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.
For our NRT outing in February we opted for something more casual. This time we tried Pop’s Backdoor Pizza South in Durham. This is a new outlet of the popular Pop’s Backdoor in Downtown but since that only has a few seats it isn’t an option for our big group. The new location is in the newly developing Hope Valley Plaza next to the post office. The space is quite causal, typical of any pizza-sub shop. The menu is posted on the wall and you place your order at the counter. Several of the specialty pies looked delicious so we were happy to hear that they will do half/half pies.
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!
A couple of weekends ago, G and I were in Boston for a weekend. It gave us a chace to have a lovely dinner at one of our old favorites, Gran Gusto. It is a wonderful, family run Italian restaurant in North Cambridge. The restaurant itself is on a side road in an office building. We discovered it a few years ago as we often used to pass the place. Gran Gusto was the first restaurant that managed to last in this odd location for more than a few months. We were often concerned about whether it would last as we were often one of only a few full tables. This time we went in early a Saturday evening and the room was buzzing. We were asked if we had a reservation and since we didn’t were offered the option to sit at the bar. Looks like business is booming! The space is a little odd since it is in an office building but quite comfortable and cute. The walls are painted to make it feel as though you are outside in an Italian courtyard.
We shared a lovely stracciatella and prosciutto appetizer. Stracciatella is a lovely cheese which is the inner core of bufala mozzarella and according to the waiter was flown in from Italy. It was so delicate, rich and creamy! G had the rigatoni with sausage and mushrooms which he loved! I had a linguini dish with baby calamari and tomatoes. It was tasty although the baby calamari were a little fishy for my taste. We ended with a light and smooth tiramisu. It was wonderful! Gran Gusto’s popularity is well earned though it is out of the way it is well worth the trip.
90 Sherman Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
Our NRT gathering for August was at Carlo’s Cucina Italiana in Allston. We arrived at 7pm for our reservations (which they take for large parties) to find out that there was no record of the reservation and ended up waiting about 35 minutes for a table. Though the hostess was very apologetic this wasn’t a great start to the evening. It is a small space seating about 50 people. The décor is very simple and non-descript. Since we had plenty of time to analyze the menu before we sat down we were ready to order. We were also very hungry so we skipped the appetizers and just went for the entrees.