Thursday, July 18, 2019

Reto's Kitchen Cooking Class

I recently attended a cooking class at Reto's Kitchen, a catering company and cooking school in Greensboro. If you're looking for something fun and different to do, this is a very entertaining and educational experience. The classes are themed and quite varied - Northern Italian, Spanish Tapas, German Night Out - and just a heads up: the classes are very hands-on! My class had a Mexican theme, and there were 7 participants. A few folks even drove in from Jamestown and Archdale for the class! We all had an awesome time, and left with new knife and cooking skills, and full bellies. Chef Reto Biaggi is not only a skilled chef, he is a fabulous teacher with a friendly and fun demeanor. It was a really great night.
Chef Reto's A+ student
We arrived at 6pm and put on our aprons while we sipped Watermelon Agua Fresca, a lovely and refreshing beverage for a hot summer day. Reto offered us red and white wine, and you could also BYOB. One by one, we assisted Chef Reto with prepping the ingredients for two dishes: Mexican Corn Salad and Scallop Ceviche. He instructed us on how to properly cut vegetables (lay your corn cobs on their sides to cut the kernels instead of standing them up!), preparing meat and chopping herbs, and how to safely hold a knife. Many of the class participants weren't familiar with Ceviche, a dish that uses acidity from citrus fruits to cook fish. It was fun to see their eyes light up when we tasted the bold, bright flavors and the tender, perfectly cooked scallops!
As we enjoyed the appetizer, Chef Reto got working on a Mole Sauce to pair with Pork Tenderloin. I've always been intimidated by Mole Sauce because there are several ingredients and it's a multi-step process, but I was shocked at how quickly the sauce came together! It boasted smoky, spicy pepper notes and dark chocolate brings it a surprising sweetness. It was incredibly luscious and went beautifully with the perfectly seasoned moist pork. Chef Reto prepared some seasoned rice and black beans to go alongside this - a great vehicle for eating more of that sauce!
Pork with Mole
The highlight of the entire meal was a simple corn salad. I have never had a corn salad quite like this - fresh kernels get charred, then combined with herbs, aromatics and a light yogurt and lime cream. Add in some cotija or feta cheese and let it chill so the flavors can marry. I lost my mind for this dish. I will be making it for dinner this week and every week this summer.
Delicious plate with the delicious corn!
For dessert, we learned how to make churros! The dough reminded me of a pâte à choux pastry dough: at first the texture was like wet sand, but then after incorporating eggs, it looked like sugar cookie dough. Chef put the dough in a piping bag and piped long strips into hot oil. We all watched them cook with anticipation, and then rolled them in cinnamon sugar. There's really nothing better. Some of my classmates would argue that warm chocolate sauce made it better, but I respectfully disagree. Just the warm, doughnut-like dough with the crunchy cinnamon sugar was enough to make me a happy girl.
Chef Reto making the churros
The finished product!
I highly recommend Chef Reto's cooking classes for a friends' night out, date night or adventure with a parent. You'll learn a lot and make new friends - it's a great way to spend your evening.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sir Winston Wine Loft & Restaurant

I'm pretty obsessed with downtown Winston-Salem these days. Fourth and Trade Streets are booming as per usual, and with the newly developed Innovation Quarter, it's like my little hometown has graduated from preschool and is well on its way to getting its doctorate. I was so excited to try Sir Winston Wine Loft & Restaurant after several recommendations from friends, and honestly after just reading the menu. The restaurant is located in the new Hotel Indigo downtown, and the hostess stand and hotel check-in stand are on either side of the entrance. This doesn't feel like your average hotel restaurant though. The food is outstanding, the service is excellent, and the restaurant was full at 6pm on a Saturday. I got a thorough sampling of several dishes, and I already can't wait to return and try more.

My devoted readers will know that my cocktail of choice is a Dirty Vodka Martini with Blue Cheese Olives, so I was highly intrigued when I saw Sir Winston's Dirty Blue, a Dirty Gin Martini with Smoked Blue Cheese Olives. While it was tasty, I have to admit that I prefer my vodka martinis. The olive brine and the juniper flavor in the gin was a very interesting flavor combination though, and the smokiness in the blue cheese was just subtle enough so as to not overpower the drink. Sir Winston also features a strong wine selection, with 6 and 9 ounce pours available. I was excited to see some of my favorites including Louis M. Martini Cab and Caymus Conundrum available by the glass.
Yours truly, with the Dirty Blue
Being born and raised in the South, I am embarrassed to admit that I'd never had a boiled peanut in my life, until recently. But Sir Winston doesn't just offer any old boiled peanuts - these are soaked in spicy Texas Pete sauce and the spice level is real! Not for the faint of palate. They have the texture of chickpeas, so I'm curious to try their Texas Pete Boiled Hummus, which sounds addictive.
Texas Pete Boiled Peanuts
It was difficult to decide on entrees, since all of the selections sounded fabulous. I can't resist scallops, and these were perfectly cooked and tender, with notes of sweetness that paired beautifully with the bed of Corn Puree underneath. And if that weren't enough, three thick slabs of Pork Belly came alongside it. The fatty, unctuous meat was a nice contrast to the scallops, but it almost felt like an afterthought - it wasn't really necessary with the dish. A tart and refreshing pickled Melon and Mushroom Salad topped it all off. Really interesting flavors here, not like any scallop dish I've had before.
Scallops with Pork Belly and Melon Salad
The Hot Honey Hen immediately caught my eye. It's Sir Winston's rendition of hot chicken - a Sweet Tea-brined Young Hen with an outrageous Hot Honey Sauce, the best Collard Greens I've ever had, and slightly smashed White Cheddar Potatoes. This dish was a 10! I would just drink that hot honey sauce, but it was particularly good on the salty, crispy skin. The collards didn't taste like your typical, earthy collards - they must have been cooked in the nectar of the Gods - and while the potatoes could have used a little more white cheddar flavor, it was really a perfect vehicle to wipe up any remaining sauce. Highly recommended.
Hot Honey Hen
The Pickled Shrimp-Stuffed NC Rainbow Trout had one of the most unique descriptions I've ever read, and it was presented exactly as promised: a beautiful filet of trout was wrapped around flavorful, dill-forward pickled shrimp. Everything was so tender and the Toasted Caper Brown Butter that came with it really pushed the flavors over the top. This was served with Pearl Couscous (yum!) and more of those fantastic collards.
Pickled Shrimp-stuffed Rainbow Trout
You should save room for dessert so you can try the Salted Caramel Banana Doughnut Bread Pudding, a dessert that includes almost all of my favorite words (add the words "cookie dough" in there and I'd be in heaven). This was served warm, with a cinnamon whipped cream, and is the perfect fall dessert. It was so comforting and just dripping with butter and salted caramel. Really, what could be better?
Salted Caramel Banana Doughnut Bread Pudding
Actually, a stop for second dessert at the new ice cream spot Lil Dipper for a sampling of their dippings and toppings is the only thing that could have made the night better. And sample we did. You can pick between mini, regular and large sizes, and while the vanilla soft serve is delish on its own, the real fun begins when you can select dippings like cherry and cotton candy, and toppings like pistachio dust, lucky charm marshmallows and fruity pebbles. I can't wait to go back and try every combination in the book.
Winston is so cool!
Mini Cotton Candy + Fruit Pebbles
If you haven't spent time in downtown Winston lately, what are you waiting for? It's overflowing with new and exciting food destinations. Visit Sir Winston and Lil Dipper for two highly enjoyable experiences.

Late Night

Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Denis O'Hare, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Rating: R

Mindy Kaling is one of my favorite comedians, which is why giving "Late Night" anything less than a stellar review is difficult. While this was a really cute, fresh and timely story that needed to be told, it was a bit forgettable. It went on about 20 minutes too long, even with the brilliant Thompson and Kaling at the helm. I appreciated the female leads, but honestly wonder how this film will resonate with men. For someone who is very interested in TV and talk shows, I found the "behind-the-scenes" concept fascinating, but this felt very niche to me. I don't know how much widespread success this film will have. That being said, Kaling is a brilliant writer, giving us some laughs and telling a pertinent story.

Emma Thompson is quite believable as Katherine Newbury, a boss bitch / bitch boss at risk of losing her late night talk show to younger comedian Daniel Tennant (played by the amazing Ike Barinholtz). Her refusal to do "Jimmy Fallon-esque" gimmicks with her guests has aged her, and ratings prove that her audience is hungry for something else. She tells show runner Brad (the lovely Denis O'Hare) to shake up the writing staff by hiring <gasp!> a woman, for the very first time. Enter Molly (aka Kaling) and needless to say, things slowly begin to change.

This story feels somewhat autobiographical for Kaling, who has talked openly about being the only woman and person of color on the writing staff of "The Office" for many years. Molly's determination to help the show, and not just to get everyone to like her, is apparent. She lives, eats and breathes the show, so it is disheartening when Katherine doesn't warm to her and her ideas.

Without spoiling too much, the film's take on the "Me Too" movement isn't as successful as it could have been. I see what they were trying to do, but I don't know that there was space for it - the story already tackles a tremendous amount about women and people of color in the workplace, so this side plot felt a bit like an afterthought and wasn't fully flushed out. I also would have loved more screen time with John Lithgow, who plays Katherine's husband. I'd never argue with this casting choice, but this didn't give me the Lithgow I know and love.

If you're a fan of Kaling, you'll be pleased (and not surprised) that she plays the same version of herself in the film. It's a story that needed to be told, but sadly, it falls just a little flat of being awesome.