Our NRT outing for September was Dos Taquitos in Raleigh. It is in one of the many ubiquitous strip malls around here. But, as soon as you enter you forget the strip mall and are transported to another place. The space is fun with loud music, kistchy decorations and dim lighting. The semi-enclosed patio also has the same feel. We arrived and the place was packed. Having heard that this would be the case I called ahead and made a reservation (they are only accepted for weeknights). When I told the hostess we were here she said it would be a few minutes. So we went outside to get out of the way of the stream of traffic. We waited about 15 minutes and realized that others were being seated while we continued to wait. One of our group members went to check on the situation and the hostess said there was still a wait. Again we waited another 15 minutes and went back to check. Apparently, everyone was being seated inside and we had asked for a patio table which was not available. It seemed obvious to all of us that if a group, who made a reservation, is waiting for over 30 minutes shouldn’t you offer the option of an indoor table? Finally, we spoke to the manager and were seated immediately, on the patio none the less! The manager was quite nice and offered us drinks on the house.
Our NRT outing for June was to Dos Perros in Durham. It is right in downtown Durham and convenient for the Durham Performing Arts Center or the Carolina Theater. It is a yellow brick building with the cutest logo of two dogs painted on the window. The interior is also warm and inviting painted in lovely yellow and orange tones and yet modern with exposed bricks and piping and decorated with old film posters.
It was a super hot day so a few of us started with beer, for which they have a nice selection with options including some local brews. They also have a nice selection of fun mixed drinks which we didn’t get to try. We started with the appetizer special that night which were Spicy Beef Empanadas. They were delicious! The ground beef filling was juicy and very hot and spicy. The empanada wrapper was both soft and crispy at the same time.
In May we shifted our NRT outing by a week so that we could capitalize on the Triangle Restaurant Week. During this week select restaurants in the area offer a $25 3-course prix fixe dinner. We decided to try Four Square in Durham. Four Square is a beautiful, old Victorian home which has been converted into a restaurant. Each of the rooms of the house is a separate, intimate dining space with a few tables. The rooms are elegant and warm with mustard colored walls and dark woods.
We were given both the restaurant week menu and their usual menu when we were seated. We tried not to be tempted by all of the options on the regular menu and focus on the prix fixe menu. However, we did select one of the appetizers from the regular menu to try. The Wagyu Beef Brisket Raviolo was lovely! The beef was just tender covered in a delicate pasta and served in a perppery soubise à poivre sauce which was balanced with a creamy mascarpone.
Our NRT outing for April was to Vivace in Raleigh. Vivace is an Italian restaurant in the newly developed, quite swanky, area of North Hills. The room is elegant with high ceilings and a simple, modern décor with browns and tans. The place was bustling for a weeknight and everyone was quite well dressed (you would think it was a Saturday night!). We started two appetizers for the table. The Calamari Fritti which was served with a spicy tomato aioli. The breading was light and crispy however, I wished that the dish had been served with a lemon which would have added some brightness. The Eggplant Gnocchi with house-cured bacon, golden raisins and roasted peppers was very interesting! Roasted eggplant was added to a potato gnocchi batter which gave the gnocchi a smoky, sweetness. The raisins and the roasted peppers really complimented the sweetness while the bacon balanced the dish with saltiness. Quite a surprising combination which worked quite nicely!
We are feeling quite settled in here in Chapel Hill. A sure sign of this is that we have found a group of friends to institute New Restaurant Tuesdays (NRT) with. We started in February by trying Thai Cafe in Durham.
Thai Cafe is located in a strip mall and the interior décor is basic but clean and comfortable. The menu has a variety of Thai dishes with a few options for price points. Several of us started with the Thai iced tea which was sweet and satisfying! We tried a couple of appetizers, the Chicken Satay and the Pot Stickers, to start. Satay is not one of my favorite dishes but this was a very good version with a rich, creamy peanut sauce. The chicken was tasty and not too dry (which is typically my complaint with this dish). The pot stickers were delicious! The red sauce that they were served with was spicy and flavorful. Continue reading
Our final NRT gathering was held at Teranga in the South End in July. It was bittersweet to be ending such a fun tradition. Teranga is a small Senegalese restaurant with a warm and simple décor with exposed brick and simple African artifacts. I had called ahead and told them our group was coming even though they only take reservations for large parties. The owner was quite generous on the phone and said if there was any problem she would call me back. We arrived at our usual 7pm and the tables were set up for two large groups and our only seating option was the bar. This was a bit frustrating but we decided to stay and sit at the bar. After about 15 minutes they broke up the tables and asked us if we wanted to take one, apparently the large party was not coming on time. This was much more comfortable as it was difficult to hear each other across the bar.
The menu is quite heavy with fish and meat. We started with a couple of fish appetizers; the fayata (pastry filled with fish) and poisson croquettes. Both were similar in flavor and served with the same sauce which was disappointing. There was an extremely long lag as we waited for our main dishes. The waitress apologized and gave us another appetizer. The large party, which they had originally saved the table for finally arrived, and were ordering which created the delay.
We finally received our main dishes, which were a bit disappointing. I ordered the national dish of fish and vegetables and barley wheat. The fish itself was overcooked and quite chewy. The barley wheat and the vegetables were tasty and quite satisfying with cassava, eggplant, and carrots among others. The rest of the group had ordered a chicken dish, another fish dish, and a lamb dish. While the others enjoyed their dishes more than me none of them were wowed by them. The combination of flavors and ingredients were quite interesting demonstrating the French and Portuguese influences.
The two large groups that evening lead to an overall disappointing experience for us. The restaurant was extremely loud, the kitchen and staff were not able to handle the food orders leading to long waits and tired diners. I believe that the food could have been much better if not hurried. I do believe this could be a much better experience on a less crowded evening.
1746 Washington St.
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