Thursday, December 31, 2009

'Red Shoes,' Red Wine, Good Time at Belcourt

Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 12:09 PM

The second of three Wine, Food & Film pre-Oscar events hosted by the Belcourt Theatre will feature wines from Village Wines, food from Whole Foods and a screening of The Red Shoes, a gorgeous, color-drenched classic from 1948 that won two Oscars. (It lost the Best Picture gold to Olivier's Hamlet).

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For the Jan. 11 event, Village Wines proprietor Hoyt Hill is assembling a wine tasting, and the Whole Foods team is cooking up nibbles. Festivities start at 5:30 p.m., and at 7, the evening's main attraction appears: a restored, rescued The Red Shoes, digitally revived from old prints. Is it a beautiful essay on ars longa, vita brevis? Is it about the magic of colorful shoes? Or is it about someone who just can't stop dancing?

The price is easy on the post-holiday wallet -- $25 a ticket, $20 for members. Bearing in mind that the November event sold out, visit belcourt.org for information and tickets.

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Second Bite, Porta Via: A Blogometric Convergence

Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 10:14 AM

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Nicki beat me to the punch writing her first impressions of Porta Via, but that did demonstrate a new phenomenon in the restaurant world. When word gets out that a new joint is opening, food bloggers are often some of the first excited, highly motivated customers. That's not meant to be a threat, by the way.

Case in point on a recent Friday night when I dropped in to check the place out. My girlfriend and I were enjoying a nice glass of $4 Prosecco while we sorted through the menu options. As an aside, if more meals began with a cheap Prosecco, the world would be a much happier place. We were keeping a pretty low profile since we weren't really there to write about Porta Via; we just love Neapolitan pizza.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

For a Bad Year, It Wasn't Bad

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 9:06 AM

The economics of running a restaurant are a mystery to me. Cash flow and financing may as well be rocket science, so anyone who gets it right -- even partially-- deserves a genius grant.

Fabulous eggnog latte at Crema stands proudly next to a "brookie" -- brownie on the bottom, cookie on the top -- from Sweet 16th bakery.
  • Fabulous eggnog latte at Crema stands proudly next to a "brookie" -- brownie on the bottom, cookie on the top -- from Sweet 16th bakery.
We stopped by Crema for that dreamy eggnog latte and four bars of Olive & Sinclair chocolate. With coffee this good, people understandably love Crema, and there was a good crowd there at 2 in the afternoon. Pretty good for a luxury item during the holiday season in a neighborhood where there's precious little residential.

Opening a food business in the depths of the recession is brave. Opening a food business that doesn't comport with the neighborhood is brave. Opening a luxury business when spending is down is ... well, either crazy or brave.

And yet Crema -- and so many other local efforts -- seem to be thriving. I'm thinking of Far East Vietnamese, Brio, ChaChah, Cajun Steamer, Local Taco, Drifters. There's Gabby's, crowded despite the off-the-beaten-path location and insane, seemingly unending street construction. And Patterson House, with scant parking, cramped waiting area, mere bar snacks but always a crowd for the spendy drinks.

Out of curiosity, is a plan for opening a restaurant in a recession year something like having a baby: if you waited for a good time, you'd never do it, so just go on and do it now? Or is it like Meet the Robinsons, with the "keep moving forward" mantra?

Whatever inspires you all and keeps you going, my hat is off to you, and the many not mentioned here.

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Wine Wednesday: Greens Meet Red

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 8:14 AM

It's hard to believe that it's only been a few months since we were fearing for our lives under a towering mountain of kale, but lately as the weather grows colder and danker I've been craving hearty food and specifically some greens in my diet. Apparently a man can live only so long on a steady diet of Christmas cookies and sausage balls.

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I grabbed one of my favorite cookbooks that specializes in Mediterranean wine bar foods and searched for a recipe I'd been wanting to try, caldo verde. This kale-based stew is considered the national dish of Portugal and is exactly the kind of meal I like to make. By that I mean it takes lots of sous chef prep work (so I get to play with my knives) and then subsequently very little artistic talent during the actual cooking. Plus there was the bonus of a couple of hours of wonderful aromas as the olive oil, onions, garlic, potatoes and chorizo (which I subbed for Linguiça) steeped on the stovetop.

Now, pairing wine with greens is sometimes a difficult proposition.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Of Silk Purses and Sow's Ears

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 9:40 AM

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Occasionally we here at Bites get taken to task by (usually anonymous) commenters who say we write only about good meals. While it's an open question whether it's fair for this fairly public forum to bash an establishment on the basis of one bad experience, it's also true that we don't necessarily eat great food every day. So here I go...

I had a really crappy chicken sandwich last week at Apollo's Grill in Peabody Corner downtown. It was overcooked to the point of being leathery and tasted like charcoal lighter. But you know what? I ate it and didn't complain because of the extenuating circumstances.

Peabody Corner is basically a small food court situated at the corner of Peabody and Fourth Avenue South. I know that the entrepreneurs who invested in this piece of property a couple of years ago are trying to make it much more than just a place to wolf down a Quizno's sandwich.

They have created an attractive space filled with plants and local art, with a dedication to rising above the typical fast food plastic box building. Flat-screen televisions play ESPN at appropriate sound levels, and they maintain a library of more than 100 magazines, from Architectural Digest to US Weekly, to help you while away your lunch hour. As someone who often eats alone while running errands during the middle of the day, I really appreciated this touch.

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On the Hunt for the Right Blend

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 7:59 AM

Research has begun for a "Test Drive" column I write some months for Fine Cooking magazine. Past topics have included box graters, grill woks, probe thermometers, toaster ovens, juicers and electric skillets.

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Blenders are the next topic. Right now I'm developing tests to compare the machines and working up a list of test candidates.

I've owned the same Oster blender for 21 years, and It's a great piece of equipment. So Oster is on the list, as is KitchenAid, whose products always impress me with their quality. Waring's stylish, powerful blender is on the list.

After those, I'm at a loss. What other blenders should be on the test list?

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Monday, December 28, 2009

First Bite: Taco Mamacita

Posted By on Mon, Dec 28, 2009 at 10:05 AM

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We took a quick trip over to Taco Mamacita in Villa Place last week. The work they have done to the former Rosario's space is admirable, eliminating that mezzanine that never really worked anyway and decorating with some interesting, kitschy Mexican-themed posters and lighting. I can't say I'm really fond of the "Durty Sanchez" appellation of the bar area. (If you don't know what it means, don't even Google it...nasty.)

The crowd was pretty sparse the night we were there a few days before Christmas, but the staff was very attentive and anxious to hear our opinions and those of the diners sitting around us. Or maybe they were just bored because there was a 1-to-1 server/patron ratio.

They still serve only high alcohol beers until they get their beer permit, but the beer list looks like it will be fairly expansive, and the selection of wines and liquors that are already available should make Taco Mamacita a popular tippling spot. The El Camino margarita benefited from a tangy splash of orange juice, but their attempt at a low-cal version made with Splenda was not as successful. Even with the promise that we'd never believe it was a "diet" drink, we found it way too sweet and didn't particularly care for the aftertaste. Fortunately the bar manager checked back on us immediately for our impressions and gladly swapped it out for high-test.

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Home Cooking 30 Years Ago

Posted By on Mon, Dec 28, 2009 at 8:03 AM

A page from the second-grade cookbook from Oak Hill school,  about 1971.
  • A page from the second-grade cookbook from Oak Hill school, about 1971.

Unearthed here at the West side branch of the Smithsonian is this uh, cultural document of Southern suburban eating habits of the mid-twentieth century.

Eight typed, mimeographed pages of family recipes from second-graders provide a glimpse at the cooking repertoire of Nashville circa 1970. Every page has a spaghetti recipe and either a chuck roast, mac-and-cheese or tuna casserole recipe. One kid's mom evidently overlooked or ignored "Look What's Cooking, Mom" subtitle (either something kids love or something they can cook themselves) and sent in recipes for chilled artichokes with hollandaise and lobster thermidor. There's one in every bunch.

One family let its freak flag fly by submitting a recipe for Indian Curry and Orange Rice. Wild and crazy times in Oak Hill.

It all made me wonder how long, in decades, it takes for technology, grocery supplies and travel to completely change a society's repertoire of regularly served dishes. Our parents didn't eat souse, cornmeal mush or hominy as often as their parents did, and our generation doesn't serve liver or tuna casserole any longer.

It's hard to imagine a day when macaroni-and-cheese will seem old-fashioned, but maybe in 70 years, my daughter will say to her grandchildren, "Yep, back in my day, our moms served us mac-and-cheese twice a week, and it was on every restaurant menu." And they will look at her as if she had two heads.

What dish was a a regular in your childhood home, or grandparents' home, that is absent from yours and how do you explain it?

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Look Out for Vegan Cakes at Coco's Italian Market

Posted By on Sat, Dec 26, 2009 at 4:42 PM

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This week's dining review features the steadily improving Coco's Italian Market, where Cafe Coco founder Chuck Cinelli has renovated and revamped both the dining room and the menu of Italian fare at the Charlotte Pike-area eatery.

Among the most significant changes, Cinelli has installed a brick pizza oven, and he has reached out to local vendors to build a roster of homegrown ingredients, from regional produce and eggs to artisan chocolates by Olive & Sinclair, gelato by Bravo Gelato and desserts by Lucy's Cheescakes in Franklin.

Also on the dessert roster, Cinelli's wife Coco is baking a selection of vegan cakes, which she hopes to expand in the new year. If you try one of the so-called "Please Cakes" before we do, please report back on Bites. Meanwhile, we'll keep you posted as Coco's expanded line of vegan delights comes to fruition.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Helping Ham

Posted By on Thu, Dec 24, 2009 at 1:31 PM

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Country ham has spent about 30 years in a difficult place. A small, home-based, or community-based, industry, it was nearly cut off at the knees by 1985 USDA regulations that it couldn't easily meet. These were eased somewhat a few years ago in the same wave of reform that finally permitted prosciutto and serrano ham into the United States.

That being said, you still have to know someone to get a real country ham. And when you buy a whole ham, you've bought a project.

Pictured at right is this year's country ham purchase. It's no Benton's, but it'll do.

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