Triangle Restaurant Week, May 12-18
So this Baltimore/DC Hound is in town for the weekend visiting Mom, and saw a card for the first Triangle Restaurant Week coming up this next week. More info at www.trirestaurantweek.com. I'm excited for Raleigh that one of my favorite Baltimore traditions is giving it a go here. 3 course, prix fixe menus (appetizer, entree, and dessert) for $15 lunch or $25 dinner at a number of restaurants (I think only some of these restaurants would find this price structure to actually be a good deal). Sounds like a nice selection of places (if you can get reservations) -- and I hope it grows in popularity like it has in other cities. The Mint, Glenwood Grill, Frazier's... all participating. I'd love to see reports back from anyone who checks it out to see if the menus the chefs are offering are any good, whether they're special choices not typically on the menu, whether you even have a choice between a few entrees, etc.
Located in uber-hot North Hills in Midtown Raleigh, Vivace is another successful concept by the Urban Food Group. I am obsessed with this place. From the gorgeous patio with mocha-umbrellaed tables, rattan chairs, indoor-outdoor bar and romantic fountain to the marble bar and curved and curtained sofa dividing the lounge from the dining room decorated in shades of cream and espresso...everything about this place is just my style. When I become wealthy and famous, Id like the architect and interior designer to design my home!
The modern trattoria concept is brilliant. Bustling, informal and vibrant, it just feels like an authentic neighborhood restaurant in Rome or Tuscany. I love the seasonal, regionally focused menu. I love the filtered tap water served in large glass bottles. I love that wines are offered by the quartino and organized by region. I love that a mid-afternoon intermedio menu is offered. I love sitting at the chefs bar overlooking the open kitchen. And I really love the cocktail menu based on homemade cellos and sangrias.
Okay, on to Restaurant Week! Upon arriving for my booking, the hostess asked if Id prefer a table or to be seated at the chefs bar. Chefs bar, please! I was thrilled to find it open on a Saturday night! I asked for both the RW and the regular menus and settled in with a mojito with house-made limecello to consider my options.
The Restaurant Week menu had more offerings than the single choices presented at Fraziers, 2-3 options each for appetizer, entree and dessert. I thought Id decided when the striped grouper on the regular menu caught my eye.
buffalo bocconcini, arugula, strawberry sauce amuse-bouche
bucatini all' amatriciana con gambieri
pan-roasted grouper, grilled radicchio, fingerling potatoes, saffron brodo, bitter herb salad
honey-almond gelato, almond bric tuile
quartino of orvieto
The amuse-bouche was tangy and creamy, offset by the sweetness of the strawberry sauce. The house-made pasta was perfectly cooked and had the just the right amount of spicy sauce with smoked pancetta, red pepper and tender shrimp. The fish was fresh off the Carolina coast, moist and sweet, balanced by the bitterness of the warm radicchio and cool herb salad.
I only managed a third of my entree, packing the rest for home, but I cannot resist an opportunity to linger over coffee and dessert...so I ordered cappucino and the house made honey-almond gelato that Id watched being paddled up before me all night.
I think Ill be back with a 12-oz to go container from work and gladly pay whatever it costs to pack it with more of that creamy, honeyed silkiness. All Id need then is a pool boy to spoon it into my mouth.
Thanks for the great reports! My schedule didn't allow me to take advantage of Restaurant Week this year. I'm really looking forward to it next year, especially if their plan to expand into other Triangle cities is successful.
Your descriptions leave me with cravings my refrigerator can not satisfy...
Friday night brought me to SONO, a recently opened Japanese/sushi restaurant in the Hudson condo building on Fayetteville St. Id hoped to be able to walk downtown (its about a mile and a half), but the weather was most uncooperative, with the same crazy early-evening thunderstorm pattern weve been having here for the past week.
I arrived right on time for my booking and was seated immediately after some confusion about the number of people in my party--one, not seven. The hostess was initally suspicious of this. Who makes a reservation for a party of one at 8 pm on a Friday? Me, thats who!
I go out to eat alone quite frequently and dont find it odd at all. I get to go where I want at the time I want, get to order what I want and stay as long as I want without compromise over someone elses tastes or schedule. (Im sure the error was simply a clerical transposition of the 1 and 7 on numerical keyboard vs. cell phone keypad.)
The interior is a sleek, contemporary urban space: backlit bar up front and visible from the streetfront, dining room in the center and sushi bar along the back wall. A red, black and bamboo color scheme is dominated by a huge photographic mural of a beautiful woman in a red cheongsam, lounging on the floor with one shoe fallen behind her as she contemplates a flower. Get a little bit of this, indeed!
I asked for both the Restaurant Week and the standard menus. The RW menu offered choices of 4-5 different appetizers and entrees, with dessert selection from the regular dessert menu. One of the entree options was any two specialty rolls--so this was an easy choice from a cost perspective. I generally prefer nigiri or chirashi to rolls, but this was a good deal.
stuffed calamari appetizer
Sono and Screaming O rolls
Key lime calypso dessert
250 ml bottle of Zipang sake
The stuffed calamari was a tube, stuffed with what tasted like a very spicy ebi shumai filling, fried and topped with a spicy sauce that tasted a lot like the sauce they serve on the firecracker shrimp at Mura, their restaurant across from my gym in North Hills.
I liked the Sono (tuna, red snapper, salmon, blue crab, wasabi and masako wrapped in nori and daikon) and I loved the Screaming O (spicy tuna, tempura shrimp and avocado with seared tuna outside).
The Key Lime Calypso was a very light and refreshing Key lime mousse with vanilla bean, wrapped in a dark and white chocolate tuile.
The Zipang was something I just had to try, since its the must-have beverage of the summer. It was different--Id describe it as a cross between sake and champagne, err, sparkling wine. Light and refreshing, it paired well with the spicy food.
It was a nice dinner, and a great atmosphere. Ill be back over the summer to work the chefs eat at the sushi bar or sit at the front bar for a cocktail or some more Zipang if Im feeling bubbly!
Hmmm. The majority of the participating restaurants are in Raleigh. Not very Triangle, is it? Then again, I do see a prominent advert for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitor Bureau on the home page. Let's not beat around the bush here. It's really a Raleigh promotional event.
re: Chow Penguin
I'm not sure why everyone's got their knickers in a twist about the restaurants being Raleigh-centric. It's not like Raleigh is soooo far away from Durham/Chapel Hill and the OP didn't seem to indicate that Raleigh was a problem.
Anyhow, for the OP I'd recommend two things. Search this board for mentions of the restaurants that interest you. Many have been reported on extensively. Most also have online menus. Which leads me to my second recommendation. Check those menus first. For many of the participating restaurants the $15/$25 menu represents a real savings to the diner. For some others that price doesn't reflect much of a difference from their regular pricing and the diner isn't getting much extra in the way of added value. Those restaurants are most likely in it for whatever extra advertising they can get.
I had grandiose plans to visit 5 restaurants during RW...however I only made it to 3 and actually only got the RW special menu at one place. I had a great 3 days of eating, nevertheless!
Im a little disappointed there hasnt been more about in on here or anywhere else Ive searched...
Im not sure a link to my blog would be appropriate, so I will paste my expeiences here:
Ive been a fan of Fraziers since I moved to Raleigh to attend NCSU and discovered this little bistro tucked among the pizza joints, bookstores and college bars of Hillsborough Street.
In the eight years Ive been here, Fraziers has evolved into a sophisticated urban paradise for foodies--setting the bar in terms of service, culinary innovation and atmosphere very high indeed--and the Jennings' second project, Porters City Tavern opened next door and assumed the neighborhood bistro role. Yet Fraziers has maintained an intimate neighborhood accessibility and I am very glad they are in my neighborhood!
I was able to make my reservation with OpenTable without incident and was seated immediately upon arrival. Id asked for both the Restaurant Week and the regular seasonal menu. The RW menu looked good, but offered no options: mussels and orzo, saffron broth; roasted salmon with fennel (and something else, I should have written it down); chocolate tres leches cake, mango sorbet.
I hadnt eaten there since fall, so naturally my head swam with all the possibilities of the regular menu and the $25 menu was quickly discarded. I have to admit that menus are my porn. I love food with a passion that is sometimes shocking to me and I will often ask to keep menus to look at as Im eating so I can indulge in fantasies about what the other ten things I wanted to order would feel and smell and taste like.
I ended up ordering:
half portion of yukon gold gnocchi with duck confit, tomato jam, napa, celebrity dairy goat cheese and beurre noisette
wasabi-pea crusted halibut with spring pea and melted leek risotto, pea shoots and tomato coulis
single-origin Colombian chocolate and hazelnut mousse, fleur de sel palmier
2 glasses of Orvieto
Total bill was $60 plus tip. It was money well spent on one of the best meals Ive had in a long time. I could have laid down in the gnocchi and taken a bath, it was that good. The halibut was every flavor of spring bursting against my tongue and Im afraid the mousse has spoiled me from mangeant de la mousse de chocolat ordinaire toujours encore.
Ill be back this week to sit at the bar with a glass of the Orvieto and a book. Oh, and a whole portion of that ethereal gnocchi.
Doesn't seem very Triangle-y since every restaurant is in Raleigh, other than one in Cary and one in Apex. Nothing in Durham or Chapel Hill.
FYI, the Flash website links work only if you use Internet Explorer, apparently (and turn your speakers down because the music is LOUD).