Saturday, December 28, 2019


Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow
Director: Jay Roach
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Rating: R

Three of my favorite actresses in one riveting movie. I was highly anticipating seeing "Bombshell", which tells the true story of female employees at Fox News taking down the late Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. While it started off a little hokey with Megyn Kelly (played by an unrecognizable Charlize) breaking the fourth wall to give us a tour of the studio, it is an engrossing, disturbing, and finally at the end, encouraging story of several women's plight to end sexual harassment in the workplace. This film has an incredible cast, and a few scenes that will make your skin crawl. Overall, I thought it was very enjoyable, and it's more likely that the actors will be recognized during the upcoming awards season, as opposed to the film as a whole.

As aforementioned, Charlize plays Fox lead anchor Megyn Kelly, and the prosthetics do a killer job of making you think it's actually her. (I was hoping they'd do a little more prosthetic work to Nicole Kidman, who only vaguely resembles Gretchen Carlson.) We're introduced to Kelly on the night of the Republican Debate in 2016, during her now-infamous public quarrel with Trump. She becomes the target of many Trump supporters and the receiver of many threats. Ailes sadly, does not come to her defense, claiming it makes for high ratings and good TV.

Meanwhile, Carlson has recently been "demoted" from a prime spot on Fox's popular morning show to the "dead zone" afternoon hour. She's also been keeping a notebook of countless incidents of harassment from both her co-workers and her boss, Ailes. After she is let go from Fox entirely, she calls her lawyers and says it's time to act. She brings forth a lawsuit against Ailes, assuring her team that more women will come forward. It's months before anyone else speaks up.

Margot Robbie plays our third leading lady, a fictional character named Kayla, who represents every other woman who has been at the receiving end of Ailes' harassment. Kayla's dream to be not just on TV, but on Fox, has her doing immoral things she never dreamed of. The film tries to make sense of this vicious cycle and power struggle, and as an audience member, it's pretty repulsive.

While this is an eye-opening film about the toxic work environment at one specific company, it makes you question what other major corporations nurture this inappropriate behavior. No matter your beliefs, you'll leave the film proud of these women (and several men) for standing up for what is right.

Little Women

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, Emma Watson, Laura Dern
Director: Greta Gerwig
Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Rating: PG

*Some of the things I've alluded to in this review may be construed as spoilers.

Let me begin by stating my adoration of the 1994 film version of "Little Women," and my attachment to Winona Ryder as Jo and Christian Bale as Laurie. I'll also say that if any two actors today could have taken on these iconic roles, it's undoubtedly Saoirse and Timothee. My bar was so high for this film, and while I thought the movie was fine, I did have a few issues. It was too long for starters. But if you're a fan of the story, you'll enjoy this timely rendition of the film. It's a classic for a reason.

If you're new to the story, first of all, welcome to the world, but secondly, you might have trouble keeping up with the plot because of the numerous flashbacks and flash forwards. The primary way Director Greta Gerwig let the audience know if we were in the past or present is by the color of the film. The flashbacks used bright, colorful, rich tones, while present day was more gray and dreary. I would have appreciated more physical appearance changes to differentiate the seven years past. The 1994 film used a different actress to portray Amy, who we meet at age 12, versus age 19, when we follow her through Paris. Florence Pugh, while she does steal the film as Amy, looks exactly the same the entire time.

I also think all this back and forth hurt the audience's opportunity to bond appropriately with the characters. Jo and Laurie's relationship didn't seem nearly as strong as Amy and Laurie's, because we get much more screen time with the latter two. The climactic scene when Jo rejects Laurie did not come across as devastating as it should, because we've already seen a connection between Amy and Laurie in the future. The film also shows Beth getting sick for the first and second times, at the same time, which made that plot line less emotional for me.

Gerwig is definitely in her element here, but what I thought should read as a boisterous family of loving sisters at times comes across as manic. I couldn't keep up with the insane amount of dialogue being thrown at me, but thankfully this pace slowed down. Gerwig also took more time to explore things that I didn't think were totally necessary and that were grazed over in the 1994 film (Meg as a debutante, Beth's bond with neighbor Mr. Laurence) but I did appreciate more time with Aunt March. Meryl Streep can do anything, and while the makeup made her look like a corpse, she brought a realistic humor to the role, encouraging the women to "marry well" since they won't be able to make any money for themselves.

This review is clearly very picky, because it is a story so near and dear to me. Was it necessary to remake this film again, 2 years after BBC released it as a mini-series? Maybe not, but it's as good a time as any. Jo argues that women have minds and souls and should do more than just fall in love and get married, but then breaks down in tears saying she is so incredibly lonely. It's a dilemma faced by many young women today, proving that this is a timeless tale. It's hard not to love this story and these characters, but the 1994 version will always be my favorite.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Marriage Story

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda
Director: Noah Baumbach
Running Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes
Rating: R

I have to admit, the first thing I thought of while watching this movie was, "I'm glad I'm not married." My second thought was, "Thankfully, I've dodged a few bullets." You'll view this film with a furrowed brow the entire time, watching two desperately lost people navigate a divorce, while also arguing over custody of their only son. I didn't think Scar Jo and Adam Driver had the best chemistry or were necessarily the right picks for this film. I also thought the movie was a little too "indie for indie's sake". Strong supporting cast members were a welcomed departure from watching the two main characters scream at each other and look miserable. Aside from one super-high stakes scene and some nice moments from Mr. Driver, I wasn't too thrilled by this movie. It was just too stressful. I won't be watching it again, or rooting for it during awards show season.

Charlie and Nicole met doing theatre in NYC, fell in love, got married, had a kid, fell out of love and decided to get a divorce. They initially agree to separate amicably and involve no lawyers. It's apparent that the two still care for each other, her so more than him it seems. You can imagine how contentious things become when Nicole decides to move to LA to be closer to her family, taking their son Henry with her. Charlie just got word that his play is opening on Broadway, but instead spends his time flying back and forth across the country to spend time with his son. On one trip, he gets served divorce papers, throwing a wrench in their plan to do things cordially.

Nicole's powerhouse lawyer Nora (played by Laura Dern) is a no-nonsense gal, determined to get full custody for her client. Charlie's mild-mannered but experienced lawyer (played by the lovely Alan Alda) explains how complicated things will be for them if Charlie chooses to maintain a residence and work in NYC. Charlie's ego gets the best of him, but we question Nicole's motives and whether she has been intentionally vindictive. Blink and you'll miss a few great scenes with the inimitable Ray Liotta.

Oddly choppy dialogue or too-long monologues combined with obvious and in-your-face symbolism was a real turn off for me. But I do think the director did a good job with making you simultaneously sympathize with and despise both of these characters. I've enjoyed these two actors in several other films, but this just didn't click for me. I also think there are better films to come this season, so you might hold off on screening this one.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper
Director: Marielle Heller
Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Rating: PG

Whether or not you grew up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on TV, surely you're aware of the magnitude of Fred Rogers' impact on multiple generations and their childhood education and development. He is beloved among Gen Xers and Millennials alike, including their parents and the people who raised them. In "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," America's Sweetheart Tom Hanks stars as the inimitable Fred Rogers and transports the audience to a simpler time. His calming onscreen presence is shockingly accurate, and you're certain to leave the theatre whistling the iconic theme song. The film did fall a little short at times, but overall, just hand Hanks the Oscar and go see this film.

The film begins and we're welcomed into the old, comforting living room as Mr. Rogers changes his sweater and his shoes (my personal favorite part of the show as a child!) Soon we're introduced to our protagonist, Lloyd, and transported to NYC 1998. Matthew Rhys delivers a strong performance as Lloyd, a writer for "Esquire" magazine whose assignment is to profile Mr. Fred Rogers. Lloyd is known for being a tough journalist who many people now refuse to be interviewed by because of his harshness. His wife Andrea (the fabulous Susan Kelechi Watson) begs him not to "ruin her childhood" and encourages him to write up a fluff piece honoring the man that is so cherished and admired. Meanwhile, we get a brief peek into Lloyd's troubled relationship with his distant father, setting up a conflict that inevitably takes the lead for most of the film.

When Lloyd and Mr. Rogers meet, Lloyd is equally frustrated and in awe of this man and his patience, kindness and way with children. Though Lloyd begins the interview, Mr. Rogers slowly turns the questions back to Lloyd, allowing their conversations to become somewhat therapeutic as he explores his feelings about his father. Enter Jerry (played by Chris Cooper) and his attempt to reconnect with his son. I would have liked more of the film's focus to be on Mr. Rogers and his family, as opposed to the Lloyd and dad storyline. I found the majority of those scenes to be dark, dimly lit and a bit slow. More Mr. Rogers please!

Scene transitions take place like they did on the original show, which I thought was very cool. This film was inspired by a true story, but there are countless other people who were affected and impacted by Mr. Rogers. If you've seen the "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" documentary, you'll enjoy this film too. You'll definitely leave inspired and hopefully, encouraged to give more grace to others and to yourself.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Knives Out

Starring: Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Ana de Armas
Director: Rian Johnson
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes 

Rating: PG-13

I'm usually weary of movies with all-star casts. For some reason, they tend to disappoint (see 2016's "Mother's Day", 2013's "The Big Wedding" or most movie musicals as a point of reference). But "Knives Out" is one of the most clever, entertaining, keep you guessing 'til the end films I've ever seen. All of the stars killed it (pun intended) and while it does run a bit long, they tie up every single loose end. And there were quite a few to tie up. If you're a fan of murder mysteries and dark comedies, you'll enjoy this fun, Clue-esque flick.

We meet the eccentric Thrombey Family as they're mourning the loss of their patriarch, Harlan (played by the always fantastic Christopher Plummer). Everyone is under the impression that Harlan committed suicide, and everyone also assumes their place in his will. It's only until Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives that anyone suspects foul play, and threads begin to unravel. I loved Daniel Craig in this role. His slow Southern drawl seemingly began as an annoying farce, but I actually became quite fond of this character and his vernacular.

Each family member is interviewed by Detective Blanc and his sidekicks (one of whom is the lovely LaKeith Stanfield) and each one seems to have something to hide. Daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), son Walt (Michael Shannon), son-in-law Richard (Don Johnson), daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) and grandson Ransom (Chris Evans) become prime suspects. Detective Blanc enlists Harlan's nurse Marta (a stunning performance delivered by Ana de Armas) to help him piece the puzzle together. She suffers from a condition where lying makes her physically ill, so anytime she's questioned, they have a bowl handy for her.

Just when you think you might have a handle on this who-dunnit, the plot swings a different direction. It moves very quickly once it starts approaching its climax. I appreciated this unique, fresh storyline as well as the film work: tight camera angels and contrasting stark and dim lighting added to the element of mystery and reminds you that everyone is a suspect. I highly recommend this entertaining film. You're sure to appreciate this story and its quirky characters. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An Evening with Carla Hall

It's not often a celebrity chef travels to the Piedmont Triad. Last week, Carla Hall of "Top Chef" and "The Chew" fame did a cooking demonstration as a fundraiser for the Greensboro Public Library Foundation. It was so fun seeing this larger than life (literally - she is 5'11"!) TV personality showcase recipes from her new cookbook, and they were all absolutely delicious dishes. About 80 people turned out for this event, and it was quite an eclectic crowd. Carla married her love of soul food with her appreciation for local and plant-based foods for a fabulous meal. It was fun to be surprised by her inventive flavor combinations. And I want to be her best friend.
The woman herself!
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a glass of bubbly. That's how I'd like to be welcomed into every room, every day. It was paired with a fluffy Buttermilk Biscuit, topped with Deviled Egg Salad. I'm usually not a fan of egg salad, but this had very little mayonnaise and had great herbaceous notes. She actually demo-ed the biscuits, and a diner at my table won them! So we got to try her biscuits fresh out of the oven. They were spectacular, as you'd imagine.
Deviled Egg Salad on Buttermilk Biscuit
The next course was a Caramelized Leek and Mustard Green Soup, topped with Chow Chow. This was the least attractive dish (hence the lack of photo), but maybe my favorite of the night. It was a shock to my taste buds, this earthy, tangy, satisfying bowl of leeks and greens, and the chow chow brought a nice texture and acidity. This is something I will definitely make again this winter.

Our taste buds were then transported to the Caribbean for Chicken Thighs smothered in a Coconut, Lime and Chile sauce. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and while the sauce was spicy, it wasn't overpowering and provided a really lovely heat. My dining partner doesn't enjoy spicy foods but had no problem with this dish. The Hot Water Cornbread that accompanied it was really fun to try. It was thin, crispy, salty and really delectable to dunk in the sauce.
Caribbean Chicken Thighs
Hot Water Cornbread
Garlicky Pork Tenderloin with Black-Eyed Pea Vinaigrette was some of the best pork I've ever tasted. It was cooked perfectly, which is difficult to do for multiple plates, and the sour, tangy vinaigrette was something I never would have thought to pair with this meat. The pork sat atop Roasted Cauliflower with Raisins and Millet, which reminded me of quinoa. Even the humble Rainbow Carrot was done justice, roasted and topped with Benne (like Sesame Seeds). I've had all of these ingredients before, but I hadn't enjoyed them like THIS before.
Garlicky Pork Tenderloin with Cauliflower, Millet and Rainbow Carrots

Dessert seemed like it was designed just for me - Poured Caramel Cake. I love a good yellow cake with thick caramel frosting, and I never thought I'd utter the words "too sweet", but it was indeed a shock to the palate after the sourness from the previous dish. The creme fraiche on top really helped cut through the sweetness, but don't get me wrong - I still ate every bite.
Poured Caramel Cake
I can't wait to repeat some of these recipes and explore more in Carla's new book, Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration. She even signed it "Hugs and Biscuits". She is quite a talented chef, and I admire her even more now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Sokol Blosser Wine Dinner at Cafe Pasta

This week, I attended the most fabulous wine dinner at Cafe Pasta, hosted by my friend and colleague John Batchelor. John selected some outstanding wines from Sokol Blosser Winery in Oregon, and paired them with some of his personal favorite dishes at neighborhood fave Cafe Pasta. I was very impressed with his pairings and encouraged him to do these dinners every other month! Wine dinners are a great way to meet new friends, try new wines and discover new dishes that you might not have had before. And to top it all off, the wines are available at wholesale price, which can save you some mega bucks. It was a really fun night.

We began with Spinach and Artichoke Dip, paired with the Pinot Gris. I'm not a big white wine fan, but this was insanely easy to sip and was the perfect compliment to the creamy dip, studded with huge artichokes. Toasted, buttery pita chips were the perfect vessel for the dip, which is topped with real parmesan cheese. We were off to a great start.

Chicken Picatta over Linguine was paired with the Evolution White, which was the favorite at my table, though I preferred the Pinot Gris. I was impressed with how perfectly the chicken was cooked - it was moist and really delicious with the citrusy, capery sauce. The pasta was nice and al dente, and I appreciated the fresh spinach as a garnish, but also to bring some color to the dish. The more I ate the chicken, the more I appreciated the wine.

One of John's usual go-to's at Cafe Pasta is the Almond-Crusted Salmon, and now I see why. It was so tender and not overcooked, and I don't know how the chef possibly managed a perfect cook for 50+ people! That is talent. The garlicky, almond crust was really tasty, and roasted vegetables like asparagus, peppers, squash and broccoli rounded out the plate. It was paired with the show-stopping Pinot Noir, the flagship wine for Sokol Blosser. It is one of the best Pinots I've ever had, because it's not too light and stands up nicely to the fish. This was my favorite pairing of the night!

To finish things off, we enjoyed "Mom's Cheesecake", which is not your typical NY style cheesecake. This layered a thin ricotta cheesecake atop a light pound cake / angel food - type cake. It was so delicate, not too sweet, and the perfect ending for a big meal. Sliced strawberries and whipped cream accompanied this dessert, and we enjoyed the Evolution Sparkling with this dish. Again, I didn't die for the Evolution like everyone else did, and this was the sparkling version of that, but give me any sort of bubble and I'm a happy girl.

I'll be on the lookout for more of JB's wine dinners, and I'll definitely be returning to Cafe Pasta to get some of these tasty dishes and try new ones, too!

Thursday, October 24, 2019


Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz
Director: Todd Phillips
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Rating: R

I love the Joker character just as much as the next person. I'm just as fascinated with Heath Ledger's portrayal and was just as hyped to see Joaquin Phoenix's interpretation, like everyone else. And I certainly love Joaquin Phoenix, just like every other cinephile. However, I unfortunately found "Joker" to be just a little short of my extremely high bar. I think Joaquin did a fabulous job embodying this disturbed character, but was this his best work? Not in my opinion. The actors (and there are a lot of great ones in this film) did the best with the material they were given, but was it incredibly strong material? Not really. I think we will always be excited to indulge in another Batman film, especially one that tells the villain's tale, and I look forward to the next one, but for now, I think you can safely pass on "Joker".

Arthur Fleck is a mentally ill aspiring comedian who lives with his mother (Frances Conroy) in Gotham City. It's pitiful - he's the butt of jokes, gets bullied and beat up by kids younger than him, but he tries to be a good son and take care of his mother. He suffers from a real-life condition where he uncontrollably laughs, seemingly at the most inopportune times. It's easy to empathize with him in the beginning. One afternoon, he has an interaction with neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz) that seems to send him on a spiral. He obsesses about their brief encounter, writes jokes based off of it, and even follows her. We hope their odd friendship might be good for him, but ultimately, the darkness in Arthur takes center stage.

I loved seeing Bobby De Niro as late night talk show host/comedian Murray Franklin - where has this man been?! He is delightful in this role, and Arthur both idolizes and envies him. I can't overlook the brief moment we have with Brian Tyree Henry (of "Atlanta" fame) and I would have loved more screen time with him, as always.

The film makes references to the Bruce Wayne family, and it does leave open the possibility of a sequel, or at least more stories to follow. I think one of the main issues I had with the film was the pacing. It was a bit slow and I wish the movie would have just gotten on with things already. I think the best/worst moment was when a group of corporate "thugs" started singing "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music" to Arthur on the subway. I almost burst out laughing. The ending is pretty uncomfortable (when it finally gets here), but honestly, I was just glad for it to be over.

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Lili Reinhart
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Rating: R

If this movie doesn't make you want to go to the gym, nothing will. This star-studded cast are all at their best - both acting-wise and physically - and the fact that this film is based off a true story makes it all the more compelling. The movie does take some liberties and slightly exaggerates the real life account, but still, I don't know how I didn't hear about this in the news! I was on the fence about watching this film, a story about women exploiting their sexuality for money, but they sure try to convince themselves and the audience that it's alright. The directors and screenwriters are also women, which gave me more confidence that they would handle the subject matter appropriately. These women clearly broke the law, but it's an incredibly entertaining film, and you won't be able to look away.

We meet our protagonist, Destiny (Constance Wu), in 2007. She's an amateur dancer, trying to make some extra cash to help her grandmother. She's doing alright for herself, until she sees Queen Bee Ramona (J. Lo) and the crazy amount of cash she is able to earn. Destiny convinces Ramona to mentor her, and she begins tutoring her in all things strip club. The scene where Ramona teaches Destiny how to pole dance features a classical music underscoring, reminding us there is an art to this type of movement. Fast forward to the recession of 2008, when things slow down significantly - clients vacate the clubs, people stop spending money  - and the ladies find themselves down on their luck. Until one day, Ramona hatches up a new plan. It's illegal, but it's effective.

This film is an interesting game of - who's really the bad guy here? Should we root for these ladies who are criminals, drugging and robbing men? Or the sleazy men who frequent the clubs and demand sexual favors? Then one day, the women decide they've had enough of the creeps and start picking up seemingly innocent men at bars, drugging them and leading them to the club where they run up their credit cards. It's not a spoiler to say that's ultimately how the ladies' empire collapses.

The fact that J. Lo is 50 years old is freaking insane. Her hair should win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It also makes sense that this film was produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, who had their hands in "The Big Short", because the narration and style reminded me of that film. My girl Lili Reinhart does her best with the role she's given, and Keke Palmer provides some comedic relief. The soundtrack is killer and so is the hair/make-up and costuming. The chemistry among these women is palpable. You really buy into this sisterhood they've created.

You'll leave this film feeling pretty unsettled and out of shape, but these women did a fantastic job telling this unbelievable story. It will really make you question just how far people will go to survive.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Katharine Brasserie

I previously wrote about The Katharine Brasserie in Winston-Salem when it opened back in 2016. It was a fine experience, but did not compare to the outstanding meal I had here last month when I celebrated my birthday. I was so impressed and blown away by the menu, execution, service and attention to detail. Last week, I was thrilled to get a sneak peek of Chef Adam Barnett's new fall menu, which will debut the week of October 7th. We had 7 courses and everything was exceptional - I do not use that word lightly. The Katharine has done a 180 since my visit 3 years ago, and the hard work this team is doing has really paid off.

You'll want to arrive early to have a cocktail in their beautiful bar area that boasts natural light. They make a killer Martini and French 75, but I was partial to The Felicity, a Vodka cocktail with Domaine de Canton (ginger liqueur), Elderflower Liqueur, Lime Juice and Basil. It was so easy to drink and very refreshing. I actually continued sipping it with our first course, Apple and Roquefort Salad, which reminded me of a sophisticated spin on the classic Waldorf Salad. Bitter ingredients like Arugula, Frisée and Celery are married with sweet Apples, savory Walnuts and beautifully creamy Roquefort Cheese for a bit of umami. This is a thoughtfully composed salad, where every ingredient shines. It's dressed with a white balsamic vinaigrette for a nice tang of acid.
The Felicity

Apple and Roquefort Salad
It's finally starting to feel like fall, and the Butternut Squash Bisque screams autumn. It's a lovely orange hue and features Coconut Milk(!) which makes it super velvety and luscious. The heat level from the Harissa is perfect - it just warms the back of your throat - and it mingles with the coconut milk nicely. Chef finishes the soup with a drizzle of Crème Fraîche to cool things down.
Butternut Squash Bisque
The Katharine's wine game is strong. Throughout the evening, Erin Doby (General Manager and Sommelier) offered wine pairings from California and France. Erin knows what she is doing. If you have any questions about what to pair with your meal, she's got you covered. The Landmark Chardonnay from Sonoma paired nicely with these first two courses.

One of my favorite dishes of the night was the Ricotta Gnocchi - the moment it arrived at the table, I began salivating from the fragrance. Meaty Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, roasted Butternut Squash, tender Duck Confit and Arugula are tossed together in a fabulous Sage Brown Butter sauce. I wanted to bottle this sauce up and wear it as an Eau de Parfum. It was so freaking delicious. The gnocchi was tender yet hearty, and every ingredient maintained its integrity in this dish. Really satisfying.
Ricotta Gnocchi
While The Katharine is definitely able to satisfy my inner glutton, don't worry - if you're vegan, they've got you. I was really impressed with the Cauliflower "Couscous". The sweet and tangy Tomato Sauce is thickened with Cauliflower (not cheese!) and spiced with Harissa. I would never know this dish didn't have Parmesan. Haricot Verts cooked al dente and Almonds provide a nice crunch, and while I wasn't expecting it to be, this dish was every bit as satisfying as the previous. I also was shocked to discover that a Pinot Noir and Cab Franc Rosé was hearty enough to stand up to both of these dishes! I'm telling you, the Som knows her stuff.
Cauliflower "Couscous"
Chef Barnett sautées some of the finest Salmon I've ever had. Every rendition I've had at The Katherine has been sensational, but this might be my favorite so far. The Salmon is thick and cooked perfectly with a deliciously crispy crust. It rests on a Leek and Celery Root purée with Potatoes and a Crème Fraîche Mustard Beurre Blanc sauce. The pop from the mustard seeds gives nice acid and texture, and the award for best supporting ingredient goes to that fabulous leek and celery root puree. It's nice and bitter and cuts through the richness of the fish and the sauce. I would eat this every day for the rest of my life. I was also obsessing over the Santenay Terre d'Enfrance Burgundy wine that was paired with this!
Sauteed Salmon with Mustard Beurre Blanc
I was so excited when a beautiful, thick, cooked to perfection Coriander Crusted Duck Breast was placed in front of me. For carnivores, this was the star of the show, and such a nice change from your typical steak. The coriander crust provided a nice slight crunch and flavor burst, and is a nod to the old-school Duck à l'orange, but with a highly modernized spin. It sat atop tender Cabbage, Potatoes and Shiitake Mushrooms, and finished with a lovely Orange-Coriander sauce.
Coriander Crusted Duck Breast
The grand finale was the Crème Brûlée. Now let me tell you: I have had Crème Brûlée before, many, many times. But not like this. I swear there was something special in the custard, but Chef assured me it was just high-quality ingredients and proper technique. The crazy strong vanilla flavor in that creamy custard, topped with that crackling burnt sugar - it was out of this world. We even got two Brown Sugar Sablé Cookies to go along with it! I couldn't stop eating it. It was irresistible.
Creme Brulee
The thought and care that went into devising this menu and preparing the food is evident. 7 courses and 0 complaints. Chef Barnett has some rock star sous chefs who were able to take his vision and execute it perfectly. If you haven't been to The Katharine (or if you haven't been since it opened), it is so worth a trip. I'll be back in 2 weeks to celebrate my mom's birthday - it's that fantastic. Run, don't walk, to check this place out.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Taco Mama

I've found my new favorite neighborhood restaurant. It also happens to be my new favorite Mexican place, and it has the best margarita in town. Taco Mama has 18 locations across the Southeast, but the inventive dishes, high quality of food and courteous staff has me thinking this is anything but a "chain". If you haven't been yet, prepare to get addicted.

Upon walking in, you're greeted with a smile and a menu. The staff asks if this is your first time, and if it is, they're eager to help. They suggest favorites and walk you through the ordering process. You can also check out the colorful chalkboard above the counter, to go along with the colorful lights strung about the restaurant. On nice days, they raise up the front walls to make it a screened-in porch.

Taco Mama boasts 10 flavors of margs (the Skinny is to die for) and the Prosecco Fizz is a really nice alternative because the bubbles cut the sweetness. If you're lucky enough to go in the summer when the Watermelon variety is available, it's irresistible. Insider tip - certain varieties are half off on Tuesdays. And in case you're wondering, a pitcher pours 6 healthy-sized margs. They also offer wine and beer if that's more your jam.
Watermelon Marg!
At Taco Mama, customization is the name of the game. You could select one of their suggested dishes, or you can build your own, which is what I like to do. You start by picking your base - Quesadillas, Tacos (flour, corn or hard shell), Nachos, Burritos or Burrito Bowls. Then you choose from a wide selection of proteins - Barbacoa, Grilled Shrimp, Ahi Tuna and Chorizo to name just a few. My favorite is the Shrimp - it's always perfectly tender and seasoned well. The endless toppings are where I tend to go a little crazy. You can have your choice of Chorizo Refried Beans, Grilled Jalapenos, Ancho Chile Slaw, Guacamole, Cilantro, Queso Fresco - the list goes on and on and it's hard not to ask for a little of everything! Inventive and flavorful sauces include Red-Chile Butter Sauce and Roasted Poblano Tartar.
I love the shrimp tacos. So much food!

Shrimp Burrito Bowl!
All entrees (with the exception of the Burrito Bowl) come with Chips and Salsa, but the Tacos and Burritos also come with another side - seriously, this is the best deal in town. The chips are thin, crispy and salty, and the salsa has incredible flavor and not too much heat. As far as sides go, I love the Black Beans and the creamy Mexican Mac and Cheese.

At Taco Mama, you can really have it your way. You can have it any way you want! The combinations are endless. I am always so impressed with how delicious everything is and how kind the staff is. That definitely keeps me coming back. And the margs. I really can't get over the margs.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, literally everyone else in a bit part
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Running Time: 2 hours, 41 minutes
Rating: R

Let me begin this review by saying that I'm a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. I'll also remind you that Leo is my all-time #1. I've loved Brad Pitt since I watched "Legends of The Fall" at a too-young 8 years old. Margot Robbie is one of my top 5 girl crushes. So it pains me - nearly KILLS me - to write a less than absolutely stellar review of this film. I think I'm the only person I've heard of that did not love what others are calling Tarantino's "masterpiece". I did enjoy the film, but it was quite a departure from your typical Tarantino flick. What I love so much about his films was not present here. I'm very prepared for my readers to revolt and call me crazy, but this is my honest reaction.

Leo is pretty spectacular as Rick Dalton, an aging (hardly) but still beautiful action/Western star. Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, Rick's aging (hardly) but still beautiful stunt double from the beginning of Rick's career, but lately fills more of a buddy and support system role. The two drink their way from meetings to movie sets and back to Rick's pad in the Hollywood Hills, where he resides by 60's starlet Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski. Margot Robbie resembles Tate so eerily well and gives an understated performance here. I would have loved for the entire movie's focus to be about her (I think all of America is so fascinated by this story) but perhaps that level of mystery just adds to the intrigue. I don't think Quentin gave her enough to do in this film. I also hoped that Quentin would take us somewhere brilliant with the Leo/Brad storyline. Unfortunately, we never got there.

As a film buff, I thought the scenes where we see Rick on-set were fascinating, but perhaps there were one too many of them. Some of Leo's strongest scenes are when he's chatting with his 8 going on 50-year-old co-star (Julia Butters) and when he berates himself for being a washed-up drunk, only to follow this tantrum with nailing a scene in one take. Rick is clearly having an identity crisis - his talent and good looks are still there, but his hard-partying past and younger competition are beginning to run him out of town.

Meanwhile, Cliff is out having his own adventure. The film takes place in late 1960's Hollywood, when the Manson Family slowly began to sink their teeth into society. In one scene, Cliff drives a hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) home to the Manson Family compound. What begins as an incredibly riveting and unnerving scene falls terribly flat. I'm really not sure what Quentin was going for in some of these long and drawn-out scenes that didn't lead us anywhere. That's his style, but typically, the wait is worth it.

Blink and you'll miss an incredible supporting cast that are each given about 7 minutes of screen time. If you're a Tarantino fan, I'd love to know your reaction to this film. I think my bar was set so freaking high with this cast, concept and director, that it was impossible to meet. There was no way I was going to love it as much as I expected, and sadly, I didn't. This didn't make my top 5 Tarantino films ("Pulp Fiction", "Kill Bill: Volume 2", "Kill Bill: Volume 1", "Django Unchained" and "Jackie Brown", in case you care) but it's one I would re-watch eventually, and may need to sooner than later so I can try to understand what all the hype is about. I'm just not in any rush to spend another 2 hours and 40 minutes(!) trying.

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.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Jake's Billiards Beer Dinner

Jake's Billiards' beer dinners might be the best kept secret in all of Greensboro. They occur every other month and for $40, you get a 5 course meal, each paired with a beer. And if you've been to Jake's, you know not to judge a book by its cover - the food is amazing, particularly the ranch dressing. (If you're a ranch fan, it really doesn't get any better than Jake's!) Earlier this month, a friend and I went to their beer dinner that featured brews from Haw River in Saxapahaw. Each course enhanced the beer, and nothing disappointed. In fact, everything exceeded my expectations.

As an amuse bouche, we were given the Demitasse, a Belgian Blonde Ale with Coffee. It was very drinkable, and I appreciated the fact that the coffee notes weren't too strong. After we made acquaintances with our table mates, the first course arrived: Israeli Couscous, Tomato & Arugula Pesto Salad. This was a perfect starter course, and a delight to eat on a hot summer day. They actually used arugula in the pesto too, and it had a perfect herbaceous note. If you haven't tried Israeli Couscous, it's super satisfying. It's like little noodle pearls, nothing like traditional couscous. I was a huge fan of this dish. The beer pairing was a bit too hoppy for me - the Belgian Oatmeal Pale Ale - but the Pale Ale fans at my table really enjoyed this.

I was stoked to try the second course: Strawberry Gazpacho! This is one of my favorite summer soups. It's packed with flavor, tomato is usually the star ingredient, and it's served cold. The strawberry note was a nice change so it made the soup a touch sweeter than usual. I really loved the Honeysuckle Spring Witbier that came with it. Notes of honeysuckle and Indian coriander really brightened the soup.

Next up, we enjoyed tender, juicy, Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken and Pineapple Skewers with Balsamic Blueberry Salsa. I was really impressed with how well the chicken was cooked, and the prosciutto added a nice, salty bite. I'm not an IPA fan, but the Northeast-Style IPA with Pine was a brilliant pairing for this course (I joked that the Pine in the beer went with the Pineapple in the dish!) If you're keeping track, that's 4 beers and 3 courses down. You'll want a DD for this experience.

The Sriracha BBQ Salmon with Wild Mushrooms was absolutely delicious. The salmon was perfectly cooked (again, how did they manage that for so many people?) and the sriracha barbecue glaze was addictive. The Rustic Saison that came alongside seemed salty and almost off-putting on its own, but paired with the dish, it was quite enjoyable. That's why beer and wine dinners are so fun - the flavors can really change depending on what its served with!

Finally, we arrived at dessert, and to my delight, it was a Lemon Blackberry Cheesecake Cupcake. We each got a little mini cheesecake served in a cupcake wrapper, that had bold notes of lemon and blackberry throughout. In fact, the crust was a Lemon Oreo! Super creative. We enjoyed the Belgian Summer Golden Ale that came with it, and at 10% ABV, I can see why it was served last.

If you haven't been to Jake's, you need to check out their creative and elevated bar food. But the real treat are their beer dinners. If you like beer, good food and good times, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Southern Lights Bistro

Southern Lights Bistro is a long-time favorite of many people in Greensboro. The restaurant moved to a shopping center on Lawndale back in 2010, and while it was wildly popular in its previous location for 25+ years, I think the love is just as strong in their "new" digs. One of the biggest draws for me personally is their patio - there's not enough al fresco dining in Greensboro, and Southern Lights has one of the best in town. It's a relaxed atmosphere, and servers are patient, knowledgeable and want you to enjoy the evening. They offer ample specials every night, so you can get something different nearly every time you go. While I've had a few hit or miss meals here, it's quickly becoming a go-to for family visits and casual nights with friends.

I love to build my own salad, and the options at Southern Lights seem endless. They have a killer Crab Cake - it's more wet than dry (Crab Cake aficionados know what I mean) and very little filler. I also love to add their Salmon, which is always perfectly cooked. Salad toppings are all over the place - Artichoke Hearts, Avocado, Kalamata Olives, Roasted Red Peppers, Havarti Cheese - the list truly does go on and on. The salads are substantial in size and ingredients are of the freshest quality.

The Chili-Garlic Shrimp with Coconut Rice and Squash is not for the faint of palate - the heat level is real. I loved the coolness of the coconut flavor to balance out the spicy shrimp, but I was kind of surprised that squash was the veggie of choice in this dish. I think broccoli would have made more sense, snap peas even, because the squash seemed out of place. I would order this again and ask to sub in a different veggie, but I love the Asian flavors this dish presents.

I can't resist a Cuban Sandwich, and you'd be surprised at how few restaurants in Greensboro offer them! Southern Lights' version is called the Spicy Havana, and it features Spicy Ham, Pulled Pork, Swiss Cheese, Pickles and Dijon Mayo on a pressed sub roll. This seemed a little bread-heavy (usually the quantity of meat keeps me from being able to finish an entire Cuban sandwich!) but the expected flavors were all there and didn't disappoint. The spice from the ham and the dijon married beautifully, and I cannot rave enough about the Pesto Pasta that comes as a side option - it's studded with little green Peas and topped with salty Parmesan. It's ridiculous.

The Adrian consists of some of my favorite ingredients - Roasted Turkey, Cherrywood Smoked Bacon, Havarti and Honey, served hot atop a Croissant. I honestly could have used more havarti and more honey, to keep this from feeling like a plain deli turkey croissant. Next time, I'll ask for a side of honey and extra cheese, which might seem extra, but when you're going big, GO BIG!

Their specials always appeal to me, and on one night in particular, I fell hard for the pan-seared Grouper with Shrimp and Crab étouffée over Jasmine Rice with Broccoli. Being obsessed with all things New Orleans, I am an étouffée fiend, and I was blown away with Southern Lights' rendition. The depth of flavor, the ample shrimp and crab, the perfectly cooked grouper - this is an exceptional dish and I wish they'd add it to their nightly menu.

Another special combines Grilled Sirloin with Angel Hair Pasta and Truffled Cream Sauce, with Mushrooms and Wilted Spinach. I had this when it was featured about a month ago and I lost my mind for it. Truffled Cream Sauce? Are you kidding me! It was insane!! When I saw it featured as a nightly special again recently, I went back to get it (rather, I swam through my pool of saliva to get there for it) and I hate to say, it was not as good. I detected no truffle and instead it tasted more like an Alfredo sauce. Disappointing, but maybe a different chef prepared it that night.

If they're featuring pan-seared Scallops with Bacon and Corn Risotto, do yourself a favor and order it. The scallops are perfectly plump and have a nice salty crust, and the smokiness from the bacon paired with the sweetness of the corn makes this a really well-rounded dish. I would eat this every day if I could.

Their Fried Brussels Sprouts special appetizer also needs to get a permanent spot on the menu - they were roasted to tender perfection and topped with blue cheese, slivered almonds and drizzled with balsamic glaze. This is my favorite way to eat Brussels. It's really the only way.

Whether you want to take advantage of their half-off wines on Thursday, their patio on a beautiful evening, or their Sunday brunch (which is also awesome!), there's really something for everyone at Southern Lights Bistro. I'm thankful the fan base has remained steady in this new location. After a move and 35+ years, this place really stands the test of time and great, quality food.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Hyatt Place Greensboro Downtown

Step aside, Proximity. Move it or lose it, O'Henry. There's a new hotel in town and it's offering a hip, new vibe and some incredible food. Developer Roy Carroll's new Hyatt Place Downtown Greensboro just opened this month, and coupled with the Carroll at Bellemeade, it's probably the most talked about addition to downtown Greensboro in recent years. I wasn't aware of the ample food offerings at the Hyatt - this is way more than just your grab-and-go packaged snacks. I was pleasantly surprised by everything I sampled, enough that I would return here for lunch or dinner anytime. And be sure to check out their exciting cocktail list at happy hour. I know you'll be impressed too.

The Strawberry Mule features Blood Orange Vodka, Campari, Ginger Beer, Lime Juice, Honey and Muddled Strawberries. It is too easy to drink. It's a beautiful light pink hue that's perfect for spring. I've been on a Whiskey Sour kick lately, and the Hyatt's unique rendition might be my new favorite in town. Maker's Mark, Disaronno, Lime Juice, Pineapple Juice and Bitters make for a really tasty flavor combination. I never would have thought to add Disaronno and Pineapple, but now I don't think I can have it any other way! They've also got Mezcal Margs, an Old Fashioned with Chocolate Bitters, and an ample wine and beer selection. Seriously, come for the cocktails, but stay for the food.
Happy hour at the Hyatt!
After you've munched on some addictively salty Citrus-Chile Popcorn, you might want to indulge in another appetizer like the Parmesan-Paprika Fries. The fries are crispy and topped with Parm and Paprika (obviously) but you won't be able to resist the Basil Aioli and the slightly hot Boom Boom Sauce. Or maybe you're in the mood for the best Fried Okra you've ever had? Cut into bite size pieces and cornmeal-dusted, the okra is served with garlicky Spinach, Bacon Jam and a Tomato Aioli that is absolutely to die for. I could not stop eating this. Just trust me on this one. The Crispy Brussels Sprouts are also a must-order. They're perfectly charred and topped with Bacon and a whole-grain Honey Mustard sauce. These are the sexiest Brussels in town.

The Flatbread is extremely satisfying - it's more like a personal pizza. The base is an extremely flavorful, basil-forward Pesto, and it's topped with Prosciutto, Genoa Salami, oven-roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, Mozzarella and Parmesan, and drizzled with Honey. The sweet honey finish goes so well with that salty meat, and it just oozes with cheese. We loved the Chicken and Waffles. The Fried Chicken was perfectly crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, but the Chile-Spiced Honey made it a showstopper.

I can't resist a good Cuban Sandwich - smoky Pulled Pork, Ham, Pickles, Swiss Cheese and Creole Mustard on French Bread? What's not to love?! My only request would be to change the Bread & Butter Pickles to Dill - just a personal preference. The BBQ Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese was a hit, though we all remarked that the mac and cheese was likely not homemade. This surprised us all, since everything else tasted so fresh, from scratch, and cooked to order. The Chicken and Brie Club layers tender Grilled Chicken with Brie Cheese, Kale, Tomato and Bacon, and it's topped with Honey Mustard. Any club that's warm and features Brie gets an A+ in my book.

I apologize for the lack of photos, so you could have really seen for yourself how delicious everything looked. While we may have made a dent in the menu, there were still so many other tempting choices. Maybe next time I'll try the Avocado Toast and Charcuterie Board. Or perhaps I'll indulge in the Baked Brie and Kale Chicken Caesar. The Hyatt Place Downtown really has it all, and it is all so good. Make it a point to stop by and see for yourself.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Crook's Corner

When I was a student in Chapel Hill, my go-to spots were East End/Deep End (RIP), Lucy's (under new management) and Elmo's (still rockin'). My friends and I didn't make it to many high-end restaurants, partly because of our budgets, but mostly because our world didn't exist past the Eastern block of Franklin Street. As I got older, I realized the number of outstanding restaurants in Chapel Hill, namely a famous one by the name of Crook's Corner. According to their website, Chef Bill Smith is "the only James Beard Foundation 'America's Classic Restaurant' chef ever to have been named a final-five finalist for Best Chef in the Southeast - and twice." Don't be put off by the casual atmosphere and diner vibe - you'll likely pay $30 for a top-tiered restaurant entree. The bar is cozy but ample, and it's a very inviting spot. I'm kicking myself for not going here more when I was a Chapel Hillian!

Their cocktail list features the classics done right. You might order a French 75 (a personal fave), a Sazerac, or how about a modern twist on a Mint Julep: a scoop of Mint Sorbet with Wild Turkey poured on top. I couldn't get enough of this. It was perfectly boozy, perfectly sweet, and it also appears on their dessert menu. I was very torn between this concoction and a Red Hot-Orange Sorbet topped with Reposado and Bubbles. Next time.
Mint Julep Sorbet
We were offered crusty bread with butter (always a plus) and while the menu changes often, there are some staples. The Carolina Sampler features Barbecue from Picnic in Durham, which was fun to try. The 'cue had great smoke flavor and the Eastern style vinegar sauce that accompanied it was killer. There truly is no better barbecue sauce. My only note for improvement is that this 'cue was pulled, and I prefer chopped. The sampler also comes with tender Collard Greens that had no offensive, earthy flavor - they were awesome. If you don't think you like collards, try these, as they are cooked with bacon and topped with parmesan cheese. The rendition of Hoppin' John featured Black Eyed Peas on a bed of Rice, topped with Tomatoes, Scallions and Cheddar Cheese. It was tasty, but totally upstaged by the other items on the sampler. This all comes with a fat stack of Black Pepper Cornbread - not too peppery and with a hint of sweetness. It was a lovely counter to all the savory notes on the plates.
Carolina Sampler
I loved Crook's rendition of Flounder. It was thicker than you'd expect, and lightly fried, atop a sweet Onion Puree and Farro. This was an awesomely constructed dish. You get the nuttiness and chew from the farro, the crispy, salty crust on the fish, and the sweet sting of the onion puree. Everything might have been the same color, but it tasted amazing together.
Flounder with sweet onion puree and farro
Crook's is famous for their desserts, namely what's listed on the menu as "Good Banana Pudding". Let me break it down for you. I was never a banana pudding person until I had the warm banana pudding from Mr. BBQ in Winston-Salem. I'm here to tell you that warm banana pudding will change your life - homemade vanilla custard beats boxed vanilla pudding, and torched meringue beats cool whip any day. I thought it was interesting that Crook's Banana Pudding featured the elements of warm banana pudding - the homemade vanilla custard and meringue - but theirs is served cold. It was divine and still beats traditional cold banana pudding, but I was very tempted to ask them to microwave it, because that would really be the ultimate.
"Good Banana Pudding"
Crook's is also known for their Atlantic Beach Lemon-Lime Pie with Saltine Cracker Crust, an Eastern NC classic that I had never tried until a few days ago. The crust had a perfect salty note (obviously) and the custard was nice and tangy. If you love Key Lime Pie, you will love this.
Atlantic Beach Lemon-Lime Pie with Saltine Crust
I was really grateful for the opportunity to try so many classic dishes at a famed restaurant in one of my favorite places on Earth. I can't wait to go back and try the Red Hot cocktail and just about every other item on the menu.