Monday, November 7, 2016

Sweet Potatoes

No, not the ones you bake and eat, the name of the restaurant in Winston-Salem (529 North Trade Street, 27101, 336-727-4844). They cook real Southern, all fresh ingredients, the way your grandmother would have cooked if she had been really skilled. Recently had Fried Chicken Livers, Fried Okra, Shrimp and Grits, Baked Chicken. This became a personal favorite when I was reviewing for the Winston-Salem Journal.

25 Definitive New Orleans Restaurants by Steven Wells Hicks

This is a book that I wish I could have written. Hicks is intimately familiar with all the restaurants he writes about. Reading his commentaries are a lot like going to dinner with a friend who knows the food, even knows the staff, will probably see friends there. I wish I had read it before my last trip to New Orleans. In a city known for its food, New Orleans has joined most other big cities as hit or miss, at least in my experiences. I've had mediocre meals in some of the most illustrious restaurants. Hicks' book could have saved me some culinary disappointments! Highly recommended.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Caribsea in Emerald Isle

Chef Patrick Hogan, whose work I have been following for decades, is now at the helm in a new restaurant in a new building in Emerald Isle (8921 Crew Drive, Emerald Isle, NC 28594, 252-424-8400, caribsearestaurant.com). I rank his crabcakes among the top two, ever, anywhere. The rooftop bar is unique for the area, with broad views toward the beach as well as the sound. I have been once. (Only open a couple of weeks.) I expect this to go on my short list of personal favorites!

Pescara in Atlantic Beach

A couple of really enjoyable meals at Pescara, a fairly new Italian restaurant in Atlantic Beach (208 West Dr, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512, 252-499-9300). I held space for Chef Andy Hopper in Chefs of the Coast, but the restaurant did not open until after my deadline, so I could not include it in the book. This is pretty upscale cuisine, with home made pasta as well as sophisticated entrees, along with pizza that goes way beyond the usual. Definitely recommended!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Blue Denim

In my review of Blue Denim (217 South Elm Street, Greensboro, 336-676-5689, http://www.bluedenimgso.com), I praised the food but expressed misgivings about service. I have been back since the review, on a Saturday night. The restaurant was about 2/3 full by 7 p.m. All deliveries were appropriately paced, and I did not observe any other tables having difficulty. Chef-proprietor Jody Morphis visited tables, and when he stopped at ours, he asked if I was John Batchelor. I plead guilty. (After four visits in two weeks, he had figured out who I was.) We had a good conversation. He advised that they had made some changes since the review. I certainly had no problems this time. And I enjoyed the food just as much as I did during review visits. This place is probably going on my short list of personal favorites.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

B. Christopher's

Another excellent meal at B.Christopher's. But what's unusual about that?

Dale (my wife) and I started with shrimp, slit and stuffed with avocado. Creative and delicious. We shared a blackened ribeye, which to my taste is the most flavorful steak in our area. Crisp, thin fried onions and potatoes, along with sauteed spinach with a little garlic were the accompaniments on this occasion, although I often get brussels sprouts.

This is clearly one of the best in the Triad.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Product Endorsement

I've never done this before, but I'm going to endorse a commercial product. "Gouda Cheese Bites" are crisp, like potato chips, and they are made from potato, but blended with gouda cheese and formed to look like bites of cheese. The flavor is just wonderful! Add a little sip of red wine between each one and you've got a great snack. Buy them at Aldi.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Shelton Winery Dinner at Clawson's in Beaufort

The Beaufort Wine and Food Festival is underway, continuing through this weekend (April 27-May 1). See beaufortwineandfood.org for the full schedule. Several winery dinners have been scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

I participated in the winery dinner at Clawson's, on Front Street, featuring wines from Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, NC (sheltonvineyards.com). I have considered Shelton one of NC's best wineries, and this experience reinforced that impression. Chef Jon McGregor's food was elegant and creative, yet accessible.

We started with Yadkin Valley Savignon Blanc. I was fortunate to be seated next to Shelton's winemaker Gill Giese His treatment of this varietal is fairly light and crisp. It matched very well with hor d'oeuvers- crisp fried pimiento cheese fritters on one pass, candied bacon with pickled watermelon rind on another. The wine especially complemented the sharpness of the watermelon rind.

Seated, we moved to the first course, vanilla bean smoked scallops, pan-seared. Chef accented the mellow flavor of the scallop, along with the subtle smoky effect, by combining mango and habanero pepper in a vinaigrette, dressing pearled barley decorated with micro greens. Sophisticated, intense, but not overpowering. Bin 17 chardonnay paired tequite well with the scallop flavor. This is a steel tank chardonnay, crisp, no oakiness.

On to red wines and heftier foods.

Caramelized shallots flanked a mound of tender, moist duck confit, accented with stripes of strawberry coulis. The fruit and mild sweetness of the sauce served the duck well. Ciabatta crostini with shaved Parmesan cheese created a mellifluous interplay of flavors. Merlot is a classic match for duck. Shelton's interpretation is more austere than the big, fruity merlot preparations from California. It marries well with food.

The kitchen crusted beef tenderloin medallions with cracked black peppercorns and cinnamon- a striking creation and a complex combination of flavors. Field onions, carrots braised with ginger, and mixed greens were the vegetables, noteworthy for freshness. Cabernet franc is usually used in blends, but Shelton makes it as a standalone, with success in my estimation. It stood up to the heavier flavor of the beef and rounded out the range of flavors.

Dessert consisted of homemade coffee ice cream with chipotle and chocolate candied bacon, with creme anglaise. With this, Shelton served their port wine. The other wines were good, but I think the port is special. It is aged in barrels they buy from distilleries in Kentucky, where they hosted bourbon in their previous life. That imparts an undertone to the sweet effect of the port that is very interesting.

Shelton's current release wines are prepared in a style that is somewhat similar to the French- usually a bit more acidic and tannic, on the austere side, designed to blend with food, as opposed to bigger, more assertive wines that stand alone but can overwhelm the taste of food. It's a good niche to follow.

I had never been to Clawson's private dining room before. It's located on the third floor, directly overlooking the waterfront. A great venue! Clawson's regular menu does a great job of providing familiar, casual food, using local, fresh ingredients sourced from nearby farms and their own gardens. About 25 years ago, I wrote a review giving Clawson's 2 stars. It has progressed quite a ways since then. This meal was a solid 4, and what I have had on the regular menu has consistently ranked 3 ("very good" on my scale). Their shrimp and grits recipe in my book, Chefs of the Coast, is a personal favorite. Definitely recommended!

Monday, January 18, 2016

I will be judging a chef's competition this Sunday at the Empire Room.

This is a fundraiser for a worthy cause, and it is open to the public for the price of a ticket.

See http://www.shalomgreensboro.org/i-want-to/register-for-an-event for more information.

Jimmy Crippen, of Competition Dining fame, will be flying in to MC the event.