Fine Dining reviews

I’ve always wanted to write my own obituary, but I’m not dead yet. So this is the next best thing.

The frequency of my column was going to be reduced, and I have reached a point in my life where I pretty much do or don’t do whatever I want. If I can’t write at least one column per month, I don’t want to write at all. This, therefore, is my last column.

My first restaurant review was published in July 1981. In those days, there was only one restaurant review per month. After the merger of the News (morning) and Record (afternoon), I was assigned two columns per month, expanded later to every week. That schedule continued for about 20 years.

At some point during this period, reader surveys showed that my reviews were the most widely read, with the highest approval rating, of any columns in the newspaper. I think this indicates that in those days, at least, eating and drinking were more fun than politics.

About 10 years ago, another writer was added for Casual Dining, so I was back to two per month. With the Great Recession, cost savings mandated a return to one per month. During my reviewing career, I’ve had well over 1,000 published columns.

Permit me a bit of nostalgia.

In the early 1980s, Greensboro was just about a culinary wasteland. But a handful of local entrepreneurs, in conjunction with expanded legal alcohol opportunities, turned that around. Of those, a few continue under the same key personnel.

Southern Lights (2415 Lawndale Drive, 336-379-9414, southernlightsbistro.com) remains under the helm of John Drees, who partnered with founder Peter Hamilton (now deceased).

Giovanni Carandola has also departed this world, but his protégé, Robert Holden, a teenager when he began cooking under Giovanni’s tutelage, still holds forth at Giovanni’s (5831 High Point Road, 336-852-8890, giovannisnc.com).

Joe Essa, along with his younger brother, Ray, opened Café Pasta in 1984. Ray acceded to the helm a couple of years later, expanding the concept as Café Pasta and Grille (305 State St., 336-272-1308, cafepasta.com). Joe is now CEO of Wolfgang Puck Enterprises and chairman of the National Restaurant Association.

I credit Liberty Oak with the most significant early impact, but the founders are no longer associated with the restaurant. Maria Salakovic, however, remains in the business at Maria’s (2130 Lawndale Drive, 336-379-8646, marialovesfood.com), a delightful food shop with takeout and catering.

In retrospect, the most significant vision came from Bill Sherrill, who owned Franklin’s Off Friendly. Although he closed the restaurant quite some time ago, he pioneered local, artisan beer making and presaged the brew pub concept. He now operates Red Oak Brewery (6905 Konica Drive, Whitsett, redoakbrewery.com), now with an adjacent beer garden.

I made a few factual errors over the years — not many, but a few. The biggest conceptual error I ever made, however, was failing to recognize that something unique had entered the Triad restaurant scene.

If I had known that I would be writing only a few more columns this year, I would have scheduled some different restaurants for coverage in the preceding months. Herewith, a few that I think deserve special recognition, albeit in parting.

The question I am most often asked is, “What’s the best restaurant in town?” I always answer with some qualifiers, such as price range or type of food. But the simplest, most straightforward answer is The Undercurrent (327 Battleground Ave., 336-370-1266, undercurrentrestaurant.com). In addition to stellar, creative cuisine, the menu provides multiple smaller portions at lower prices, making value the proverbial tie breaker that elevates Chef Michael Harkenreader’s work to the top.

But on any given night, a few others could win out. Marisol (5834 High Point Road, 336-853-3303, themarisol.com) has maintained a high perch since Robin Upson took over from founder (and husband) Steve Schneider, now deceased.

Chef George Neal’s creations at 1618 Seafood Grille (1618 W. Friendly Ave., 336-235-0898, 1618seafoodgrille.com) often juxtapose ingredients that are seldom found in combination, but they work. Often, I find that different bites in the same dish need another wine pairing, but multiple by the glass offerings in different sizes on this unique wine list facilitate such taste adventures.

Mark’s (616 Dolley Madison Road, 336-387-0410, marksgreensboro.com) has become my go to place for wine dinners as well as dinner any evening and first choice for lunch. Chef-Proprietor Mark Freedman knows value as well as quality. Prices for both food and wine as well as creative cocktails earn a special status.

B.Christopher’s (201 N. Elm St., 336-274-5900, bchristophers.com) remains my top choice for steak or other dishes in the steakhouse concept. Chris Russell has made this Centerpointe location most attractive since his move from Burlington.

I have enjoyed so many stellar meals at Osteria (1310 Westover Terrace, 336-275-2550, osteriagso.com) and Salvino (2917-D Battleground Ave., 336-540-8663, salvinorestaurant.com), the latter under the helm of Sal and Debbie Bruno, I would be hard pressed to declare a winner in a face-off between these Italian stalwarts.

Suffice it to say, I expect to dine in both locations many times in my non-reviewing future.

This would be a good place to mention Dolce & Amaro (1310 Westover Terrace No. 110, 336-763-4349, dolceamaroartisanbakery.com) the new Italian bakery opened by Osteria Chef-Owner Koco Tamburi — in a league by itself.

I’m not willing to categorize my first review of Imperial Koi (1941 New Garden Road, No. 200, 336-286-3000, imperialkoigso.com) as a mistake.

A chicken dish undermined an otherwise highly enjoyable series of review visits. But return visits revealed that the dish had been removed from the menu, and this became my favorite Asian restaurant, with a concomitantly elevated rating.

Reel Seafood Grille (2002 New Garden Road #208, 336-617-4200, reelseafoodgrill.com), as the name indicates, focuses on seafoods, providing the widest range in the Triad in ever-changing modes of preparation.

I think Crafted (219-A S. Elm St., 336-273-0030, eatatcrafted.com) is the most original concept on the restaurant scene, and one of the most enjoyable.

Across the street, the classic Louisiana flavors at Blue Denim (217 S. Elm St., 336-676-5689, bluedenimgso.com) keep drawing me back.

I refer readers to my blog, johnbatchelordiningandtravel.blogspot.com, which I will continue to maintain, for commentaries regarding other well-regarded restaurants.

Please sign up as a follower there, ‘cause I’m out of here! It’s been a good ride.

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