Friday, January 22, 2016

Contemplating a Move to Peru...

Quarter White Meat Chicken Plate
Rotisserie Chicken
       I've fallen in love with Peruvian food.  I've long been going to Mami Nora's a casual order at the counter style Peruvian rotisserie in North Raleigh. (They have two other locations in the Triangle as well.) I was actually shocked that I had never blogged about it before as it's one of my favorite places to go. Maybe subconsciously I didn't want the word getting out to ensure there will always be a table there for me... In any case, I've relented, and if you've never heard about it, allow me to do you the favor of telling you about Mami Noras. You go for Mami Noras for the exquisitely seasoned rotisserie roasted chicken.  You can choose from a quarter white or dark meat chicken, a half a chicken, or a full chicken.  Each comes with two of their fantastic side dishes: perfectly seasoned black beans, white rice, maduros (sweet plantains), tostones (a more savory fried green plantain,) yucca fries, or hand cut french fries, among other things. I recommend going for the maduros (a premium side for 50 cents more) and asking for a mix of black beans and rice to avoid using both of your sides up.  Mami Nora's is a real value with a quarter chicken and two sides (which is a Giant plate of food!) starting at $6.99, but you can get an even better bargain by taking a friend (or a family of four..) and splitting the whole chicken which comes with two larger sides for sharing, for only $15.50.  Definitely the perfect restaurant for you fellow underfinanced foodies out there. I highly recommend springing for an order of seasoned green beans sauteed and with onions and tomatoes, and the horchata to drink. Horchata can be made from milk or rice milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. There are endless variations of this drink, but I have yet to meet one I haven't liked! You likely won't have room for dessert, but if you do, they have tres leches cake. Not the best one I've had, but still decent.  To go with your chicken they have to a few different house sauces to choose from, a mild yellow sauce, a spicy green sauce, or my favorite, a cilantro sauce (technically a salad dressing) from behind the counter. I like to bring everyone to Mami Noras, and it was difficult to finally convince my ex-boyfriend Burger and Fries, who was always a hard sell on ethnic food that wasn't Italian, to accompany me.  He was reluctant, but was immediately won over when he realized he could order steak served on top of french fries. Lomo Saltado is seasoned strips of steak sauteed with tomatoes and red onions (he ordered it without these pesky vegetables) over hand cut french fries and served with a superfluous side of rice. This goes to show even your picky friends can be happy here, if you haven't been you need to go.

Maduros (Fried Plantains)

Sauteed Green Beans
Pulled Chicken Patacon Pisao with Spicy Bacon Collard Greens.
Pork Carnitas Patacon Pisao with Sauteed Garlic Kale
        Fueled by our mutual love of Mami Noras, my friend, let's call her Eats it all, agreed to join me at another Peruvian establishment in Durham, Luna Rostissarie and Empanadas. This is a slightly higher-end sit-down version of Peruvian cuisine than Mami Noras.  The menu choices here are more varied however, like Mami Noras they offer rotisserie chicken, but with the addition of roast pork, beef brisket and even a chili-braised jackfruit vegan option. Each option is served with two sides including: sweet plantains, sauteed garlic kale, spicy bacon collard greens, jicama kale slaw,black beans and coconut rice, fried yucca, succotash, or pimento hominy "mac" and cheese.  There are six kinds of creative empanadas such as the pork carnitas, caramelized onions, hominy, and collards version, or the vegetarian eggplant, tomato, caramelized onion, and chevre. One of their appetizers is a sampler of four different arepas (See my blog entry on Guasaca if you are curious about arepas.) These particular arepas are Columbian style, so rather than being a corn pocket filled with meats and toppings, they are served tostado style, open faced with the goodies piled on top. There were also super healthy sounding grain bowls filled with quinoa, pearled barley, black beans, kale, and choice of meat or vegetable. One of the many things that can be said for Luna is that they have a ton of options for both vegetarians and the gluten intolerant.  In fact, MOST of their offerings are gluten free. The entree that I had to try were the patacon pisaos.  These were sandwiches where instead of bread they use flattened savory fried plantains! They are then filled with meat, or vegan braised jackfruit, jack cheese, jicama kale slaw (love this stuff,) and a great chili lime mayo. I'm not usually much of a mayo person, but this was great! Fortunately, there were two of us so we were able to order two different patacon pisaos and share them.  I ordered the version filled the blackened pulled freebird chicken with citrus herb simmer sauce and a side of spicy bacon collard greens.  Eats it all ordered the seven springs heritage pork carnitas patacon with a side of sauteed garlic kale.  We each took half of the chicken and the pork and admittedly, they were both fantastic. The combination of textures and flavors was outrageous.  If I was forced to pick between the two, I would probably go with the pork.  The spicy bacon collard greens, really weren't spicy, but they were some of the better collard greens I've had. I would definitely order them again. The sauteed kale, was well...healthy tasting. Neither of use were thrilled with it. Really the only things I straight up disliked  at Luna were the beverages, the commonality of my criticism being that none of them were sweet enough. I don't like things overly sweet, so coming from me I feel like this says something.  I ordered the mango agua fresca and it had no sweetness to it, some people may like this, but I was disappointed. I ordered a mojito and found the same thing, it lacked sweetness. My friend ordered a cocktail as well, that I'm afraid I don't remember, but it sounded great on the menu. Once again, it wasn't nearly sweet enough.  Maybe it was just that bartender, but the cocktails and agua frescas are the only things that I'd recommend skipping. Fortunately for me, food is the priority, and at that Luna excels!

Mami Nora's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Luna Rotisserie & Empanadas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Judging a Place By Their Nachos

     I have often joked that I judge a place by their nachos. If they can elevate something as simple (though admittedly very tasty) as nachos into something worth not only remarking upon, but something worth coming back for again and again, then that says that place has something going for it.  Previously, my go to place for nachos was the burger and pizza bar Chow off of Creedmoor Rd. in Raleigh.  Nachos are the perfect accompaniment to their weekly trivia matches, and their nachos fit the bill. I was fairly obsessed with their spinach and artichoke nachos.  They were amazing, kind of like a cheesy gooey spinach artichoke dip crossed with queso, topped with diced tomatoes all supported by freshly fried flaky flour tortilla chips.  Sadly, they took these off the menu. I contented myself by ordering their beef, black bean, queso, jalapeno and sour cream nachos which were still very good. Recently however, they have axed making their own flour tortilla chips and now use standard corn tortilla chips.  What a let down.  They are still decent, but have nothing to distinguish them.
    The Raleigh Times has good barbecue pork nachos, they offer chicken too, but go for the pork.
The nachos have black beans, cilantro, jalapenos,guacamole, pico and a melted cheddar jack blend.
I used to visit The Village Draft House weekly for team trivia and ordered their hearty nachos with chili fairly religiously. Sadly, they have changed their nachos too, they are now pork carnitas and beer cheese. I tend to prefer nachos with a good queso, for these Calavera the empanada restaurant downtown, has a great offering. Apparently, Calavera does not only feature empanadas, but they also have pretty fantastic nachos. They have veggie and ancho pork versions both with black beans, tomato, jalapenos, scallions, sour cream, queso fundido and...rice?  I feel like the rice is carb overkill and I order them without. I also recommend paying the extra couple bucks to add their great guacamole, which I really feel like should be included.
Mexican Quesadillas
Chopped Salad with Shrimp
    This is really all lead up to say that my friend,let's call her Gluten Free, knowing my great affinity for nachos, recommended Totopos Street Food and Tequila in Cary. I recently went there for lunch with Gluten Free, her man, and Veg Head, and we quickly realized we were in an old converted Chilis Restaurant.  I won't hold that against them.  When we got there the waitress let us know that everything they served was made from scratch, from the tortillas to the fresh juices in the margaritas,and you could definitely tell.  Both Gluten Free and I ordered the nachos; she said she couldn't wait to have them again after her last time. Her man ordered the Mexican style quesadillas, and Veg Head went healthy and ordered the chopped salad with shrimp. The chips and salsa that preceded our meal were good but not remarkable. The salsa was a bit too chunky for my taste. However when our entrees came out, WOW! I had found my new favorite nachos! These are not your run of the mill, the layers of flavor were outstanding.  The housemade corn tortillas were piled high with chicken tinga, refried black beans, salsa, both queso dip and queso fresco, onion, guacamole, and crema dulce.  This may sound fairly standard, but they are not. The chicken had a very flavorful savory sauce, the queso added saltiness and the crema dulce rounded it all out with a hint of sweetness.  Veg Head enjoyed her salad topped with corn, black beans, onions, tomatoes,avocado, cilantro, mandarin orange wedges, panela cheese and a Jamaica vinaigrette. I tried it, and if I could ever go there and tear myself away from the nachos I would get it, but this is highly unlikely,maybe the smaller version as a side...  The Mexican quesadillas were three blue corn tortillas folded in half and filled with cheese and either poblano peppers, chicken tinga, and chicharron (pork rinds.) These came with rice and apparently very good black beans. Gluten Free's man didn't really comment one way or the other, but he tends to be a man of few words. If you are looking for the best nachos I've found, or for that matter a fresh take on Mexican cuisine, visit Totopos.  I will definitely be back for dinner so I can try one of the fresh margaritas from their list!

Totopos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, January 11, 2016

Chili Pepper Madness at Dim Sum House

   I was excited to try out Dim Sum House in Morrisville, as a friend of mine has been talking about it forever. She's vegetarian (pescatarian really) so I'll call her Veg Head from here on. Anyhow, so Veg Head and I went to Dim Sum House the other night where you have a choice of ordering an entree off of the menu or checking what dim sum (small plates, kind of like little appetizers) you would like on a paper list, much like at some sushi restaurants. I couldn't decide (as is frequently the case) so I chose to do an entree and a dim sum.  Veg. Head decided likewise.
    Upon entering the restaurant I noted that all the customers were Chinese, which as I'm sure you know is a good sign that the food is both authentic and, if you like authentic anyway, then good.  The authenticity of this restaurant was reiterated when I tried to order my szechuan chicken with "white meat."  This request was not understood in the least.  I tried repeating, I tried saying "chicken breast," and some how eventually it got through.  When I was in China dark meat prevailed and I used to request the "chest of the chicken," which seemed to be better understood, although I generally still didn't get it

Kung Pao Chicken
    I asked if the Szechuan chicken had vegetables (as it generally does,) and was told it didn't.   So I went for a dish that I had not only seen and recognized in China (unlike most of the Americanized Chinese we are served in the States) but also had loved.  I ordered the Kung Pao chicken, and it did not come out as I had expected. This unfortunately did not have any vegetables either. Out came a mound, a mound I tell you, of dried chilies with some pieces of chicken (yes, white meat) and peanuts. The sheer quantity of chilies I was not prepared for.  They were not as hot as I feared they might be, but the constant consumption of them still made my nose run. The dried chilies were kind of difficult to chew, so most of them went to waste. They would have been much more preferable finely ground in a sauce.  There wasn't much sauce to the dish just the chilis, some oil, and a very light soy concoction. Nothing you could mix in with your rice in other words.
The leftover chili peppers after I'd eaten out all the chicken and peanuts
Shrimp with Soybeans 

Tofu with Shrimp
    Veg head ordered Shrimp with soybeans, which came out in a clear somewhat garlicy, moo goo gai pan sort of sauce with cubed carrots and peas rather than soybeans.  She liked it, I thought it was just alright. She does tend to be a little easier to please than I am, but most people probably are!
As for the dim sum, I was boring and ordered the pork egg rolls, which I wished she could have helped me eat as the order came with three. They were definitely not your typical China Wok sort of egg rolls, they were freshly made with just a little bit of Chinese greens and ground pork inside. They were pretty good, but ideally I would have liked more vegetables since my meal as a whole was definitively lacking.  Veg head ordered the shrimp and tofu dim sum, which were made up of three square of tofu with a shrimp on top of each, fried and covered with an incredibly bland sauce.  The consistency of the tofu was good, but with that sauce the dish was largely tasteless.
Pork egg rolls
     My consensus is that I would only go here is you are  positive that you want Chinese food that is not Americanized.  I would come back in the future, but either get something
vegetable based from the vegetarian menu, or only to try a
sampling of of dim sum from the dim sum menu.

  Dim Sum House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Biscuit Head, Put Some South In Your Mouth

     Back to in one of my favorite cities Asheville, I went to brunch, as is our long running custom, with my friend Jon.  We usually hit up Sunny Point (a place I could wax poetic about for some time.) However, going to Sunny Point requires an insane degree of patience to weather the sizeable wait. So this time rather than face the wait in the rain, I decided to introduce Jon to another breakfast place I'd been to once before, Biscuit Head.  This is not your standard bacon egg and cheese fare, in fact that's not even on the menu. The options at Biscuit Head are infinitely more interesting.  Take the Brisket Biscuit, one of the crumbly signature cat's head biscuits (Note: no cats were harmed in the making of these biscuits, they are simply the size of a cat's head.) stuffed with brisket, pickled onion, smoked goat cheese, poached eggs and a barbecue hollandaise. Another option is the Pulled Pork Biscuit filled with a hefty helping of pulled pork, jalepeno pimento cheese, bacon, a poached egg and some maple syrup to top it off. Jon and I both indulged in the Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit. A fried chicken cutlet smeared with sweet potato butter, and topped with a delightful sriracha cole slaw, all between two halves cat's head biscuit and topped off with a perfectly poached egg. This is most definitely a fork and knife kind of biscuit; I challenge you to pick it up and eat it with your hands. If none of the specialty biscuits strike your fancy you can order a biscuit with one of seven different gravies including the espresso red eye gravy, the fried chicken gravy or the pork sausage gravy.  There are even gravies for the vegetarians, like the house made seitan gravy or the sweet potato coconut gravy.  If you find you have room in your stomach for a side (I did not) you might try the smoke chevre grits, the fried green tomatoes, or the bacon of the day, among other things.
Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit (Full Disclosure, I had already started eating it...)
A plain Cat Head Biscuit
       Our mimosa chicken biscuits were delicious, although I honestly couldn't tell you what makes it "mimosa fried chicken," perhaps some kind of marinade or brining. Here's were I got a little out of control, despite having ordered loaded down versions of feline head sized biscuits, I  insisted on
ordering an extra plain biscuit for us to share.  Why you ask? For good reason. One of my favorite features of Biscuit Head is their butter and jam bar. Yes, you read correctly, they have a delicious spread (haha...spread..get it?..) of house made flavored butters, jams, and honeys.  Some of them in some very interesting flavors.  You may now see why a plain biscuit for sampling all these delights was clearly in order.  A few of my favorites were the orange amaretto marmalade, the peach rosemary jam and the sriracha honey. So as they say at Biscuit Head, head over there and "Put some South in your Mouth."

The selection of spreads

Biscuit Head Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato                Biscuit Head Website

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Soo Good Korean Fried Chicken at Soo Cafe

     Sahi Bok Mani  Badeusayo! Happy Lunar New Year! Just thinking about Seollal has got me fantasizing about some tasty Korean delicacies, which in turn have me craving Soo Cafe's Korean fried chicken.  In Seoul there was a Korean fried chicken joints on virtually every street.  What makes a southern staple like fried chicken "Korean style" is that it's served up tossed in a sweet and spicy red hot sauce. I was super psyched to find out that the Triangle has been graced with our very own Korean fried chicken establishment!  They were formerly located close to NC State and recently moved near Capital Boulevard. I recently went out on a date with a guy who happened to be a fellow Korean cuisine aficionado and I immediately seized the opportunity to go to Soo Cafe.
      The date turned out to be a flaky fail, but the chicken was an all around win!  Soo served up some authentic Korean fried chicken of the highest order.  The chicken was served PIPING hot, just how they like it Korea. It was delicately fried, but still perfectly crispy. Underneath the crust the chicken was moist and tender.  There were three sauces of varying heat levels to choose from, the popular mild Soy Garlic, the slightly spicy slightly sweet original sauce, and the aptly named hot and spicy.
The subtle sweetness tempers the spiciness for a while, but it hits you in the end with a slow burn!  None of them quite meet the mouth inferno of the spiciest versions in Korea, where the sauce left on your lips and around your mouth nursed an atomic burn even after you wiped it off.  Personally, I can do without that.  You can choose to enjoy a half or an entire chicken cut in pieces, just wings, or boneless tenders.  The chicken doesn't come with any sides, anything else you want to order like rice (which doesn't really seem to be necessary) or soybeans is a la carte. Sool Cafe offers some other Korean fare like bulgolgi and bibimbap, but in all honesty I'm not sure I'll ever be able to deviate from the chicken. Bottom line, if you like both fried chicken and spicy food this is a place you must go! Just make sure you have lots of napkins...

Soo Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Out of Town Edition: Texas Where Everything May Actually Be Bigger and Better

  I just visited my sister in her new abode in Austin, Texas where I was psyched to dive into the local food scene.  I'd heard tales of steaks as big as your face, food trucks as far as the eye can see, and slap yo' mama good barbecue. I was not disappointed.  My first night's meal actual turned out to be by far my best. We drove outside Austin to Driftwood to go to the famous Salt Lick Barbecue. As soon as you walk in you see meats of various kinds splayed over a fire pit in all their smoky glory. Once seated at a picnic table my sister her boyfriend (even pickier than mine if that's possible...) and I all went for the sample plate with a little bit of everything: smoked turkey, smoked brisket, a pork rib and smoked sausage with potato salad, cole slaw, and pinto beans.  Everything was great, but the pork rib beat all. The meat was smoky candy on it's own, but the amazing barbecue sauce brought it to an ethereal plane.  My sis and her man like the brisket better at their local Rudy's, but couldn't argue the superiority of the pork.  Let me put it this way...a little girl vomited at my feet on my way to my table and the food smelled so good it didn't dampen my appetite for a minute...that's saying something.

The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

    I was able to enjoy a good Tex Mex dinner at Matt's Famous El Rancho on what just happened to be the restaurant's 62 birthday.  My sister and I enjoyed the nice outdoor patio and very prompt service.  We loved bright fuchsia Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita.  The old fashioned tacos I ordered had a great slightly crispy texture from the grill. The brisket was a bit dry though, the ground beef version was much better.

Matt's El Rancho on Urbanspoon Fat Cactus on Urbanspoon

    As for the notorious Austin food trailers, I visited The Fat Cactus and Juice Austin, both parked off "SoCo" (or South Congress St.) The Fat Cactus features Navajo fry breads, which are fantastic on their on own, and even better when used as a taco shell.  Most cultures seem to have their own version of fried dough and I can't think of any I haven't liked...  I tried a fat cactus fry bread taco filled with chipotle chicken, cheese, beans, lettuce, tomato and salsa verde.  It was was essentially a chalupa on crack.  Amazing!  The Juice Austin truck wasn't cheap, but the juice was so tasty it re-inspired me to try juicing...yeah we'll see how long that lasts. I ordered the in incredibly refreshing pear, cucumber and mint juice.  I tried to reproduce it with my juicer today, but sadly not the same.

   My last night in Texas we found a compromise between the David Qui food truck East Side Kings that I was dying to go to and whatever burger joint my sister's man had in mind.We hit up the Magnolia Cafe SoCo after watching the bats fly since it was a name I recognized and we knew it would still be open (It' 24 hours) as confirmed by the sign declaring "Sorry We're Open. Even though the diner served up breakfast classics all day and giant bacon cheeseburgers for Tim (who ordered his with a giant pancake on the side and chocolate milk,) they also serve a variety of fresh and creative entrees. My sister had roasted acorn squash and curried vegetables, which were good, but could have benefited from the addition of some rice.
I ordered the chicken picatta with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables.  The picatta sauce was a little too thick for my taste, but the potatoes tasted like home cooking might, if my mom made good mashed potatoes, and the grilled vegetables were served up aplenty. The prices were reasonable for the quantity and  quality of the food.

Magnolia Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Joule: Not Worth the Hype

    I visited famed local chef Ashley Christenson's newest addition to her mini empire of local establishments, coffee shop and restaurant Joule.  I was excited to try out their brunch menu to see if Joule is worthy of all the hype. My conclusion? The coffee is fantastic, but not all of the food was great nor was the service.  The brunch menu at Joule sounded interesting. I ordered the BLT with avocado and was grossly disappointed.  The roasted tomatoes were oozy like a ketchup and the avocado was in guacamole form rather than in slices. The lime of the  guacomole didn't meld for me with the bacon.  Texturally, between the sandwich was like crispy bread with a bunch of goo in the middle. The grits with bacon, cheese, and sour cream were good, but I like my grits to have enough flavor that they can stand on their own, which I found these could not. My boyfriend loves biscuits and gravy so I was able to tempt him with that to go with me having seen them on the brunch menu.  The Berkshire pork shoulder gravy was certainly not the sausage gravy he was expecting. I thought it was pretty good, but it clearly was not for him. The ultimate nail in the coffin for me was the service.  Our waiter didn't show for sometime, our drinks took even longer.  Other tables were seated near us and had their drinks and food from other waitstaff before we'd even gotten our coffee. My lack of enthusiasm for the dishes we ordered were generally matters of personal taste rather than poor quality, however that combined with the slow service will likely keep me from coming back.

BLT with Avocado

Biscuits and Pork Gravy


Joule Coffee on Urbanspoon