My husband and I had such a great time at the Fire in the Triangle finale. It was impressively organized and well-run and completely worth the cost of admission. The finalists were Team Weathervane, led by Chef  Ryan Payne and Team Herons, led by Chef John Childers. We were all surprised to find out there were two secret ingredients that night – chocolate and grits (specifically Mona Lisa Chocolates and grits from Old Mill of Guilford). Certainly sounded like a challenge to me.
We rated each course on presentation, aroma, flavor, and accompaniments, as well as creativity and execution of the secret ingredient.

 
 
Last Thursday was the Food Truck Harvest at Big Boss Brewing Company. It was great to have a food truck gathering here in Raleigh. There was live music, a pumpkin carving contest, and of course, beer. I’m not a beer connoisseur but we had a Hell’s Belle and a Harvest Time Pumpkin Ale, I liked both, but Jad liked the Hell’s Belle better and I preferred the pumpkin ale.

Some highlights:

 
 
Yesterday Andrea Weigl tweeted a link to this Carolina Journal article; Raleigh’s city ordinances basically send the message that food trucks are not welcome in the City of Oaks. My response? Raleigh needs to take the stick out of its ass.

 
 
Two years ago today Jad and I rolled into Cary, NC with two cars full of stuff and two very tired cats. We didn’t know it yet, but we had finally found a place to call home. I grew up in Austin, Texas, which is a really fantastic city but by the time I had finished college, I was itching to go elsewhere. I found myself going to grad school at the University of Iowa. Iowa City would not have been my first choice of a new town but I grew quite fond of it during my years there, as it is a great little college town. By the time I was done with school, though, after surviving several brutal winters, I was ready for warmth and palm trees. Jad and I packed up all our things and moved to San Diego.

 
 
Did you see last night’s Mad Men? We didn’t, because we were busy working at Cary’s Pocket Community Garden, and grilling up some grub for the next week. There was, however, a fascinating story on NPR today about an original Madison Avenue ad man, Sid Lerner, and his Meatless Monday campaign.

Sid is the man behind the memorable “Don’t Squeeze The Charmin” ads, among many others. Like Sid and other people in the article say, we love to eat meat, but we prefer to eat it in moderation, and to know that it has been raised conscientiously, and if at all possible, locally. Here’s the article.

We’re definitely looking forward to trying the Quinoa-Stuffed Zucchini Boat recipe mentioned in the article. For this week’s Meatless Monday, we’ll be having one of our classic go-to summer meals: Grilled Marinated Vegetable Sandwiches. The sandwiches are that much better when we add Rosemary and Garlic goat cheese from In The Red Farm and Dairy, which we always get at the State Farmer’s Market.

 
 
The first Durham Food Truck Round-Up was a big hit, so naturally there will be a sequel. This one will be at the Durham Farmer’s Market pavilion, on Foster Street, from 4 PM to 7 PM. The truck lineup looks to be similar to the first event, which is a good thing.

Only Burger: I still have yet to try the pimento cheese & fried egg burger, but I hear it’s amazing. Daisy Cakes
Bulkogi Korean BBQ To Go: Excellent Korean tacos, this was one of the busiest trucks at the last round-up – be prepared for long waits.
Indian Food on Wheels Parlez-Vous Crepe
Mom’s Delicious Dishes Kona Chameleon: Serving hot coffee and fruit smoothies. Check the back of their menu for totally random math problems. Hopefully Loco Pops will make another appearance, as their popsicles are essential for beating the heat. My recommendation – start early, and have a plan. If you’ve got four people, figure out what each person wants, and get in four lines right away. This is prime time for delicious, affordable food, so spend liberally and support local good eats!

 
 
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Here’s a cute little NPR article about that quintessential Memorial Day food, the humble hot dog. Just click the dog and read on.

The article cites “Ole Time Hot Dogs” in Cary, but after doing some digging, we figure they’re probably referring to Jim’s Old Time Hot Dogs, at 2000 Walnut Street, Cary NC, 27518 (919 554-9063). Those onions sound tasty!


 

Lantern

08/12/2009

4 Comments

 
I first ate at Lantern before moving to North Carolina. My husband and I were visiting the area to see if we wanted to move here. We had a really nice dinner at Lantern and we both distinctly remembered how great the tea smoked chicken was. So I was looking forward to coming back here for dinner on my birthday.



The last time I ate at Lantern I ordered a Yo La Mango cocktail, which I loved. Unfortunately it’s a seasonal drink, so this time around I tried a Red Geisha, at the waiter’s suggestion. It was pretty, with muddled strawberries, but not all that tasty.

For appetizers, my husband started with the fiery eggplant salad, which he enjoyed. The eggplant had a nice heat to them.



I started with the special – lacquered pork belly. This was the star of the meal – do you see how that fat glistens? Each bite was incredibly rich – a thick layer of unctuous fat with a bottom layer of crispy pork. One of the top food experiences of my life. Accompanying the pork belly were pickled green tomatoes, which were delightfully tart and made for a unique pairing.



Unfortunately, after such a promising start, the meal went downhill from there. I ordered the seafood hot pot, which came with shrimp, halibut, scallops, squid, clams, and noodles in a lobster broth.



Sounds good, right? But all the seafood was horribly overcooked and there was such a strong fishy smell and taste that after a few bites, I couldn’t eat any more of it. The waiter apologized and took it back. I wasn’t terribly hungry anymore so I ordered the black mushroom and cabbage dumpling appetizer as a replacement. They were just your average dumplings, with a rather bland filling.



My husband ordered the tea and spice smoked chicken that we still remembered from a year and a half ago. Chicken is so often bland that when we first had this dish, we were thrilled and counted it as one of the best chicken dishes we’d ever had – tender meat with crispy skin and that subtle tea and spice flavor. So how was the chicken this time around? Dry. Overcooked and dry. My husband made the best of things and we would have felt really awkward sending both our dishes back, but in retrospect, we should have sent it back. There was just no denying that the meat was overcooked. The sides – pork and shrimp fried rice and green beans – were unremarkable.



I’m sure we must have hit Lantern on an off night, but it was a rather big disappointment on my birthday. We will certainly be back and hope for a better experience, the service and atmosphere are very good, the menu interesting, I love their use of local ingredients, and certain things we ordered were delicious.

Lantern
423 W. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC
(919)969-8846

 
 
Dining for Women is a nonprofit organization founded in South Carolina with the simple and lovely idea of dinner giving circles – women get together for potluck meals and then donate the money they would have spent going out to eat to an organization selected by DFW that benefits women in need around the world. My friend Aimee sent me the link to DFW and pointed out that there wasn’t currently a Raleigh chapter. Well, now there is! If you’d like to participate, email me at marychoe (at) gmail dot com and join the Facebook group. Let’s eat together for a good cause!

 
 
I had dinner at Elaine’s recently with my husband to celebrate our anniversary. When we arrived, we were handed personalized menus that said Happy Anniversary. Elaine’s is housed in a small, casual space. The ambience is perfectly nice, but it’s not what I would consider the ultimate romantic dinner spot. I was seated facing a huge painting of a pineapple, which kind of amused me.

We were brought an amuse-bouche of curried sweet potato soup. I didn’t care for it, I couldn’t taste anything but the curry seasoning.

I cannot remember the name of my drink, but it was a cocktail with a blackberry puree and was excellent and my husband really enjoyed his basil mojito.



My husband started with the artisanal three cheese sampler with homemade crackers. It came with a Manchego, which was fine but not memorable, a locally-made Chevre, which was lovely, and a very potent blue cheese, which my husband loved. The crackers were light and airy.



The highlight of my meal was definitely my appetizer. I ordered the seared foie gras with a roasted half local peach, amaretti pit and vin santo sauce. Hard to go wrong with foie gras and this did not disappoint. The foie gras was incredibly rich and unctuous and the saltiness of it paired with the sweetness of the peach was delightful.



My husband had the cast iron skillet free-range chicken breast on “bubble and squeak” with fresh porcini and foie-gras porcini jus. The chicken was excellent, very tender with a wonderful sear. The jus was rich and lovely but also too salty and half the potatoes were undercooked. A little disappointing.



I had the grilled hoisin-sesame tenderloin with rice noodles, cashews, snow pea tips, and charred ginger broth. The beef was delicious, tender and perfectly cooked. I enjoyed the ginger broth but would really have liked more noodles and fewer snow pea tips.



For dessert we tried the lime curd semifreddo with a chocolate cake brownie. The semifreddo was tart and refreshing but the brownie was dry, dull, and just didn’t belong.

The service was good, but slow, which may have been because our server was also tending the bar. I certainly like a leisurely pace for a special dinner but two full hours is a little too much for me.

I would certainly come back to Elaine’s but our meal had its imperfections and I wasn’t as blown away as I would have liked, considering the prestige and the prices.

Soon I’ll be back in Chapel Hill for another special occasion dinner (at Lantern) and I feel a little guilty about skipping out of Raleigh again. So tell me, what are your favorite special-occasion restaurants in the Raleigh area?

Elaine’s on Franklin
454 W. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC
(919) 960-2770