Friday, April 8, 2016

Salt and Lime...and Maybe Just a Little Tequila

    Salt and Lime isn't your standard Mexican restaurant, it's Baja Style Cuisine, which to me tastes a lot fresher and lighter than what we in the States typically associate with our Americanized Mexican food. I've been to Salt and Lime a few times now with some different sets of friends, and I've fallen in to the old rut of loving what I ordered so much the first time, that I've only ordered that same item every time that I've been back.  That item is the Cabo Street Chicken, a quarter of roasted white meat chicken first rubbed with a seasoning prior to cooking and afterwards topped with a spicy adobo sauce. This chicken would be great on it's own, but what really takes it up a notch is that it is topped with slices of bacon (this may be overkill and you could certainly order it without if you wanted to make the dish a little healthier,) sliced grilled avocado (I've never had grilled avocado before! Not bad!) pico de gallo, queso fresco, and cilantro.  For some reason pico and cilantro have a habit of tricking me into thinking a meal is light and realized I mentioned this was topped with bacon...I live in a world of denial.  Healthy or not, this is a great dish and its virtues are only further enhanced by the bed of queso rice that it tops. I loved this queso rice so much I briefly contemplated ordering an additional side of it. I think it was only the bacon slices that stopped me.

Cabo Street Chicken

    Honestly, I'm not too thrilled with either the chips and salsa or the guacamole here.  The salsa was too chunky for my personal taste and had a smoky chipotle flavor that wasn't my favorite.  I had chunky salsa loving friend however who strongly approved of it, so like anything it's all dependent on taste. The guacamole was a universal flop.  It had virtually no flavor, to the point where I asked for lime wedges and added some lime and salt.  I was very surprised it was so bland considering the vibrant flavors of everything else.  With the name of the restaurant, one would expect the margaritas here  to be the shining star.  There is certainly a great selection of them, but I like to evaluate a place by their house margarita first.  The margarita de la casa was bueno, pero no excelente.
I would drink one again, but I wasn't super impressed, once again considering this place is called Salt and Lime.

    So what else to order other than the Cabo Street Chicken? Fortunately for you, my friends ordered other things, and I being myself, couldn't let the opportunity pass to sample their orders.  One friend, ordered the Classic Fish Tacos and said she would come back for them again. Being a Californian, I assume she knows her fish tacos and took this as a ringing endorsement. An order came with three beer batter fried haddock tacos (not Tilapia thank God...say what you will, but I believe Tilapia is a trash fish.) The tacos were pleasantly dressed with bright combination of salsa verde, a lime cream sauce, mixed greens, pickled radishes, pico de gallo, and cilantro. So you know, practically healthy.

    Another friend ordered the Key-Lime Mahi Mahi, something that due to my great love of all things Key-Lime I was sorely tempted to order.  The grilled Mahi Mahi was topped with a mango glaze, Caribbean salsa, red peppers and a drizzle of lime cream sauce.  The dish was accompanied by a Key-Lime Coconut Rice, roasted corn and sauteed shrimp. This was definitely a lighter dish than my Cabo Street Chicken, and though it was good, I still preferred the chicken.

Salt & Lime Cabo Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato   If you're jonesing for a fresh take on Mexican cuisine, Salt and Lime is a great place to check out. The Cabo Street Chicken or Fish Tacos are where it's at.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

True Flavors

    My friend loves chicken and waffles, so I'm always on the search for the next best chicken and waffles restaurant to bring her to. We love Dame's Chicken and Waffles in Durham (see a previous blog entry on Dames,) we like Mr. Wonderful's Chicken and Waffles in Raleigh (especially the buttery Sweet Jesus sauce!) but we may have found a new favorite in True Flavors. Despite its apparent popularity, True Flavors is tucked away in an unobtrusive little shopping strip. There is no waiting area, so while you hover outside the restaurant on the sidewalk you can gaze longingly at the window displays of pound cakes and cookies the size of your face.  Fortunately, while we waited there was a small farmer's market for us to peruse. After interogating a local hipster on the virtues of True Flavors, he confirmed that the place was great and that they had breakfast sandwiches of immense girth. He proceeded to warn us with some barely masked contempt that we would only want to order one of these sandwiches if we wanted something filled with meat and sugar, to which we unanimously responded with an enthusiastic yes. He looked at us with renewed disgust, but no matter, our number had come up!  Fortunately, we made it early enough to avoid the line that formed outside on the sidewalk. Contrary to its dull surroundings, the inside, though small, is bright and welcoming.  Our server was exceptionally perky and pleasant for the a.m. and happy to offer her recommendations. After being totally sold by the hipster's contemptuous description of the  Southern Comfort Chicken Biscuit, three of our group decided on that, while my other compatriate stayed true to our original mission of chicken and waffles. We ordered a mix of collared greens and fried apples as our included side items.  In order to whet our appetites for our carb heavy biscuit sandwiches, we were provided with nothing other than big fluffy biscuits and jam. Eating these seemed like overkill, but not having had our entrees appear yet, we did so with gusto. The locally roasted coffee was refilled in our cups every time they dipped below halfway full. When our food came out our eyes pretty much bugged out at not only the size but how amazing it looked.
                                                    Southern Comfort Chicken Biscuit

                                                                     Side of Baked Apples

      The chicken biscuit was filled with a fried chicken filet, a fried green tomato slice, cheddar cheese, and a fried egg all on a giant biscuit topped with a chili honey glaze. So yeah, essentially a heart attack, but man it was good.  This is the kind of breakfast that requires you to go back to sleep immediately following. So what could beat the biscuit capable of making a farmer's market hipster cower? The chicken and waffles.

                             Chicken and Waffles

   The chicken and waffles were available as a deep fried or pan fried chicken breast drizzled with that same chili honey glaze. My friend went for the pan fried upon the recommendation of the waitress who suggested that it was slightly more moist. The chicken was served with a sweet herb butter, presumably made with the herbs from their tiny indoor herb garden, and the butter is what put it over the top for us.  The accompanying tower of mini buttermilk waffles was an impressive sight. As any fan of chicken and waffles can tell you, the combination of savory and sweet makes for the perfect brunch entree, and this was no exception. Served with a side of eggs, the chicken and waffles was no small meal either.
                                                               Mixed Berry Pound Cake

   We were all sorely tempted to try one of the fabulous sounding shake combinations, such as the
Banana Split with vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries, brown sugar fried bananas, chocolate chips, fresh whipped cream, salted nuts and cherries. Unfortunately, none of us could muster the room to order one.  One friend did manage to to order a slice of the mixed berry pouncake from the window for us all to try a bite of. It was outrageous, dense and moist, enough to sell me on pound cake which I generally avoid. He ultimately reached his limits with his ambitious dessert order and had to bring the rest home.  He proclaimed it one of the best brunches he had ever had and we all immediately discussed plans for coming back.  We did wind up going back only a few weeks later and wound up trying the delicious milk shake combinations as well as the Butter Burger.  The chocolate chips made the Banana split Milk Shake awfully hard to drink with a straw, as did the cake pieces in the Strawberry Shortcake Shake. While I didn't get to taste the butter burger, my friend really enjoyed it.  Based on the giant onion rings ordered by another table, that's definitely something I would want to try on another occasion. True Flavors is an apt name, if you can take a break from watching your caloric intake, then check it out!

True Flavors Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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)

Mami Nora's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - ZomatoSauteed 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!

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