Egos and Icons

September 14, 2010

I received an email the other day that included a press release about a “celebrity chef” event in Charlotte.  I looked at the list of chefs participating and didn’t recognize a single one.  Now I have to admit that I don’t watch the Food Network all that much, and I couldn’t name a lot of the personalities that they on their programs, but it’s clear that television, and the Food Network in particular, has changed the public’s perception of all chefs.  No longer does a chef have to have a big TV deal, or even a cookbook, to be a celebrity.  The only requirement, it appears from this Charlotte event, is that the chef be, well, a chef.  Now I’m as caught up in chef worship as much as the next person, but we really need to remember that these chefs are just hard-working folks.  Hell, most of the chefs who are on television regularly and can truly be considered CELEBRITIES (Bayless, Batali, Keller, Pepin) are not that much different than you, me or anyone else.  And when we talk about the local chefs who might be considered “stars,” well, once again, they’re for the most part just plain folk.  Ben and Karen Barker of Durham’s Magnolia Grill have each won a James Beard Award, but they’re as humble and nice as can be.  Sure they have egos, but the manifestation of that ego is what’s on the plate.  They bust their butt to make sure that what we eat is top-notch, night after night. Read the rest of this entry »


Restaurant Review Roulette: Flights

August 25, 2010

This week’s review is of Flights, the restaurant in the Marriott-owned North Hills-based Renaissance Hotel.  So, it’s a Marriott, eh?  They’re not really known for putting top notch restaurants in their hotels.  But what’s this on the menu?  Pork from Cane Creek Farms?  Locally sourced produce?  Goat cheese from Elodie Farms?  So, what you’re saying is that this Marriott doesn’t get all their stuff from US Foods???  Hmmm, maybe this restaurant won’t suck.

I have an inherent bias against hotel restaurants, but I suspect this place just might be better than it needs to be, and decent enough to hold its own versus the other places in North Hills.  With that, I’m thinking this is a 3.5 to 4 star restaurant, and my hunch is that it’s going to be the higher rating.  We shall see on Friday.  Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 35 to 1

4.5 stars – 7 to 1

4 stars — 2 to 1

3.5 stars — 5 to 2

3 stars — 5 to 1

2.5 stars —  6 to 1

2 stars — 9 to 1

1.5 stars — 15 to 1

1 star — 25 to 1

Do I have a single reader who has made it to Flights?  And, be honest, how many of you never even heard of this place?


Edit: Flights soared to a 4 star rating, with Greg Cox using every airplane metaphor possible in his review.  As I would have done, too.

Restaurant Review Roulette: Market Restaurant

August 4, 2010

Did you miss me?  Sorry, but I’ve been on vacation and really haven’t even thought about writing.  My timing was pretty good, however, as the N&O didn’t have a review last week, with it being the fifth Friday of the month.

This week’s contestant is Market Restaurant, the hip place in Raleigh’s Mordecai neighborhood that focuses on local, organic fare.  This place has  been favorably reviewed by Urbanspoon reviewers and the omnipresent Yelpsters.  It has a chef who is committed to things that foodies (and food critics) like: flavorful, local ingredients, simply prepared, well-presented.  It’s in a cool neighborhood.  And the prices are reasonable, with the most expensive thing on the menu (except for the fish of the day) will run you 16 bucks.

Based on these considerations, I expect Market to get a decent review from Greg Cox.  It’s his type of place, and the on-line reviews have been pretty favorable.  Once again, this is a place I haven’t visited yet (do you get the sense that I really don’t get out all that much?), but I’m feeling that Market will garner 4 stars.

Here are the odds:

5 stars — 25 to 1

4.5 stars –  2 to 1

4 stars — 1 to 1

3.5 stars — 5 to 2

3 stars — 4 to 1

2.5 stars —  7 to 1

2 stars — 13 to 1

1.5 stars — 27 to 1

1 star — 75 to 1

How many stars would you give Market?  And how many stars will Greg Cox give it?


Edit, August 6, 2010 — Nailed this one!  Market got 4 stars from Greg Cox in today’s N&O, with Cox praising the seafood options in particular.

Restaurant Review Roulette: Zayka Indian Cuisine

June 16, 2010

This week’s review is an Indian restaurant about which I know nothing: Zayka Indian Cuisine.  Might be good, might be not so good.  The teaser in today’s N&O talked about “hits and misses.”  That’s usually a bad sign.  So I’m just going to cut to the chase and say this will be a 2 to 2.5 star review.  How do I know that?  I don’t.  And I have not done one bit of research.  I’m just guessing now.

5 stars — 500 to 1

4.5 stars –450 to 1

4 stars — 40 to 1

3.5 stars — 7 to 1

3 stars — 5 to 1

2.5 stars — 2 to 1

2 stars — 7 to 2

1.5 stars — 8 to 1

1 star — 19 to 1

Tell me about Zayka, please.  Tell me that I’m wrong and it’s great.  Please!


(June 18, 2010 Edit) — He liked it.  He really, really liked it.  OK, so Greg Cox gave it 3 stars, but that’s more than what I thought he’d do, so congratulations to Zayka!

Helios to Become a “Real Café”

May 4, 2010

I got to know Chef Rob Bland back when he was opening Coquette, Urban Food Group’s French brasserie in North Hills.  I learned that Chef Bland was passionate about his food — almost to a fault, occasionally losing sight of the fact that sometimes the customer may not always be right, but the customer is always paying.  His passion also created tension in the kitchen, too, but that’s not to be unexpected for a new, high volume restaurant with perfectionist owners.  But the thing is, Bland could flat out cook, and he was completely committed to his craft.  Stocks were made from scratch, ingredients were top notch, and sauces were classics.

Bland left Coquette a few months ago, and I was wondering what he was doing.  Turns out he decided to help out at Cafe Helios, which I thought was a bit odd, as it was my impression that Helios was just a coffee shop with some sandwiches.  Well, things are about to change, as Helios is getting its own commercial range and proper ventilation, and Bland is rolling out a full menu of new offerings — including real dinner items.  The spring menu is filled with very reasonably priced small plate offerings, and the flavor combinations look quite impressive, such as an English pea ragout with bacon, white wine, oregano and mint or piquillo peppers stuffed with a salt cod and potato puree.

Bland has also started doing First Friday barbecues outside of Helios, which is going to be a hit over the summer.  Unfortunately, with the change in the kitchen, there’s no barbecue this week, so we’ll have to wait until June.  But we won’t have to wait for the new menu, which should go live some time next week.

Spring Menu

‘Cuegrass Festival in Downtown Raleigh on Saturday

April 13, 2010

If there were ever a match made in heaven, it would be whole hog North Carolina barbecue with local swamp-trash rockers,  Southern Culture on the Skids.  But it ain’t heaven, it’s Davie Street in downtown Raleigh this Saturday at the second annual North Carolina ‘Cuegrass Festival.  I love how they state that the festival features the “bluegrass music by Southern Culture on the Skids.”  Er, SCOTS is not a bluegrass band.  SCOTS is not anywhere close to a bluegrass band.  But SCOTS is a perfect band to play at a festival featuring Southern food, and particularly barbecue (fried chicken and banana pudding would be great, too).   Now there are some legit bluegrass bands playing at ‘Cuegrass, so fans of banjo picking and fiddle playing need not worry about getting your fill of tunes.

The festival is put on by the folks at The Pit restaurant in Raleigh, and it’s a huge fundraiser to support the W.C. Breeze Family Farm, a 270-acre educational farm near Hillsborough devoted to sustainable agriculture, and the North Carolina Future Farmers of America , a student farmers’ education group.  Barbecue sandwich plates, beef brisket sandwich plates, and beer (great local stuff) each will sell for $5.  Pretty simple, and pretty reasonable (where’s that nanner puddin’??).  And who knows, maybe Greg Hatem, Ed Mitchell and the other folks at Empire Eats will expand this festival to bring in other pitmasters from across the country, as is the case with the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party.  We need that type of party here in North Carolina!

North Carolina ‘Cuegrass Festival
Saturday, April 17
11 AM to 4 PM (Rain or Shine)
328 W. Davie St., Raleigh, NC
Free entry

Restaurant Review Roulette: Sawasdee

March 31, 2010

I’ve done a pretty good job predicting the number of stars that Greg Cox hands out for the restaurants he’s reviewed since I started this silly little mindless game of prognostication (again, this is for entertainment purposes only — no wagering!).  But this week’s review of Sawasdee Thai Restaurant is one where I really don’t know what he’ll do.  I know Greg likes Asian restaurants.  He also has a pretty good grasp of Thai cuisine.

The problem with Sawasdee (the review, not the restaurant) is that he last reviewed it 11 years ago (3-1/2 stars), and it’s changed a lot since that time.  Moreover, they’ve opened a second larger location in the Pleasant Valley Promenade, so I don’t know if he went to that location, the original off Capital Blvd., or both.  And I must say I haven’t been to Sawasdee (either location) in several years.

Doing a quick search on Chowhound, Sawasdee does not appear to generate the “foodie buzz” that a lot of other Asian restaurants get (see Gourmet Kingdom), so I’m guessing that the food hasn’t really changed.  Frankly, Thai food in Raleigh is similar to Chinese from 10-20 years ago, as every place caters to American tastes, and no one (as far as I know) offers solid, authentic Thai fare.  With that, I’m guessing Sawasdee stays at 3-1/2 stars.  Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 5,000 to 1

4.5 stars — 75 to 1

4 stars — 4 to 1

3.5 stars — 3 to 2

3 stars — 2 to 1

2.5 stars — 5 to 1

2 stars — 10 to 1

1 to 1.5 stars — 75 to 1

This is really difficult, and my uncertainty is reflected in the odds above.  Have you been to the new location of Sawasdee?  How many stars will Greg Cox give it???


(Edit) Three and one-half stars it is!