Sunday, May 15, 2011

Winston-Salem Delight

From East to West
... and stops along the way

If you’re heading west from Raleigh-Durham area on Hwy. 40, your eyes will delight in the rainbow of colors along the roadway. It’s a refreshing change from the hectic pace of the Triangle area. The plush emerald green pines dot the main thoroughfares in this multiple research-university city and are a sharp contrast to most congested metropolitan areas.

As you leave the southern style bustle behind, you encounter fields of crimson and yellow crested poppies as you cruise along the interstate. Amongst the foliage you’ll also view what appears to be lavender holly hocks but there’s no time to stop and verify your findings before another tuff of brilliant poppies appear. These prolific blooms have taken over the once lush golden Tiger Lilly gardens that lined the freeway. The colorful display is a pleasing drama. Dogwoods and Crepe Myrtles, in what appears to be natural growth, adds to the refreshing landscape. This is one government project to be applauded. Job well done North Carolina.

As you roll closer to the Blue Ridge Mountain range, beyond Greensboro with Point Pilot in the horizon, why not take a leisure detour into Winston Salem via the 40 Business Route which intersects with north/ south 52. That route will take your directly to the vibrant downtown of a city once famous for its tobacco industry. In today’s sensitive atmosphere over lung disease and clean air, you won’t see any signs to encourage smokers to light up nor will you smell the aftermath of burnt tobacco leaves. Those ghostly smoke stacks have long been removed or disguised.
What you will see are rows of quaint houses on steep inclines, with clapboard siding and multiple window boxes as you twist and turn toward Fourth Street where the action in this historic city takes place.

We decided on a whim to spend the night at the Marriott Hotel in the heart of Winston-Salem. Southern hospitality at its best, first the doorman and then the concierge encouraged us to take a stroll down Fourth Street and suggested a restaurant for dinner other than the one within their employer’s establishment.

Needing a stretch, we embarked on a short walk with a faint mist in the warm air. Hunger would win out soon so we decided to check out the choices for dinner on the street. A busy specialty pizza stop, steak house and a coffee shop, few others that caught our eye. A crush of people walked at a more hurried pace than ours. On their way to the Stevens Center, a renovated theatre for the performing arts. The energetic crowd brushed by with smiles and nods as we casually window shopped. No hurry on our part, the art shops and menus posted by the various eateries had our attention. We came to the end of the block and found the recommended restaurant which had outdoor seating on the walkway. With the pleasant spring air, we were tempted to take a seat and relax over a glass of wine.

My companion, who always decides by convenience, surprised me with a suggestion to walk a little further. We strolled by Dioli’s Trattoria and took a quick glance at the menus. Hooked. Classic Italian. Were we in South Philly or North Carolina? We did a double take at the hustle and bustle on the other side glass door. Oh dear, how long the wait?

The Maitre’d, a charming young woman, said it might be quite a while as they were in the midst of serving a full house intent on being seated before the opening line of Oklahoma. No problem, there were two seats at the bar. Out of the busy path, we'd have a drink and enjoy the busy but cheerful atmosphere.

The first sign our choice had been on mark came with the calm and ease of the tall bartender who smiled at us as he filled drink orders in quick, rapid order, satisfied the sweet-tooth of a departing guest with delivery of Drioli’s own tiramisu , re-stocked the bar with needed glasses and assured two travelers the house merlot would make for a perfect transition into the dining room. Had angst been evident on our faces over how to relieve our road thirst? “Cielo Merlot,” he said and then offered a taste before the purchase.

Seldom does a house wine offer the same excitement as a great wine with a price that doesn’t make your heart stop. We toasted the busy bartender and looked over the menu. And realized we’d created a problem. A light dinner could easily turn into a weight watcher disaster. With a deep breath to quell our unruly urges, we decided we could be sensible and still sate our appetites. A longer walk after dinner.

The menu included several dishes with freshly made pasta, guaranteed to be served al dente and preserve its toothy bite. From small plate to dinner entrees, we thought the mix of protein, carbohydrates and aromatic olive oils would fit our likings, too. Foodies that we are, we knew by the carefully worded menu we had found a first class, nuevo Italian treasure. My seafood loving partner ordered the Grilled Salmon Piccata entrée served atop a generous but not chain store size serving of risotto Milanese. A side of fresh, bright green asparagus not only added color but balanced the sharp flavor of the piccata sauce. "Wonderful," he said. He offered one small bite and I concurred it was a melt in your mouth delight.

Several small plates caught my attention and I vacillated between a pure vegetarian plate or a serving of protein to balance the carbohydrates from Dioli’s daily made breadsticks which we enjoyed with the rich, velvet Cielo Merlot. Thin and crisp, the sticks were delicately flavored with rosemary and a little garlic salt. I remembered perfect meatballs from my South Philly days and ordered the small plate of homemade meatballs smothered in Dioli’s house marinara and parmesan cheese. They were, undoubtedly, the lightest and best I’ve ever eaten. Three per serving—just enough to feel I hadn’t shorted myself by ordering an appetizer. What made the texture and taste so perfect? Did the chef blend the right amount of veal with sirloin and perhaps added pork tenderloin for perfect balance? The marinara sauce—a full bodied taste of roasted red tomatoes, perhaps cherry, grape or Roman, blended with olive oil, onions and garlic? Perfect texture and delicious doesn’t do justice to the taste provided. My side, too, came from the small plate list. Grilled asparagus wrapped in pancetta and served with a red bell pepper pesto took my breath away.

We savored the wholesome tastes and finished the carafe of Cielo. When we complimented our hostess and she invited us to return. That we will. I've planned my next foray into dining heaven--the Eggplant Involtini filled with fresh ricotta cheese and grilled vegetable pesto. Something tells me, though, I can't go wrong with whatever choice is made in the comfortable setting. My partner…well, he’ll go for the Salmon again but plans to bypass lunch and try the small plate Ricotta Gnocchi to add to his feast.

Did we succumb to Dioli’s fresh prepared desserts? Tiramisu and other chocolate and crème delights were as tempting as another serving of the breadsticks but we passed this time around. We’ll give up breakfast on our next visit so we don’t miss out the best of the best. Dioli’s deserves the highest rating for its service, ambiance and food. Back on the road soon. Route 52 into the heart of Winston-Salem and great dining.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Heading Home

Our brave soldiers are heading home....somewhere in Virginia. I'd like to think they'll sleep in their own beds tonight. A good thought.I'm on the road, too. Heading in their Virgina direction but for another reason.

I'm celebrating a young woman's graduation from college. She's excited about the future, a safe future...she's going into community service, family counseling. A worthy endeavor. I'm happy for her. More so, because she's free to make choices, to plan for the future, to make a serious contribution to society. She's one lucky girl.

She's a few years younger than the woman in Pakistan who watched Obama Bin Laden die. They report the woman was his wife, they had at least one child. A twelve year old girl. So this woman, who witnessed the death, was younger than my graduate when she was 'given' to this despicable man. Given to him by her Yemen, Muslim family, to be used and abused, to father his children. Abuse of the most hideous kind.

Corey, the new graduate, and I will thank the heroes who are heading home today. In some way, we have to find a way to thank all the dedicated soldiers who sacrafice their lives for her freedom, for our freedom.

Yes, we're celebrating her graduation but it seems to hold even more significance today because many young woman will never be free. Those terrorists arms reached far and wide and reminds us we are privileged people. We are free because of brave individuals who have fought long and hard to hold on to our rights, our freedom. We hope those warriors sleep in a warm, soft bed tonight.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Face of Courage

The world is a-buzz over the take-out of Osama Bin Laden. A man who perpetrated grave injustice is finally dead. Questions arise about the actual assignation, the military manuevers, the hide-out, the people who secured the compound where this most-wanted, dead or alive, man lived. The fact that he had women, wives and children, around him offers proof that he expected others to do his dirty deeds while he lived the life of a noble and free man. The irony, the inquistion, the illusion will fill newspapers and television for weeks to come. For most writers, for inquisitive minds, many questions are yet to be answered.

The story I'd like to write is a more personal one. I don't want to hear about the politics behind the decision to kill Bin Laden. God forbide, if we repeat those stories, it will only advance the career of a fallow politician who would gladly take credit for the heroic acts of courageous men.

I want to write about brave soldiers who ignored the evil face of danger and risked their lives for the good of their country. I don't need to repeat the name of the soldier who took the final shot and killed a rogue, conscienceless individual who thrived on killing Americans. I expect this brave, dedicated soldier will remain anonymous so he can walk free in this vast world. But I'd like to write about him, his peers, his fellow soldiers and the heart that makes a committment to serve with dignity and pride. I'd like to tell others about their wives and children, their dreams for the future, their plans for a Christmas at home. I'd like to tell the world these courageous individuals will never have to worry about health insurance, funds for a college education for themself or their family. I'd like them to be rewarded by our forever grateful citizens for their good deeds and not fall victim to political rhetoric.

When they come home, will the price of gas, unemployment, arguments over the freedom to bare arms or express their religous beliefs overshadow the fact they went beyond the call of duty to protect the rights of everyone? Will the feckless politicians who so readily stand in front of the cameras and proclaim 'America prevails', vote to restrict the freedoms and rights these fearless soldiers hold dear to their hearts? Will politicians continue to argue over the defense budget, continue to restrict or deny public prayers that carried those brave souls into the night? Will they de-fund patriotic programs that served us all so well during these tumultous, terrorist times?

I'm afraid they will.

The Faces of Courage, young soldiers who risked their lives, nameless heroes, will not not stand before cameras and petition elected officials to support their cause. And they will not be granted plush offices, extended insurance benefits, staff privileges, expenses for luxury travel. Nor will they vote themselves an increase in pay. God willing, they will return to their families, to their communities, to their friends and neighbors and enjoy a good night's sleep. A job well done. A free heart.

Or will they blend into uncertainty? The unemployment line? The high-risk insurance pool?

I'm afraid they will.

Too many politicians do not believe our soldiers, our heroes, should have the same benefits they receive. And that is good reason to write about real heros. A personal story, a very personal sacrafice. Men and women who put their lives on the line, for our well being and safety, should receive a life time of health insurance, secured employment benefits, the same reward every congressional member is granted for less risk, less investment, less time. Is rhetoric more valuable than deed? Is duty defined by the number of votes one receives? A soldier sacrafices all and yet is expected to remain faceless in the battle for freedom.

Let's make sure politicians who take minimal risk and receive many rewards, do not take the glory for those who give all and expect little in return.

But I'm afraid they will. That's a good reason to write.

Face of Courage

The world is in a buzz over the take-out of Osama Bin Laden.