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Change is coming, and that’s not just an empty slogan. We have outgrown wordpress.com’s free hosting and will be migrating to a new provider. We are using the migration as an opportunity to roll out many new oft-requested features, and a couple that we’ve “cooked up” on our own. Har har. Expect to see some action within a week.
In the meantime, please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds to point to carpedurham.com instead of carpedurham.wordpress.com.
For Restaurant Week, we decided to only try places outside of Durham. In case you are curious, here is a quick summary of our thoughts:
Dinner @ Jibarra (327 W. Davie St): Cool upscale Mexican place (restaurant and “tequila lounge”) with some good eats. I loved its funky modern decor that’s worked really well into the historic building (a train depot). Off the Restaurant Week menu, we had the Cochinita Pibil (shredded pork), Pollo Al Pastor with lentil puree, and the coconut and papaya flan.
The chicken, while a little boring (not very spicy) on its own, was delicious when I got an especially charred bite combined with a bit of everything else on the plate–the lentils, roasted pineapples, and salsa verde. The coconut and papaya flan was amazing–great texture and deliciously coconutty. We also tried the Chilorio de Chamorro (pork Osso Bucco) which was rich, tender and tasty. The highlight of the trip was probably the tequila flight:
Dinner @ Rey’s (1130 Buck Jone’s Rd): The Restaurant Week menu was quite a deal here because the food is normally pretty pricey, and I’m glad I learned the relatively cheap way that for me, the food isn’t actually worth its regular price. The turtle soup (yup, turtle is in there, tastes like a rich tomato bisque) and the chicken gumbo were by far the best dishes. The proteins (we tried pork chops and salmon) were just ok. Two of our three desserts were pretty good (especially the cheesecake).
Lunch @ The Pit (328 W. Davie St): We decided not to do the Restaurant Week menu because the food was fairly cheap already. We started with the Brunswick Stew–great veggies in there, and it turned out to be our favorite part of the meal.
The hushpuppies were disappointing–they seemed like they had been sitting out for a while and they were kind of dry, so we weren’t sorry that we only got two each. The other sides were either bad (Brussels sprouts, which I usually love) or completely unexciting (greens, biscuit, sweet potato fries, slaw).
The meat was better than the sides, but still, we thought, not worth all the hype we’d heard about the place. The brisket was our favorite, but the ribs were dry and managed to be too smoky, and the pork bbq was unremarkable. The sauces (one sweet and one eastern Carolina) were pretty good though.
Dinner @ The Mint (1 Exchange Plaza): We’ve always loved the Mint, and still do. Prices have gone down since it opened, and the Restaurant Week menu ($25) was the same as their normal 3-course prix fixe offering that’s usually $30. This was the best meal of the week. The scallops were amazing as always, the trout was crispy, bacony and delicious, and the key lime cheesecake was great. I was also happy to see that the bar upstairs (a fun, semi-secluded place to hang out if you have a good sense of humor about the slightly over-the-top decor) offered sazeracs (an absinthe drink I haven’t seen in Durham).
Drinks @ Foundation (213 Fayetteville St): This bar had nothing to do with Restaurant Week except that we happened to catch sight of it on our way out of the Mint. It’s a simple but nice bar, charmingly hidden down some stairs from the street. We tried some moonshine that, because it’s legal, was not very strong but quite delicious. The crowd there was very friendly, even though the place seemed relatively “hip.” I’d hang out there often if I lived nearby, I think.Conclusions from Restaurant Week: 1) Raleigh is not bad! Maybe we should go more often. 2) Durham is still the best.
We are just a bit late posting on this, but Triangle Restaurant Week is going on as we speak (May 11 – 17). Restaurants across the Triangle are offering prix fixe menus ($15 for lunch, $25 for dinner) — at some of these places, this is a great deal. We have reservations for pretty much every day!
I admit it; I’ve become more of a Mexican food snob than any gringo should be. But there it is. So I certainly don’t go to Torero’s (800 W. Main St.) very often–not even when I have cravings for ridiculously cheesy enchiladas (those times, I go to Las Palmas and Don Cecilio’s). But I recently checked out Torero’s because I had heard they have an “authentic Mexican” menu on weekends (did everyone else know this already?). It wasn’t bad!
The menu (which is all in Spanish) included empanadas de pescada (fish), sopes (al pastor, pollo, and asada), caldo de camarron (shrimp soup), mojarra (fish), menudo (tripe soup), birria (meat stew), quesadillas, and huaraches (al pastor, pollo, and asada). Plates that include rice and refried beans range from about $6 – 9.
Both the empanadas and the sopes were better than anything I have had at Torero’s before, and made me more than willing to go back to check out some of the other weekend dishes. Neither were super exciting though–the pork was not very spicy and the fish was a little fishy. Still, the more decent Mexican food options the better, as far as I’m concerned.
… with its own truck parked right outside their restaurant (which appears to have been converted into more of a nightlife spot) at 3316 Guess Rd. I didn’t get a good look, so I definitely might be wrong, but it seems like it has expanded into the space formerly occupied by Bull City Bakery.
The truck only had tacos when I went, but the menu says they will have pupusas and some other treats. As far as I know, this will be the only place to get pupusas from a truck in Durham. The tacos were good, but on the expensive side ($2/each).
We briefly posted about Green Leaf (4215-1 University Dr.) when it had been open for two days. It looked promising then, and now it seems pretty safe to say that Durham has finally found its own delicious South Indian food. (Not that it’s a competition, but take that Cary and Morrisville! All in good fun, I love Udupi and Tower to death.)
Green Leaf doesn’t only serve South Indian cuisine–they have some of the more traditional Northern Indian dishes and, though we haven’t tried them, some Indo-chinese dishes as well. One great thing about their wide range is that they have meat on the menu (not an option at the other South Indian places in the Triangle). Check out this extremely awesome comment on our previous post for a breakdown of their buffets.
We ordered too much food, as usual, and had to eat almost all of it. We started with some pakora–when we’d had the buffet a couple weeks ago the cabbage pakora was wonderful, so we wanted some more of that fried chickpea flour goodness. We went for the hot chili pakora ($4.95), which was not quite as spicy as the waiter warned us it would be, and also had a thicker, softer dough than the cabbage pakora had. I think I slightly preferred the cabbage, but these pakoras were also great.
Then we tried the cheese naan ($2.50)–the cheese was an unexciting addition, but the naan itself was pretty ideally pillowy. Also unsurprisingly delicious was the Mango Lassi ($2.50)–they also offered Sweet and Salt lassi varieties.
Though we were full already, we had no problem tearing into the two entrees we got, at the waiter’s suggestion, from the Green Leaf Specialties section of the menu. First was the non-veg kal dosa ($9.95) which came with a curry of the chef’s choice (today it was chicken). That was some delicious curry. The chicken was incredibly tender and the sauce was a perfect blend of sweet and spicy–the heat was definitely not overwhelming, but I could feel it getting to me (in a good way) by the time I had eaten my share.
Next was the “Five different types cocktail uthappam with garbanzo curry” ($13.95). This meant five kinds of uthappam (thick pancake-like things) of the chef’s choice, served with sambar and another amazing curry (this one slightly less spicy than the chicken curry). I couldn’t tell you what all of the uthappam types were, but one was slightly sweet, with nuts and raisins; one was spicy, with jalapenos and crispy onions; and one had peas and deliciously spiced potatoes. They ranged from good to great, but the curry was the best part for me.
This place is amazing. The owners/waiters (I think they are the same people right now) are incredibly friendly and ambitious about their restaurant. They said that business has doubled from the first week to the second, but it was still fairly empty today. I pray (to the Green Leaf God) that they succeed!Green Leaf 4215-1 University Dr. 919-493-0033 M-F 11:30-2:30, 5:30-9:30 Sat-Sun 12-3, 5:30-9:30
If you have the vague (or certain) feeling that we at Carpe Durham have no idea what we’re talking about, you might enjoy hearing us embarrass ourselves on the radio. Tomorrow (Thursday) night, RPP and I will be on the air with Kevin Davis (of Bull City Rising) and Barry Ragin (of Dependable Erection) on their radio show Shooting the Bull. Check it out!
Shooting the Bull is 7:30 – 8 pm Thursdays, on WXDU (88.7 fm or online at wxdu.org).
While visiting Papa Mojo’s I noticed the sign for breakfast at Benetis. Considering the dearth of breakfast joints around (Waffle House need not apply) I was eager to try it. Each of us ordered a plate.
Now, I’ve had worse eggs benedict. Beyond that, however, I really have nothing to say about it. All the ingredients were present but the chef seemed to leave out the dash of awesome I enjoy about the dish.
The ham and eggs again were not the stuff of legend, but certainly did the job.
This skillet, particularly when compared to other skillet offerings, was rather sad. The portion was small and unimpressive.
Being a believer in large breakfasts at reasonable prices, I wouldn’t return. Any trip to the over popular Elmo’s would be at least as tasty, nearly twice as big, and a few bucks cheaper.
I’m remiss to give any bad review, especially on a breakfast joint, but based on a decent spread of the menu I can’t say there is any strong reason to go. Unless you are sick of your drive-thru sausage biscuit, then maybe.
A Margarita Night Face-off
I decided to check out the new El Cuscatleco II way up north on Roxboro (5110 N. Roxboro St.). I am a big fan of El Cuscatleco, reviewed by our summer posters, here, and especially their Monday margarita special. This is a point-by-point comparison of the two locations.
Point 1: Location
II is in a strip mall. The decor is very bright, new, and cheerful, with lots of murals and Latin American paraphernalia hanging on the walls. The atmosphere is hard to describe, but it reminds me of what is called a “family restaurant” in the Midwest…lots of neutral colors and comfortable booths.
Decor at El Cuscatleco II
Point II: Staff
At El Cuscatleco, the staff tends not to speak very good English. In fact, they have always identified the one Spanish-speaking member of my party and spoken to that person. I’d generally describe the service there as courteous and a little shy.
At II, the staff was extremely attentive and cordial, and they definitely spoke English.
Point III: The Clientele
Usually, the only language I hear other customers at El Cuscatleco speaking is Spanish. This is more noticable at El Cuscatleco because the tables are a little closer together, creating a more intimate feeling with just about everyone else in the restaurant.
The crowd at II spoke English almost exclusively. We even heard someone at another table beckon the waiter over to ask what some random Spanish phrase meant. That was kind of weird.
Point IV: Margarita Night
The margaritas at El Cuscatleco are $1.50. Yes, I said ONE DOLLAR AND FIFTY CENTS on Mondays. They are kind of small, but that is no problem because it’s more fun to have two and it still only costs you $3.
The Monday margaritas at II are $2.50 and considerably larger. We could not figure out whether they were weaker, though we decided that they probably were not when we got up to leave. The waiter urged us to continue ordering more, correctly noting what an awesome deal it was.
Point V: The Food
El Cuscatleco has fantastic food. I’ve loved everything I have eaten there. In particular, they do a great job with Central American standbys like eggs and steak with fried plaintains.
Steak and eggs…and a yummy shrimp dish in the background. Steamy-hot, thick corn tortillas accompanied all these dishes.
Eggs, beans, and plaintains
I only tried two things at II, a shrimp/scallop/snapper dish in a garlic-bell pepper sauce and carne guizada, a beef stew. So far, El Cuscatleco is the clear standout. The seafood dish at II was a little bland, especially the scallops. The meat in the stew was somewhat tough, but the flavor was good.
I have hinted at this a little, but I got the feeling that II is a bit gringoized. There is a children’s menu including chicken fingers, and they offer fried ice cream, for example. However, all doubt I had about gringoization was removed when our waiter brought us flour tortillas without asking whether we might prefer corn. It seems that these are not normally even on hand; when I asked for corn tortillas, he (very kindly) ran off to the kitchen and had the cook make us some. He returned a few minutes later with 2 very fresh, hot, and delicious corn tortillas. These were very clearly handmade, and were thick, just as I’d expect from a Central American chef. We agreed that they might be the best part of the meal. Mmm…
Seafood dish at II
And the winner is…
My personal preference is for El Cuscatleco. However, II is still new, I only tried two dishes, and it would be hard to beat El Cuscatleco the First on the food front. II also gets lots of points for the large margaritas and the staff’s obvious efforts to make customers happy.