Monday, October 16, 2017

New Tasting Menu: Crossroads at The Carolina Inn: Photos

New Tasting Menu: Crossroads at The Carolina Inn

Chef Brandon Sharp has introduced a new tasting menu for fall. Chef Sharp, a Greensboro native, graduated from UNC with a degree in philosophy, then moved on to culinary school at CIA in Hyde Park, NY. His pedigree includes some of the nation’s most prestigious kitchens: Gary Danko in San Francisco, the French Laundry in Yountville, and Restaurant August in New Orleans. He subsequently received a Michelin Star when he led Solbar at Solage Resort and Spa in Calistoga, California, where he maintained that distinction for seven consecutive years. He returned to Chapel Hill in fall 2016.

A tasting menu is planned for each season. This one will be available Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, through December. Wine pairings proved exceptionally well-conceived. Cost is $75 for six courses; wines add $65. Considering the quality of the experience, it’s a bargain.

We started with an amuse- a morsel of lobster, enhanced with mustard, presented on strips of tart apple and celery.

First course was Tiradito of Hawaiian Hamachi. Tiradito is a Peruvian variation on sushi- sliced, rather than cubed. Hamachi- a white-fleshed fish, its texture akin to tuna, “cooked” in a citrus marinade, was joined by green tomato cubes and puffed rice- delightful crunch- sauced with Fresno Chile. Eric Bordelet Poire Authentique (2015), from Normandy, France, light and sparkling, with notes of pear, created a delightful complement.

Risotto can be made to absorb virtually any flavor. In Black Truffle Risotto, the earthy truffle flavor emerged without being overpowering, surrounded- physically as well as perceptively, with yellow corn zabaglione. I’ve usually had zabaglione as a dessert, but its custardy texture served the sweet corn beautifully. The wine was Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay (2015), a classic Napa design with mild oak and vanilla. Corn and chardonnay pair beautifully, I think.

My wife remarked that she found herself eating, and enjoying, things she usually will not order. Rabbit Loin with Rabbit Ragout is a case in point. Tender and elegant, sauced with Mole Verde- ground pumpkin seeds and mashed green chiles, the presentation was surrounded by charred orange slivers, black olives, and raisins. The accompanying Clos del Portal Negre de Negres (2014) Priorat DOQ, from Spain, is dark, almost black (hence the name), about 60 percent Grenache.

Grilled Flatiron Steak used Masami Ranch Beef, an American version of Kobe, a shoulder cut, rendered tender. Pieces of bone marrow introduced an original experience. I have never encountered bone marrow cooked this way- crisp morsels, uniquely flavored. Salt-baked cippolini onions were the primary accompaniment, surrounded with a cauliflower puree swirl, all enhanced with thyme gremolata. Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (2014) from Alexander Valley is another California classic; it stood up well to the deep beef flavor.

Buckwheat Blini- 3 inch pancakes- hosted Boxcarr Creamery (Cedar Grove, NC, boxcarrhandmadecheese.com) Rocket’s Robiola cheese. Momma Rocket is the goat who provided the milk for the cheese, which is covered in mild ash and bears the texture of brie. Thousand-Layer Caramel Apple lent a sweet supplement. This is best when assembled as a small sandwich, blending all flavors in each bite. Amanda Clark (cuisineandscreen.com), a guest at the table, termed Michele Chiarlo Nivole (2015), a Moscato D’Asti DOCG from Italy “dangerous,” it’s so good- fuzzy and floral, slightly sweet. I’m looking for it in wine markets!

This decadent evening concluded with Mafioso Chocolate Cake and Honey Oaked Gelato, with figs. The cake is made with chocolate from Tanzania, powerful but not too intense. Pastry Chef Annika Loureiro joined The Carolina Inn team this summer. Born in Sao Paulo Brazil, she grew up in the kitchen watching her grandparents create traditional dishes and desserts. Before relocating to Chapel Hill, she held forth at Uchi, in Dallas, and Prospect, in Brooklyn. The dessert wine with this course, Royal Tokaji Late Harvest (2015) PDO, from Hungary, is a point of national pride, deservedly so.

So many chefs these days, especially the younger ones, create complexity by piling on more ingredients. As I reflected on these flavors, I found subtlety, refinement, and balance. What Chef Sharp and his team are doing at Crossroads strikes me as highly sophisticated. I look forward to many returns.

Friday, September 29, 2017

March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction

I judged this event September 28. First of all, they are not auctioning off chefs. The auction part of the event is for donated items, luxury-oriented, ranging from a vacation in Hawaii to original paintings, other home décor, as well as personal services from various salons- hair cut, coloring, styling, etc. Proceeds benefit the March of Dimes, whose efforts on behalf of at risk babies is certainly worthy of support.

Eight area chefs provided food samples, and the audience as well as four “pro” judges rated the dishes. The chefs/restaurants were Brad Semon/The Painted Plate (catering)- a New York Strip steak flanked by grits topped with crabmeat, Nino Giaimo and Eric Snow/GIA – meatball with sweet potatoes on the side, Derek Cress/Cristina Gray’s at the JH Adams Inn in High Point- cherry braised short ribs and a dessert, John Drees/Southern Lights- baby back ribs and a crab cake with remoulade sauce, Matt Kidd/1618 Midtown- crispy pork belly and steamed wahoo, James R. Patterson/Sedgefield Country Club- pork cheek and beef tongue tacos, Chris Russell/B.Christopher’s- pork tenderloin with apples and onions and garlic mashed potatoes, and Michael Harkenread/The Undercurrent- braised beef with potatoes.

I have judged a lot of chef competitions. Although these events produce a designated winner, in my judgment, there are no losers. It takes nerve to even enter such an event, and a lot of skill to pull it off for an audience so large. I found no weak entries. Everything was good. Some dishes struck me as better than others, but all chefs showed solid performance.

The audience winner was John Drees of Southern Lights. The “pro” judges picked the entry from Brad Semon/The Painted Plate. I would add that only two points (out of 104) separated him from Chris Russell of B.Christopher’s on the four “pro” ballots. br />
A great evening of good fun and good food for a worthy cause!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Recommended Restaurants in North Carolina Mountains

These recommendations are from my book, Chefs of the Mountains. Order autographed copies directly from me (click on link above, "About ...). Free shipping/postage.

Blowing Rock: Best Cellar, Bistro Roca, Chetola Resort, Green Park Inn, Gideon Ridge Inn, Rowland's at Westglow Spa and Resort, Storie Street Grille

Boone: The Gamekeeper, Vidalia

Linville: Esseola Lodge

Banner Elk: Louisiana Purchase, The Painted Fish Café, Sorrento's Bistro,

Valle Crucis: Mast Farm Inn

Asheville: Biltmore restaurants, Curate, Nightbell, The Junction, The Market Place, Red Stag Grille at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, Rezaz, Roux

Highlands: Cyprus, Old Edwards Inn, Wolfgang's on Main

Cashiers: High Hampton Inn, The Orchard

Spruce Pine: Knife and Fork

Hot Springs: Mountain Magnolia Inn

Hendersonville: Never Blue

Saluda: The Orchard Inn

Flat Rock: Season's at Highlands Lake Inn

Waynesville: The Swag

Canton: Sunburst Trout Farm (not a restaurant, but look for products in groceries, especially Earth Fare)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Recommended Coastal Restaurants that Aren’t in the Book(s)

Four places in the Crystal Coast area (where my wife and I spend a lot of time) did not make it into print, for various reasons, but they are personal favorites just the same.

White Oak River Bistro (206 W Corbett Ave, Swansboro, NC 28584, (910) 326-1696, whiteoakriverbistro.com) serves casual Italian food in a space characterized by wood floors and walls, with open porch dining overlooking an expanse of the White Oak River.

Riverside (506 W Corbett Ave, Swansboro, NC 28584, (910) 326-8847, the-riverside-swansboro.com) occupies a large home, perched on a hill overlooking the White Oak River. The house was originally constructed over 100 years ago. Riverside is especially strong on quality wines at reasonable prices. Familiar coastal specialties are given a fine dining twist, rendering a cuisine that is more interesting than most other places on the coast, but accessible, nonetheless. A fried shrimp starter, for example, gets a light beer batter treatment, augmented with buerre blanc sauce.

Chef Patrick Hogan has found a home at Caribsea (8921 Crew Drive, Emerald Isle, NC, (252) 424-8400, caribsearestaurant.com), an upscale, upstairs creation that features a rooftop, open air bar, in addition to conventional seating. His crabcakes are among the best I’ve ever had. He formerly held forth at Carlton’s (RIP) and the Ocean Club. Before that, he was an opening chef for Legal Seafoods. A lot of creativity and expertise shows on every plate.

Pescara (208 West Dr, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512, (252) 499-9300, pescararestaurant.com) seeks to recreate the sense of an Italian seaside café. Executive Chef Creighton McNeil relocated to the Crystal Coast from Greensboro, where he was co-Executive Chef at the popular Liberty Oak restaurant downtown.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Restaurants on the South Carolina Coast

My new book fell through when the publisher decided to stop publishing due to the retirement of key personnel. I had already completed the research, visiting, and selecting process, though. I'm still looking for a new publisher, so if any readers have recommendations, send me a note.

Here is a list of places that I would have included:

Little River: Captain Juel's Hurricane (captjuelshurricane.com), The Brentwood (thebrentwoodrestaurant.com), The Parson's Table (parsonstable.com)

North Myrtle Beach: Bistro 90 (bistro90.com), Joe’s Bar and Grill (joesbarandgrillonline.com), Sea Blue (seabluewinebar.com)

Myrtle Beach: Aspen Grille (aspen-grille.com), Chesapeake House (thechesapeakehouse.com), Chestnut Hill (chestnuthilldining.com), Croissants Bistro and Bakery (croissants.net), Fire and Smoke (fireandsmokegastropub.com), Island Vista Hotel (islandvista.com), Maggi Ds Fine Italian Cuisine (maggids.com), Sea Captain’s House (seacaptains.com), The Library (thelibraryrestaurantsc.com), The Original Mr. Fish Restaurant and Seafood Market (mrfish.com), Thoroughbreds Chophouse and Seafood Grille (thoroughbredsrestaurant.com)

Surfside Beach: Malibu of Surfside (facebook.com/Malibuofsurfside)

Garden City Beach: Pacino's Mediterranean Grill (facebook.com/pacmedgrille)

Murrells Inlet: Captain Dave's Dockside Restaurant (davesdockside.com), Costa (costamyrtlebeach.com), Drunken Jack's (drunkenjacks.com), Lee's Inlet Kitchen (leesinletkitchen.com), Wicked Tuna (thewickedtuna.com)

Pawley's Island: Bistro 217 (bistro217.com), Chive Blossom (chiveblossom.com), Frank's (franksandoutback.com), Perrone's (perronesmarket.com), Piccolo (caffepiccolopawleys.com), Rustic Table (rustictable.com)

Georgetown: The River Room (riverroomgeorgetown.com)

Charleston: 39 Rue de Jean (holycityhospitality.com/39-rue-de-jean), Burwell's Stone Fire Grill (burwellscharleston.com), Butter Tapas (buttertapas.com), Coast (holycityhospitality.com/coast-bar-and-grill), Cypress (cypresscharleston.com), Michael's on the Alley (holycityhospitality.com/michaels-on-the-alley), Oyster House on Market (oysterhouse.menu), Victor Social Club (holycityhospitality.com/victor-social-club), Vincent Chicco's (holycityhospitality.com/vincent-chiccos), Virginia's on King (holycityhospitality.com/virginias-on-king), 82 Queen (82queen.com)

Daniel Island: The Islander (holycityhospitality.com/the-islander)

Beaufort: Breakwater Restaurant and Bar (breakwatersc.com), Saltus River Grill (saltusrivergrill.com)

Dataw Island: Sweetgrass Restaurant (sweetgrassdataw.com)

Daufuskie Island: Marshside Mama's (marshsidemamas.com)

Hilton Head: Black Marlin Bayside Grill (blackmarlinhhi.com), Frankie Bones (frankieboneshhi.com), Marley's Island Grille (marleyshhi.com), One Hot Mama's American Grille (onehotmamas.com), Poseidon (poseidonhhi.com), Skull Creek Boathouse (skullcreekboathouse.com), Wise Guys (wiseguyshhi.com)

Bluffton: Bluffton Family Seafood House (blufftonoyster.com)

Restaurants on the North Carolina Coast

The list of restaurants below is from my book, Chefs of the Coast. In each geographical area, I have also provided sidebar feature articles about seafood markets, local produce, festivals, events of interest, along with suggestions about cooking and preparation, especially regarding seafoods. The book is a combination cookbook and travel guide. If you are travelling on the NC coast, it provides recommended restaurants, with profiles of the chefs and restaurants. If you want to cook, each chef provides recipes, with presentation instructions and a color photo of the dish, to guide plating, so you can make it look professional as well as taste great. You can order an autographed copy direct from me by sending a note to my e-mail. Click on my name under "About Me" on the right side of this page, then the link to e-mail. (Price: $19.95 + tax = $21.30. I will provide free shipping for orders placed from this blog.)

Elizabeth City: Montero’s Restaurant, Bar & Catering (monterosrestaurant.com)

Preparation Guidelines

Corolla: Metropolis (metropolisobx.com)(

Duck: The Blue Point (thebluepoint.com), The Paper Canoe (papercanoeobx.com), Red Sky Cafe (redskycafe.com)

How to Find Local Seafood and Agricultural Products

Outer Banks Taste of the Beach

Kitty Hawk: Rundown Cafe (rundowncafe.com), Trio (obxtrio.com) Kill Devil Hills: Bad Bean Baja Grill and Bad Bean Taqueria (badbeanobx.com), Chilli Peppers Coastal Grill (chilli-peppers.com), The Colington Cafe (thecolingtoncafe.com), JK’s Restaurant (jksrestaurant.com), Mako Mike’s (makomikes.com), Outer Banks Brewing Station (obbrewing.com)

Brad Price, Personal Chef

Manteo: Full Moon Cafe & Brewery (thefullmooncafe.com), Ortega’z (ortegaz.com), Stripers Bar & Grille (stripersbarandgrille.com)

Nags Head: Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe (lonecedarcafe.com), Cafe Lachine (cafelachine.com), Kelly’s Outer Banks Restaurant and Tavern (kellysrestaurant.com), Mulligan’s Raw Bar & Grille (mulligansobx.com), Sugar Creek Seafood Restaurant (sugarcreekseafood.com)

Austin Fish Company

Sugar Shack Fresh Seafood Market

Buxton: Cafe Pamlico at the Inn on Pamlico Sound (innonpamlicosound.com) Ocracoke: Back Porch Restaurant (backporchocracoke.com), Dajio (dajiorestaurant.com)

New Bern: The Chelsea (thechelsea.com), Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant (persimmonsrestaurant.com)

Beaufort: Aqua (aquaexperience.com), Beaufort Grocery Company (beaufortgrocery.com), Blue Moon Bistro (bluemoonbistro.biz), The Cedars Inn & Restaurant (cedarsinn.com), City Kitchen and Front Street Grill at Stillwater (facebook.com/citykitchenfoods), Front Street Grill (frontstreetgrillatstillwater.com), Clawson’s (clawsonsrestaurant.com)

Fishtowne Seafood

Beaufort Wine & Food Weekend

Morehead City: Bistro by the Sea (bistro-by-the-sea.com), Circa 81 (circa-81.com), The Ruddy Duck Tavern (ruddyducktavern.com)

Capt. Jim’s Seafood Market

North Carolina Seafood Festival

Atlantic Beach: Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar (amosmosquitos.com), Island Grille Restaurant & Bar (igrestaurant.net)

Willis Seafood

Emerald Isle:Cap’n Willis Seafood Market

Swansboro: Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant and The Boro Cafe (SwansboroIcehouse.com, BoroCafeNC.com)

Wilmington: Cape Fear Seafood Company (capefearseafoodcompany.com), Caprice Bistro (capricebistro.com), Catch (catchwilmington.com), Jerry’s Food, Wine, Spirits (jerrysfoodandwine.com), Kornerstone Bistro (kornerstonebistro.com), Le Catalan French Cafe & Wine Bar (lecatalan.com), manna (mannaavenue.com), Pembroke’s (pembrokescuisine.com), Port Land Grille (portlandgrille.com), Rx Restaurant & Bar (rxwilmington.com), Taste the Olive Cafe & Wine Bar (tastetheolive.com)

Motts Channel Seafood

Southport: Joseph’s Italian Bistro (Josephsitalianbistro.com), Live Oak Cafe (liveoakcafenc.com), Mr. P’s Bistro (mrpsbistro.com), Yacht Basin Eatery (ybenc.com)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wine Dinner at Mark's

As an economy measure, my wife and I resolved not to attend any wine dinners in 2016. We were just spending too much money, and often as not, the food was not as good as menu orders in the restaurants when they were not serving a large group all at once, the way they have to do in wine dinners. When we saw an announcement for a Stags Leap Winery dinner at Mark's (616 Dolley Madison Rd, Greensboro, NC 27410, (336) 387-0410, marksgreensboro.com), however, we started 2017 by going back to our old bad habits.

First course: crab macaroni and cheese with herb bousin. The mellow flavor of the cheese blended beautifully with the crab, and both primary flavors matched up well with chardonnay- mild oak, just a little edge- a really good rendition of this perennial favorite.

Second course: rack of lamb with port wine demi-glace and roasted root vegetables. This was paired with 2013 Investor, a red blend of Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Cabernet Savignon. My wife and I both thought the assertiveness of the petite sirah made this especially attractive. It was a little bold for some at the table, though.

Third course: Kobe beef tenderloin, wrapped in bacon, plated on a brioche crouton, surrounded by caramelized onions and truffle reduction. The 2013 Napa Cabernet Savignon stood up to the solid depth of beef flavor from the steak. This struck us as a fairly soft cabernet, ready to drink now, that nevertheless exhibited the unique characteristic of the Stags Leap district terroir. Our host called it "minty." I think "eucalyptus" is closer to the taste I get. Really good, no matter how you term it.

Dessert: blackberry-chocolate bread pudding with cinnamon creme anglaise. This came with a pure 2013 Petite Sirah, for which this winery is especially known. The reputation is justified. This was my favorite wine of the evening- first among other first class wines- and my wife agreed.

We ordered all the wines. So much for starting off the new year economically. This is why we don't go to wine dinners. But we have no regrets this time!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Most Enjoyable Meals of 2016

My wife, Dale, and I enjoyed our meals at Salvino more than anywhere else all year. I have always appreciated the menu items from Chef-owner Sal Bruno, especially the seafoods, but whenever he runs a special, somebody at the table ought to order it. Recent examples, probably repeated in 2017: steak, Italian style, topped with melted cheese; pork tenderloin with walnuts and pears in cream sauce; and Veal Cuscinetto- wrapped around a "cushion" of cheese, with a lush sauce of veal stock and cream. Host Debbie Bruno and staff are natually friendly and gracious. I love this place! 2917 Battleground Ave Greensboro, NC 27408 336-540-8663 www.salvino-restaurant.com

Thanksgiving Dinner at Bistro by the Sea

Thanksgiving dinner in Morehead City, at Bistro by the Sea, is becoming sort of a family and friends tradition with us. Chef/proprietor Tim Coyne provides a set menu- fresh turkey, ham, greens, mashed potatoes, and a choice of cornbread or oysters and cornbread dressing. Host Libby Eaton welcomes regulars and friends.