Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thai and more

I didn't think I was going to have anything to write about for a while. I've been busy with all kinds of work and my eating out has been sporadic at best. It wasn't until Saturday that I found myself at a new-to-me restaurant Thai Villa. I loved it, but more on that later.

First I want to write about something I saw rather than something I ate. On Thursday Dan and I went to see Anthony Bourdain  give a talk to a sold out crowd at the Durham Performing Arts Center.  He was exactly as you would expect - witty, snarky, intelligent and humorous. After covering everything from the Food networks crimes against food to Bobby Flay's recent career of humiliation to the evils of the mass marketing and resulting rising prices of organics. Although I love to hear him talk about food. My favorite part came when an audience member asked him who he would cross the street to do harm to. His answer -writer James Frey.  The scorn and contempt he had for one of the most widely know liars of our time raised my esteem for him.  If there was a downside to the evening, it was the signing. It was very formal and regimented and faced with such unexpected rules I froze up and found myself unable to say anything at all to Bourdain when he signed my book. Bummer.

And now for the Thai Villa. I have a tendency to judge Thai restaurants on one dish - Tom Kha, Thai Coconut Soup.  The best soup has layers of flavor, from the sweet coconut, refreshing lemongrass, chicken and spices. Now last night the waitress suggested the soup with shrimp rather than chicken, but one of the things I love about the soup is how the little bits of fat cling to the chicken so i went my old reliable. It was fantastic. So good in fact that I had no room for my entree, which is now sitting in my fridge and although it was a good entree - sort of like a Thai beef and broccoli, all i really want is more soup.

It's a small place, with close packed tables and booths, but it's homey and pleasant instead of being crowded and noisy. the service is fantastic and the food is wonderful. I'll be back for more soup and maybe even for something else...maybe.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rooting for the home team

Dan and I have a restaurant that we love to go to and to take people to for any special or not-so-special occasion. Now, we didn't discover this place ourselves,  we were introduced to it by a friend who just so happens to be related to the chef by marriage. I've never been introduced to the chef, only watched him work and tasted the results, but having eaten there frequently, I feel like I know at little bit about him.

Vivace  is a trendy-looking Italian place nestled under swanky apartments in Raleigh. It has a very cool looking bar I'd love to hang out in sometime and a rather impressive wine list, which I also have yet to try.  This isn't shaping up to be a very informative review yet, I'll try to get to the good stuff. What I have tried are countless salmon, hanger steak, duck, scallop, veal, lamb and pork dishes. I've tried panna cottas, semi-fredos, tiramisus fried olives, gnocchi and I've loved it all. There is no dish that I haven't enjoyed although there are some that stand out more than others. 

The menu changes seasonally which is both good and bad. The good is the ever expanding variety, the ability to fall in love with something new and wonderful every time I go. The bad is the realty that I will get my heard broken by the absence of a favorite dish. For the last year when we've gone to Vivace we've ordered the gnocchi with apricots, pancetta and kale, if memory serves me.  It was a treat, sweet, salty, chewy and crisp all at once, it was quite simply a dish worth dreaming about.  It was absent from the menu this time. There was  a gnocchi dish but it wasn't THE gnocchi so we didn't order it. 

Which turned out to be just fine. I ordered the bone-in pork chop with brussel sprouts, pancetta over polenta with a cider reduction. It was perfection. The pork was crispy with just the right amount of fat and the polenta was smokey and sweet all at the same time.  

I hope I'll be able o make it back up there before the menu changes again, but if I don't at least I have faith in the chef I almost sort of know to keep me coming back, no matter how much the menu changes, 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Second Empire

Most of the time I'm a pretty casual girl, but every so often even I like to get a little fancy, pretend I've got some table manners and find a classy restaurant for a "grown-up" night on the town. 

Last Friday was such a night. Earlier that week Dan, Melinda and I were looking for someplace to go out to dinner and Dan found the website for Second Empire. One look at the menu and I was sold. ( I really advise you to check it out, its a beautiful thing. 

The restaurant itself is beyond fancy - old school style. Built in a historic house in downtown Raleigh, it really reminded me of places I used to go when we lived in Macon, very southern.  The staff was attentive and proper without making me feel like I didn't belong there, which can happen at the wrong kind of fancy place.  It's a rare thing for me to find a comfortably elegant place devoid of the kind of snobbery that is designed to elevate the status of a place when the food alone won't cut it. 

Second Empire doesn't need faux snobbery.  They could serve their food on sheets of bark underneath a tree and it would still be fine dining. I ordered truffle risotto as a first course, it was the special, and found it to be so earthy and rich, I had to stop myself from licking the bowl.  For an entree I ordered grouper. Now I love grouper and order it whenever I can so I was expecting a lot out of less than 6 ounces of fish. 

It was perfect. 

Not sort of perfect,  not perfect for that meal on that day, this was a meal I would eat anytime, anywhere any day.   

Now Second Empire is not an every day kind of place. It's expensive.  It's close to a three hour meal.  It's heaven. Go as soon as you can. Spoil yourself.