In which Jimmy shows the fat boy food geek that he truly is….
So the wife’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and while it wasn’t a total disaster, the fact that her favorit-est restaurant always closes the week of her special day might serve as sort of an indication.
Originally, our reservations were for Heron’s, the new restaurant at The Umstead striving for Five Star status. It was decided however, that the old favorite (and more reasonable – the entrees would be $10-$15 less) needed a visit – it had been too long.
Having outfitted the Jeep with better armor plating than our soldiers have in Iraq, we ventured to Durham.
If you’ve never been to this nationally recognized restaurant, it’s not what you would expect. Outside, it’s located on the fringe of a residential section of Ninth Street, past the commercial part of the street. If you’re not careful, it is really easy to drive past it. You park on the street nearby, and you may have to circle the block just to get the best parking space, although the furthest space you’d need to park is not a problem at all.
Inside, it’s small, loud, and the tables are somewhat close together. This is actually an asset, as it removes any pretense that a restaurant of this calibre may generate. Our waitress, who we had a great time with over the course of our two hour meal, was a little late, as she was stuck with some Yankee tourists, asking all sorts of questions (“Where’s Duke?”, “What’s this barbecue thing everyone talks about?” and “We’re looking to move to Cary….”) Her service was great.
As a rule, when Anne and I go to the Magnolia Grill, we sort of collaborate on our ordering – 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts. We share tastes of each other’s, and have a little competition – “Who ordered best”. It was kind of sad to see the couples on each side of us, obviously not married, order the same entrees.
For the appetizer course, I won, although it was very very close. My appetizer:
“Gulfstream Red Snapper Ceviche with Roasted Chile Salsa, Crushed Guacamole, Charred Tomato & Tomatillo Sauces”
Oh. My. Lord. You know when you were a kid, and it came down to the last day of vacation, and you were sad because it was all over. You might be able to understand how I was feeling at the end of the appetizer. The sauces added a great kick to the fish, and there were some sort of seeds (the wife said pumpkin, but they may have been sunflower) added a slight nutty flavor to it. It’s going to be hard for the meal to not go downhill for me from here.
The Wife’s appetizer, however, made a solid run at mine:
“Peregrine Farm Heirloom Tomatoes with Basil Coulis, Shaved Romano, Frissee, Marinated Cucumbers & Lemon Basil Vinaigrette”
Harris Teeter – I’m embarrassed for you. State Farmers Market – you should be ashamed of yourself. Some of the half slices of the 15 different varieties from the Peregrine Farm looked like tomatoes I’ve had before, but apparently, I’ve never tasted a tomato. Each of the 15 varieties had a different flavor, consistency, or both. Some were more acidic than others, some more firm – at least that was what Anne told me, as the shared bites were not as forthcoming as I would have liked.
After sopping up every bit of the sauce in the bottom of my appetizer plate (Anne did indicate that she would leave me if I picked the plate up and licked it clean – I did consider the possibility of her walking home, but thought the better of it) the entrees came:
Anne’s: “Grilled Alaskan Halibut “Nicoise” with Brown Butter Tapenade Vinaigrette, Cranberry Potatoes, Local Beans, Sungold Tomatoes, & Pickled Suntanas”
Mine: “BBQ Spice Rubbed Carolina Black Grouper in Gold Tomato Sauce with Orzo, Baby Butterbeans, Roasted Corn & Country Bacon”
This one came down purely to taste – I’m not a big fan of Tapenade, so I liked mine better, but Anne liked hers better. With the tomato sauce and the country bacon, the dish was mildly acidic and salty. This is absolutely not a bad thing, and the dish was wonderful, but it didn’t sustain its greatness through the very end of the dish, which still came much too soon. Both of the pieces of fish were perfectly cooked, and both entrees continued a great meal.
Desserts. Surprisingly, for a fat boy, I’m not a big dessert eater. There are two people in this world whose desserts I will eat whenever offered, and that is my wife’s and Karen Barker, whose desserts are nationally recognized. The wife’s should be.
Anne won this one. Her “Lemon Chess Tart with Summer Berries & Whipped Cream” spanked my “Chocolate Chocolate Blackout Cake with Whipped Cream”. This is not to say that the cake was not spectacular, just that the tart was that much better.
As the meal was over, after the damage had been tallied (3 glasses of wine, 2 beers, 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts), the bill paid (only $150.00, which I thought was extremely reasonable), I made a trip to the restroom prior to our return trip to the Capital City. Right behind me enters Ben Barker, owner, Chef and James Beard Best Chef In The Southeast winner.
Seriously, though, (he really didn’t poot), we are very fortunate here in the Triangle to have such a phenomenal restaurant, and I’m trying to figure out how soon we can head back.