Saturday, March 25, 2017

Raleigh's AC Hotel and Level 7 set for grand opening

The newest AC Hotel by Marriott will open to the public on Monday, March 27 inside Raleigh's North Hills.

By Dathan Kazsuk | March 25, 2017
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown

AC Hotels by Marriott is set to open its doors and rooms to the public on Monday, March 27, and we were fortunate enough to get a sneak peek inside prior to the grand opening. And what we've learned is this is going to be one of North Hills hippest hang outs when you make your way up to the 7th floor and check out the complete Level 7 experience.

The bar is still being worked on, but when complete will have a great ambient feel.

Led by AC Hotels Food & Beverage Director, Anthony Zinani, we got to see the urban flare of the Level 7 lounge. The bar will serve up Tapas and small plates as well as an array of Spanish and Sherry wines. They will also feature signature cocktails like the AC Gin & Tonic made with Hendrick's Gin.

The lounge inside Level 7 will have plenty of space to sit down and enjoy your favorite Spanish wine.

The lounge will be open 7 days a week, serving drinks up to 2 a.m. if patrons are around – which we don't think will be a problem. Inside the lounge, music will be pumped throughout, and there will be a variety of 40-inch flat screens for your viewing pleasure. They were being installed when we arrived for the tour.

Enjoy breakfast each morning at Level 7's breakfast area.

Breakfast will be served each and every morning starting at 6 a.m. The cost of the breakfast buffet is $15 for guests of the hotel and people coming in off the street. The buffet will consist of tarts, Spanish hams, cured meats, international cheeses, coffee and espresso as well as many other unique offerings not seen at your typical "continental" breakfast. 

There's not a bad location to enjoy a drink at Level 7's rooftop lounge.

Making your way from the lounge to the rooftop, you'll encounter some remarkable artwork, such as this piece that shows a map of downtown Raleigh. There you can relax as you drink a handcrafted cocktail using many local distillers such as Oaklee Distillery, Fair Game Beverage Company, TOPO Organic Spirits and Durham Distillery – to name a few.


The view from Level 7's rooftop.

Roughly 1,500 square-feet of rooftop space overlooks North Hills. Enjoy a drink with friends or book the rooftop for private events. The rooftop features heat lamps for chilly evenings as well as waterproof furniture. A projector is also handy to shoot your logo across the North Hills cityscapes like Bat-Man with his bat sign. Drink rails along the ledge will allow patrons an opportunity to enjoy a drink and look down at the nightlife which is North Hills.

The Media Salon has some seclusion, but its still safe to bring a drink back here.

At the opposite end of the rooftop is the Media Salon. So if you happen to be here for work, rent a private salon with frosted windows to have some privacy. Smart tables will allow you to place your phone on the table and project your screen onto the wall. How's that for technology. Eat your heart out, Tony Stark. The area also has a few Apple iMac computers and desks so you can get some work done.

AC Hotels by Marriott has put together an experience unlike any other – giving you the best of a place to rest your head for the night and to chill out to good food and drink. Be sure to check out its grand opening starting at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 27. 


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cosplay, Collectables & Comics shine at Raleigh ComiCon

NC Comicon, Raleigh, March 18-19
Cosplay was seen throughout the weekend, including this spooky character of the macabre

By Dathan Kazsuk | March 21, 2017
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown

The NC Comicon: Oak City was held at Raleigh's Convention Center, March 18-19, and is one of the premier events in the area that showcases exhibits, panels, artists, workshops, comics and collectibles.

The Comicon featured over 30 special guests, such as artist Neal Adams and writer, John Barber. Adams has created some eye-catching modern day imagery in the D.C. world, while Barber has used his writing skills in such comics as Transformers and G.I. Joe. Another special guest included Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, who you might know from his tenure with the hip-hop legends, Run DMC.


Darryl McDaniels at NC Comicon in Raleigh
Hip-hop Legend Darryl McDaniels is an avid comic book reader.











Darryl McDaniels was at the Comicon on Saturday afternoon signing copies of his comic, DMC. His character, who dons his tracksuit and Adidas sneakers to defend the city against both super villains and heroes alike. 

Star Wars Tusken Raider and DC Universe DeathStroke at NC Comicon in Raleigh
From Star Wars' Tusken Raiders to D.C.'s Deathstroke, people really got into their characters.
The Comicon had a lot of guests dressing up as their favorite movie, video game or comic book characters. During the stroll through the convention center we saw a handful of great cosplay outfits, including characters from the Marvel Universe and D.C. Universe.

NC Comicon in Raleigh with artist Neal Adams
Artists of all genres lined up the Artist Alley at the NC Comicon.
With more than 100 exhibitors and 90-plus artists, finding something to bring home as a souvenir, shouldn't have been a problem. We found some vintage Shogun Warrior figures such as Mazinger, Dragun and Raydeen which should have come home with us – but didn't. And we fell short of finding any artist who had any pieces of a vintage Greedo from Star Wars fame – and yes, Han shot first! 

Guests were able to take some photos with props straight out of the celluloid of Dr. Who
Props were also a huge hit at the 2017 NC Comicon. From sword and axe cosplay replicas, light sabres and even elf ears. You probably would have found it over the weekend. There were other props that weren't for sale, but gave you some nice photo opportunities – even a chance to sit inside the Back to the Future DeLorean time machine.


At the Cosplay City, one was able to cheer on their friends during the Down and Nerdy Charity Arm Wrestling Tournament. Women arm wrestling leagues from Greensboro and Durham competed for bragging rights. Their cosplay outfits included Xena: Warrior Princess, Logan from the Wolverine saga and a high-heeled, tight latexed Darth Vader!

Guardians of the Gala: Energon Bash at the NC Comicon inside the Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, N.C.

The end of Saturday night featured the Guardians of the Gala: Energon Bash. This all-ages gala was hosted by Cap Blackard and featured DJ music by FiFi-HiFi. Raleigh's Big Boss Brewing Company sponsored the beer, that was sold to guests 21-years or older.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cary's Bond Brothers wins USA Today's "Best new Brewery in America"

Cary's Bond Brothers Beer Company has been producing amazing beers since it's opening in April of 2016.


By Dathan Kazsuk | March 17, 2017
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown

Bond Brothers Beer Company has been open to the public for less than a year and the co-owners that are Jay and Jeremy Bond and Whit Baker have been setting the Triangle ablaze with one after another on par brews. From the hoppy IPA styles of Local, Long Stride and Bitter Enemy to the precise combinations of ingredients in its stout series called Varient – Bond Brothers is a must stop while visiting the confides of Cary.

USA Today's Reader Choice 2017 has awarded Bond Brothers Beer Company with the "Best New Brewery." USA Today asked a panel of beer experts to nominate their favorite and let the readers vote for their favorite. Some of the other breweries included Richmond, Virginia's The Answer Brewpub and The Veil Brewing Company as well as Atlanta's Scofflaw Brewing Company, who finished right behind the Cary brewery.

We thought after an accomplishment such as that, Triangle Around Town would reach out to the trio at Bond Brothers and ask them a few questions.

After years of home brewing and winning local awards at what point did you decide that you should actually create your own brewery?
Whit: When we started getting feedback, we figured if we were doing that well at home, that we probably could do as good or better if we had equipment designed to brew it.
Jeremy: Basically we were brewing out of my shed, so we nicknamed it the "brew shed."  We ended up with about 7 refrigerators in there. The whole shed was dedicated to brewing. It got to be almost a job. That's when we realized that if we wanted to do world-class beers, we're going to have to take the next step – and that's when we decided to take the plunge.
Jay: A little bit before that I was at Yadkin Valley managing a vineyard out there in the winery. I would visit them and work with them and brew with them and got more involved in beer and that process as well.

While drinking wine in the Yadkin Valley area I head it was Laurel Gray Vineyards in Hamptonville that you worked for.
Jay: Yeah, I worked for Laurel Gray and the Yadkin Valley Wine Company. I also worked closely with Shadow Springs as well. I didn't actually work for Shadow Springs, but that's where we get all our wine barrels for production here.

Bond Brothers crafts some amazing beers here in the Triangle – from the variety of IPAs to your Sorcery and Varient series beers. What would you say is Bond Brothers' wheelhouse?
Whit: We look for what we want to drink. Both the Bond brothers really like drinking IPAs and pale ales. One thing we really want to put an emphasis on is kettle sours. We felt we can make kettle sours fast enough, and well enough, that we can sell them at a regular price point so people can try them. When we want to do stouts, we do stouts. We also do some Belgiums and Saisons. So those are what we specialize in.

With Sorcery, you've already done an plum, apricot, raspberry, mango and even a pineapple, mango, apricot beer. How do you decide what fruit or mixture is going into these beers?
Whit: It's sort of random as to what fruit combinations we use or we do some spur of the moment changes.
Jay: Whit will present an idea, or most of the time we'll present an idea, and then we bounce it off all of us. We either say we love it or hate it, and then we'll make changes.

Since your opening in last April you've been churning out many different beers. Has there ever been any epic failures of something that just didn't turn out right or tasted horrible with the fruit, ingredients or hops that you had to dump?
Whit: No. We did have one batch that the yeast didn't work properly and we had to get rid of that batch. But as far as ingredients go, we've actually been 100 percent on ingredients. Part of it is that we take extra time on these batches to make sure we have the flavoring right. If we haven't used the ingredient yet, we go slow and wait until we have what we want.

One can come into Bond Brothers and get a crawler of their favorite beer, but are there any plans on canning your beer and selling them by 4- or 6-packs?
Whit: As far as the IPAs go, we're going to resist packaging them. IPAs are definitely better on draft or fresh. But we will actually be rolling out bottles this year. {Bond Brothers Beer Company release its first bottled Brett IPA, Duality of Funk, on Saturday, Feb. 25}

Is there plans down the road to self distribute to bottle shops?
Whit: We might start to sell a few bottles to bottle shops, but in general we're going to keep it here.

Again, you've been open to the public for under a year, but you've already done many collaborations with local bottle shops and breweries. How do you guys figure out who you are going to collaborate with?
Whit: Basically we are in collaborating with a bunch of home brewer friends we had before we were a brewery. Ridgewood Wine & Beer approached us and said they would like an IPA and we like these hops, and we'd like for you to brew one. But with other people like TapLine Growler and Glass Jug, those might be atypical because they are homebrewers. Chris Creech is a pretty accomplished homebrewer, and then Justin at TapLine also homebrews, so those kinda of rolled into the homebrew side of collabs.

We started off the new year with a couple of brewery closings. White Rabbit in Angier and Draft Line in Fuquay-Varina closed its doors. Do you think that over saturation of breweries is finally and if you aren't on that plateau there is a chance you won't make it?
Whit: There will be for sure. As long as you make high-quality beer, there will also be room for you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pourworks opens big, sets sights for future

PourWorks had its grand opening at 900 E. Six Forks in Raleigh on Saturday, March 11.

By Jen Primrose | March 15, 2017
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown

The new bottle shop, PourWorks, just opened to the public on Saturday, March 11, with a plethora of wine, beer, food and entertainment to keep just about anyone satisfied. Triangle breweries such as Southern Pines Brewing Company, Fortnight Brewery and Gizmo Beer Works were pouring samples of beer through the night. Parked out front, the newly roaming Gonza Tacos y Tequila food truck was serving up Mexican goodies. And former NBC's The Voice contestant Nick Hagelin was performing inside. 

The packed house of patrons enjoyed a mix of wine and beer at the bar, while the employees were working hard at keeping everyone satisfied. We were with our friends having a few beers and ciders outside around the fire pit, enjoying a few tacos. We caught Southern Pines' James Doom as he was taking his beer back to the car, just in time to try some samples of Southern Pines' latest release, Box-O Barleywine.

In the middle of all the fun and mayhem was PourWorks co-owner David Hartman. Knowing Hartman was going to be busy greeting guests and making new friends, we at Triangle Around Town decided to catch up with Hartman prior to the grand opening. Below are excerpts from our interview.

What was the most difficult part of getting PourWorks off the ground and open to the public? Honestly, negotiating the lease was the most difficult. There are so many parties involved and the last time I signed a commercial lease was 25 years ago, and that was simply a sublease. The breakthrough came when we setup a conference call with the key shareholders. That was almost nine months after first contact.

Related Story: The Do's and Don'ts of Bottle Shares

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved in the world of wine. I come from a wine background. I grew up in close proximity to the Livermore, California AVA, and had the luxury of having some of the greatest wineries in the world  literally in my backyard. Over many years, I figured out what I liked in a winery. No matter how great your wines are, you have to be approachable. I'll never forget the day we stumbled across Opus One in Napa Valley. We drove in eager to taste, and were rather rudely told, 'Wine tasting is only offered to club members, and there is a wait list to join.' As a result of that, I will never, ever purchase a bottle of Opus One. I became attracted to highly personal venues, which led me far off the tracks of Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. The more intimate a winery was, the more I became attracted. There is nothing quite like talking to the people that actually have their blood, sweat and tears in their products.

So you plan on having PourWorks as a place that's intimate, personable and approachable. My advisor has helped with many local bottle shop startups. I personally have disliked most I've ventured into. Crammed wall-to-wall with products but no ambiance whatsoever, and no place you'd certainly want to spend on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Most reminded me of sneaking drinks in my friend's cheesy basement bar while their parents were out of town for the weekend.

Nick Hagelin, who performed on NBC's The Voice, performed for the grand opening at PourWorks.

Our first impression comes across as a spacious area with a warm atmosphere and not so dimly lit like some other shops. The focus became making a venue that people want to linger, relax and hang-out. A Cheers sort of place if you will. We've designed the space around that concept, with a large bar, roomy seating areas and lots of outdoor seating.

We really liked the bar inside PourWorks. Was it designed locally? Our bar is gorgeous and was designed by local artist Sean Kernick of Oak City Mural Company. That theme is integrated throughout the space, including an intimate leather seating area that's a perfect place to relax and chat with friends.

Many bottle shops today have employees who are Cicerones or in some cases Sommeliers. Is that something PourWorks will incorporate into the shop? We have a Sommelier and a Cicerone as part of our extended staff, and are extremely connected to the N.C. brewery and wine scene. We'll have access to some of the best beer and wine products coming into N.C. We'll couple that with tasting seminars, tap takeovers with brewery personnel on hand to educate people. Tasting flights by region and variety are some of the things we'll be offering, as well as beer/wine/food pairings.

I heard that PourWorks will have a delivery service. We plan on offering [a] delivery service. You can order online or via the phone and we'll send ice cold beer and wine to you. We plan on calling this service BrĂ¼ber.

PourWorks is open Monday - Thursday, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 1 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. and Sunday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. PourWorks can be reached at (919) 977-3514.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Made in Heaven? N.C. winemakers blend award winning wines in collaboration

Jay Raffaldini (left) and JW Ray (right) sign bottles of their collaboration wine, Sisboombah.
By Dathan Kazsuk | March 14, 2017
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown

It is the meeting of two minds. Two eccentric North Carolina winemakers who have been paving the way in the state with their robust reds and sultry whites. One winemaker has been in the business for close to 20 years, while the other is rather new on the block.

The first is Raffaldini Vineyards, led by Jay Raffaldini. He, and his winery, have been putting extreme passion into Italian-themed wines for over 17 years. Known for full-bodied reds like the Montepulciano and Sangiovese, Raffaldini Vineyards' picturesque Italian-inspired villa and tasting room draws in wine lovers from all over the state to sample its wines and take in the spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

Then from the scenic views of Raffaldini, travel 40 minutes northeast and you'll find yourself at another winery producing award-winning wines - JOLO Winery & Vineyards. The winery has been producing wines in less time as Raffaldini, but according to Jay, "They're just as good as what I'm doing today." The person behind JOLO is owner/winemaker JW Ray.

Related Story: Wine Trends to Watch for in 2017

Word got back to Jay that there was a guy near Pilot Mountain that he needed to talk to. An email was sent out and eventually the two decided to meet. "The first time we met, we chatted downstairs," says Raffaldini. And after what he says was a 6-hour conversation, he knew that Ray was on the same journey as himself.

Ray and JW unveil the new collaboration wine.
  
Ray admits that he actually heard of Jay before the two met. "When I came here from Florida, I was told to meet Jay Raffaldini from Sean McRitchie," he says. It was Sean, who owns McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks in Thurmond, who mentored Ray and helped him get started in creating his own winery.

So when the two, Ray and Jay, finally got together, they knew they both wanted to collaborate on something down the road. "We took our idea from California's Opus 1 - a marriage between Mondavi's and Rothschild's," says Raffaldini.

Related Story: The Best N.C. Wineries of 2016

So on Saturday, March 11, that collaboration became reality with the release of RaRa Sisboombah, a red blend which is a mix of Raffaldini's 2015 Montepulciano Reserva and JOLO's Chambourcin. The wine pours rich and dark with hints of sweet mocha, tomato leaf and dark cherries. It also has some hints violet and comes across very acidic.

A signed bottle of the wine will find its way to Triangle Around Town's wine cellar.

"Jay's an acid hound like I am," says Ray. "I like very acidy wines. I like the wine that makes your mouth water for another sip ... maybe, that's my problem," Ray concludes to a roomful of laughter.

The audience of around 60 people listened intently while the two talked about the wine, their friendship, their love for drinking, as well as the state of wineries here in North Carolina. "What's happening in North Carolina is really explosive, so please pay attention to all the vineyards here," said Raffaldini.

The passion these two put into their wines, they both feel pretty much at home when it comes to talking about others who might not put as much passion into their wines. "A lot of guys are hands off," says Ray. "Some of them don't even drink wines - and they own wineries."

Related Story: Our favorite NC Wineries of 2015

Raffaldini was quick to follow that statement up with his very own explanation point, saying, "And they drive race cars."

As far as this collaboration goes, they only released a grand total of 48 cases, so getting your hands on a bottle might be pretty hard today. But have no fear ... the two admit that this collaboration will continue to flourish with yearly releases. 

"Unless he kicks me to the curb," says Ray.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Hey Catholics! It's Lent! What Fish Sandwich Will You Eat?

By Dathan Kazsuk  | March 7, 2017
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown

 I'm typically not a fan of fast food “fish” sandwiches, because, c’mon now … they are fast food fish sandwiches! But when that Lenten time of the year rolls around, I find myself on Fridays eating something boring such as a salad with some veggies on top – or going to one of the local fast food establishments and ordering, you guessed it, a fish sandwich.

So instead of just feeling the guilt of eating fast food fish, I thought I’d make a blog out of this. It will sort of put some justification to my actions. So this is easy. I’m going to sample 5 fish sandwiches from some of the large fast food chains here in Raleigh, and seeing which sandwich I like the best. I’m sacrificing my stomach for you, my fellow Catholics … or Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans or even Anglicans. 


Now, another reason to appreciate what I'm doing is that under my current diet, I am no longer eating dairy, grains or processed foods, but for this week my diet is off. To make up for that, I am only buying the sandwich only – no combos.

McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish - Honestly, this is one of my guilty pleasures. It can rank in my number one position – or wind up at the bottom of the list. It all depends on how it’s made. Bun, tarter sauce, processed orange cheese and a breaded square of Alaskan Pollock. It’s winning when you get a nice and warm steamed bun that melts the cheese and heaping globs of tarter sauce ooze out the side of every bite you take. It’s downright nasty when you get a non-steamed bun, no melted cheese and a spoonful of sauce. I would rate this a 7 when made properly, and a 5 when not done right.
 

Wendy’s Premium Northern Pacific Cod Sandwich – This honestly taste like something I would make at home. And that’s not a bad thing – since my culinary skills are slightly above the average male. And it actually seemed a little healthier than most of the other sandwiches. Wendy’s advertises their Cod is wild-caught from the North Pacific. The fillet is lightly coated with Panko breading and topped with a large leaf of lettuce, a dill-style tarter sauce and 4 slices of dill pickles. The pickles makes the sandwich, since, unlike the Filet O' Fish or King Hawaiian, there is no cheese on Wendy’s sandwich. I would rate this a 7 out of 10. 

Burger King’s BK Spicy Big Fish – I was just going to order the Big Fish, but when I saw they had a Spicy Big Fish, I couldn’t resist. But I was very disappointed when I sat down to eat my sandwich. Upon removing the top bun, it was like I ran into a mess which I was eventually going to eat. The bun, appears to have been toasted, medium-well on the grill, with a handful of lettuce tossed between the buns with 2 pickles and a squirt of orange spicy sauce. With no tarter sauce, no cheese, and disappointing spicy sauce this one wasn’t what I was looking for. I would rate this a 5 out of 10. 
Arby's King Hawaiian Fish Sandwich – This was a rather impressive sandwich – and by far the largest of all I have sampled this past week. In between the King's Hawaiian Bun, along with a flank of flaky fish was shredded lettuce, two slices of tomatoes, tarter sauce and a slice of cheese. Put a little bit of Arby's famous Horsey Sauce in there to kick it up a notch and this sandwich fills your appetite – and your tummy. Another plus, is they give you three options – the one listed here, a fish flatbread and two crispy fish sandwiches for $5. I would rate this a 8 out of 10.


  Bojangles' BojAngler Fish Sandwich – Known for its chicken and biscuits, I wasn't expecting the BojAngler to be something to write home about. Made with an Alaskan Pollock fillet, the sandwich features a slice of cheese, tarter sauce and leaf of lettuceI was actually impressed with this fish sandwich. The fish was hot and flaky, and would pair well with those seasoned fries, which I had to steer clear of that and the famous Ice-Tea. I would rate this a 6.5 out of 10. Would have tied with Wendy's sandwich if they would have included fresh dill pickles.


So there you have it. I've given you 5 options to check on during the next 5 Friday's of Lent this year. Now it's time to get some extra walks on the greenway to burn off all this excess fish!  



Sunday, February 26, 2017

New Raleigh cooking competition finds chefs battling for vintage Corvette Stingray


Appetizers included a deconstructive bisque and Mexican-style mushroom Gnocchi.

By Jen Primrose  | February 26, 2017
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown


It didn’t seem that long ago when Raleigh’s chefs were coming out from the kitchens they call home to compete in what was once the Got to be NC Competition Dining. The dining series was the creation of entrepreneur Jimmy Crippen. Along with Got to be NC and Pate Dawson Foods, the series brought sixteen chefs into the light with nightly battles until a winner was crowned in a bracket-style cooking showcase.
Sadly, the year 2016 saw the flame from the gas-oven grills finally shut off for good. It was a good run, bringing attention to local Triangle chefs such as Dean Thompson of Flights restaurant in North Hills and Ryan Conklin, the chef at Rex UNC Healthcare – who was an underdog and won it all back in 2015. And it was a lot of fun!

With Competition Dining now in the rear view mirror, a brand new dining series has entered the market. Starting its inaugural night on Monday, Feb. 20 at 1705 Prime Catering in RaleighCooking for a Classic has come to see if it can hold its own to a gone, but not forgotten brilliant idea.

Duck breast with sweet potato and beet puree and braised pork with slaw and sweet potato.

In this new series, a concept brought to light for the Lucy Daniels Center, is trying to raise money for the children who go to the Lucy Daniels Center in Cary. Just like Fire in the Triangle, Cooking for a Classic has brought in 16 chefs to battle in the same bracket-style battle as the previous contest. But instead of winning a coveted red chefs jacket, a check for $2,000 and various other culinary prizes, these chefs will be battling for a vintage 1969 Corvette Stingray. A quick search on the internet puts a car like this in the value of $29,000 to $34,000. Not too shabby.

The competition has many similarities, while still trying to remain new. In Competition Dining, chefs were given a secret ingredient they learned about the same day as the competition. Personally, I thought that was a brilliant concept. It kept the chefs on their toes, and showcased how crafty they can be in only a few hours time.


Chocolate cake with sour cherry glaze and peanut butter-chocolate and banana cake for dessert.

With Cooking for a Classic, the chefs get to create whatever they want, but are given a budget. The budget is a great way of keeping the chefs from collecting all the Matsutake mushrooms, Kobe beef and Beluga Caviar they can fit in their baskets. But in this new showcased competition, I was able to find out my entire meal prior to being served my first drink pairing. I've been to a couple of the previous cooking contests, and preferred the anticipation of the secret ingredient and what's coming out next to my table.

The one thing Cooking for a Classic added, which I liked the concept of, is each of the six courses also had a drink pairing. On the opening night, I was treated to various drinks such as hard cider, Mexican beer, Spanish red wine, California Chardonnay, spiked hot chocolate and Irish Coffee. And that’s included in the cost of your ticket. Not like some other events where you have to add an additional cost to have a libation pairing with your meal.

Drinks included a spiked hot chocolate with cherry whipped cream and an Irish coffee paired with desserts.

Night one featured Chef Dean Thompson, of Flights, who was crowned champion of two Fire in the Triangle competitions, squared off against Chef Rich Carter of Catering Works. First thought in my mind was, 'I should be able to easily tell the two apart in this contest.' But that wasn't the case. Each course we sampled at the table had its share of critics, but good and bad. Which, to me, is fun to hear what everyone thinks.

Related StoryFire in the Triangle: Center Stage with Chef Dean Thompson

From a creative presentation of soup to a succulent duck breast to a downright tasty spiked hot chocolate – it was a fun night out. And in the end, I was quite shocked when the winner was announced as Catering Works Chef Carter. Did the best chef win? I'm not sure. But the best chef of the night did prevail. Chef Carter has moved onto the next round along with Sitti restaurant's Chef Donaldo Guzman (Feb. 21 winner) and Chef Eric Gephart of Kamado Grille (Feb. 22 winner).

At the end of the night, six plated courses, six beverages by two chefs and 100 percent of the net proceeds benefiting the Lucy Daniels Center, you can't go wrong. The competition runs through March.

For ticket information, go to www.cookingforaclassic.com