Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Escazu Churns Out Artisan Chocolates

Named after a town in Costa Rica visited by proprietor Hallot Parson, Escazu Artisan Chocolates has been churning out otherworldly concoctions since 2008. Parson works alongside the talented Danielle Centeno, a native of Venezuela and Culinary Institute of America trained chef.

Escazu employs traditional methods of sorting, winnowing and grinding and uses a vintage 1920s roaster and stone grinder imported from Spain. The grinding process lasts four days, allowing for sugar crystal reduction and evaporation of volatile flavors. The result? Superior handcrafted bars and an ever-evolving assortment of confections.  

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Besides eclectic truffles and confections like clove orange and honey chamomile, popular bars include the best-selling 65% dark chocolate with sea salt and 74% chipotle chili. Decadent hot chocolate is prepared drawing from rare recipes of yesteryear. 

Despite cramped production space and limited seating capacity, the business boasts wholesale accounts coast-to-coast, including all Whole Foods locations in the Southeast.

Confections range from $1.65 to about $2 apiece. Chocolate bars cost $6.50-$6.99.

Escazu Artisan Chocolates on Urbanspoon 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Brunch Box Rocks

If you don’t go anywhere else for breakfast, brunch or lunch, here’s a locally owned fast-casual hideaway worth seeking out.

Sausage gravy biscuits at The Brunch Box will not disappoint. The satisfying Carolina Eye Opener features roast beef, egg, pepper jack cheese, sweet-and-spicy pepper relish and chipotle ranch on flat bread all for less than $5! Order the French toast and you’ll get three thick-cut slices of sourdough bread soaked in eggs, cream and spices. Build-your-own breakfast is also a solid option.

 images courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

At lunchtime, consider a Tuscan chicken melt, a jalapeño-infused fajita bacon melt or tomato bisque. The Friday seafood special varies from a shrimp Philly sandwich or fish and chips to Cajun mahi mahi or Ahi tuna wrap (side and drink are extra).

Side items like broccoli salad, twice baked potato salad and deviled eggs are transcendent. Save room for at least once piece of thick-cut French toast candied bacon ($1.50 a slice), which may be the best sweet-and-savory treat ever concocted.

The Brunch Box on Urbanspoon 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mesa Fresca Shines

You might think a counter-service restaurant attached to a convenience store would be a risky proposition, but Mesa Fresca dishes up seriously legit tacos, breakfast grub and daily specials. This place may be Apex's best kept secret.

Chef-owner Roberto Galvan’s impeccably seasoned pork carnitas are presented on soft corn tortillas with fresh cilantro, onion and a lime wedge. Pineapple chipotle chicken and grilled steak and bacon tacos are equally rewarding. 

 Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Also first-rate are the sweet and tangy BBQ chicken quesadillas and the 3 Piggy sandwich comprising shredded pork, ham and bacon with mozzarella cheese, tomato, banana peppers and honey mustard.

Breakfast is served all day. Requisite favorites like pancakes, biscuits and omelets are all well-represented. Order the eponymous burrito loaded with two over-easy eggs, beans, potatoes, cheese, salsa and bacon. It's massive, explodes with flavor and will fill you up. 

Mesa Fresca is quite possibly the cleanest diner you'll ever see. Floors are spotless, and tables are always sparkling clean. Never mind the prices are easy on the wallet. Check it out soon!

Mesa Fresca Diner on Urbanspoon 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An Offers an Exquisite Dining Experience

From coat check upon arrival to the presentation of each dish served, modern Asian restaurant An exudes a commitment to providing an extraordinary dining experience. Executive Chef Steven Devereaux Greene and a talented support staff have helped An become one of the Triangle's best restaurants.

Greene’s global travels, particularly to Malaysia and Thailand, inspired him to begin putting an innovative spin on Asian-influenced food. Among the chef’s most imaginative creations is the Salmon Tartare starter. Precisely prepared using a blowtorch for charring, the tartare contains Kobocha squash, shiso, coconut, burdock root, Japanese sudachi fruit and barrel-aged maple syrup.

Elsewhere on the menu, eclectic fish entrée marinated Hamachi is artfully composed with bamboo rice, almonds, house-made preserved lemon, lump crab and green curry. Berkshire pork features a no-holds-barred ginger-glazed loin and belly amid smoked apples, sweet and sour eggplant, gai lan (Chinese kale) and purple kimchee. Sushi selections are also first-rate.

An’s bill of fare changes with the seasons. Some menu items such as pan-fried pork potstickers and Thai osso buco wings with toasted cashews are popular year-round staples. Ingredients are sourced from around the world and down the street.
It should come as no surprise that An’s décor is posh but accessible. The dining room’s lofty ceiling is reinforced by striking mahogany columns. Softly illumined contemporary fixtures create a casually romantic vibe. A vintage canoe hovers above the bar area. Fresh flowers appear on each table, and imported tableware enriches the overall ambiance. 
 A spacious outdoor patio with stone fireplace provides an informal alternative dining spot. Reservations are recommended. 


An Cuisines on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Find Passion for Chocolate at Videri

At this downtown Raleigh bean-to-bar haven, each chocolate bar is hand-wrapped with love. Gracious customer service, social responsibility and attention to detail are fundamental tenets at Videri Chocolate Factory, which opened in December 2011 in the former Raleigh train depot.

Endeavoring to source fair-trade, organic ingredients whenever possible, Videri uses select cacao beans from Central and South America. Employees hand sort the beans before winnowing, roasting and grinding. Self-guided tours of the factory are available anytime the doors are open. Husband and wife owners Sam and Starr Sink Ratto have teamed up with Chris Heavener, and you’d be hard-pressed to find three nicer people to sell you chocolate.  


Enticements range from pepper-infused chocolate to smooth-tasting 90 percent dark. Be sure to grab a cup of Stumptown Coffee Roasters robust java to pair with your sweet treats. 

In addition to selling chocolate at their store, Videri services wholesale accounts nationwide, including Whole Foods; Whisk, a kitchenware outfit in Cary; and Parker and Otis restaurant and gift shop in Durham. 

 Videri Chocolate Factory on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dean's Hooks Patrons with Fresh Seafood and More

Fresh is best. That’s essentially the credo at Dean’s Seafood Grill & Bar, Cary’s newest outpost for well-prepared fish and other sea-centric fare that was likely hauled in just days before being served.
The restaurant’s primary hook? An impressive seafood menu that changes weekly and features seasonal offerings from around the country — including Alaska and Hawaii — and beyond. Whether it’s mahi mahi, Corvina sea bass or Opelu Kala (unicorn fish), variety abounds. Of course, then there are selections like rainbow trout and bigeye tuna caught right here in North Carolina.
Seafood and shellfish are available grilled, pan-seared or fried — or, in the case of oysters and clams, raw or pan-steamed. Oyster enthusiasts would be well served to order the sampler, which features bacon-wrapped, casino, Rockefeller and buttermilk-fried.

Standout seafood specialties include pistachio-encrusted salmon served alongside impeccably grilled asparagus; shrimp and  scallop gnochetti suffused with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, capers and prosciutto; and blackened fish tacos containing chipotle ranch slaw and tomatillo-cilantro salsa.

More than a dozen distinctive “accompaniments” range from Thai peanut sauce and lemon-tarragon aioli to mango chili sauce and cumin-tinged spicy harissa garlic butter.
Salivating yet?
If you’re not in the mood for seafood, a “food without fins” menu section offers tantalizing choices such as the wood-fired filet, ribeye, New York strip and even a double bacon burger with smoked blue and hoop cheddar cheeses. An orange-mint-marmalade-infused pork chop is another winning option.
Save room for dessert. Among the nine irresistible choices, you can’t go wrong with white chocolate banana bread pudding, peanut butter brownie cake with warm chocolate ganache, or the vanilla bean crème brulee.  Most desserts are sized to share, especially the indulgent chocolate sampler with enough goodness for two people or more.  
Proprietor Dean Ogan, owner of Rocky Top Hospitality, which also runs local establishments Twisted Fork, The Daily Planet Café and Rocky Top Catering, opened Dean’s in January 2013 and considers his newest establishment a comfortable place with something for everyone to enjoy.
When it comes to libations, 14 craft beers are presented on tap, and more than 80 wine selections plus a signature cocktail list vie for consideration. Nightly specials are an attractive draw, including happy hour in the bar from 5 to 6 p.m., with half-priced oysters, shellfish, appetizers and $5 burgers. A tempting Sunday brunch buffet, which is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., features all-you-want oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp.
An upscale casual décor features deep ocean blue walls and attractive earth-tone striped banquettes. Custom aquatic-themed sculptures created by local metalsmith Nelson R. Smith are showcased in the center of the dining room. What’s more, the walls are adorned with black-and-white framed photos from Ogan’s various globetrotting excursions.

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Dean's Seafood Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sushi Nine Offers Legit BOGO Sushi

I’ve always been suspicious of “buy one get one free” sushi restaurants. Here’s my rationale: If the sushi is good, why do you need to give some of it away?

But then I tried Raleigh’s Sushi Nine on Western Boulevard. Turns out you can get quality BOGO sushi after all. What’s more, it’s BOGO all day every day.

Among the more than 40 available rolls, standout selections include the hurricane roll with spicy tuna, avocado and a fiery Sriracha sauce and the North Carolina roll
(salmon, eel and cucumber topped with yellowtail and spicy kimchi sauce). Sashimi and nigiri varieties, while not as economical as the rolls, are fresh and flavorful. 

Not a big sushi fan? No worries. Consider ordering an entrée instead. Whether you choose the Thai green curry chicken, drunken noodle or pineapple fried rice, you’ll get a generous portion of tasty pan-Asian fare.  

Service is efficient though it was not particularly friendly during my recent visits. Typical Japanese décor abounds, including a large, centrally positioned sushi bar. 

Strangely, some assorted bottles of cleaning products appeared in plain view on the men's restroom floor. Perhaps someone had just scrubbed the facilities, but it seemed odd that the supplies would not be housed in a bucket or – better yet – a closet. This peculiarity notwithstanding, Sushi Nine ranks among the best BOGO sushi joints in the Triangle. 

 Sushi Nine on Urbanspoon