Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spontaneous Romance - Paparazzi - North Raleigh

Tuesday, March 27th - it was a seemingly typical day and evening.  Robbie came over after work and it was my turn to pick our dinner spot.  At first, I thought about seafood and a trip to Shucker's in Wake Forest - a great spot to which I was recently introduced.  Shucker's is up by my school, which is about a half hour haul from my place.  My stomach and I craved a good, solid meal.  I thought it was worth it and it probably was.  On our way there, I became sidetracked, however.  I drive this stretch everyday and as we were driving along interstate 540 east, I saw a sign advertising dining spots off of the Falls of the Neuse exit.  Lafayette Village - the sign stood out to me - as it has many a times driving past.  I remember having a quick thought this time... you always have a fond memory of wandering around this quaint village that is new to North Raleigh.  you should stop again sometime - you should go back - you should take someone there - ah ha!  you can! - Robbie - call and ask their price range.  I knew that it was going to be a little more expensive than what I had wanted to spend on dinner but, it is some place new, some place exciting and with a few ground rules - someplace we could make work - if we didn't enjoy a drink and shared a salad - this could fit into my budget.  We are in.  :)

A good friend of mine had introduced me to Lafayette Village this past summer.  It had recently opened and we enjoyed a lunch time meal at Paparazzi before meandering through the various shops nearby.  Even though it is a new development in the area, the architecture creates a cozy, older village that transports me to what I picture a small Italian village to look like.  From my first trip there, I remember a gelateria, a bakery, a cozy wine shop, a crepe cafe, a restaurant called the Village Grill, a spice shop, some boutiques and an Italian grocery market.  I was so excited to take Robbie.  This trip was a bit more focused than my lazy summer day but, we both certainly enjoyed the ambiance on our way from the parking lot and into the restaurant and back.  This time, we parked near a Chocolate shop where they appeared to possibly be having a class on chocolate work.  We enjoyed the music playing throughout the village as we strolled past the Italian Market and up to the menu posted by the door of Paparazzi.  We surveyed the menu and the prices, yes, with a few ground rules we could do a spontaneous Tuesday night dinner here.  We probably can't do it very often but, we could do it tonight.  After this meal, I'm sure we'll be back - just maybe for lunch or a special occasion dinner though.  For two teachers at the bottom rung of the pay scale, we can't make this a habit but, a nice splurge here and there - this fits the bill.

We opened the door and walked up to the hostess.  We already felt the warmth and coziness that the atmosphere provides.  The lighting was warm and there was an alluring aroma of brick over pizza in the air.  Robbie and I both noticed that the moment we walked in.  It was a perfect and inviting smell to both of us.

We were seated at a beautiful wooden table - it may be oak.  The restaurant had a good crowd for a Tuesday night.  Our server came by and delivered our waters and began his great evening with us.  Our server was one of the better servers that we have had dining out in awhile.  He seemed relaxed and was very willing to spend time answering our questions and helping us out.  He did a great job.  Robbie and I went into the restaurant with an idea of what we wanted to order.  He helped us narrow our path and make our final decision - a small salad brilliantly titled "Lattuga di Boston," would be split between the two of us.  It probably isn't enough to share between two if you're really hungry but, I had eaten a salad at lunch earlier in the day and just wanted a few bites.  It was tasty.  I believe that it was Boston lettuce, goat cheese, tediously cut orange slices and a few thinly sliced red onion accompanied an unknown vinaigrette like dressing.  We both enjoyed this refreshing salad.  Our server also brought out fresh, ciabatta like bread with herbed butter.  The bread slices were the perfect size for bruschetta and were very satisfying. 

For our entrees, we both ordered something different.  Robbie stuck to a more traditional dish - the Tagliatelle Bolognese.  I opted for the Orecchiette al Burro D'Arancia.  From my short stint as a server at the Olive Garden, I had learned that Orecchiette is a pasta shaped like a little ear (I believe that it means "little ear" in Italian).  I also described it as a small mushroom top.  D'Arancia reminded me of Aranciata - the name of an orange flavored soda that I have found at various cafes before.  I believe that it is Italian too and in origin means orange.

Yes, my pasta was described as having a sauce that had an orange butter base.  I did get a citrus like undertone while I ate it.  It started off more like a fresh lemon flavor but, as you eat more, it does turn over to orange.  It was a nice, light pasta that went well with the perfectly cooked shrimp that I added to the dish.  The dish also had very small slices of fresh asparagus - the knife work on these and the oranges in the salad showed hard work and attention to detail in the kitchen.  I thought about trying to make this dish at home - for those of you that really know me - I'm not much of a cook, but, I did have this thought.  Both dishes had some serious prep time and knife work. 

Robbie seemed to enjoy his Tagliatelle too.  I didn't know exactly what Tagliatelle was but, our server gladly explained.  It is a flatter noodle that is similar to fettuccine.  It wasn't as thick or wide.  Both pastas tasted homemade - even though neither of them were one of two fresh made pastas advertised on the menu.  We both enjoyed both dishes and had enough to take home for the next day too.

I feel like I could write a lot more about the ambiance and atmosphere and about my future ideas of different meals there with pizza, wine, dessert and more.  You will need to check these out for yourself.  Robbie and I will need to return for some more menu experimentation too - we may just choose lunch next time so we can enjoy a beverage and possibly a desert within our budget too.   If you do decide to check it out and you're in the mood for a pasta dish - I do recommend going outside the box of a traditional red sauce - be that their house red sauces - the San Marzano or the Bolognese - and try one of the other dishes like the Orecchiette.  I know that I ordered the San Marzano during my first trip and my friend tried something different.  Although I enjoyed my meal, I envied her order.  This motivated me this trip too.  I did like the Bolognese but, I was glad to have my orange butter/asparagus dish for my full meal instead.  You will have to be your own judge, however. Also, take note, they have a seasonal menu - so offerings may vary from trip to trip too. 

I definitely recommend a trip to Paparazzi and to Lafayette Village, in general.  I think it is worth a trip and the stroll.  :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wilmington Riverwalk 2.18.12

I've always thought about starting a blog that detailed my wannabee foodie adventures... after an awesome culinary crusade last weekend, and a continuation on a short trip to Wilmington, NC this past weekend, I finally put this idea to work.  Prior to our trip to Wilmington, I sent a message out on Facebook asking for restaurant recommendations from friends that had experience in the area.  Combined with hotel and wait staff, we had a great time.  It's time for us to share our recommendations with you. 

We were in Wilmington for a basketball game at Cape Fear Community College - which is located right downtown.  Thanks to Hilton Honors credit card points, we were able to stay within walking distance of the college and the downtown area at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside.  We arrived on Saturday afternoon and headed to a spot that we had discovered, via a friend's recommendation earlier in the winter - the Front Street Brewery  We had been to this spot on an earlier visit and we were eager to return.  We really enjoyed the microbrews that we had sampled on our first trip.  The first time we were there, we sampled five beers as part of a sampling flight.  A mutual favorite was a winter brew called "Tiny Tim."  If my memory is correct, it is a Vanilla Java Porter.  It had an awesome flavor.  It is obviously a dark beer with a coffee like taste but, it has some surprising undertone that make this a definite favorite.  We were happy to see that is was still available, even this late in the south's "winter" season.  I also enjoyed the Riptide Raspberry Wheat brew too.  The waitress let me know that I could combine the two but, I kept them separate.  We also ordered an appetizer of homemade chips and french onion dip - another favorite from our first visit.  It was just as good as we remembered.  I then ordered the Gorgonzola Walnut salad - a monstrous offering that is almost perfect - the only changes I would make - ask for a different lettuce - it has a lot of iceberg in it - and hold the tomatoes.  The Gorgonzola, apples, candied walnuts and homemade raspberry dressing are superb.  I ordered my dressing on the side. 

After the game, I was ready to eat again.  I was excited to try some seafood.  As a Top Chef aficionado, I had hoped to get into season 9 contestant, Keith Rhodes, restaurant Catch.  We thought we didn't have enough time to get in though - we will save that for our next trip.  We took a friend's recommendation and ventured seven blocks along the beautiful riverwalk from the Hilton Riverside to Elijah's  The atmosphere was awesome, the food was decent.  My favorite part of the meal was the Oysters that we ordered as an appetizer.  We asked for the Oysters Combo - which included 3 Elijah's style oysters and 3 Rockefeller style oysters.  I have not eaten very many oysters in my life and I was a bit nervous - this may only be my third order of oysters ever.  These were great.  The Elijah's style was right up my alley - they were covered in housemade crab dip.  Yum!  The Rockefeller oysters were very tasty too - this sampler platter is tops in my oyster book.  Entree wise, we ordered Shrimp and Grits and Shrimp and Scallops Elijah.  Robbie loved both dishes but was particularly fond of the Shrimp and Grits.  Perhaps I had overeaten for the day - I found both dishes to be a bit too heavy for me.  Our bartender in the Oyster bar section was great.  We enjoyed the experience and I know that Robbie wants to return. 

Robbie wanted to hit at least one bar on our walk back to the hotel.  We were given a superb recommendation by our waitress to check out the Blue Post.  I can't find a website for them but, awesome!  This was perhaps the best find of the trip - even though we enjoyed every single stop.  This bar had it all - ambiance, a great microbrew selection (key for us), lots of entertainment (pool tables, an large arcade area and darts).  The decor was perfect for us.  We picked up two microbrews - Allagash White on draft and Well's Banana Bread Beer (bottled).  We placed them on an antique radio stand while we played darts on a weathered brick wall barside.  Overlooking our darts game, was a table peeking in from the inside "alleyway" part of the bar that splits the bar/billiards/dart area and the upper arcade area.  This place was definitely awesome.  We highly recommend it.  Although I don't get HBO, we were told that scenes from the show Eastbound and Down are shot in this bar. 

Our last spot for the trip was The Dixie Grill.  Again, I don't have a link for this but, it is right on Market Street and not far, again, from our hotel.  A Hilton employee made this recommendation.  We were in line for about 20 minutes before getting two seats at the bar.  It was well worth the wait.  Speaking of the wait, the waitstaff was calm, cool and collected, despite having hungry people on their hands.  They all smiled and seemed to really enjoy working there.  As we waited, we watched plates of pancakes and belgian waffles go by.  The waffles looked extremely good garnished with fresh strawberries, blackberries and whipped cream.  Despite the amount of waffles flying by, we both chose more savory options.  We decided to split Huevos Rancheros and one of the daily specials, the Cornbeef Hash Omelet.  They were both superb choices.  The tortilla chips with the Huevos and the hashbrowns with the omelet were both seasoned with the same spices.  The hashbrowns were flavorful enough to make me skip out on ketchup.  The Cornbeef Hash was homemade and tasty.  The Huevos had steaktips throughout.  The omelet also came with a tasty biscuit.  We thoroughly enjoyed this brunch. 

Okay - that is one heck of a post for my inaugural run.  We hope you check out these spots on your next trip to downtown Wilmington.  After eating all of this, I wish the weather would have been better.  I could have used a few more walks or runs along the beautiful riverfront/riverwalk.