Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Beauty and The Beast

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald
Director: Bill Condon
Running Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Rating: PG

I grew up loving animated Disney films like any other child born in the late 1980s. I'm also a fan of the live action remakes of late, which prove to be both entertaining and nostalgic. "Beauty and The Beast" is just that: it reminded me of songs and quotes I hadn't thought of in decades, and it left me smiling and humming as I left the theatre. It ran a touch long, and it was a little too gray scale for me - even the infamous yellow dress Belle wears seemed kind of dull! But for the most part, I was happily transported back to my childhood. Audiences of any age will be entertained.

This cast is incredible, though you might not realize it until the end. Many of the supporting actors are in disguise throughout the film - Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts - the list goes on and on. Emma Watson does a fine job in such an iconic role, bringing a fierce girl power attitude, more than I remember being in the original. 2017 Belle is fiesty! She turns down frequent marriage proposals from Gaston (played by Luke Evans, though it should have been Chris Pine) which pleases LeFou, Gaston's sidekick. LeFou is eloquently played by Josh Gad, bringing an honorable dimension to the first openly gay character in a Disney movie. After an excellent opening montage, Belle's father (Kevin Kline) goes missing in the woods. She sets off to find him as Alan Menken's soaring score begins, and we get ready for the adventure ahead.

The Beast's castle is stunning - I think we all remember that gorgeous library! The gradual building of Belle and the Beast's relationship is handled well and delicately. Many articles have been remarking how interesting it is that she is indeed being held captive by a non-human, and that they end up falling in love. The film does a good job at showing the Beast's human qualities, which is really the only way this would work. I would be remiss not to mention the classic "Be Our Guest" montage - it is over the top with a combination of live action and animation. It's beautiful but a little dizzying!

No spoilers here: the spell is broken, Belle and the Beast fall in love (Dan Stevens really is a sight for sore eyes), the household objects return to human form and you'll find yourself with a huge grin on your face. I'm eager to re-watch the original for comparison, but this film honors the legacy of the animated classic, and does it justice. I was delighted with this film and think you will be, too!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Seafood Feast with Friends

No, this isn't a new movie starring Jon Favreau, or a CNN special with Anthony Bourdain, or a new restaurant in downtown Greensboro. This was one of the most fun and memorable evenings I've had at someone's house - the News & Record's John Batchelor to be precise. My dear friend invited me to join him and a few other folks for a seafood feast at his home, with Nasi Kajana, co-owner of Fortuna Enterprises LLC (among many other things). The presentations, demonstrations, food and wine were spectacular. I wish every Saturday night could be like this.

Italian Reds and fresh seafood were the star of the show (literally everything we ate and drank). I'm not very well-versed in Italian Reds but each one was more delicious than the last, especially the 2011 Bacca Barolo. Our first course was absolutely stunning. Vibrant bright pink slices of watermelon radish looked like enormous flower petals and served as a bed for shrimp ceviche. I will dream about this dish for a long time. The shrimp was tender and boasted notes of lemon and just a touch of heat. Cherry tomatoes were also present, but my favorite part was the pop of pomegranate seeds. Radish sprouts garnished the dish. I ended up eating the watermelon radishes tortillas, making mini tacos. This dish screamed springtime and would give any restaurant a run for its money.
Plating the beautiful first course!
Course #2 was a whimsical spin on shish kabobs, with a rosemary sprig serving as the skewer. Gorgeous shrimp, scallops and cherry tomatoes absorbed that herbaceous rosemary flavor. A fresh, creamy pesto was a wonderful compliment to the shrimp. It was so smooth and more like a sauce than the traditional pesto I try to make at home. Another dish contributing to my spring fever.
Rosemary skewered-shrimp, scallops and tomatoes
Tiger prawns are a cross between a shrimp and a lobster. I've never seen anything like them in my life. They were about a foot long (not exaggerating) and Nasi coated them with olive oil and garlic before smoking them with 125-year-old wood, pine needles, pine cones and rosemary. This was such a wild thing to watch - he got the wood burning, then added the other aromatics, creating a really unique fragrance. After getting some great smoke going, he let the prawns cook for about 10 minutes. Then he torched them to ensure they were done cooking. The texture was exactly how you'd imagine a shrimp-lobster hybrid would be - it was creamy, buttery and sensational. I would have eaten four more.
Tiger Prawns!
Smoking the prawns!

So aromatic!

With the humongous prawns.
To round out the seafood feast, John treated us to an oven-roasted flounder, coated in Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and lemon. The fish melted in your mouth, and the salty bite from the Parmesan crust was addictive. Bright green, oven-roasted broccoli and asparagus made us feel less guilty for indulging in the thick, creamy grits (more like polenta) made by his lovely wife. I was full from the first three courses, but couldn't resist eating every bite on this plate.
Serving up the flounder!
This was such a delightful evening with wonderful company and delicious food. Every bite was perfect. It's also an inspiration that you can make some pretty fantastic seafood at home - and even more fantastic if you have a grill, 125-year-old-wood and a blowtorch. I will remember this evening for a long time.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

@ elm st. grill

At first glance, @ elm street grill appears to be a neighborhood hangout. When you walk inside, you realize it's a sports bar, and a date-worthy and family-friendly dining spot - something for everyone. When you dine here, you quickly learn they do several menu items well, especially their killer Indian food. (If you haven't tried their Chicken Tikka Masala, it's practically life-changing and will make an Indian food fan out of anyone.) I had only dined at @ elm street grill once before, so I was excited to attend one of their wine dinners with the opportunity to try several dishes. While these plates aren't on their regular menu, I could taste the love that went into each one. The hospitality was sincere, too. I felt right at home and left wondering how soon I can return. Owner Ravi is doing an excellent job with this spot (his rock star wife is the chef, too), and their regular customers are a testament to the outstanding food and service. This place continues to surprise me.

Hope Family Wines were a lovely accompaniment to the 5 courses we had, with most pairings matching up nicely. Cauliflower Cheese Dip was a garlicky and creamy way to start the meal. It was served with bread, but I enjoyed it right off a spoon. (I gave up bread for Lent, so I had to resist the slices of French bread that came with this dish!) I enjoyed the Treana Chardonnay, a buttery, creamy wine that matched with the flavors in the dip very well. It was topped with fried garlic chips - a pungent but not overpowering bite.
Cauliflower Cheese Dip
The second course couldn't have been a larger contrast from the first. Gorgeous greens were topped with mandarin oranges, slivered almonds, edamame and sesame seeds, and drizzled with a tangy ginger dressing. This tasted so clean and fresh, and brought out the citrus flavor in the Treana Blanc wine. This was a lovely pairing, each sip and bite enhancing the next.
Mandarin Orange Salad
I was ready for some red wine, and even more excited for the Pork Tenderloin with Chimichurri! This pork was incredibly tender - one of the best I can remember having in a restaurant - and the chimichurri was a beautiful green hue, citrusy and didn't overpower the dry rub on the pork. I went nuts for the simply grilled brussels sprouts, peppers, squash and onion - they weren't overly oily or charred and I could have eaten a bowlful! Liberty School Merlot was a tame wine for my taste, and I don't think it stood up to the pork. It might be perfectly fine to sip on its own, but I didn't love this pairing.
Pork Tenderloin with Chimichurri
As if one meat course wasn't enough, we were served a slice of Prime Rib with horseradish mayo and fabulous garlic mashed potatoes. The meat was slightly overcooked for my preference, and I think Ravi knew some slices were over, because he came by and asked if we were alright with the temperature of the meat. He is such a congenial host! The Treana Red was my favorite of the night, and it's the winery's star. It boasted full notes of oak, and is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Syrah. This was my favorite pairing of the night.

I'm always curious to see if wine dinners will include a port or some sort of dessert wine with the final course, but the Troublemaker Red was anything but a traditional sweet wine! It took time to open up, but once it did, it was beautiful. The Chocolate Poached Pear was stunning; its golden skin dripping with chocolate sauce, while mixing with slowly melting vanilla ice cream. The pear itself was cold, making the experience all the more unique, and it brought out an additional sweetness in the tender fruit.
Chocolate Poached Pear
If you haven't been to @ elm street grill yet, I encourage you to make the visit, especially if you like Indian food (they do it so incredibly well). But who knew they also did awesome wine dinners?! I certainly didn't, but I'm glad I know now. This place can pretty much do whatever they want and kick butt at it.