Category Archives: dining out

Bu•ku Global Street Food, Raleigh

grilled octopus lemon, white bean, potato, paprika oil, toasted garlic

You had me at Global Street Food. And the menu is even more tantalizing. Hot pot. Pierogi. Biryani. Koren BBQ. Sashimi.

Buku is a new place in the Progress Energy building in downtown Raleigh. It’s the same chef as the former occupant, Fin’s, which I never went to, but understood to be a nice place. The chef, William D’Auvray, is committed to responsible practices in fishing and farming. The menu says:

Chef William uses only wild caught, sustainable, finned fish, shellfish, crustaceans and mollusks obtained in the round and from fisheries using artesian methods passed on from previous generations. All “farm-raised” species are all natural and organically raised, with only the highest standards of humane practices.

Local farms as well as other farms in the US, France, Costa Rica, Spain, Thailand, Greece, Japan, Mexico and Canada supply our kitchen. The world is a smaller place and an abundance of the best quality and diversity of ingredients are obtainable now, this is truly the time to enjoy them!

I went last night with some friends and we did splitsies on lots of dishes. Most items on the menu are small dishes that are best split so everyone gets a taste. One of the best things about this is that everyone has such different tastes. I never would have picked the poke, but it was one of my favorite dishes. The soups, breads, pastries, salads, rice and sauces are smaller dishes for starting (your pregame warm up)—except for the hot pot, which is a large bowl that can be split by four people.  Then there are small plates of fish and seafood and slow-cooked meats. The “In Off the Street” portion of the menu features large entrees.

Here’s how our meal progressed.

This is the first item listed on the menu and after reading the description I was already sold. A fragrant broth is my weakless, and this broth was spicy and sweet—so comforting and good. This soup hits all five flavor points — salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. It’s a party in your mouth.

hot pot, coconut, red curry, straw mushrooms,braised chicken

The BBQ pork bun is something I usually would not have been drawn to, but I’m so glad I got to taste it. The bun is a soft, and very sweet yeast roll. I wish I had a picture of the inside—chopped pork. The salty pork plus the gooey, sweet bun was a delight. It would be hard to eat just one of these little sandwiches if offered at a food cart on the street. I’m not sure what the garnish is, but it was sweet—perhaps marinated jicama?—and it added a nice crunch to each bite.

chinese steamed bbq pork buns (bao)

The chapati was pretty good—every meal needs a bread! But the chutney stole the show. The bread was just the utensil for eating the chutney. Even though cilantro can be very pungent, this chutney was mild in that flavor. It definitely tasted green and herbal, but it was very sweet and complimented the salty bread like jam.

bad picture of indian chapati with cilantro chutney

What a pretty salad. The mildly spicy and sweet vinaigrette brought harmony to the peanuts and cukes. I know it’s picky, but I really like paper-thin slivers of cucumber if the peel is on. That’s the only thing I would change about this dish. These cool, crunchy veggies were the perfect contrast to some of the fish dishes we ordered.

viet cucumber salad, crisp shallot, chiles, fried peanuts, sweet rice vinegar

Not surprisingly—I loved this crepe! If basil and chilies are involved, I’m on-board.  The crepe alone was really flavorful base, and then stuffed inside were all the goodies: perfectly cooked shrimp (not easy to do), crunchy bean sprouts and hardy mushrooms. The basil added a bright freshness to the bite, and the chili sauce–the heat!

viet crispy crepes, bean sprout, Thai basil, mushroom, shrimp

Now for a vegetarian favorite. The paneer was switched up and served with kale, instead of with the spinach I usually see it with. And the kale was not cooked to hell, but retained some crunch and vegetal taste, and was seasoned with a fragrant dressing. The fried paneer was meaty in texture and filling.

paneer, indian cheese, kale, sweet onion, cardamom

Octopus! Never had it; had to try it. I highly recommend this dish. The grilled octopus was tender, not like a rubberband. And it had a very pleasantly off-the-grill smokiness to it. It was as if the white beans a potatoes shifted to the background in color and texture, and allowed the octopus to really stand out. This dish had some Mediterranean flair.

grilled octopus, lemon, white bean, potato, paprika oil, toasted garlic

Favorite dish here: the Hawaiian yellowtail poke. I created the perfect bite: a bit of plaintain stacked with bits of the poke. There was definitely some wasabi heat, but not overpowering to the lime. This was another dish that was stunning because of color and texture, too. The raw fish was balanced with the cruch of the plantain and small cashew bits. And the dish exemplifies harmony of flavors: salty soy, sweet plantain and poke and sour lime juice.

hawaiian yellowtail poke, cashew, lime plantain, sweet soy

Gratuitously giant dessert. It was devoured in seconds. The crust was nice, the apples were thinly sliced and topped with a granola topping. Lots of cinnamon.

grande apple tart

So there it is. Buku. And we didn’t even scrape the top of the menu. I look forward to some return visits and trying some new items. I mean, we didn’t even get to the pierogis or Korean BBQ! For shame.

But my overall impression is this: Buku gives an incredible amount of detail to presentation, quality of ingredients, harmony of flavor and variety of texture. And even though each dish was from a different part of the world, the dishes were harmonious and enjoyed together. The development of flavor and high standards across each dish kept the meal tied together. And it left me happy and pleasantly full.

Biscuitville: Breakfast of Champions

country ham biscuit, country fries, iced tea

It is with great pleasure that I return to foodstalkers from quite the hiatus with a rund0wn on one of my favorite places on the planet: Biscuitville. It never occurred to be that this is a funny name because I grew up going here all the time with my family. We usually hit up the drive through at the octagonal B-ville on Rockwood-ONeal in Burlington. Or when I was in high school, my mom would pick up breakfast here some weekdays. It remains our standard breakfast before church on Sundays.

Aaaaand I think one of my teacher’s may have bumped a friend’s World History grade after being bribed with Biscuitville biscuits.

Our sweet family dog, Murphy—a corgi, even recognized Biscuitville’s brown bags. She knew there were dog biscuits inside! Murphy would dance backwards as my mom shuffled in the door with the goods. (B-ville’s home-made doggy biscuits look to be made of the same batter as the people biscuits, but they’re harder, and shaped like dog bones. Just ask for some. They’re always offered at the drive through if your pup’s riding along.)

octagonal biscuitville

the biscuitville that raised me (also, a gold mine)

So, why do I keep going back to Biscuitville?

1. They are breakfast focused. Their hours are usually 5 or 6am – 2pm. And their menu is strictly breakfast food. You’re not going to find dirty rice or mashed potatoes here (yeah, I’m looking at you Bo’s). Biscuitville’s menu covers all varieties of biscuits (ham, sausage, cheese, egg, butter, fried chicken, pork chop, gravy, steak, bacon) and platters with eggs, grits, oatmeal, muffins, pancakes. But really, I’ve gotten a platter maybe twice in all the years of frequenting Biscuitville. Just go straight to the biscuits. And don’t look back.

2. The friendly people. I usually don’t comment too extensively on a restaurant’s staff. But Biscuitville is exceptional, and it is so at every location I’ve ever been. The folks are always cheerful and working hard. Even though their franchise has expanded across North Carolina/Virginia, each restaurant has a local neighborhood feel.

3. The biscuit making window. Every Biscuitville has a window near the ordering counter where you can watch a batch of biscuits being mixed and hand-cut. They’re fresh!

4. The sweet tea, though I usually order unsweet and add Sweet-N-Low. It goes great with their salty country ham I adore so much.

5. Their story. A breadstore and a restaurant, Pizzaville, were Biscuitville’s predecessors. The owner, a former flour broker, wanted to make use of the pizza ovens in the morning, so he started making biscuits. And soon enough, biscuits were becoming more popular than the pizzas. So Biscuitville took over and the rest is history.

country ham biscuit - a southern favorite

country fries—potato wedges with some spicy, salty seasoning

That’s my standard order. The #5 combo: Country Ham Biscuit with Country Fries (you can also get grits of a hashbrown) and unsweet tea. I usually get a packet of Smucker’s strawberry jelly. You’d be surprised how nice the sweet jelly is with the salty ham…for just a few bites.

Yum! After this breakfast, you’ll be ready to take on the day. Or conquer a quick nap.

Hometown Foodstalking- Saw’s BBQ and DoDiYos

In part two of my Magic City adventures, I discovered two new favorite spots. Since I was home for the holidays for 10 whole days, I had the chance to strike a nice balance between visiting my old favorites and trying out some new up and comers.

I am going to attempt to write about Saw’s BBQ without jealous tears streaming down my face. This is my new favorite place in Birmingham. I wish I lived there so I could go once a week. Had it been open during the SPC days, I have a feeling our trio would have spent many a lunch hour(s) here.

My dad and I shared an obscene amount of food for two people- but hey, how else are you going to try it all, right? I had the pulled pork plate with mac and cheese and turnip greens. He had the chicken plate with turnip greens and deviled eggs. We also got a plate of ribs to share. With the exception of the ribs, which I thought were above average but not my all-time favorites, I adored everything we ate. The pork is Carolina- style, pulled into large chunks and doused with a sweet, vinegary sauce. I’m no expert on this style (would like to get Miss Em or Allred’s opinion to verify) but I think Saw’s does a pretty darn good version for an Alabama ‘que purveyor. The smoked chicken features a strictly Bama white sauce. Ordinarily I wouldn’t go for this, given my aversion to white sauces/creamy things (mayo, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), but this I loved (and yes, I realize there is most likely mayo in that sauce- ignorance is bliss, people).  The chicken was juicy and the sauce had a great acidic kick to balance the creaminess. Thanks to Saw’s, I discovered that I do indeed like turnip greens, and the other sides were tasty as well. Long story short, I can’t wait to go back for more. Saw’s has taken its place as an “old favorite” to return to when I am home in B’ham.

Pork plate, turnip greens, mac & cheese

Chicken plate, turnip greens, deviled egg

Ribs

I was really excited about checking out this next newcomer on the Birmingham restaurant scene. DoDiYos is the brainchild of two of the most storied restaurant families in Magic City history, the Sarris family and the Kanakis family. As a (very strange) kid, I went through a phase where boiled shrimp was my favorite food. I remember going to the Sarris’s Fish Market with my family many a time to satisfy my craving. This new venture is a more upscale version of the Mediterranean and Greek foods these families have perfected. Greek food just so happens to be one of my favorite cuisines, so needless to say,  I had high hopes.

Greek lamb meatballs

The camera was shaking from the deliciousness. Basque-style mussels.

Connie Kanakis' Snapper. A classic.

Shrimp kebabs

Diples for dessert. It's anyone's guess how to pronounce that. We still don't know. Fried pastry ribbons with sugared almonds and honey.

I think the pictures speak for themselves, but everything we ate was just fabulous. The menu was so extensive that it made my head spin- in a very good way. You could visit DoDiYos dozens of times and not even scratch the surface of good-looking menu items (I could, anyway). They also serve lunch, and from what I can tell, that menu is a very fair representation of their many good offerings. It’s a good option for those on a budget who’d like to try it out before taking the plunge for dinner. The only issue with lunch: probably not okay for you to order that great Greek wine we had- but you most likely wouldn’t be sorry if you did.

Hometown Foodstalking- Flip Burger

For the holidays, I traveled back home to the place where the foodstalking magic first happened between LG and Miss Em: Birmingham. I got to sample several new-to-me spots, including a couple that are new to the Magic City.

First up was a newcomer to the B’ham restaurant scene, Flip Burger Boutique. I had been stalking this menu for months in eager anticipation of visiting the new Birmingham location over Christmas. This is the brainchild of Top Chef alum and Atlanta native, Richard Blais, one of my all-time favorite Top Chef competitors. He made his mark on the show with a playful and accessible brand of molecular gastronomy.

Blais himself was in da house on the night that we braved post-holiday Summit traffic to grab some gourmet burgers. He was looking a little flustered- later on I think we would find out why.

Hipster fun with the light fixture


Even after reading this menu dozens of times, the fam and I had a hard time choosing between all of the amazing sounding burgers. One whole side of the menu is dedicated to beef burgers, the other side is anything-goes. I went for the carne- specifically, the Butcher’s Cut with caramelized onions, blue cheese, and red wine jam. At our table, we had a Farm Burger, a Korean BBQ burger, a Chorizo burger, and two regular ole hamburgers. The general consensus, I believe, was that the burgers were tasty, but that there was an issue with service and/or the kitchen on that particular evening. They had been open for no more than 2 weeks at this point, so I’m sure they were still ironing out the wrinkles. Most of the burgers arrived to our table not exactly warm. I thought mine was tasty, but definitely could have been warmer and I would have preferred the ratio of toppings a little different: less blue cheese, more red wine jam. We sampled fries, fried pickles, fried okra, and the warm potato salad. All were perfectly serviceable, although the okra especially were very greasy.

My choice. The Butcher's Cut.

E's Chorizo burger

Dad's Korean BBQ burger. Points for originality.

As an apology for the hour-long wait for our food, and the lukewarm-ness of it when it finally arrived, we were sent a sampling of Blais’s famous liquid nitrogen milkshakes. My favorite was the Pistachio, rather shockingly. I don’t dislike pistachios, but I would never think of it as the first flavor I’d order on a milkshake menu. The slight saltiness went with the sweetness very well. Other flavors at our table: S’mores, Krispy Kreme donut (just like the real thing pureed into a frosty mug), and Foie Gras (seriously not as disgusting as it sounds- if you didn’t know it was Foie Gras, I bet you wouldn’t be able to guess).

S'mores. Pleasingly burnt marshmallows on top with bits of graham cracker interspersed.

Pistachio

While our experience was less than perfect, I do think we’ll be back. For one, the prices are fair. The menu is so varied that you’ll always have something new to try. And of course, I’ll be back because I have faith in Blais! Hopefully he can attract and retain some real talent in the kitchen, folks who are able to execute the “foodie” vision that this restaurant is going after.

The Yellowhammer: Waverly, AL

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to eat at one of my all-time favorite restaurants: The Yellowhammer in Waverly, AL. After a not-so-painful football loss to Alabama in Auburn, my mom and I were looking for some grub, but also looking to get the heck out of town before traffic became unbearable. I believe my parents originally discovered Yellowhammer in a similar manner- they have a large billboard with a great design concept off 280 (the route from Auburn to Birmingham) that any foodie would be intrigued by.

Love that logo.

To appreciate The Yellowhammer, one must take a second to learn a little bit more about Waverly, AL. Or more precisely, discover that there is little to learn about this town. Look it up on Google Maps, and it has one crossroad. Read the Wikipedia article and discover this little nugget of information: population in 2004 was 180 people. So how does a fine dining restaurant exist in such an environment? Waverly is located about 20 minutes away from Auburn, AL, another small town in Alabama that just so happens to be where I went to college. With any college town comes a set of highly educated, typically creative, and therefore more likely set of people to frequent a restaurant like The Yellowhammer. The restaurant also has the benefit of being located just off the busy Highway 280, which is one of 2 main arteries from Auburn to Birmingham and vice versa. I’m sure many other fans discovered this gem the same way my family did: driving by the sign and being just too curious not to follow the arrow.

The space itself is perfect in my mind. Exactly how I would furnish my own restaurant if I were to open one. I believe the building used to be an old Ford dealership and they’ve kept the structure virtually the same. It has a very open, loft-like feel but it is still super cozy. The best seats in the house are the small, lofted tables for two. And don’t miss the bathroom, which is basically a glorified outhouse. Small town charm…

The view from the lofted seats. Romantic dinner with Mom.

Now on to the food. The Yellowhammer consistently puts out great food. Not just great for a small town, but food that can stand up to restaurants in both of the larger cities I have lived in. The food as a whole is not particularly groundbreaking in relation to what is going on in restaurants around the country (save for the desserts… more on that later), but considering the location, the quality of what they are putting out is positively amazing.

On this particular night, our meal consisted of the following:

Smoked Gouda en Croute- Melty smoked gouda cheese in puff pastry. Simple. Can't go wrong with smoked gouda in my opinion. Excuse the dim lighting in all of these pictures. They're big on the ambience. Miles Davis and all.

I had the Rosemary Crusted Rack of Lamb for my entree. Perfectly cooked lamb, with a silky bordelaise sauce, smoked gouda grits (do we sense a trend here?), and haricot verts.

Mom had the Filet that was topped with a similar (or possibly the same) bordelaise sauce that also topped my lamb, red potatoes and asparagus.

Mom had the Filet that was topped with a similar (or possibly the same) bordelaise sauce that also topped my lamb, red potatoes and asparagus.

Now for dessert. Dessert has always been, in my opinion, the hallmark of dining at The Yellowhammer. They serve a trio of homemade ice creams with homemade butter cookies each night, and have been since I started going frequenting the restaurant. The ice creams change every night, and have included flavors like Honeysuckle, Cardamom, Strawberry, and Lavender. I realize such interesting flavors aren’t uncommon in high-end restaurants around the country these days, but would you believe that a restaurant in tiny Waverly, AL was the first place I had seen this practice?

On the night we visited, the ice cream selection seemed a little bland considering what the chef had been capable of in the past, so I decided to go with another favorite- the Creme Brulee. Except they changed it! What was formerly served was what they called a “Catalan-Style Creme Brulee.” If I remember correctly, I believe it had bay leaf and lemon in it. Sounds unusual, but it had just the right undertone of “What is that flavor?” to make it special. However, The standard Creme Brulee I was served on this particular night was so great that I didn’t miss the former incarnation one bit.

Delish.

If you ever are in East Alabama, please check this restaurant out. Even as I have moved on to the fourth-largest city in the country, I still have a soft spot for The Yellowhammer. The little guys need all the help they can get these days!

Houston eats, take-out edition

I eat a lot of take-out meals. I’m a single 20-something- I think most of us do. While I do love cooking, it’s a little challenging to create multiple meals every week for just one person. So I rely on take-out when I’m in the mood for a hot meal, but not in the mood to cook it. I’ve had some success recently after branching out from Pei Wei (my go-to take-out spot)- allow me to share.

First up is Al’s Quick Stop. Just like another Al’s (that I’m sure everyone reading this knows my undying love for), this place specializes in gyros. This place is also a dump, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s actually a convenience store, right next to the favorite Montrose bar/restaurant/music venue, Rudyard’s (or Rudz if you’re in the know).

Grainy Blackberry picture of the menu. Gotta get me an iPhone.

Grainy Blackberry picture of the menu. Gotta get me an iPhone.

I don’t know too many people that are willing to risk gas station food for a good gyro, so one day when I was in the neighborhood, I grabbed a gyro, some fries, and a canned Dr. Pepper from the gas station area to go. The total for these three items was around $6 or $7, which is UNBELIEVABLY cheap in my opinion. And I love cheap.

One of my favorite foods, the gyro

One of my favorite foods, the gyro

Hand-cut fries

Hand-cut fries

I have to say, I was really impressed. The gyro meat was just how I like it- a little crunchy on the outside, but not overcooked. Interestingly, the two gyros I’ve had here in Houston (Niko Niko’s and now Al’s), have both been served in this way- meat and veggies folded inside a pita like a taco. Back home at my other favorite Al’s in Birmingham, gyros are rolled into a thin pita with lettuce and tomato, like a wrap. I prefer the Houston method much better. I love the pillowy pita bread that they use at Al’s Quick Stop. I hear the fries are hand-cut, and they proved to be very tasty, although they didn’t survive the car ride home very well.

Al’s does have a small seating area next to the order counter, and I may try that out one day to see how the fries are fresh out of the fryer. If you are squeamish about eating at a convenience store, get it to go and pretend you got it from Niko’s. It’s much better in my opinion.

Next up is Pierson and Company BBQ, a shack that dishes out some of the city’s best ‘que in North Houston.

Bread in a ziploc bag. Nice touch.

Bread in a ziploc bag. Nice touch.

Mmmmm carne...

Mmmmm carne...

Rib in cross-section

Rib in cross-section

They weren't kidding when they said "small" peach cobbler

They weren't kidding when they said "small" peach cobbler

Author’s note: I drafted this post around 2 months ago and then completely forgot about it. In the spirit of moving forward and getting back into this blogging thing (for reals), I’ll add one last addition to Houston take-out and then keep on truckin’!

DSC03088

Tacos al Pastor from 100% Taquito in Houston. Pork, pineapple chunks, and cilantro in a corn tortilla. The meat was too gristley for me.

DSC03089

Also from 100% Taquito, but this I would go back for. Corn tossed in lime juice and chile powder. So simple, so delicious.

Well here’s what I’ve been doing: eating.

This is going to be one of those all-over-the-place updates where I’ll touch on many things. My stomach has been filled with food. My camera is nearly full of photos. And my brain can no longer retain all of my thoughts. It’s time to unload. Walk with me…let’s do brunch.

Poole’s Diner [426 S McDowell St, Raleigh]—Well I fell in love. Poole’s Diner’s philosophy centers on “creative, simple offerings carefully executed.” And that sums it up. I want your job and restaurant, Ashley Christensen. I want it now.

welcome to poole's

welcome to poole's | © poole's diner

I went to Poole’s for brunch this past Saturday. Following a birthday party the night before, a solid brunch and debriefing were in order with a friend. We went around 1230 and found it easy to get a spot at the double horseshoe bar. She ordered the Huevos Rancheros and a Bloody Mary, and I “The Hangover” and a DC. That’s Diet Coke, people.

huevos rancheros

huevos rancheros and a bloody mary

the hangover: grits with mushrooms, bacon, scallions, roasted tomatoes and cheddar cheese

the hangover: grits with mushrooms, bacon, scallions, roasted tomatoes and cheddar cheese

OH my freakin’ goodness. The huevos were tasty from the bite that I nabbed. And the grits were nuclear hot and loaded with cream and butter. Add on some bacon, cheese, zesty tomatoes and green onion and instant nirvana. You see, grits are a beautiful thing because like the potato or risotto or pasta…it’s about how you flavor the item. It’s a blank canvas. Nomnomnom, I can’t wait to go back. I plan to take my mom when she visits. The tough decision: for dinner or a return brunch?!

Poole’s does not post their menu online. Sad. Rather, the restaurant is lined with chalkboards updated daily or weekly with the current in-season offerings. Cute.

brunch menu. want. now.

brunch menu. want. now.

Also, I recommend visiting the restroom while you’re there. While I can only speak for the ladies, I will say that there was some thought put into the decor, the vanity, lamp, container of bobby pins and items for a quick touch-up in the mirror.

Poole’s and owner Chef Ashley Christensen have gotten some love in Bon Appétit and some other periodicals. Read here.

Next up…andiamo all’Italia!

Gravy [135 S Wilmington St, Raleigh]— I went here for lunch a while back with some downtown working friends. Gravy is a partnership of the Italian restaurant Bella Monica (still have yet to go there; ashamed) and the downtown Raleigh restaurant group Empire Eats. I expected a high marks for atmosphere, food and service. And I was quite pleased with each. Plus the portions, brightness of the space and quick turn of tables was ideal for the lunch hour. I selected the small arugula salad and the puttanesca.

rocket

rocket

The simple arugula salad was perfect—peppery greens, very lightly tossed in a mild vinaigrette and topped with tangy, salty Parmesan. As for the puttanesca, the rigatoni was coated in tomato-based  sauce with plenty of garlic, kalamata olives, capers and a few anchovies. These ingredients combine in a very salty, harmonious way. This is not a mild dish, but it’s delicious if it’s your taste. I still have food dreams about a dish at Pulcinella’s in Durham—Spaghetti alla Bella Donna (spaghetti, kalamata olives, sautéed garlic, pine nuts, raisins and parmesan cheese with olive oil and anchovies). Deep down I was hoping Gravy could match that quality, but in the end puttanesca is just a different dish with a tomato sauce.

Gravy is not the only Italian restaurant downtown. It will compete with 518 West, Caffe Luna, Vic’s and Posta (also haven’t been there). So it will be interesting to see how diners show allegiance to Italian downtown eateries. I plan to continue to make the rounds and visit them all.

puttanesca

puttanesca

Bocci [5850 Fayetteville Rd, Durham]—Went here for a friend’s birthday and was happy with what I discovered. Bocci is located near Southpoint, so while I probably won’t drive to Durham to eat here, it offers a great locally operated alternative to the overpriced and over-the-top California Pizza Kitchen that’s down the street. And if I find myself in the neighborhood I will most definitely return.

I started with a very generous Caprese salad. Pretty typical tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, but also some roasted red peppers. While it was good, I would have preferred better tomatoes and no red peppers. And then it would have been off the scale. Still, it fulfilled my need for a caprese salad.

caprese

caprese

Next up, Linguine con Vongole—with sea clams—one of my favorite pasta dishes. And this was a great rendition! I gravitate toward pasta dishes with lighter sauces—oil, broth, wine—and less hearty sauces. That’s why I love shrimp scampi and this—linguine with sea clams. There is a sea-ness to the broth from clam juice and the clams, but also a sweetness from the olive oil, and acid from the tomatoes. With some hot pepper flakes, it hits on all points of the palate.

linguine con vongole

linguine con vongole

The pizza is supposed to be incredible. Looks it.

bubbly pizza

bubbly pizza

Now let’s head to Germany and Poland.

J. Betski’s [10 W Franklin St, Raleigh]—I’ve long been intrigued by JBet’s modern twist on old school dishes and authentic flavors from Central and Eastern Europe. Just reading the menu is an adventure into a food territory I rarely visit: kielbasa, pierogies, brats & kraut, horseradish, beets, spaetzle, strudel, stews. These are the dishes of my ancestry in Eastern Europe. I should be more at home with them.

The diversity of the menu selection made clear that J. Betski’s is not a beerhall. You will not find beer maidens wandering around with giant pretzels and 4 liters of beer in hand. J. Betski’s chose to be experts in a refined regional cuisine, rather than simplifying to a beer and brats bar. I applaud this.

First, the restaurant is small, so it’s best to make reservations. Secondly, the service was impeccable. Our waitress offered beer and wine recommendations, was friendly and attentive, and loved to talk about the food. And finally, I recommend the 1 Appetizer + 2 Pub Plates special for $20. It’s a deal, and allows you to sample a number of different items.

Forgive the picture quality…bad lighting.

To start: a beer. I went with a pilsner. I don’t pretend to be beerstalkers, so my review ends at…it was mild, bubbly and somewhat lemony. Not overpowering.

Würzburger Hofbräu Pilsner

Würzburger Hofbräu Pilsner

I started with the Roasted Beet Salad, Horseradish Quark and Toasted Pumpkinseed Oil. I had foodstalked the menu beforehand, looked up quark and learned that it’s a soft cheese. Not just software for desktop publishing.

gorgeous

gorgeous

You can see all of the elements that make up this salad. The steak-like stack of beets and cheese felt hearty and substantial to slice into. The quark had a tangy flavor, and with the addition of the horseradish kick, it blended well with the sweet greens and beets. This inspired me to incorporate beets into my cooking routine. As for the horseradish, my grandfather used to say it would make hair grow on your tongue. I believed him for a little while.

The pierogies were the winning dish of the night. There is nothing wrong about dumplings. Whatever culture you’re talking about. Pierogi, ravioli, potsticker, etc.—all good and variations on one simple thing. Roll out some dough, stuff it with goodness, boil it or fry it and serve it with a sauce. Tadah! J.Betski pierogies are stuffed with smoked pork and cambozola (also a cheese) and topped with an apple-curry sauce and fresh thyme. This dish made me think—my dad loves pierogies. I have to bring him here.

pierogies

pierogies

Here’s a listing of the other dishes.

Arugula Salad with Pumpkinseed Dressing, Riesling Soaked Raisins, and Black Forest Ham

arugula salad with pumpkinseed dressing, riesling soaked raisins, and black forest ham

Scallops with Gruner Veltliner Braised Fennel, Mashed Potatoes, and Mustard Oil

scallops with gruner veltliner braised rennel, mashed potatoes, and mustard oil

Crispy Pork and Oven Roasted Tomato Salad with Herb Dressing

crispy pork and oven roasted tomato salad with herb dressing

Smoked Salmon, Potato Pancakes, Spiced Apple Sauce, Walnut and Frisee Salad

smoked salmon, potato pancakes, spiced apple sauce, walnut and frisee salad

Marinated Spanish Mackerel with Apples, Roasted Beets and Horseradish Sauce

marinated spanish mackerel with apples, roasted beets and horseradish sauce

J. Betski summary: beautiful plating and flavors, and an exceptional option for mixing up your dining routine.

Zoës [1028 Oberlin Rd, Raleigh]—I’m excited about this one. When I lived in Birmingham, where Zoës originated, it was a personal favorite. It’s a healthy, quick option, with plenty of variety and items that I love. My favorites are the Greek salad and marinated slaw. Sidenote: as the Zoës opening approached, I began to take Oberlin Road on my way home so that I could literally stalk this place when it appeared open to the public. I went there twice and they were having private openings. For shame. On my third attempt, they were open and I got takeout. And proceeded to rattle off at the mouth to the manager concerning my love for Zoës when I lived in Birmingham blahblahblah.

the dining room

the dining room

Greek Salad

zoës' classic greek salad w/ grilled chicken

Yum! Mixed greens with cukes, green peppers, red onion, olives, feta, cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken and onions and a small scoop of potatoe salad. The dressing is a simple vinaigrette. Side of pita. Score! This is a filling meal, while also healthy and delicious. While I was there, I also got a small tub of the marinated slaw to take home and pack for lunches. The marinated slaw’s basic recipe: shredded cabbage, green onions, feta, vinegar, seasoning. I can’t express how much I love this slaw. Just know that I do. Immensely.

marinated slaw

marinated slaw

Zoës is kid-frienly and family- and community-oriented. They also offer catering.