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.