Blackbird, Chicago

A few weeks ago G surprised me with a night in the city. We started with a drink at our hotel and then we headed out to Blackbird for dinner. The space is small but relaxed and comfortable. The closely packed tables are covered with white linens and have dark wooden chairs. The back of the restaurant is an open kitchen with a beautiful wooden counter. I did notice that the lighting was fantastic; it offered a lovely glow without being too dim to see the menu or food. Very nicely done!

We were seated near the open kitchen which was nice and a bit quiet from the din of the room. We read over the lovely menu and debated whether to go for go for the tasting menu. We decided that we would just order off of the menu as the tasting menus are always just too much food. Our waitress was friendly, helpful and informative with a nice relaxed style as we debated the various dishes.

I started with the lobster appetizer special with dill, green onions, and rye bread. I was terribly confused by the inclusion of rye bread but it was fantastic! The buttery lobster was nicely complemented by the earthy crunch of the small toasted pieces of rye. G started his meal with the crispy suckling pig with celeriac risotto, granny smith apple, hazelnut, and black truffle. Again it was a wonderful dish with an amazing combination of flavors.

For the main course G had the miso-cured pork belly with salsify, black trumpet mushrooms, buckwheat, and grapefruit. The pork belly was delicious with the just the right amount of fat for it to melt in your mouth. The mushrooms added a wonderful earthiness which was highlighted by the sweet tang of the grapefruit. A great dish! For my main dish I had the grilled wagyu flatiron with charred cabbage, crispy onion, and roasted beef cream. The wagyu was perfectly rare and just melt in your mouth. It was covered with crispy onions which added the ideal crunch. And who would have guessed that charred cabbage could be so incredible. The char has just the perfect bitterness against the sweetness of the beef and onions. It was a truly amazing dish!!

For dessert we shared the warm bittersweet chocolate crémeux, medjool date sherbet, sticky rice, urfa biber, sesame. Again, as was the theme with the appetizers and entrees, it was a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. The sticky rice had a nice creamy texture in combination with the sweetness added by the date. It was a lovely ending to the meal.

I really enjoyed how each dish was an amazing combination of flavors and textures. Overall, it was an amazing meal in a simple, elegant, comfortable space.


Blackbird

blackbirdrestaurant.com‎
619 W Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60661
312-715-0708

Yamazushi, Durham

I must admit, we have been lucky to enjoy some amazing meals in wonderful locals but I really didn’t expect one of the best meals of my life to be in a nondescript strip mall in Durham.

Yamazushi is located in the Woodcroft Shopping center in Durham. When you step into the restaurant you are immediately transported to restaurant in Japan. As we learnt on our trip to Japan, in traditional eateries the dining area is separated from the entry. When you walk into Yamazushi there is a narrow walkway created by a screen on your left which hides the dining area behind it. At the end of the narrow walk is a small welcoming water fountain.

As we entered, we were greeted warmly by Mayumi, the wife in the husband and wife team that run the restaurant. She immediately knew who we were as they stagger the reservations so that every guest can be welcomed and seated with personal attention. She seated us and explained the kaiseki menu. Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese muticourse dining experience which is rooted in the Buddhist culture.

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Vin Rouge, Durham

One of our new favorite places is Vin Rouge in Durham.  I know, as usual, it took us awhile to ‘discover’ it even after all the wonderful press and reviews.  But, recently we have been there for dinner three times which is quite frequent for us to re-visit a place.  Our first experience with Vin Rouge was brunch a little over a year ago.  While our bunch meals were good, we weren’t wowed and weren’t feeling compelled to go back for dinner.  But, with all of the great great buzz on the place we finally tried it again for dinner in February and had a wonderful experience and have been back a few times since!
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Carolina Crossroads, Chapel Hill

The Carolina Inn is a beautiful, historic inn in the center of Chapel Hill on UNC’s campus.  In the summer they have a lovely tradition of ‘Fridays on the Front Porch’ in which they have a local bluegrass band playing outside and offer food and drinks for purchase.  It is such a fun, relaxing afternoon.  I have wanted to go all summer long and between the ridiculous heat, the thunderstorms, and our own travel we finally managed to go a couple of Fridays ago.  We decided to make an evening out of it and enjoy dinner at the inn’s restaurant, Carolina Crossroads.  We headed to the inn around 6:30pm and enjoyed the music for about an hour and then made our way to the restaurant.  It is an intimate, charming space with French country decor.  The light yellow walls are accented by crisp white table clothes and tarheel blue upholstered chairs and banquettes.

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Fairview Dining Room, Durham

The Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club is a beautiful hotel on the Duke University Campus.  The ‘WaDuke’ is where the Fairview Dining Room is located and overlooks the golf course.  The dining room is elegant with a grand piano in the center of the space which is divided by wooden banisters.  The tables are covered with white linens and set with gold rimmed china.  The high back chairs are upholstered in a rich blue with golden emblems.  The tables are set a good distance apart to allow for pleasant conversation at each table.

G and I met one of my dear friends from high school here (what is the probability of two native Coloradans, who graduated together to be living in the Triangle at the same time!?) for an early dinner.  We decided to try the Happy Hour Menu; between 5:30 and 6:30pm daily they offer a $25 three course dinner menu.  After looking at the menu online we noticed that several of the entrée options are offered and the full menu prices were quite expensive.  So, we opted for an earlier reservation to try the Happy Hour menu (the latest reservation they will take for this is 6:15pm).

We settled in and selected a wine from the Barossa Valley in Australia to start.  I started with the shrimp and corn chowder with bacon which was rich and hearty with a perfect combination of sweet shrimp and corn offset by the salt and smokiness of the bacon.  For my entrée I had the lump crab cake which was full of large pieces of crab and complemented with a roasted red pepper and sweet onion relish.  With the happy hour menu they offer a sampling of desserts which was a perfect ending.

Somehow when the three of us get together we manage to cover every topic under the sun chat for hours on end.  This time was no exception, as we did not leave until 9:00pm!  But, at no time did we feel rushed or any pressure to leave.  The servers offered us water long after we finished dinner and asked if we wanted anything else.  The Fairview Dining Room is a perfect option for an elegant evening with delicious food and great conversation!


Fairview Dining Room at Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club
http://www.washingtondukeinn.com/Dining/fairview.asp
3001 Cameron Blvd
Durham,NC27705
919-493-6699

Panciuto, Hillsborough

As I have said before, this area is truly blessed with wonderful farms and restaurants which capitalize on this.  A few weeks ago we tried another great example of the ‘farm-to-fork’ restaurants, Panciuto in Hillsborough.  Hillsborough is about 15 miles north of Chapel Hill and has a charming downtown area with several shops and restaurants; Panciuto is located right in the center of town.

The dining room is elegant yet cozy.  The exposed brick wall reminds you that you are in the heart of the historic district.  The lighting is soft and dimmed with candles on each table.  The elegant white table clothes are contrast with plush dark red upholstered chairs which play off the red brick wall.

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[ONE] Restaurant, Chapel Hill

We had been wanted to try ONE in Meadowmont for some time.  This is a one of restaurants by Shane Ingram of Four Square (which I enjoyed!), though the Chef de Cuisine is Sean McCarthy.  We tried once a couple months ago but they were booked as it was Duke graduation weekend.  So, on a random Friday evening we decided to try it.  The space is über modern with clean lines, dark woods, gray and orange chairs.  The highlight of the space is the wide open kitchen.  There is service seating at a sleek blue under-lit bar which overlooks open kitchen.  We opted to sit at the bar and watch the action.  The menu has a heavy focus on seafood and offers several small plates options.  As is typical for us, we opted for two soups and three small plates.  The shrimp and clam cioppino which had a spicy tomato shellfish broth and was chock full of seafood.  It was quite tasty and nicely balanced the acidity of the tomatoes with the spice and herbs.  The curry butternut squash bisque with lobster was rich and creamy with lots of curry flavor.  There was a small amount of the lobster in the placed on the soup.  While G liked the curry in this, I felt it overpowered the sweet delicate lobster.  The Peruvian ceviche that evening was made with a white fish and was lovely! The red onion, lime and chili just complemented the light fish.  The squid ink tagliatelle with littleneck clams was the highlight for me that evening.  The perfectly al dente, beautiful dark pasta highlighted by the flavors, and visually, with sautéed spinach and white wine & sausage cream sauce.  Lastly, we had the creole spiced seared tuna which was also delicious and served with rock shrimp etouffee, red rice and pickled okra salad.  We really enjoyed all the dishes tried and the variety of flavors and techniques that were used in the preparation.  The service too was extremely friendly and helpful, as we had several questions on the menu.  My only slight complaint was that all of our small plates came out at the same time and we had to eat the hot ones first and wait on the cold dishes.  It would have been nice, since we didn’t order main courses, if the small plates could have been coursed so that we didn’t have to juggle all three plates.  We will most certainly be back to sit at the kitchen bar watching the action and try more wonderful flavor combinations.

[ONE] Restaurant
http://www.one-restaurant.com/
100 Meadowmont Circle
Chapel Hill,NC27517
919-537-8207