Saturday, March 25, 2017

Thai Herb

Located at 1116 Eastchester Drive in High Point, Thai Herb offers Thai cuisine and sushi for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Alcohol is available.

Though I have a go-to Thai spot in Greensboro, Thai Herb was offering a Groupon and seemed worth a try. It ended up being an uneven experience, but not one that I regretted.

First, the good: though the restaurant is minimally staffed, service is prompt, friendly, and helpful. The menu balances Thai classics (curries, pad thai, rice dishes, soups, and apps) with a respectably deep sushi selection. Moreover, unlike some establishments, Thai Herb will actually achieved the desired level of spiciness (don’t request Thai hot unless you really want to sweat). My order of seafood ga prow featured an excellent dark, rich sauce with basil notes and a nice bit of heat. They also didn’t skimp on the seafood: there were plenty of shrimp, scallops, and mussels.



That said, the execution is uneven. The calamari in my dish were rubbery, and my wife found the glaze on her crispy chicken to be overly sweet. Our Groupon made pricing a bit of a moot point, but under normal circumstances, the $15 paid for my seafood dish seemed fair whereas charging the same amount for her chicken dish was hard to fathom. Thai Herb’s location – in a strip mall on a high-traffic stretch of Eastchester – also doesn’t do it any favors.

All told, Thai Herb is a decent middle-of-the-pack option. The friendly service and willingness to embrace spice and flavors are definite plusses but consistency and location hold it back.


7.25/10

Thai Herb Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mediterranean Deli

Located at 410 West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, Mediterranean Deli serves Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine and baked goods from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. There is a market on-site as well as limited outdoor seating. Catering and delivery are available.

Mediterranean Deli is exactly what it says it is, but it is so much more than that. Glass cases house an impressive selection of salads, sides, and apps (including five different kinds of hummus), yet that is barely scratching the surface. Other glass cases store bars, baklava, and cakes, including several gluten free options. There are also paninis, platters (shawerma, souvlaki, gyro, etc.), and fatayers (boat shaped Middle-Eastern pizzas), as well as rotating specials. The sheer abundance of options can be intimidating and make decisions difficult, but that is about the worst that can be said for this place.

Once we got past the “everything looks good” phase, my wife and I decided on a lamb and beef gyro and a four-side sampler. Portions were rather generous: the gyro came wrapped in a large, thin pita, and the sampler definitely could work as a meal unto itself. Add to that the complimentary condiment bar (olives, tahini, tabouli, tzatziki, and more), and you will not be left hungry here. Of course, it also helps that everything was delicious. The gyro meat was seasoned well, the harissa hummus add a nice bit of spice without overpowering the palate, the curry apple orzo did the same for sweetness, the sautéed cauliflower would make a convert of even the most stridently anti-vegetable child, and the Israeli couscous simply defies description. Admittedly, the desserts here aren’t quite on the same level, but pistachio nammora and cheesecake bars were still plenty tasty.





Given the quality, quantity, and location, one would expect Mediterranean Deli’s prices to run high, but this was not the case. The gyro was $7 and the four-side sampler was $9.75. Depending on your selections, you can walk away here full and happy for under $10 per person. Counter staff were adept at keeping lines moving, wait times for food left no complaints, and there was plenty of seating.

It would be somewhat maniacal to try to sample everything Mediterranean Deli has to offer, yet chances are you’ll at least feel that temptation. With an enormous selection of tasty food at its disposal, this is a place that will keep you coming back.


8.75/10

Mediterranean Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, March 10, 2017

Logan

In 2029, most of the world’s mutants are dead. One of the few survivors, James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman), the Wolverine, works as a chauffeur in Texas and smuggles prescription drugs into Mexico to help treat his ailing mentor, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a disabled telepath whose seizures can paralyze anyone nearby. Centuries old and finally starting to break down, Logan plans a quiet retirement, a plan that is disrupted when a nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) formerly employed by the Transigen corporation enlists him to transport a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) north to safety. It isn’t long before Transigen’s head of security Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) is on their trail and Logan learns that Laura is, in Xavier’s words, “very much like you.”

Playing the same character continuously for seventeen years makes viewer fatigue all but inevitable, so it’s quasi-miraculous that audiences were not overjoyed when Jackman announced that this would be his last outing as Wolverine. Of course, it helps that he’s given a slightly different interpretation of the character in each film, ranging from funny cameos (X-Men:First Class) to horrifying ones (X-Men: Apocalypse) and from rugged anti-heroes (most of the previous X-films) to romantic leads (the ill-fated and character-derailing X-Men: The Last Stand). In Logan, Jackman provides yet another interpretation of the character: older, breaking down, cynical, and weary but still capable of ferocious violence. If previously Logan was running in search of his past, here he is now running from it, or, at the very least, haunted by its painful lessons. This vulnerable, nuanced take on what was (in-universe and out) often regarded as a one-dimensional killing machine is not only Jackman’s best work in the role but arguably one of the best performances in a superhero film, period.

Of course, Jackman has two factors working in his favor. The first is a group of capable and often familiar collaborators. Director James Mangold not only helmed 2011’s The Wolverine but also the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and the Western 3:10 to Yuma. The dusty Western setting and the themes of redemption all weigh heavily here. Jackman is also joined by stalwart Stewart in his last X-outing as well. For those who grew up watching an unflappable, (mostly) benevolent Professor X, seeing a deteriorating, dementia-ridden 90-year-old Xavier is jarring, but Stewart’s multifaceted performance balances crotchety grousing with flashes of his still-extant idealism. The group is given a boost by relative newcomer Keen, who makes quite an impression despite little dialogue, achieving characterization through gesture much in the same way as Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown.
The second factor that makes Logan stand out is that despite its origins (the Old Man Logan and Innocence Lost comic book arcs), it is philosophically not a comic book/superhero movie. Previous X-movies (and comic book adaptations in general) were big-budget, high-action affairs, allowing for a certain amount of escapism even as they dealt with topical themes (mutants have been a way to explore America’s treatment of racial and sexual minorities). Logan, on the other hand, is a more grounded and more personal film. If the grim future of X-Men: Days of Future Past, for example, is established by the presence of Terminatoresque robot overlords, then the grim future of Logan is established by the fact that it resembles our present, but for the (even greater) horror of being one of the few who are different. As an added wrinkle, X-Men comics exist within the world of the movie itself, and Logan is quick to dismiss them as overly simplistic distortions, reminding Laura that “people died.” And yet despite their distillation of the truth, they serve as an inspiration for Laura and others in her precarious position, mirroring (in a more abstract sense) how works of fiction might influence those of us who identify them.

Despite forsaking giant robots and demigods, Logan lacks not for excitement. If anything, it plays like a thriller at times, aided by fight choreography that makes the most of the movie’s R-rating. The implications of facing feral, clawed combatants are made painfully clear here. Marco Beltrami’s score also contributes tension when needed, but it never comes across as intrusive and also works to heighten the film’s more poignant moments (such as those between Logan and Laura).

If there is one letdown that results from Logan’s more serious approach, it is the film’s bland villains. Whereas X-Men: Apocalypse featured a grandiose, overpowered foe, Logan swings too far in the other directions. The Pierce of the comic books is a powerful mutant-hating cyborg and a high-ranking member of the Hellfire Club; Hollbrook’s character is a Southern-accented mercenary with a robotic hand. He’s still unpleasant yet nowhere near as formidable. The same can be said for Transigen researcher Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant). His penchant for amoral experimentation weighed against his stated desire to act in the best interest of humankind add some nuance, but Peter Dinklage beat him to the punch as Days of Future Past’s Bolivar Trask. Even the surprise antagonist X-24, another of Rice’s experiments, though more of a challenge, leaves something to be desired: why not bring back half-brother/archnemesis Sabretooth or introduce a version of Logan’s crazed son Daken instead?

Bleak and brutal yet surprisingly moving and thoughtful in its characterization, Logan is more than just a suspenseful send-off for a popular character. It shows that a kid-unfriendly approach isn’t necessarily a losing formula, that an adult superhero tale can still be one worth telling.


8.5/10

Spring Break Northern Excursion

Spring Break Northern Excursion

My “Spring” Break rarely comes in spring, but I’ll take time off when I can get it. As I had not set foot in my home state in several years, my wife and I ventured north to New Jersey for a few days in early March, stopping along the way in Delaware to visit some friends. Here are but a few places we took in along the way.

Marchese Italian Market



Located at 1700 Pleasure House Road in Virginia Beach, Marchese Italian Market serves appetizers, salads, coffee drinks, panini, and pasta dishes from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday. Sliced meats, cheeses, and baked goods are also available for purchase.

The last time we passed through Virginia Beach, we got a good laugh from the dueling Baptist churches on Pleasure House Road. This time, we decided to actually explore said thoroughfare. Marchese Italian Market made us glad that we did.

Though not a large space, Marchese feels cozy rather than cramped. Signed soccer jerseys and other memorabilia cover the walls, and wines, meats, and cakes are prominently displayed. The owner made us feel welcome and told us she had made some fresh minestrone soup, making a tough decision (everything on the menu sounded good) even tougher.

In the end, my wife and I split an order of rice balls and went with the minestrone with meatballs and the Parma (prosciutto, sweet red peppers, parmesan, and pesto) panini respectively. The food was neither cheap (panini are $8.20 and soup with meatballs ran north of $5) nor quick to arrive, but it was worth it. The rice balls were very cheesy, the generously sized panini balanced salty (the prosciutto) and sweet (the pepper) well, and the soup was the best minestrone I’ve ever had, rich and hearty with perfectly fluffy meatballs. An order of cannoli drizzled with chocolate sauce did not disappoint either.



Giacomo’s in Greensboro remains my gold standard for Italian markets, but for a lunch stop in northern Virginia, Marchese exceeded expectations. If you don’t mind paying and waiting a bit, you’ll walk away full and satisfied.

8/10


Yukon Korean BBQ and Sushi Bar



Located at 865 North Dupont Highway in Dover, Yukon Korean BBQ and Sushi Bar offers sushi, Japanese, and Korean fare. There is a full bar, and food and drink specials are available.

It would be unfair to categorize the whole of Delaware as a culinary wasteland, but on a Saturday night in Dover, dine-in options for a group of four were few and far between. After being quoted wait times of forty minutes to an hour at a few destinations, we decided to give Yukon a try. Though the name (an Americanization, perhaps?) suggests the Alaskan wilderness far more than pan-Asian cuisine, it made for a solid choice.

First, a few caveats. Yukon is not a traditional Korean BBQ restaurant. Though banchan (small side dishes like kim chee) are served and several Korean entrees (such as bulgogi and bimimbap) are available, they are not sizzled tableside, and a good chunk of the menu is dedicated to sushi and Japanese offerings. Next, Yukon is not cheap for what it offers. While the teriyaki and tempura offerings provided an acceptable value ($15-$16 with miso and salad included), the BBQ entrees went for $16-$20 with no such accompaniments.

Beyond that, however, Yukon offers a varied menu with plenty of options: meat or vegetarian, Japanese or Korean, hot or cold. The beef teriyaki featured thinly sliced steak with a nice char while the galbi (marinated boneless ribs) were tender, sweet, and smoky. The tempura offerings held their batter well, and the flavored martinis were a hit with those who tried them. Though things got a bit hectic as Yukon filled up, our server made a good effort to be attentive.

Were there more restaurants of its type in the vicinity, Yukon would rate as strictly an average eatery, a hit-or-miss, take-it-or-leave-it affair. However, the dearth of similar options in the area and the variety the menu affords elevates it to a must-try for Dover-area denizens on the hunt for something different.

7.5/10

Lindt Chocolate Shop



Located at 68 Palmer Square West in Princeton, Lindt sells chocolates by the bar or by the bag as well as chocolate beverages. Free samples are usually available.

If you have even the slightest appreciation for chocolate, this place is hard to pass up. The selection includes truffle flavors not usually found in stores (or not year-round, anyway), and you can cobble together your own custom bag. Yes, it can be pricy, but taking advantage of sales can take some of the sting away. Moreover, the staff at this location were welcoming and free of snobbery.

Obviously, becoming a regular here would be detrimental to wallet and health alike, but for those who visit Princeton every once in a while, this should be a regular stop.

8.25/10



D’Angelo Italian Market



Located at 35 Spring Street in Princeton, D’Angelo Italian Market offers sandwiches, salads, pizzas, pasta dishes, desserts, and more. Catering is available, and there is a full-service butcher.

D’Angelo is an indecisive person’s nightmare, which is to say that it offers many, many delicious-sounding options. I’ve enjoyed their sandwiches in the past, but during a recent visit, my wife and I decided to try pizza. The Parmense (red sauce, prosciutto, arugula, mozzarella, and parmesan) was savory and salty while the Parmigiana (red sauce, eggplant, basil, mozzarella, and parmesan) was refreshing and not the least bit soggy. This isn’t cheap pizza ($3-plus a slice for the Parmense), but you get what you pay for.

For as good as the food and the selection are here, D’Angelo has some definite drawbacks. Seating is limited and inadequate given the volume of dine-in customers. The pizzamaker on duty also seemed surly, and I’ve gotten a brusque vibe from sandwich staff in the past.

If you know what you want and take-out is an option, D’Angelo is a blessing. But if you have to eat in, be prepared for some trade-offs along with your likely-to-be very tasty food.

7.75/10


Chen’s 22



Located at 901 Mountain Avenue in Springfield, NJ, Chen’s 22 offers pan-Asian cuisine for lunch and dinner seven days per week. Sushi is offered (including an all you can eat option on select nights), and lunch specials are available.

Years ago, one of the first jobs I ever held was located a few doors down from this longstanding Springfield institution, and I would sometimes head over on lunch breaks. Since then, Chen’s has added Japanese and Thai offerings to its repertoire, but its Chinese dishes remain satisfying if unspectacular.

Chen’s is not a big restaurant, but it is more spacious than its narrow storefront suggests. Go when it isn’t busy, and service is generally on-point. Our group of five hadn’t long to wait for hot tea or any of our food.

Speaking of the food, they execute competently here (nothing over or undercooked, no missing components, no excesses of grease or salt), but the flavors tend to be a bit muted. Our group went with sweet and sour pork, General Tsao’s chicken, a Szechuan beef dish, a Cantonese seafood dish, and New Year’s coins (coin-shaped pasta). Everything was several notches better than the run-of-the-mill takeout that is so ubiquitous down south, and the coins were something I haven’t encountered elsewhere. Just the same, several of the dishes that were supposed to be spicy definitely could have used more heat.

Since Hunan Spring’s unfortunate decline, Chen’s 22 has emerged by default as a go-to Chinese destination for return visits to New Jersey. The prompt service, balanced menu, and tasty (if toned-down) offerings make that far from a bad thing.


7.75/10

Offbeat Loneliness Cinema: The Lobster and Swiss Army Man

It is an unfortunate truism that the bigger and farther-reaching a problem is, the more easily it lends itself to a film. War movies and natural disaster movies have been done countless times, yet as Hacksaw Ridge most recently demonstrated, that well has yet to run dry. But take a problem more personal, more intimate, and smaller in scope, and as a filmmaker, you will have your work cut out for you. If you are lucky, your tale will be moving and relatable. If you are not careful, however, you risk littering the screen with solipsistic whining. Loneliness falls into this latter category of problems, but that didn’t stop two films of recent vintage – 2015’s The Lobster and 2016’s Swiss Army Man – from exploring it anyway.



The Lobster takes its name from its protagonist, a shortsighted architect named David (Colin Farrell) whose wife recently left him. David is taken to a hotel and given 45 days to find a partner, or he will be turned into an animal of his choosing. During his stay, he is fed pro-relationship propaganda, befriends a limper (Ben Whishaw) and a lisper (John C. Reilly), and tries to court a heartless woman before realizing his perfect match (Rachel Weisz) may exist among a fiercely independent colony of loners out in the woods.

Though its premise may be a tough sell, Yorgos Lanthimos’s film gets by on its absurdist sensibility. There is an exaggerated, European-accented formality that permeates the film. Everything from dialogue to acts of violence come across as stilted and uncomfortable, which speaks volumes about the rules-obsessed world that David occupies. The hotel, for instance, doesn’t allow masturbation, bisexuality, or half-sizes in clothing whereas the loner colony punishes romance and makes members dig their own graves. If Brazil is 1984 by way of Monty Python, then The Lobster is Brazil by the way of Samuel Beckett. Though certainly off-putting at times, it’s an effectively deep black comedy aided by a lonely, desperate, frumpy Farrell, obliterating the typecasting of his youth.



Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Swiss Army Man explores a similar theme – what it means to be alone in contemporary society – in a very different way. Here, Hank Thompson (Paul Dano) is a marooned man on the verge of hanging himself when a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore. Dubbing the corpse Manny, Hank uses its flatulence to propel it across the water like a jetski. As Manny gradually begins to come back to life, Hank befriends him and tries to teach him the ways of the world. They are eventually motivated to try to return to civilization by their shared love for a woman named Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

If The Lobster derives humor from its stiltedly awkward restraint, Swiss Army Man attempts to do likewise from its complete lack of it. Flatulence, erections, and other things a twelve-year-old boy might find amusing all factor prominently here, making the film seem the bastard offspring of Cast Away and Dumb and Dumber. The abundance of crass stupidity makes the movie’s moments of genuine introspection, intended as heartfelt, hard to take. The fault lays not with the actors – Dano is an enthusiastic but bumbling Hank and Radcliffe’s bizarre, occasionally wooden performance suits his “dead” character well – but rather with a script that asks us to understand and sympathize with characters it has inadequately developed. While Swiss Army Man deserves some plaudits for the boldness of its approach, it should also serve as a reminder that not all gambles are worth taking.

The Lobster: 7.75/10

Swiss Army Man: 6.25/10

Calavera Empanada & Tequila Bar


Located at 370 East Main Street in Carrboro, Calavera Empanada and Tequila Bar features empanadas, nachos, tequilas, and cocktails. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. (noon on weekends) until 2 a.m. seven days a week. Limited outdoor seating is available as are vegetarian options.

My wife and I have enjoyed our visits to Calavera’s sister restaurant, the neighboring meatball Shoppe, so we were looking forward to seeing what the other side of the door had to offer. In terms of variety, décor, and service, Calavera did not disappoint, but unfortunately, the food could not keep pace.

Aesthetically, Calavera makes quite an impression. The light-laden red walls, stars hanging from the ceiling, and tropical-printed tabletops add vibrancy without gaudiness. This visual appeal is matched by an enticing menu. While there are a few apps (street corn and two kinds of guacamole) and nachos, empanadas are the star. The fillings range from traditional to vegetarian to Southern-style, and at $3.50 a piece, the pricing is certainly reasonable (at least as far as the empanadas go – the same cannot be said for ambitiously priced $9 margaritas).

The execution, however, proved to be uneven. The four empanadas that my wife and I shared arrived golden brown and accompanied by red and green salsas. So far, so good. The style of empanada here is thick and a bit doughy, good for keeping everything together but a shock if you are expecting a lighter, flakier offering. The fillings varied considerably. The pineapple in the Al Pastor (marinated pork) delivered a welcome citrus note, and the braised mushroom blend (Portobello, shitake, and cremini) in The Champ was wonderfully earthy. On the other hand, the Picadillo (ground beef, potato, onion, and tomato) proved to be rather salty.




The bartender on duty for our visit proved to be an excellent server, keeping watch over tables inside and out and answering questions with ease. He even talked us into a dessert empanada, the King of Kong (a banana and Nutella filled empanada with sweet cream), which proved to be delectably sweet.

All told, Calavera is a fun spot that is well worth trying for a light bite or a drink, but the food could benefit from more consistency.


7.75/10

Cup a Joe

Located at 112 West King Street in historic downtown Hillsborough, Cup a Joe offers coffee drinks, teas, and baked goods. It is open from 6 a.m. (7 a.m. on weekends) to 6 p.m. seven days a week, and limited outdoor seating is available.

Last year, this popular Hillsborough coffee shop moved a few doors down to its current, more spacious location. “More spacious” is a relative term, for while there is definitely more space and more seating than there was previously, it is still easy to find yourself without a chair to claim.

This gripe aside, there is a lot to like here. The regular menu has a commendable assortment of caffeinated drinks, and cases by the register are typically filled with tantalizing cookies, muffins, and cakes (my wife swears by the salted chocolate chip cookies). A brightly colored chalkboard behind the register advertises limited-time only custom creations, which recently included a white chocolate cocoa with Lucky Charms (add an espresso shot to ensure you won’t tire any time soon). Prices are not bad by downtown Hillsborough standards, and staff are friendly and helpful more times than not.

Provided you can find a place to sit, Cup a Joe is a comfortable, reliable purveyor of caffeine and sugar in both liquid and solid forms.


8/10

Cup a Joe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato