Fire in the Triad: Josephine's Vs Noble's Grille

Please read my blog for a nightly recap of Fire in the Triad posts to stay in the loop. You can also follow me on twitter @niksnacks and the hashtag #CompDiningNC for live updates during each battle (dinner begins at 7pm). Please also follow Competition Dining on Facebook or the web

Believe it or not, I had performance anxiety while writing my first post for the first battle. The only thing I could think about was not being too long-winded or snarky and not being descriptive enough. After experiencing last night's fare, all of those apprehensions have been defenestrated. Let's go--

Josephine's Vs Noble's Grille

Meet Chef Chris Blackburn of Josephine's Bistro in Greensboro

Meet Chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem

True story: I had to Google Chef Blackburn before the competition, because I'd never been to Josephine's. I almost want to say I'd never heard of the restaurant, but I'm sure someone's mentioned it in casual conversation.  Or maybe not. Remember, I live in Winston-Salem.

It's no secret that denizens of Winston-Salem and Greensboro rarely cross county lines to conduct business or recreation. If it can't be done over the phone, the internet or on the outskirts of Kernersville, it doesn't get done. There is no love lost between the two cities. It really is a war zone driving from one locale to the other. If it's not the traffic, it's traffic cones blocking lanes, preventing a smooth drive. By the time you get to one city or another, you're ready to stay a few hours to calm down from the harrowing trip.

Confession: I used to work at Noble's Grille. But don't worry--Chef Bobby wasn't there at the same time as me. My first professional cooking job out of culinary school, I was a pantry cook. I banged out hundreds of Fried Oyster Salads (who doesn't love that bacon balsamic dressing?) and desserts. There is a special place in my heart (and my belly) for Noble's.

Kitchen pantry on wheels
Now that you've met the chefs and read my confessional, it's time to get down to the nitty gritty! The food! The secret ingredient...

Provided by Ashley Farms, the secret ingredient had everyone murmuring and excited. As Americans, we eat chicken, beef and sometimes lamb. That's it. But let me tell you: the flavor of rabbit tastes just like the ubiquitous chicken.

First course: Wild Mushroom Agnolotti with Rabbit Sausage, Goat Cheese and
House Made Ricotta, Braised Rabbit, Pickled Shallots and Carrot Nage
When the ingredients of the first course flashed on one of the many screens in the dining room, I was overwhelmed. "Too many ingredients. I hope I can taste them all." And I did. Mostly. I wasn't able to detect the tang of the goat cheese, which was a good thing because sometimes chèvre can be a little pungent. The agnolotti dough was smooth, uniform, and yielded easily to my fork. My favorite part of the dish: the carrot nage. I took a crusty piece of bread and wiped my plate clean.

Second course: House Made Rabbit Confit & Crawfish Raviolo, Pickled Summer Vegetables,
Charred Pistachio, Coconut Masala Veloute & House Made Ricotta
Coincidence struck and this course was another form of ravioli but in the singular form. Raviolo is one, ravioli is two or more. It's how Italian is pluralized. It's fun learning languages, isn't it?
So...again, lots of ingredients. I was secretly praying the dish was executed well. This dish had a better flavor than the first course (the coconut veloute is what sealed the deal), but it wasn't executed as well. The raviolo was thick, clunky, and the sausage was chewy, rough and a little unpleasant. The pistachio gave the dish salt and smoke, but the 'pickled' vegetables were not tart and tangy as promised.
Third course: Grilled Rabbit Loin, Old Mill of Guilford Stone Ground Grits,
Rabbit Braised Collards, Cherry Mustarda, Rabbit Jus
My favorite course of the night, the grilled rabbit had a good smoky flavor and was perfectly cooked. The grits were creamy and nestled in the center of the cozy bed of grits were the collard greens. The cherry was a nice foil to the greens and the smoky rabbit. I didn't get any visible jus on my plate but I didn't mind; my rabbit was juicy enough.

Chef Bobby and his team plating in the kitchen

Chef Blackburn and his team posing between courses

Fourth course: Mustard Rabbit Schnitzel and Cheddar, Charred Carrot Andouille Dirty Lentils,
Smoked NC Tomato & Corn Bechamel, Crispy Sweet Potato & Truffled Honey
This course was my personal favorite. I'm a sucker for schnitzel (or anything crispy & fried) and as a granchild of New Orleans, andouille is always in my grocery cart or my stovetop smoker. As far as the rabbit was concerned, I was afraid it was going to be tough or chewy and it wasn't. It was just as tender as could be. The truffled honey was the strongest aroma of this dish and it was a nice touch. I know that truffle is overdone and drizzled on everything (it seems), but it really was nice here.

Fifth course: Roasted Rabbit & Peach Glazed Yellow Sponge, Diplomat Cream,
Rabbit Jam, Honey Cashew Tuille
My first thought: "Rabbit as dessert is not a good idea. Whoever decides to put the two together will have to come up with something incredibly creative." Well, the sponge, the cream & the tuille were great. The rabbit jam... not so much... it tasted like chicken salad with peaches in it. And look at the pic: there is another errant piece of mint. Just sitting there. Looking pretty.

Sixth course: Candied Leg of Rabbit, RC Cola Mole Granita, Pan de Huevo, Cayenne Chocolate,
Smoked Sweet Tea Mousse, Pomegranate Molasses, Pink Peppercorn Blueberries
The final course: the most controversial dish of the night. Way too many components and in my opinion, none of them went together in a composed manner. The candied rabbit and the pink peppercorn blueberries together were great. The quenelle of sweet tea mousse was familiar, light, fluffy, and covered with pink peppercorns (yay). Pink peppercorns are one of my favorite things on the planet. The pan de huevo was way too heavy and clunky and dry. The cayenne inside of the chocolate (accompanied by the RC Cola Mole Granita) was so spicy, I couldn't eat it. No one could eat it. I had to remind myself not to touch my face so I wouldn't go home crying. And again, another errant piece of mint. I wished the mint leaf was able to refresh and save this dish.

Overall, each team presented creative and inspired dishes but the prevailing chef was Chef Chris Blackburn of Josephine's. To see the score breakdown and dishes side by chef, please visit Competition Dining's website here.

Stay tuned tomorrow night to read a recap of Fire in the Triad: Southern Lights of Greensboro Vs Meridian of Winston-Salem!

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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