Tag Archives: Bravo Top Chef

Hometown Foodstalking- Flip Burger

For the holidays, I traveled back home to the place where the foodstalking magic first happened between LG and Miss Em: Birmingham. I got to sample several new-to-me spots, including a couple that are new to the Magic City.

First up was a newcomer to the B’ham restaurant scene, Flip Burger Boutique. I had been stalking this menu for months in eager anticipation of visiting the new Birmingham location over Christmas. This is the brainchild of Top Chef alum and Atlanta native, Richard Blais, one of my all-time favorite Top Chef competitors. He made his mark on the show with a playful and accessible brand of molecular gastronomy.

Blais himself was in da house on the night that we braved post-holiday Summit traffic to grab some gourmet burgers. He was looking a little flustered- later on I think we would find out why.

Hipster fun with the light fixture


Even after reading this menu dozens of times, the fam and I had a hard time choosing between all of the amazing sounding burgers. One whole side of the menu is dedicated to beef burgers, the other side is anything-goes. I went for the carne- specifically, the Butcher’s Cut with caramelized onions, blue cheese, and red wine jam. At our table, we had a Farm Burger, a Korean BBQ burger, a Chorizo burger, and two regular ole hamburgers. The general consensus, I believe, was that the burgers were tasty, but that there was an issue with service and/or the kitchen on that particular evening. They had been open for no more than 2 weeks at this point, so I’m sure they were still ironing out the wrinkles. Most of the burgers arrived to our table not exactly warm. I thought mine was tasty, but definitely could have been warmer and I would have preferred the ratio of toppings a little different: less blue cheese, more red wine jam. We sampled fries, fried pickles, fried okra, and the warm potato salad. All were perfectly serviceable, although the okra especially were very greasy.

My choice. The Butcher's Cut.

E's Chorizo burger

Dad's Korean BBQ burger. Points for originality.

As an apology for the hour-long wait for our food, and the lukewarm-ness of it when it finally arrived, we were sent a sampling of Blais’s famous liquid nitrogen milkshakes. My favorite was the Pistachio, rather shockingly. I don’t dislike pistachios, but I would never think of it as the first flavor I’d order on a milkshake menu. The slight saltiness went with the sweetness very well. Other flavors at our table: S’mores, Krispy Kreme donut (just like the real thing pureed into a frosty mug), and Foie Gras (seriously not as disgusting as it sounds- if you didn’t know it was Foie Gras, I bet you wouldn’t be able to guess).

S'mores. Pleasingly burnt marshmallows on top with bits of graham cracker interspersed.

Pistachio

While our experience was less than perfect, I do think we’ll be back. For one, the prices are fair. The menu is so varied that you’ll always have something new to try. And of course, I’ll be back because I have faith in Blais! Hopefully he can attract and retain some real talent in the kitchen, folks who are able to execute the “foodie” vision that this restaurant is going after.

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Major Update! Food Galore

There are a good number of Triangle restaurants that I have visited recently, though failed to review in a timely manner. Repeat: FAIL. So it’s time to lay it out on the table and catch up! I will be covering Piedmont (Durham), Blu (Durham), Azitra (Raleigh), 42nd Street Oyster Bar (Raleigh), Busy Bee Cafe (Raleigh) and a Bravo’s Top Chef demo at the NC Farmer’s Market (Raleigh).  Fasten your seat belts.

piedmont

piedmont


Piedmont [401 Foster St, Durham]— I headed here for Triangle Restaurant Week back in mid-May. Located in a fairly nondescript building, the restaurant could easily be passed without notice, but it is truly worth noticing! For starters the menu changes (often) nightly, so you can be sure you’re getting what is fresh and seasonally available. Restaurant week favorably prices lunches and dinners at $15 and $25 respectively. So at a place like Piedmont, we left with a deal.

First Course: White Sweet Potato Soup with Chive Blossoms. Smooth a creamy, with a drizzle of olive oil, the mild potato base of the soup is a solid start. But the chive blossoms add a subtle hint of sweet and oniony tang, though more delicate and less vegetal than the green chive stalk. I loved this as a not-too-filling start to a meal. Like warming up for the big race.

white sweet potato soup with chive blossoms

white sweet potato soup with chive blossoms

Another First Course option: Bruschetta with House-smoked Mahi Mahi, Dandlion Greens Salad & Pickled Red Onions. The highlights of this dish are the intense smokey flavor on the tender fish, and in my opinion, the pickled red onion. For the same reason I love pickled ginger—it’s sweet, but kind of sharp, too. Maybe I like all pickled things (save pickled pigs feet).

Smoked Mahi Bruschetta

smoked mahi bruschetta

Main Course: Breast of Poulet Rouge with Potato, Spring Peas & Bacon Hash, & Italian Broccoli. Goodness this was incredibly delicious and flavor-packed. The boneless chicken married niceley with a bite of hash drenched in the salty, smokey, wine-based(?) sauce. I’m not sure if the bitter greens were in fact Italian broccoli (broccoli rabe) or something like turnip greens. But either way, the bitterness and droopy wilt complemented the smokey bacon flavor, tender chicken and crisp peas.

I usually don’t love plates like this, where everything is stacked atop one another. It’s just too “this is a fancy restaurant.” But I suppose it works because each bite of chicken/hash/greens/sauce is harmonious, but the kitchen doesn’t have to deliver a casserole dish to the table. Speaking of which, who’s going to open up the family-style casserole restaurant? Menu options would be things like green bean casserole (with fried onions on top), spicy spaghetti casserole, wild rice casserole and potato chip chicken casserole!

poulet rouge

poulet rouge

Another Main Course option: Asparagus & Ricotta Ravioli with Lemon-Mint Butter Sauce & Parmesan.

ravioli

ravioli

The third entrée option, unfortunately, was no longer available the evening we went. It was housemade Italian sausage with creamy polenta, Italian broccoli and tomato broth. But we did try each of the three desserts.

Dessert: Dark Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut Biscotti. Fluffy and light, but seriously chocolatey. A few bites were plenty, and the biscotti, which I normally find brick-like and unappetizing, were quite good when lacking the anise flavor.

dark chocolate mousse

dark chocolate mousse

Another Dessert option: Espresso Panna Cotta with Sugar Cookies. Great flavor in a panna cotta gelatinous texture.

panna cotta

espresso panna cotta

And Another Dessert option: Pistachio Cake with Candied Orange Semifreddo & Orange Caramel. Amazing—still-warm cake, crunchy! I would definitely try to make something like this. It’s much like a carrot cake.

cake

pistachio cake

Blu [2002 Hillsborough Rd, Durham]— This was my brother’s birthday dinner choice, and I was happy to be a part of it! The seasonal menu favors seafood, including some local catches, like the North Carolina trout I ordered. The fish is tender, not flaky, from sauteing in this awesome acidic and slightly buttery sauce, and encrusted with pistachios, then topped with red grapes, slightly warmed and acidic. Each bite was a perfect blend of flavors. The sides—French green beans and mashed potatoes—I’m sure were quite good, but were mostly overshadowed by the trout.

nc trout

nc trout

Azitra [8411 Brier Creek Pkwy, Raleigh]— I tried to go here during restaurant week, after hearing positive reviews—from vegetarian and non-vegetarian sources alike. But Azitra is not open for Saturday lunch, when I happened to go. So just a small warning there. I went back a few weeks later for a weeknight dinner. The food completely fulfilled my desire, nay, need, for Indian food. First, it has a cool, modern interior.

azitra entrance

azitra entrance

My table ordered the assorted naan for soakin’ up sauce! Score. Some breads had peppers baked into them, others were garlic or parsley topped. I selected the Tandoori Chicken Tikka for dinner, which came with makhni sauce, masala potatoes and basmati rice. Flavors and serving size were over the top. The tandoori-baked chicken made for superb leftovers. I completely put away the potatoes…that masala sauce is so incredible it may induce dreamy hallucinations.

P6030003

tandoori chicken tikka

42nd Street Oyster Bar [508 W Jones St, Raleigh]—I went here ages ago, following Raleigh’s World BeerFest. After drinking beer all afternoon, our group was in dire need of a snackeroo, a glass of water and for moi—a glass of wine! We went splits on some appetizers and oysters. I hope to go back soon and get more of a taste of the menu selection, though this was a solid introduction. We also found that the restaurant will kindly hold your debit card if you leave it there. I would highly recommend the classic 42nd Street Baked Oysters. You will want to gulp down the oysters, and clean out the shell for every remaining breadcrumb, bit of bacon and butter.

oysters rockefeller

baked oysters rockefeller—with spinach, bacon and parmesan

baked 42nd street oysters

baked 42nd street oysters—with breadcrumb crust, bacon and spicy butter

cajun fried shrimpers

cajun fried shrimpers

spinach artichoke dip with pita bread

spinach artichoke dip with pita bread

Busy Bee Cafe [225 S Wilmington St, Raleigh]—This was my first meal trip to Busy Bee, and I was happily surprised by the yummy food. Since opening, Busy Bee amended the menu slightly with some seasonal additions, but everything our group ordered is still available. I should also mention that the restaurant has an enjoyable atmosphere. The multi-level space has a ground floor dining room and loft, plus an upstairs bar, and rear patio for the after-dinner crowd. You can always have a drink upstairs before dinner while you wait for your table to be put together…

For dinner I ordered the Chicken Salad Sandwich, which came on an airy croissant. The chicken salad was wonderful, but I love all kinds of chicken salad—my mom’s being my favorite, closely followed by O’Carr’s in Birmingham, AL. My mom has said before that it’s her mission to try every chicken salad possible, and I couldn’t agree more. They are all slightly different, but all good! I’ve never had a bad chicken salad…I think that would be memorable if I had. Busy Bee’s mayonaisee-based chicken salad includes some celery, apple and egg tossed in.

a perfect chicken salad croissant sangwich

a perfect chicken salad croissant sangwich w/ fried green tomatoes on the side

Here are some of the other entrées ordered at our table.

tom & jack burger: fried green tomatoes and jack cheese; side of tater tots

tom & jack burger: fried green tomatoes and jack cheese; side of tater tots

shrimp and grits—modest portion

shrimp and grits—small portion, but delicious

side of mac & cheese

side of mac & cheese

grilled chicken sandwich with pear, basil and honey; also, somone likes pepper ketchup!

grilled chicken sandwich with pear, basil and honey; also, somone likes pepper ketchup!

State Farmer’s Market [1201 Agriculture St, Raleigh]—Finally, we’ll head over to the Top Chef Demo with Carla (HOOTY HOO!?) and CJ. Former season 3 contestant CJ was preparing the menu with season 5’s Carla assisting. The dish was inspired by N.C. hog farming and our love of the pig: Spiced Pork Loin Tacos with Apple Fennel Bacon Slaw and Bacon-Fat Dressing. Since I watched the demo, I’ll give a rundown on how to make it yourself. It’s quite easy. Sorry though. No specific measurements or cooking times.

carla and cj at cooking demo

carla and cj at cooking demo

To prepare the pork loin, begin by very liberally seasoning the outside with salt and pepper. Then add a rub of cayenne, cumin and cinnamon (sort of Moroccan flavors). With some oil drizzled in a cast iron skillet, sear the sides of the pork loin to seal in the juices. Finish cooking in the oven. Once it has rested from cooking, slice thinly.

To prepare the vinaigrette, combine lemon juice, shallot, a dash of IPA (CJ used Carolina Brewing Company’s IPA), sugar, rendered bacon fat, olive oil, salt and pepper. For the salad, combine julienne apples, fennel, bacon, dates and toasted walnuts, then toss with the vinaigrette. Allow to marinate in the dressing.

CJ formed the slices of pork loin into hard shell taco shapes, and piled a scoop of the salad on top of each. Lastly, he toppped it with a bit of fresh fennel tops. These tacos were the perfect size for eating with your hands. And the flavors were absolutely spot-on with notes of sweet, smoky, citric and spicy. So amazing.

spiced pork loin tacos

spiced pork loin tacos

Well that’s all folks. It feels good to get this food of my chest.