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A Little Saucy

October 27, 2009
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Save Room - Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Fondue (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

In honor of Wilmington’s Restaurant Week (ends Wednesday – see previous post for details), we mulled over the participating eateries, ruled out those we’d already tried, those we found on the low end of the Health Inspection grading curve (scores released recently at http://www.star-newsmedia.com/rr/rr.php?rr_county=NEW+HANOVER ) and any member of a national chain (The Melting Pot, really?? I thought this was about local flavor).

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Chef's Choice : Second course salads (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

From those remaining, we chose The Little Dipper, Wilmington’s homegrown answer to the aforementioned national fondue giant. A fantastic choice, as the evening was on the chilly side. Romantic, cozy and modern (if such a combination is possible, and it seems it is), TLD’s interior provided an instant warm-up. And shortly after being seated, we were treated to a more literal warm-up.

The Restaurant Week deal at TLD included four courses for $25 per diner, so we dove right in with the cheese fondu appetizer. We chose (and wisely, as it turned out) the Cheddar Ale flavor, and our server created the mixed-cheese and Guinness concoction at our table as we discussed the rest of the meal.

Round Two: Jeff’s chef salad was heartier than expected, small in size but loaded with quality ingredients. I chose the Ginger Carrot soup, a wonderfully balanced and savory dish.

The entrees are of a cook-your-own nature, so poor preparation is the diner’s own fault (this, I should point out, is every server’s dream). However, TLD is kind enough to not just toss you a couple fondue forks and let you sink or swim.Taking a cue from the airlines, theygive you a sort of pre-flight safety speech, replete with laminated instruction card, including cooking times and tips.

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The Main Event: Meats, veggies and sauce to spare (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

(Note: I probably would’ve liked the Wasabi Cream sauce better, but during one particular bite, the spice went straight to my nose and in my rush to get some water or something – anything! – I tipped over my full glass of champagne. The Wasabi sauce was therefore exiled).

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Live Art: TLD's Resident Jellyfish (Photo by Jeff Boykin)

 

Pure ridiculousness never tasted so good.

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Best Week Ever

October 16, 2009

rweekIt’s here!

Okay, well, it’s not here yet. But give Wilmington a week or so and you’ll be handsomely rewarded with seven days of gustatory bliss known as Restaurant Week. Between October 21st and 28th, 28 of the town’s locally owned and run eateries will offer affordable prix fixe (that’s fixed price for all the cool kids who took Spanish – revenge is sweet…) menus. Three to four-course meals all under $30 a head? If ever there was a time to dust off your dress shoes and impress your man or lady friend with a night on the town, this appears to be it.

To get in on the Restuarant Week action, visit www.wilmingtonrestaurantweek.com, check out the menus, choose one (or five), and print out the customized pass.

Just be sure to make reservations where advised – getting turned away from your big night out because the dining room’s full? Not impressive.

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No Idea? NOFO

September 24, 2009
Wonders never cease (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Wonders never cease (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

On our way to pick up groceries this afternoon, we’re taking what we believe (or hope) to be a shortcut through The Forum shopping center parking lot, minding our own business, when we spot four letters that pique our curiosity.  Four letters that may eternally change the way we shop for gifts (which is to say, hopelessly and belatedly).

Lotions and Tea Cups and Bags, Oh My! (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Lotions and Tea Cups and Bags, Oh My! (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

A whimsical emporium of wonders and delicacies, NOFO appears to answer all my gift-giving anxieties. Named for its original location on North Fourth, its new home is not what you’d call enormous. However, its many shelves are so brimful that we circle the place at least three times and on every lap discover something new. The best part? EVERYTHING is the perfect gift.

Temptation To-Go (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Temptation To-Go (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Baby shower coming up? Give her what is possibly the hippest (and waterproofest!) diaper bag in town.

Mom’s birthday around the corner? Try a sampling of NOFO’s elegant bath and body products along with a handmade bathrobe.

Significant other been down lately? What better way to perk them up than a box of gourmet cupcakes, iced within an inch of their lives?

Got the dad who’s got everything? We can safely say he does not yet own The ZING!, a colorful spring-loaded spoon guaranteed to cause trouble at the dinner table (and we mean that in the best of ways).

Pick You Poison (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Pick Your Poison (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Seriously. This place has a something for everyone. But, lest we be responsible for sending you into a paralyzing and life-scarring fit of sticker shock, be forewarned that NOFO’s merchandise leans toward the steep end of things. That said, keep in mind that most of the store’s gift items are made either locally or regionally, many of them handcrafted, and long-lasting in nature. We’re talking staying power AND supporting local and handmade crafts. For that, we’re typically willing to put down some extra bucks.

Among the local wares are a line of chocolates by Bliss Chocolatier, a company out of little Brevard, North Carolina, as well as Raleigh-based KarmaVida. KarmaVida specializes in artisan jewelry and donates ten percent of all profits to social or environmental charities. (All of this is explained to us by the guy behind the counter who has enviable earrings, fierce emo hair and expert knowledge of all of NOFO’s products).

And should you work up an appetite whilst gift-stalking, NOFO’s sister cafe provides a fascinating setting in which to dine. An underwater wonderland where local artists’ renderings of a silvery school of fish and other colossal sea creatures loom overhead, the cafe serves lunch and dinner menus featuring fresh local ingredients. No time to spare? Try the to-go counter instead, and snag a slice of one of the monstrous cakes they’ve displayed (specifically to test your will power or lack thereof, we think).

Leaving NOFO, it seems a weight has been lifted from our shoulders. We walk a little taller, we carry our chins a bit higher, we breathe a little easier. Because this year, damn it, our gifts are going to be awesome.

And somehow we still remember to go to the Food Lion.

Maritime Mealtime (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Maritime Mealtime (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Drink Like a Fish? (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Drink Like a Fish? (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

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Nature vs. Structure

September 24, 2009

The assignment: To do a little location scouting for an upcoming photo shoot.

The target: Urban landscapes, where decay creates beauty.

The results: Turns out the alleyways and hideaways of Wilmington’s historic downtown have no dearth of  surprisingly stunning backdrops. Here, a collage of some of our favorites.

(Photos by Jeff Boykin and Amanda Heironimus)

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Good Thrill Hunting

September 19, 2009
Shrine to Shabby Chic

Shrine to Shabby Chic

Having just combined my worldly belongings with Jeff’s and watched the resulting mass flood our two-bedroom apartment, I am by no means in the market for new furniture. But driving down Oleander this afternoon, I catch a flash of green and purple and something about refurbished furniture, and I can’t resist the urge to swing around and check it out.

Treasure Chest (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Treasure Chest (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Thrill of the Hunt is indeed an unexpected find, wedged as it is between some industrial type buildings on this busy avenue. Inside you’ll find a shabby chic oasis stuffed wall to wall with furniture, artwork and various antique odds and ends, all thoughtfully refurbished and updated. Thrill’s aesthetic is whimsical to be sure. Each found piece of furniture is given a fresh (but weathered) paint job in various shades of bright pastel or winter white and fitted with quirky hardware and, if necessary, new upholstery.

In addition to these one-of-a-kind pieces, Thrill’s backroom stocks more rustic pieces for those interested in a do-it-yourself project. Also for DIY-ers: Thrill stocks a variety of colorful knobs and aged metal hardware, including a downright Gaiman-esque door knocker.

Beach Reads (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Beach Reads (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

So whether you have  a beach house to outfit or seek a statement piece for your living room (I find myself reading price tags to figure out the original purposes of some of this stuff), or just want to say hello to the resident guard pup, Yoshi, this may very well be the ideal place to start (and finish) your hunt.

Thrill of the Hunt

4713 Oleander Dr.

Wilmington, NC 28403

910-796-0029

Ferocious Store Security at Work (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Ferocious Store Security at Work (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

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Beauty and the Budget

September 8, 2009
A lot cooler than the Wal-Mart greeter (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

A lot cooler than the Wal-Mart greeter (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Times being what they are, my sister and I take the opportunity on this drizzly afternoon to scout out a secondhand store recommended by Courtney Dunn of the Wilmington Fashion Report. Not a fan of the mall (read: malls make me want to curl up in a ball on the floor, squeeze my eyes shut and cover my ears until it’s all over), I’m always on the lookout for unique, affordable fashion.

I have to say, though, I’m a little stumped when we pull up to The Fairy Circle. Firstly, under no circumstances would I normally check out a place with such an unfortunate and inaccurate moniker, but Courtney had photographic evidence that the goods were… well… good. The storefront, however, suggests that we’re about to enter a den of wicken wonders, filled with gauzy dresses and herbal remedies. There may even be a unicorn involved.

Butterfly in the sky... too many clothes to try (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Butterfly in the sky... too many clothes to try (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Do not be deterred. Not even when you open the door and a cloud of incense hits you full on. Push forth, my friends, because beyond this strange veil lies a veritable treasure chest of fashion finds.

While you will discover a small section of the requisite handmade, flowy shirts and floor-length skirts, the majority of the store showcases racks upon racks of gently used clothing from well-known stores, designer labels and boutique brands. It’s apparent that The Fairy Circle is selective in their buying, which makes the shopping  effortless. We’ve only been in the store for twenty minutes when we find our arms too loaded to continue and have to make a break for the fitting rooms.

So many dresses, so little time (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

So many dresses, so little time (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

My sister makes out with a Nanette Lepore knit dress ($49), and a killer aqua faux leather jacket from Forever 21 ($10). I manage to whittle down my pile to a Maggy London halter dress ($18), but it’s painful to leave so much behind. A return trip is planned.

In addition to women’s clothing, the store has a great selection of accessories (belts, bags, shoes, and an extensive jewelry section) and a small area for men’s clothing as well. The fitting area includes a couch and a couple of cozy chairs, making waiting for your turn (or for your indecisive sister) pretty painless.

And so it turns out that Courtney does, in fact, know her stuff. We may smell faintly of patchouli, but we made out like bandits. Mission accomplished.

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SoCal, So Tasty

September 8, 2009
One of three bustling rooms at Tower 7 (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

One of three bustling rooms at Tower 7 (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Call us crazy, but my sister  (in town for Labor Day weekend) and I have decided to join the swarms of vacationers at  Wrightsville Beach on what is likely one of its busiest days.

Having spent a couple of hours on the beach and in the surf (along with hundreds of other people also grasping at the last days of summer), we’ve worked up an appetite. After several failed attempts (long waits or “closed” signs), we’re about to throw in the towel and have ice cream for lunch when we stumble upon the enigmatically named Tower 7.

Tacos, burritos, quesadillas... plenty of Baja-inspired options (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Tacos, burritos, quesadillas... plenty of Baja-inspired options (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

This little Mexican grill may not look like much from the street, but take a step inside and you’ll be greeted by a bright, cantina atmosphere, where SoCal souvenirs adorn the walls and chili pepper lights ring the bar.

Turns out the restaurant takes its name from a famous lifeguard tower in San Diego, which explains the Baja influence on the menu. On this particular day, we both go with the pulled chicken hard shell tacos. The chicken is tender, if a little lacking in the flavor department, but our server comes to the rescue with a plastic squeeze bottle of a brownish red sauce, something of a BBQ/taco sauce hybrid. Not only is it spectacular on the tacos, but it ends up  in our black beans and rice as well (and if I were a little more daring, this sucker would end up in my purse, too).

One of the residents at Tower 7 (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

One of the residents at Tower 7 (Photo by Amanda Heironimus)

Laid back and not too high on the frills, Tower 7 is great for post-beach grub. Clad in beachwear and flip-flops, we feel entirely comfortable dining here.  And while it’s a little crowded today, the service is quick and efficient.  As soon as the tourists have headed back inland, Tower 7 plans to welcome back the locals with new specials. The $1 PBR and $1 tacos may just have us back here every Monday. Other daily specials (starting September 15th) include half price Sangria on Sundays and half price quesadillas on Wednesdays.

Sated and ready to get back to the water, we vow to try Tower’s renowned (and apparently colossal) burritos the next time around. And to go home and concoct our own version of that mystery sauce.

We’ll let you know how that goes.