Monday, December 2, 2013

Chuy's Captivates

If you enjoy quality Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, you’ll find much to savor at Chuy’s, Raleigh’s newest full-service concept restaurant. Located in ever-bustling North Hills, this casual eatery dishes up tasty fare in a decidedly upbeat atmosphere.

Authenticity and attention to detail set Chuy’s apart from its competitors. Salsa is made fresh hourly. Hand-rolled tortillas are prudently fashioned throughout the day. Whole chickens are roasted in-house before being chopped up and stuffed into bodacious burritos. Then there’s the careful sourcing of New Mexican green chile peppers. Let’s just say Chipotle could learn more than a few things from Chuy’s.

Standout menu selections include rolled-to-order enchiladas, fire-roasted chile rellenos and house specialty Elvis green chile fried chicken, which is breaded with Lay’s potato chips. Lightly battered Baja tacos are among the best you’ll find anywhere. Consider ordering one with fish and the other with shrimp. Both are suffused with cilantro, red cabbage and a zesty jalapeño sauce.

Be sure to save room for dessert. The decadent tres leches cake comprises moist sponge cake bathed in evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy whipping cream and drizzled with caramel. Trust me: It’s worth taking the caloric plunge (you can always take part of it home).

And you’ve gotta love this motto that speaks to the distinctiveness of the various Chuy’s locations around the Southeast: “If you’ve seen one Chuy’s, you’ve seen one Chuy’s!” The Raleigh outpost showcases brilliantly hued walls with a lively cantina vibe throughout the main dining and expansive bar areas.

Chuy’s easily earns a “Lunchboy Recommends” designation, and here’s hoping even more Triangle locations loom on the horizon.

Chuy's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Carolina Wing Company Soars Above the Competition

Let’s get one thing straight right up front: Raleigh’s Carolina Wing Company isn’t just your average Johnny-come-lately chicken wings joint. 

For starters, the restaurant’s “preflight appetizers” menu includes winning options like the distinctive jalapeño-infused bacon tots, savory pimento cheese dip and grilled and skewered chix on a stick. Of the aforementioned items, Lunchboy highly recommends the addictive, melt-in-your-mouth bacon-wrapped tots (pictured below). 

You’d also do well to check out entrees such as bourbon-glazed grilled salmon, slow-roasted prime rib or avocado-enhanced fish tacos. Even the fried catfish deserves consideration. During a recent visit, the owner offered me bite-sized catfish nuggets that hit the mark. 

When it comes to the wings, 16 flavor choices are available in traditional or boneless varieties. Requisite offerings like sweet BBQ, teriyaki and hot all satisfy, but it’s the lemon garlic and chipotle lime that are worth savoring time and again. Wings are meaty and well-executed. Be sure to try the outstanding chunky bleu cheese, which is just one more example of how Carolina Wing Company pays attention to the small details. 

The only misfire I experienced: house-made potato chips were too greasy and lacked any notable flavor. Perhaps they stayed in fry basket just a bit too long. 

Service at CWC is friendly and accommodating. On my most recent visit, the waiter made several strong recommendations and kept my Diet Coke full.  What’s more, the eatery’s casual atmosphere with vintage wall signs lends itself to a laid-back overall dining experience. 

Carolina Wing Company stands apart from other wings-centric places. Just be sure to ask for extra wet naps. 
Photos courtesy of Trip Smith. 

Carolina Wing Company on Urbanspoon 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Amante Keeps Gourmet Pizza Simple

At Amante Gourmet Pizza in west Cary, virtually everything is scratch-made, from the dough to the sauces. What's more, locally sourced produce arrives fresh each day.

Blodgett brand deck ovens are turned to 650 degrees. Pizzas cook on a screen until almost done and then rest on a stone for a crispy finish.

While a good variety of specialty pizzas like Florentine Chicken,Philly Steak and Jammin' Jamaican are offered, must-try pie Tuscany is the star attraction here. This olive oil glazed selection comes with spinach, roasted red peppers, eggplant, caramelized onions and — best of all — goat cheese. 

 Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

The come-as-you-are restaurant provides plenty of dining room and bar seating for patrons. Nevertheless, for whatever reason the lion’s share of business consists of takeout and delivery.

Fans of Mellow Mushroom may not find much that impresses them, but the price point at Amante will please value seekers.   

Amante is open daily for lunch and dinner. Everyday specials also are available.

Amante Gourmet Pizza on Urbanspoon 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thai Thai a Hidden Gem

There’s a good chance you’ve never noticed Thai Thai Cuisine, a hidden jewel located in a small business complex near a large housing development. Once you discover it, though, you’ll be glad you did.

Inconspicuous proprietor Jirawan Pavapotago prepares bona fide provisions from her native Thailand. House specialties like pad Thai, pineapple fried rice and drunken noodle (stir-fried wide rice noodles with egg, onion, carrots, red bell peppers and basil leaves) are all dished up with aplomb. Using a variety of ingredients like cardamom, shallots, lemon grass and turmeric, dishes are prepared in varying degrees of spiciness depending on the patron’s preference.

  Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

At night, consider a chef special like the roasted duck curry or sweet chili fish with choice of tilapia, flounder or whole snapper topped with pineapple chunks, cashews and a toothsome chili sauce. Be sure to try a refreshing Thai iced tea with your meal.

The restaurant’s modest dining room features elephant-themed wall hangings and seating for about two dozen guests. Table service is consistently graceful and efficient.   
Thai Thai is open for lunch each weekday and dinner seven days a week. And here’s a no-extra-charge bonus tip: A $5.99 weekday lunch special is among the best deals in the area.  

Thai Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Enjoy a Taste of Vietnam

It’s hard to imagine finding a Vietnamese eatery any more authentic than Morrisville's Taste on this side of the world. Need evidence? Consider Exhibit A: pho, a broth-based rice-noodle soup that’s traditionally considered the common people’s food in Vietnam. Large bowls are served with a side of bean sprouts, basil and cilantro, and a lime wedge. To kick it up a notch, add some hoisin hot sauce.

Further legitimacy comes in the form of goi cuon, or fresh shrimp spring rolls, filled with steamed shrimp, pork, vermicelli, mint, lettuce and bean sprouts enveloped in thin rice paper. Be sure to dip the rolls in the house-made peanut sauce served on the side.

Barbecued beef short ribs are as tender as you’ll find anywhere. Equally juicy grilled pork erupts with tanginess.

While the restaurant’s simple, airy dining room decor is still evolving, service is already rock-solid and enthusiastic. Daily specials are available. Taste is open for lunch daily, while dinner is served Wednesday through Monday.

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Taste Vietnamese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Moustache Cafe Serves Up Legit Persian cuisine

Chef-owner Michael Nader, a native of Iran, serves up simple yet superb Persian cuisine at his restaurant located near the RDU Airport.

Tender kebabs grilled over an open flame are the star attraction here. Filet mignon, cage-free chicken and ground chuck all shine, but nothing emerges brighter than the succulent lamb. The key ingredient is olive oil along with the piquant spice, sumac.

 photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Nader’s fiancé, Mexican-born Betti Villa, oversees the dining room. She also has added a few extras to the menu, such as special drinks made with fresh fruit and honey.

The eatery possesses a warm, cozy ambiance with casual elegance. Walls are festooned with pictures of various mustached figures, from sports legends to famous actors.

Weekday specials are available for around $8 at lunchtime.

Moustache Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 15, 2013

BringMeThat Delivers

Recently I had the opportunity to check out an interesting online food delivery service called BringMeThat. Let’s face it: Sometimes it’s nice when you don’t have to cook or leave home to get quality grub!

The concept is simple. First, you enter your address to view local eateries that deliver by clicking the “Browse Restaurants” tab. Next, you choose the restaurant and desired menu items. Third, you place an order using a credit card. Finally, the food arrives in a timely fashion.

BringMeThat delivers from more than 75 Raleigh-area restaurants, many of which are purveyors of pizza, deli sandwiches and Chinese cuisine. I chose Roly Poly, a place known for its distinctive rolled sandwiches.

When I went through the ordering process, I found it stress-free and relatively quick. The one hiccup: When I submitted my order, I discovered that I was not given the opportunity to enter the day and time the delivery should occur. Thankfully, I employed the nifty “live chat” feature on the site and was able to let a customer representative know I didn’t want the food delivered until the next day at noon. 

On the appointed day, the food showed up on time and was still plenty warm. My Santa Fe Chicken sandwich was delicious. There was no delivery fee, so I only had to pay the price of sandwich plus a gratuity for the driver. Be advised: Many of the featured restaurants do charge delivery fees, and some have significant minimum order requirements. But all requisite costs are clearly listed on the BringMeThat site.

Bottom line: BringMeThat is a legitimate and convenient service available to make life easier for people like you and me. Be sure to give it a try.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mellow Mushroom Elevates Pizza

Eclectic eatery Mellow Mushroom boasts a cult-like following — and for good reason. Delectable pies are cooked in Montague pizza ovens and then served up in a laid-back atmosphere. 

The Cary location’s expansive interior features vibrant-colored walls and even a yellow-brick-road inspired floor. Distinctive framed artwork and exquisite custom-blown glass hang from the ceiling. Never mind a year-round outdoor patio with seating for 100 patrons.

Mellow’s pizza crust elevates its pies to near-addictive status. The secret behind the shell? It’s small-batch made with whole-wheat grains, and molasses is a key ingredient rather than refined sugar. 

Must-try specialty pie Holy Shiitake, albeit edgy, will rock your world. Consider the flavorsome blend of locally obtained shiitake, button and portobello mushrooms on an olive oil and garlic base. What’s more, the pie also is suffused with truffle oil, caramelized onions and MontAmore cheese. Fresh-cut chives are added after it comes out of the oven. 

 Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Another pie worth consideration is Thai Dye, which features an olive oil and garlic base, grilled curry chicken, mozzarella, Roma tomatoes and onions. It’s heaped with fresh basil, cucumbers and a swirl of Thai chili sauce. 

The menu also features an array of calzones, hoagies and salads, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever never find Lunchboy venturing off the pizza path. 

 Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thaiphoon Worth Experiencing Time and Again

Thaiphoon Bistro has quietly maintained a successful modern Asian eatery for nearly five years. That’s not an easy accomplishment in Raleigh’s ever-changing Glenwood South district.

When it comes to décor, orange and white walls and tables coalesce with exposed brick to create a chic, minimalist vibe. Comfortable banquettes and posh pendant lights also enhance the overall ambiance. When weather permits, a cozy outdoor patio with small garden and shaded fountain provides abundant serenity.

An efficient, unobtrusive wait staff delivers reliable service. At times, though, the execution seems somewhat perfunctory. During a recent visit, my waitress merely nodded when I asked for chopsticks and then later when I requested a container for leftovers.

At lunchtime, an accessible and affordable menu features aim-to-please staples like Pad Thai, Massaman curry and Pad See Ew. The Pad Thai with chicken (my favorite choice) is flavorful with a hint of sweetness, rivaling Sushi Thai Cary’s gold-standard rendition. It’s also nice to get a side salad included with the lunch entree.The restaurant also serves up a refreshing Thai iced tea.

Thaiphoon Bistro’s somewhat hidden locale behind the Hibernian Irish Pub makes it one of those places you have to seek out a bit more than most, but it’s certainly worth seeking out. 

Thaiphoon Bistro on Urbanspoon 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Genji Serves Up Tasty and Healthy Sushi

Is it really possible to find quality sushi at a grocery store? The answer is yes—inside Whole Foods at Genji, a purveyor of all-natural sushi and Japanese cuisine. 

Superior ingredients free of artificial preservatives or hydrogenated fats set Genji apart from other supermarket-grade sushi competitors.  What’s more, Genji serves only yellowfin and Pacific Northwest wild albacore tuna, which are low in mercury and feature an ideal flavor profile.

Vegetarian-friendly rolls abound, including inside-out rolls like avocado & cucumber and mango miso garden. When it comes to regular rolls, you’ll find the requisite spicy tuna, salmon and California. Special rolls worth consideration are the Seoul (seared albacore, shrimp tempura, red pepper, cucumber, scallion and a Korean gochujang sauce) and Sunset with spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber and scallion. Be advised: Special rolls will set you back $10 or more. 

White, brown and multigrain rice are available in the rolls. No extra charge for this secret tip: Ask for a side of eel sauce for dipping purposes. It’s way better than soy sauce with its thick texture and sweet flavor.

Even Genji’s compostable sushi trays are pretty nifty, although I’m confident this type of product drives up the overall price for patrons. Still, you get what you pay for, and it does cost more to eat healthy. 

 Genji Sushi on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Fresca Delights

Among the superlative new additions at Cary’s revitalized Waverly Place shopping center is Fresca Café and Gelato, a European-style destination that opened last spring. Fresca serves up a diverse assortment of sweet and savory crepes, pastries, gourmet salads and sandwiches, and made-in-house gelato, among other enticing offerings. 

The café’s warmly inviting interior features sleek tables and chairs with purchasable modern art on butterscotch-hued walls. One side of the dining room features a distinctive rectangular electric fireplace with a nifty Eiffel Tower image emblazoned on the wall just above it.

An iridescent espresso machine churns out more than its fair share of cappuccino, latte and café au lait. Chai tea latte and hot herbal tea provide a solid alternative to a cup of joe. And if you’re not in the mood for a hot beverage, consider a refreshing Italian soda, frappe or fruit smoothie instead.

If you want gelato, at any given time you can choose from among 18 tempting varieties fashioned with ingredients imported from Italy. Popular flavors include mocha java, stacciatella (vanilla with fine bits of chocolate), roasted almond, limoncello and Donatella (chocolate with hazelnut). For an unabashedly decadent yet impeccably balanced treat, try an affogato. Four scoops of gelato coalesce with a shot of poured-over espresso, and it’s all topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

The best-selling savory crepe, portabella and prosciutto, features lemon aioli, sautéed baby portabella mushrooms with prosciutto and Swiss cheese. Meanwhile, the strawberry, banana and Nutella creation (my favorite pictured below!) is the front-runner on the sweet side, as it even comes with a dollop of vanilla gelato. 

Amid the crepes and confections are specialty selections like the croque madame with toasted white bread, black forest ham, Swiss cheese, French mornay sauce and fried eggs. Chorizo quiche showcases spicy Spanish pork sausage, fontina and herbed goat cheese on a flaky crust.

Service at Fresca is enthusiastic and welcoming. Free WiFi Internet access is available, and lingering is encouraged. 

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Fresca Cafe' and Gelato on Urbanspoon