Mandolin — Coming to Raleigh

November 18, 2011

Wow. A new chef-driven restaurant is about to open in Raleigh, and I’m really excited by it. Mandolin is the name of Chef Sean Fowler’s establishment, located at the intersection of Oberlin and Fairview in Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood.

This is what I know about Mandolin: nothing. Well, I’ve seen their menu, which is Southern-inspired. I’ve looked at their website. But I know nothing about Sean Fowler. Or any of the staff. Even when a menu looks promising, as this one does, I reserve judgment until I taste the food. But for some reason, I just like the vibe that these folks have created. I really WANT to taste this food. And based on the Open Table reservation system, it looks like they open next Tuesday.

Raleigh needs more of these type of restaurants. I can’t wait to try it.

John Fleer — Rock Star — Stir the Pot

September 13, 2011

It seems that VarmintBites has turned into nothing more than a means to publicize fundraisers, but when one is on the Board of Directors of two different organizations having food-related fundraisers, well, you can understand.

So, this Sunday and Monday we’re having another Stir the Pot, those fantastic events hosted by Ashley Christensen to benefit the Southern Foodways Alliance. I’ve attended most of these events, and they’re a ton of fun, but this week is different.

This time, the guest chef of Stir the Pot is John Fleer, Rock Star. Yes, that’s the term used by John T. Edge, the Executive Director of the SFA. That’s a term I’ve heard Ashley Christensen use for him. Could it be because he was the celebrated chef of Blackberry Farm, one of the best inns in the country?  Or that he left Blackberry at the height of his career and notoriety so he could do something that allowed him to spend more time with his familly? Like work at Sunburst Trout or take over as chef at Canyon Kitchen in Cashiers, NC.

Yes, those are good reasons to call him a rock star (and I’ve had his food — it’s rock star quality). But the real reason to call him a rock star is that he acts like one, and I have pictures to prove it. It’s been 4 years since I took these photos, and at the time I said they wouldn’t see the light of day, but I’m changing my tune. I’ve got pictures of Fleer chugging Southern Comfort. I’ve got pictures of him stealing a kid’s bicycle (OK, he just rode a bike laying on the street). No, I don’t have a photo of him passed out, but I can try.

The problem is, you don’t get to see these photos unless you attend one of the Stir the Pot events. The fancy, five-course dinner with wine pairings prepared by Chef Fleer is at Poole’s Diner on Sunday night at 7 PM.  The Monday evening potluck is at Ashley Christensen’s home (Brunswick stew, beer by Foothills Brewing, a drink by Fox Liquor bar, and wine donated by Eliza Kraft Olander. The Sunday dinner is $150 per person plus tax and tip, whereas the Monday potluck is $35 per person plus a side dish or dessert that celebrates your sense of place, wherever that may be.

Reservations are required and space is limited. Call Poole’s Diner at 919-832-4477 to reserve your spot for either or both nights.

So go ahead and sign up. And maybe these photos will end up on display.

Help Stir That Pot

August 12, 2011

OK, admit it. Ashley Christensen is a rock star. Not just Raleigh’s rock star, but she has national attention now. We’re just lucky to have her here.

So when Ashley Christensen supports a cause, like she does with her Stir the Pot events for the Southern Foodways Alliance, it must mean a lot to her. And because I’m a member of the board of directors of the SFA, well, dammit, I want you to join Ashley, me and a bunch of other great people this Sunday and Monday.

If you want some kick-ass, high end food and wine, get a reservation for Sunday’s special dinner at Poole’s featuring chef Ed Lee of Louisville, KY’s 610 Magnolia. This guy can flat out cook, so this will be an incredible dinner (with fantastic wine, of course).  The dinner will cost you $150 plus tax and tip, but the money goes to the SFA’s documentary film initiatives.

But in this economy, I understand if you can’t swing a big ticket item like Sunday’s dinner. So just plan on joining us at Ashley’s lovely home Monday evening for the “Industry Potluck.” Make something tasty, and then bring it and a check for $35, and you’ll get to rub elbows with a lot of local food celebs, including chefs and food writers.

So, what’s your excuse? Pick up the phone and call Poole’s at 832-4477 to make your reservations. See you soon!

Ashley Christensen on Iron Chef America July 24

June 9, 2011

Ashley Christensen, chef and owner of Raleigh’s Poole’s Diner, will be on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” on July 24 at 10 PM.  Christensen chose Iron Chef Bobby Flay as her competition, which was recorded some time now. Although some news leaked out that Ashley was on Iron Chef, the details have been highly confidential, including the outcome.  I believe she is the second local chef to appear on the show, as Walter Royal of the Angus Barn beat Cat Cora in 2007 several years ago.

Restaurant Review Roulette: Spring Rolls

November 17, 2010

Disclaimer: I’m mailing this one in, folks.  I took my daughter to Asheville last night to see Elton John, and she insisted on getting back in time for her 8 AM class today.  So after a 3-1/2 hour show, we stopped for the night in Hickory at 1 AM, got up at 4:50 AM and made it to Raleigh at 7:40.  I’m damn tired.

So, this week’s review is of a restaurant that I should have known about — it’s in Raleigh’s North Hills — but I hadn’t heard a thing about it.  It’s an “Asian Fusion” place (their term, not mine), called Spring Rolls.  It looks to be fairly fancy.  It tries to be lots of different things.  I’m not even taking the time to check out Yelp or Chowhound.  I only looked at two pages of the menu.  And I’m guessing 3.5 stars.

Here are the odds:

5 stars — 25 to 1

4.5 stars – 7 to 1

4 stars —  3 to 1

3.5 stars — 3 to 2

3 stars — 2 to 1

2.5 stars — 5 to 2

2 stars — 4 to 1

1.5 stars — 8 to 1

1 star — 27 to 1

I don’t have a clue, so help me out this week.  Is it good?  Is it just another “OK” fusion joint?  And how many stars do you think it’ll get.

And I promise I’ll write some more soon.  I’ve got lots of items in the works, but I’ve been too damn busy to write anything.  Thanks for hanging in with me.


Edit, November 19, 2010: Spring Rolls gets a 3-star review from the N&O.  I should have done some research.

Ashley Christensen’s Take on Barbecue — With Fullsteam!

November 4, 2010

As I wrote earlier, Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner is preparing a very special barbecue dinner to benefit the Lucy Daniels Center.  This won’t be any ordinary barbecue, however.

Ashley cures the pork for 3 days, with a special rub of salt and other herbs and spices.  This turns the pork into the most amazingly succulent swine you’ll ever taste.  But then she slowly smokes that pig over nut wood (typically pecan) for hours and hours, until a nice, crust is formed and the meat is redolent of that sweet smoke.  Of course, she has her own take on sauce.

You know it will be good.  No, you know it will be the best damn barbecue you’ve ever had.

But there will also be beer.  And we’re talking about beer that was created to be served with barbecue: Fullsteam’s Hogwash, which is a hickory-smoked porter.  We’ll also be serving the Fullsteam Carolina Common, a lighter beer for those who prefer it that way.

And as far as side dishes are concerned, you won’t be disappointed.  Don’t expect some limp green beens or dried out corn sticks.  There will even be a special Brunswick Stew.  And banana pudding so good, it’ll make you want to smack someone.  I mean, kiss them.

We will have some of Ashley’s roast chicken for those who don’t eat pork.  And if you’ve had that chicken before, it’s the best.  Anywhere.

But I need you to buy tickets to this dinner.  Yeah, it’s pricey, but it’s for an amazing cause.  The Lucy Daniels Center is the Triangle’s leading non-profit provider of children’s mental health services.  Why is this a big deal?  Because in this economy, with so many people unemployed, it’s harder than ever on children.  And parents don’t have the resources to pay for the help their kids’ needs.  The Lucy Daniels Center provides some sort of financial assistance to 90% of the families who receive care.  A large portion of those families receive care for free.

So I ask you — No, I BEG you — please go to the Lucy Daniels website and buy tickets to the dinner. Or call Patti Wilt at 919.459.1611. You’ll have a great meal.  You’ll enjoy the beer.  And you’ll know you’ve done something very special for families in need.  And there’s nothing better than that feeling.  Not even the banana pudding.

Buy tickets thru PayPal here:

Or call Patti Wilt at the Lucy Daniels Center at 919.459.1611

Adults are $75, kids under 14 are $35, and all but $25 is tax deductible.  Sorry, no beer for the kids.

Restaurant Review Roulette: David’s Dumpling & Noodle Bar

October 20, 2010

I know this restaurant!  Hurray, hurrah, hurrooh!  Greg Cox is reviewing David’s Dumpling & Noodle Bar, the new outpost of iconic Raleigh chef David Mao.  I actually took my family to eat there several weeks ago and liked it.  The dumplings are top-notch, the noodles are good (but not great).  The other Asian-American fare is as good as it needs to be.  It’s certainly not great, but it’s very dependable.

As I look into my crystal ball, I see a favorable review for David’s D&NB.  But my vision is cloudy.  Service isn’t as great as it should be.  Some  of the dishes aren’t just good enough.  A number is appearing.  Is it a 4?  Yes, it’s a 4.  But wait, I also see a 3.  What does this all mean?  Ahhh, I get it.  This is a 3.5 star review.  That’s your lucky number.

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 30 to 1

4.5 stars – 7 to 1

4 stars —  2 to 1

3.5 stars — 7 to 6

3 stars — 2 to 1

2.5 stars —  5 to 1

2 stars — 11 to 1

1.5 stars — 19 to 1

1 star — 50 to 1

What did you think of DD&NB?  How many stars will it get?  And did the big photos of David Mao freak you out as much as they did for me???


Edit, October 22, 2010 — Looks like its a 3-star review for DD&NB.  I couldn’t really tell why it got this rating and where points may have been deducted.  Funny how this review game is.