Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rue Cler - Durham NC

Durham, North Carolina is one of the most deadly cities in America. One is more likely to be shot while walking around in Durham than in the most dangerous neighborhoods of LA or NYC. Knowing that, I find it interesting that it is also a city of glorious restaurants. One such restaurant is Rue Cler, found at the corner of E Chapel Hill St and Rigsbee St:

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The sun was just starting to set as we arrived at Rue Cler, and the slanted beams of dying sun flooded the entrance of the softly lit bistro. We picked a table next to the window, so that it seemed like we were almost sitting on the street; giving us a clear view of passers-by. The restaurant itself isn't decorated in any special style. The main dining room had the decor of a typical modern-looking restaurant, but then there was a perplexing little room next door that served as an extension of the restaurant. It was made to be a rustic boulangerie, quite the opposite of the polished main restaurant. Minus one point to whoever thought that one up. Another thing that was weird about the restaurant were the walls. It really seemed like they just took an old and dying turn-of-the-century store front and put up some Ikea-looking things in it, without caring that the ceiling and walls were VERY unfinished. It wasn't even raw-brick-contrasted-against-glossy-paint chic. It was more like there-are-foot-prints-on-the-unfinished-2-x-2's-nailed-on-the-wall-from-a-construction-worker's-boot. Look above the doorway that leads to the perplexingly rustic boulangerie. You'll find the dusty footprints.

The food itself was not bad at all. For the low price of $25 you can get the 2 course prix-fixe menu of something salad-like and something meat-like. For $35, you can get the complete three courses including dessert. What is a French meal without dessert?

Both Shanna and I got the radicchio salad with candied walnuts and little slices of mandarin oranges. I am definitely not a fan of the bitter radicchio. My French mom used to take away the sting of the radicchio with a sweet mustard vineagrette. The chef at Rue Cler skimped on the vineagre, but the salad was still pretty good as long as you made sure to have either a bite of mandarin orange or candied nuts with each bite of radicchio.
I got North Carolina shrimp with goat cheese and yuca. Yuca is also called cassava, and it is definitely not one of my favorite things. Perhaps I was expecting the familiar savoriness and starchiness of potatoes, but the unexpected crunch of the yuca confused my mouth while it was trying to enjoy the tastiness of the shrimp. I'm not sure that the goat cheese was necessary.
Shanna's second course was devine. The asparagus was cooked just right...tender at first bite but still sufficiently crunchy. The lone egg was a "farm fresh egg," which, as I noted before, is yellower and more flavorful than a grocery store egg. The yellow sauce is hollandaise, the CORRECT sauce to put over asparagus. (ahem....bearnaise is for steak).
Always a sucker for duck and brussels sprouts, I seem to have gotten into a rut of ordering duck every time I go to a French restaurant. The sauce was slightly sweet but mostly meaty, (with the added help of the lentils for body). The duck was barely cooked, still tender and juicy like it is supposed to be eaten. One thing Rue Cler knows how to do is meat.
Shanna got a shepherd's pie with a leg of lamb. Har Har, get it? SHEPHERD's pie and leg of LAMB?!
What is a French dinner with no dessert? Below is a crepe drizzled with chocolate sauce and creme anglaise.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Food Identification

Time to play Guess What This Is! I have always maintained that food is beautiful, not only when you style it, but in general. Are those white blobs not the most elegant thing you have ever seen?Here is a more complete view. Can you guess what this is?

It's a container of frozen lu stock!(滷汁) Here is the English wikipedia for lu wei. The fat from the stock rose to the top to form beautiful little circles. Kawaii!

Mura - Raleigh, NC

Due to request by some friends who patiently sit through my photo sessions before digging into their meals, I am anachronistically posting photos of my latest food conquest.

Mura is a decently new restaurant in North Raleigh, part of the completely revamped North Hills shopping center complex. I remember North Hills as being a half-abandoned lot back in high school, where store fronts were so cheap that a handful of high schoolers could afford to rent one out to build the decorations for their winter formal. That is not the case today, where Kobe beef at Mura can cost $69.00. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard that right. Raleigh - Entree - $69.00. I think we've hit a new high.

We took advantage of the great weather to sit outside, but unfortunately it made for poorly-lit pictures. For that, I apologize. Dinner started off with VERY lightly seared tuna marinated in ponzu sauce, served with a sriracha paste. When I've had tuna before, you could see at least 1/8 inch of cooked edge. At Mura, they try to only cook the surface. I was extremely impressed with the pile of orange paste that presented itself, enough so, that I flagged down our waiter and asked him "what is this and why is it so good?" According to him, it is a puree of crab, shrimp, and daikon, mixed with sriracha. Some food purists might say the spiciness ruins the subtle flavors of the tuna, but I say it was brilliant!
left: TNT Crunch - shrimp tempura with spicy mayo. I made him bring out more sriracha because it lacked the TNT that was promised. If you order the TNT Crunch, make sure not to get it "mild."
center: Ebi Maki - Shanna's choice. Soft shell crab with asparagus, avocado, topped with wasabi dressing and spicy mayo. Very good.
right: the Mura Roll - basically a ton of fish rolled inside of rice, nori (seaweed), and thinly sliced daikon. I wasn't particularly a fan of the daikon on the outside, and the roll is much better without the cilantro in the middle overpowering all the other flavors.
I am sort of bewildered by the tackiness of the logo, "Mura" embossed on the dessert plates. I tried to obscure it with the tiramisu. The tiramisu torte looked a little like a bench. I must admit I am not used to the ladyfingers being on both edges of the dessert. Sauces from the inside, out: dulce de leche, caramel, dark chocolate, enveloped in raspberry syrup.
Shanna's choice of dessert, a chocolate torte with ice cream. Now that I think of it, the weather was perfect for ice cream!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sappho, Taipei

Sappho technically isn't a restaurant, but I ate some food there that ended up in my camera, so here it is on the food blog. It is located just off of An He Lu (安和路), between Shin Yi (信義) and Ren Ai Lu (仁愛路). The bar is underground, announced by a small sign and a subterranean garden. The interior is dim and mod, and on most nights, you'll find at least a handful of expatriates mingling with the locals. The window in the background opens up to the garden that is below street level.
The bar is known for its live jazz (the bands are often made up of non-Taiwanese performers as well). On the particular night when I was there, we were treated to the fusion of a professional aborigine singer and a back up jazz band. I would equate Taiwanese aborigine singing to yodeling, as they share vocal fortitude and profound lung capacity as well as the status of being a folk art that is slowly disappearing into the memories of older folk.
They serve bar food like any other bar in any other part of the world. Salsa? Nachos? Pizza? What is this? Why are there 2 sprigs of endive sticking out of the salsa? That being said, the salsa was pretty good, and the tortilla triangles were adequately crispy.
I went back once more to Sappho to watch the finals for the World Cup (yeah, back in 2006. I'm way behind on life), and due to the time difference, emerged to see Taipei 101 glowing with the first light of dawn.
This view is taken outside of Sappho, looking from the alley to the intersection with An He Lu.