Friday, July 19, 2024

M Tempura

If you live in the Triangle, you've no doubt heard of the M Restaurant Group (M Sushi, M Pocha, M Test Kitchen and M Kokko) and if you're a foodie, you're likely a fan of them all. I finally made my way to the final restaurant I had yet to try - M Tempura. The restaurant is unique in that you must select which of the 3 offered tasting menus you want to do, when you make your reservation. You can choose from the Tempura Tasting, the Omakase or the Kaiseki, which is what we opted for. It was absolutely phenomenal and exceeded my already high expectations. Do allow about 2.5 hours for the tasting, but your mind will be blown. Every single thing is done with intention and executed flawlessly. I would have sat there and continued to eat all night long.

Upon first glance, the menu seems a bit intimidating - 10 courses reads heavy - but I was stunned to not be miserably full at the end of the meal. Everything ate very light, and many of the dishes were one or two-biters. Beer, wine and sake are offered and I found a new favorite Rioja. Within 10 minutes of sitting down, we had already received our first 2 courses. I was worried we would feel a little rushed, but had absolutely no idea what awaited us. The pacing was perfect.

The Sakizuke (amuse bouche) started off with a bang - Shrimp Toast. A bitesize burst of flavor to wake up your palate. The slightly sweet shrimp ate beautifully with the buttery toast square, and got just a little kick from an Aji Amarillo sauce. 

Sakizuke (Shrimp Toast)

Another completely different, equally delicious bite was next - the Otsukuri (sashimi/raw dish). The chef's choice that evening was a Salmon Tartare with Preserved Lemon and Seaweed Chips, a fun and tasty new way to enjoy that perfect tartare.

Otsukuri (Salmon Tartare)

The third course was Ni-mono (steamed dish), which layered a beautifully set Egg Custard with Blue Crab, Ponzu, Walnut Oil and Smoked Trout Roe. The ponzu really brought this dish alive, bringing both salt and acid to the velvety custard and the bites of sweet crab. The trout roe was a beautiful pop of color and salinity.

Ni-mono (Egg Custard)

It was as if each bite was better than the last. Next, out came a stunning, large, white bowl (the plating all night was just fantastic) with our Atsu-mono (warm dish). A meaty Diver Scallop was sliced into strips and rested in a beautiful pool of golden Curried Cauliflower, and topped with Siberian Caviar. This was my husband's favorite dish of the night, and I don't think I can enjoy scallops any other way again.

Atsu-mono (Scallop)

We had made it to the halfway point and were about to embark on the Age-mono (tempura/fried dish). I was eager to sample their tempura offerings, since that is such a large part of their restaurant. We started with a humble Prawn, and that tempura batter was the lightest, crispiest, slightly sweet batter I've ever had. (We even got a little lemon wedge squeezer, a bowl of flaky sea salt and a bowl of sauce to accompany each bite! So fun.) Next out of the fryer popped a bite of Lotus Root, Maitake Mushroom, and finally one of my favorite bites of the night - Seabass. I've never enjoyed fried fish quite like this. It was like butter and melted right in your mouth. Unbelievable. It was a pause-worthy food moment for me.

Age-mono (Tempura)

My jaw nearly hit the floor when I saw what was coming our way. The Sui-mono (soup/broth dish) was not at all a simple soup or broth. It was an entire 4 ounce Lobster Tail alongside a large bowl of melted Dashi Butter for you to poach it in. Throw in a few Escarole leaves for some bitterness and some Chili Oil for heat, and you have a complete dinner all in itself. But no, this was just course #6. It was our other favorite dish of the evening (and presentation, too - see the folded up plate?) and worth the price of admission.

Sui-mono (Lobster Tail)

Sadly my favorite dish was followed by what I thought was the least successful. The Yaki-mono (grilled dish) was a bit of a harsh shock to my palate following that sweet, buttery richness of the Lobster. Strips of Wagyu Beef were tossed in a house barbecue sauce, and served alongside Pickled Daikon Radish and Greens, for a DIY wrap moment. I applaud the idea, but did not care for the intense char on this beef whatsoever. But I was fine with taking a break for one course.

Yaki-mono (Wagyu)

We were on our last savory bite of the night - the Shokuji (rice/meal dish). I didn't expect to see Miso Soup come out, as I tend to associate that with the start of a meal, but at M Tempura, it's a way to end it. And alongside, a fried Nori Chip encased Blue Crab, Rice and Salmon Roe. A really yummy bite that seemed like it should have come a bit earlier in the evening.

Shokuji (Nori with Crab and Miso Soup)

We had made it to the pre-dessert (in my heaven, there is pre-dessert and then dessert). This was a subtle shift from savory into the world of sweet, and a beautiful bite of fried Brie Cheese, covered in Honey, Black Truffle and Nori. It was divine. I want a grilled cheese version of this.

Fried Brie Cheese with Truffle

The Chef's Choice Dessert for the evening was an Avocado Sherbet, made from a Coconut Milk base, but ate as creamy as ice cream. It was a beautiful light green hue that was covered in a sweet and tart Strawberry-Tomato Jam. A lovely way to end the meal.

Avocado Sherbet with Strawberry-Tomato Jam

I truly would have sat there all night and was secretly hoping we would get a surprise bite or extra course. We snagged a seat at the bar, which made it really fun to have a front row seat. I was stunned at how well the open kitchen operated and communicated, and I cannot recommend this experience enough.

Thursday, May 9, 2024


I'm not quite sure how Madre flew under my radar for as long as it did. Granted, it's only been open for about a year, but my recent dining experience there absolutely stunned me. It's nestled in the newly developed Smoky Hollow area of downtown Raleigh, just blocks away from bustling Glenwood Avenue. The space gives off sexy vibes, with its dark slate color palette, dimly lit semi-circle bar and candelabra that drips with wax. It feels like a restaurant for a big city. It feels like high fashion. Yet it feels accessible. Did I mention how delicious the food is?

Let's back up and revisit the bar - a perfect place to start your night while waiting on your table. My sweetie opted for the Mezcal Marg, combining the smoky Tequila with classic Lime and Agave flavors, while I sipped the Mazzocco Cab. I appreciated the ample wine list but would try the Noche Rosa next time (Honeysuckle Vodka, Plum, Vanilla and White Port!)

Service is prompt and thorough, yet casual. I didn't feel rushed at all. Tapas-style dishes are meant to be shared, and were delivered in a timely fashion, though I was surprised when our order of Scallops arrived first out of everything we ordered - I get it, scallops cook quickly, but I would have preferred starting with perhaps the Roasted Cauliflower instead. The scallops though, were phenomenal - they had a salty, crispy crust and rested on a bed of incredibly soft Curry Chickpeas, and drizzled with Harissa Crema and Chili Oil. 3 scallops come in an order, and I would have liked the option to add a 4th.

If Cauliflower could be described as sexy, it's because Madre was behind it. Roasted to perfection, topped with a Chevre Cheese crumble, and lounging in a pool of addictive Green Goddess sauce - this is a dream preparation for the humble veg. I showed a lot of restraint not eating the green goddess sauce with a spoon. Major ranch vibes.

Pulpo (Octopus) shines here, with Sweet Potato Cream and Roasted Garlic Aioli. The sweetness from the sweet potato was a nice contrast to the smoky char of the octopus, which wasn't too chewy either. Butternut Squash Risotto is rich and smooth, and loaded with Parmesan. It's topped with tender Mushrooms for some slight texture. My sweetie commented that it was the best restaurant risotto he's ever had.

I absolutely loved the Calabrian Chicken, which to my surprise, were 3 large drumettes. Super fun and whimsical to eat. They're dunked in Hot Honey and served with a Pepper Aioli for dipping, and maintained a nice crunch, even with all the sauces. Delicious. You can never go wrong with Burrata, but I wasn't crazy about the Za'atar Tapenade served with it. That specific seasoning combined with the salinity of the olives took away from the subtle flavor of the cheese.

Madre's Salchipapas (their rendition of potatoes) was as surprising as the cauliflower dish: it highlighted a very humble ingredient and totally knocked my socks off. These crispy potatoes seem as if they were fried in duck fat, and are perfectly salty and crispy. I actually couldn't find the promised Chorizo (not that the dish needed it) but I loved the housemade Dijonaise (and would have loved ketchup even more). 

The dessert menu is limited, but the Gianduja was a lovely way to end the meal. It's an Italian-style fudge that's perfectly creamy, not too chocolately, with just a hint of Hazelnut and Sea Salt. That sprinkling of salt really set this dessert off. 

I can't wait to go back to Madre and finish off their menu. It will be hard to resist re-ordering many of the dishes we tried last time, but with so many tempting options, I know we'll manage.

Thursday, April 11, 2024


Make no mistake - when you walk into Brodeto, Raleigh restaurateur Scott Crawford's new spot, you instantly know you're in good hands. The restaurant is absolutely stunning: cream-colored walls with beautiful ambrosia maple wood tables; a warm, inviting bar and an open kitchen; and plenty of staff ensuring everything is running smoothly. Brodeto opened last month in the newly-developed Raleigh Iron Works area, and seems like a step up from his already swanky and splurge-worthy restaurants Crawford & Son and Jolie. The cuisine is inspired by Italy and Croatia and is a love note to the Adriatic. My experience was as close to a home run as you can get. A few tweaks would have knocked it out of the park. While they are still finding their footing, I know they'll only continue to improve.

I acknowledge that one visit, where I sampled 4 dishes and a cocktail, doesn't necessarily give me the best overview of what the folks at Brodeto can do. But as a mom with a limited budget, one visit is all I can manage right now, and first impressions are everything. The cocktail list is inventive (and expensive), as Crawford's usually are, and the Euro Step featured Mezcal (I subbed Tequila), Aperol, Grilled Strawberry and Chili Oil for a uniquely warm and spicy note. I appreciated the option to sample a wine before I opted for a glass, and the Croatian Plavac won me over.

The "Small Plates" section should be renamed, because the two my dining partner and I ordered provided us each with leftovers. Italian Chicories are dressed with a White Balsamic and Citrus Vinaigrette, and topped with Toasted Hazelnuts for crunch, Grana Padano for umami and Cara Cara Oranges for sweetness. This salad was fantastic and perfectly balanced. I admire a well-crafted salad and this was indeed that. We also tried the Little Gem Hearts (a cross between Romaine and Butter Lettuce), which reminded me of a sexy Caesar. The greens were tossed with a Ramp Caesar dressing, crispy Sourdough Breadcrumbs for texture and what I imagine was an entire wedge of Pecorino Tartufo. That slight truffle flavor from the cheese with the tangy, savory Caesar dressing was absolutely addictive. I would eat this salad every day of my life.

Italian Chicories

Little Gem Hearts

Every pasta on the menu sounded irresistable, but we narrowed it down to 2. I had never heard of or seen a Busiate noodle, which is a long, thin, corkscrew shape, and while it was a whimsical choice, I don't think it was the right pasta for the sauce. Actually, it was more like a broth, featuring Crab, Tomato Confit, Garlic and Lemon. Very robust in flavor, but very thin, and did not cling to the noodle whatsoever. It was actually pretty hard to eat, especially on the appetizer-sized plates we were given. The flavor was a success, but I did not think the execution on this dish was.

Busiate with Crab

Agnolotti is one of my favorite pastas. They are like little dumplings, and Brodeto's rendition is filled with Celeriac, a hint of Black Truffle, Goat Butter and Parmesan. They float dreamily in a light broth (again, not really a sauce) which was again difficult to eat with forks on our much-too-small plates. (I suppose we should have asked for spoons and bowls for these dishes). The pasta dough is so tender and the filling is just bursting at the seams. This was a beautifully composed dish, I just wish it had been easier to enjoy. (It would have been much easier if a single diner were to enjoy these pasta dishes, but they encourage family-style dining, so they could consider altering how they set up dishes to be shared.)


We opted out of dessert (options were limited and the newly-opened Andia's Ice Cream is right next door). I applaud the service and the cool calmness with which the staff managed the restaurant. I did not have to ask for water once during the meal (side note - the water cups are very cool, they look like clear, plastic solo cups but they are glass!) and the food was coursed out appropriately. The team at Brodeto is all working together to ensure diners have an excellent experience. Save up a few pennies (you will definitely need them) and treat yourself to a taste of the Adriatic.

Dining partner + friend of 20 years

Tuesday, March 19, 2024


Every now and then, a restaurant comes along that reminds you how exciting food can be. Ajja recently opened in the Five Points neighborhood in Raleigh, and immediately had a cult following (these are the folks behind the beloved restaurant Garland, which shuttered its doors post-Covid). After a recent dining experience where we tried nearly everything on the menu, it's easy to see why Ajja was also recently nominated for a James Beard Award ("the Oscars of the food world"). The atmosphere, service and ever-changing menu will have you returning again and again.

We dined al fresco on a beautiful spring evening, with a lovely view of downtown Raleigh in the distance. The patio is stunning, complete with bright lights, colorful artwork and an enormous firepit. Ajja's "borrowed" and "signature" cocktail list is a perfect place to start. I opted for the "Wait For It", a wonderfully balanced mixture of Gin, Orange and Calabrian Chiles with a hint of Lime and Honey. (I wasn't bold enough to try the "Mary Had a Little Dram", featuring Lamb fat-washed Mezcal, but maybe next time.) Instead, we opted for lamb in food form, and were wowed by the Croquettes. One is big enough to share, but you might not want to. They're perfectly crispy and savory, and even better when wiped through an herby Schug sauce and sweet Tomato Coulis.

Never in a million years would I have imagined a place could have so many delicious dips and spreads, but the place does exist. And it's Ajja. (I have to admit - I enjoyed these more than any of the proteins we ordered!) Warm Moroccan Hummus is chunky and better than anything you'd find at the store. It's topped with Sweet Peppers, a drizzle of Tahini Yogurt, Sumac Onions and Corn Flakes for texture, along with a handful of other delights to make this a great starter. Carrot Houriya is a love song to carrots. They're caramelized, which brings out the sweetness, and topped with tangy Goat Cheese and a mound of slivered Almonds for crunch. Both of these are served with a nice, dense, Sesame bread.

Carrot Houriya, Lamb Croquettes and Joel's hand

The *star* dip was the Warm Squash Dip, featuring purees of both Butternut and Delicata Squashes, with brown butter for richness and Pomegranate Molasses for brightness. My only complaint was not having enough toast points to enjoy this dip (it's ok, I just used my spoon).

A nice, bright Citrus Salad features Baby Romaine, Endive and a first for our table - Candied Dukkah (an ancient grain) - which gave a nice salty/sweet note and crunch. Broccoli Rabe had just been added to the menu and was well-received by 50% of our party - others were turned off by the bitterness of the vegetable.

Citrus Salad

Our favorite protein of the night was the unassuming, humble Chicken Thighs. Do not sleep on this! Tender meat is marinated in Buttermilk, Garlic, Cilantro and a hint of Lemon and just melts in your mouth. I had high hopes for the Lamb Seekh following that outstanding Croquette we had earlier, but this rendition was a little chewy. Lamb Shoulder is cubed and served on a (shallow) pool of Labneh and topped with crunchy Pistachios, but I couldn't find the promised Acorn Squash. This dish was just OK for me. We also had mixed reactions to the Spare Ribs, that were topped with a Peach-Tamarind glaze and served over a bed of Turmeric Cabbage. I enjoyed the flavor more than the texture of the meat, which seemed a bit chewy and overcooked to me.

We didn't have an ounce of room for dessert (I would have made room for more Warm Squash Dip if I could have) but after-dinner libations proved to be just the ticket. I was pretty thrilled with our experience and appreciated the prompt, frequent checkbacks from our congenial server. Make your reservations now because this place is busy. Hopefully you can snag a table later this spring to enjoy the fabulous patio. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

2024 Oscar Predictions

Greetings, dear readers! Did you think I could possibly forget to post my 2024 Oscar predictions? I may not be sharing detailed reviews of everything I've seen this season, but believe me - I am watching. Pop your bubbly, dress in your finest loungewear and get ready for Sunday night - the best night of the year!

Best Picture

"American Fiction"
"Anatomy of a Fall"
"The Holdovers"
"Killers of the Flower Moon"
"Past Lives"
"Poor Things"
"The Zone of Interest"

Should Win: At the time of press, I have seen 80% of the nominated films (it used to be my goal to see all nominated films, but that was BS...Before Sloan). I quite enjoyed "Barbie" and "Poor Things" and was tickled to see 2 films with heavy comedic elements nominated, a rarity for the Academy. However, I think it's very safe to say that "Oppenheimer" will take the statue. It blew me away. The acting, the score, the editing, the set was brilliant. If I was a betting woman, I would go all in on this one.

Will Win: "Oppenheimer".

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, "Maestro"
Colman Domingo, "Rustin"
Paul Giamatti, "The Holdovers"
Cillian Murphy, "Oppenheimer"
Jeffrey Wright, "American Fiction"

Should Win: Before I saw Cillian Murphy and Paul Giamatti's performances, I was convinced that Bradley Cooper was finally going to win an Oscar (he has been nominated 12 times!!!) I didn't particularly care for "Maestro" but there was just so much hype surrounding the film, I figured it was his time. Then, Mr. Giamatti graced us with yet another quirky, heartfelt performance. The Academy loves to reward body of work, and while "The Holdovers" wasn't necessarily my favorite performance of Giamatti's, I can see things swinging in his direction. Who doesn't love Paul Giamatti? But THEN, Cillian Murphy with his electric eyes completely transformed into the role of J. Robert Oppenheimer and I was floored. He carries this massive motion picture on his shoulders with ease. 

Will Win: It's a toss-up but, Murphy.

Best Actress

Annette Bening, "Nyad"
Lily Gladstone, "Killers of the Flower Moon"
Sandra Hüller, "Anatomy of a Fall"
Carey Mulligan, "Maestro"
Emma Stone, "Poor Things"

Should Win: If Emma Stone hadn't already won for "La La Land," I would say her performance in "Poor Things" is Oscar gold. I think once actors win a coveted statue, they're allowed more risks with the roles they take, and are perhaps offered more unique and daring parts. I thought Lily Gladstone did a beautiful job portraying an Osage woman on the verge of a physical and emotional breakdown. So it's clearly a race between the 2 of them.

Will Win: Gladstone.

Best Supporting Actor

Sterling K. Brown, "American Fiction"
Robert De Niro, "Killers of the Flower Moon"
Robert Downey Jr., "Oppenheimer"
Ryan Gosling, "Barbie"
Mark Ruffalo, "Poor Things"

Should Win: I've always believed that the Supporting Actor/Actress Oscars should go to the actor/tress who made a scene or a movie better. They're not it much, but when they are in it, you perk up in your chair a bit. RDJ did this effortlessly in "Oppenheimer" and Ryan Gosling nailed this as Ken in "Barbie". Alas, the Academy REALLY hates to give out statues for comedies, and Hollywood REALLY loves a comeback story. While RDJ has "been back" for a while, this is his time. He was brilliant in "Oppenheimer". (I will also say, that as a huge fan of SKB, I am rooting for him even though I haven't seen "American Fiction" yet).

Will Win: RDJ.

Best Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt, "Oppenheimer"
Danielle Brooks, "The Color Purple"
America Ferrera, "Barbie"
Jodie Foster, "Nyad"
Da'Vine Joy Randolph, "The Holdovers"

Should Win: This one is tough. America Ferrera was great in "Barbie", and I'm a long-time fan of Emily Blunt. But I don't see either of them winning for these roles. I loved Da'Vine Joy Randolph on HBO's tragically delicious show "The Idol," but I didn't think "The Holdovers" was her best work. If previous award shows are any indication of the winner (and they usually are), it's Randolph's statue.

Will Win: Randolph.

Best Director

Jonathan Glazer, "The Zone of Interest"
Yorgos Lanthimos, "Poor Things"
Christopher Nolan, "Oppenheimer"
Martin Scorsese, "Killers of the Flower Moon"
Justine Triet, "Anatomy of a Fall"

Should Win: Christopher Nolan has an unbelievable 8 nominations and no wins. It is 100% his time. "Oppenheimer" was a masterpiece. 

Will Win: Nolan.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Glasshouse Kitchen

Glasshouse Kitchen is a trendy new addition to the RTP area. Driving up, it's instantly recognizable - it's hard to miss the big glass structure - and inside, it feels like a greenhouse with stunning ferns and greenery adorning the walls. The bar practically stretches the entire length of the restaurant, which was consistently busy throughout our meal. It's easy to see why - the food and service was an absolute treat. The folks at Glasshouse know how to take care of their customers.

The restaurant changes their menu frequently and is rooted in seasonal offerings. It would be a mistake to not order the Bread Service - while I love a place that offers complimentary bread, when you pay for it, you know it's going to be special. Four warm, fluffy rolls made with Whole Grain Einkorn Flour are sprinkled liberally with sea salt, and are the perfect vessel for a sweet and spicy Sorghum Chili Butter. The room temperature butter allows the warm rolls to soak up these incredibly palate-stimulating flavors.

Burrata is always a favorite, and the rendition we had included Golden and Red Beets, Greens and a very unique Polenta Foccacia. Glasshouse's bread game is on point. I had never tried einkorn flour before, and certainly had never tried a foccacia made with polenta. The bread was crunchy on the outside and surpringly soft on the inside. Delightful. 

An enormous pile of Local Greens is tossed with Shallots and Ricotta Salata, and drizzled with a Lemon Vinaigrette. Very fresh, and a nice balance if you order one of their pizzas (you should). We opted for the Lamb Sausage Pizza, complete with Harissa and Mint. The crust had a nice chew - again with the great bread! - and the sauce was tangy and acidic. It's hard for me to resist lamb anything, and this was some of the better lamb sausage I've had.

The "Fried Fish for Two" would be more appropriately named "Fried Fish for Four", both for the sake of alliteration and for the amount of food. We enjoyed Black Bass with a crispy, salty, light crust, sitting in a pool of Chili-Lime Coconut Broth that packed quite a punch. I absolutely loved this broth, which was thicker, like a sauce, with a crazy depth of flavor. It's served with Jasmine Rice and Greens, and some Turnips and Radishes for crunch. This was a beautiful presentation and I hate that I didn't capture a photo of it (or of any of the dishes!)

I was quite impressed with Glasshouse Kitchen. I like giving restaurants a minute to find their footing and work out the kinks, and after about a year of being open, they most certainly have figured it out. It's here to stay.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Barbie / Cocaine Bear

It's been a MINUTE since I've been able to take in a movie in one sitting, let alone two in one week! "Barbie" and "Cocaine Bear" are two highly entertaining, laugh-out-loud, should-not-miss summer films.

Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon
Director: Greta Gerwig
Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Rating: PG-13

This movie will give you all the feelings - you'll laugh, get angry, feel nostalgic - your emotions really run the gamut. Margot Robbie is absolutely perfectly cast as "Stereotypical Barbie", and deserves an Oscar nomination for her beautiful work. Her ability to cry on a whim and bring true emotion to this life-like doll is remarkable. I admit, I was skeptical about Ryan Gosling portraying Ken, but he had me laughing out loud. I loved the throwbacks to characters like Skipper, Midge and Alan, played by Michael Cera - the supporting cast is spot-on.

Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach's brilliant script portrays Barbieland as a female-forward, happy, productive place, until Barbie has an existential crisis, and eventually learns that she's inhabiting the feelings of the little girl playing with her in the real world. Barbie decides to venture to the real world,  Los Angeles, more specifically, with Ken by her side (reluctantly). It's here she discovers things are quite the opposite of Barbieland. When she and Ken learn about the "patriarchy", things get a little funny (if not frustrating). 

If you're on the fence about seeing this film, give it a chance. I do think you'll appreciate it more if you grew up playing with Barbies, but the greater message about equality and optimism will stick with anyone.

Cocaine Bear
Starring: Keri Russell, O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Ray Liotta, Margo Martindale
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Rating: R

For every bit ridiculous this "based on true events" film is, it's equally every bit entertaining. It features an unbelievable cast including those listed above and also Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Isiah Whitlock, Jr., and will have you thinking twice before you go hiking again. 

Apparently in the 1980's, a drug deal gone wrong led to several pounds of cocaine being dropped in the woods of Tennessee, and eventually in the paws of a black bear. Naturally, the bear went a little nuts. The film follows several different story lines and characters, and as long as you lean in to the absurd premise, you'll have a good ride.

This is one of the more grotesque movies I've seen in a while. It's definitely movie junk food - made purely for your entertainment - but wildly entertaining.

Friday, May 19, 2023


Starring: Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Ben Affleck
Director: Ben Affleck
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Rating: R

I hadn't been anticipating a movie like this in quite a while. Being a Tar Heel and a fan of MJ, I'm always interested in watching anything related to the GOAT. I'm also a big fan of Ben Affleck as a director (Argo, The Town, Gone Baby Gone are all excellent films) so this was a movie I was not going to miss. I also wasn't going to go to the movie theatre to watch it (ha) so I squealed with delight when I saw that it was available to stream on Amazon Prime. I quite enjoyed the film, but it does beg the question, why exactly did this movie need to get made, and why now? I feel a bit hypocritical asking that, but it does kind of feel like a group of friends doing a passion project, which is fine. We all know the outcome of the story - did we really need 1 hour and 51 minutes to tell it?

Aside from those questions, I really did find the film entertaining. Matt Damon shines, per usual, as Sonny Vaccaro, a basketball talent scout for Nike who believes an NBA rookie named Michael Jordan will save their shoe division. Enter excellent supporting castmates in Jason Bateman as chair of Marketing, Ben Affleck as Nike CEO Phil Knight, Chris Messina as MJ's agent and Viola Davis as the matriarch of the Jordan family. All eventually work together towards luring MJ away from competitors Converse and Adidas, but it's not an easy road.

The story takes place in the 80s, and they really drive home that fact - lots of iconic 80s tunes, clothes, office furniture - they do a good job setting the scene. Sometimes I felt the shots were too sepia-toned, but this was clearly a choice. It was also a choice for us to never see MJ's face, which I thought was interesting. Affleck has chosen to highlight the supporting characters in the Air Jordan story, instead of MJ himself. 

If anything, watch this film for some spectacular performances (Bateman and Davis really shine) and if you're a basketball fan. It's an entertaining 2 hours for sure, but at the end, you may ask yourself the same questions as me. 

Saturday, May 13, 2023

M Test Kitchen

If you live in the Triangle, you've no doubt heard of the M Restaurants - you've got M Sushi (the best sushi I've ever had), M Pocha (Korean street food), M Kokko (Korean fried chicken + ramen), M Tempura (next on my list), and the latest hot spot: M Test Kitchen. Basically, they cook whatever they feel like and if it's well-received, perhaps you'll see it on one of their other restaurant menus. I jumped at the opportunity to dine here when it opened at Fenton in Cary last month. I felt like we were in on a secret - while we had an early reservation time (not surprising), the place was surprisingly empty. By 7pm, every table (and bar seat) was occupied. The atmosphere is minimalist, the service is spot-on, and everything we tasted was delicious - and we tasted almost everything on the menu. I can appreciate a small, focused menu that executes beautifully and M Test Kitchen does just that. Just be sure you don't get too attached to anything - they revamp the menu often, and we were already on version 1.8!

Channeling my inner Gail Simmons

The food menu is on one page, and the drink options take up three pages. They take their bevvies seriously. I ordered The Triad, combining Japanese Whiskey, Amaretto and Cointreau and it was  slightly sweet and delightfully boozy. My husband opted for the Black Sage, with Irish Whiskey, Sake, St. Germaine, Sage and Blackberries. It was a flavor combination he had never tasted and said it was "highly drinkable".

The menu is divided into three sections: Cold, Warm and Sweets. We started off with Roasted Shishitos with Edamame and Plum. Being that it was the first thing we tasted, it set the bar incredibly high. The humble shishito peppers are perfectly blistered, not too oily, and rest on a stunning edamame hummus. I would have licked this plate clean. Dollops of plum puree bring a subtle sweetness, but the star of this show is that hummus!

Crispy Rice with Salmon Tartare was another favorite bite of the night. Beautiful squares of golden brown fried rice is topped with mounds of salmon, with Carolina mustard seeds for some acid and a pop of texture. This felt like a really funky and adventurous bite of nigiri. Absolutely fantastic.

Amberjack Tataki with Yuzu and Lotus was a beautiful presentation, featuring slices of that meaty fish topped with crispy lotus root slivers and pops of yuzu. The slight saltiness of the lotus was a great match for the seasoning on the fish, but the yuzu was TOO citrus-forward for me. It almost overpowered the delicate bite.

My entire dining party was very excited to order the Kani Crab XO Fried Rice, but much to our surprise, we couldn't locate any crab in the dish! Instead, beautifully cooked Shrimp sat atop the mound of flavorful rice, with julienned cooked Egg and Scallions too. The kitchen must have been out of the crab that night, or it was VERY carefully disguised.

It's a bit disappointing when the Cucumber and Herb Salad that is served alongside the Char Sui Ribs is the star of the dish (at least, the star for me). The ribs were just a bit dry, and had a touch too much sweetness from the hoisin glaze. The men at the table devoured them though, which was fine, because I was all too eager to have extra servings of the refreshing shaved cucumber salad. 

Another standout dish was the Crispy Tilefish with Green Curry. Thick, meaty white fish is surrounded by a creamy, only slightly peppy Green Curry sauce, with a mound of sticky White Rice underneath. The crispiness comes from the fish skin AND the scales, which are fried, resulting in a delicate salty crunch. This is extremely rich and comforting and I was disappointed to have to share.

Just when you think you've had all the Carrot Cake you could ever want, M Test Kitchen goes and does it right. They deconstruct the classic dessert, plating little cubes of moist, spicy Carrot Cake with sweet Carrot Puree, Candied Walnuts and Ginger Ice Cream. This was beyond anything that I was expecting. I love a good restaurant dessert, especially ones like this, that totally reinvent the wheel.

Do yourself a favor and make a reservation here before the word gets out even further. This is an awesome spot for a girls night, date night, or when you want to have yourself a little Top Chef adventure. I'd like to come for every iteration of the menu.

Friday, March 10, 2023

2023 Oscar Predictions

Hello from the other side. It's bananas that it's both mid-March, AND that I have been off the blogger grid for the past 4 months! I've had my hands full, but not without a FEW quiet moments here and there to catch up on some of this season's buzzworthy films. The Oscars are right around the corner (this Sunday!) and I'm taking any excuse to have some bubbly, park myself in front of the TV and stay awake past 8:30pm (but not much later). I hope everyone who cares enjoys the evening. I know I will.

Best Actor
Austin "hunka burnin love" Butler, Elvis
Colin "finally getting his time" Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan "high school crush" Fraser, The Whale
Paul "who?" Mescal, Aftersun
Bill Nighy, Living

Should Win: At press time, I have not seen The Whale, but everyone I've spoken to who has seen it says this is an incredibly heart-wrenching performance by Fraser. As much as I loved Butler as my man Elvis (he was the only good part about that movie), Fraser never disappoints and has paid his dues. I think he's got this locked down.

Will Win: Fraser.

Best Supporting Actor
Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin
Brian Tyree "paper boi" Henry, Causeway
Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans
Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin
Ke Huy "in the bag" Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Should Win: EEAAO was just too overstimulating for me, but the acting was incredible. Anyone who watches this film could empathize with Ke Huy Quan's sensitive, delightful, relatable performance. And Hollywood loves a comeback story. The Banshees boys were fine. I just could not get through that film. And BTH's day will come.

Will Win: Ke Huy Quan.

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Tár
Ana de Armas, Blonde
Andrea Riseborough, To Leslie
Michelle "always a bridesmaid" Williams, The Fabelmans
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Should Win: Michelle Yeoh is a sneaky one - she has been around forever, been in more films than any of us realize, and shines in everything she does. She can do action, drama, romance - and while I didn't love EEAAO, she is a force of nature in it. This Oscar is hers to claim. Cate Blanchett was wonderful in Tár (she is always phenomenal), but she has 2 statues already. And Ana de Armas will have her moment in the sun eventually.

Will Win: Yeoh.

Best Supporting Actress
Angela "queen" Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Hong Chau, The Whale
Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin
Jamie Lee "proud nepo baby" Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Should Win: The critics are loving Queen Bassett's performance in Black Panther, but I have not yet seen it. I can say, however, that JLC was unrecognizable and absolutely fabulous in EEAAO (this is the year for all the acronyms). 

Will Win: It's a toss up between Angie and Jamie.

Best Director
Martin McDonagh, The Bashees of Inisherin
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans
Todd Field, Tár
Ruben Östlund, Triangle of Sadness

Should Win: I would like to squeeze in a viewing of The Fabelmans before Sunday (doubtful) because Spielberg is always great. Hollywood loves longevity and the man certainly has it. I think Todd Field did a tremendous job with setting the mood for Tár. It's not my choice for Best Picture, nor is EEAAO, but I think the Daniels or Field should win for their direction.

Will Win: The Daniels.

Best Picture











Should Win: This is tough for me. I've only seen 5/10 and of those 5, I really only liked Top Gun: Maverick. But should it win the Oscar for Best Picture? No. So by process of elimination, that leaves me with the (very wrong) opinion that Elvis should win (it should not). Again, I would like to see The Fabelmans because I do think it has a chance. But a very small one.

Will Win: EEAAO. It's going to sweep.