Thursday, May 15, 2014

That time we ate our way through Raleigh.

The facts:

Matt and I were going to celebrate our tenth anniversary.
Matt and I couldn't decide on where to fly to celebrate. 
Matt and I were sitting on the couch watching British soap operas.
Matt and I were like, HEY, WE LOVE FOOD.
[That was just an aside.  We say that a lot.]
Matt and I were like, HEY, WE LOVE RALEIGH.
Matt and I finished watching another British soap opera.

Thus, the plan for Foooooooooooood 2014, or as I like to call it, "That time I carbed up for a hike that I am definitely planning on doing in August" was born.

The following is what we ate.  If you are still using dial-up, this is going to take a while.  If you are on a diet, maybe you should pass.  If you are on a diet AND are still using dial-up, I bet at this moment you're drinking a Slim Fast wondering how the hell you cancel your America Online subscription.

I didn't set out to write about this but lots of people have inquired.  (I think secretly they want to know how many pant sizes I grew.)  We didn't take notes because we are not those people.  I just have a foodographic memory.

And so it begins.

Tuesday, April 22
Lunch: Beasley's Chicken + Honey


This was the last day our kids were in school before track out, so we took Matt's mom out for lunch.  That woman was going to stay with our kids for five days.  Bless her heart.  Let's buy her some fried chicken.

First off, I ordered some fried bologna.  Bologna is awesome.  I wish I had the funds to open up a restaurant and put it on the menu.  It'd be right next to the fried gizzards.


Matt went crazy over the mustard becuase it had sorghum in it and apparently he and sorghum have some kind of Craigslist Missed Connection-thing going on and now that they've been reunited he wants to know why it's been so long since he's had it.  I dunno.  I only get that excited over nitrate-filled processed meat.  The house made pickles were a nice addition to the plate, although in my house, these go by their official Google name, easy refrigerator pickles.  (Easy refrigerator pickles will be on the menu right after the fried gizzards.)

Matt ordered chicken and waffles which was good because I really wanted chicken and waffles.  But just a bite.  So he made the right decision.  Susan ordered fried chicken with biscuits and sweet potatoes which only a person eight times her size could have attempted to finish.  I got a vegetable sandwich because I was pretending like that fried bologna didn't happen, and an order of pimento mac and cheese to share.


The fried chicken was pretty damn amazing.  Maybe because it was A) fried and B) covered in honey.  Susan peeled off her skin which made my heart ache just a bit, because everyone but Susan knows that is the best part of the chicken.  That's why you order it fried.  She did warn me she was going to do this, though it didn't make it any easier to watch.  But the bird did take up about nine cubic feet of space on the table so I guess it was probably a good decision not to accidentally eat all of the skin and leave the meat unless you have access to a private place with impeccable plumbing.  Matt's waffle was pretty good, and I'm not a huge waffle person.  He swears it was the sorghum syrup.  The mac and cheese was rich and delicious, but I couldn't eat more than a bite because



The world's best vegetable sandwich.  Toasted sourdough, {sorghum} mustard, cheddar, avocado, sprouts, tomatoes, and my BFF, mayonnaise.  It was a special that day so don't get all pissy with me if you go in and try to order this masterpiece and it's not being served.  But it should be.  Because why the hell would you create something so beautiful and then turn your back on it?  You'd be a complete bitch.  Don't be a complete bitch, Beasley's. 

So many to-go boxes accompanied this meal.  Don't go in and order as much as we did unless you are carbing up for a hike or maybe are under the influence of an appetite stimulant.  Like prednisone, you pot heads.

In summation, yum.  This is the place for you if you like good food and drinking beer out of mason jars.  I've seen lines that rival Brunch Village on the weekends so go on a weekday if you don't feel like waiting in line and having to smell those delicious hamburgers that they serve next door.

Post-lunch sips: Joule


I refuse to take pictures of coffee.  Even if it has a cute little heart on it.  YOUR PUMPKIN MOCHA LOOKS EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE DECAF TASTER'S CHOICE ON MY INSTAGRAM FEED.  I got something called a Pourover which is described on the menu as a method of manual brewing in which a thin, slow stream of water is poured over a filtered cone.  Each coffee is dialed in to express the qualities that charmed us in the first place.  This handcrafted experience may take a bit longer and is best when you have a few minutes.  Seriously, it said all that.  My handcrafted experience was delivered by a guy who looked suspiciously (doppleganger-suspicious!) like Jason Schwartzman from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, complete with a cut under his eye.  It just tasted like a decaf coffee to me.  But the waiter was definitely pure evil.  He must have worked hard to dial that in.  *Charmed.*

Dinner: Fiction Kitchen


This is called Fiction Kitchen because everything inside is a fairy tale made up of quotation marked-meats.  100% vegetarian menu, much of it vegan, even more of it gluten-free.  It's a hipster's wet dream.

The inside of the restaurant was one of my favorites as far as atomsphere goes.  Crazy color schemes, unmatchy tables, servers who smile and nod and say Right On!  Loved it.  I could have been dressed up or wearing yoga pants and not felt out of place.  Although some people do get dressed up IN yoga pants, and high-fives to y'all who try to pull that off.

Anyone who goes out with us would know that we don't usually order appetizers, but this was week Mission: Food so let's throw calories to the wind here and eat big or go home.  I present to you, Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce.


These were nice and refreshing, especially since eight hours after lunch I was still not particularly hungry.  WHICH IS QUITE UNUSUAL.  The waiter told us to keep the sauce at the table as he took away our plates because "it may come in handy later."  At this point, I was unclear if he was giving us the ol' Happy Anniversary wink-wink or if I would really have a use for this sauce with a dish that the sauce did not come with. 

He wasn't a perv.  It was for this, my Nori Rolls with Sashimi Tofu.


So the "sushi" roll was filled with brown rice, cucumbers, beets, vegan cream cheese (HOW DOES THAT EVEN HAPPEN?), and chutney.  The first few pieces of it were definitely "earthy" and I do admit that on occassion I use the word "earthy" interchangeably with "dirt."  Then I remembered the beets and suddenly they stopped tasting like grass and started tasting "earthy" as in "not dirt."  Beets are supposed to taste like the earth.  The "sashimi" tofu was seriously yummy, but if you don't like the texture of tofu, it's not going to convert you.  The kale salad in the middle of all this fiction was what benefitted from the spicy peanut sauce.  Because kale salad.  KALE SALAD.  Enough with the kale, already.  WE GET IT.  It's gosh-darn hip and healthy but in serious need of spicy peanut sauce.  That stuff is the wink-wink right there.

Matt ordered the Tinga Tacos:


Made with mock chicken.  I have no idea what mock chicken is made of.  I don't really care though because I eat at Taco Bell all the time.  The chicken amazingly had the texture of real chicken.  At the tail end, I detected a slight cardboardy-taste but it went away quickly, and Matt didn't notice it at all.  The corn tortillas were phenomenal and let it be known that white people should really stop ordering flour tortillas all the time because you're giving the rest of us a bad name.  It came with black beans that Matt said were okay, but not as great as his tacos.  He actually declared these the second best tacos he's ever ordered (after Dos Taquitos' steak tacos) but would later admit he didn't really know if they were that good or if his expectations were just so low his mind was blown that "chicken" could be delicious.

Now, I am not a big sweets eater.  I have a savory tooth.  But you know, Mission: Food and all.  This.  This!


Some kind of vegan ganache pie with an almond crust and salted caramel.  Mind blowing.  I have made ganache a million and one times (chocolate + cream) and I have no idea how you are supposed to do it VEGAN.  I don't care, though.  Maybe it was me all being hormonal because of that bitch Aunt Flo but I took way more than the half-bite I usually eat of any dessert.  This thing was good.  And since it was vegan and gluten-free, I felt like I basically eating a salad. 

Go here.  Try it.  It's cool.  The cocktails are good.  Tuesday is half-price bottles of wine night, so go on a Tuesday if you're scared of trying new "meat."

Wednesday, April 23
This is the day we officially left the house and temporarily moved into the Sheraton in Downtown Raleigh.  This is probably the official date I can list as the day I would have gotten diabetes had I not already had diabetes.

Breakfast: Finch's


Matt wanted to take me to this Raleigh landmark before it gets torn down.  It's been around approximately for...ever.  It's one of those places where I wondered why I had never visited in all the years I've lived here but the answer was probably Taco Bell.  The answer usually is Taco Bell.

Matt ordered some kind of hungry man breakfast (which I'm still confused to how he was not full after all the vegan food the night before) and I had a Western omelet with grits. 

I have a soft-spot for Western omelets because my grandma used to make them for me when my parents would ship me down to Florida for a couple of weeks every summer, back when you could go to the gates to send your lovely kid off far and away for days and days of homemade omelets.  I've never found one as good as Grandma made but if you're competing with a memory, you're rarely going to win.  This omelet was close but it was really the grits that stole the show.  Grits are a thing and they can be a really good thing if you know what you're doing.  Otherwise, they're just a forgettable thing.  DON'T FORGET THE GRITS.

Come here if you like using a bathroom that keeps the current day's copy of the News & Observer on the toilet tank.

Lunch: Centro


I had eaten once before at Centro during Triangle Restaurant Week and was impressed by every. single. thing. that came out of the kitchen.  For lunch service, instead of being waited on, you just go up to the bar and order your food and then find a table.  The menu is a lot more casual and limited but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you're hoofing it in flip flops and are by nature, indecisive.

Matt ordered the special of the day, three chicken taquitos:


I should have ordered these.  They were incredible.  I would have no shame going in there and asking for six taquitos.  All for Christy.

I ordered the Torta with carnitas:


The bread was delicious.  I would have preferred some more texture in the sandwich, as the lettuce and onion's crunch were quickly lost among the refried beans, cheese, tomatoes, jalapenos, guac, mayo...ooh, now this sounds like a sandwich.  I just poured a bunch of that spicy slaw that came with it onto the sandwich and that fixed everything.  Slaw is underrated.  It can save lives.  Yeah, if you like a sandwich for lunch, but you also like access to a fantastic margarita, head to Centro.  Dos thumbs up.

Dinner: Stanbury


The menu changes daily, as it should everywhere.  There is no reason why you should be demanding chocolate-covered strawberries in December.  Tomatoes should also be outlawed anytime that is not tomato season.  If I run for governor, it will be on a platform of 1. Obamacaring Ticketmaster so we don't get screwed with those asinine "convenience" charges and 2. No pink tomatoes.  Ever.  Weak, pink tomatoes shipped more than three countries away will be subject to a heavy, heavy, heavy fine.  Like, ACME anvil-heavy.  No more bacon for you-heavy.  Vote for Christy.

The first small plate we ordered was cheese.  Which I'm sure was artisan, because COME ON. 


With names like Point Reyes Blue and Red Hawk, they'd have to be artisanal.  And in this case, I won't even conjur up visions of Portlandia while I smirk, because I can't smirk-- because I'm smiling, truly smiling, because this cheese is so unbelievably good.  Because, because, because, so, so, so very good.  This cheese made love to my soul.  And he didn't even need to come at me with spicy peanut sauce.

The next plate was fried oysters with sriracha sauce.  Daaaaaaaaamn.


These were the best fried oysters I've ever had.  Seriously.  I grew up eating a lot of these boogers and these were it right here.  They were cooked just past the line where they weren't raw (although I'd still have eaten them if they were) but they were still so juicy and briny and loverly.  Matt said his fingers smelled like the ocean, which I like to think was from the oysters since I didn't see him shake hands with any mermaids.  But this place was magical, so it wouldn't surprise me if a mermaid did ride up on a unicorn to deliver us a golden dragon egg as an anniversary present.

The following dish was a Vidalia onion bisque with the cutest itty-bitties of bacon and chives and a dollop of creme fraiche.  I smacked my dead mammy.


I liked the addition of the bacon and chives because it added some different texture (in addition to being the food demi-gods bacon and chives) and the creme fraiche made my mouth zing all in its pants.  My mouth gets bored easily so it was happy to be hosting such a fun party.

The sound of this next thing is going to make at least one of you throw up in your mouth a little but I'm sure it's just because your period is way late and not because you are disgusted by Crispy Pighead.


Holy things of all things holy.  On the bottom were these creamy beluga lentils which I could have just eaten by themselves, but on top of that pile of awesome is the crispy pighead, which is really the pig's cheeks that somehow got off that poor pig's face and onto my plate.  Then there's a mustard sauce which is hiding under the world's most perfectly cooked egg (Team Runny Yolk, y'all), and is finally topped with this sweet arugula salad that is without a doubt the loveliest arugula that has ever been invited to my mouth party.  I know the menu must change but it's a bittersweet realization for me as I want to experience this again but fully trust whoever is sharpening their knives back there in that kitchen to serve me up some cheeks in an equally exciting yet different way.  Let me stop waxing on.  Go there.  Eat this.  Crispy Pighead not yuck but yum.


I'd have to say that you should definitely go to Stanbury if you like to try really great food.  As in, you don't have a standing frozen burrito night in your weekly dinner rotation.  We were sitting both inside and outside, which I realize doesn't make any sense, but if the weather is beautiful, you should go there and figure it out and high five me later.  They have some great potent potables yet they will also decant forty ounces of the Champagne of Beers at your table.  Fortunately they brought us some bubbly that didn't come from a gas station.

Post-dinner treats: Escazu Artisan Chocolates


This place is right next door to Stanbury, so you'd be a real numbnuts not to visit.  It was hard to choose what to order, especially since I am not that into sweets, but the liquid stimulants they gave me back at the restaurant coupled with all the pretty bon bons did force me to ask how much it would be for one of everything. 


We didn't order one of everything but that's not for lack of trying.  This is what we ended up with.  I can't tell you what we got but you should probably just trust me that it was good and you need to go support your local chocolate economy.  It's like a jewelry store but with CHOCOLATE.  I'm amazed no one has broken into Escazu with a ski mask in the middle of the night. 

Thursday, April 24
Breakfast: Mecca


Another place that has been here forever, if the beginning of time was in the '30s.  We learned from the day before not to order anything with the words hungry, man, or breakfast in the title, especially in that order.  I'll admit to still being a little full when we arrived.  Not that that has ever stopped me before.

Matt ordered a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and some coffee.  I tried to order a decaf coffee but the waitress told me the only decaf they have is Sanka, so thanks to her for keeping it real.


This isn't terribly exciting looking but Matt made some light moaning noises, not enough to make you think that his tongue was going to need a cold shower, but enough to convey that it was well made. 

I ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with mayonnaise and pickles.


Because, duh.  Mayonnaise and pickles!  Delicious. 

This is a cute place to go for simple, cheap eats.  What you get is what you get- nothing more, nothing less.  Also, we saw them serve a man a beer with breakfast, so there's that.

Lunch: Bida Manda


I remember meeting the guy who owns this place through a mutual friend one night and when he told me what he was opening- a Laotian restauarant- my initial thought was King of the Hill.  I could not remember ever seeing what Kahn and Minh ate so I had no idea what Laotian food was.  But I knew I totally wanted it.  Mostly because I always want food.

Matt felt like he needed some vegetables in his life so we got some summer rolls.  They were fresh, definitely, and did not leave me feeling like I needed a nap, like I do after most meals.  But I don't want to talk about the rolls; I want to talk about the red drink at the far left.


It's what they call a "Srirachelada."  Laotian beer with sriracha, lime, and pickle juice.  OF COURSE WE WERE GOING TO ORDER THIS.

The first sip was good.  I gave it a thumbs up.  The second sip was okay.  I gave it a shoulder shrug.  The third sip was neither good nor okay.  It gave me heartburn.  If this was served as a shooter, I'd have sung its praises.  A whole pint glass of this stuff is undrinkable.  And this is coming from someone who likes to dip pickles in nacho cheese and Doritos.  Someone who just ate pickles on her egg sandwich at breakfast!  In summation, gross.  Don't do it.  I bet there's at least one dumbass who will read this and order it the next time they're there, though.

Like I said, Matt felt like he needed some fiber, so here's a salad.


I didn't eat any of this (you'll see why in a moment) but it looks really amazing, right?  Herbs, spring rolls, tofu, shrimp, and peanut sauce.  Okay, I did eat the peanut sauce.  Matt said it was good as he was eating it, but days later would tell me that he wasn't that impressed with it.  Because it was a salad.  So that's basically his fault.  I think he was just jealous that everyone else in the restaurant chose to eat carbs and he chose poorly.

Matt may have felt the need for fiber but I went ahead and ordered the Crispy Pork Belly Soup. 


This is basically a coconut curry-flavored broth with rice noodles and some crispy pork belly on top.  For such a flavorful and delicious broth, the noodles didn't have much flavor.  I would have happily just ordered a pint of the broth to drink in place of the Srirachelada.  I know people are going ape-shit over this soup because Billy Joel ordered it or something, but I don't care what Billy Joel or Charles Barkley, or even Jesus for that matter, eats.  I want what I want when I want it.  The pork belly was more on the chewy side than I would have liked but definitely full of that badforyou flavor I love.  It wasn't a bad entree by any means, but I wouldn't order it again.  I just wasn't as blown away as I thought I would be.  I saw lots of other food that I want to try there the next time we go.  Because I've already decided I'm going back and ordering that curry the lady next to us was making love to.

This place is for those of you who want to go to the first Laotian restaurant to open in the country.  I know that because I heard a waiter tell that to a table. 

Post-lunch sips: Benelux


We walked over to Benelux Cafe for some coffee and a sweet, because I was apparently growing a sweet tooth on this food tour.  I just can't be taken seriously anymore when I tell people I don't really like dessert.


OMGOMGOMG.  This Benelux Pecan Bar was Oh My Goddess good.  They had me at cream cheese and pecans.  They kept me with cream cheese and pecans.  They were never going to lose me.  Ever. 

The coffee was good, too.  I think.  I don't remember it being bad.  I just remember the moans pushed some buttery crumbs out of my mouth.  They probably could have served me motor oil and I wouldn't have noticed at that point.

I have to admit that I'm not a coffee connoisseur.  I can't tell you the region or altitude of sub-Saharn Africa I prefer my beans to be grown in or how those beans are roasted or how those beans are blended.  I drink decaf, so the choices aren't as vast for me.  Which is fine.  I would just stand there looking at the menu behind the barista with my mouth hanging open, anyway.  What I don't like is Starbucks.  I don't know what it is about Starbucks coffee, but I've never enjoyed a cup there.  I usually go back and trade it in for tea.  So that's the kind of person you're dealing with, here.  I've never really had coffee I didn't enjoy anywhere else.  I enjoyed the coffee here, Matt enjoyed the coffee here, and everyone mustached with cat shirts and Jamaican-colored beanie caps using the free wi-fi enjoyed the coffee here.  Which was basically everyone but me and Matt.

This is a good place to go if you like to drink in coffee shops with couches and bicycles covered in yarn hanging on the wall.  It's an even better place to go if you want to eat pecan bars and make gutteral sounds of pleasure on a couch under a bicycle covered in yarn hanging on the wall. 

Dinner: Second Empire


We have eaten at Second Empire in the past, but always in the dining room.  For this meal, we reserved the Chef's Table.  We were escorted to the back, where our table awaited us in the middle of the kitchen.  Seriously, we were sitting in the middle of the kitchen.  The staff encouraged us to get up and walk around and talk to them and see what was going on. 

On the table was a menu that the chef had come up with for us that evening.  When I made the reservations, I was asked what we liked or didn't like.  It was easy to reply as the answers are everything and nothing, in that order.  But please to make sure there is foie gras on the menu because I -heart- that stuff so much.


Each course came paired with wine so YAY.  You don't have to make any decisions.  And did I mention there was wine?  And it didn't come from Trader Joe's.

Also there were plenty of fancy cocktails that kept flowing from the bar to right in front of our plates.  They were good to chug when it turned into Hell's Kitchen in there and the chef was yelling at people to get their shit together.

Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and call Chef Schurr a genius because everything that went into my mouth was a masterpiece.  And it was all so theatrical.  It was Masterpiece Theater but without the constant interruptions pleading for public support from viewers like you. 

I'll put all these descriptions in italics because I am just going to copy them straight from the menu.  I think it also makes it seem as fancy as it was in front of us.

First Course- Pan Roasted Sea Scallop & Crispy Pork Belly over english pea & corn risotto, garlicky spinach, sweet potato puree, asian snow pea slaw, coconut & curry cream.  Paired with Peju Sauvignon Blanc, Napa '13.


Hot damn.  This scallop was the most perfect scallop I've ever had in my life.  It's a good thing I didn't see who cooked it because I had enough wine flowing that I would have gone over there and goosed them good.  The pork belly was also the best I had ever had, which we were told had been cooked in Pepsi.  This was crispy on the outside but melted in your mouth when you bit into it.  It was the kind of food that you cut into teeny-tiny pieces because you didn't want it to end.  It's been a couple of weeks but I can still taste it.  I know there was a lot of Mmming going on.  More than you could ever know.

Second Course- Pan Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras over creamy hominy grit & oregon mushroom ragout, corn puree, grilled collard greens, mango salsa, three vinegars.  Paired with Kelin Constantia, South Africa '07.


This may look similar to the first course but don't be tricked- they just really like drizzling sauces on the bottom and working their way up high to a bit of greens on the top.  This was the first time I had whole hominy and WOWZA.  I should have asked more about how they prepared it because it was incredible.  But of course, I'm not here to talk about hominy.  I'm here to tell you that the foie gras was, you guessed it, the best ever.  I have to stop talking about it now because I am making myself extremely hungry and somehow a bowl of ramen isn't going to cut it at the moment.

Third Course- Raspberry & Mango Sorbet


Yum.  I guess this is exactly what I needed after all that glorious, glorious fat.  I ordered a sloe gin fizz when this came out only because I had never had one and it had always sounded interesting and there was no wine with this course.  It was pink so I had to drink it fast because I don't believe in pink drinks, although they aren't as bad as anything apple green.  Tangent alert: A MARTINI GLASS DOES NOT A MARTINI MAKE.  There are chocolate drinks, there are sour apple drinks, there are lemon drinks.  Putting any one of these in a martini glass just makes it a chocolate or sour apple or lemon drink in a martini glass.  I can't be seen with you in public if you insist on drinking something ridiculously colored in a glass that should only hold gin, vermouth, and an olive.  You should be forced to drink that other stuff out of a Tervis Tumbler. 

But now I just realized that this sorbet was served in a martini glass.  That's ok.  They weren't trying to call it a raspberry-mango martini.

Fourth Course- Grilled Australian Lamb Rack with purple & fingerling potatoes & artichokes, creamy leeks & tuscan kale, roasted asparagus, asian eggplant, chipotle golden raisin jus.  Paired with Vina Pomal Reserva, Rioja '08.


Y'all.  I can't even.  I was getting pretty full at this point, since we were taking hours to eat and my stomach was like, yo!  I was full an hour ago!  But I didn't care.  That raisin jus was fiiiiiiiiiiiine.  The eggplant, yesssss!  The lamb?  Best lamb I've ever had.  I even ate the leeks, and these turned out to be my favorite component of this course.  When I was initially asked if there is anything we don't like, I didn't mention leeks.  But I don't eat leeks.  Well, I did, but once I was in culinary school and pregnant with Natalie, I had a heavy case of morningnoonandnight sickness.  I had to make this mushroom and leek soup, and it all came back up.  It took a year before I could even think about mushrooms again but leeks are the one food that literally makes me queasy, even to this day.  Well, even to the day before they put these creamy leeks under the lamb.  They were ahhhhhhmazing.  This meal makes you add ridiculous amounts of extra letters.  I now know that I want to reintroduce leeks into my diet again, and it's all thanks to Second Empire.  I asked how they prepared them so I could make them at home, but I think the wine pairings erased that part of my memory.

Sad face that I couldn't be a member of the clean plate club.  You'd be surprised to find out that sometimes I literally have to stop eating.

Fifth Course- Empire Chocolate Souffle.  Paired with Recchia Recioto Valpolicella-Valpantena '08.


Will you believe me if I try to tell you I don't really like sweets?  You shouldn't anymore...they're growing on me, both in the literal and figurative senses.  I would never choose to order it but if someone plops down a chocolate souffle in front of me at Second Empire, you can be damn sure I'm going to eat it.  And I'm glad I was able to enjoy a couple of bites before my body threatened to revolt.  Crap, I'm hungry for chocolate souffle right now.  I keep having to take snack breaks just writing this post.  I'm going to be five pounds heavier by the end.


Definitely the priciest place we ate but worth every single penny.  Try the Chef's Table if you want to get up in everybody's business.  Don't eat all day in preparation so you can clean your plate.  Or take some prednisone before you go. 

Friday, April 25
Breakfast: Big Ed's City Market Restaurant


Neither of us ordered the brains or the unreasonably large hot cakes that they challenge you to finish in 45 minutes.  I could picture Matt trying to take that challenge if we didn't have lunch plans that day.  Instead, he had a western omelet with a side of grits with jelly.


I was surprised that he ordered an omelet because he swears he doesn't like them, but apparently Matt was inspired by my omelet earlier in the week.  Big Ed must have made it good, because he says he would order another one if given the opportunity.  Yay, eggs!  The most diverse ingredient on the planet.  Maybe the next food vacation will be a week of eggs and beer.  Who's with me?

I got a biscuit with fried chicken, eggs, and cheddar.  That poor chicken had it coming from both directions.


Yeah, it was as good as it looks, if not better.  They sure know how to make a biscuit there.  I have a feeling Ed must be really big with all this good food.  Skinny Ed's City Market would be depressing.  They'd probably serve kale salad with quinoa and millet cakes or something stupid like that.

Go here.  Eat a biscuit.  Thank me later.

Lunch: 18 Seaboard


I had been to 18 Seaboard once before for dinner with a friend, and ordered the "Cracklin' Pork Shank" which comes served over spinach, blue cheese grits, and is topped with an apple-onion compote.  This meal was so delicious that years later, I wanted to come try their lunch.  I mean, it would have to be fabulous, right?

Matt ordered a romaine wedge with bacon, blue cheese, and roasted tomato.


I've never ordered a wedge salad before because I have no idea how one actually washes a wedge of lettuce.  The idea has always seemed questionable to me.  I tried this, though, and their blue cheese dressing is very good.  The tomato was ehh.  Didn't add anything to the plate except a splash of color.  It's not like you can really cut a dried tomato with a dinner knife with any sort of ease.  The bacon was a better addition once I had crumbled it over the part of the salad I was trying. 

I tried the she crab soup. 


It was pretty good.  There was a nice sherry flavor to it, which is what I always ask for when I order a creamy crab soup so I can stir it in.  It could have used a little crispy bacon on top to add some texture.  Just sayin'.  Bacon makes everything better.  There was a good amount of meat in my bowl so I won't complain.

The Cracklin' Pork Shank is also on the lunch menu, but I was in the mood for a sandwich.  We ordered two to split.  The first was chicken salad with roasted poblanos, pickled grapes, and pumpkin seeds.


Don't order this unless you like really plain food.  With the ingredients listed on the menu, I thought it was going to be more exciting than it was.  Not bad, but definitely a snoozer.  Unless you tried really hard to find a pickled grape and eat it by itself, you couldn't taste it, just like the poblanos and pumpkin seeds.  I found the sandwich so dry that I was tempted to ask for some more mayonnaise to slather on it.

The other sandwich we split was a burger with fried green tomato, jowl bacon, and a roasted tomato on a brioche bun.


I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe whoever was on the sandwich station in the back was hungover or maybe got dumped by their girlfriend or found out that the car they just bought off of Craigslist was flooded.  Maybe they are capable of making better sandwiches when all their stars are aligned.  However, today was not the day.  The burger was overdone to the point that it left a scorched taste in your mouth.  The bun was pale and flavorless, which is hard to do with a dough that is so rich with egg and butter.  I'm not sure why these "five-hour roasted tomatoes" are such a big deal on this menu, as it didn't really do much for the burger.  Unless it tastes better when the burger isn't burned.  It doesn't come with sauce on the burger but you can request it, so the part of the picture that is 25% full of ramekins is now explained for you. 

It wasn't all bad.  The homemade chips with the blue cheese dressing saved that meal.  Those are really good.

I felt bad when the waiter came and asked how awesome the food was.  I just smiled and didn't say anything.  A better person would have told the truth, but I was not that person at that moment.  I was still full from the days of nonstop eating (and also full of beer from the tasting room we popped into before lunch), and I just didn't want someone trying to bring me out a new plate of food that I couldn't possibly eat more than two bites of.  We didn't have a refrigerator in our hotel room so any leftovers would have been wasted.  Food waste makes me really sad.  There are starving people in this world, but I am not one of them.

This came out at the end.


I feel like a total bitch for even telling the truth about this thoughtful plate at the conclusion of our meal, but I think whoever was manning the sandwich station was also on the dessert station.  But very pretty presentation! 

So.  The server was really nice and enthusiastic.  The food was incredibly disappointing.  I would say this: don't go here for lunch.  Go at dinner time.  If you are forced to eat here for lunch, try the pork shank.  Unless the sandwich station guy is plating those, too.  The good news is that there is a bottle shop next door you can drown your sorrows in.

Dinner: Five Star


I hadn't been to Five Star in at least ten years, so I was excited to come back.  They serve food until midnight and the place turns into a dance club.  It's not as packed as it used to be since downtown has entered its Renaissance, but it's still pretty awesome.

I started with some roasted duck steamed buns.  And sake.  There was a lot of sake flowing.


Holy wow.  WHATTTT.  This picture is making me hungry just looking at it.  I have run out of adjectives in this post.  These were the awesomest.  Sweet, crispy, chewy, yummy.  Dear god, I'll be right back.  Have to take another snack break.

Matt ordered some scallion pancakes.


He really liked them, but I thought the insides were a touch doughy as if they could have used an extra minute on the grill.  The scallion sauce they were served with was really great, though.  I probably could have take a shot of that in between bottles of sake.

Matt got the Thai Peanut Noodles with Shrimp.


These were really, really good.  You should get these.  And invite me.  The picture is blurry because I ALREADY TOLD YOU, THERE WAS A LOT OF SAKE.  Wait, I mean that was the cool Instagram filter I used.

I got the Crispy Sesame Beef.


That is so much beef.  I am so sad I didn't have a refrigerator to take this back to.  The beef is seriously crispy with that sweet sauce you know from Sesame Chicken dishes, but not cloying or gloppy.  It's so good that you won't mind picking sesame seeds out of your teeth for days.

Come here late at night if you like cold sake, loud music, and extremely awesome food.  Bring 75 cents if you don't know how to use chopsticks because they charge for forks. 

Saturday, April 26
Brunch: Irregardless Cafe


As soon as we sat down, we were given fresh squeezed orange juice (heaven!), chive biscuits (heaven!), lemon-poppy bread (heaven!), and pound cake (heaven!). 


Seriously, Belinda Carlisle was singing about Irregardless. 

Matt got Crab Cake Eggs Benedict and fresh fruit.


I didn't try his because he wouldn't share.  It was that good.  Just kidding- he would have shared but I was too busy with this:


The Gravlax Salmon Bagel Sandwich.  It was cured in-house and served on the most perfect everything bagel.  Bagel sandwiches can be tricky because it's easy to over-toast them or have them be too chewy and hard to bite through, but this one was the one.  Whoever was working bagel station needs to be given some kind of Congressional Medal of Honor.  There was a cream cheese that tasted like it had vegetables and capers in it that I could have eaten by the spoon.  Okay, maybe I did.  It also came with red onion, lettuce, and tomato.  There is no way one person could eat the amount of food that was on this bagel.  I don't think the picture does it justice.  The homefries?  How about heavenfries. 

Go here if you like live music and heavenly food.  Next time I come, I'm making sure I have a cooler in my car so I don't have to leave any food to languish uneaten on my plate.

Lunch: Roast Grill


There aren't a lot of options at the Roast Grill.  You can get hot dogs, glass bottles of Coke, and some Greek desserts, so it shouldn't take very long to decide what to order.  We went for dogs with mustard, chili, and onions and a piece of baklava.


Matt thought this was the best hot dog he's ever eaten.  It was a good dog, all charred, just like I like it.  I think part of the love was from the charm of the place- just a dozen seats at a counter and little change over the years.  Also, did I mention we happened to walk into a Roast Grill wedding?


There was a couple who eats there at least once a week and the guy popped the question last year over a hot dog.  They decided to get married at the restaurant.  The owners were fussing over everything trying to get the restaurant ready for the wedding while we just kind of chilled out and ate hot dogs and observed.  "I forgot to buy rice to throw at them!  I'll just throw Tootsie Rolls at them instead!"


We were lucky to arrive when we did, because they didn't let anyone else in afterward in order to get ready.  As we were about to pay and leave, Matt thanked them and mentioned we were celebrating our tenth anniversary.  The woman who seemed to be managing the place stopped the presses and got behind the counter to whip out a hotdog candle.


Then she blew the roof off the place and sang the most beautiful operatic version of Happy Anniversary to us.  Serious stuff.  Like Kennedy Center Honors stuff.  In front of a much loved hot dog candle.  And then made us promise to come eat hot dogs at Roast Grill each future anniversary.

Everyone should go to the Roast Grill because of the hot dogs, but more for the people behind the counter.  Also, don't ask for ketchup, because they don't have any.

Post-lunch sips: Brewgaloo


A friend of ours had some VIP tickets to Brewgaloo that he gave us, so of course we were going to use them because A) BEER and B) the event was right in front of our hotel so I could go inside and avoid the port-a-potties and C) BEER. 

In the VIP section, they had some beer and food pairings.  So duh, of course I was there.  This one is a Deep River Brewing/Trophy collaboration called Carpetbagger.  It's a Double IPA, 9.7%.  I did not know this at the time I was drinking it.  I will get back to that in a bit.  It was paired with a sweet potato curry, and it was delicious.  Guess who made the curry?  18 Seaboard.  So that made me a little happy inside that I wasn't just imagining that someone there could cook.  It was a small redemption for previous day's lunch.


Then I ventured out to the booths on the street and found these:


They were beer caramels made by GerDan.  They were amazing.  You should look them up and get some.  The end of the school year is coming up.  You think your teacher wants another World's Best Teacher coffee mug? 

But then I was like, I should go back into the VIP area and see if there's any more food.  Because food.  The next pairing was the Habanero Saison by Aviator along with a BBQ eggroll and a mango meatball.


I can't remember who made the eggroll or if it was good.  I don't think it was amazing or else I would have vividly remembered it.  The meatballs came from Oak City Meatball Shoppe and they were really great.  Especially with the extra spicy beer.  Which, had I not already had such a good thing going, probably would have been too hot to drink completely sober.

But yeah, beer.  So back to that Carpetbagger.  We had twelve tokens between the two of us, and everyone at the beer tents were filling up full pints of beer for just one token.  Which I thought was a lot of beer, well I knew it was a lot of beer, but I didn't care that it was a lot of beer.  (We would find out later that one token should have just given you a 3 oz. pour, but no one else working there seemed to know that.)  Anyway, I really, really enjoyed this Carpetbagger.  So maybe I had a few of those.  And then we would give tokens to people so they would let us cut to the front in the long beer lines.  And when we got to the front, we'd just get more beer.  All this is to say that for our next meal, I cannot give you any descriptions of what was going on because it was all a haze really fun time.  I brewgaloo'd pretty hard.  You cannot and should not drink double IPAs like they are lite beers.  I tried, though. 

Hey, it was hot outside.

You probably should have gone to this when the people running the booths were giving out a lot more beer than they were supposed to.  If it's back again next year, they'll have it all figured out.

Dinner: Sono


So.  Dinner.  After the beer fest. 

We sat at the sushi bar and did the Omakase option, which means "I'll leave it to you."  So, basically a chef's choice type thing.  Which at that point of the day was probably the smartest thing we did, because I'm not even sure I could have read the menu.

I cannot remember what the chef said each course was, but you can still look at these pictures that somehow I still had the presence of mind to take. 

First course:


Second course:


Third course:


Fourth course:


Fifth course:


Sixth course:


Seventh course:


Eighth course:


Ninth course:


Tenth course:


The last thing was a dessert, if memory serves me right.  Which we've already established it probably doesn't.  It was maybe something eggy wrapped around some rice?  I don't know.  We cleaned all the plates, though.  Because it was incredible.  That, I do remember.  Matt said it was the best sushi he's ever had. 

Come here and try the Omakase option because trying to read a sushi menu when you're hungry is torture.  The chefs know what they're doing. 

Sunday, April 27
Brunch: Oakwood Cafe

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Matt ordered a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and homefries. 


He had one earlier in the week, but I tried a bite or two and this biscuit kicked the other biscuit's ass.  And the other biscuit was really good!  I don't know what they do to their sausage, but it was all kinds of amazing.  The homefries were equally amazing. 

I got a Cuban sandwich and sweet plantains.


Yes.  This was so very, very good.  It's hard to find a good Cuban sandwich around here but this is one of them.  The plantains were also reallllllllly great.  Sorry guys, I'm running out of ways to describe how delectable all this food was.

You should totally come here even if you think Cuban or Argentinean food isn't your thing.  There is lots of great stuff on the menu, even for picky people.  They have a really good, peppery hot sauce that you should probably just slather all over your plate because it seems to go well with everything.  This also might be a good place to go if you maybe had a moderate amount of high-octane beer the night before.  Just sayin'.

Brunch #2: Plates


I know, I know.  But we spaced the brunchiness out like breakfast and lunch, so stop with your judging.  We started with a Bloody Mary, Sangria, and banana bread.


The banana bread was great, with a tart lemon drizzle on top that was a really nice contrast to the sweet cake.  I ordered my Bloody Mary with the house mix but probably wouldn't do that again.  I didn't really taste the tomato, but there was a lot of carrot and red bell pepper flavor going on.  Which is not to say it didn't taste good, but it was thick and had the flavor of a vodka sauce.  It would have been better served hot over pasta than with booze over ice.

Matt had the vegetarian quiche and a salad.


It was a very good quiche, but you really have to like cheese because there was a lot of it in there.  But maybe you didn't want to poop today anyway.

I ordered a hash with sweet potatoes, curried cauliflower, edamame, Brussels sprouts, fried eggs, and tomato jam.


Although this sounds really exciting, it wasn't something I'd come back for.  The sweet potatoes could have been more tender, as well as the Brussels sprouts.  I liked the tomato jam and the cauliflower a lot.  The eggs made me sad, though, because someone cooked all the runny out of the yolks.  Runny yolk is like nature's dressing.  That would have made the salad much better because whatever it was dressed with wasn't very exciting.

For dessert, we got the sticky toffee pudding.


Wowza.  Ok, it seems to me that what Plates excels at (at least during brunch) is the sweets.  This was great.  And I think it's official that this trip has given me a sweet tooth.

While I wasn't blown away by the entrees, I would definitely go back and try the dinner menu.  The atmosphere in this place is really cool and it's what would bring me back, so try going when it's nice outside because the front of the restaurant will be open.  But if the dinner isn't spectacular, I would still go back for the sweet stuff, and maybe a Bloody Mary with the store-bought mix.

Dinner: buku


Can you believe we weren't waddling at this point?

We started out with some naan to get us started while we narrowed down the hundred things we wanted to try on the menu.


The naan was really good, but it wasn't like any naan I've ever had at an Indian restaurant.  Although it was softer and fluffier and basically was focaccia, it was delicious nonetheless. 

Next we ordered Burmese Deviled Eggs.

Burmese deviled eggs

These suckers were HOT.  We make a lot of deviled eggs around here so I'm kind of a deviled egg snob.  The egg whites were kind of rubbery but the filling was good.  But dang, that chile on top burned and burned and burned my throat on the way down.  Which I kind of liked in a masochistic way. 

Next up was the Massaman Hot Pot which was a soup of zucchini, squash, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, massaman curry, coconut, and cilantro.


Everything about this was delicious.  I'm sure it had like a zillion calories because all the best foods do.  Did you know that kale is low in calories?  The soup came out in the biggest of bowls and even though Matt and I each only had one ladle-full, there were still several servings leftover.  This would have been a very filling dinner if we had just ordered the hot pot alone.  But you know we weren't going to do that.

The Baja Crab Flautas have cilantro, pickled serrano, pineapple, and mango-habanero crema. 


These were good but the sauce they came with pushed the flautas over the top.  But it's hard to go wrong with deep-fried and dips.

The next thing that came out was my favorite, Cochinita Arepa.


This was a soft corn cake topped with pulled pork, guacamole, pickled red onions, and queso fresco.  This was the dish that made you moan a little.  Okay, a lot.  A whole, whole lot.  Go there and get this.

It was going to be hard for the pierogies to top that.


That's not to say they weren't delicious, though.  They were filled with chicken, butternut squash, and muenster, then topped with brown butter and almonds.  I think the brown butter might have had a splash of balsamic in it because there was a really nice acidity in there that I've never been able to achieve by just browning butter.  These actually heated up nicely the next day and I thought they were even better.

Some Pretty Woman champagne came out while we waited for dessert.


Because of that alarmingly fast-growing sweet tooth and all.

Chocolate, vanilla, and ginger creme brulee.


I loved the vanilla and ginger.  They were phenomenal.  The chocolate was good but it was a little too rich for me.  Matt loved them all.  I could tell, because by the time he was done with them, they looked like they had already been through the dishwasher.

I was so happy that we actually got to take so many to-go boxes home from this meal since we were heading back to our house and my lovely refrigerator.  Which I had sorely missed all week when plates of half-eaten food were being taken away.

This is an awesome place to go if you can't figure out just what kind of food you want to order. Just take a group of people and order like a hundred small plates. Or three. Whatever is in your budget.

Here's to being fat and happy.


So, if you had to press me for my favorites, I guess I'd list them as this:

Best breakfast/brunch- Irregardless Cafe
Best lunch- Beasley's Chicken + Honey
Best dinner- Second Empire*

*Of course, the Chef's Table at Second Empire was always going to win.  But let's face it, it's crazy pricey.  If we hadn't had that meal, Stanbury would have won.  No question.  Go there.  GO THERE.

I don't want you to think that all we did was eat.  That was what we did a lot, but there was also a ton of fun stuff to do.  We both enjoy walking so I'm sure we logged lots of miles just traipsing through the city.  If you don't have to drive anywhere, you may find yourself in many-a-bar.  That's cool.  It's your vacation.  Don't worry, I didn't take pics of every place we drank at.  I didn't want you to think I had a problem.

There are several museums downtown.  The City of Raleigh Museum in the Briggs Hardware Building is pretty interesting if you want to finally discover who all those streets and buildings are named after.

City of Raleigh Museum

I found mention of an Utley, who is an ancestor on my dad's side.  I guess that's less interesting for you than for me.

The Utley's are on my dad's side...

Oh, and I also finally found Game of Graces in the gift shop.  We were first introduced to it last year in the mountains and I had never been able to locate a set.  It's basically like Game of Thrones but with less incest and more pretty ribbon-covered rings.

There's a few tasting rooms/bottle shops around that we visited. 

Post-lunch sips

If only we had a fridge in our room!  Next time, we bring a cooler. 

We went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Rialto.

At the Rialto, going to see Grand Budapest Hotel. With popcorn. And beer.

I love the Rialto and whatever crazy movie they are showing.  They have comfy seats, the world's best popcorn, and beer.  Good beer.

It's been too long since we've been here. My favoritest movie theater.

You can get a couple's massage at Revive.

Couples massage. Now I'm all loosey-goosey.

You can visit any number of breweries.

Early bird nightcap

You can walk to the Governor's mansion.

Gov's mansion

You can visit the Shimmer Wall.

The shimmer wall is my favorite part of Raleigh.

You can walk through a park.

Moore Square

You can sign up for a Segway tour of Historic Oakwood and have it canceled because there is a beer fest going.  But you won't let that stop you from just walking over there yourself.

Perfect day for a lazy walk

You can visit the cemetery.

Oakwood Cemetery

You can visit open houses just so you can see what these Historic Oakwood properties look like on the inside.  And there, a realtor may tell you it's a great place to live because you can go to the cemetery and have a picnic.


(True story.)

You can find adorable little corner stores that sell good food and glass bottles of Nehi.

Quick stop at the Quality Grocery

You can see a show at Charlie Goodnight's

Charlie Goodnights! Haven't been here since Mitch Hedburg was alive.

(We saw Cort McCown and Steve Rannazzisi.)

Shiva! Teen wolf guy!

You could go hear live music (we did!).  You could go see live theater (we didn't).  You could go relax in the hot tub (we did!). You could do many a things.

But you must go by the D.H. Hill Library at NC State and pick up some Howling Cow ice cream from the Creamery for your kids on the way home so they forget that you disappeared for a while.

And we're such awesome parents that were getting each kid a pint of NC State ice cream. They're welcome.

Because you're the best parents ever!

Yay! A week of great weather!

This local vacation was brought to you by ten years of unused American Express points.

1 comment:

  1. Loved your writing! What a great account of your foodie travels.