, Campofrio Sausage) was perfect, and the cook of the rice was on point. The Brussel Sprout and Tomato salad was a necessary tang and a nice pop of color, and the Veal Tenderloin that rested atop was cooked perfectly. Had the Saffron and Oregano been a touch lighter, this dish would have knocked peoples’ socks off.

Course #4
In preparation for our last savory course of the evening, a Pistachio-Crusted Certified Angus Beef Brand Tenderloin arrived, and was my favorite presentation of the night. Roasted Black Garlic-WFO Lavender Fingerling Potatoes are like butter, beautifully cut beside a thick slab of Beef. Lavender is one of the hardest flavors to work with (let’s be honest, it should probably just stay as a fragrance in body lotion), and unfortunately I tasted it in too many components of this dish, which resulted in an overly floral plate. That was easy to overlook though, as the Beef, Britt Farms Asparagus and Corn Cob slice were cooked perfectly. A few less Lavender
leaves would have made it exceptional.

Course #5
This sweet tooth gal was ready for her dessert. TWO COURSES of dessert at that! There’s always an interesting debate between tablemates: do you want two more savory courses, or two sweet ones? (MY vote is easy!) WFO Lavender Mint Panna Cotta is the most delightfully refreshing palate cleanser. This is what you want to end a meal on. It’s quite an undertaking to present this gelatinous-based custard and attempt to keep the consistency, but mine still had the jiggle you look for! There was a nice bite from the Passion Fruit Zabaglione and Fermented Blueberries, with Toasted Pistachio Dust breaking up the creaminess. This was a well-rounded dish. Bring on more dessert, please.

Course #6
It all comes down to this: the final course of the night. Dessert is typically the “make you or break you” dish for competitors, and these two were nearly too close to call. WFO Chocolate Mint Ice Cream is the real deal. You can taste the freshness of the cream – truly like butter. It’s worth the calories. Eaten alone, the WFO Lavender Buttermilk Cheesecake was almost too floral, but paired with the mint ice cream, it was a really wonderful combination. Again, that buttermilk is insanely fresh and rich. (I wouldn't refuse a non-edible version of that to use after my baths, just saying.) The Candied Pecans from High Rock Farm are a great crunch, and the Pomegranate glaze breaks up the decadence. Time to tally the votes...
With Chef John Milner, Chef Dion Sprenkle and his team!
...and Chef Sprenkle walks away victorious! He'll battle on June 15 against veteran Competition Dining Chef John Bobby from Noble's Grille (read about the evening I feasted at Chef Bobby's Battle: Ostrich!) I'll be at the table on June 15th to see who takes the lead. Want to join me and be my date?! Of course you do! CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE YOUR TICKET! Until then, stay hungry!