For our last dinner in NC, we originally reserved Piedmont. However based on several recent reviews, we changed our mind and decided not to go to Piedmont. We did not have an alternative but after some research, we picked Vin Rouge.
It was Sunday evening but the place was packed even though the restaurant is quite large. We sat in the front part of the restaurant and there was not much space between tables. It looked like there were more spacious tables in other sections. But it was fun and cozy out front.
Vin Rouge front room, Vin Rouge back room
fresh oyster, Vin Rouge Special, triggerfish with curried butternut squash pure and green tail shrimp
New York strip steak, chocolate mouse
We started with three different kinds of fresh oysters. Lockwood Folly ($1.75) and Topsail ($1.50) from North Carolina and French Belon Oyster ($3.50). We enjoyed all three kinds but we should have just stuck with locals. $3.50 for one oyster seems to be a little expensive and the NC oysters were much better anyway.
My special fish dish was delicious. I don't think I have ever had triggerfish before and it was a very meaty white fish like halibut. The curried butternut squash puree did not seem to be a French staple but I thought it was tasty. It worked really well with the fish but I kept dipping the sauce with the bread ate it as a nice thick squash soup rather than the sauce for fish. Yummy.
My husband seemed quite happy with their NY strip steak. I had a few bites as well and it was fatty and flavorful.
I was not going to eat dessert but I saw many tables ordered a chocolate mouse (I noticed because the waiter kept bringing out a big serving bowl full of chocolate mouse and then scooped it out at the table) and I could not resist. I thought it would be small but I got three big balls of mouse and I ate them all. It was really good.
The best part of this evening was that, thanks to the tight fit, we enjoyed a great conversation with two friendly people next to us. I always believe that a wonderful meal should always bring people together and this restaurant was a great example of that.
2010 Hillsborough Rd
Durham, NC 27705
We went to Watts Grocery for Sunday brunch with our friends who live in Durham. This place was highly recommended by our friends and several others. They do not take reservations for Sunday brunch so we had to wait about 40 minutes after we put our name in.
Watts Grocery outdoor sign
Inside of Watts Grocery, Watts Grocery menu
Bloody Mary ($6), Andouille sausage and stewed chiles benedict ($9)
Fall scramble ($9.50), and Bill Neal's Shrimp and Grits ($13)
This place is very popular. The customers keep coming in and the wait for tables can be long. But it is worth the wait. I still had not had a chance to taste some authentic Southern food yet so my goal was to try one of the Southern classics. I found Bill Neal's Shrimp and Grits on their menu and I instantly made up my mind. Bill Neal is famous for his interpretation of shrimp and grits.
The grits were a little stiffer than I expected but that reflects how hard it is to recreate excellent home cooking in a large restaurant. Tthe number one dish at our table was the Andouille sausage and stewed chiles benedict.
1116 Broad St.
Durham, NC 27705
Taste Carolina is a gourmet food walking tour in Durham, Chapel Hill/Carrboro, and downtown Raleigh. We took a tour in Chapel Hill/Carrboro.
The weather was so perfect and we could not have asked for a better day for a walking tour. We started at 11:00 am with group of 12 people and finished around 2:30. The total cost was around $35 each. It is a fantastic bargain and a great way to see Chapel Hill. Here is the list of places we stopped.
1. Neal's Deli
We sampled homemade pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. Their meat was bursting with flavor and absolutely delicious. They purchase Meyer beef from Iowa and brine the beef for seven days then braise. For Pastrami, they dry the meat in the refrigerator, smoke and add spices like coriander, and juniper berries are pressed in. Their pastrami was deliciously fatty and great with their soft rye bread made by the Guglehof bakery in Durham. For corned beef, they use honey and allspice in the brine.
Neal's Deli's Menu; Neal?; pastrami sandwich; corned beef sandwich
100E. Main Street
2. Carrboro Farmer's Market
Carborro Farmer's Market is supposed to be one of the best in the country but I guess November is not the best time for the Farmer's Market. I was expecting more vendors but it was not the case. We visited three vendors in the market.
Chapel Hill Creamery : They have 26 corn and hay fed cows in their 30 acre farm. We tested two cheeses. Asiago, raw milk cheese which is aged 1 year, and Farmer's cheese which is not aged. I liked their farmer's cheese which was very creamy and tasted like ricotta cheese.
Benjamin Winery : We tested their four different wines. Chardonnay, Norton, Merlot, Scuppernong and Hunt. The most interesting one was Seppernong which is a sweet wine traditionally made by the people of Appalachia. They are usually homemade wines but you can find them bottled in the stores these days.
Alfred : Pecan and Oriental persimmons farmer.
We tasted their wonderful Japanese persimmons and chocolate pecan chewy. Later, we also had his wonderful pecan pie at the Carrboro Beverage Co. with beer.
Carrboro Farmer's Market
3. Carrboro Beverage Company
This liquor store specializes in beer and is owned by Tylers Tap Room, a famous tavern in Durham and elsewhere. They have all kinds of micro beer. We tried Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Tye Hatter, Wolavers Pumpkin and Claymore Scotch. We had a big piece of pecan pie from Alfred with the Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. They were great together.
Carrboro Beverage Company
102A E. Main Street
The next stop was Acme. The chef fixed us a coconut beignet with cardamom sauce. He served them very hot so it was quite good. However, It was about five minutes after we washed down the big slice of pecan pie with beer so it was quite hard for me to enjoy this beignet as much as I would have liked. So many sweets in a row!
110 East Main Street
We moved on to Jessee's. They have a large selection of coffee beans (and coffee) which they roast themselves at the back of the shop. But I can't tell how great they are because I did not get to try them. Instead, They served us a small slice of flatbread and glass of white wine at their wonderful patio. They have a coffee tree which I have never seen and I thought it was really cool.
401 E. Main Street
6. Miel Bon Bons
I was glad we had a little savory item in between the parade sweet samples. We next went to a lovely boutique patisserie where they gave us samples of chocolate mouse, miniature cup cakes and salted caramels. I was not allowed to take photos so I can't show you how beautiful their creations are. Not only were they were good looking but also tasty. One of the best cupcake frostings I have tasted for a long time.
Miel Bon Bons
Carr Mill Mall
200 N. Greensboro Street
7. Open Eye Cafe
The last stop was the Open Eye Cafe. I absolutely enjoyed this place because it was such an educational experience.
The owner, Scott Conary, and his assistant, Michael Harwood, are true coffee connoisseurs. Scott is an international coffee competition judge and he travels all over the world to taste coffee competitions. Michael is just as knowledgable and he gave us a lecture and sample of their coffee. Scott and Michael truly have a passion for the coffee they serve. I used to work for a coffee shop in Tokyo and I learned the process of hand dripping coffee but I never knew if the method I acquired actually made a difference on the quality of coffee. Michael explained all the things that affect the taste, including adjusting water temperature based on the coffee beans you use. He told us that he experiments with water temperature sometimes and it is true that changing the temperature slightly depends on the acidity level of the coffee beans can make difference. That was just one of the many lessons we learned at this most unique cafe.
Open Eye Cafe
101 S. Greensboro Street
The tour costs only $35 per person. This is of course a great thing to do for tourists but I think it is even better for the local people who have not discovered the local food yet.
For our first dinner in North Carolina, we chose Lantern based on some excellent reviews from online forums. But then when we arrived in Chapel Hill, we also asked several people for recommendations and virtually everyone said Lantern was a best bet. So we were very excited.
The restaurant was a very cozy and cute little place. When we got there, the restaurant was full and it stayed like that until we left. We were escorted to our table without waiting and once we sat, our waitress came immediately. She was very attentive throughout the dinner and knowledgeable about the food they served. She was also very polite but very speedy at the same time. I was very comfortable and happy to be on vacation. Based on her recommendation, we picked salt and pepper shrimp (fresh wild shrimp with crispy shells, fried jalapeno, coriander and sea salt) and North Carolina Trout tartare for the appetizer and the Fried Whole North Carolina Fish with chiles, garlic, tamarind, fresh lime leaf, green papaya salad and jasmine rice.
Salt and pepper shrimp ($12), Trout tartare ($10), and Fried whole North Carolina fish ($27)
Everything we ordered was terrific but I especially enjoyed the fried whole fish. It was very meaty and the garlic tamarind sauce was a perfect match. We cleaned up the whole fish without any meat and skin left with extra Jasmine rice. It was more than enough for two people. And both the shrimp appetizer and trout tartare were equally tasty. The shrimp dish came with fried jalapeno and coriander which I could not stop nibbling.
We were also surprised how reasonable this restaurant was. The whole meal (tartare, shrimp, whole fish, extra rice and two glasses of wine) was $70 plus tip. We were off to a good start!
I hope Lantern opens a restaurant in DC!
423 W Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC