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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cocktails: The Answer To All That Mint

I'm so excited to partner once again with WFAEats, the online food magazine for Charlotte's NPR station! If you're like me and have mint growing out of your ears, you'll want to check out my article featuring several cocktail recipes using mint simple syrup!

This is perfect patio-sitting weather for a Coconut Mojito, Pineapple Margarita, the classic Mint Julep and my signature drink for the summer: a Watermelon and Lime Refresher.

Monday, August 10, 2015


Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Rating: R

Can I marry Jake Gyllenhaal already? He has proven himself to be one of the most versatile actors of his generation, and possibly ever. I'm beginning to think he can do it all, like the great Meryl. His tranformation to boxer Billy "The Great" Hope is seamless. It's not only a physical transformation, but the raw, dark place that he goes is both frightening and one we can empathize with. Watching this movie reminded me of another boxing movie fave - "Raging Bull" - though this film is in color, and we see enough bloody fight scenes to last a lifetime. "Southpaw" is a fantastic film, one of the best I've seen all year.
Photo Courtesy Us Weekly
I didn't know much about the plot of this movie going in. I'll be honest, I kind of just wanted to see jacked Jake. That, and I love Rachel McAdams and 50. I won't reveal much of the plot, as I didn't see the twists coming. Gyllenhaal stars as an undefeated champion boxer who lives a lavish lifestyle with his wife Maureen (McAdams) and adorable daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). The chemistry between McAdams and Gyllenhaal bubbles over. She is so effortlessly talented and beautiful. And major kudos to child star Oona, who had some pretty emotional scenes.

It's ironic that 50 Cent comes to Billy's rescue when he faces bankruptcy, as 50 has just declared bankruptcy in real life himself. Billy's problems seem to go from bad to worse. One night of seemingly bad luck spirals into self-destruction. It's not until Billy meets trainer and former boxer Tick Wills (Whitaker), when he is able to get back on the right track. Whitaker's performance is so natural. His presence on-screen is almost calming, and this is perfect casting for him. He is tough on Billy, but feels his pain. I would have liked more backstory on his character.

The climactic fight between Billy and rival boxer Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) leaves you sitting erect in your seat, sucking in breaths with every slow-motion punch. Your pulse will race. You'll also get teary-eyed a number of times. This film is dedicated to the memory of composer James Horner, who did the score. (Fans of "Titanic," "Braveheart" and many more will remember his beautiful music!) Gyllenhaal has found his stride lately, and it would be foolish of the Academy to not recognize him during award show season next year. This may just be the best he's been yet.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Freeman's Grub & Pub

Freeman's Grub & Pub is quickly becoming one of my favorite go-to dining spots in Greensboro. It's located in the building formerly occupied by Sessions, with a gorgeous shiny wood bar and tables, and funky chairs. The patio seating that Sessions was known for remains. The rustic atmosphere and kind servers are great, but the food and cocktails are worth repeat visits.

This place knows their drinks. House-infused liquors include Banana Makers Mark and Strawberry Jalapeno Tequila, to name a few. Ask them to make a mojito using that sweet and spicy tequila. The addition of mint and lime make for a perfect summer sip. You could also go for something that's all the rage these days: Elderflower! Add a little Liqueur to Prosecco, Lemon and Sprite. It's dangerously easy to drink. (Freeman's also offers Sutler's Gin, distilled in Winston-Salem!)

Prices are reasonable, and you'll struggle narrowing down what to order because everything sounds divine. Brussels Sprouts taste like a decadent treat, as they're sauteed in brown butter. This creates a salty crust on the exterior of the sprout, making them like Pringles - you can't have just one. A random piece of "Fried Bread" is served with this starter, though I'm lost as to why. Pimento Cheese Poppers come 5 to an order, with whipped Pimento Cheese spread filling a charred and halved Jalapeno, so the heat level is minimal. Sprinkled with crispy bacon bits, people will be fighting over them. Canadian favorite Poutine presents hand-cut fries smothered in a salty, umami gravy with cheese curds - always fun - and is as tasty and rich as it sounds.

Sandwiches ("crusts") come with one "and" - Freeman's fun spin on the term "side item." You'd be mistaken not to try the Banh Mi. The skirt steak is tender and flavorful, with notes of garlic and ginger throughout. Cilantro, julienned carrots and onion brighten the sandwich - one of the most Americanized but delicious renditions I've had. I had been eyeing the Vegan Jerk Chicken on the menu since day one, and though I'm far from Vegan, I couldn't resist the Jerk-flavored Tofu - surprisingly not too spicy - with refreshing and crunchy Coconut Slaw and tangy Mango Chutney. You really don't miss the meat with these incredible flavors. It's quite a satisfying sandwich. With this being proof that Freeman's does non meat-eaters right, I look forward to trying the Sloppy Faux!

I'm a sucker for a Cuban and like to try one whenever I see it on the menu. Smoky Mojo Pork and salty Country Ham are nestled between Swiss Cheese, Mustard and Pickles, and pressed. It's a meat-lovers dream, and the acid from the mustard and pickles cut nicely through the richness of the sandwich.

"Ands" are much more exciting than your typical sides, though the aforementioned hand-cut fries are an option. Street Corn is served off the cob, mixed in a dish with a creamy, mayonaise-type binder, with a little hot sauce. This was not the best street corn I've tried. You may want to go with the daily veggie, which was a Corn, Caramelized Onion, Tomato and Jalapeno Succotash on one of my visits. It's Southern comfort in all its glory.

I'd advise you to save room for one of their creative and petite dessert offerings. Dessert shooters are trendy, but Freeman's are served in a mini mason jar, so you get more than a shooter, but not enough to feel guilty. The Strawberry Blondie Jar layers vanilla pudding and a homemade strawberry blondie, a whimsical take on the classic blondie bar. It's pink and it's precious. Banana Pudding fans will devour the BP Jar.

You really can't go wrong here - at least I haven't yet, and I've tried quite a few things. Freeman's is even open for lunch! But be sure you can go when you can enjoy one of their cocktails.