Thursday, December 29, 2016


Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar
Director: Garth Davis

Running Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Rating: PG-13

"Lion" is a wonderfully refreshing, feel-good movie, that's bound to make you tear up a few times. This film is uplifting, optimistic and although it's a bit predictable, it's a great reminder that the truth is often stranger and more exciting than fiction. "Lion" tells the true story of Saroo, a little boy who gets lost in India and is adopted by an Australian couple. When he gets older, his curiosity about his roots leads him back to India, in search of his birth family. Everything about this film is beautiful, and it's my favorite of the season so far.

The cinematography is stunning, as we're introduced to India through shots of crowded streets and tiny houses, while we see Australia's gorgeous coastline and sandy beaches. The precious and talented Sunny Pawar plays 5-year-old Saroo, who is obsessed with his older brother and helps him do odd jobs that pay very little. One night on a job at a train station, Saroo wanders off, and it's heart-breaking when he wakes up on a train heading nearly 1,000 miles away from home. Not only is language a huge barrier when he arrives in Calcutta, but Saroo doesn't correctly remember his town's name, or know the name of his mother. The kid isn't helpless, though. It's hard to imagine how he survived in the streets, but there were thousands of kids doing the same alongside him. He is sent to an orphanage where shortly afterwards, an Australian couple named Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) file for his adoption.

Dev Patel plays Saroo 23 or so years later, and let me just say - Dev has beefed up from his "Slumdog Millionaire" days. Hello biceps! Saroo is close to his family, having taken on their Aussie accent and helping raise his unstable, also adopted-from-India brother, but it's not until he meets Lucy (Rooney Mara) that he begins questioning his identity and longing to find his Indian roots. Mara doesn't have much of a role here, but the two have good on-screen chemistry. Thanks to Google Earth and modern technology, Saroo sets down a rabbit hole to find his family in India, whom he knows practically nothing about. What ensues is a miracle.

It's wonderful hearing Nicole's natural Aussie accent, and she is getting buzz for her role as the epitome of a strong, yet emotional mother. This character is excellent for her. I would love for Patel to start getting some real leading roles (not just ones about Indian men, or characters from India running a hotel or looking to leave their small Indian hometown. Rant over.) The score is familiar, but very good, and it's difficult to hold back tears during the last 15 minutes. The ending credits even feature clips and photos of the real life Saroo and his families. The film is named "Lion" for a reason that will give you goosebumps, but I'll let you go see it and learn why for yourself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Tom Ford
Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Rating: R

I was so excited to see this movie. The anticipation was killing me. I'm a fan of writer/director Tom Ford, Jake Gyllenhaal is in my top 5, and I've done a movie with Amy Adams (seriously, see "Trouble With The Curve"). While the trailers don't give you much of an idea as to what the premise entails, the actual plot is very different from what I was expecting. Even if you go into this blindly, it will take you about halfway through the film to get an idea of what's going on. Gyllenhaal and Adams do a terrific job in their roles, and you'll see lots of friendly...well...familiar faces in this film. However, there's no need to rush to see it in theatres, and don't rush to see it period if you're easily creeped out, like me.

Former spouses Edward and Susan (Gyllenhaal and Adams) are reconnected when he sends her a manuscript of a brutal and haunting novel he has written and dedicated to her. I would really be doing you a disservice to divulge more of the story line. I'll note that several scenes made me incredibly uncomfortable, even beginning with the opening credits. "Moonlight" was one of the most stressful films I've seen in a long time, but "Nocturnal Animals" was stressful in a different way. It felt almost invasive. Terror versus discomfort, really.

Michael Shannon brings utter fabulousness to each one of his supporting roles, and doesn't disappoint here as a West Texas sheriff. He is a wonderful character actor and has had quite the year (including a small part in "Loving," a beautiful story but rather slow film). Aaron Taylor-Johnson is getting buzz for his role as psychopath Ray, and rightfully so. Several of his scenes are charged with utter depravity. He plays disgusting very well.

This film will leave a bad taste in your mouth. It's dark and haunting, but for some reason, you can't look away. Perhaps its because you want justice done for the characters who were wronged, or perhaps its (thankfully) just so different from all of our lives that we find relief in the fact that its pure entertainment. Or, perhaps it's because Amy's wardrobe in the film is sensational. She's getting so much screen time this season and I love it ("Arrival" beats "Nocturnal Animals" any day). If you were hesitant to go see this in the theatres, your instincts were correct. Wait until you can watch it another way and don't worry - there's plenty of awesome stuff coming out in the coming weeks you can catch.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Running Time: R
Rating: 2 hours, 17 minutes

"Manchester by the Sea" has been getting a lot of awards show season buzz. They're practically calling it Best Picture already, and engraving Casey Affleck's name on the Oscar. I thought it was pretty good, not great, but indeed a well-delivered performance by the stronger actor of the Affleck brothers. (Yes, I'll go out on a limb here and say that Ben has superior directing chops while Casey has him in the acting department; see "Gone Baby Gone" as Exhibit A.) The narrative is a nice change, as we learn most about the characters in flashbacks, and the cinematography and score are both strong. But the star here is Kenneth Lonergan's screenplay and Affleck's understated performance of the main character, Lee. Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges also offer memorable supporting roles. That being said, I'm pretty lukewarm about this film.

Lee is a custodian living in Boston, doing whatever it takes to get through the work shift and the day. We learn how he ended up like this in flashbacks with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler, yum) and ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Lee's personality is pretty even-keel, but it's because he's suppressing some serious pain and grief that he hasn't come to terms with yet. He doesn't want to handle this pain nor does he know how. Joe's expected yet ill-timed death brings Lee back to his hometown of Manchester, where he is reunited with his nephew, Joe's son Patrick. Much to Lee's dismay, he finds out he is to be Patrick's guardian, as his mother is out of the picture.

The "present day" scenes take place in a matter of days: Lee and Patrick set about planning Joe's funeral, pick out a casket, postpone the burial because the ground is frozen outside, and all the while Lee attempts to "parent" Patrick to the best of his ability. He drives him to hockey practice, band practice and monitors Patrick's girlfriend situation (he has 2). The conversations and dialogue between characters, especially Lee and Patrick, is incredibly realistic and at times, humorous.

After learning about Lee's tragedy, one might wonder why he wasn't given a cathartic, emotionally-driven, waterfall of emotions kind of scene. This would have been the easy way out, and it's interesting that Lonergan didn't write one for him. Affleck plays this stiff, stifled emotion incredibly well. Williams delivers Randi's waterfall of emotions kind of scene with the excellence that only she knows how.

This film didn't stick with me, but it might be worth a re-watch. My colleagues, the critics, are getting way excited about this movie, but the pace was too slow for me, and it dragged on about 30 minutes too long.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

WP Kitchen + Bar

WP Kitchen + Bar in Greensboro has done quite an exceptional job re-branding this past year. I had dined here a few times since it opened in 2012, but it was never on my frequent-visit list. After a recent meal where I was able to sample several offerings on their menu, I rank this restaurant among the best in the Triad. The service and management is professional, the menu is adventurous yet the flavors and price points are accessible, and the restaurant sources local ingredients like Goat Lady Dairy cheese and Giacomo's Italian Market salami. I was thrilled to meet Wolf's brother Klaus, who makes regular visits to all of the Puck-owned restaurants. It's clear that this team cares deeply about their brand and their customers. They want to feed people delicious food, and they execute that very well. I encourage you to read on, but only if you don't have lunch or dinner plans and can make reservations at WP Kitchen + Bar today, because after these descriptions, you're going to want to run there.
With my buddies "The Man Who Ate The Town," Tim Beeman and triadfoodies' Kristi Maier!
Pull up a seat at the bar, where craft cocktails are the specialty (unless you prefer the Wolfgang Puck Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, of course!) A Pomegranate Bellini is a festive take on the traditional champagne drink, while the Eggnog Martini is really too easy to drink. It's less heavy than the holiday favorite, with just the right amount of sweetness and booze. The Cherry Sour is also a highlight, with brandy cherries, Amaretto, Campari and Bourbon. You can't go wrong with any of these.
Eggnog Martinis coming right up!

Cheersing with Chef Nikki Miller-Ka aka NikSnacks!

Appetizers are quite tasty and easy to fill up on, my favorite being the house-cut Truffled Potato Chips with blue cheese fondue, blue cheese crumbles, chives and truffle oil. Just stop. I can't imagine a more delectable flavor combination, and each chip has the perfect amount of truffle oil and cheese. It's a huge pet peeve when truffle flavor is promised and it doesn't deliver. These definitely deliver, and then some. Sorry Hams, but these are the best chips in Greensboro.

Calamari fans will delight over the thin, crisp batter and tender squid, but the kicker here is the tangy pepperoncini scattered over the dish. The acidity is a nice addition, as are the housemade spicy marinara and pesto aioli. Squash Soup is a beautiful light orange hue, thanks to the kabocha pumpkin and acorn squash. It's a bit sweet, but the texture is nice and velvety, and the cardamom cream gives it an intriguing spice.
Clockwise: Fennel Sausage Bolognese, Flat Iron Steak with garlic herb butter, Truffled Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Fondue, Kale Salad
Puck knows how to make a pie. You know they mean business when they let their dough proof for 5-7 days. The pizza oven is gorgeous and heats to 750 degrees. There is beauty in simplicity in the Margherita Pizza. San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozz and basil - this is a classic combination for a reason. I loved the Giacomo's Pepperoni Pizza, a much spicier and more flavorful take on your standard pepperoni pie. They use oven-dried tomatoes, too! The Goat Cheese Pizza uses Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese (the best!) with fresh pesto, roasted tomatoes and basil. Their crust has a great chew, and I appreciate the tang of the tomato sauce. While the pizza is indeed special, I think they were wise to re-brand as "WP Kitchen + Bar" to emphasize all the other fabulous offerings on their menu, too.
Executive Chef Matt Culpepper giving a pizza tutorial!
If you don't think kale salads can be sexy, you haven't had WP's version, with gorgeous green goddess dressing. It's luscious, light and packed full of fresh flavors like basil, parsley and lemon. Kale is tossed with a citrus vinaigrette and sprinkled with fried quinoa for a nice crunch. This would make a great meal alongside the Fennel Sausage Bolognese. I was worried about the fennel flavor overpowering the dish, but it wasn't offensive at all. Housemade herbed ricotta is dolloped on top, and while the pasta was a bit too al dente for my taste, the flavor of the sauce was outstanding, as if it had been cooking all day long.

Are you salivating yet? Ready to move onto entrees? NC Mountain Trout is grilled and topped with lemon butter, making it extra decadent. The fish is perfect. It's flaky, substantial, and served alongside fabulous roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts. I'm not a Salmon fan, but I actually really enjoyed the pan-seared salmon, because it wasn't overwhelmingly fishy, and it was topped with a tangy olive tapenade. A fresh, citrusy, shaved fennel salad is paired with it.
Klaus Puck serving 1808's Tina Firesheets
Cooking a good chicken is a testament to an excellent chef. While we all know that Puck is one of the greats, his Springer Mountain Farms Chicken is moist, bursting with flavor and drizzled with an umami-forward bourbon chicken jus. If you think chicken is boring and done too often, come try this. It will change your mind. It's served with crispy potatoes that are boiled, smashed, fried and finally tossed with garlic and red pepper flakes. They are killer!! The grilled Flat Iron Steak is cooked medium rare, has a nice salty crust and made even more luxurious with a pat of garlic herb butter to top it all off. Housemade steak sauce gives any bottled variety a run for its money (and would sell quite well if they bottled it!) Frites are thin and crispy, with strong garlic flavor - quite addictive.

Other noteworthy sides include the Truffled Mac & Cheese - the truffle flavor is in the breadcrumbs! - and Roasted Cauliflower, tossed with brown butter and pepperoncini. An order of each would provide a solid and satisfying meal, and were two of my favorites from the evening.
Truffled Mac & Cheese

Be sure and save room for dessert. Coffee fans will love the Espresso Semifreddo (semi-frozen, like ice cream) with a chocolate "straw" tuile, while Cinnamon Sugar Donuts are any-age friendly. The star dessert is the Salted Caramel Pudding with creme fraiche whipped cream and chocolate cookie crumbles. It's like they took a batch of salted caramel and added a rich custard to it - the flavors are absolutely perfect and I would eat a gallon of this. You can even order warm Chocolate Chip Cookies, studded with still-melty chocolate chips!
Cinnamon Sugar Donut, Espresso Semifreddo and Salted Caramel Pudding
Are you calling WP Kitchen + Bar for reservations right now? They have themed dinners each month, too, that are hosted on their heated patio. I am so excited to return and enjoy my favorites (it will be incredibly hard to pick just a few!) If you haven't been in a while, take it from me - this spot is absolutely fantastic. Head over when you need a break from shopping at Friendly! You will not leave disappointed.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Auli'i Cravalho, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison
Director: Ron Clements and Don Hall
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Rating: PG

"Moana" is Disney's latest sensation, and with good reason. The animation is gorgeous - I felt like I was at sea the entire time - the music is catchy, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda's lending hand, and our protagonist is a strong Polynesian girl - both strong-willed AND she's pretty ripped. (The girl has incredible upper body strength!) While my favorite animated film of the year was "Kubo and the Two Strings", "Moana" is sure to delight audiences of all ages, and it's a film I would enjoy watching again and again. Any Disney fan will love it.

The film's portrayal of Polynesian culture is genuine and sincere. I have no doubts that the writers, animators and producers took careful thought with each element of this movie. We meet Moana as a toddler, already enchanted by the sea and the unknown that lies on the other side of it. As a young girl, her father Chief Tui encourages her to stay put on the island and learn how to be the leader she inevitably becomes; meanwhile her Gramma Tala feeds her adventuresome side and tells her the legend of Maui, an ancient demigod who accidentally set a curse among their people. The curse can only be removed by the one "chosen" by the sea. Naturally, Moana's curiosity is heightened.

In a soaring number ("How Far I'll Go"), Moana sets across the sea in search of Maui, alongside the help of Hei Hei, an adorably idiotic bird (but sadly not Pua the precious pig!) Maui is voiced by Dwayne Johnson, and while I'm not a huge fan of The Rock, his comedic timing and vocal skills deliver. The two are in for a wild ride, fighting off coconut pirates, battling a fire giant named Te Ka, and barely escaping the claws of a giant crab named Tamatoa. Needless to say, their journey is a lot of fun.

I could have used several more songs from Miranda, but the ones we have are catchy, melodic and will certainly stay in your head. This is a beautiful film and Moana is an inspiring protagonist, though my screening partner commented on the fact that it has been a while since Disney produced a "prince" movie. We named a few: Tarzan, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but as far as Disney movies go, princesses are king.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fratellis Steakhouse

Fratellis Steakhouse in Winston-Salem has quickly become one of my favorites in the area. It's great for family dinners or special occasions, and they have a more casual bar for dates or getting together with friends. This location has been home to several restaurants throughout the years, including Staley's, Frankie Rowland's, and most recently, Old Staley's Bar and Grille. I'm thrilled that it has stayed Fratellis, and if they keep doing what they've been doing, I have no doubt it will stay here for a very long time.

Everything I've tried on the menu has been wonderful, including their craft cocktails. All entrees come with the Fratellis Family Salad, featuring apples, dried cranberries and pecans, or you can upgrade to the Wedge, my personal fave. Bacon, Grape Tomatoes, Gorgonzola crumbles and Gorgonzola dressing is a classic combination. It would be easy to get full on this, alongside their dinner rolls with herbed olive oil, but don't do it! There's a lot to look forward to with your entrees. The Greek Village Salad could serve as an entree though, with Tomatoes, Cukes, Kalamata Olives, Onion, Bell Peppers and Feta Cubes (!!) over chopped Romaine. It's like eating a delicious garden. The crunch and freshness of the ingredients is wonderful.

Being that it's an Italian joint, you know Fratellis is going to have a killer pizza. Their chicken pizza has mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon and spinach and rivals just about any pizza you've had anywhere. The crust and sauce are so flavorful, and the slices aren't TOO big, so you don't feel guilty having 3 or 4.

My favorite entree is their Seabass. It is outstanding. The fish is incredibly tender, and served atop flavorful lemon basil risotto, with cherry tomatoes for a bite of acid and a pop of color. Add some capers and a drizzle of feta cream, and you have a killer dish. It's hard for me to not get this every time I come here!

You could also opt for any of their flavorful steaks, with crusts like mushroom marsala, homemade boursin or horseradish cream. I also like to order their tender scallops a la carte, which come 8 ounces to an order, which equals anywhere between 4-8 scallops. This dish comes with two sides, and the sides alone could be a satisfying and fulfilling meal. Parmesan-blistered corn is exactly what it sounds like: charred corn is sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Needless to say, it's delicious. Roasted Brussels Sprouts are made even more delectable when they're paired with crunchy, sweet apples, and chewy, salty bacon. They're really hitting on all flavor and texture points here. Fratellis gnocchi is some of the best I've ever had. It has incredible flavor and is toothsome, so it doesn't just wilt away. It's sprinkled with salty parmesan cheese for extra decadence.

You must save room for dessert, whether it's their signature Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding, or my favorite, the Bananas Foster. This isn't the traditional Bananas Foster you're used to, either. A thick slice of buttery pound cake is topped with a caramel rum sauce, sliced bananas, vanilla ice cream and the star of the show: candied pretzels. The pretzels give a necessary salty crunch to break up the richness of the dish. It's one of the best restaurant desserts I've ever had. My party and I went HAM on it (look it up on urban dictionary) and it was difficult to resist ordering another one immediately.

I love Fratellis. If you live in Winston and haven't been, make a trip here ASAP. Reservations are recommended, because the word is getting out that this place is the jam. We have plans to return for my parents' anniversary later this month and I can't wait. That will also mark the 5th anniversary of my blog! Holy cow. Time sure flies when you're seeing great flicks and eating killer food.