Friday, October 24, 2014

Kaiseki in Durham: Yamazushi


Durham's Yamazushi is a tiny restaurant tucked into a Durham strip mall.  Paper covers the windows, so you can't see the diners inside.  Most nights, the place holds only six lucky guests.  A week ago, I and a few friends were a fortunate four among those six. 

Yamazushi serves a traditional kaiseki dinner, a meal characterized by seasonal ingredients and a fixed order of styles of preparation for the courses.  We enjoyed this menu on our visit. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

The atmosphere inside the small establishment is quiet, almost serene.  All of the place settings and serving dishes differ from each other, each course's dishes similar but unique; many are pieces of pottery the chef made. 


The first course, a delicate Japanese persimmon salad served in a carefully carved Japanese persimmon, was sweet and tart in different measures, a gentle but delicious introduction to the meal. 


Every bite of the next course, a sashimi selection, was also delicious.  Even the flowers were edible.


The courses continued in this vein:  stylish, attractive, and delicious. 

To the best of my knowledge, no other restaurant in the Triangle is offering this type of meal.  At $85 per person for the dinner (drinks and bottled water, if you want them, are extra, as is tea), it's not cheap, but it's also nowhere near the area's most expensive dinner.  If you like this sort of Japanese food, I highly recommend Yamazushi. 

I am already eager to return. 



Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Book of Life


attracted me with its unusual imagery and the involvement of producer Guillermo del Toro, whose work always intrigues me.  After watching the 95-minute movie, I left the theater with decidedly mixed feelings.

The images were indeed not like those from any other mainstream animation studio.  Playful and reminiscent of toys, they were both easy to get used to and worthy of closer inspection when the film dragged, as it did on a few occasions.  The story was a simple one made only slightly more complex by attempts to conform less to gender stereotypes than most films, though at times those attempts rang forced and almost false.  The voice actors did a fine job.  Everything was fine.

What was missing, at least to me, was any sense of surprise or real heart, something that would add to the interesting animation to create a more intriguing creation. 

In the end, I'm happy enough to have seen the movie, but I won't seek it out again, and only its visuals will stick with me.  I recommend it only if you want to enjoy those visuals and don't mind the rest being decidedly middle-of-the-road. 



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Poole's Diner doesn't rank with the Triangle's best


A lot of people swear by Poole's Downtown Diner.  I've heard multiple people call it one of the best restaurants in the Triangle.  Ashley Christensen, its owner and chef, runs a group of local restaurants and was the 2014 winner of the James Beard award for Best Chef:  Southeast.  The last time I went, I was unimpressed, but that was years ago, so when I found myself across the street from it after eating Big Gay Ice Cream and only forty-five minutes before it was due to seat people, I decided to give it another try.

I remain unimpressed. 

The food our group sampled was uniformly good, but never anything more.  Nothing was exceptional.  Whatever culinary chops earned Christensen the Beard were nowhere to be found in our meals.  Again, the food was good, and it was on par with many above-average Triangle restaurants, but it was not in any way a stand-out.  The heirloom tomatoes in our salad, for example, were nothing like the flavorful beauties I've eaten at multiple other area restaurants; these were as bland as what you'd find in the discount area at any local grocery store. 

To be fair, my expectations were high.  Given Poole's reputation and Christensen's award-winning status, I was expecting a meal on par with that of the Triangle's top restaurants, places like [ONE] and Panciuto and Herons and the Fearrington House restaurant and so on.  What I ate was food on par with the middle of the second string of local establishments. 

If you're looking for a good meal, Poole's will definitely do.  If you want a top-drawer local dinner, though, try the four I've mentioned or any of the other best of the Triangle restaurants I've reviewed in the past.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Big Gay Ice Cream came to town


and a group of us were, of course, on hand to sample their wares.  If you don't know the Big Gay Ice Cream business, it's a New York-based small chain (a shop in the East Village and one in the West Village, with shops coming to Philadelphia and LA) that started as an ice cream truck and grew on the basis of its charm and, most of all, its delicious soft-serve ice cream.  It's done so well that it's made most lists of the best ice cream places in America--which is quite an achievement, given that the ice cream is soft-serve.

Don't get me wrong:  I love soft-serve ice cream, particularly on a warm day.  Soft-serve, though, can't have the fat content of hard-packed ice cream, and it's rarely anywhere near as delicious. 

So, I obviously had to check out this gourmet ice cream, and fortunately for me, their five-year-anniversary, Southern tour brought them to Raleigh last Saturday. 

An hour before the truck, a rental they picked up in Richmond, was due to arrive, the line had already formed. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

Fans of local ice cream will spot Yoli and Vanessa of The Parlour, makers of the best ice cream in these parts and, for my money, proprietors of one of the best ice cream shops in America.  I talked with them a bit as we were waiting.  We all agreed that truly great soft-serve should be possible, but you almost never encounter it.

The folks in the Big Gay Ice Cream truck kept everyone up to date on their progress via Twitter, and pretty much on time the truck arrived.


We decided to sample most of the major creations, so our group shared one each Salty Pimp (vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche injections, sea salt, and a chocolate dip), Bea Arthur (vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche injections, and a coating of crushed 'nilla wafers), Pecan Gobbler sundae (vanilla ice cream, pecans, and other stuff), and strawberry sundae (vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and other stuff). 


For ease of sharing, we had them turn the lovely cones upside down into cups. 

All four concoctions were indeed delicious, with easily the best soft-serve ice cream I have ever tasted.  If Big Gay Ice Cream were ever to open a shop or operate a truck around here, I'd definitely eat there often, particularly on warm days.

The quality of their ice cream begs the question, was it as good as the best hard-pack? 

No, at least not to me or anyone in our group.  The higher fat content and greater ability to handle complex flavors of hard-pack ice cream make it, for my taste, the clear winner.

That said, it's an "and" world, and I would love to have Big Gay Ice Cream as an option.  If you get a chance to taste their offerings, take it; you'll be glad you did.



Monday, October 20, 2014

The State Fair report, 2014


Long-time readers of this blog know that our family goes to the North Carolina State Fair for the food.  Sure, we like walking around, we love looking at the various animals, and some of us even go on a ride now and again, but most of all we're there to sample the Fair's many food offerings.  A few years ago, I came up with a new, expensive but ultimately less fattening system:  fast for about 18 hours ahead of time, buy everything I want to sample, and take one or at most two bites, then share it with others.  This approach has let me try a ton of stuff at the Fair and not gain any weight from doing so.  (Standing and walking around the Fair for five hours also helps, of course.)

This year's outing began with the traditional pretzel dog.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Equally traditional and from the same vendor is Sarah's start-of-Fair pretzel, which she models here--and lets me eat a bite of.


A Diet Coke is, of course (there was no Coke Zero on offer), the walking-around beverage of choice.


A new vendor, Big Daddy's, contributed Scott's traditional turkey leg, which he also gives me a bite of,


and this rather tasty brisket sandwich.


I didn't eat anything from this vendor, but I loved the name, Bacon Ray's, so much, that I had to share its image with you.


At our next stop, this fryer was in heavy action at times, though here it is hosting only a few dough-covered goodies.


Those goodies included the Twinx, a surprisingly tasty concoction you build by stuffing a Twix candy bar inside a Twinkie, wrapping that in bacon, deep-frying the whole thing, and coating it in sugar.


It really was tasty, though one bite was plenty for me.  My nibble of the equally deep-fried and sugar-coated fried Oreos was also good.


A bite of a salty ham biscuit served as an excellent palate cleanser after all the sweets.


One of our non-food traditions is a visit to see the bears.  Yes, they're captive in small rooms, and yes, they're probably sad, but sometimes they are amazing to behold, as this lax bear was. 


A relaxed bear on a tire swing is a very cool sight indeed.

I'm not a chicken fan, but we always check them out, and I always find some amazing ones.  For example, the mere name "Bufflaced Polish" cracks me up, and their heads are equally entertaining. 


The cinnamon-sugar mini-donuts are another Fair staple, and they are yummy indeed.


McBride's Concessions, a Fair vendor that's been around for years, switched in 2014 to handmade onion rings using a recipe from the mother of one of the owners and a housemade dipping sauce.


The sauce was okay, but the onion rings were great, among the best I've tasted.

Scott's polish sausage hoagie with peppers, onions, and cheese was everything it should be.


So, too, were the fried bologna-and-cheese sandwich (don't hate until you taste it)


and the grilled cheese on white bread.


Oh, yeah, the bread is indeed that soaked with butter.

Did I mention giant pumpkins and watermelons?


Always a crowd-pleaser, and just kind of amazing in that "wow, people do anything and everything" sort of way. 

I forgot to take a picture of the cherry vanilla N.C. State ice cream I sampled.  I love that ice cream, and I get it only once a year at the Fair.

As we were wandering away from the ice cream, we ran cross these two fine hot dogs. 


Someday, the Motorized Hot Dog Throne of Doom will exist!

Back on the food front, another of the Fair's new offerings, the deep-fried Bananas Foster, met with mixed reviews, with banana-lovers enjoying it and banana-haters finding it disgusting. 


I thought it was pretty tasty, but I do enjoy bananas.

By the time we reached the deep-fried cupcakes, which Sarah models here,


many folks were done in, but not all of us.  Those who tried them found them basically to be fried dough, okay but no better.

All of us agreed that as disturbing as the phrase "WALK AWAY NUT SUNDAE" was, the face in the ice cream cone above it was creepier.


Sarah, Ben, and Ronnie,


as well as others in our group, rode the swings and had a grand time doing so.  I always find the ceiling of the swings to be a little trippy.


The "WIGGLE WURM":  friendly, or creepy?


I'm going with creepy.

This gentleman doesn't seem to be very happy to be at work,


but if I ever need a porn-star name, I could do a lot worse than "Jumbo Long Dogs."

A blooming onion


and a classic grilled hot dog with cheese


brought the Fair food odyssey to a close.

As we were leaving, we caught the nightly fireworks show, which was particularly gorgeous this year.  Gina took a lot of great photographs of the show, so to wrap up this huge entry, let me leave you with just a small sample of those lovely shots.

















Sunday, October 19, 2014

That other connection


If you haven't read yesterday's post and watched the video in it, particularly the video's end segment, go ahead and do that now.  I'll wait. 

So, that other connection I mentioned is that Sarah is doing the voice of Gourdon, the talking Gourd.  Yes, this video was in small measure a family affair.

I'm sure voicing a gourd that is giving her father Halloween costume advice is what every girl wants to grow up to do.  Or not.  Still, I enjoyed working, albeit indirectly, because I didn't know Sarah was doing the voice until I saw the video, with Sarah on this. 



Saturday, October 18, 2014

That episode of Now with PT that I mentioned earlier


is now live.  If you watch it all the way to the end, you'll see one of the two personal connections I mentioned in an earlier blog post.



Not my best moment, to be sure, but I thought folks might find it amusing.

Tomorrow, I'll explain the other connection.

Enjoy.


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