There are a good number of Triangle restaurants that I have visited recently, though failed to review in a timely manner. Repeat: FAIL. So it’s time to lay it out on the table and catch up! I will be covering Piedmont (Durham), Blu (Durham), Azitra (Raleigh), 42nd Street Oyster Bar (Raleigh), Busy Bee Cafe (Raleigh) and a Bravo’s Top Chef demo at the NC Farmer’s Market (Raleigh). Fasten your seat belts.
Piedmont [401 Foster St, Durham]— I headed here for Triangle Restaurant Week back in mid-May. Located in a fairly nondescript building, the restaurant could easily be passed without notice, but it is truly worth noticing! For starters the menu changes (often) nightly, so you can be sure you’re getting what is fresh and seasonally available. Restaurant week favorably prices lunches and dinners at $15 and $25 respectively. So at a place like Piedmont, we left with a deal.
First Course: White Sweet Potato Soup with Chive Blossoms. Smooth a creamy, with a drizzle of olive oil, the mild potato base of the soup is a solid start. But the chive blossoms add a subtle hint of sweet and oniony tang, though more delicate and less vegetal than the green chive stalk. I loved this as a not-too-filling start to a meal. Like warming up for the big race.
Another First Course option: Bruschetta with House-smoked Mahi Mahi, Dandlion Greens Salad & Pickled Red Onions. The highlights of this dish are the intense smokey flavor on the tender fish, and in my opinion, the pickled red onion. For the same reason I love pickled ginger—it’s sweet, but kind of sharp, too. Maybe I like all pickled things (save pickled pigs feet).
Main Course: Breast of Poulet Rouge with Potato, Spring Peas & Bacon Hash, & Italian Broccoli. Goodness this was incredibly delicious and flavor-packed. The boneless chicken married niceley with a bite of hash drenched in the salty, smokey, wine-based(?) sauce. I’m not sure if the bitter greens were in fact Italian broccoli (broccoli rabe) or something like turnip greens. But either way, the bitterness and droopy wilt complemented the smokey bacon flavor, tender chicken and crisp peas.
I usually don’t love plates like this, where everything is stacked atop one another. It’s just too “this is a fancy restaurant.” But I suppose it works because each bite of chicken/hash/greens/sauce is harmonious, but the kitchen doesn’t have to deliver a casserole dish to the table. Speaking of which, who’s going to open up the family-style casserole restaurant? Menu options would be things like green bean casserole (with fried onions on top), spicy spaghetti casserole, wild rice casserole and potato chip chicken casserole!
Another Main Course option: Asparagus & Ricotta Ravioli with Lemon-Mint Butter Sauce & Parmesan.
The third entrée option, unfortunately, was no longer available the evening we went. It was housemade Italian sausage with creamy polenta, Italian broccoli and tomato broth. But we did try each of the three desserts.
Dessert: Dark Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut Biscotti. Fluffy and light, but seriously chocolatey. A few bites were plenty, and the biscotti, which I normally find brick-like and unappetizing, were quite good when lacking the anise flavor.
Another Dessert option: Espresso Panna Cotta with Sugar Cookies. Great flavor in a panna cotta gelatinous texture.
And Another Dessert option: Pistachio Cake with Candied Orange Semifreddo & Orange Caramel. Amazing—still-warm cake, crunchy! I would definitely try to make something like this. It’s much like a carrot cake.
Blu [2002 Hillsborough Rd, Durham]— This was my brother’s birthday dinner choice, and I was happy to be a part of it! The seasonal menu favors seafood, including some local catches, like the North Carolina trout I ordered. The fish is tender, not flaky, from sauteing in this awesome acidic and slightly buttery sauce, and encrusted with pistachios, then topped with red grapes, slightly warmed and acidic. Each bite was a perfect blend of flavors. The sides—French green beans and mashed potatoes—I’m sure were quite good, but were mostly overshadowed by the trout.
Azitra [8411 Brier Creek Pkwy, Raleigh]— I tried to go here during restaurant week, after hearing positive reviews—from vegetarian and non-vegetarian sources alike. But Azitra is not open for Saturday lunch, when I happened to go. So just a small warning there. I went back a few weeks later for a weeknight dinner. The food completely fulfilled my desire, nay, need, for Indian food. First, it has a cool, modern interior.
My table ordered the assorted naan for soakin’ up sauce! Score. Some breads had peppers baked into them, others were garlic or parsley topped. I selected the Tandoori Chicken Tikka for dinner, which came with makhni sauce, masala potatoes and basmati rice. Flavors and serving size were over the top. The tandoori-baked chicken made for superb leftovers. I completely put away the potatoes…that masala sauce is so incredible it may induce dreamy hallucinations.
42nd Street Oyster Bar [508 W Jones St, Raleigh]—I went here ages ago, following Raleigh’s World BeerFest. After drinking beer all afternoon, our group was in dire need of a snackeroo, a glass of water and for moi—a glass of wine! We went splits on some appetizers and oysters. I hope to go back soon and get more of a taste of the menu selection, though this was a solid introduction. We also found that the restaurant will kindly hold your debit card if you leave it there. I would highly recommend the classic 42nd Street Baked Oysters. You will want to gulp down the oysters, and clean out the shell for every remaining breadcrumb, bit of bacon and butter.
Busy Bee Cafe [225 S Wilmington St, Raleigh]—This was my first meal trip to Busy Bee, and I was happily surprised by the yummy food. Since opening, Busy Bee amended the menu slightly with some seasonal additions, but everything our group ordered is still available. I should also mention that the restaurant has an enjoyable atmosphere. The multi-level space has a ground floor dining room and loft, plus an upstairs bar, and rear patio for the after-dinner crowd. You can always have a drink upstairs before dinner while you wait for your table to be put together…
For dinner I ordered the Chicken Salad Sandwich, which came on an airy croissant. The chicken salad was wonderful, but I love all kinds of chicken salad—my mom’s being my favorite, closely followed by O’Carr’s in Birmingham, AL. My mom has said before that it’s her mission to try every chicken salad possible, and I couldn’t agree more. They are all slightly different, but all good! I’ve never had a bad chicken salad…I think that would be memorable if I had. Busy Bee’s mayonaisee-based chicken salad includes some celery, apple and egg tossed in.
Here are some of the other entrées ordered at our table.
State Farmer’s Market [1201 Agriculture St, Raleigh]—Finally, we’ll head over to the Top Chef Demo with Carla (HOOTY HOO!?) and CJ. Former season 3 contestant CJ was preparing the menu with season 5’s Carla assisting. The dish was inspired by N.C. hog farming and our love of the pig: Spiced Pork Loin Tacos with Apple Fennel Bacon Slaw and Bacon-Fat Dressing. Since I watched the demo, I’ll give a rundown on how to make it yourself. It’s quite easy. Sorry though. No specific measurements or cooking times.
To prepare the pork loin, begin by very liberally seasoning the outside with salt and pepper. Then add a rub of cayenne, cumin and cinnamon (sort of Moroccan flavors). With some oil drizzled in a cast iron skillet, sear the sides of the pork loin to seal in the juices. Finish cooking in the oven. Once it has rested from cooking, slice thinly.
To prepare the vinaigrette, combine lemon juice, shallot, a dash of IPA (CJ used Carolina Brewing Company’s IPA), sugar, rendered bacon fat, olive oil, salt and pepper. For the salad, combine julienne apples, fennel, bacon, dates and toasted walnuts, then toss with the vinaigrette. Allow to marinate in the dressing.
CJ formed the slices of pork loin into hard shell taco shapes, and piled a scoop of the salad on top of each. Lastly, he toppped it with a bit of fresh fennel tops. These tacos were the perfect size for eating with your hands. And the flavors were absolutely spot-on with notes of sweet, smoky, citric and spicy. So amazing.
Well that’s all folks. It feels good to get this food of my chest.