Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Katherine Brasserie

There's a lot of new and exciting things happening in downtown Winston-Salem, one of the most noteworthy being the new Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in the former RJ Reynolds building. The Cardinal is both hotel and residential, and has a swanky, old-school vibe. When I walked into the hotel's French restaurant, The Katherine Brasserie, it immediately reminded me of the cafes I stumbled upon in Paris. The ambiance is quite authentic, including the noise level, which I quickly got used to. The bar isn't just for fabulous cocktails, it's also a raw bar with oysters being shucked right alongside the squeezing of limes. It's a new addition to downtown, and it was packed, as you would imagine.
The bar at The Katherine
The dining room
Service is excellent - my glass water was never empty - and there are several people looking out for you and making sure you have a great experience. The Katherine's cocktail list offers both house creations and classic renditions. You'd be wise to start with one. Housemade brown sugar simple syrup makes the already tasty Mint Julep even more special. Warm French bread is served with soft, salty butter and ties you over as you await one of their delicious starters. The Baked Escargot seemed like the most obvious choice, and we were intrigued by the Southern twist. Six tender snails are served in an herbaceous butter they call the Maitre D'Butter, which on its own is a flavor bomb. The best part is a slightly sweet hush puppy that tops the escargot! Break open the hush puppy to absorb even more of the slightly briny, garlicky butter. I saw several orders of this being taken to tables throughout the course of the evening. This is one of their signature dishes, and it is a hit.
Escargot with Hush Puppies!
Though not an entree, I had my eyes on the Seared Sea Scallops from the moment I looked at the menu. Tender, plump scallops are cooked perfectly (one of the best things in the world!) and they sit atop a black truffle and english pea risotto, and drizzled with beurre rouge, a tangy pink sauce. The risotto is luscious and rich, and peas are the perfect color and texture addition to this dish. I wish this had been an entree portion, but it is so decadent that it's probably best to remain an appetizer!
Sea Scallops, Risotto and Buerre Rouge
I paired the scallops with another small plate saturated with truffles - do you see a theme here?  (Longtime C&S readers will remember that I'm obsessed with anything that has truffles.) The Heirloom Tomato Salad seemed seasonally perfect. Thick, meaty and ripe tomatoes are scattered with persillade (parsley and seasonings), lentils, shaved summer truffles, and the most fabulous truffle vinaigrette. I couldn't help but dip my bread in the remaining vinaigrette that lingered on the plate.
Heirloom Tomato Salad
The Bistro Filet is 8 ounces and $21, as opposed to the Filet Mignon, which is 10 ounces and $38. I was eager to see if the Bistro Filet would be as tender and flavorful as the always fabulous Filet Mignon - and it was! It had a savory crust, and was a perfect medium rare. Accompanying sauce options include Bearnaise, Bourbon Peppercorn, Red Wine Jus or a $5 supplement Foie Gras sauce. The Red Wine Jus was tangy and paired nicely with our Cabernet and the natural flavors of the filet. Sides are traditionally frites, but you can substitute for other tasty offerings, like the Jalapeno Creamed Sweet Corn. I detected more sweet notes than spicy ones, but it was still a hearty and flavorful dish.

I'm very impressed with this place, and I'm thrilled for all the excitement surrounding Winston these days. I'll definitely return to The Katherine, but I better hurry before there's a 6 month wait in reservations!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Salvino Cucina Italiana

I've driven past Salvino Cucina Italiana in Greensboro nearly everyday for the past 4 years. After several recommendations from friends all across the Triad, I decided I was long overdue for a visit. This place is a local favorite and somewhat of a hidden gem: it's located in a strip mall, off of Battleground Road, in a pretty unassuming spot. But on a Friday night in August, every single table was full. Reservations are strongly encouraged. The word is out - ask anyone who has been and they'll agree that Salvino is fantastic.

The first time I had escargot was in Paris at the Moulin Rouge. It doesn't get much more authentic than that, but Salvino has an outstanding rendition of this appetizer. 6 tender snails are sauteed in butter, garlic and shallots and served in a dish with individual cups that encourages you to dip their homemade bread in each little nook to get every bite of buttery goodness. If you haven't had escargot, Salvino is a great place to start. They remind me of mussels, both texturally and flavor-wise, but one of my dining partners remarked that they're less briny than the seafood. This is a hit.

I was advised to get the Pasta & Fagioli Soup over the salad when given the option. Cannellini beans and spaghetti noodles swim in a smoky broth made from housemade chicken stock. That's what makes this soup so special, not to mention the underlying notes of bacon. The broth would be good on its own, but the beans and noodles give it great texture.

Linguine Pescatore is my go-to in Italian restaurants. Coppola's in Winston-Salem and Giada's Trattoria in Kernersville have great renditions, but Salvino takes it to another level. The linguine is perfectly al dente and coated in a simple garlicky, buttery, thin marinara sauce. It's studded with shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels. There's just a pop of heat to make me notice and appreciate it. I love this dish and Salvino has my new favorite version.

One of the specials that evening was Branzini, a white fish seared just long enough to get a slightly crispy crust. It was served with angel hair pasta, asparagus and tomatoes, making for a nice and light summer dish. While this was good, the special that slayed the Branzini was the Lamb Shank. The server joked that he wouldn't bring a knife for this dish because it was so tender. It literally slid right off the bone. It had an incredibly unctuous umami flavor, and the mashed potatoes that came with it were garlicky and way better than a boring old mash. The brown gravy brought out the natural savory flavor of the meat, and roasted carrots and green beans had just a bit of sweetness to balance the dish. I would get this anytime it's available.

While it's never been on my must-have list, fans of Veal should get the Vitello al Marsala. It won't leave you hungry. 3 veal cutlets are served in a Marsala wine sauce, with mushrooms and spaghetti giving nice texture to the dish. Marsala is one of those polarizing flavors, but there's no denying that when it's done right, it has an incredible depth of savory and almost tangy flavor. In case you couldn't guess, Salvino does it right.

Limoncello is one of my favorite things in the world. When it's combined with mascarpone cheese and frosted onto a yellow cake, you can call me a happy girl. This housemade dessert presents a moist cake with a bright pop of lemon, but the mascarpone makes it just rich enough that you don't inhale every bite. It's so pretty too, nice and light and yellow!

Salvino would be a great first date place, a nice spot to take your parents, or even a place to host a rehearsal or retirement dinner in the private room. The bar area is separated from the rest of the restaurant so you could just post up with a Dirty Martini and an order of escargot and watch the game! That's probably what I'll be doing this weekend. I can't wait to go back.

Monday, August 8, 2016

LaRue Elm

LaRue Elm Restaurant in downtown Greensboro has some new digs, and the community could not be more excited for this team. They've moved from across the street from the Carolina Theatre to the old Blu Margarita spot in NoMar (North of Market) and had just over a month to make this transition. To further put things in perspective, Chef Trey Bell says their new kitchen is larger than their old restaurant! Their new spot is spacious, with ample seating, and it was packed for the soft opening last week. Pops of color like turquoise and seawater blue line the walls, and there's live music, too! Servers use flat iPads instead of large glowing computer screens to manage orders. It's clear they thought of just about everything to make this new space their dream home.

Can you spot who made LaRue's instagram?
Peeking into the kitchen!

Upon being seated, slices of mini brioche with chicken stock-infused whipped butter and microgreens arrived to the table. This is a giant leap up from frozen dinner rolls that you might find at other restaurants. The sweetness of the brioche was a nice balance to the umami flavor found in the butter.
Brioche with Whipped Butter
The wine list is extensive and contained many selections I was unfamiliar with, but Chef Bell is incredibly knowledgeable about wine - I knew anything we chose wouldn't disappoint. The menu is broken up into three sections - starters, small plates and entrees. The starter simply named "Roots" combines microgreens with Chevre cheese, sweet balsamic vinegar, beets and what I believe were turnips. It's incredible how something so simple can have such a gorgeous presentation, a variety in textures and a perfectly balanced combination of flavors.

The Foie Gras a la Paul ingeniously combines slightly sweet banana bread with savory, succulent foie gras. The bread reminded me of French Toast, and the tangy gastrique is almost like maple syrup. My favorite starter was the Pork Belly - I don't recall ever having pork belly this tender! It was cooked perfectly, not chewy or rubbery, which can sometimes be problematic with this protein. It's served with grilled zucchini for crunch, and citrus for some acid. Each plate was tastier and more beautiful than the last.
Banana Bread + Foie Gras
Pork Belly

LaRue's selection of entrees offers something for everyone. I was excited to see Drum, a flaky white fish, on the menu. It's like a fish steak, one of the less common fish we see on menus around here. The caramelized leeks made the dish. They were buttery and tender, and took it to the next level. As did the Romesco sauce, a personal favorite. It's traditionally made with roasted red peppers and almonds - YUM.
Drum with Romesco and Leeks

Fans of duck will enjoy LaRue's presentation: 4 thick medallions cooked a beautiful medium rare, with a hint of spice - maybe Chinese Five Spice? - and notes of orange. It's served with tender lentils, which makes for a hearty dish.
Duck with Lentils

My tablemates agreed that the Rabbit was the star of the entree show. We called it "rabbit paella" because of the Freekeh (a grain) and peas, that provided a perfect pop of color and texure. Notes of mustard and truffle also make this dish outstanding. Bet you can't have just one bite!

We felt it our duty to sample both dessert offerings, to please chocoholics and vanilla lovers alike. It's hard to mess up Creme Brulee, and I especially liked how the buttery, slightly nutty, crunchy top had flavors reminiscent of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. (I mean this as a sincere compliment. I adore CTC.)

A "deconstructed macaron" will satisfy those with the strongest chocolate cravings. Chocolate ice cream (or gelato, perhaps) is enrobed in chocolate ganache, with a thin chocolate disk and some sort of chocolate sponge cake. This is all incredibly rich. It gets a touch of color and acid from fresh raspberries. Both desserts disappeared before I had time to take photos. You could say we were pleased.

I am so excited for the crew at LaRue. I also hope they are ready - people will be coming in droves. I think they've hit the nail on the head with this one.