Friday, December 13, 2013

Four Winds Cafe is the best restaurant "in Greensboro".

 Something I learned while living in Europe was how to spot a good restaurant. Rarely are they where you expect them to be. In this case, you'd expect the best restaurant in Greensboro, to actually be in Greensboro. While, yes, Leblon or Print Works (my leading favorites within the city limits), are both excellent restaurants, with good food, and always remain a fine choice for that special night out- they're both missing something. The problem is, they're exactly what you expect when you go out to a nice restaurant: too proper, in an obvious location, and everyone goes there. I want something unexpected. In Europe, those restaurants that are obvious, are often for tourists. The good restaurants are in basements, down hidden streets, or in people's living rooms. So who would think that you would find the best restaurant in Greensboro, not actually in Greensboro?

It's still real close, just outside the city limits by only a few miles. It's called Four Winds Cafe, and it has all the feeling and flair of a French bistro in the basement of a Paris quartier. Except it's an old truck-stop off Old US-421 in Climax, NC. What happens out there under the clear moon-sky and southern stars is nothing short of magic. When you shut off your headlights, it's dark, pitch black, but the night feels alive. The warm cozy lights of the cafe beckon you in on a cold night, to its quaint dining room of less than twenty tables. Mind you this is still upscale, candlelit, and romantic, with a charm and appeal no city restaurant can give.

When we arrived, I was offered my choice of tables. I prefer corner tables for their unique acoustics and warmth. We settled into our nest, and ordered a bottle of French wine, and with it came homemade, fresh bread. What restaurant in Greensboro, bakes their own bread? I ordered their prime rib, Shannon their plat-du-jour: stuffed tilapia. Almost immediately dishes come flying in to our table, dancing to the gentle Christmas music playing in the room. First soup, a wonderful chicken melody, followed by salad: a simply combination of lettuce, carrots, and mushrooms. Then, around the time you're severely tipsy from French Bordeaux- feeling all warm and cozy inside, with your face red, laughing and giddy, comes the a plate of monster proportions. I'm not even sure where you buy plates this big. A steak, the size I've never seen before, with potatoes, and vegetables. Every bit of it cooked to perfection. The charred and juicy steak with the perfect pink inside, covered in blue cheese and fried onion crisps. It was sexy, delicious, and outstanding. 

Who are these people? Who takes an abandoned truck stop, and makes me rethink my entire idea of local cuisine? These heroes of my dinner are Peggy and Steven Holmes. Every facet of our dinner was superb, and I can't recommend this place enough. For price, taste and atmosphere, Four Winds Cafe is by far the best restaurant in Greensboro.

We came out for just about $80 for the two of us, including a whole bottle of wine (it was 1/2 price wine night). Well worth every dollar.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ichiban Supreme Buffet

The buffet, the Smörgåsbord, the sideboard, whatever you call it, you'd think that it would be an American invention. It's not. It's technically a Swedish creation, which later came to be a display of wealth in European countries. Occasionally I would find one in Europe while I lived there, but America has evolved the entire idea into something else. Las Vegas would have a huge influence on buffets throughout America, transforming what used to be a salad bar and a couple items, into a showroom of hundreds of foods. The Vegas style buffet is now common everywhere in America, and a new style of this genre is emerging: The Chinese Super Buffet.

Of course, like myself, perhaps you would tend to believe that a Chinese buffet would contain Chinese food. Indeed, they do, but a Super Buffet also contains everything else. That surprised me. Ichiban Supreme Buffet,  located just a few blocks from UNCG on High Point Road, looks and feels like a Vegas Casino. Flashing lights, horrid colors, and a mis-match of Chinese restaurant and Golden Corral make this dizzying atmosphere almost as unappetizing as it is fun. It's like Disney World for food, and much like the amusement park, it is a love-hate relationship.

Some of the food at Ichiban is great, some of it not so much (just like any other buffet). It's typical of a $10 buffet, which makes it a superb alternative to The Corral. Neat foods like baby octopus, frog legs, and muscles sit beside Mexican, Italian, and American dishes. The place is the size of a grocery store and includes all the normal Chinese dishes, in addition to German sausage, a Mongolian grill, a sushi and ice-cream bar. It's also a meat-lover's paradise with skewers of chicken, and slices of roast beef available for your consumption. We all rather loved it a lot! Then hated ourselves afterwards.

There were some negatives to our visit. The most obvious was the service. I found that while the wait-staff was mostly attentive, they seemed unhappy and reluctant. Perhaps there was a culture difference here as much of the staff, did, in-fact, appear to be Chinese. Never a smile, and half-way through the meal they brought us a check and asked "are you ready to pay". We felt a bit rushed, and I begin hearing comedian John Pinette's comedy act play in my head: "you too fat, you eat too much, you go now."

Shan was concerned about the food temperature, but I assured her health-inspectors must check it. It likely would help to increase temperatures a few degrees, to thwart customer's worries.

Overall, Ichiban Supreme Buffet surpassed my expectations on taste, and the type of foods, but it was underwhelming in their process of paying, and service (including drink service). It's interesting that Ichiban comes up as one of Greensboro's best buffets, when you consider we have Leblon. However, I can't always afford $100+ for my family of four to eat. If Ichiban would improve their service, I think they would have a knockout affordable buffet, that people would love to go.