Our family met in Chapel Hill over the weekend to celebrate Mom’s birthday. The location—411 West (located at 411 West Franklin Street) was her choice, and it happens to be one of my absolute favorites. People more familiar with Raleigh know 518, located in Glenwood South. That’s 411’s sister restaurant. They have nearly identical menus, with one very important exception. And it’s one that I’ll drive to Chapel Hill for. Beef Carpaccio. More on this later…
Have you ever considered what you would eat if you knew when your last meal would be? I’m a food-centric person. So I ask this not to be morbid, but to be idealistic. My meal the other night at 411, and what I get there every time, would qualify as an ideal last supper. First, it’s in one of the most beautiful towns in the country. The atmosphere and company is lively and bright. And the food is filling and delicious. And they serve three of my very very favorite dishes.
In addition, 411 has a little place in my heart. Throughout my years at Carolina, when Mom and Dad came to town to visit, it was a popular place for them to take me and my brother. Or Mom and I would share girly dinners there, splitting a little bit of everything. We could enjoy good conversation over good food. Or on special occasions or 1/2-price wine night, it was a nice place to go with friends or dates. There are plenty of great memories and meals shared at 411.
My traditional order begins with the beef carpaccio. Beef carpaccio comes from the tenderloin and is prepared either completely raw or seared rare. It is chilled, usually in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving. Then it is sliced thinly, and thinned out more with a meat mallet. At 411 the carpaccio is topped with an arugula and field greens salad, capers, scallions and grano padona cheese. Crostini and a horseradish creme sauce come on the side. I recommend dressing the salad with just olive oil, salt and pepper. Then, in each bite you try to get a little of everything—it’s truly perfectly balanced. Sweet olive oil, slivers of tender meat and aged cheese, salty capers, peppery greens and crisp and tangy onion. A little bite of crostini with horseradish sauce adds a nice zing! But I prefer to simpler flavor of olive oil on the beef.
The first time I ordered beef carpaccio was at a roommate’s bidding in Florence. It’s not something I would normally select for myself. But I fell in love with this dish. There was a small cafe close to our school, located at the intersection of Via Giglio and Via Melarancio.
We called it News Cafe, though I’m not sure it has a name. It does have a prime location. The sign just says “News Cafe Bar Tabacchi.” Bars in Italy are more like coffee counters, and a tabacchi is a place that sells tobacco products, stamps, etc. We walked past it everyday, so it became a popular spot to grab an espresso or a quick bite for lunch. There lunch counter included panini, salads, baked pasta dishes, fresh bread. And their carpaccio, served with just arugula and olive oil was heaven. Eat outside on the little sidewalk and…tear…I can’t continue.
Next up at 411, Lemon Linguine—that’s shrimp, scallops, roasted tomatoes, garlic and scallions sauteed in white wine, lobster butter and clam broth.
Look at those beautiful scallops. While that is a perk of the dish, the real highlight is the broth. It’s light on filling, but sweet and tangy and full of flavor. The pasta is homemade—substantial, not flimsy. And then…the roasted tomatoes (which I once asked about…something like they’re marinated in orange juice and zest before roasting) taste like candy. They’re sweet and acidic and a perfect in every bite. Seconds please!
And to finish the meal: Chocolate Espresso Pots de Crème. This is like a creme brulee, but without a crispy, torched top. Instead, the chocolate cream is topped with whipped cream and espresso bean wafers. Holy freakin cow—this dessert is fabulous. It is rich and smooth, and has the perfect hint of espresso to accentuate the chocolate flavor. And it wouldn’t be right to skip on a cappuccino.
Everyone has a favorite dish at 411. My brother always gets The Crab (Red pepper papardelle pasta in a dill cream sauce with crab meat and a saute of mushrooms, scallions and bacon); Dad likes the Shrimp Carbonara (Shrimp tossed with penne rigate, shallots, bacon and garden peas in a traditional carbonara sauce); Mom’s with me on the Lemon Linguine, and the Whole Wheat Fettuccine is a favorite for many. There’s really something for everyone.
This post on favorite Italian food has inspired me to revisit my journal from Florence and write up some of my favorite places to eat in the city. It will be a fun trip down memory lane. Coming soon…
Anyone have an idea about what you’d choose for a last supper?