Viva Chicken

Every so often, I get the itch to try something new.  This doesn’t happen a lot because I like going to places I am familiar with and know what I’m in for.  However, sometimes it is nice to switch things up and be adventurous.  I am slightly more adventurous than my husband, and so I was surprised that he agreed to try Viva Chicken when I presented the idea to him.  We were in a parking lot perusing Yelp (come on, you know you do it too!) when I came across a place called Viva Chicken with amazing reviews.  It was located in a strip mall, though a nicer one, so we decided to throw caution to the wind.  It was described as Peruvian food, which we had never had the pleasure of eating, so we were in for a real treat.

Having read diligently through the reviews we decided to heed the advice of others and ordered the whole chicken with 3 sides, the pollo a la brasa.  We had the kids with us and this turned out to be a wonderful choice and plenty of food.  When you go in, you place your order at the counter and receive a number that you place on your table so they can bring you your food when it is ready.  There is a sauce station where you get your drinks and that is where the magic happens.  The chicken is cooked rotisserie style and comes out in pieces with the bones still intact.  For our sides we chose the cilantro infused rice, canary beans, and sweet potato fries.  Everything was so, so delicious.  The best part came after eating, when upon leaving the restaurant I discovered that I felt satisfied but not gross like you can sometimes feel after eating a delicious meal. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we went back for round 2 the next evening.

Over the next year or so we found ourselves visiting Viva Chicken frequently enough that we had tried many other things on their menu too.  Our last visit left us satisfied yet again, and looking forward to going back.  On this visit I ordered the Arroz Chaufa with chicken (think Peruvian fried rice dish) and my husband ordered the Tacu Bowl with steak (this is like a chipotle burrito bowl but different in flavor).  We also split the Viva salad.

The Arroz Chaufa I ordered had jasmine rice, red peppers, green onions, red onion, egg, soy sauce, ginger, and chicken.

Viva Chicken Arroz Chaufa | www.adventuresquared.com

The Viva Salad had romaine lettuce, kale, avocado, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, chicken, and balsamic dressing.  It also comes with queso fresco but we ordered ours without.

Viva Chicken Viva Salad | www.adventuresquared.com

The Tacu Bowl came with cilantro infused rice (you can also choose jasmine rice), canary beans, salsa criolla (tomatoes and onions marinated in lime juice), avocado, steak, and green onions.

Viva Chicken Tacu Bowl | www.adventuresquared.com

The food is fresh and tasty on its own, but as I mentioned earlier, the magic is in the sauce.  Viva Chicken has 3 sauces from which you can choose.  If you are anything like me, you will not choose and instead you will use them all equally.  There is a mild, medium, and hot and I have no idea of the names for them but what I do know is that the yellow is mild, green is medium, and orange is spicy.  They are all divine and I would highly suggest trying them all to see which one is for you.  I can’t choose so I continue to eat them all.

Viva Chicken Sauces | www.adventuresquared.com

Last but not least, and sorry I do not have a picture, the chicken soup is bordering on ridiculous it is so good.  It is definitely my number one chicken soup in the universe.  It has the Peruvian flair to it as well with flavoring that is just out of this world.  No chicken soup has ever been the same for me since.  Maybe Peruvian food isn’t new to you, but for this girl it definitely was.  I believe Viva Chicken is an outstanding restaurant that Charlotte should be honored to have.  With that said, I am now wishing I was there!

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Cantina 1511: A Review

Cantina 1511 is a step up from your typical Mexican fare.  Sure, they still have burritos, tacos, and chimichangas, but they also have dishes that stray from the usual path.  I love Mexican food flavors, but I want my food to be fresh.  Cantina 1511 delivered on freshness and flavor, leaving us satisfied and maybe a little too full from eating too much.  The inside was freezing when we walked in so we asked to sit on the patio.  That ended up being a wonderful idea because the temperature was perfect.  We sat at these cute wrought iron tables in some comfy chairs; the sconce lighting near our table was bad for taking pictures but also nice and subtle for an outdoor, evening dining experience.  Before we ordered, they brought out the obligatory chips and salsa.

Chips and Salsa from Cantina 1511 in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The chips were standard and the salsa’s were good.  The red salsa was a medium/hot traditional tomato salsa and the green salsa was a tomatillo salsa, if I’m not mistaken.  The green salsa had a wonderful depth to it and the kids ate it right up.  I alternated between the two because they were vastly different and I liked them both.

We started our meal off with appetizers. We had just come from fishing and we were starving so we ordered three different appetizers: The Prima Guacamole, the Pigs Wings Carnitas, and the Arepas Con Cerdo.

Tableside Guacamole from Cantina 1511 in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The Prima Guacamole was everything you would want in a guacamole.  The flavors were balanced and melded beautifully the longer they sat.  By the end of our meal we were still eating the guacamole because it kept tasting better and better as time went on.

Initially we ordered a slider platter but were told they weren’t offering it so we switched to trying the Pigs Wings Carnitas.  The idea is chicken wings but executed completely differently.  These “wings” are actually petite pork shanks that have been marinated and fried.  The menu says they are tossed in salted orange caramel but I failed to taste those flavors.  I also failed to get a picture.  They came out with two on the plate, one for me and one for my husband.  He really enjoyed them but I probably wouldn’t order them again.  They weren’t bad or anything, I just wasn’t crazy about them.  Definitely something worth trying but once was enough for me to fulfill my curiosity.

Our final appetizer were the Arepas Con Cerdo (corn cakes for my non-Spanish speaking friends):

Arepas Con Cerdo from Cantina 1511 in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The Venezuelan corn cakes came out topped with pork, pineapple salsa, and cilantro.  They usually also come drizzled with a habanero crema but we had the put it on the side since we have been eating dairy-free.  The corn cakes were pretty good, though I have to say I have had some I liked more in other places.  The real highlight of these was the fresh pineapple salsa.  I enjoyed them enough to eat 2 of the 5 on the plate.

My husband and I both wanted fish tacos for our entree so we decided to split.  We ordered the Baja Fish Tacos:

Baja Fish Tacos from Cantina 1511 in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

Neat fact about Cantina 1511: If you order tacos you get to pick your shell. They have white corn, flour or crispy corn tortilla shells.  For our tacos we chose the soft white corn shells because I was after a street taco vibe.  The tacos came with rice and beans and a side of slaw.  The tacos themselves were delicious.  The fish was grilled and the fresh catch of the day so I have no idea what type of fish it was.  There was a spicy, sweet mango sauce on the tacos that really took them up a notch.  My mouth was on fire but I couldn’t stop eating them.  The sauce was the kind that the heat of it hits you after the fact.  So, so good!  The black beans and rice were also very good and fresh.  I didn’t taste the slaw but honestly didn’t need to.  The entree was exactly what I needed to cure my Mexican food craving.

The kids ordered cheese quesadillas which I didn’t bother to snap a picture of because they were very bland looking.  They ate everything on their plates, so I am sure it would pass the kid test.  Upon leaving my daughter asked me if we could please go back again, so I consider it a win.  I am very happy to have found a Mexican restaurant that passes the test; On The Border was no longer cutting it.  We will be back to try more things and when we do, you guys will be the first to hear about it!  Until then, if you find yourself in Charlotte, make your way there and try it for yourself.  You will leave there glad that you did.

 

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Firebirds Wood Fired Grill: A Review

The Saturday evening before Mother’s Day we went out for dinner.  The thought process was we would celebrate my Mother’s Day Saturday night and my mother-in-law’s Mother’s Day on Sunday.  We headed to 131 Main and were told it would be a 45 minute wait.  Yikes! No thanks, it was already 8:30 and I didn’t want to take up my entire night.  We also noticed some prom dresses so I was sure we could find a less packed place to eat.  We then decided to try our luck at Cantina 1511.  We arrived to find they were closed for the night with a private party booking.  They were apologetic and even gave us free guacamole coupons which will be used!  Right next door sat Firebirds Wood Fired Grill.  We had eaten there before a few years ago and remembered that we liked it well enough so we went for it.  When we walked in the restaurant was busy but no one was waiting.  The hostess told us there was a 35-45 minute wait and I was baffled.  As we turned to leave they called out to us and told us a bar area table had just opened up if we wanted to sit there.  We were fine with that and told them we would wait for them to clean it off.  As the lady is cleaning the table a man walks up and sits down; first come, first serve.  And just like that we were out of a table.  Good luck must have been on our side though, because then the hostess told us that there was an available table on the patio.  We accepted the table and were seated immediately.  So just like that a supposed 35 minute wait turned into a 2 minute wait.  I’m not sure what the motive was since there were no people actually waiting to be seated but I decided to write it off and move on.

Once seated the waitress showed up fairly quickly and we placed our orders.  The first thing that came out was the bread and it took awhile.

Bread at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

It was crispy on the outside and soft and warm inside.  My husband made the comment that it was good and I have to agree.  Some bread at restaurants can be disappointing; this one was not the best bread I have had but it was better than a lot of chain restaurant bread.  If I had to compare it I’d say it’s a step up from Outback bread and a step down from Del Frisco’s bread.  Next up we ordered two appetizers for sharing: the Smoked Chicken Wings and the Jalapeno Deviled Eggs.

Smoked Chicken Wings at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

We have found that the best way to order wings is with the sauce on the side.  The wings come out crispier and if the sauce isn’t the best you can forgo it.  These wings were very good. There was very little fat and they were a generous size.  The buffalo sauce was tangy but lacked any heat; you won’t find me complaining though, because the flavor was legit.  Bonus points for the celery being some of the freshest I’ve come across in a restaurant.  Also, the blue cheese dressing had a very homemade quality to it- not sure if it was but it tasted like it!

Jalapeno Deviled Eggs at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The Jalapeno Deviled Eggs were tasty with some modifications made.  I ate the first one with the jalapeno and it lit my mouth on fire.  I love spice and handle heat well and this was a tad bit much.  I ate the subsequent eggs without the jalapenos.  The good news is, the eggs didn’t need them anyway; they were good all by themselves- even the kids agreed.  I tasted the cole slaw served underneath them and it was decent as far as cole slaw goes.  The lines of sriracha on the plate seemed like overkill and out of place so I left that alone.

The kids meals came out next, about a minute before the adult entrees.  My daughter got the Macaroni and cheese with Fresh Fruit and Mashed Potatoes on the side. My son ordered the Cheeseburger with Fresh Fruit and French Fries.

Kids Macaroni and Cheese Meal at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

My daughter loved the macaroni and cheese and the fruit.  She told me she didn’t want to eat the mashed potatoes because they were lumpy and cold.  I went to try them for myself and when I stuck my fork in them to get a bite, that entire blob you see up there came off the plate in one big piece.  Kid you not.  For your sakes I tried them anyway and found that they were lukewarm and void of flavor- no seasoning at all.  On a positive note, I am almost positive they are real potatoes.

Kids Cheeseburger Meal at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

I did not taste my son’s food but he ate it all without complaint.  I’ll take that as a win.

My husband and I split the Filet Mignon with a side of Spiced Pecan Green Beans.  We ordered our steak medium and it was cooked to perfection.

Filet Mignon at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The steak was bacon wrapped and I was able to detect the subtle flavor that it added.  The green beans were out of this world as far as vegetables are concerned.  The spice mixture used on them with the pecans added in really took the whole idea of green beans up a notch.  I now want to recreate those green beans at home and serve them <strike>for Thanksgiving</strike>  all the time.  Kudos to Firebirds for splitting our meal up before bringing it out.  It always makes me happy to find restaurants that do this because to me it shows quality customer service and an eye for detail.

Food-wise Firebirds is pretty much on par with flavors and execution.  Service-wise, I’d say they have some work to do.  In addition to the wait time snafu, our waitress also left us wishing for more.  She was nice but not very attentive.  Our drinks sat empty through three trips to our table until, on the fourth trip, she brought refills.  Upon leaving I asked twice for to-go drinks for my kids and never received them.  These are small things but definitely factor in to my overall views of the restaurant.  Overall, I was pleased with Firebirds.  I left there satisfied and knowing I would be back.

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Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar- Review

When I first heard of Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar I thought it was weird.  I mean, sushi and burgers together?  Who does that?  Not me.  Despite that though, I somehow ended up there and it is now a highly frequented place by our little family.  They can become busy on the weekends and at peak hours so I try to go during other times.  The following review is based on my experience at the Charlotte location.

What can you expect to find at Cowfish?  Some oddities, that’s for sure; great food is a good bet as well.  The details are really nailed down in this restaurant from the artwork to the food.  There are some really interesting pictures hanging on the walls that I can safely say you probably haven’t seen before.  The fun continues into the bathroom where there is a never-ending loop of recorded conversation in various accents and languages.  While those things grab my interest, the real reason I keep coming back is for the food.  The menu is vast and offers the typical fare one would expect (sushi and burgers) as well as other things like salads and milkshakes.  The most unique thing they offer is Burgushi.  Burgushi is what happens when sushi meets a burger.  Trust me, it is better than it sounds.  Think of it as a burger shaped into the look of sushi.  It is a definite must try at least once.

Having tried a lot of different things on the menu, I can attest to the fact that it is hard to go wrong no matter what you pick.  I have, however, found a few favorites.  For an appetizer I recommend getting the Mini Burgers of the week.  Each week Cowfish features a different mini burger appetizer made in the style one of their regular-sized burgers.  Insider tip: Cowfish will make any style of mini burger you want when you order this appetizer regardless of what the feature is that week.  I usually pick the Texas Longhorn style for my mini burgers and it never disappoints.

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Texas Longhorn Mini Burgers | www.adventuresquared.com

For my entree I always roll with sushi.  There is one sushi roll that I get every time I go to Cowfish: the North Hills Roll.  It consists of tempura coconut shrimp, cucumber, cilantro, avocado, mango, cashews and eel sauce.  I always ask for a side of ponzu sauce to complete it.  I have tried almost every sushi roll on the menu and this one is the best!

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: North Hills Roll | www.adventuresquared.com

If I am eating at Cowfish with my husband, which I usually am, we will get one of the entree salads to split.  Usually we get the Grilled Salmon Salad, but to switch things up we recently tried the Seared Tuna Arugula Salad.  It had seared sesame tuna over arugula with Peruvian sweet peppers, carrots, hearts of palm, snow peas, artichokes, olives, and tomatoes tossed with a citrus soy dressing.  I would go with this salad if I wanted a smaller portion; the Grilled Salmon Salad would be a good choice if you were looking for something more filling.

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Seared Arugula Tuna Salad | www.adventuresquared.com

I would be remiss not to mention the kids meals.  Cowfish stands out when it comes to kids meals.  They offer so much more than the standard kids menu fare.  Sure, the usual choices are still there (chicken nuggets and burgers) but they also offer a california roll, shrimp tempura roll, and a PB&J roll. Also, the burgers in the kids meal are just as delicious as the appetizer version.  How could they not be when they are served on Hawaiian rolls?  Side dish choices, of which your child gets to choose two of, include edamame, apples, carrots, oranges, and fries. Dessert is a rice krispy treat topped with a Swedish fish.  All of this is served bento box style, complete with a tattoo for extra fun!

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Shrimp Tempura Kids Meal | www.adventuresquared.comCowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Kids Mini Burgers | www.adventuresquared.com

Cowfish is the perfect restaurant because there is something for everyone.  The food is fresh, the service is impeccable, and you leave there feeling truly satisfied.  If you find yourself in Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, or Orlando, do yourself a favor and find your way to Cowfish.  The only regret I have concerning this place is that I didn’t find it sooner.

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How I Switched from Drinking Sweet Tea to Unsweet Tea

I have lived in the south my entire life.  If there is one thing that goes with the south it is sweet tea.  I grew up drinking sweet tea and it became a staple for me.  When we would go out to dinner I would order it, when our families had get-togethers we would drink it, and sometimes we would make it at home just because we wanted to.  The sweetness of the tea really hinges on personal preference but it can also have a lot to do with what part of the south you live in.  When I drank sweet tea I preferred mine to be lighter on the sweetened side (about 1-1.5 c. sugar per gallon of tea) while some of my friends liked to drink their tea with double the amount of sugar as me.  It was the varying degrees of sweetness that led me to make the change from sweet to unsweet.

How I Switched from Drinking Sweet Tea to Unsweet Tea | www.adventuresquared.com

I don’t remember the restaurant I was at when it happened but I do remember asking for half sweet/half unsweet tea.  It was perfection.  Eventually that even became too sweet for my tastebuds so I then asked for unsweet tea and I added my own sugar to it.  I liked Sugar in the Raw so I tried to keep some packets on my person in case I was somewhere that didn’t carry it.  I started with two packets per glass and when they would refill the tea there was usually some residual sugar in the bottom of the glass so I refrained from adding any extra.  Once I got used to two packets, I cut back to one packet.  After a couple weeks of that I stopped with the packets altogether and have been sugar free with my tea ever since.

One thing I will tell you is that when you go sugar free with your tea you will finally be able to taste the flavor of the actual tea.  It will become quickly apparent that most places serve low quality, cheap tea.  The flavors of these teas can be bitter with undertones of cigarettes and burnt flavors.  The best unsweet tea I have been able to find is served at Chick-fil-A.  Try their tea first and use it as a measuring stick above all others.  If you are brewing at home, throw out the Lipton and Luzianne and go get yourself some Tetley tea.  Tetley has no weird after taste and is as refreshing as they come.

How I Switched from Drinking Sweet Tea to Unsweet Tea | www.adventuresquared.com

Cutting out the sugar from my drinks has dramatically changed my tastebuds.  I can no longer tolerate sweet tea; if someone serves it to me accidentally I can’t drink it and it usually ends up untouched.  If you would have told me I would ever be drinking my tea without sugar I would have said you were crazy, but here I am.  I have been drinking unsweet tea exclusively now for 3-4 years and there is no going back.

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