American, Dallas, Fort Worth, Italian, Seafood, Uncategorized

The Charles- Dallas, TX

Driving through the Design District in Dallas on a Saturday night the streets are quiet, barely lit from street lighting appearing to be…lets say questionable. My friends, Diana and Jonathan, are finally taking me to their favorite spot. They’ve constantly talked about this vibrant, dashing Italian inspired restaurant. The Design District, being dark and my first time in the area, made me curious about the spot based on the surroundings (although I could be wrong). Then you walk into The Charles and you are immediately transported into a different world.

It’s 8:45pm and the party is just getting started here at The Charles. The bar full to the brim, every seat filled with happy faces of satisfied and hungry customers. It takes me a moment to adjust to the crowd as we made our way to the bar, where we wait for our table. Every server is squeezing by and weaving through people, kindly acknowledging everyone they may accidentally tap. The bartender, who comes to help us, greets us with a smile and energy that is too hard to explain- an electric charge that exudes around him. One of the collaborators, Chas Martin, knows my friends and makes a point to say hello, give us each a kiss on the cheek, and give off the energy ten times bigger than the bartender. You can tell he has put his heart and soul into the restaurant. You see him fluttering from table to table, person to person, making a point to connect with everyone in his establishment.

The decor of The Charles is like entering the fantasy of someone’s innermost dreams. Exposed beams create an industrial look, light fixtures that resemble bubbles or balloons adorn the ceilings. Dainty wallpaper on one wall contrasts with the leopard print chairs and benches. Boars heads, ancient Italian vases and corbels, and feather looking chandeliers all contribute to the fantasy image that one embarks upon entering The Charles. A different feel and vibe than any other Italian restaurant and I loved every bit that I took in.

When our table was ready, our sweet waitress took the time to explain the concept and idea of The Charles- family style dinner where you order several different courses and share. How very Italian. She, like the other bartender and staff, had a “je ne sais quoi” that is something you have to experience there for yourself. My friends and I all agreed, there must have been extensive or precise training for the staff to have gone through to all make the experience an incredible and special one.

The chef, J. Chastain, and Martin traveled to Italy together to immerse themselves in the Italian culture, look, and food. I learned this from my insider friends who know what’s what, especially in the Dallas food scene. You can tell by looking at the menu that this trip struck inspiration because it exudes Italian inspired items. The chef did his research and created a menu that is exquisite, rustic while also being elegant.

We started with wood fried oysters and I must say that I do not like oysters, but my friends convinced me that these are not your typical oysters. These are wood fired topped with crispy pepperoni and parsley- these will most likely be the only oysters I will ever eat in my life. The texture is not that of a raw oyster, but rather lightly cooked and not the usual slimy touch. The other item that was a first for this carnivore was beef tartare- the theme is that I don’t typically eat anything raw. This tartare was divine though, the bed of beef on top of a toasted piece of garlic bread and adorned with pepper chips and served with ricotta. These menu items I highly recommend for your starters and both are a good introduction to raw proteins.

Our next few courses came out and they are true stars. I’ll begin with the pastas:

Our first pasta is the veal ragu cappelloni which appears to be a fan favorite when you look up The Charles on Instagram. Served in a Parmesan cream sauce the cappelloni was stuffed with ragu and paired beautifully with the light sauce. Secondly we ordered the spicy creste di gallo which is a spicy shrimp, red sauce based pasta dish. The spicy kick compliments the dish as a whole and doesn’t leave your mouth on fire or with that kick stick in the back of your throat. Lastly to round out the pastas we couldn’t resist getting the cacio pepe fritters that had a delectable garlic fromage base and hint of lemon. Each pasta dish was cooked to utter perfection. Having been to Italy before each dish had that Italian inspiration with a twist to it and I felt like I could tell the chef knew what he was doing when it came to cooking the pasta. I highly recommend each of these dishes, but for me the creste di gallo takes the cake.

As for our main entree dish the pork spoke to all three of us. Fathoming this much food was a bit daunting, but the menu really has so much to offer and we couldn’t resist. Thank goodness we didn’t let the daunting task win because this pork was some of the best I’ve had. Boasting fennel, mushrooms, and orange twist the pork was a beautiful pink color inside, juicy and oozing flavor. It cut like butter and as soon as it graced my taste buds I was in heaven. It was extremely flavorful and to my delight immensely, but not overpoweringly, peppery. While there are several eye catching entrees, I would return solely for this pork dish alone (but we all know that I wouldn’t get just the one dish either). The chef really took my breathe away with this pork, to the point where I wish I had bread to collect the sauce (I would say that is the one and only downside to the restaurant, I wish I had something to soak up all the sauces and creams from each dish, seeing that licking plates in public is not necessarily acceptable).

By the end we were stuffed, the idea of dessert out of the question. But this meal was so special and we didn’t want the night to end so dessert was ordered and again we made a great choice. We tried both the infamous olive oil cake and the tiramisu. This tiramisu had a much darker color than the typical one, but still had that the great rich flavor everyone loves. The olive oil cake was moist and fluffy, drenched in almond tuile and bedazzled with grapes and a blanket of mascarpone.

The food at The Charles is obviously the principal of the show, but the soloists and corps de ballet frame the principal to create a performance that is technical, fluid, and stunning. From the interior decoration, the personalities and hospitality of every single person working there, and the attention to detail is what really makes The Charles an experience that you will forget. Accompanied with the great company of fantastic friends, The Charles is a place everyone should treat themselves to, whether it be a quiet date night or a fun night out with a group of friends. Either way you will be welcomed with open arms, just as the Italians do.

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American, Baking Recipes, Italian, Savory, Uncategorized

The Risotto Fiasco

This is the story of how I messed up, improvised, and succeeded at making risotto.

Okay, first of all, this is why I bake. I love cooking and I love how I can be experimental and try new things and make it up as I go, but sometimes it bites me in the ass.

In this case, it’s a beautiful Sunday morning and I’m about to go into the craziest time ever with a triple bill where I’m dancing all three pieces first cast (if you’re new to the blog, I’m a professional ballet dancer…yeah hi) so I wanted to make something really special. I’m single, I have the weekend to myself to rest and recoup so I wanna do a little “treat yo-self”.

When I first thought of what I wanted to make I immediately thought of my mom’s risotto. Creamy and perfectly cooked- my mom is an amazing cook, the best actually. I figured I could totally do this and boy was I wrong.

I called my mom roughly seven times- SEVEN- about how to make it, what kind of rice to get, why is there only organic shit, what kind of wine do I use, etc, etc.

So in the end, I had decided I wasn’t going to make this. I just was too in over my head. And then I found myself in the food store, wandering the rice aisle, and I grab a box that says “Risotto”. I call my mom and try to figure out what kind of wine to get and mention that the box says to add water. My mom said to me, “what did you get, I use chicken broth and it’s a long process. It takes time to make risotto.”

I BOUGHT THE WRONG STUFF. I am a Cancer zodiac sign too so you know I started getting upset and mad at myself. I spent all this money to make a dish that I don’t know how to make and had bought the wrong ingredients. I even had a freak out about having the wrong pot to make this risotto.

I was stuck- but this Critiquing Carnivore rallied herself together. I am my mother’s daughter and I can figure this out as I go and…improvise! *cue jazz hands*

Firstly, I bought Lundberg family farms organic arborio risotto- basically instant risotto instead of plain arborio rice. The instructions on the side say to use 2.5 cups of water, but instead I used 2 cups of water and half a cup of white wine. My mom said to use Sauvignon Blanc, naturally I had already gotten Pinot Grigio (at least I’m sticking to character with getting the WRONG INGREDIENTS). I also added a little lemon juice to add some acidity to it. With classic risotto instead of water you usually slowly ladle in chicken broth a little at a time, letting the rice absorb the liquid. My mom adds in the white wine and lemon juice for taste.*

In the end I added some chopped onions I had quickly sautéed as well, just to add some texture (and I love onions).

So moral of the story is mom’s know best and the risotto fiasco ended up working out. The boxed stuff came out okay (definitely not the same as my mom’s) and once I stirred in extra Parmesan cheese and top it off with parsley, I still felt like a Top Chef Queen.

*the risotto stayed pretty soupy up until the 15 minute mark- if you go the boxed risotto route DO NOT WORRY. The rice will absorb all the liquid in the end and if not just remove the pot from heat. If you cook it too much and the risotto looks dry, I would recommend adding more water…or wine 😉

BE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY INSTAGRAM: @CRITIQUINGCARNIVORE

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American, Beef, Burgers, Fort Worth

Knife Burger- Fort Worth, TX

Hello readers! Wow, I’ve been in a ballet hole for a while therefore I’ve been neglecting this fun little blog. Thank you for your continuous support and reading, be sure to follow my Instagram!

Now to the meat of the blog (I’m quite punny) I have been waiting for what seems like an eternity for this: the Fort Worth Food Hall is officially open! This has been a huge topic in Fort Worth and with it open now I had to get myself in there!

Located in the West 7th district of FW, the hall boasts everything from shawarma to poke bowls and cheesecakes to decadent waffles. These chefs mostly came into the food hall after operating food trucks, so a strong name was needed to spear head the project…Knife Burger.

The baby of Knife in Dallas, Knife Burger is owned by John Beard award winning chef John Tesar. Some of you may also know him from his Top Chef days! I’ve been dreaming of going to both Knife and Knife Burger, so when I found out Tesar’s baby was coming to the Fort I made a point to get myself there ASAP!

The entire food hall is incredible, but Knife Burger takes the cake. Featuring a bar next door and holding the most space you know they are the anchors for the food hall. The cubicle type spacing is small, but an appropriate size.

The way Knife Burger works is you have two options: pink or no pink. They don’t do any in betweens, so for the first time I did a no pink Ozersky Burger which is their classic American cheese burger with red onions. Naturally I got fries to go with it! These burgers are a little on the expensive side, but remember it’s a James Beard award winning chef’s restaurant.

The burger itself was quite small, a bit of a disappointment. I definitely could have gotten a double and finished it off. The cheese was incredible, gooey and melted over the burger. The bun was toasted perfectly and was fluffy. The meat was good, but because I went the no pink route it was a bit overdone for my burger liking. I definitely would like to try their pink burger and see how rare or medium it really is. The burger bun was really salty, which for me I didn’t mind, but for others I could see it being too salty.

These fries…these fries are the crispy strands of goodness. Every fry was fried to perfection, crispy and soft inside. And every single one was crispy, no mushy French fries were found! Praise! These fries were very salty like the burger bun, but I like a salty fry! I could see it being too much for some though, something to consider as a chef/restaurant. Overall, I will definitely be going to Knife Burger for my 1am salty fix!

Knife Burger met my expectations, even if it did fall short in some areas. The burger was a bit small and the restrictions on the cooking level are not ideal, but all in all Knife Burger was great. They were timely firing food out as well and the workers welcomed you and took your order with a smile. I look forward to coming back and trying some of the other burger options and soon other options in the Food Hall.

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American, Beef, Burgers, North Carolina, Uncategorized

Hops Burger Bar- Greensboro, NC

This past weekend I got to make a very special trip to Greensboro, NC to see my sister and brother in law and it was full of extra tummy rubs…I’m going to be an aunt! It’s definitely all about the pregnant lady, but I made sure my food needs were known and I knew I had to try 2015’s best burger in the nation. Yes, this weekend we went to Hops Burger Bar.

Indeed they were named the best burger in the nation, a title not to be taken lightly. Over the years of having some pretty amazing burgers I’ve concluded for myself (sorry if you disagree, but this is my blog) that most burger places are kind of the same, but in a really good way! Having fresh quality beef and ingredients is the norm now and how amazing is that! Now it’s down to the variations and overall vibe and story of a place and Hops lives up to that expectation. 

With a couple locations they’ve obviously done well for themselves, attracting the crowds enough to need to expand. Upon walking into the Lawndale location the aromas of beef and hops fill the air. An array of chalkboards dazzle the board with what’s on tap and the burger of the month. A good size restaurant bustling the middle of a Friday…you definitely know it’s going to be good and worth it. 

The menu of burgers is a huge selection, from the many options of burgers they’ve concocted to being able to make your own made it a difficult decision on deciding what to order! I was literally stuck between three burgers and putting my favorite parts of all three on one burger was just not going to mesh well. So upon asking our waiter of his thoughts, I ended up with the fan favorite…The Spicy Goat.

As you can put together so far about the burger it has goat cheese along with applewood bacon, sweet and spicy pepper jelly and topped with lettuce. In the end it’s just really hard to pass up goat cheese! I’m so happy I got this burger because in one bite I was on goat cheese cloud nine. The biggest hunk of cheese sat in between the incredibly juicy burger and crisp fresh lettuce. The sauce had a tangy sweetness and then would finish with just the faintest spicy kick. The combination was superb, all the flavors melding well and complimenting each other. 

Perhaps the only thing that could steal the show would be the crispy fries. There’s a pretty extensive menu when it comes to the fries, but the classic ones are done perfectly…super crispy yet soft and warm on the inside. I loved the plain old fashioned, having tried the Parmesan and truffle ones they really weren’t winning me over. But look at these golden brown beauties:

Of course more and more restaurants are aware of dietary restrictions and choices, but it’s pretty cool walking into a burger place and seeing gluten free buns available as well as vegan friendly substitutes like veggie patties!

Hops Burger Bar lives up to their title of being the best burger in the nation. Although some time has past since they’ve been given that honor, they are serving up some really great, well made burgers. Like I said, I can’t wait to go back and try more!

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American, Fort Worth, Italian, Uncategorized

Piattello Italian Kitchen- Fort Worth, TX

Can you believe I found another Italian restaurant that is actually good in Texas? And I’m from Boston, the best Italian restaurants are next door to my house. Well, as Fort Worth is growing and becoming more “cosmopolitan” the restaurants are coming in and adding more depth, culture to the city. Now a BBQ loving country boy can get decent, authentic Italian food. Yet another Italian restaurant has made its debut in Fort Worth, tucked in the back at Waterside, and that’s Piattello.

Waterside, located just past the Trinity River off Bryant Irvin, is just one of the several new business sites in the city. Where the Fort Worth Whole Foods famously sits, Waterside is home to other chain restaurants and some retail stores. The one standout is Piattello, the only non-chain restaurant in the complex. It sits sort of behind everything, just down from Steel City Pops. It has a small outdoor patio that is their own, but opens out to the courtyard area behind Whole Foods and Taco Diner.  With twinkling lights in the trees, children playing, and the fresh air it all adds to Piattello’s ambiance. The inside is pretty subdued, fun light fixtures adorn the ceiling, otherwise there is nothing too special. There is a lot of space, you can see when your waiter has picked up your food, and in one corner I noticed a wine shelf. Again, nothing too spectacular.

Our waiter was very present during our meal, filling our water glasses and checking on us frequently. For a Friday night it wasn’t too crowded, but it was certainly bustling so the fact that he was checking on us as frequently as he did proved how much he was trying. 

We started with the ricotta cheese appetizer, simply just ricotta with olive oil embedded on top and toasted bread. Simple, but very delicious. That bread was so addicting!

Now whenever I am about to go out to a new restaurant I always check Instagram for photos from the restaurant and public posts from other people (that aren’t staged and photoshopped). Photos, even though I’m a blogger, speak loudly and cooking is a visual art. So when I looked Piattello up it seemed to be that the pasta dishes are what makes them stand out. Ten points to Instagram and the general public because this is so true! Even the simplest pasta dish, strozzapreti cacio e pepe (cheese pasta essentially) was scrumptious. Great flavors and mixture of cheeses with parmigiana and pecorino, perfectly cooked pasta, and seasoned just right, nice and creamy. Again Piattello is demonstrating that sometimes you just have to go simple.

With that being said the above pasta dish was great, but I shouldn’t have gotten it. My friend who enjoyed this meal with me ordered the sweet potato ravioli. I should’ve gotten that just to take home for later. In a brown butter and sage sauce, those ravioli were superb. The flavors were spot on, the ravioli constructed and cooked magnificentally, it was by far the better of the two. I almost went to dinner the next night alone just to get the ravioli. They were that good. I mean how dreamy do those look?

Piattello also serves pizza and by photos they look pretty good so definitely will need to get back there to try them out. They also advertise quite a bit about their coffee service in the afternoon so with the nice outdoor space that’s something to check out too. 

Overall Piattello was a great experience. Although there wasn’t a lot of character with the interior, the food spoke volumes and provided great decor, until devoured. The service was good, no complaints there. If you have the chance get over to Waterside and treat yourself to a nice Italian meal at Piattello.  

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American, Fort Worth, Italian, Uncategorized

Cane Rosso- Fort Worth, TX

All of my readers know that I’m extremely picky about my Italian food. I very clearly announce on a daily basis that I do not eat Italian in Texas, just like how I don’t eat Tex Mex in Boston. However, when the word on the street is all about an Italian place in Fort Worth, my curiosity just takes over. I had to check out what all the hullabaloo was about Cane Rosso

Man, I swear every other post I do about a place in Fort Worth is located on West Magnolia. But it’s true, W Magnolia is just popping with exciting and innovative new idea restaurants that keeps people coming back. The area is electric and Cane Rosso fits in perfectly. Located next door to Brewed on the tail end of Magnolia, it’s always been a popular place, people constantly coming in and out flocking around the building. Reminder, they take reservations on Open Table! Definitely suggest making a reservation no later than 24 hours in advance, time slots get taken quickly! It’s super helpful that they do business on Open Table though, as many Fort Worth restaurants don’t, so take advantage of it. 

The vibe is very homey, tables packed closely together, the brick pizza oven behind the long bar. They have some outdoor seating too, which would be beautiful on a cool night. It doesn’t necessarily scream “Italian, quaint, trattoria”, but it is sort of a hipster, Italian look. The ceiling is adorned with several different light fixtures, each one with character and creating some separation in the big main room. 

The menu is adorned with several classic Italian dishes and ingredients. Our waitress did a fantastic job explaining what San Marzano tomatoes and soppressatta are. Even though I know what those are, most Texans won’t, so the fact the staff is educated in these special ingredients and can explain what they are is great and a testament to the kind of establishment they are creating.

We started off with the classic caprese just because it’s so hard not to enjoy. The tomatoes were juicy and the mozzarella tasted like Italy. The balsamic had to have come from a legitimate source bursting with tangy, sweet notes. The bread tasted fresh and grilled perfectly with a drizzle of olive oil. The pesto tasted homemade too, adding another component to the dish.

As the entree, how could we not get pizza? With the san marzano tomatoes and brick oven just behind our shoulder, we would be silly not to try the pizza. It didn’t disappoint. The ingredients tasted fresh and came together harmoniously. We chose the “OMB” pizza with meatballs, sausage, caramelized onions, and calabrian chiles. The onions added a sweetness while the chiles gave a little heat. The meatballs and sausage were fantastic and the dough was actually impressive. It wasn’t sweet like some doughs can be, it only enhanced the flavor. My one critique would be that the crust was flimsy, not crisp. I know not everyone likes a crisp thin crust and that Neapolitan pizza is supposed to be soft, but it still could’ve been cooked a little longer in my opinion.

After this experience at Cane Rosso, I don’t know, I may have to stop saying that I don’t eat Italian in Texas. This is yet another Italian restaurant that has proven me wrong about there not being good, high standard Italian food. I continue to be surprised by the capabilities of the chefs, not only by their cooking skills, but their knowledge of what real Italian food is. These chefs are great and are working for and with fantastic investors, sous chefs, waitstaff, and most importantly serving the community their absolute best. West Magnolia is home to yet another fantastic restaurant that I will certainly be going back to. 

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American, boston, Burgers, Cape Cod, Italian, Seafood

Laurino’s- Brewster, MA

Home. A lot of people think of their family when they think of home. The atmosphere, the people, the food. The same goes for restaurants. Yes, you remember the food if you’ve been to a great place, but many of us also remember the experience we had. Were the waiters/waitresses nice? Did the hostess greet you cheerfully? Were you told a wait time that fit the means of a normal time frame? Those are things that can make or break a restaurant just as much as the food being good or not. Laurino’s checks off everything and does it with love. 

Just off Route 6A sits Laurino’s, a humble and welcoming establishment on Cape Cod. We came here as a second choice actually, after our first choice treated us less than spectacular. We learned our lesson and know to make Laurino’s our first choice. From being greeted with a smile, to delicious food, to seeing hardworking people work together, you feel better knowing your money is going towards a restaurant like that than one with snotty hosts. 

The vibe at Laurino’s is that of home, with fun posters and pictures all around and a community feeling. They welcome all, seeing that we’ve taken my autistic sister here and seeing an autistic boy the night we went. Our waitress was bubbly and happy, exuding vibrant colors that made us feel cheerful and happy to be there. She made our experience amazing and we noticed all the waitstaff helping each other, from running plates to cleaning and turning over tables. True teamwork.

The food, on top of everything else, was superb. The SOB Burger was juicy and delicious, all the ingredients cooked perfectly. The specials that evening made it difficult to decide what to get, but one special that night screamed incredible. Scallops with tortellini in a red pesto sauce was just too good not to get. The tortellini had to have been homemade, with ample filling and tasty pasta. The scallops cooked to perfection, complimenting the tortellini in a delicious sauce that popped with flavor and spice (and everything nice).

From now on Laurino’s is the place, where everyone is welcome to enjoy drinks, food, and company. Ultimately that’s what matters when you go out to eat, not necessarily where everyone else goes, but the place that leaves you feeling bright and your tummy full. 

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