Friday, October 21, 2022

Margaux's Restaurant

Walk into Margaux's Restaurant in Raleigh, and you'll immediately feel at home. Or like you're in a modern art museum. This bustling spot is full of smiling servers who genuinely seem excited that you're there. Funky paintings adorn the walls, and sculptures are scattered throughout. A long bar stretches across the restaurant. An eclectic menu that changes often keeps things exciting. They even offer early bird specials (heck yes) and a 3 course prix fixe menu. Definitely check this spot out.

Margaux's bartenders got game. My husband said his Martini was among the best he's ever had, and my virgin Mojito was perfection. A light and refreshing Strawberry Salad is accompanied by Candied Walnuts, salty Feta Cheese and a delightful Blueberry Vinaigrette. It's definitely large enough to share, as is the French Onion Soup. When you finally get brave enough to take a bite of the molten hot insides, the Caramelized Onions are soft, the Gruyere Cheese is unctuous, and the Croutons are plentiful. I've had a shocking amount of French Onion Soup throughout the past month and this is among some of the best.

I couldn't pass up the Jerk-Seasoned Shrimp Bowl, complete with Rice, Butternut Squash, Pinto Beans, Mango Salsa, Plantains and Haricot Verts. The subtle sweet heat from the jerk seasoning resonated throughout this dish, and really made it sing. Scooping some of the mango salsa on a plantain disk was my favorite part. And I counted at least 15 shrimp in this bowl, so you can eat on this for a few days. Insane!

Pan-seared Salmon is cooked to perfection and served over a very interesting combination of flavors and ingredients. A Carrot-Ginger Spatzle is enhanced wtih Peaches and Zucchini, then everything is topped with a mound of Fennel and Grapefruit Slaw. I think the chef should have stopped there, but he doused everything with a bit too much Sesame Oil, a flavor I don't think belonged. But I get excited anytime I see my beloved German spatzle on a menu (which is hardly ever!)

I don't think I had ever seen this much fresh Plum Tomato Sauce on a bed of pasta. My husband absolutely loved this Angel Hair and Shrimp dish, just swimming in that robust, acidic sauce. Did I mention the portions are humongous?

Don't make the same mistake we did, by not saving room for dessert. The options are plentiful and they have nightly features. By the time we left, nearly every table was full. This is definitely the type of place to garner "regulars". And I intend to be one!

Friday, October 14, 2022

All the Screens

I've finally caught up on some films I've been wanting to see lately, so I thought I'd do a quick recap for anyone who might be interested in checking these out!

Hocus Pocus 2 - If you're a diehard fan of the original (like me and literally every single one of my friends), you've probably seen it already. I don't think they needed to bother making a sequel, but am I glad they did? Sure. It's definitely sillier and has fewer "creepy" moments than the original, but is it one I'll re-watch over and over every year? Probably not. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, an indicator that I was actually enjoying myself, and shout-out to Tony Hale for making the most of his limited scenes. Fans should check it out but keep expectations to a minimum.

Bros - It's 2022 and hard to believe this is seriously the first big-budget, studio, gay rom-com that we've had. So A+++ for representation! Billy Eichner does not hold back with his foray into the world of gay relationships. I'm a fan of Eichner, but his character's whiny and self-deprecating humor did get a bit old after awhile. He had decent chemistry with Luke Macfarlane, one of Hallmark Channel's beloved actors. I applaud this movie for apparently being the first of its kind (still shocking) and I hope we continue to see more of them. And that they'll be even better.

Don't Worry Darling - There was a LOT of buzz about the making of this film - onset drama, actors getting replaced, premiere drama - which was almost more exciting to follow than the actual film. This is basically the Florence Pugh show, and that is fine by me. She stuns in this film, reminiscent of "The Stepford Wives", with an absolutely beautiful production and costume design. The cinematography and music are great and incredibly creepy. I would have liked a tighter conclusion, instead they kind of rush through it. Don't listen to the critics on this one. I enjoyed myself. 

Friday, September 30, 2022

Crawford and Son

Crawford and Son in Raleigh has been on my list since I moved here a year ago. It was most recently named "Restaurant of the Year" by Raleigh Magazine, so I decided I couldn't wait much longer to check it out. I have to agree with the masses - this is perhaps the finest establishment in Raleigh. From the food, to the atmosphere, to the service, it's a 10/10. They change their menu seasonally, so that gives you at least 4 excuses each year to go. It's dim, but not too dim - very grayscale with lots of slate. It's small, but not too noisy - noise-dampening panels mostly help keep volume to a minimum. Water glasses were never less than half full. It's clear why this won such a prestigious award. I totally get the hype.

Since I'm still off the sauce, I was excited to see not one but TWO spirit-free options. I opted for the Mini Jammer, a beautifully balanced Blueberry, Ginger and Lemongrass sip. We were tempted by two appetizers so we opted for them both. The revered Manchego-Herb Biscuits need to stay on the menu permanently. 4 come in an order and they're crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and cheesy and herbaceous as promised. They're utterly addicting and are great for breakfast the next day (if there are any left).

The Sweet Corn Risotto is sensational. The sweetness of the corn echoes the sweetness from the crab, and a light, slightly funky Parmesan Mousse rests atop. Flavors of Dill permeate the dish, bringing a nice earthiness. It's super rich and actually really great scooped up by a bite of biscuit. 

Swordfish can be hit or miss for me, but Crawford knows how to handle it. A beautiful, thick, white filet was cooked to perfection - still glistening on the inside - and sat atop a Tomato and Olive emulsion. It's served with Tabbouleh and a Cucumber and Olive Salsa. This was a really unique flavor combination - I love olives but the olive flavor almost overwhelmed the entire dish. The fish itself was great, as was the tabbouleh, but this sauce was a little strong for me.

My husband's Pork Chop was outstanding, particularly the creamy Farro that accompanied it. We think the pork was sous vide because it was super thick and cooked perfectly all the way through - how in the world could they have pulled this off otherwise? Tomatoes and Squash were nestled in the farro, and the pork had subtle flavors of Peach and Mustard. If I had known how fabulous this was going to be, I would have ordered it myself. It was a rich dish that ate light.

Would you believe that a sugar fiend such as myself was too full for dessert? Alas, my husband let me try a bite of his Dirty Chai Custard, and while I wasn't too excited by the sound of Chocolate and Chai together (I'm a weirdo, I know), I admit I snuck several bites. A moist Dark Chocolate Cake is covered with a slightly spiced Chai Custard, which read more like a light chocolate pudding, topped with crunchy Hazelnuts, Feuilletine and Whipped Cream. Like my mocktail, it was perfectly balanced and really what every pastry chef strives for. We were thoroughly impressed.

Do yourself a favor and make a reservation at Crawford and Son. I'm already seeing some changes to the menu from when we went a week ago, so if you haven't been in a while, now's the time to revisit. And for first-timers, prepare to be wowed.

Friday, September 23, 2022


Jolie strives for authentic French cuisine in Raleigh's bustling Person Street neighborhood. Nestled between hot spots like Crawford & Son, (ish) Delicatessen and Two Roosters Ice Cream, it's a really happening scene and you can't go wrong, anywhere you choose to hang. I was excited to celebrate my 35th birthday at Jolie, and for the most part, I was quite pleased. 

Next time, I'll request a table on their stunning, open air, rooftop patio. As we approached the restaurant, it became very clear that the rooftop is where you want to be. The inside was tight, though I was grateful for their noise-dampening panels, which helped keep what could have been a very loud environment relatively quiet. It's an open-kitchen concept, with a few seats at the bar, and tables down a long hallway. It reminds me a lot of my beloved Mozelle's in Winston-Salem! Intimate, almost TOO intimate. I was very excited to see a spirit-free cocktail on the menu, feautring the trendy Seedlip (a non-alcoholic spirit), Black Tea, Strawberry and Basil. It was citrusy and bitter, a nice change from the sprite-doused mocktails I'm often offered.

Do not sleep on the Baguette with Fancy Butter - this was some of the best butter I've ever had! If only the untoasted, room temperature bread had done it justice. I would have loved for the whole wheat baguette to be toasted, or ever so slightly warmed, because chewing through the crust was entirely too tough on my jaw. But I would have eaten anything if it meant getting a bite of that sweet, honey butter, topped with Sea Salt, Paprika, Sesame Seeds and Herbs. Sensational! I admit, I was pretty surprised when one piece of bread remained, with plenty of butter for it, and the dishes were removed from our table to "make room for our next courses". For $6, I think our server should have left this on the table, and even offered additional bread! But I'm willing to overlook that.

This pregnant mama has been craving all the cheese, so the French Onion Soup naturally called to me. Jolie's version is incredibly rich, with a beefy, brandy-forward broth, loads of Croutons and Thyme, Caramelized Onions (not quite enough, frankly) and Fromage Cantal, a white cheese that passes for the classic Gruyere. You can tell that the chefs put a lot of TLC into the broth, which was indeed delicious, but I was missing some of the soft, caramlized onions - the crouton to onion ratio was off for my preference. But the cheese pull...heaven.

When I read the words "truffle", "parmesan" and "gnocchi", I knew exactly what I would be ordering next. This Gnocchi is incredibly tender, definitely made in house, and sat in a stew alongside Corn, Peas, Oyster Mushrooms and Tomatoes. The dish had just a kiss of truffle flavor, but I could have used more Parmesan (I think it was hiding was in the broth). This dish, while delicious, was having a bit of an identity crisis. I wanted a pasta dish, this read more as a stew. Killer flavors, though.

My husband could not get enough of his miniature Whole Chicken, and in fact said it was the best he's ever had. It was indeed incredibly moist and perfectly seasoned, though the Mixed Greens Salad might not have been the best option as a side dish. The chicken just screamed for a starch, a potato of some sort, to accompany this comforting protein. I don't know that a starch would have made a difference though - he had tunnel vision for the bird.

Jolie changes their menu frequently so I'll be keeping my eye on what's to come. I had quite a lovely experience, and with a few tweaks, I think this place could be truly outstanding.

Friday, August 26, 2022


Cortez is a trendy, happening spot on the even trendier and more happening Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh. Their menu changes frequently, so if you have your heart set on something, I suggest going stat before it gets replaced with another seasonal offering. Being pregnant, I found it difficult to navigate a menu flush with oyster and raw seafood options - I will most definitely return when I can indulge appropriately. But the food I was able to eat was all outstanding, and paired with exceptional service - no water glass was ever empty and that goes a long way in my book! My only criticism would be the air circulation - the partly open-kitchen concept is cool, but smoke permeated the entire restaurant so badly that I had to wash my hair when I got home. If they could get some better ventilation, it would be one of my top picks in the area.

An order of Bread and (Sea)Weed Butter goes a long way, as it should, if you're being charged for it. Four thick slices of bread are served along side a soft, herbaceous butter that thankfully didn't give off too many seaweed notes. The butter was salty and the bread was soft, and a fine substitute for the dozen raw oysters I would have preferred to enjoy.

'Tis the season for watermelon, and I've certainly had my share of it, but I couldn't resist their rendition of a Watermelon Salad, complete with 2 (count them, 2!) types of watermelon - red and yellow - with a tangy, fishy Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette (think about what you're served along side Vietnamese Vermicelli Bowls or Thai Spring Rolls), Peanuts and Herbs. This was a beautiful dish, with the juicy watermelon cubes stacked along side each other and sprinkled with the toppings (if only I had thought to take a photo!) I would have loved a bit of spice, perhaps a serrano or something for heat, but this was a lovely, light start on a hot day.

The Grouper with Hominy exceeded my expectations. A beautiful, thick grouper filet is covered (unnecessarily) in Hollandaise, and is served on a bed of Hominy, Okra and Chorizo, with a beautiful tomato sauce binding it all together. I've never enjoyed hominy this much! It wasn't the grainy, mushy, corn kernels I expected - it was cooked perfectly and was a really unique spin on a side. The chorizo was in bite-sized cubes and a great addition of saltiness. I cleaned my entire plate, aside from some of the hollandaise (the dish was rich enough without it!)

Churros are not high on my dessert favorites list, but I couldn't resist the sound of Corn Ice Cream, Caramel and Cinnamon Sugar - I mean, what's not to love about that combination? The Churros were presented in a coil, served hot and rolled in cinnamon and sugar. They served as a bed for that not-too-sweet corn ice cream, and it all just floated in a bed of caramel. This is a dream come true, pregnant or not.

I would definitely recommend Cortez, but next time I'll eat outside. I look forward to continue trying their ever-evolving menu!

Monday, August 1, 2022


Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, Steven Yeun
Director: Jordan Peele
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Rating: R

I was very apprehensive about seeing Jordan Peele's latest film, "Nope". After loving 2017's "Get Out" but being too terrified of the trailer to actually watch 2019's "Us", I was really on the fence. I don't like being scared. I do love a good film. I reluctantly purchased a ticket and sat on the back row, ready to be terrified. Thankfully, the trailer is more frightening than the film. Seeing crazy shots and images out of context had me worried, but the movie is really not all that scary. And it is really good. Not as good as "Get Out," in my opinion (but that is a pretty singular film that he may never top). "Nope" is hard to categorize, which I believe is exactly what Peele was going for. He continues to impress.

My favorite thing about "Nope" was the cinematography. The film is absolutely beautiful. Kudos to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema for capturing the vastness of this wide, open California ranch, home to Haywood's Hollywood Horses. The Haywood family claim to be direct decendants of the unnamed African American jockey in the famous "Horse in Motion" sequence. One day, some pretty strange things start happening at the ranch - coins fall from the sky, while horses are practically sucked up into the sky. Blackouts ensue and cell phones just stop working. The Haywood siblings, OJ and Emerald (played by Kaluuya and Palmer, respectively), conclude that there must be some UFO activity going on. And they're right.

I don't think I've ever seen a Sci-Fi Western, let alone one with a primarly Black cast. I love how Peele continues to push the status quo in film and create what should be the new norm. Being a big fan of Kaluuya, I was a bit disappointed that this role didn't give him an opportunity to have a big emotional outburst - he played the straight man almost too straight. I've been a fan of Keke Palmer for a long time (her 2007 hit "Bottoms Up" was my jam in college!) but I found her portrayal of the younger sister just a bit too aggressive. It's Steven Yeun who almost steals the show with his character's side story about being a child star who witnesses a chimpanzee attack. That was a very random and welcomed 20 minutes.

Overall, it's a unique spin on a story we've all heard before. I'll never get tired of the "do they really come in peace?" take on aliens, and this is the strongest sci-fi film (if you want to call it that) I've seen since 2016's "Arrival". I applaud Peele for continuing to pick teams of people who are able to execute his brilliant visions. More Peele please. 

Friday, July 15, 2022


Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Running Time: 2 hours, 39 minutes
Rating: PG-13

If you know me, you know I'm a bit of an Elvis fanatic. He was my first crush, my first introduction to "movie musicals" and I still turn up his jams from time to time. I had very high hopes when I heard that one of my favorite directors, Baz Luhrmann, had attached himself to the new "Elvis" movie. I was also super into the casting of Austin Butler (who I've loved since the awful and short-lived "The Carrie Diaries" back in 2013). Let's go ahead and give the man the Oscar. I dare you to disagree with me. He was SPECTACULAR. Honestly, if he decided to go out on tour as Elvis, I would pay good money to see that show. For the most part, I was very pleased with the film. Did I absolutely love it? Sadly, no, but it had a pretty difficult bar to reach. But honestly, if you attach Elvis' name to anything, I'm going to watch it.

Just a few pics of me and the King over the years!

Hunk of burning love!

Can't help falling in love!

Paying my respects.

Luhrmann's signature directing style is a bit over the top (see "Moulin Rouge!", "Romeo + Juliet") so I expected nothing less here. However, I wish he had shown a bit more restraint in the first 30 minutes. I felt the editing and cinematography were all over the place, jumping back and forth from Elvis' childhood to later years, with manic close-ups and zoom shots. At times, I had to look away from the screen to prevent being disoriented. The film eventually finds its footing and calms down a bit, allowing me to focus more on the story and performances.

It's clear that Luhrmann presents Colonel Tom Parker as the antagonist, and it's a pretty unbiased opinion that he and he alone caused Elvis' demise. Tom Hanks brilliantly portrays this nefarious character because every time he came on screen, I cringed. This character is a dispicable human, taking advantage of Elvis' naiveté in his youth, and introducing him to uppers to keep him up, and downers to keep him down in his later years. I'm not entirely sure how accurate this is, but its nice to have someone to blame for the downfall of such an influential and incredible artist.

The film touches only briefly on his successful-turned-flailing film career, and it doesn't give hardly any attention to the many, many affairs he had with co-stars, particularly his infamous affair with Ann-Margret during the filming of "Viva Las Vegas". The film does shine a light on his passion for gospel music, and the influence that many Black artists had on him. It would be impossible to include every interesting facet about this man's life in a film under 3 hours, but they managed to squeeze in a lot.

I appreciated the few scenes that felt like an actual concert - Butler's embodiment of Presley is other-wordly - and I admit I got emotional at the end, seeing brief footage of the real Elvis, and his unfortunate, long fall from grace. Fans will be covered in chills seeing these clips, and I would have loved to see more. Whether or not you're an Elvis fanatic like me, this is an entertaining movie for sure. Just give it a minute to find its footing and welcome Austin Butler as a household name.

Friday, July 8, 2022

a'Verde Cocina

Viewers of the show "Top Chef" might recall a fan favorite contestant from a few seasons ago by the name of Katsuji Tanabe. His previous venture into the restaurant scene in downtown Raleigh was sadly shattered by Covid, but he is back - with a vengence. a'Verde Cocina opened in Cary this spring, and I had been terribly eager to try it out. I have nothing but excellent words to say about every morsel of food, the atmosphere and decor, and the service. I loved everything about the restaurant's style and vibe, including the surprises in the bathroom (you'll have to check it out for yourself). I even appreciated that they bring over a water pitcher for every table - each dish has a bit of spice, so people are chugging water and those glasses go empty, FAST. I will most certainly be back to a'Verde Cocina, and on a regular basis.

Cocktails are unique (and strong, from what my dining partner tells me). I opted for a mocktail of their "Like, Literally" drink featuring Peach Nectar, Lime, Meyer Lemon, Agave, Jalapeno and "like, literally a bunch of" Cilantro. It was as if they concocted this specifically for my palate. Spicy, herbaceous, sweet - I look forward to returning when I can taste the salty tequila notes.

While your instinct is to order the Chips and Salsa (and you should, the housemade Creamy Chipotle Salsa was nice and smoky and spicy), you also should order the Freshly Baked Grandma's Cornbread with Honey Truffle Butter. I am certainly a sucker for ANYTHING truffle, but the cornbread is solid enough to stand alone. It's moist, sweet and loaded with real corn. What I thought was shaved butter on top turned out to be Cotija Cheese - even better. You'll have leftovers of this, which is great heated up for breakfast the next day.

What appears to be an unassuming Shrimp Quesadilla turned out to be one of the best my dining partner and I have ever had, and most of the credit goes to the crispy Chihuahua Cheese on the outside. Upon first glance, it looked like the tortilla had been cooked a touch too long, but no - this is deliciously salty, crispy cheese, people! Spicy Roasted Salsa and fresh Pico De Gallo accompany, and it's drizzled with a cooling Mexican Crema. We loved it.

A'Verde's Cochinita Pibil features a crazy tender Pork Shank that's been braised in Miso, Achiote and Sour Orange and is accompanied by Pickled Onions, Refried Black Beans and Blue Corn Tortillas. The sauce is out of this world (I regret not having a spoon to gather more for each bite). While this dish encourages you to build-your-own tacos, I enjoyed scraping the meat through the sauce and going directly to the face with it. The pickled onions were a surprisingly nice acidity for someone who does not like onions, and the refried black beans were, dare I say it, the star of the show. Everything was sprinkled with salty Cotija Cheese.

To satisfy my sweet tooth, I opted for the Ube Flan - ube is having a major moment right now (especialy if you're a regular at Trader Joe's) - and the stunning purple hue allowed me to feast with my eyes before tasting. I loved the coconut and vanilla flavor that the purple yam imparts, more than the texture of the flan itself. Fresh Blueberries and dollops of Whipped Cream are a nice addition. This is large enough to share, and if you LOVE flan, you will certainly love this.

I can't wait to go back to a'Verde to try more of their unique, whimsical dishes. The Truffle Mushroom Tacos, Street Charred Corn and Breakfast Cereal Tres Leches have my name all over them.

Friday, April 29, 2022

An actual Cuisine & Screen

It's been quite a while since I did a post featuring both Cuisine AND Screen. For those of you who have been waiting for this - you know who you are - this post is for you.

I have found my absolute new favorite restaurant in the Triangle. I know, I know, I say that a lot. But this time, I really mean it. In fact, this has set the bar so high that I don't know if I'll be able to find a restaurant to top it. Ko-an in Cary is mind-blowing. The Asian inspired menu is playful, plates are works of art and flavor combinations stimulate the palate. Start with sipping the Thai Cooler, which features notes of Strawberry, Cirtus, Habanero and Cilantro - outstanding.

Big Buns fan here, and Ko-an's Steamed Buns feature a rich, sweet Yuzu Lobster Salad - no mayo here folks! Just hearty chunks of lobster tossed in a yummy citrusy sauce, topped with a not-too-spicy Sambal Aioli, Scallions and Sesame seeds. The buns were soft and plump but buttery and cripsy, like a warm lobster roll would be. Only two come in an order, so either order double or REALLY like who you're sharing these with.

I lost my mind for the Thai Red Curry, which features a plump, crab-heavy Crab Cake atop Steamed Sticky Rice, with Carrots, Green Beans and Mango. The curry definitely had a kick, which was mellowed out by the creaminess of the coconut. There was so much crab in this crab cake, I almost couldn't believe it. I loved the sweetness of the carrots and the acid from the mango, too. I cleaned my bowl and asked the server if everyone does that, because the dish is so good. He chuckled and said "no". But I wasn't about to let any of it go to waste!

My husband ordered the Indonesian Duck, which he absolutely loved. A Fried Duck Leg rests on a bed of Steamed Rice, with a Yellow Coconut Curry Sauce, Green Sambal and Cucumber. I preferred my sauce to his, but he couldn't get enough of the moist meat and rich flavors. I thought it was particularly pretty how they "frenched" the leg (exposing the bone underneath the meat).

We were far too full for dessert, but they looked almost too pretty to eat. I cannot wait to return - this is unmissible folks. Run, do not walk.

Whether you're a fan of Nicolas Cage or not, and by "fan" I mean you've seen several of his cult classic movies and regard him as a decent, not great actor, "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" will undoubtedly bring you some laughs. From the moment I saw the trailer, I figured this would be a very self-aware film, as Cage plays an exaggerated(?) version of himself. The film's Cage is a narcissistic, burnt out actor, looking for a comeback role (though he never went anywhere), to save him from financial ruin.

Enter Pedro Pascal, who plays Javi, a fan who has written a screenplay for Cage, and flies him out to his compound in Spain. The two have incredible chemistry. Throw in Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz for a few laughs - though not too many, Cage gets all the laughs here - and a chance run-in with the Cartel, and you've got a successful movie. 

Honestly, I figured this film would be good, not great, but I laughed out loud multiple times and it takes a really funny moment to make me do that. I was in good company - the audience at the theater was howling. Keep your expectations low and go in with an open mind. You'll leave pleasantly surprised.

Friday, April 22, 2022


I'd been quite eager to try Mandolin in Raleigh after perusing their Instagram for several weeks. Photos of their famous "Mandolin fries" and a thick slice of Caramel Cake were practically calling out to me. I finally got the opportunity to dine there recently, and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere has something for everyone: the large dining room was quite boistrous with many diners; a warm, inviting bar stretches down the length of the restaurant, perfect to post up with a beer and a burger; and there's a quieter dining room to the side, giving friends a chance to reconnect. (In fact, I was so busy reconnecting that I didn't bother to take any photos of the food! My apologies, readers). I look forward to many repeat visits.

I love a restaurant that offers free bread service (who doesn't?) but Mandolin is super cool because they give you TWO options. Their sweet Corn Muffin had an almost caramelized edge around the top, a perfect contrast to their soft, white Country Bread. Each was scrumptious when slathered with salted butter. I was craving a drink not on the menu - something spicy and sour - and our server delighted my tastebuds with a lemon-lime-jalapeno concoction. It was exactly the refreshing escape I was looking for. So at Mandolin, they aim to please, and if you don't see what you're looking for, just ask!

Do not underestimate a restaurant that can do a good chicken dish. I feel like people sleep on chicken at restaurants, but believe me - restaurants know they have to include a chicken dish, and they know they have to make it exciting! And Mandolin's is quite exciting. Their Grilled Chicken Leg is moist and tender and sits atop al dente Freekah (a grain) with Tomato Jus, Pickled Celery for necessary acid and Andouille Sausage for smoky savoriness. The Andouille bites were my favorite thing about this dish. Just when I thought I was getting a bite of tender chicken, SURPRISE! It was a bite of that meaty, unctuous sausage. What seemed like an unassuming dish was actually very stimulating.

I had to try the fries. They were crispy, stacked high in a metal cup, served alongside ketchup and covered in a savory white powder. I had to get to the bottom of this. Turns out, they sprinkle a combination of duck fat powder and tapioca starch on the hot fries, for maximum addictiveness. This side is large enough to be shared, but you may not want to.

My favorite thing from the night was on their dessert menu. My dining partner opted for the showstopping Chocolate Souffle, but I'm a cake and icing kind of gal (more like icing and cake, but who's keeping track). The Caramel Cake stacks a beautiful yellow sponge between equally thick layers of caramel frosting - the perfect cake to icing ratio in my opinion - and it comes with a scoop of Buttermillk Ice Cream and cinnamon crumbles for crunch. The tang from the buttermilk breaks up the super sweet frosting. This dish reminded me of my childhood. My dad's godmother Ruthie had a fabulous recipe for caramel frosting - I've never found one better - but this one comes dangerously close. It was a nostalgic moment.

If you haven't been to Mandolin, what are you waiting for? The staff is gracious and they want you to have an enjoyable evening. And they believe in their menu. What more can you ask for from a trendy restaurant? Check it out next time you're in the Triangle.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Second Empire

The Chef’s Table at Second Empire in Raleigh should be on every foodie’s bucket list. My hubby and I recently splurged and did the 4 course tasting menu, while seated in the kitchen. It's definitely dinner and a show, and every morsel we tasted was absolutely sensational. While we don't feel the need to do the in-kitchen dining again (and I certainly do NOT recommend for a first date - it's a pretty stark and sterile environment in there!) it was an experience we will never forget.

Sitting in the kitchen, you have a front row seat to all the action. We both remarked at how clean the space was – you could almost eat off the floor it was so tidy! We were allowed to walk around the kitchen, but decided we’d have just as much fun observing from afar. Wine pairings accompany each course, but you can order other drinks as you wish. They also take note of any food allergies/aversions you may have. Nice (appropriate) touch.

The first course blew our minds: Sauteed Scallop with Pepsi-Braised Pork Belly, atop Oyster Mushroom and Pea Risotto, with Spinach, Kabocha Squash Puree, Apple Salsa and Brown Ale Reduction. This was the description for ONE COURSE. OUT OF FOUR. These were not humongous portions, but they were incredibly delicious and rich. This was our favorite course. The scallop was seared to perfection and the Pork Belly was smoky and meaty – not fatty at all. I was so enamored with all of the sauces of the night, this brown ale reduction being the best. And the creamy risotto as a bed for the protein? Divine.

Scallop with Pork Belly

Next up, another one of my favorite proteins – Salmon with Fingerling Potatoes, Kale and Parsnip Puree with a Caper Sauce and Smoked Bacon Cider Vinegar. The chef is a flavor magician. Everything on the plate worked together beautifully, and though reading it seemed excessive, the flavors complimented each other so well. The kale was crispy, providing a nice textural contract to the moist salmon, starchy potatoes and smooth puree. Again, that acidic sauce was a home run. I think that’s what I love so much about dining out instead of cooking at home - the incredible sauces!


I love a mid-meal palate cleanser, though this truly could have served as dessert and ended the meal for us. A scoop of Mango Sorbet, with Berries and a house made Vanilla Wafer was a burst of acidity to the palate, helping rejuvenate our taste buds. It was bright and refreshing, and I didn’t know I needed it until I devoured it.

Mango Sorbet

Our second favorite dish of the night was the Rack of Lamb, served with Butternut Squash, Black Eyed Peas, Chorizo, Asparagus, Beets and a Madeira Raisin Jus. Seriously? Pairing madeira and raisins? Mad scientist flavors going on here. The lamb was succulent, unctuous – all the good words. I loved the bitterness of the beets, the sweetness of the butternut squash and the savory fruity flavor from the sauce. I had made the terrible mistake of finishing my plate on each course, but I was NOT about to stop with this one.

Rack of Lamb

Finally, we had made our way to the dessert course. I loved the Coconut Buttermilk Chess Pie, topped with Berries, homemade Butter Pecan Ice Cream and an Almond Cookie. The tart shell was clearly made from scratch - super buttery - and it was the perfect container for the warm coconutty custard. The tangy Mango Sauce underneath broke up the richness. I hate to admit that I ate off my husband's plate on more than one occasion this evening. We ended up boxing up the rest of his dessert to take out.

I cannot say that either of us slept comfortably after this much outstanding food. It was truly rich beyond belief, and I was not prepared for how delicious everything would be. I am also embarassed at my lack of willpower...but when in Rome (or Raleigh). I am obsessed with this place now, and highly recommend it as your next splurge dining experience when you want to celebrate something special or just get out of the house!

Friday, March 25, 2022

2022 Oscar Predictions

There's no doubt that this year's Oscar ceremony is going to be weird. I'm not a fan of the decision to present a handful of awards during commercial breaks. Makeup & Hairstyling; Original Score; Production Design; and Live Action Short, among several others, are some of my favorite categories. I never minded buckling in for a long night of drawn out speeches, glitz and glamour. Whether you love the Oscars like me, or loathe them (like I know many of you do), it's an exciting night for fans of film. And when we've got Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes hosting the show, I know we're in for some laughs. Hollywood making fun of itself is always a good time. While I haven't seen everything that's getting buzz this year, I've seen enough to share my thoughts with you, dear readers.

Best Picture
Don't Look Up
Drive My Car
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
The Power of The Dog
West Side Story

Should Win: "Don't Look Up". Read my review for a thorough explanation. (Side note - I'm glad we're back to nominating the full 10 pictures here. If the Academy is going to allow 10 to be nominated, 10 should be nominated! Though 10 is far too many. Let's take it back to 5 pls.)

Will Win: I think "The Power of The Dog" has gotten enough buzz in recent weeks to bring home Oscar gold. Was it the best film of the year? I certainly don't think so, but it's a movie buff's movie. I can see why people are rallying for it. Beautiful cinematography, great storytelling, powerful music, strong acting...I'll be on board if it wins.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of The Dog
Andrew Garfield, tick, tick...BOOM!
Will Smith, King Richard
Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Should Win: Will Smith. It's the man's time. He has been a Hollywood staple (icon?) since I've been alive and this makes his 3rd acting nomination! I haven't seen the film but a source says he's fantastic. And he just seems like an all-around, genuine, good dude. Not everyone in Hollywood is.

Will Win: Will Smith.

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Kristen Stewart, Spencer

Should Win: Kristen Stewart. I know, I know, I never thought I'd see the day. But truly, she was magnificent in this film. This haunting portryal of Princess Diana will be her legacy, not "Twilight". She completely lost herself in this role - physically and emotionally - and the accent was spot on.

Will Win: This is tough. The Academy loves Nicole Kidman (so do I), but I did not care for her as Lucille Ball. I believe Jessica Chastain has earned the right to call herself an Oscar winner, for her body of work. While "Tammy Faye" wasn't my favorite role Jessica has played, I can see the Academy rewarding her this year.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Ciarán Hinds, Belfast
Troy Kotsur, Coda
Jesse Plemons, The Power of The Dog
J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos
Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of The Dog

Should Win: I have not seen "Coda" or "Belfast" so this is hard for me to judge. From the other 3 performances I have seen, I will say that Smit-McPhee should win. His portrayal of a timid, bullied, yet vindictive young man is outstanding and haunts me to this day.

Will Win: I believe Troy Kotsur has the momentum to take it home.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter
Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Judi Dench, Belfast
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of The Dog
Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard

Should Win: I have to say, I'm a BIG Kirsten Dunst fan (have been for decades!) and to see a Hollywood child star not totally flaked out by now, and in fact doing some of the most beautiful dramatic work of her career, is remarkable. I loved her in "The Power of The Dog." She was broken, pitiful and in a way, relatable. I am pulling for her.

Will Win: NC native Ariana DeBose. She's a triple-threat mega talent and she's just getting started.

Best Director
Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza
Jane Campion, The Power of The Dog
Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Should Win: Jane Campion. More females in this category, please! Campion has been around for a long time, and she came out of nowhere, seemingly, with this powerful (get it?), beautiful and bewitching film.

Will Win: Jane Campion.

Friday, March 11, 2022

M Pocha

A few weeks ago, my sweetie and I took a much needed date night to M Pocha, one of the 4 M Restaurants in Durham. I've been to M Kokko (Korean Fried Chicken is their specialty) and I'm dying to try M Sushi and M Tempura. But for an impromptu fun night out, I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to get a table at M Pocha, and the price was right. "Pocha" refers to street food in Korea, and the menu reminded me a lot of the beloved Crafted: The Art of Street Food in Greensboro that sadly closed down a few years ago. Everything on the menu at M Pocha was tempting. The restaurant is a bit small, but they had partitions up and staggered seatings for Covid safety. Service was on point. We left with satisfied and full bellies and I'm eager to return.

The beer list is extensive, the wine list is limited and the cocktail list is creative. I opted for a drink with Japanese Whiskey, Charred Lemon and Miso Caramel, only to find that the charred lemon reminded me of Mezcal (a big NO for me). Thankfully, my hubby preferred this drink over his Negroni, so a trade was made.

I've never met a bun I didn't like. The Spicy Pork buns are DIY, and come with plump, pillowy steamed buns to fill with Romaine Lettuce or Sesame Leaves, succulent Korean BBQ Pork and Pickled Cucumbers. These were to die for. The bun collapses in your hand and becomes the perfect vessel for this crazy seasoned pork (not fatty at all!), crisp and tangy cukes and cooling, crunchy greens. Only 3 come in an order, but for $1, you can get a 4th. That is non-negotiable.

I adore Shrimp Toast and even went to the trouble of making it at home once (NEVER AGAIN - way too much work). But when I see it on a menu, I jump at the opportunity to order it. M Pocha's version is quite different from how I've seen it presented before, but it was an umami bomb - two pieces of Japanese Milk Bread sandwich a cube of seasoned shrimp, and then it's deep fried. Dunking it in the Wasabi Sweet Chili Sauce really makes it, but you have to be careful to let this baby cool off before biting into it! My hubby remarked that they reminded him of crispy pork belly bites. I totally agree.

Meat Mandu are Korean Dumplings filled with Ground Pork, Tofu and Chives in a chili oil. I prefer steamed dumplings over fried, and these were nice because they were steamed with just a little crispiness on one side of the wonton. The sauce was perhaps a bit too oily, but the flavor inside was money.

I grabbed my chopsticks and dug in before I could snap a pick of the Xiao Mian noodles. These were quite satisfying, combining Alkaline Noodles (a new one for me), Ground Pork, Chinese Broccoli, Pickled Mustard Greens, Chili Oil, Sesame Sauce, Peanuts and Cilantro. It reminded me of a Korean version of Pad Thai, with all those tasty, fresh flavors going on. I thought they were a bit heavy-handed with the sesame oil (I'm sensitive to that flavor) but the noodles were perfectly al dente and the pork was outstanding.

There were so many things on this menu that intrigued me, and I looked at other diners with envy, seeing the beautiful dishes they enjoyed. My only wish is that their late night menu (10pm-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) was available all the time - Kimchi Quesadillas and Spicy Pork Nacho Fries anyone?

Friday, March 4, 2022


New Orleans is my favorite city in the world. If you're into food, drink, music, art and culture, aka letting the good times roll, I can't recommend it enough. Unfortunately, it's not just a hop, skip and a jump away, so the next time I'm craving a NoLa vibe, I'll be heading to Rey's in Raleigh. It's a little taste of New Orleans, and an absolute gem. Top-notch service, spectacular food and two ambiances to choose from - the boisterous Voodoo Room or the elegant dining room - this is one of my new favorite restaurants.

At Rey's, you'll want a reservation. Every seat at the bar and every table in the restaurant was full, including their multiple private dining rooms. Our server had been there for 17 years, so they clearly run a tight ship. Multiple maitre d's checked on us throughout the course of the evening and our water glasses were never empty. We even got two types of bread to start - Rosemary Sourdough and a Wheat studded with Walnuts and Golden Raisins. For a busy Wednesday night, service was prompt and food came out fast. All good things in my book.

Upon perusing the ample menu, my eyes went straight to the Grouper Lafayette, a large portion of the white fish topped generously with Crab Meat over a lemony, herb butter. I was immediately transported to the French Quarter. My only complaint is that I didn't have a starch underneath to help absorb all of that delicious sauce, but the sides are ordered a la carte, so I suppose that was my bad. Instead, my hubby and I chose to share the Vegetable Medley which was the sexiest veggie side I've ever seen in a restaurant. I was preparing myself for mostly onions and limp squash, when this boasted Red and Yellow Peppers, Broccoli, Carrots, Mushrooms, Squash, Green Beans, Red Onion and Zucchini. And they were cooked al dente, leaving some integrity to the vegetables. At $10 a side, this is exactly what it should have been!

My husband ordered the Beef Tournedos, two 4-ounce beef medallions cooked a perfect medium rare, served with 4 Fried Oysters. I don't think I've ever seen him eat this fast. The plate was hot, so the butter that finished the steak started to turn brown. And if you didn't know that brown butter + steak = magic, now you know.

My favorite dessert in the world is Bananas Foster. And believe me, I've had a lot of it, so when I say that Rey's does it the best, I mean they do it the BEST. First of all, it's tableside, so you're really paying for the entertainment too. Our server took his time browning the butter (pro move) and sauteeing the banana slices, but didn't let them go too far and turn mushy. He cooked out the rum so that no potent alcohol flavor monopolized the dish, but just the deep sweet, subtle molasses notes remained. Finally, and here's what really sealed the deal for me: he let the sauce cool slightly and went to the blast chiller to retrieve two plates with two scoops of ice cream practically frozen to the dishes. A lot of restaurants have the ice cream sitting there in a room temperature bowl throughout the fosters prep, so when they pour that liquid magma atop, the ice cream totally melts away, and you're left with a bowl of creamy caramel with floating bananas. Not the worst thing in the world, but not how Bananas Foster is intended to be enjoyed. The ice cream remained frozen throughout our consumption of the dish, so I was able to ladle up that velvety, subtly salty sauce and really savor it. I could pontificate about the beauty and joy of Bananas Foster for hours (clearly). Just do yourself a favor and don't get it anywhere other than Rey's. It's heaven on Earth.

I eagerly look forward to my return to Rey's when I can continue eating my way through the menu. It was really difficult for me to decide what to order, but if this first dining experience tells me anything, it's that you can't go wrong.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Parkside Restaurant

For a minute there, I had gotten my hopes up about dining out more regularly. Before I decided to pump the brakes on that again (for obvious reasons), I managed to squeeze in a few visits to Parkside Restaurant. From the moment I saw the "Restaurant" sign lit up outside, reminiscent of the cafe on Seinfeld, I knew it would become a frequented spot. Lunch and dinner are excellent, but most people probably know this joint for its spectacular brunch. The service is great, the food comes out fast, the specials are creative - this is a must-visit restaurant for anyone in the Triangle.

Parkside is home to one of my all-time favorite salads: the Steakhouse Salad. And you don't just get any steak with this salad - you get Filet Mignon. And the server asks how you'd like it cooked. AND they always get it right. It sits on a bed of crisp romaine with slivers of Avocado, chunks of Tomato, halved Hard Boiled Eggs, Blue Cheese Crumbles, a sprinkling of Parmesan and the best part - Spiced Nuts! It's insane how many nuts are in this salad. Enough to take home a ziplock bag full and serve them at a cocktail party. Every bite is different and satisfying and I'm utterly obsessed with it. 

The Prime Rib Burger features a number of my favorite burger toppings - Caramelized Onions, Brie, and Bacon Jam. It's quite indulgent and served on a soft, buttery Brioche bun. The caramelized onions and bacon jam provide sweetness and the brie offers its signature funk. The Arugula tries to make you feel not so bad for eating a massive burger. I like to add mustard too, for a little acidity. You get your choice of side and Tots are obviously the right choice.

Their specials are always unique, too, like the Buffalo Chicken Flatbread and the Honey Sriracha Salmon. And their desserts are killer - do not miss their Banana Pudding, and if they're featuring the Raspberry Donut Cheesecake, it's out of this world. It delivers exactly what it promises and it's oddly nostalgic.

You absolutely must visit for brunch, if you can get a table. It's almost laughable how fun their brunch is. Every table is full (within social distance reasoning), and most with the Mimosa Flight. You get an entire bottle(!) of champagne, and the mixers are far beyond standard OJ. In fact, the mixers are spiked. Yes, you read me right. Think Cranberry Juice with Elderflower, or OJ with Orange Vodka. It's best to get a ride from a friend after brunch here. I loved the Bananas Foster Challah French Toast, complete with delicious Rum Caramel Sauce. And the Cheese Grits are exactly what you want them to be - creamy, cheesy and rich.

To mention another iconic NBC sitcom, Parkside makes you feel like it's a place "where everybody knows your name." I cannot recommend it enough - it's one of my faves and sure to be yours too!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Being the Ricardos

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, JK Simmons, Tony Hale
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Running Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Rating: R

Fans of "I Love Lucy", like myself, will no doubt love the premise of Aaron Sorkin's latest triumph. We love any chance to be reminded of the wacky, over the top, physical comedic genius that is Lucille Ball. I still watch those black and white clips and laugh out loud at her pronouncing "Vitameatavegamin" or stuffing chocolates in her hat - it is iconic comedy. But "Being the Ricardos" shines a different light on Lucy and her relationship with her co-stars, showrunners and husband. I admit I longed for the goofball Lucy, when instead Sorkin shows a more serious, type-A, control freak version of her. It's worth a watch for the nostalgia, but it was a bit darker and heavier than I would have liked.

The film chronicles a busy week on the set of "I Love Lucy" - not only has Lucy announced her pregnancy, which will no doubt prove to be an issue with the network, but her relationship with Desi continues to make waves in the tabloids. She has also recently testified with HUAC to prove that she is not a Communist. I certainly remember hearing rumors of Desi's infidelities, but the allegations of Ball being a Communist was news to me. Kidman portrays Ball as a relentless comedienne - incessantly picturing jokes and bits in her mind, and gathering the cast at 2am to work on a scene. It's clear that she is burying the stress from her personal life in her work.

Being a big Nicole Kidman fan, it pains me to say that I struggled to fully believe her performance. Bardem does a fine job as Desi, but this is really Lucy's story. I thought JK Simmons was absolutely fabulous as William Frawley, the actor who plays Fred. He reminded me the most of all the cast members to the real actor. There are some light and funny moments from writers (Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat - "Arrested" reunion anyone? - and Jake Lacy) but those moments are limited. 

Give me a magnifying glass to a show that played on "Nick at Nite" and I'll watch it, but I'll need to acknowledge that it could ruin a bit of the nostalgia. "I Love Lucy" is near and dear to my heart, and "Being the Ricardos" definitely made me see it through a different lens. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Tick, Tick...Boom!

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, Robin de Jesus
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Running Time: PG-13
Rating: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Finally. A movie musical I can get behind. I'm obviously seeing all the musicals that are adapted for the big screen, but they often disappoint. Not "Tick, Tick...Boom!" however. Maybe I'm biased because "Rent" altered me when I was 15 years old. Or maybe it's just a really touching story with beautiful songs, honest acting and a larger message about the world. Either way, this film is not to be missed.

Andrew Garfield surprised me with his portrayal of real-life musical theatre composer Jonathan Larson, whom we meet the week leading up to his 30th birthday. Garfield's performance is genuine and he has great chemistry with his co-stars, particularly Alexandra Shipp, who plays his girlfriend Susan, and Robin de Jesus, who plays his best friend Michael. Larson is struggling to finish his musical in time for a showcase that will be attended by producers, writers and other influential theatre folk. He's also put pressure on himself to accomplish "something" by the time he turns 30. His creativity seems stunted when he sits down to write, yet we see him frolicking all over his apartment and NYC singing songs about sugar and the bohemian life (cue "La Vie Boheme," anyone?)

Larson stays committed to his art while many people in his life move on to more professional jobs. We also see many people in his life being affected by the AIDS epidemic. His agent, played by the always fabulous Judith Light, encourages him to write what he knows. Thus is the catalyst for his beloved musical "Rent". I also enjoyed the few brief moments with Stephen Sondheim, played by Bradley Whitford, who serves as an inspiration and mentor to Larson. One song in particular features some very recognizable Broadway stars like Bebe Neuwirth and Lin-Manuel himself. Blink and you'll miss Bernadette Peters.

You'll find yourself bopping along to the upbeat tunes and getting chills during the ballads. I'm grateful that Larson never gave up on his dream, though he never got to see it fully realized (Larson died of an aortic dissection the night before "Rent" premiered). His commentary on the world combined with his unparalleled talent for "lyric and tune" as Sondheim remarked, truly made him the voice of a generation. This film is a fitting and beautiful tribute to this creative genius.