The Bottle Shop

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HV Bottle Shop doesn’t look like much and the name doesn’t really make sense (as in Hope Valley), but further investigation reveals a much needed spot for more casual wine drinking and two very helpful owners.  Thomas and Drew have been around the block for a while (having worked at Nana’s and Foursquare(?) or the like) before opening their welcoming bottleshop in Woodcroft Plaza.

All of the Carpe Durham squad has been there by now and the results are officially tallied: it’s a great place.  They have a handy-dandy wine dispenser for tastes and up to full glasses.  There are frequent tastings as well.  Every Saturday from 4:30 to 7pm they pour free tastings, usually three whites and three reds and a smattering of crackers and cheeses.  I’ve found some fantastic stuff during these tastings and they usually mark down the featured wines significantly.  And tastings aren’t just for Saturdays.  It has seemed like every week now there has been an odd-ball tasting on a weeknight (a Monday, Tuesday, and the more common Friday).  Tonight was a so-called 90+ tasting, meaning all the wines scored ninety or above in the wino magazines.  Delicious.

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The wines are nearly all neatly lined up against the wall in a readily recognized fashion.  There is also the beer corner, full of great stuff, lots of it in big bottles.  And there are nice couches to hang out on and try some juice from the dispenser.  But even more than that, the place excites me because of their promotion of alternative packaging.  They are constantly looking for more tetra packs (the carton looking thing) and boxed up wine.  No not that box wine.  Please.  There is nothing bad that can come from storing wine in a box or carton.  Maybe aging is up in the air, but who’s really sitting on bottles and bottles instead of drinking and drinking.  Which is what you can do when you get three liters of wine for a whole lot less.

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They also have a few of these liter bottles.  They have a bottle cap.  I bought one, it was tasty.  Crisp and apple like as I remember it.  If it is ready to drink, why risk the cork?  The organic treatment of the grapes keeps the cost up more than I’d like.  But at about $10.50 or so for the liter it was still worth the try. 

Keep an eye out for their Irregular Bin of random single beers and their Fire Sale wines.  I got a box of Pinot Evil for real cheap a little while back.  I might remember the cost if I didn’t enjoy my three liters so much.

Tomorrow’s tasting is all North West wines.  I’m excited about the pinot gris and noirs from Oregon.  There’ll also be a cab blend that should be serious business.

Published in: on June 5, 2009 at 8:03 pm  Comments (8)  

Back Yard BBQ

I was appalled to read we hadn’t yet been to Back Yard BBQ (5122 NC 55).  And now with Man v Food coming by, I needed no further persuasion.

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I went at an odd time of day, just missing lunch, so the price jump hurt a little but the pain was soon quelled by one hefty plate.  All in all, it was about $13.  So, still not bad, especially since I saved nearly half the meat for later.

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Here they play a fun game called Hide the Ribs.  Neatly packaged above are hush puppies, collards, fried cabbage, and pulled pork.  All of which were good.  I’d place the hush puppies among the better ones I’ve had in the area, even though they were a tad sweet.  The collards were quite nice and had chunks of meat mingling with the greens.  The woman who served me said she had never heard of fried cabbage before she started working there.  She also said it was real good.  I was intrigued by them as well, and I agree with her.  Whatever it means to fry cabbage (in a pan, I suppose), it is the preferred method.  Now, the pork was pulled like crazy.  So much so that it started to lose texture.  I also thought it a little dry, but I probably just didn’t grab enough sauce.  And I don’t take lightly the awkward hour that I showed up.  Most of this stuff was probably hanging around since the peak of lunch and lost some of its luster, though at the time I hardly noticed.

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The ribs were very good.  The smoky meat was nicely complemented with a sweet sauce.  The only thing that could have made it knock my socks off would be some added spice.

I know what I’m about to say is BBQ sin and/or hubris, but I started putting a little of that sweet, tomato based sauce on the pulled pork with the spicy vinegar business on it…it took me there.  Which lead me to think that maybe this whole East-West thing is really overrated, like it was with rap in the 90s.

Lastly, there was one more thing the kind woman at the counter talked me into, a pineapple lemonade.  It really hit the spot on a hot day.  It was pretty big, so I saved half of it in the freezer.  I thawed it in a blender with a little somethin somethin the next hot day–because nothing is sacred, not if it’s tasty.

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Also of note: they have brisket on Fridays and Saturdays.  Considering their work on the ribs, I would think it would be awesome.

Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 2:27 pm  Comments (18)  

Six Feet Down Under

I am a good friend of most any bar food; I often get excited at the mention of a fryer.  But last night I met my match.

After a few beers at the Federal, some friends and I walked along Main St. looking for an open kitchen.  We only wanted a little something to pick at to finish off the evening, or so I thought.  After ordering a cheap pitcher at the Down Under Pub, I told my buddy to order whatever and stepped outside to make a call.  When I returned he’d ordered too many appetizers in addition to the motherload of bar food heretofore never dreamed of: the Peanut Butter Bacon Burger (three of them!). 

The burger oozed peanut butter and you’ll be glad I didn’t insert a photo.  In fact, I’m glad I didn’t take a photo–the memory alone slows my pulse.  But the taste was insane.  After the first bite I thought there could be no way I could finish, despite its incomparable flavor.  Next thing I knew I was sucking remnants of peanut butter and bacon grease off my fingers and looking for a way to wash down the last bite.

I think I died a little with that unexpected gutbomb.  You too can be a gastronimic daredevil at the Down Under, it may be worth it.  Just be sure to tell your family you love them.

Published in: on April 21, 2009 at 7:46 pm  Comments (3)  

Chosun Ok

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Another Korean joint along the 55 corridor, Chosun Ok is a solid offering.  We ate three dishes.  Here’s a shot of the spread, made more impressive with all the kim chee.

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The Bi Bim Bop was my first and I rather liked it, particularly the way the rice becomes crunchy after sitting against the stone.

Even better was the beef and green onion soup.  It came in the large bowl with a nice and spicy red broth.  The dish was simple and rich.  I particularly liked the (what I believe were) straw mushrooms.

Lastly, the spicy croaker soup.

I really get a kick out of these cauldrons of goodness.  The broth almost tasted more of fish than the fish itself.  Two whole croaker filled the bowl and made for a delicious soup.  The fish were some trouble to eat, but braver folks may forge on through the bones more readily than me.

It is also of note that the kim chee were all tastey–free from that funky smell of most commercial stuff.

While it was quite good, the overall value was not that of the nearby Vit Goal Tofu.  I can’t say how the lunch menus compare, but the dishes at Chosun Ok were a dollar or two more, as I recall.

Published in: on March 9, 2009 at 1:24 pm  Comments (5)  

Devorame otra vez, La Vaquita

I finally returned for the huilote en mole.  It did not disappoint.

 

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Again, the mole was deep and delicious.  It photos terribly, but so does art, and both are beautiful.  The quail itself was much better than the smaller ones I had grilled previously.  The meat was much jucier and easier to remove.  I liked putting chunks of the chicken/pork tasting meat on a fresh tortilla and slathering it with a little more mole.

I saved the leftover tortillas and mole.  The next day I made a quesadilla with mole on top.  Awesome.  I might just custom order it next time.

Also, I’d like to highlight La Vaquita’s new website, which one reader informed us of.  It might come in handy when you want to call in some huilotes so you don’t have to wait twenty minutes for them.

Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 5:34 pm  Comments (6)  

Blue Mountain Catering redux

Today I revisited Blue Mountain Catering on Main St., and the verdict is in: it’s my favorite lunch in Durham. I love Wimpy’s and Toast and la Vaquita, but Blue Mountain Catering really tops them all.

Although their chicken and waffles (obviously the greatest meal ever devised — see previous post here) wasn’t available, and won’t be available until October (I’ll update when they’re serving it again), this second visit confirmed BMC’s awesomeness. CDB got the fried catfish platter with homemade tartar sauce, coleslaw, potato salad, and a baked sweet potato. I got a catfish po-boy with baked beans (meant to get the BBQ pork, but I wasn’t about to complain).

One of the many reasons that BMC does Southern food so well is that they know how to distribute their attention: the amazing tartar sauce was clearly a labor of love, but the baked sweet potato was just that — a baked sweet potato, wrapped in aluminum foil, served with a small dish of brown sugar. Perfect.

The catfish was almost as good as the fish at Leo’s, and the potato salad had chunks of cucumber, which lightened it up considerably.  The baked beans were delicious and unlike any I’ve ever had before — more like the pinto beans you’d get from most soul food restaurants, but slightly smoky and sweet (thanks to the bacon and molasses). Thankfully, I called dibs on the last piece of red velvet cake right before they ran out.

This was one of the best slices of cake I’ve had in a restaurant in a long, long time. Unlike most red velvet cake (which is basically chocolate cake with red food coloring), this was clearly a yellow cake with cream cheese icing.  Lots of people try to emulate the light, moist crumb of box cakes at home, and the people at BMC absolutely nailed it.

Maybe best of all, they offer anything on their menu for pick-up after hours, for individuals and families. After going back today, I’m determined to try everything on the menu (I can only imagine their take on shrimp and grits), and the most expensive item is about $8. Inexplicably, their Tuesday – Friday lunch menu can’t be found anywhere on their website, but I’ll try to post it soon.

Blue Mountain Catering (map)
Tuesday – Friday: 11.45 am – 2.30 pm

Published in: on September 12, 2008 at 3:47 pm  Comments (3)  

Panaderia La Loma

All right, y’all, confession time:  I’ve never really liked pan dulce from Mexico.  Something about pan mexicano was always too dry, too frosted, too uninteresting.  For years I’ve wanted to like the stuff, admittedly, because it is generally easier to find than Central American pan dulce (which has more rice flour, more egg, more cheese, that sort of thing–look for quesadilla hondurena at Compare! it’ll knock your socks off ((pick one that feels heavy)).  So I went into La Loma somewhat hesitantly the other day, drawn mostly by the relatively recent sign indicating they now have paletas and helados.  In a hurry to get in because it was so freakin’ hot I merely glanced at the handwritten sign on the door saying they also had tacos or tortas or something.  Can I get a bleg! for someone out there to verify?  If a panaderia is running tortas the sammich’d be made more awesome with fresh bread.  Right.

Consider the spread above.  I avoided the omnipresent concha (as it is called in most regions; a puffy round disc smothered in colored sugar frosting) to sample these delights.  The oblong one was predictably the driest and hardest.  A real dipper for coffee, that one.  The large, dark one, bottom right, wasn’t quite as good as I wanted it to be, but it was airy and enjoyable.  Bottom left is a nicely layered version of the concha.  Not quite a Mexican cinnamon roll, but much better than the dry dinner roll taste of many conchas I’ve had (see bottom left of second photo).

Here the limits of my camera are evident, but I tried to show the spiral shape of the last pan dulce.  This one in particular was a delight.  It had the light chewiness of a good bread while maintaining the delicate textures of a sweet bread.  The thought of even sipping my coffee between bites of this one never crossed my mind.  Unfortunately it is the hardest to see in the above photo, but I really recommend eating a dozen of them–if you’re into that sort of thing.

Lastly but not leastly, is the helado.  They were out of paletas but had about six different helados.  I chose the one I knew nothing about.  The baker didn’t know what it was called in English, in Spanish it is la tuna–like the fish, he said–the fruit of the nopal.  It wasn’t until later I realized it was prickly pear.  I’ve never had a prickly pear and can’t really compare the taste of it.  It was light and really refreshing.  It was perfect for the hot day, certainly better than a quite sweet paleta from LocoPops (don’t get me wrong, they do paletas quite right, though they’re generally sweeter than this helado.)

The folks at La Loma are from outside of Mexico City.  Perhaps that region has something going on when it comes to pan dulce.  All I know is that the place smelled great and the breads were much better than I’m accustomed.  They make a french bread that I think would do a po’boy/torta right, for those who venture to do it at home.

Panaderia La Loma (2908 Hillsborough Rd)

Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 4:55 pm  Comments (5)  

Palace Magic

So, China Palace (5210 Garrett Rd) has a super secret menu, and Carpe Durham is always excited to explore the unknown.  The traditional menu is offered up on weekends.  By the looks of their website they may shift to offer it more often.  Oh, and there they call it Palace Magic.  I’ve been a fan of their more typical Chinese-American fare since moving to Durham (particularly General Ching’s, and the spicy chicken wing appetizer is a steal–they give you legs and wings!), so I was stoked for the secret menu venture and it did not disappoint.

The scallion pancake was really, really good.  It only got better with a dangerous amount of hot mustard on it.  It is crisp and awesome.  I fantasized about a stack of these pancakes.

Of the four things pictured here, the beef congee takes the cake.  The rice porridge was thick and delicious.  It actually didn’t need the beef.  (I can’t believe I’m recommending against meat in a dish.)  The fried dough was, well, fried dough.  Nothing wrong with that.  The tea stood out as it wasn’t steeped all day and bitter like it seems to be at a lot of other places.  Lastly, the dish hardly visible in the back, the Chinese five spice beef mix most certainly was cooked all day, if not since last week.  There were three different beef, ahem, parts: liver, tripe, and some unidentifiable cut–likely a roast or brisket or the like.  The tripe and the meat were enjoyable and as rich as you might imagine.  The five spice mix was thoroughly incorporated into the meats.  The liver, however, was still liver.  Not a morsel I’ve ever enjoyed, I found the liver to be tolerable and I ate it with rice and a little soy sauce because it was so intense and liverlike.

The spicy dry bean curd with shredded pork was as good as it sounds.  This stir fry of pork, tofu, and hot peppers was a veritable party in the mouth.  The tofu remained firm and helped ease the heat from the peppers, that had flavor that was integral to the dish–bringing more than just the pain.  I highly recommend this one.

If you want to have a super secret feast they have a couple items that require two days advance notice to prepare.  They include Cantonese duck and steamed spare ribs with black bean sauce.

Published in: on July 1, 2008 at 12:22 pm  Comments (6)  

Iglesia de la Vaquita?

La Vaquita has always been a standby for tacos and tortas, maybe even a recognizable platillo.  Recently I decided to go further.  I came with a friend and got a little excited and so did the man working the counter.  He was noticably pleased by our order.  It was one of the coolest ordering experiences I’ve had, like we bonded.  He made me feel like one of Hemingway’s bull fighting aficionados (I know, too literary).  We ordered three plates and brought them home.  Before leaving the man called me back to the counter and gave me a La Vaquita pen inscribed with the phone number.  So you can call ahead, he told me in Spanish.

Huilotes (hwee-lo-tess) azadas, or grilled quail.  My inspiration for this menu adventure was once seeing a handwritten sign for quail either fried or in mole.  Unfortunately they were out of those apparently larger quail and could only offer up these smaller, grilled birds.  The meat was very flavorful, like a perfect blend of pork and chicken.  I asked for a cup of mole on the side so we could get an idea of how it would taste.  Since then I haven’t stopped thinking about huilotes en mole.  Now I understand why the man at the counter said he was getting hungry just putting together the plate.

These costillas de res con nopales had a bewitching flavor.  The ribs were tremendously flavorful in a way that only proper cooking can do.  After much debate, we settled that they must only be seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic–with the possible addition of lime.  When paired with the bright flavor of the nopal it really was awesome.

Now the real star of the show, lengua guisada.  The beef tongue was stewed in a flavorful sauce that is led by smokey quajillo chiles, the same chile that makes al pastor items so great.  It was so good it almost needs the rice.  Otherwise your jaw just might fall off.

This meal was a spiritual experience.  I may have already ordered my last taco.

Published in: on June 25, 2008 at 11:54 am  Comments (8)  

Wimpy’s brings the chuck to the wagon

Just look at this thing.

I wish I could have captured a better idea of the height of this burger–this Burger, a burger at it’s height–it was work to even get it in my mouth.  But did it ever!

A double cheeseburger with bacon cooked up fresh at Wimpy’s is priceless.  But prices are low.  Which, to me, is what a burger is about–thrift and heft.  I am tired of so-called gourmet burgers and the ten bucks they end up costing.  Rarely are they even that good.  Now, this little tower of a sandwich had the taste of good, fresh ground chuck and the bacon was cooked nice and crisp.  Next time I might forego the cheese.  The beef is just so good and the cheese kind of hides it.  Though the option to slap some chili and slaw on it is tempting.  For starters I’d recommend keeping it simple.  Hamburger, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles. 

Say what you will about banana pudding, but some of us at Carpe Durham jones for it.  So watch it!

The pudding was great and had lots of other stuff in the cup (this is good!).  There were distinct layers of vanilla wafers and bananas in the pudding, which itself was definitely banana and not vanilla as it is sometimes.  The merengue on top was a nice surprise.

The hours at Wimpy’s are easily the worst trait.  Yet, starting my day at 7am with a burger of that caliber could turn me into a super hero.  I suspect their biscuits might do the same.

My beastly burger and banana pudding rang me up $8 and would have been a glorious $6 or so without the cheese and bacon indulgences.  Pay them a visit 7am-2pm Monday-Friday.  Cash only.

Published in: on June 17, 2008 at 9:56 am  Comments (13)