Tag Archives: Date Night

Quiet Genius at Bernardin’s Restaurant

Chef Freddy Lee has been stealthily creating extraordinary cuisine for nearly three decades as the chef for his restaurant, Bernardin’s.  The restaurant celebrates 27 years this year, no small feat for a restaurant these days.

Quiet and a bit shy, with a complete lack of bravado that you might expect from some chefs, Lee and his brother, Terry, are a stronghold in the Winston-Salem dining scene. Before there was a popular downtown, Bernardin’s, at its unassuming shopping center location on Jonestown Road, was the go-to for that “special night out” for anniversaries, prom’s, romantic dates. Back in the day, a restaurant in a shopping center was the thing to do, Freddy told me. 

And then it wasn’t the thing to do. 

Then, nine years ago, the 200-year-old Zevely House, which had enjoyed its own iconic status as restaurant in the Historic West End, became available. The Lee brothers adapted and moved the restaurant into the 200-year-old Moravian style house nine years ago and it was as if Bernardin’s at the Zevely House was always meant to be. 

“Downtown was starting to really happen back then and we thought the West End would be a perfect location, it was more central and nearer to everything.”  More businesses, bakeries, the ballpark and condos added to the happening little neighborhood vibe.

The romantic atmosphere of the purported “oldest home in Winston-Salem” adds to the already elevated masterful dishes coming out of the Lee kitchen. White linen tablecloths and a full place setting in dining rooms make for intimate feels. Service is always top-notch.

Freddy was born in India and raised in New York. As a teenager he started working in fine dining restaurants in the city and after high school and graduated from Culinary Institute of America.  Although he learned a great deal about French culinary techniques in school, it’s on-the-job training that he’s found invaluable. “You learn some basic skills from school, but it’s working at different restaurants and with different chefs that you get the most experience.” Freddy worked in New York City in restaurants like Tribeca Grill and in California for a bit before he and Terry followed family members to Winston-Salem with the intent to open Bernardin’s, and they’ve considered themselves North Carolinians ever since.

 

Bernardin’s was the location of a Chef’s Table which was so popular that it sold out in a matter of hours.  Thirty-two guests were welcomed on the beautiful Bernardin’s patio where Freddy embarked on an adventurous, culinary tour of flavors from around the globe with local ingredients.

Course One
Roasted Tri-Color Cauliflower Salad
With Granny Smith Apple, almond walnut crunch, grilled corn,  feta cheese, grated salt cured fermented egg yolk. anchovies. micro greens, sherry vinaigrette

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Listening to Freddy talk about this dish was fun and made me want to replicate it. The intricate flavors of the lightly roasted cauliflower along with a sweet crunch of roasted nuts was a fun take on a salad.

Course Two Tandoori
Kangaroo
With raised savoy cabbage, lentil curry potato cake, papadam,
mint yogurt, tandoori sauce

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Did you say “kangaroo?” Yes, I did. Bernardin’s is kind of famous for their kangaroo dish. What does it taste like, you may ask. It’s slightly stronger in flavor than beef but not as gamey as venison. It’s very lean and very clean and you should have it at least once.  Freddy’s preparation of this classic Bernardin’s dish is lovely and let’s the flavor of the meat shine.

Course Three
Roasted Sea Bream
With sunchoke, asparagus, rainbow carrots, lobster chorizo broth
The light and flaky fish was pan-seared with a crispy skin in a simple, earthy smoky broth. 

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Course Four
Pork Belly Ramen Tonkotsu
With half boiled egg., enoki mushrooms, nori, green onion, black garlic, chili oil, pork broth 

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  A true crowd-pleaser, this dish was light and flavorful with the jammy egg.

Course Five
Cheesecake Parfait
Blackberry, raspberry. white chocolate, caramel. coconut pistachio crisp, oreo cookies
Grand Marnier, creme anglaise

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This little dessert had it all… Creamy layers of fluffy whipped sweetened cream cheese layered with chocolate and coconut, berries with hints of orange. Dive straight down and pull it up for the perfect bite, Freddy told us. And perfect it was. I’d go back for that anytime.

I’d go back for any of it. Guest, John McPherson, who’s attended a number of Chef’s Table said, “I love how the chef has taken us all over the globe with this meal.”

Every course was exquisite. And that’s true for anything I’ve ever had at Bernardin’s. 

Some versions of the dishes served at A Chef’s Table are dishes that have made or will make an appearance at Bernardin’s at any given time. Lee says he loves to work with different game and changes his more adventurous offerings based on what quality ingredients he can get. “I like to work with emu and bison and different kinds of seafood,’ he says.

Lee encourages taking the leap when dining out. “Many people order off the menu but sometimes they’ll want to be surprised. That’s the best way to eat, really. Order different entrees and share them.”

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The Lee brothers also own Bernardin’s Charlotte and Blue Fin in Columbia.  And Freddy has partnerships in other restaurants as well, Trade Street Diner, Bleu Restaurant & Bar, and Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse.  How he has time to cook in addition to looking after all these restaurants is a wonder. But now with his children grown, he enjoys quick trips with his wife, even out of the country, but never for very long. “I like to get out of the restaurant and travel and eat fast food,”  he laughs. “Opening restaurants is stressful but to me, I love to cook and it comes easy.  I will always be cooking.”

A Look Back at Our Chef’s Table at Blue Denim

When you visit Blue Denim, it might be a good idea to wear your stretchy jeans.

Located in the heart of Downtown Greensboro (217 S. Elm Street), lovingly nicknamed “Jeansboro,” as an ode to the city’s textile heritage, particularly to Cone Denim, Blue Denim has established itself as a cozy, modern eatery with a focus on creole and cajun fare. Owner Jody Morphis, came to Greensboro by way of New Orleans in 2000. His first job in the Gate City was at the former Restaurant Pastiche. Five years later, Morphis opened Fincastles Downtown, a beloved burger-centric diner that became a part of Greensboro’s locally-owned burger boom. After enjoying 10 years at Fincastles, Morphis sold the diner and stepped away from the kitchen for a brief while. But the proverbial phrase, “I could not stay away” rings true here. So in 2015, Morphis and his wife opened Blue Denim, right next door to the former Fincastles (now White and Wood Wine Lounge).       

Opening a cajun restaurant wasn’t too far a stretch, as Morphis often featured a Mardi Gras menu at Fincastles that was quite popular. Morphis grew up in Meridian, Mississippi, and after college went to culinary school in New Orleans. There he stayed as a chef in New Orleans at Cafe Giovanni,and then at House of Blues. “I always loved gumbo and étouffées. Growing up in Mississippi, we grew up on that too,” Morphis told me. An eclectic globally-inspired menu with a cajun and creole focus takes special attention and Morphis says he enjoys playing around with flavors and local ingredients.

While many of the featured chefs “surprise” the guests with the multiple courses, some like to present a menu and Chef Morphis’s menu was presented beautifully with a custom printed napkin tie to mark the occasion. Each course was detailed in such a way to highlight a region or event that is meaningful to Morphis and we noted that here with each course.

Mobile (Course 1)
Rock Shrimp Zabuton

“Mobile is where the first recorded Mardi Gras took place in the United States”

Marscarpone, rock shrimp, chives, raspberry & mango puree, roasted ginger pepper demi, pea shoot pesto.

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This little crepe like “pillow” was beautifully presented. The creamy filling worked beautifully with  the sauces and demi. You know how it’s so yummy to take the last bite and dredge it through all the beautiful glazes? Every bite was like that. Guest Scott Fancett declared, “This sauce is so good, it should’v come with a spoon.”

Chabaud (Course 2)
Holy Trinity & Friends

“Chabaud is the last name of the family that kind of took care of me when I lived in New Orleans,” Morphis described of this course. “They have been family friends since the late eighties. I have had many memorable meals and experiences with the Chabaud family, and just wanted to honor them.”

Gate City Harvest spring onions, roasted sweet peppers, celery, pork, toasted gorgonzola, Blue Denim Sauce

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This dish was deemed a favorite by guest Bill Norman, who owns Fainting Goat Spirits. This deconstructed “holy trinity” had the components separately presented, but the magic happened when you combined the flavors getting a little bit of everything. The toasted gorgonzola added a beautiful cheese straw like texture and flavor.

Bacchus (Course 3)
Duck, Duck, Gumbo

“Bacchus is another Krewe in New Orleans,” Morphis explained of this dish. “Bacchus was formed in order to include people from outside of New Orleans to revitalize carnival in NOLA. Duck gumbo is revitalizing and a very inclusive dish in itself.”

Smoked Joyce Farms duck, andouille sausage, lemon-grass scented filé gumbo, Louisiana popcorn rice

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The gumbo has been a featured item in the past few weeks at Blue Denim, the warmth and spiciness is everything you love in a gumbo. It was a bit heartier thanks to the duck with a great kick of heat.

Zulu (Course 4)
Grits & Daube

“Zulu is the first parade to roll on Fat Tuesday, which to me is the meat and potatoes of carnival season.”

Old Mill of Guilford Grits, USDA Prime Denver Steak, Cabernet beef jus reduction, parsley oil

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A riff on shrimp and grits, brings us steak and grits. It was a hearty entree to cap the evening’s savory courses. 

Endymion (Course 5)
Oh My Darlin’ Lemon-Thyme

Endymion is one of the super Krewes and largest parades that roll during Mardi Gras,” says Morphis, “When I lived in NOLA, the Chabaud family lived on the Endymion parade route. I had some sweet times there, so dessert was named for Endymion.”

Lemon Thyme Cheesecake,bourbon rosemary blueberry sauce, lemon curd, mint

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The dessert, with its golden, purple and green, which I’m sure was a hat tip to Mardi Gras, was sweet, tart and herbaceous. I absolutely love a lemon dessert with some component of berry. It was absolute perfection for me.

Morphis says when considering what the city needed, he saw a place in the market for great cajun cuisine. “I make a concerted effort to do it the right way and with the right ingredients. The bread for our Po’ Boys come from New Orleans.“

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“We work closely with Gate City Harvest and get with Aubrey to find out what he’s growing and it’s getting easier to build our menus earlier now and utilize as much locally grown produce as possible.”  He adds, “I also love to read a whole lot and study cookbooks to see what other people are doing…and study what other cultures are doing too so that we might be able to do that here at Blue Denim.”

Morphis says he’s happy he has been able to discover a passion and deliver what he loves to do in Greensboro and now he has regulars that dine at Blue Denim that keeps the drive alive. “I don’t take loving what I do for granted. I knew I wasn’t going to get rich, but we make a nice living. We also found good people that work with us that share that desire to create a great experience for our guest. I don’t take that lightly.”

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Chai Pani in Asheville is a “Can’t Miss”

Chai Pani should be on your not-to-be-missed list when traveling to/by/through Asheville. It will be so worth it.

If you’re a regular reader, you know my kidlets love Indian food. So when an opportunity to be in the Asheville area presented itself, we planned dinner accordingly and made our way to Meherwan Irani’s much celebrated Indian street food restaurant. Think all the fun staples—chaat, bhel puri, pakoras…all shareable and fun. There are a few larger plates too, like the butter chicken. My kids were a bit disappointed not to see Chicken Tikka Masala on the menu but the Butter Chicken was a hit (it’s a close enough compromise). Chicken Tikka is a feature on the menu at times.

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Chai Pani is super cute and a bit retro inside. I’d say it’s on the small side but you don’t feel crammed at all.  We were there on a Monday and halfway through our meal, it was already filled up inside.  It’s been two months since our visit and now that the homeschool year is pretty much wrapped up, I finally have time to share some of the delights we enjoyed. Annnnnd that being said, I simply have no idea what the featured dish was that night as it changes often and my brain has no recollection other than I know it was wonderful. It may have been a vadouvan with a protein like lamb or goat, savory, aromatic, with a bit of a kick.

Green Mango Chaat

Green Mango Chaat

This wonderful chaat, considered a street food snack, was deliciously sweet and salty, cool and crisp and no wonder it’s the perfect snack because it has everything you want in something munchy.

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Aldo Tikki Chaat

Now heading to the more savory side, we really loved these crispy Indian potato fritters  “served on spiced garbanzo bean stew topped with tamarind & green chutneys, sweetened yogurt, and crunchy chickpea noodles (sev).” This was a warm, spicy appetizer that had all those aromatics and flavor you love in a classic Indian dish.

Kale Fritters

Kale Pakoras

Indian style savory kale fritters made with curried chickpea batter. Served with green chutney & sweet yogurt.  So unexpected, Chai Pani sent out these kale fritters that were A-MAZE-ING. Get them get them get them!  My mouth waters thinking about them. They’re like kale chips taken up 1000 notches. Super crunchy perfection.

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Butter Chicken Thali

I mean you just cannot go wrong with Butter Chicken. Marinated and seared Joyce Farms chicken in an aromatic tomato cream sauce with butter and jaggery. It’s described on the menu as a North Indian favorite and one of Chai Pani’s signature dishes. You might need two. We didn’t because of all of the above, lol.

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Vadouvan

While the Butter Chicken was mainly for the kiddos, this spicy dish was for Mr. foodie and myself. I will say that the rice at Chai Pani is perfection, but basmati done right usually is as traditionally it’s made in a large amount of water and drained off so that you get beautiful individual grains of rice. See them?

The dishes were just the perfect balance of savory and a touch of sweet with the appropriate tangy requirements from yogurt, citrus. You just can’t get any better.

The kitchen actually sent out a couple of desserts for us to try. My daughter really enjoyed the “mango ice cream sandwich” on a wafer cookie and I absolutely loved gulab jamun, which is deep fried dumplings made of milk, flour, butter and cream, soaked in cardamom & rose syrup. There’s just something about the texture of those little dumplings in the syrup. And they’re just the prettiest little things. If you’re a fan of Indian rice pudding, it’s also an option.

The Chai Pani restaurant group has locations in Atlanta and Decatur, GA and you may have also heard of Buxton Hall Barbecue, also in Asheville. Another can’t miss eatery if visiting the area. For cocktails, you’d love Asheville’s MG Road and now Irani, who must not be busy enough, has launched his own spice company, Spicewalla.

So if you’re traveling in Western NC and you see fit to make some time in Asheville. I just cannot recommend Chai Pani enough. Service is wonderful. Drinks are great. Food is incredible.  And even if you think you don’t like Indian food, Chai Pani may convert you with their fun, shareable plates.

Chai Pani
22 Battery Park Ave (58.67 mi)
Asheville, North Carolina 28801

 

 

 

Review: Full Kee Chinese Restaurant

Hi, Foodies! This post has been updated to let you know we had a few tickets open up for our Chef’s Table at Full Kee, which was rescheduled to April 29 at 7:00.  Get tickets here. 

Honestly, the reason the event got moved up is that Full Kee may be going through an onwership change…they wanted to honor the commitment to our dinner. This could be a swan song for Full Kee, which will make me very sad. The link for tickets explains it all.

You probably know by now (if you’ve been opening your email and clicking on the blog) that I’m am HERE for Full Kee Chinese Restaurant, a local eatery that calls itself “gourmet Chinese.”  We went back for a taste because I wanted to “research” it for a possible future Chef’s Table. And it did not disappoint. So here’s the review when I brought Sister Foodie with me on our foodie exploration.

You can read the full article for YES! Weekly here.

Full Kee has been located at 3793 Samet Drive since 2005.  It was owned and operated by George Yu, who had a very popular restaurant in Washington D.C. before he and his family moved to the Triad. What started as a takeout restaurant, Full Kee expanded into a cozy restaurant with beautiful Chinese art, dim lighting, and a full bar.  In May of last year, George retired and moved to Florida.  Sue Chen had been a partner with George in the early days but had since moved on. Now there was a very brief period of time between George selling and Sue buying the space that the restaurant was not itself.  For one, the restaurant was operated by someone else. Full Kee’s Chef, Carlos Lopez, who had worked under George’s tutelage for nearly a decade, had left to pursue another opportunity while that owner was in charge. The restaurant experienced some not so great reviews for a few weeks. Sue ultimately purchased the restaurant in November and the space its in and brought Carlos back. And now Full Kee has risen to its former glory. Some say it’s better than ever. Update: Carlos has moved on and Sue has a new chef in the kitchen, but all the recipes are the same. 

Back before my food writing days, Full Kee became a favorite. You can read that initial view here. I found it so interesting that there was actually a Chinese restaurant that claimed to be “gourmet”.  It just wasn’t the norm. Chinese was and is almost entirely takeout and often quite low-key (no pun intended). Full Kee invites your casually dressed self into an ambiance that feels like fine dining, but is very comfortable and inviting. The dim lighting is soft and elegant. And what was more thrilling, amazing, astonishing, is that my children ate their food. At a restaurant. It was then and there that my children discovered they love Asian food, specifically dumplings, stir fry rice and “sweet chicken” (as my son calls it). To this day, General chicken is is favorite food (besides brownies). They’re actually going to the Chef’s Table. They will not be denied. 

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We were fortunate enough to step back into Full Kee after the ownership change to see what’s new and enjoyed our visit with Sue while we sampled some plates.

Egg Drop Soup: If you’re an egg drop soup fan, you’ll love this light broth with the ribbon of yolks. It doesn’t have that off-putting corn starch-like consistency. My sister, who was dining with me the evening we visited, it’s the best egg drop soup she’s ever had and that she ever feels a cold coming on, she knows where she’s headed.

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Lettuce Wraps: A perennial favorite with romaine lettuce and finely minced chicken with  vegetables. They are always a crowed pleaser for the table. The chicken was mild and seasoned wonderfully and the cool, crisp lettuce acts in contrast to the tiny hint of heat.

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Dumplings: Carlos makes all the dumpling wrappers from scratch. The result is a delicate dumpling exterior, tender on top, crispy on the bottom, while it lets the filling shine through. It comes with the typical sweet and savory dipping sauce. It is the perfect appetizer. 

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Spring Rolls: You just can’t not get some spring rolls when you eat Asian food amirite? They were super hot, super crispy, came with two dipping sauces and fab.

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General Tao Chicken: According to Sue, it is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes (as it is in just about any Chinese restaurant). Full Kee’s General chicken, with its secret ingredient in the sauce, is light and crispy and not full of breading like you might find with ordinary takeout. “We wanted it ti be a bigger piece of chicken, but not heavy with flour and not cooked too long. It’s crispy outside and tender inside,” Sue told me.  It’s wonderful. And what often comes off as an afterthought, the broccoli is al dente and actually flavorful. Sue says, “It used to be just very plain, but I asked Carlos to add more seasoning.” The result is broccoli with a hint of garlic and it’s perfectly cooked.

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Walnut Shrimp: These firm, juicy jumbo shrimp are lightly crisped in the same manner as the General Tao’s, but the sauce is a bit more robust and amber in color with crunchy walnuts in the mixture.  I highly recommend this dish as well as the Philomela Shrimp, which has a creamier sauce. Or you can get the Full Kee Shrimp, which is a combo of the two. Both come with the same tasty garlic.

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Mongolian Beef: Customers will notice a change to this dish as the protein portion has been increased and the onions have decreased. It’s very savory and peppery and hearty.

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In addition to improving on some of their popular dishes, Sue says she’s lowered the prices while increasing portion sizes. The menu includes a wide variety of traditional Chinese noodle and rice dishes, including Stir-Fry Rice, Stir Fry Sea Bass, Boneless Duck and Curry. Sue has also recruited a wine connoisseur to help patrons with the perfect wine selection.  We agree with Sue that everyone in your dining party should order something different from one another.  “We want everyone to be able to try a little bit of everything.  It’s the best way to enjoy Chinese.”

Full Kee has retained its loyal following of customers, some of whom have a place at the table every Friday night. Andrew Priddy, who lives outside Winston-Salem, says they’ve been loyal since 2010. “We travel a lot. And this by far is our favorite restaurant. Great food, great service. They’re like family. We just love it.”

Sue say that after the slow-go of it, Sue says she loves getting feedback from her customers. “My customers make me feel like we have potential. Every time I see a great review or hear one, it’s just so encouraging and gives me a lot of hope.”

Full Kee will be the featured restaurant with A Chef’s Table on Wednesday, June 19th. Tickets can be reserved at https://chefstablefullkee.eventbrite.com

A Chef’s Table with Adam Barnett and The Katharine Brasserie

A version of this story can also be seen at YES! Weekly.

After 18 months in full-blown get-to-know-you mode, Chef Adam Barnett is feeling very much part of the culinary scene in Winston-Salem.

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Barnett, who was hired in July 2017 as Executive Chef at the relatively new The Katharine Brasserie and Bar, which was the location of the first Chef’s Table of 2019 on January 8th. The event sold out in less than eight hours and then Barnett agreed to add another 15 seats for a total of 45. Those additional seats sold out in less than 30 minutes. Needless to say, people are interested in what Barnett is doing. Many of the attendees of Chef’s Table, which was held on January 8, had never been to The Katharine and they were ready for what he was cooking up.

Named for Katharine B. Reynolds, The Katharine has been written about by me and others a number of times, from media events and regarding seasonal menu changes or new additions, so if you’re a regular reader of YES! Weekly or Triadfoodies, you know I’ve walked away impressed with the food and service more than once.  And just about every time I’ve dined at the brasserie, we’ve enjoyed some of the best wine pairings I’ve ever experienced.

I got to know Barnett a bit better when he was a guest of my podcast, “At The Table with Triadfoodies.” Barnett grew up as a regular kid in Columbus, Ohio and enjoyed summers with his mother’s family in Nova Scotia, which he attributes to his sense of wanderlust. After deciding that academia was not for him, he took a more “hands-on approach” in construction. And you know how winter is in the construction field. “I needed some winter hours and I started working in a restaurant,” he says. “I had one chef take some interest in me, then I got shuttled along to another restaurant and then I hit the road.” Barnett has had stints in Aspen, Colorado; Toronto, Ontario; Vermont, Big Sur, and Los Angeles, California; and most recently Washington D.C. “I spent eight years in the school of hard knocks, real world training and eventually landed in the advanced placement program at the New England Culinary Institute.”  Afterward, it was in California that he honed his skills in modern French techniques, which serves him well at the Katharine, a French-Inspired brasserie, but Barnett says they don’t want to be too dogmatic about it.

“I’ve worked with some very, very good classically French chefs and that’s always been the underpinning of what I do,” he says. “But like everything else, cuisine evolves. You sit back and take a look at who inspires you or you look at re-discoveries of ethnicities and I try to incorporate that into what we’re doing here.” While we may think of French cuisines as heavy with butter and cream and bread, Barnett feels that France’s influence in its former colonies in places like the Mediterranean allows him to offer a more relatable, global approach and the menu of the Chef’s Table was a reflection of that.

Course One
Apple Rutabaga Soup garnished with Parsley Oil.

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Course Two
Arugula and Shaved Fennel Salad, Parsnip Crisps Preserved Lemon Dressing

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Course Three

Seared Diver Scallops, served with a Ginger – Carrot Emulsion, Batonet Beets and Radish Sprouts.

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Course Four (Meat Course)

Grilled Painted Hills Flat Iron Steak, Caramelized King Trumpet Mushroom, Foie Gras and Madiera Sauce.

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 Cheese Course
Thomasville Tomme (from Sweetgrass Dairy in Thomasville GA), Campo d Montalban (a blended Cow, Goat, and Sheepsmilk Cheese from Spain), Honey-Walnut Spread, House-made Ginger-Apple Butter, Herb Salad

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Okay okay…so you’re wondering where is dessert…heh heh…funny story.  I actually really enjoyed the cheese course, after all it IS a French-themed restaurant. But there’s the story of a pastry chef and rice pudding gone awry. We’ll leave it at that. 

Barnett took some time to get to know the space and cultivate an air of good community with the culinary team itself. The Kimpton hired new management, a new sommelier and he says now The Katharine is better than it has ever been. “I feel so tremendously honored to work with this group, from our back of house to our management and our sommelier. They’re a big part of the engine. It’s never a one person show.”

Barnett says he’s enjoyed the community and has felt the embrace and he can’t imagine doing anything different.  He says, “I love the visible, tangible marker of a day well spent. And that’s one of the great things about working with food.  You get raw ingredients in, you apply technique, you hand it over to someone and you get to see the satisfaction. There’s a profound sense of enjoyment from that.”

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By the way, this wasn’t served at our Chef’s Table but if my favorite dish at The Katharine is this Beef Tartare. It’s divine.

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Wanna go? The Katharine Brasserie & Bar is located at the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, 401 North Main Street, Winston-Salem. katharinebrasserie.com