Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Dinner and a Movie
We had to wait eight long years since the demise of the "original" American Theater on King Street to get another dinner and a movie cinema in greater Charleston. (By original, I refer to the cozy cinema grill period before the owners stripped it of its dining personality and table-side service by installing stadium seats and an over-priced counter full of average food and mostly sullen service).
It was a sad farewell, indeed. The latest Charleston-area cinematic incumbent is called Cinebarre. At barely a month old, its initial performance for this attendee was less than Oscar-worthy. The black and silver stage felt vacuous and cold; literally, like a black hole. I had the impression that I was sinking under the weight of it, suffocated by its impersonal hugeness and manufactured, corporate mood. A small army of friendly, young and capable servers clad all in white did well to mitigate the frigidity of the atmosphere, but overall I feel like the space (formerly Movies at Mount Pleasant) is already as badly in need of a face-lift as Joan Rivers isn't in need of yet another. If they go that route, I hope they'll scrap at least half of the huge movie posters that lilt and pop jarringly from virtually every angle like scary characters in a psychedelic dream.
Better things lurked within our actual theater. As mentioned, the staff was friendly and very helpful in navigating a potentially complicated and intrusive food ordering and delivery system and they did it in a very timely (all of 20 minutes from start to finish) manner. However, one poor woman had to explain the menu and the ordering process (she takes your order before the movie, the food is delivered, if you want anything else you put a white piece of paper in a vertical position, and they bring the bill before the credits) over the literal roar of a pre-movie tidbit of a Rifle Man brief. The black and white images on the big screen seemed to tremble in the wake of the domineering decibel factor. The server offered to look into getting the volume turned down, but as far as I could tell, that never took place. I swear, even Beethoven's hearing could be restored here, at least for the duration of a movie.
Only five people were in our particular theater for an afternoon showing of The Dark Knight. It would be interesting to see if the service is as smooth, fast and unobtrusive in the event of a full house, especially in all eleven theaters. That would be a true coup! A call to the general manager to inquire about the identity/experience of the chef here was not returned, but I've got to expect he or she has an extensive banquet background to put out that much food that fast.
The food, from a menu composed of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and pizza, was adequate but far from show-stopping or original (not unlike the fact that all of them are named after classic movies or variations on classic characters). One of the more cleverly named items, The Sgt. Pepper stuffed jalapeno peppers ($6), tasted and looked very much like they were pre-assembled and frozen, but were served golden and hot from the fryer and made for satisfying movie munching in-between bites of Heath Ledger's deliciously dark portrayal of The Joker. Cinebarre gets credit for serving a generous and respectable burger and fries (Blue Velvet, $8.50) and its interpretation of a Philly Cheese ($9). Like the peppers, they were hot and heaping, and tasted well with a glass of Chardonnay from the cinema's selection of 12 wines, served by the glass ($4.50-$7) and bottle ($20-$26). Beer and cocktails are also offered, seven days a week, which trumps The Terrace's current no-liquor-Sunday tradition.
Cinebarre is intended to be quiet (someone please turn down the volume!) and sophisticated. As such, it has some more than welcome rules - children under 17 must be accompanied by an adult, and no cell phones or loud talking are allowed.
963 Houston Northcutt Boulevard, Mount Pleasant
(843) 216-2690 - main line
(843) 884-7885 - movie line
Culinary Cost-Cutting 101
When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.
It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.
The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like couponmom.com) which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.
Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like couponmom.com with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site (harristeeter.com) , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.
The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!
My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"
Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.
One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals
With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.
In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).
For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.
Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!
Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!
Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.
Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!
Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.
Chicken never tasted so good for so little.