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Thai Villa in Raleigh

I’ve probably driven by this place a hundred times, and never noticed it before.  You can see it from Hwy 1/64 if you look quickly, but it’s not really visible from Buck Jones Rd.  It’s in the building between Motel 6 and Grand Asia Market.  I was in the mood for Thai, and figured it was about time I tried something new.

Thai Ice Tea

The restaurant is a small room at the end of a large brick building.  It probably seats about 50 or so, though during lunch while I was there I think there were only about 12 people.  The furniture and decor were rather cheap, but at least it seemed clean enough.  The service was quick, and I got some water and a Thai Ice Tea right away.

Curry Puff

I checked out the specials, and the Curry Puffs that were featured looked pretty good.  From the description, they sounded a lot like the Thai version of samosas.  I also got a cup of the Tom Kha soup with chicken, and the red curry with pork, 2 on a scale of 3 pepper spiciness.  My husband ordered the mussaman curry with chicken, 1 on a scale of 3 pepper spiciness. Nearly all of their entrees came in a lunch portion which was smaller than the dinner portion, except the chef’s specials.  Since it was lunch time, we both ordered the lunch portions.

Tom Kha Soup

The Tom Kha soup had a mild spiciness level.  This Tom Kha was unlike many I’ve had before, in that it contained huge chunks of chicken and nothing else.  No mushrooms, no bamboo shoots.  My husband was happy about that, but I was disappointed.  I really loved the broth though, it was so soothing.

The curry puffs came out looking more like a pasty than a samosa, since it had a thick, flaky crust like a small half-circle pie.  The inside was definitely like a samosa though, with a lightly spiced mix of potato and other things.  We weren’t given any option on the spiciness, but it had a good flavor even though it lacked bite.

Red Curry With Pork

The entrees were brought out before we even finished the curry puffs.  HUGE chunks of meat.  I’m sure any carnivore would love this Thai restaurant.  But unfortunately, I actually like veggies, too.  I was looking at my husband’s dish with the huge chunks of carrots, potatoes and onions, and I was disappointed all I had were bamboo shoots.  They could have added some red bell pepper slices or onions in my red curry for some variation in texture or color.  The flavor was good, but even at a 2 out of 3, still seemed a bit mild to me.  If I order entrees here in the future, I think I’d go for a 3.

Mussamun Curry with Chicken

My husband’s mussaman curry was loaded up with meat as well.  I tasted some of the curry sauce in his, and it was too mild for my taste.  You couldn’t even tell if they had added any spice to it.  The flavor was still good though.  It had a rich, creamy, nutty flavor to it.

The lunch portions seemed really good to me.  My husband was able to finish all of his, but I had enough for leftovers the next day.

It’s a good restaurant overall, and I did like the food well enough.  But I think they should really consider adding some more texture in their dishes.  One of the main reasons I like Thai food is because of the amazing texture- the crispness of fresh bean sprouts, the crunchiness of cashews and peanuts, the softness of the mushrooms, the chewiness of the noodles, the graininess of the bamboo shoots.  A dish that’s just meat and broth is a bit boring to me.  Maybe I just ordered the wrong dish.  Perhaps I’ll try the Pad Thai next time and see if it’s more to my liking.
Thai Villa on Urbanspoon

Tribeca Tavern in Cary

Burgers aren’t really my thing, but my husband loves them, and I like to try new beers.  It seems like the Triangle area has more pub food restaurants than any other type, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Cheesy Poofs

Tribeca is conveniently located at the NW corner of High House and Davis, despite the “Ledgestone Way” street name listed.  This is a nice little shopping center with Kilwin’s for my blue moon ice cream fix, Little Toy Shop for awesome kid’s toys, games, puzzles and books, and Stonehaven for longing looks at custom gem settings.  This also means that at the wrong time of day, it can be a battle to find a good parking spot.

We entered the restaurant at just after 5pm on a Saturday evening.  At that time the restaurant wasn’t that crowded, we were able to find a good parking spot, and the upstairs veranda was completely empty.  If you do happen to come to Tribeca on a day with nice weather, I really recommend getting a seat upstairs.  Sure, the view is just the intersection of Davis and High House, but it’s still a really nice spot to relax and enjoy a beer.

Kid's Pasta

Our server was very friendly and spent a lot of time explaining all the items on the menu, where the ingredients come from, all the beer specials, and specifics on particular burgers and appetizers.  From her descriptions it sounds like they really try to use lot of local ingredients.  I’m not a locavore, in fact, I love my French cheeses and Belgian beers.  But I do appreciate a restaurant that knows where their ingredients come from.

I didn’t catch the name of the beer, but I ordered the peach hefeweizen.  It sounded like the kind of beer I would like, and I certainly did like it.  It tasted a lot like the Lindeman’s peach lambic.  I took a brief look at the appetizer list and ordered the cheesy poofs at the same time.  It sounded like the most awesome food imaginable: puff pastry stuffed with brie, chopped cashews and bacon, and a raspberry dipping sauce on the side.  It came out in just a few minutes, and it was almost as awesome as I was hoping for.  The cashews didn’t seem to match well with the brie and bacon.  It would have been better with almonds, perhaps, or maybe no nuts at all.  The brie, bacon and raspberry all went perfectly together though.

The Tar Heel Burger

For entrees my son ordered the kid’s pasta, I ordered the Tar Heel burger, and my husband ordered the Wolfpack burger.  The kid’s meals seemed like a good deal, for just $5 you get the entree, drink and dessert.  I’m not normally into burgers, but since they were Tribeca’s specialty, I decided to go for the one with brie and sauteed onions.  My husband loves burgers and tends to like the ones with fried onions and BBQ sauce on them.  We both got the sweet potato fries with honey rum sauce.

We had the pasta come out early, since my son is a slow eater.  It was an odd shape of pasta, somewhat shell shaped, so that several pieces would stick together in lumps.  I tasted a piece, and the sauce was really good.  My son even ate some of it and didn’t have any complaints.

The Wolfpack Burger

Our burgers came out soon after, and they were huge!  I tried to smush down the bun as well as I could, but even so, I was loosing onions and burger everywhere every time I tried to bite in.  It was a good burger, but far too messy.  I couldn’t even finish it all.  I think I would have been happier if the patty would have been about half that size.  The sweet potato fries were probably the best part of the meal.  The honey rum sauce was the perfect compliment.  More fries, less beef patty, and it would have been a perfect meal.

My husband had no problem finishing his burger.  He said it was pretty near perfect, and liked his fries as much as I did.  He had always been a fan of Tyler’s burgers, but considers Tribeca’s burgers to be superior.

I think we’ll probably be frequenting Tribeca a lot from now on.  I like the beer selection and the fries, and my husband loves the burgers.  We’ll just have to make sure we arrive early so we can get a spot up in the veranda again.
Tribeca Tavern on Urbanspoon

Vino Ristorante in Morrisville

Vino Ristorante just opened a few weeks back, so I thought I’d stop by and check it out.  I’ve had the opportunity to try a lot of new restaurants in the area within the first week or two of opening, and I know sometimes there are a few kinks that need to be worked out yet.  I figured by about the third week, Vino should be pretty stabilized and I could get an accurate picture of what the restaurant was going to be like.

Spaghetti con polpette di carne

When my family entered at about 5:15pm on Saturday evening, the restaurant had only 2 tables occupied.  We were asked if we had reservations and I said no, thinking it would probably not have been necessary.  We were given the option of where to sit, and we picked a booth against the back wall because the blinding sun was shining in through the full sized windows, making most of the seats out of the comfort range.  They seemed to have a shade drawn over one of the window sets, but I guess they didn’t feel the need to bother with the other sets.  The booth was comfortable, clean and roomy.  Some of the tables in the middle of the room looked a bit small for 4 people.  The bar looked pretty nice, but I usually don’t spend too much time at the bar.  The restaurant’s music was a bit odd.  Maybe they were cutting costs since they hadn’t had a grand opening yet, but they were playing some sort of free music mix with ads in it.  The genres ranged from easy listening instrumentals to 90’s alternative rock to Broadway to jazz.  I’m surprised there wasn’t any country or dubstep thrown in, but maybe we didn’t stay long enough.  The ads really made me laugh though, how cheap do you have to be to have ads playing in your restaurant?

When we were seated and given our menus, we were told that they were out of hot dogs on the children’s menu.  Our son likes hot dogs, but he wasn’t too disappointed because there were some other things on the list he wanted.  The kid’s menu had pasta and sauce, chicken tenders or fries or cheese quesadilla and fries for $5, including a kid’s drink.  I thought this was a good deal and let my son order a kid’s orange juice.  I ordered just water to start out, and asked for a wine menu.  When we were seated we weren’t given a wine menu, just a mixed drink menu.  The wine menu was just a sheet of paper with about 20 different wines listed.  For a restaurant named “Vino” I was expecting a more extensive wine list, but they appear to focus more on their cocktails than their wine.  I ended up ordering a glass of the Lucky Star Pinot Noir based on the server’s recommendation.  It wasn’t bad, but not exceptional.

Costoletta Di Maiale Alla Milanese Con Pomodori E Arugula

The menus are separated into 3 sections, the “Old World”, “New World” and pizzas.  I wanted to try some authentic Italian, so I ordered off the Old World menu: Costolette Di Maiale Alla Milanese Con Pomodori E Argula.  This was described as a pork chop, Milanese style, thinly pounded and breaded, served with arugula and tomatoes.  It sounded a lot like the pork cutlets we get as tonkatsu, or the ones at Klara’s, so I thought it would be good.  My husband ordered Scaloppine di vitello “Saltinbocca” – Veal scallopine topped with prosciutto and sage in a white wine sauce.  My son ordered the cheese quesadilla with fries.  We received some free bread at our table, with some spiced olive oil for dipping.  I thought it was ok, but my son wouldn’t touch it because it looked burnt.

The waiter came back within a few minutes to say that they didn’t have the quesadilla either.  In fact, they didn’t have any items from the kid’s menu.  They said that the kid’s menu was for entertainment only, so the kids could color on something.  Nothing on the kid’s menu was actually served in the restaurant.   This was quite a disappointment to my son.  Really, after 3 weeks of being open, you should know not to have a kid’s menu if you’re not serving those items.  We had to make another choice for him, so we chose the closest thing that he might like from the New World menu: Spaghetti con polpette di carne: Spagetti pasta served with home made meat ball and tomato sauce.  At $11.95, this was quite a bit more than I wanted to spend on a kid’s meal, or for spaghetti for that matter.  But at least it was cheaper than most of the other options, since everything else ranged from about $12-$17.

Scaloppine di vitello "Saltinbocca"

My dish looked very nice when it came out.  A huge plate of pork cutlet, with arugula piled high and a half lemon for garnish.  The arugula had a nice citrus dressing on it, and the squeezed lemon was a good complement to the crispness of the dish.  It was comparable to the pork cutlets I’ve had at Klara’s or Bavarian Brathaus, but the main difference is, at Klara’s I would have gotten some delicious potato salad as well.

My husband’s dish didn’t really turn out as well as mine.  His meat looked boiled, and he said it tasted like it had been boiled as well.  I tried a bit, and I felt bad for him, it wasn’t nearly as good as mine.  He ate it all, but he said it really wasn’t enough to fill him up.  It really seemed like the portions were imbalanced between my entree and his.

My son’s spagetti and meatballs wasn’t very good either.  The sauce tasted bland, yet acidic.  The meatballs were fairly decent, my husband ended up eating them.  But my son wouldn’t eat any of the spaghetti.

Despite the low quality of my husband’s and son’s entrees, I decided to go for dessert.  You really can’t go to an Italian restaurant and not try the tiramisu.  It came out in a small, single-serving dish.  I know that tiramisu is incredibly difficult to slice and serve up neatly, but this is a nice solution to it- just make it in the dish you intend to serve it in.  Quality wise, I think it’s on par with something I would have made myself.  Not bad, not exceptional.  There seemed to be few ladyfingers in it.  But I thought it was good.

Tiramisu

My husband was very disappointed in Vino Ristorante.  He thought it was worse than Bocci, which we had visited just a few weeks before.  I didn’t think it was that bad, but then again, my entree was a lot better than his.  I thought that compared to Bocci, it was better, but compared to Bella Monica or Biaggi’s, it wasn’t as good.  It’s hard to find good Italian in this area, and this restaurant, like many others, doesn’t measure up.  Of course, I don’t think this restaurant is actually going to have any problems.  Its close proximity to RTP, it being within the apartment development of Grace Park, and being visible from Morrisville Carpenter Rd., are all signs that even in mediocrity, this restaurant will probably survive a lot longer than others in the area.  I just hope they can improve some of their dishes to make themselves worthy of it.
Vino Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Angus Barn in Raleigh

I finally got a chance to try the legendary Angus Barn.  I’ve driven past the restaurant many times since we moved to North Carolina, and learned quickly from the locals that despite its appearance, this was the fancy place to eat in Raleigh.

The parking situation was decent if you park in the lot to the right as you drive in.  Valet parking in a private lot seems unnecessary.  The exterior looks much like a Cracker Barrel type of restaurant.  The interior, at least the main floor, reminded me of an all-you-can-eat restaurant in Wisconsin Dells called Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, with its checkered tablecloths, oil lamps and old farm equipment hanging from the walls.

We had made a reservation for 3, though I don’t know if it was required.  I noticed the main room was very crowded, noisy and busy for a Sunday at 5:30pm.  We were seated in the far back left corner of the main floor, and it was very cold and dark back there.  My son kept his coat on for the entire meal. The corner we were seated in was fairly quiet, but the tables were still stacked pretty close together.  The lighting was also extremely dark, and my photos all turned pretty terribly.  They did seem very accepting of children, giving him a balloon, coloring book and crayons.

The tables have baskets of crackers and small pots of spreadable cheese, and a plate of various pickled items.  They also brought out buttered, toasted bread later during the meal.  The snacks were nice, but I suppose you could easily fill up before your entree even comes.

French Onion Soup

Since I really wanted the Angus Barn experience, I ordered their signature dish: the Chateaubriand.  It’s a 14oz. tenderloin that comes with roasted fingerling potatoes, sauteed vegetables, bearnaise sauce and red wine jus.  It was $43, the most expensive steak on the menu, but I figured I would go for the best.  I ordered the french onion soup with that, and some thin cut french fries.  My husband ordered the 10 oz. filet mignon with the Caesar salad and the thick cut french fries.  The children’s meals were all $11 each, and they come with applesauce or salad, a beverage, and ice cream for dessert.  My son ordered the cheese ravioli with fries.

Caesar Salad

The appetizers were really good.  I loved my french onion soup, but I was getting pretty full by the time I finished it.  My husband’s Caesar salad was fantastic as well.  He said it much better than most he’s had elsewhere, and he’s eaten a lot of different Caesar salads.

The entrees were brought out on large, flat iron skillets.  For the price, the presentation looked pretty poor.  I suppose they hope with low lighting most people won’t notice, but the plates were put together in a sloppy manner I’d expect from a cheap diner.  The ravioli was just a simple white bowl that looked like sauce, and some fries on the side.  My steak was arranged somewhat nicely, but the veggies were just in a giant pile.  What they called “fingerling potatoes” were just some burnt, soggy, steak fries tossed in with the rest of the veggies.   My husband’s entree wasn’t nearly such a mess.  His steak looked pretty decent, and his thick cut fries were piled up high.

Kid's Ravioli

My husband was really happy with his entree.  He ordered his filet mignon medium-rare, and he said it was cooked perfectly.  He managed to eat all his fries as well.  But the stuffed tomato-type object on the skillet didn’t get eaten.  He tried it, didn’t like it.  I tried it, I thought it was pretty bland and gross as well.  Maybe it was supposed to be for decoration, but it wasn’t worth eating.

Filet Mignon with Thick Cut Fries

My son, unfortunately, didn’t eat most of his meal.  That’s pretty typical for him, though normally I wouldn’t be paying $11 for a kid’s meal.  He wouldn’t touch the ravioli, and just ate a few fries.  He did like making the ice cream quite a bit though.  They took him to the ice cream bar so he could decorate it himself.  I ended up eating the ravioli during the week for lunch, and it wasn’t bad.  Seemed like a large portion for kids though.

I wish my entree would have turned out as well as my husband’s, especially considering it was their signature entree.  I ordered mine medium-rare as well, but mine was quite well done on the ends, and barely medium in the middle.  The bearnaise sauce was phenomenal.  I love getting bearnaise sauce with my steaks, it always tastes so much better than regular steak sauce.  I didn’t like the red wine jus as much, but it would have been decent enough if I didn’t have the bearnaise.  I ordered the Bianchi Cabernet Sauvingnon at the server’s recommendation, and I thought it went really well with the steak.  They do have a very impressive wine list.  As I mentioned before, the “fingerling” potatoes were a disappointment, so I only tried one of them.  The other veggies were very good, but there were really a whole lot more than needed to be included.  I didn’t really care much for the peas.  The fries were tasty, but with so much food already, nearly all of them came home in a doggy bag.

Chateaubriand

We didn’t have any room for dessert, though I hear they’re very good.  Frankly, by the end, I was a bit disappointed anyway.  For the amount of money spent, and the hype of the restaurant, I was expecting perfection, start to finish.  But the poor presentation and inconsistency in the food quality isn’t appropriate when you’re spending $43 on an entree.   I also prefer the spacious, beautiful interior of a restaurant like ãn over Paul Bunyan’s kitchen.  My husband really loved his dinner, so I’m sorry to say I probably won’t be putting this high on my list to visit again.
Angus Barn on Urbanspoon

I’ve never been one to give up on something in cooking.  I made Bearnaise sauce until the emulsion stayed.  I made Tonkatsu until the breading stayed on.  And I wasn’t going to give up on the pancakes until I got recognizable Star Wars faces on them.

I made the same Star Wars pancake batter again, this time with some extra buttermilk to thin it out again.  I bought some non-stick spray, and sprayed every millimeter of the pancake mold surface.  I used a lot of oil in the pan too, just in case.  I started off with Yoda, since I didn’t try him last time I made the pancakes.

After the top got sufficiently bubbly, I took off the mold (again using a potholder, those things are HOT!) and I was amazed to see the shape was maintained.  A bit of batter dripped into the eyes, but otherwise it looked okay.

I carefully flipped over Yoda with my awesome Darth Vader spatula, and he actually looked pretty good.  I was worried all the non-stick spray might negatively affect the taste of the pancakes, but my son didn’t notice at all.  He was very impressed by the pancake design and taste.

There was a bit of dough still on the mold while I was done, but most of it easily rinsed off with water, and then I took a dry paper towel over the rest.  It’s kind of a pain to be constantly cleaning the pancake molds as you go.

I made a storm trooper next.  It’s a bit of a challenge to avoid all the cross bars and eye holes and things while pouring the batter, but I didn’t make too much of a mess.  Having seen the Yoda turn out moderately well, I was more optimistic about the storm trooper this time.

As I lifted off the pancake mold, I realized I used too much batter in this one.  It’s easy to do that, it rises up so high.  But flipping it over, it still looked great.

My husband got to try this one.  Again he didn’t notice any odd taste from the non-stick spray, which was good.

Lastly I tried Darth Vader, again covering every bit of the mold with non-stick spray.  Again I think I overfilled him a bit.  It’s incredibly hard to get the batter evenly throughout the mold without filling the thing up too high.

Darth Vader turned out pretty good as well.  I got to try him, and he tasted really good.  These end up making for some very fluffy, light, spongy pancakes because the batter rises up instead of out.

The constant cleaning and spraying of the pancake molds got pretty tedious.  Towards the end I just start make the plain ‘ol circle pancakes again.  I don’t think I’ll be using the pancake molds as often as the cookie cutters or sandwich cutters, but they are still fun to have around for a special occasion.  I’m still wondering how Williams-Sonoma got theirs so perfect: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/star-wars-pancake-mold/

Star Wars Pancakes

I bought the set of 3 Star Wars pancake molds from Williams-Sonoma and was very excited to try them out.  I was hoping that they would turn out as well as the cookie cutters I bought.  The set comes with a storm trooper, Darth Vader and Yoda.  The set also comes with a pancake recipe, which I’ll print here.  I can imagine a lot of people probably threw away their cookie and pancake recipes thinking it was part of the packaging.

Star Wars Pancakes

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 c. sifted flour
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. butter (softened)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

The directions on the recipe don’t say so, but I always mix the butter and sugar first, then the eggs and the rest of the liquid ingredients.  Lastly I add the flour, powder and soda that have been sifted together, and mix just until the lumps are gone.  I found after the first batch, that the pancakes work better with thinner batter.  I added about 1/4-1/2 cup extra buttermilk to the recipe.

I tried to grease up the pancake molds the best I could.  I coated the entire inside with an oil-covered paper towel, and made sure the pan was also well oiled.  Despite these precautions, the batter stuck all over the pancake mold.  It was a real mess.  The storm trooper turned out pretty poorly.  In addition, the small handle that sticks up that you use to handle the pancake mold gets really, really hot.  I’ve had another one for years, a star, and it’s got a small wooden end on the handle to keep from burning your fingers.  I had to grasp the handle with a pot holder to keep from burning myself.

I tried again with Darth Vader, using even more oil on the pancake mold.  Again I had terrible luck trying to get the batter from sticking all over the pancake mold.  The end result, again, was a mess.  I think I was overfilling the mold too, which is why I started using some thinned-down batter.  I didn’t try with Yoda, it just seemed like too much work with no reward.  I was going to wait a week, think about the issue, and come back at it all with some non-stick spray.

 

 

I stopped at the Williams-Sonoma at the Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh 2 weekends ago and found a bunch of really cool Star Wars supplies.  I ended up buying 2 sets of cookie cutters, a Darth Vader spatula, a set of 3 pancake molds, and a lunchbox with 2 sandwich cutters in it.  The lunchbox we haven’t used yet; my son eats school lunch and I like to bring an insulated lunch bag with giant Pyrex containers inside, which wouldn’t fit in a lunch box anyway.  I don’t suppose we’ll get much use out of the lunchbox, but it’s still cute.  The sandwich cutters are in the shape of a tie fighter and Millenium Falcon.  My son was impressed the first time I made his sandwich with it, but it made for a lot of extra sandwich “scraps” he wouldn’t eat.

It was the cookie cutters I was the most impressed with.  I didn’t realize until I got them home that they actually press designs into the cookies as well as cut them out in different shapes.  I bought both of the sets they had there, so now I have 8 cookie cutters total.  The cookie cutters also come with a recipe:

Star Wars Cookies

  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. butter (12 tbsp.)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Basically follows the same directions as most cookie recipes; mix the sugar and butter first, then the egg and vanilla, then the sifted dry ingredients.  They suggest chilling the dough 2 hours to 2 days, rolling it out, and baking the cookies at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

I didn’t like that there was no rising agent included, so I used a similar recipe that uses 1 tsp. of baking powder as well.  I bake my cookies at 400 degrees for 7 minutes and I like the results I get.  Perhaps someday I’ll follow their recipe exactly, but I was really happy with the way my cookies turned out.

Despite the fact that my cookies did rise more than their recipe would have, all the cookies maintained their pressed designs.  They were tasty and beautiful.  My only complaint is that the Death Star makes for a very large cookie, bigger than I normally like.  The Yoda was more my size.

I think I’m most happy with the cookie molds, and I would recommend buying these over the other Star Wars items that Williams-Sonoma was selling.  I think they’d be even cooler if I would have taken the time to ice them along their lines to make them colorful and sweet.

Bocci Trattoria & Pizzeria

My husband is a fan of Italian and Bocci offers kids foods that would appeal to my son, so we decided to stop by Bocci for lunch on Monday.  It’s quite a ways further south than we normally go for restaurants, in a small shopping center off Kildaire Farm Rd.  There’s only a small sign that says “Bocci” visible from the street, otherwise the restaurant itself is not visible from either Kildaire Farm Rd. or the cross street.  The restaurant’s entrance is hidden down the interior walkway of the shopping center.  I guess this makes for some nicer outdoor eating when the area is somewhat enclosed, but I imagine they don’t get a lot of drive-by business because of this.

Kid's Lasagna

The interior of the restaurant was nicely decorated, but when I sat down my leg hit a strange wood piece hanging down from the table.  I’m not sure if it was built for extensions to be put in the middle, but it’s kind of a hazard to have your guest hit their limbs on unexpected table bits.

The menu offered a nice array of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pastas, traditional Italian entrees, and an extensive wine list.  It was nice to see they did offer some special lunch options in the Pasta section, with a smaller price tag, and I would assume a smaller portion.  They also had a kid’s menu.  Usually my son won’t eat the typical kid’s menu options, but he seemed interested in the kid’s lasagna so we ordered that for him.  He also ordered an apple juice, which we were informed later that they didn’t have.  So he ordered the orange juice.  They ended up not having any orange juice either.  So then he ordered the chocolate milk and they did have chocolate milk!  My husband ordered the Panini Club with fries (very Italian, I know), and I ordered the Ravioli Bolognese, the lunch portion.

Panini Club

We didn’t order any appetizers since my husband was in a bit of a hurry, but they do provide some free sliced bread at the table with some little pots of whipped butter.  The bread wasn’t fabulous, and they don’t serve it with fancy herbed olive oil like at other Italian restaurants, but it’s still nice to chew on something while you wait for your food.  My son’s lasagna came out really quickly anyway (we did request it to come before ours) and the sauce made for some good bread dipping material.

I tried to take the nicest picture I could, but no matter what angle, the kid’s lasagna just looked like a wad of red meat sauce that had cheese melted over it.  It looked like something I would have made working at Country Kitchen back in college.  My son ate a bit of it, and it did taste okay for a kid’s lasagna, but they could have tried a bit harder with the presentation.

Ravioli Bolognese

My husband’s panini came out looking like a panini is expected to look, but with higher, rounder bread.  I tried one of his fries; they were good but not as hot as they should be if they just came out of the fryer.  He said the panini was good, but didn’t like the bread very much.  He said it tasted like “Subway bread” and not like the Italian bread he’s had with other paninis.  He also said that the cheese hadn’t melted enough, another issue with the temperature of the food.

My ravioli bolognese came out looking like the pasta Darth Vader: more sauce now than pasta.  This was again like some trick we used to pull at Country Kitchen, back when we featured the lobster ravioli, drowned in a pint of sauce.  Except back then I think we served at least 5 raviolis, not these pitiful 4.  Designing 101 tells you never to make arrangements in even numbers.  Besides the terrible presentation, it was actually a decent meal.  The flavor was all right, and it was a filling meal for me.  But compared to the pasta dishes I’ve had at Biaggi’s, it really didn’t live up to my expectations.

The service wasn’t bad, and the restaurant itself was very nice looking.  I just really wish they could take some time to make their food look a bit nicer.  Since the price is similar to that of Biaggi’s, but Biaggi’s tends to have better food, I think we probably won’t be returning to Bocci.
Bocci Trattoria & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Yuri in Cary

Yuri is next to Trader Joe’s on Kildaire Farm Rd, so I’ve driven past it many times but from the exterior it looked something like a fast food chain, so I’ve never bothered to stop by.  After our trip to Shabashabu last week, my husband was in the mood for tonkatsu, so I deliberately picked a restaurant that would serve it.  Yuri has a menu online so it’s easy enough to check it out, and I would advise it since the lunch menu and dinner menu seem to be quite different.  I only saw the tonkatsu offered at dinner so we stopped by at about 5:30pm on Saturday evening.

The exterior looked pretty cheap and generic, like all the other stores and restaurants along this strip of Kildaire, but the interior was really nicely done.  Immediately to your right on entering there are a couple of semi-private eating areas for up to 6 people, where you would sit on the floor and eat off a small table just a foot above the ground.  I asked if these tables were available and was told no, they were already reserved.  So instead we were seated in a booth, which was fine too.  Each booth comes decorated with a Fiji water bottle.  I ordered tap water and a Kirin beer, since I’ve never tried Japanese beer before.  My husband warned me they try to make their beers taste like American beers, and sure enough, it tasted like any other Bud/Miller/Coors I’ve had.

Vegetable Tempura

For the appetizer my husband and I got the vegetable tempura to share.  The included vegetables were two pea pods, green pepper, carrot, onion, broccoli, squash, and zucchini.  I thought they all tasted terrific and the onion was my favorite.  It was impossible to eat with chopsticks though, it was too big and unwieldy.  I ended up using my fingers for that one.  I usually like sweet potato too, but was kind of disappointed to see it wasn’t included.  My husband also got a miso soup that was included with his tonkatsu meal.  It was pretty standard for miso.

Tamago Nigiri

For entrees my husband ordered the tonkatsu, and I spent a great deal of time with the waiter discussing my options with the yellowtail.  First I asked about the “Hamachi Lovers” rolls, since it sounded perfect except it was lacking tamago.  He said he would ask the sushi chef if it could me made with tamago as well, and I got the reply that it would be too large if tamago was included.  So I decided just to get the Hamachi Lovers and order some tamago nigiri on the side, and that could be good enough.  I also asked about the hamachi kama (yellowtail cheek) I saw on the menu under the appetizers.  I understood it was commonly served grilled at many restaurants (and the grilled hamachi is pretty good) but I was wondering if it was possible to get nigiri with yellowtail cheek instead of the regular body slice.  Again this idea was shot down.  I was told that when the yellowtail comes in, it’s sliced off for nigiri, and the head gets thrown into the freezer.  They can cook the head then, but they can’t slice off the cheek from frozen.  What a pity.  Someday I’m going to finance my own sushi restaurant and demand all the leftover yellowtail heads for my own dining pleasure.

Tonkatsu

My husband was pretty impressed when his tonkatsu came out.  It was the perfect uniform color, compared to the pale, spotty-colored tonkatsu I make at home.  Though he didn’t have a side of tonkatsu sauce, they had liberally added the sauce to the tonkatsu already and he said it was just the right amount.  I tasted a bit of the sauce and yes, it was real tonkatsu sauce.  It was served on cabbage, which is normal, but the little bit of corn on the side threw him off.  The corn was cold as well.  Was he supposed to eat it?  Was it there for decoration?  I don’t know, we didn’t ask.  He didn’t eat it in any case. It would have been tedious to try and eat corn with chopsticks anyway.  The tonkatsu was also served with a bowl of steamed rice.

Hamachi Lovers

My tamago nigiri and hamachi makizushi were brought out at the same time.  I was very surprised to see so much hamachi used over the top of the rolls.  This was a very good portion of yellowtail, and I usually don’t get this much in rolls.  But I was also very surprised to see inside the rolls, there was cooked yellowtail!  How odd to have both raw and cooked yellowtail in the same roll.  I think the texture of the cooked fish really threw off the balance of the roll.  I think next time I will have to insist that either the tamago replace the cooked yellowtail inside the roll, or the inside be raw yellowtail as well.

The service at Yuri was excellent.  There didn’t seem to be much of a wait for anything, and the server was incredibly patient and responsive to all my comments and questions.  Though my makizushi was a bit of a disappointment, it seems it would be easy enough to correct in the future.  My husband loved his tonkatsu and would probably eat here every week.
Yuri Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Shabashabu in Raleigh

It’s a very rare opportunity to get to try Shabu-shabu in the United States.  In Los Angeles I only knew of one restaurant there that served it, and unfortunately never got a chance to visit it.  I was skeptical when I heard there was a restaurant called “Shabashabu” in Raleigh and Durham, especially when I heard they served sushi and Thai food.  But after seeing other reviews that indicated they did in fact serve Shabu-shabu as well, we decided to give it a shot.  We picked the Raleigh location solely on the fact that they are open on Sundays, and because a previous review I read did mention the Shabu-shabu.  I’m still not entirely sure if the Durham location serves it or not.

We arrived at the restaurant shortly before 5pm, so there were very few other people in the restaurant.  The building is divided into several different sections, and because we requested Shabu-shabu we were seated at a bar-type section with a sushi bar across the room and cafeteria-like seating in the rest of the area.  From the stories my husband had told me about Shabu-shabu, I was expecting a 4 to 6 person table with a large pot in the middle, but instead the bar was set up for individual pots for each person.  The Shabu-shabu isn’t on the online menu, but in the restaurant it’s on the menu under the chef’s specials.  It can be ordered with seafood, steak, or seafood and steak.  We both chose the steak option (NY Shabu) at $23.99 each.  We also got an appetizer of chicken harumaki to share, and some green tea.

First the waitress turned on the pot burners, and brought out two giant lidded pots of boiling broth.  She brought out a plate of 3 sauces and explained that one was ponzu (citrus/soy), one was flavored like a Korean BBQ sauce, and one was a Thai peanut sauce.  The Korean sauce was spicy, the Thai peanut sauce was not at all, but still tasted ok.  Then she brought out our appetizers, the chicken harumaki.  From the menu description (fried chicken and cheddar) it didn’t sound like a real Japanese dish, but my husband assured me it’s a real street food in Japan.  He said it’s not served quite the way they serve it in Japan though, instead of being rolled up in a spring roll wrapper, it’s usually just deep fried in little breaded balls.  I dipped the harumaki in the sweet and sour sauce provided and it was pretty good.  I don’t know if it was $5.49 good, but I like to be able to say I’ll try anything once.

Chicken Harumaki

The Shabu-shabu ingredients started coming out a little later.  We each got served a huge plate of chopped carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, pea pods and cabbage, with a smaller dish of udon and 2 chunks of tofu.  We got tiny pots of covered steamed rice.  Lastly we each got our big plate of thinly sliced steak, rolled up neatly.  The waitress said she normally dumps all her veggies and noodles in the pot, waits until the pot boils again, then starts swishing the meat.

I did as she instructed and dumped all my veggies and noodles in.  It took a while for the pot to become boiling again, so I started munching on some of the veggies before they were fully cooked.  The utensils we were given were a soup ladle, a slotted spoon, chopsticks and a fork.  I’m not sure what the ladle was for because I wasn’t given a bowl… maybe I should have used that dish that the noodles came in.  I ended up eating most of my food off the small plate we used to eat the appetizers off of.  Honestly I don’t know if there’s a way to do Shabu-shabu that doesn’t come off as silly.  I think I made a terrible mess dripping and splashing broth, but maybe that’s part of the fun.

When the broth finally came to a boil again, I started swishing my meat.  I found the fork worked the best for me, since I was consistently losing it while using the chopsticks.  I would lightly swish my meat until it just barely turned a lighter color, then dip it in the sauce and eat it.  If you’ve ever complained that your rare/medium beef comes to your table too cool, you’ll be impressed by this method of cooking it.  The veggies turn out pretty good too, but by the end of the meal they tend to get a bit over-cooked.  I’d say it took us about an hour to complete the meal, much longer than I normally take to eat.  But it was a lot of fun!  If you’ve ever wanted the experience of cooking your own food, while someone else has done all the preparation and will do all the cleaning up for you, this will be an enjoyable experience for  you.

NY Shabu

The restaurant has modern decor that can come off as rather cold and impersonal.  I suppose it depends upon where you sit, but the Shabu-shabu side seemed less inviting than some of the other areas of the restaurant.  But still, they obviously spent a lot of time and money on the decor and it was nice to be able to look around while waiting for food.

I wish I could comment on the Thai or sushi, but that will have to wait for another visit.  I really did enjoy my Shabu-shabu experience though, and I think it’s something everyone should try at least once.

Shabashabu on Urbanspoon