Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Traveled Farmer

The restaurant formerly known as Marshall Free House in Greensboro is getting a brand-new concept. Next month, it will become The Traveled Farmer, led by Chef Jay Pierce and mixologist Mark Weddle. The team, along with Marty Kotis, will emphasize local foods, highlighting farmers and seasonal produce, and best of all, they're even planning to have a mini farmer's market in the restaurant! "Why wait in farmer's market lines on the weekends?" they thought - you can stop by the Traveled Farmer for lunch or dinner and pick up some collards and butter while you're there! They'll even have a case of prepared foods like pimiento cheese, chicken salad and housemade crackers. They've pretty much thought of it all. And if their recent preview is indicative of the creativity and quality of food they're going to offer, we're all in for a real treat.

The menu is a sampling of dishes from around the globe. Chef Pierce remarked that people tend to associate "local" and "farm-to-table" restaurants solely with Southern food. This is not always the case. Just looking at the menu, I recognized dishes from Mexico, Korea, China, Italy, and since we are of course in NC, the South. "NOT Pimiento Cheese" combines aged white cheddar cheese with green chiles, and is served with housemade crackers, pickled okra and pickled green tomatoes. This is my kind of spread - spicy, tangy, with a bite, unlike some heavy mayo-based pimiento cheeses that tend to be on the sweet side. The dish got its name because too many people were asking where the red pimientos were, and didn't think the green chiles were an acceptable substitute for it to truly be considered pimiento cheese. Call it what you want, it's fabulous.
Pickled okra and green tomatoes with housemade crackers and NOT pimiento cheese

One of my favorite dishes of the night was the "Street" Shrimp, though they were more like Shrimp Tacos or lettuce wraps. The fried shrimp had an incredibly flavorful batter - some of the best I've ever had - and believe me, growing up in the South, I've had a lot of fried shrimp. About 3 or 4 beauties rest in a lettuce leaf, with Valentina hot sauce and a creamy white sauce drizzled on top. Blistered corn, queso fresco and sliced radishes round out the dish. Three come in a serving - they are incredibly satiating. You could easily make this a meal.
"Street" Shrimp

Rare Tuna Tostadas present three beautifully rare pieces of ahi tuna on a crisp tortilla shell. The chipotle glaze and ancho aioli bring some serious heat, but they're more spice-forward than heat-forward, if that makes sense. Avocado is nice and smooth and cooling. Cabbage provides crunch, and a squirt of lime is just what you need to balance the flavors. You get two in a serving here.
Rare Tuna Tostadas

Mixologist Mark Weddle is pretty well-known in the national Bloody Mary competition world, so when he appeared with a tray of Reposado Tequila and Carrot Juice bloodies, I could hardly contain my excitement. The rim is Old Bay seasoning, and the heat comes from horseradish and black pepper. This drink is called "The Wild Hair" and it is absolutely wild in the best way.
The Wild Hair

Brussels Sprouts could NOT be more trendy right now, which is lucky for me, because I love them. Chef Pierce makes his shaved, pan-roasted Brussels a satisfying vegetarian meal all on its own. He adds mushrooms for texture and meatiness, sherry vinaigrette and chile for depth of flavor, and the best part - salty, crispy leaves for crunch. This dish is a fabulous texture ride.
Pan-roasted Brussels
Broccoli Pasta sounds just like what you think it is, but it's so much more exciting because of the warm Caesar vinaigrette and fresh pecorino cheese. Angel hair pasta from Drake's in High Point gets coated with these tasty flavors, with a pop of al dente broccoli for texture and color. Another satisfying vegetarian option, that even tastes light and healthy.
Broccoli Pasta

As if we had room for much more, we moved onto the entrees. I think Chef Pierce served us his pan-roasted Chicken Breast with Sweet Potatoes, Creamed Collards and Country Ham to remind us that there is beauty in simplicity. The chicken was perfectly seasoned (with just salt & pepper I believe) and was so tender - not overcooked. The collards screamed flavors of rosemary, which caught me by surprise, but anyone who thinks they don't like collards are sure to enjoy these. The sweet potatoes were cut into rounds and sauteed, perhaps flash fried, but otherwise left in their natural state. The pretty pink china plate might have been the prettiest part of this dish, but it's a reminder that you can taste the love in simple dishes, and they can be truly pleasing.
Pan-roasted chicken breast with sweet potatoes, creamed collards and country ham

Perhaps my favorite dish of the night was the Korean Bowl. This is something I don't make for myself at home (I don't make most of what we ate at home, either!) but this felt like a special treat. Charred Pork with Gochujang, Greens "Kimchi", Shiitake Mushrooms, Pickled Turnips, and a beautiful Soft-Boiled Egg sat atop a bowl of delicious sticky rice. A dining companion remarked that the rice was not sticky enough for her liking, and that it crumbled too easily, but this diner didn't have an issue. In fact, I liked that it was only slightly gummy, and thought the flavor was fantastic. Again - I'm not sure how many times in my life I've thought rice was so tasty! Beauty in simplicity! The greens "kimchi" was super salty, not tangy like you'd expect to find with kimchi, but the pickled turnips gave me the acid I was looking for. And the best part was breaking the soft egg yolk to coat everything with its beautiful yellow blanket.

Korean Bowl

Just when we thought we were about to pop, mixologist Mark appeared with little saucers with a few Cocoa Puffs - yes, the kid cereal - in each one. This cereal fanatic was freakin'. We were instructed to pour a carafe of vodka, butterscotch schnapps and kahlua on top of the puffs, and drink out of the bowl, as if we were drinking the cereal milk like we did in our youth (or this morning). The whimsical drink is aptly named The Cereal Killer, and it truly is killer. Alongside, we enjoyed a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse frosting, to make it extra moist and rich. The best part was the earthy banana caramel that cut through the richness.
Chocolate Cake and The Cereal Killer
Are you impressed? I left with my jaw still on the floor. I cannot wait to see what else these guys have in store, and to try other fabulous-sounding items on their menu, like Eggdrop Soup with a soft egg and cilantro, or the Sweet Potato Dumplings with Blue Cheese and Candied Pecans. Their hard work on this new concept is evident. They should be very proud, and you should be very excited.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Girl On The Train

Starring: Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Allison Janney, Haley Bennett
Director: Tate Taylor
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes 
Rating: R

There are only a few books out there that have given me the heebie-jeebies. The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins was one of them. I couldn't read it before bed, which was a problem, because I couldn't put it down. I absolutely loved this book - all the drama, twists and turns kept me guessing until the last few chapters. I was skeptical when I heard they were making this into a movie, and as per usual, I thought the book was better. But maybe I didn't enjoy the build-up to the climax of the movie because I already knew what was going to happen. Regardless, I thought it was a pretty good, not great, interpretation, but if you haven't read the book, you're sure to enjoy the film. If you saw or read "Gone Girl", this story is in the same vein.

The book is divided into parts with 3 narrators: Rachel, Anna and Megan. All of these women are flawed, if not slightly maniacal. The timeline in the book is easy to follow, but I felt like it was a little difficult to keep up with in the movie. While Rachel (read: Emily Blunt) gets the majority of the screen time, the book gives us more time to get to know Anna and Megan. Their stories overlap significantly, seemingly incestual, and the flashbacks keep you guessing "who did what and who and when?" A friend I saw this with muttered out loud a few times "I'm so confused."

Blunt plays a pretty convincing alcoholic (Rachel) who rides a train everyday into Manhattan. Rachel has developed a somewhat ridiculous obsession with a woman (Megan) she sees from the train, who lives in the house next to Rachel's former house she shared with her ex-husband, Tom. He still lives there, with the woman he had an affair with, Anna, and their new baby. Megan is Tom and Anna's former nanny. Still with me? I told you it's a bit incestual.

Rachel drunk dials Tom and Anna and shows up at their house frequently, but doesn't remember doing this half the time, because she is totally wasted. We feel sorry for Rachel and her sad life, but it's easy to empathize with Tom after we see flashbacks of Rachel's violent behavior and drunken stupors.

One evening, after too many martinis and a nalgene bottle full of vodka, Rachel embarks on a blurry journey into Tom and Anna's neighborhood, and comes in contact with who is seemingly Megan, but we really can't tell as we're seeing this through Rachel's fuzzy and distorted point of view. It's actually unclear whether or not this occurrence took place, or if Rachel is imagining things in her blackout state. The next day, Megan is reported missing, and both the audience and Rachel begin questioning everything that happened that night.

The lead up to the climax is a bit too long, and the climax itself is a touch too short. Justin Theroux doesn't get enough screen time as Tom, same with Allison Janney as the detective. It would also have been nice to have a plethora of suspects, like the book presents. It's worth a watch, though, especially if you're into bone-chilling movies during the Halloween season!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Triad Local First: Community Table

If you're unfamiliar with the nonprofit Triad Local First in Greensboro, I'm here to tell you that the group is doing some very exciting stuff. The organization is a network of locally owned and independent businesses in the Triad, committed to building a strong, local economy and a vibrant community (which I think is important to all of us these days.) Each year, TLF's Community Table fundraiser dinner brings together people who want to advance the organization's mission, all the while having some pretty spectacular locally-sourced food. This year's Community Table was at Hidden Lane Farm in Summerfield, which could not have been a more beautiful location for this event.
With two of my favorite food bloggers! Kristi Maier (triadfoodies) and Nikki Miller-Ka (Nik Snacks)
It was incredibly inspiring to see so many people come together for a good cause, and one they are passionate about. I got chills hearing Executive Chef Travis Myers and 2015's Executive Chef Tim Thompson speak about the impact this organization has on the community, and it's a great reminder that we should continue to bridge the gaps between Winston-GSO-High Point, to make the Triad thrive. The caliber of chefs that showed up for this was top-notch: Chefs Richard Miller (Graze), John Bobby (A Noble Grille), Jared Keiper (The Tavern in Old Salem), James Patterson (Sedgefield Country Club), Janis Karathanas (Providence Restaurant), the aforementioned Tim Thompson (Greensboro Country Club) and Travis Myers (Willow's Bistro), among many others. Needless to say, the food was sensational.
Plates are ready!
When I arrived, I was greeted with Grilled Oysters with Tomato Foam, and spotted a huge dish of Paella cooking away. It's not everyday you find legit paella in this hemisphere! It was studded with mussels, shrimp, chicken and sausage, with a savory saffron sauce. I loaded up on it. TOPO Organic Spirits was in the mix, offering up 3 cocktails featuring their whiskey, vodka and my favorite: gin. The Spicy Cucumber Lemonade had a bright and spicy earthiness - I had 2! Beer lovers got to sample Pig Pounder Brewery, while winos tasted some selections from Zeto. They also provided the wine for the evening - a slightly sweet Vouvray and a tasty red Zin.
Drinks courtesy of TOPO Distillery
Grilled Oysters
With a belly full of gin and paella, I didn't know how to begin pacing myself for the start of 9 courses. But try I must, because I had been watching a giant kettle of Brunswick Stew cook over a fire since I arrived. This wasn't your average Brunswick Stew, either. It had rabbit, pork, butter beans, corn and OKRA! It was slighly sweet, and a perfect consistency.
Cooking the stew!
Brunswick Stew
The pacing of the evening was perfect. Not long after the stew, a colorful dish of Panzanella appeared, family-style. Heirloom Tomatoes, Pea Shoots, Olives, Peppers and Charred Bread were nestled together in a tangy vinaigrette. This is the epitome of a summer dish. Heck, it's a great dish anytime of the year.
For the record, there is no wrong way to eat lamb. But when it is pit-cooked, it is especially delicious. The rosemary mop (sauce) and hoppin' John that accompanied it made for a really beautiful balance of flavors. I was worried the rosemary would overpower the natural flavor of the lamb, but it brought out earthy, almost floral notes in the meat. To highlight some of our local vegetables, we had an Heirloom Tomato and Flat Bean Salad, served family-style. Ripe tomatoes, haricot verts and wax beans were drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with scallion ash, with tangy wedges of Goat Lady Dairy Goat Cheese. The cheese could have easily been the star of the show, but the freshness of the vegetables and difference in textures made for a really delightful dish.

Heritage Farms Lexington-Style Pit Cooked Hog paid homage to the amazing, vinegary pulled pork we all love here in the South. Notes of wood and smoke remind you that the chefs had been putting some TLC into this one all day. Old Mill of Guilford's creamy yellow grits were a perfect accompaniment and absorbed the flavors of the pork. Shredded kale rounded out the plate, and I found them comparable to collards. The slight bitterness helped break up the richness of the dish. This is Southern bliss on a plate.

Course #8 of 9 was naturally one of the most decadent. Three hour braised Short Ribs had a savory umami flavor that was impossible to resist. Just when I thought I couldn't eat another bite, this tender meat literally crumbled under my fork. The mashed potatoes were not just a side either; they were a perfect vessel for the jus and leather britches (dried green beans). I didn't think I was going to make it through another meat course, but I did. And I'm so glad I didn't look back.
Braised Short Ribs
I have grown to love a good dessert wine, so when a Muscat (much like a Moscato) was offered alongside the Orange Creamsicle Mousse Cake, I was tickled. The wine on its own is incredibly sweet; with the dessert, oddly enough, it cut through the sweetness of the dish. The star of the dessert was the brown butter vanilla shortbread cookie adorning the top of the mini mason jar. Citrus was a perfect way to end this meal, and a charred citrus confit helped cap off this amazing Southern - soul food - pig pickin' dinner.
Orange Creamsicle Mousse Cake
Tickets to Community Table sell out each year, so you'll want to have this on your radar for 2017. The location and chef are TBD right now, but you know Triad Local First and the chefs in the Triad will continue to raise the bar for this outstanding event. I was so proud to be part of it. And I'm still full.