Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Il Palio in Chapel Hill ~ Italian Dining at its Best

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I was recently invited to dine at Il Palio, the four-diamond rated Italian restaurant located inside the beautiful historic Sienna Hotel along East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. The restaurant opened in 1987 but the hotel and restaurant changed ownership back in 2009 and both underwent major renovations last summer resulting in a new modern & open design in the dining room and a revamped menu from the kitchen.

CHeff Teddy

Il Palio Executive Chef Teddy Diggs
(Photo courtesy Star Chefs)

The kitchen is helmed by Executive Chef Teddy Diggs who took the reins at Il Palio in early 2014 and oversaw the restaurants renovations. He was recently named one of the top “16 Chefs to Watch in 2016” by the foodservice website Restaurant Hospitality and was previously the head chef of prestigious restaurants in Washington DC and Martha’s Vineyard prior to moving to Chapel Hill. A main element of the kitchen renovation was the addition of a wood-fired grill which helped to reshape Il Palio’s Northern Italian menu featuring wood-grilled steaks, chops and whole fish incorporating flavors indigenous to Italian cooking like “smoke” and “wood” as a result of the grilling process.

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Of course being there several fresh pasta dishes as well featuring seasonal local ingredients. But when I say pasta here don’t think of your typical pasta and sauce dishes. The menu features dishes like hand-crafted acorn fazzoletti with roasted local mushrooms and pappardelle with bolognese ragu just to name a few. We started things off with the delicious house made rosemary and sea salt focaccia bread and the nine herb salad was which was amazing. It came with great light lemon dressing and garnished with a tiny edible flower.

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Next up we enjoyed the fresh house made fettuccine pasta & porcini mushrooms. It is honestly one of the best things I have ever had. I’m actually not the biggest fan of mushrooms but the way Chef Teddy prepared them they were just so flavorful that I honestly couldn’t get enough of them. And nothing beats freshly made pasta. The dish was a big hit at our table. These particular mushrooms are only in season for a short time so at this point are probably not on the menu anymore until next season, but they were are strong indication of the creativity and skills in the kitchen and how they can incorporate seasonal offerings into incredible dishes throughout the year.

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As I mentioned earlier the wood-fired grill stoked with hard woods allows for creative meat dishes that incorporate smoke as an actual flavor. My wife ordered the 6 oz. beef filet with salsa verde. It was cooked perfectly and was delicious. We also shared the Chicken “al Mattone” with herb batuto and baby arugula which was excellent as well.

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My wife and I enjoyed the look and feel of the dining room and overall atmosphere at Il Palio. It is an upscale dining experience for sure, but it’s very approachable. Perfect for a special occasion and getting dressed up, but also a great option for just a fun evening out with a great meal (no jacket and tie required).  There are seating options for all occasions, ranging from a private table for two and large booths for group to a large communal “chef’s table” with a view of the kitchen. Service wise the hostess and wait staff were exceptional. Our server chatted with us throughout the evening and sharing welcomed tips about the menu and wine pairings for each dish.

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I was happy to see that Il Palio also has a patio area for outdoor dining during the spring and summer months. I don’t need an excuse for a return visit to  Il Palio but I enjoy eating outside this time of year and I’m already thinking about dining there again soon to see how the summer offerings have been incorporated into the menu. I am also looking forward to trying a few more of the many wines from their large Italian collection. I’m not sure just yet what I will order next time for dinner, but one thing I do know is what I will have for dessert. The first thing I will tell my waiter on my next visit is to save me one of the Videri dark chocolate souffles. They only make a handful each night and I hear it is wonderful!

Il Palio
1505 E Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 918-2545
websitehttp://www.ilpalio.com/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IlPalioRestaurant/
Instagram: @il_palio
twitter@Il_Palio 

 

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The Baker’s Dozen Donut Shop Now Open in North Raleigh

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If you live in Cary you may already be familiar with Baker’s Dozen Donuts. I haven’t been to that location yet, but last week I learned that a 2nd location had opened up in North Raleigh back in February. The Raleigh shop is located off Capital Boulevard in the Plantation Point Shopping Center (the strip mall with First Watch) right next door to Triangle Town Center Mall. It’s a nice little space that offers a wide array of donuts made fresh daily with a nice mix of both cake and  yeast donuts.

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The donuts a very affordable in price ranging from about 85 cents to $1.50. A half dozen of their standard donuts cost $4.99 and a dozen is just $7.99. Special treats like their bear claws, cinnamon buns, and apple fritters are little more expensive at $1.25 to $1.50, but well worth the price. Everything I had was fresh and delicious.  I believe this a donut shop that can hold its own when compared to other popular Triangle shops and I’m glad to see it in North Raleigh.

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Of course every donut shop offers coffee as well, but I was so busy picking out which donuts I wanted that I forgot to ask what coffee beans they use. I will be sure to find out on my next visit.  Based on the positive reviews on yelp it is only a matter of time before this becomes a popular donut destination in North Raleigh so make sure you check it out soon. Baker’s Dozen is open every day from 6am to 7pm.

Baker’s Dozen Donuts
6320 Capital Blvd
Suite 123
Raleigh, NC 27616 (Map)

 

 

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Gonza Tacos y Tequila Summer Menu Preview

<i>Gonza Tacos - N. Raleigh</i>

Gonza Tacos y Tequila ~ North Raleigh Location

Gonza Tacos y Tequila is one of my favorite local restaurants so I was pretty excited when earlier this month I had the opportunity to attended a media preview of there new summer menu specials. I live in North Raleigh so I visit the Gonza location on Lead Mine Road by Sola Coffee fairly regularly. Over the past year Gonza has also opened locations in Wake Forest and downtown Durham, and has a fourth location in the works on  Hillsborough Street by NC State. The new summer specials will rotate throughout the summer months as weekly drink, appetizer or entree selections at all three locations. (note: the Hillsborough Street location is set to open in late August)

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Ceviche

The tasting kicked off with some new ceviche offerings including a unique roasted red pepper citrus infusion with a side of spicy popcorn. Also new is the tuna & watermelon ceviche and “four citrus” ceviche with bay scallops & cucumber. I’m a bit new to ceviche, but I enjoyed exploring these complementary flavor combinations of citrus and spice and think they make a great summer addition to the menu.

Summer Tacos

Summer Tacos

There are also three new tacos (short rib, shrimp adobado, and smoked brisket) that will appear as entree specials this summer. I loved the tasty short rib taco with creme fraiche, charred poblano, and corn salsa. The marinated smoked brisket tacos with three chile salsa and carrot & cabbage salsita is also a flavorful new addition. Sadly I am allergic to shell fish so I could not try the pan seared shrimp tacos with avocado and tomatillo salsa but they got a thumbs up from my fellow foodies lucky enough to enjoy them.

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New Summer Cocktails

Gonza already has an impressive bar setup and expansive drink menu, but they are offering some new signature drinks this summer that are well worth exploring. In explaining the new drinks, the bar manager expressed a desire to expose customers to the versatility of tequila beyond your typical margarita. New additions include the ginger tamarind made with fresh ginger, tamarind puree, tequila, triple sec, and sea salt.  Also new are the pineapple cilantro, watermelon mint, and sage melon cocktails – all of which are sure to be refreshing on a hot summer day.

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Dining Area at Gonza North Raleigh Location

For me these new summer menu items offer an opportunity to explore new flavors beyond my regular favorites at Gonza. I’m a bit of a creature of habit when it comes to ordering food, so I’m looking forward to changing things up and ordering these new items over the summer. No matter what you order I highly recommend visiting any one of their locations. I’ve been consistently impressed with the food, service, and atmosphere at all three locations and look forward to checking out there new restaurant on Hillsborough Street once its opens.

Gonza Tacos Y Tequila
Locations in Raleigh, Wake Forest, and Durham (locations & hours)
website: http://www.gonzatacosytequila.com
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GONZATACOSYTEQUILA
twitter: @Gonza_Tacos
Instagram: https://instagram.com/gonzatacosytequila

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A Great Visit to Academy Street Bistro in Cary!

Academy Street Bistro
Many people don’t realize this but Cary has many hidden culinary gems that delight local foodies. I don’t make it there often enough to enjoy them all, but last month I had the opportunity to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my wife over a wonderful dinner at Academy Street Bistro in Cary’s Ashworth Village. The restaurant has a nice bistro vibe and offers both indoor and outdoor seating. The kitchen is run by Chef Brian Fitzgerald who is committed to using additive & nitrate free poultry, meat, & fish and tries to locally source ingredients from local farmers whenever possible. This is something I really value when looking for place to dine.

Academy Street Bistro
Upon our arrival my wife and I were promptly seated in a nice booth by the window in the dining room. Our Valentine’s Day dinner started off great with a small plated “Amuse-bouche” which is a chef’s choice single bite hors d’œuvre. Chef Brian had selected a combination of beats, cucumber, and crème fraiche presented beautifully. It was the perfect beginning to our special night. As an added plus the waitress was extremely knowledgeable about the wine list and gave us great advice for selecting the perfect wines to go with our dinner.

Academy Street Bistro
If you asked me when first walked into Academy Street Bistro I would have told you that I’m not a fan of mushrooms. All that changed when I took a chance and ordered the wild mushroom bisque with crème fraiche & chives for my first course. It was a hearty flavorful bowl that had a wonderfully smooth texture. After the first spoonful it completely changed my view of mushrooms. Who knew they could be so delicious?

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My wife started off with the sautéed rock shrimp and asparagus risotto with shaved parmesan cheese. This dish really won her over. The risotto and shrimp were cooked perfectly and she quickly informed me that she would like to go back to Academy Street in the future simply to enjoy this dish again.

Academy Street Bistro
We were equally impressed with our main courses. My wife ordered the surf & turf grilled petite filet mignon and half steamed lobster au gratin potatoes, baby vegetables, béarnaise sauce. The presentation of this dish was excellent and the meat was cooked perfectly. My wife was also happy with the portion sizes. I’ve actually never had béarnaise sauce on a filet mignon before but she let me try a piece and I was an instant fan. It added a nice twist to an already excellent cut of meat.

Academy Street Bistro
For my main course I ordered the pan seared chilean sea bass with beluga lentils, sautéed swiss chard, red peppadew beurre blanc. I love sea bass and this was a nice fresh piece that was perfectly cooked. Again, the portion size was just right. I’m usually not the biggest fan of lentils but I trusted the chef’s choice and was rewarded as I found their earthy flavor went really well with the dish. Much like my wife’s surf and turf entree there wasn’t a speck of food left on the plate when I was done.

Academy Street Bistro
For dessert we shared the Valentine’s Day Tasting Trio comprised of raspberry-vanilla mousse w/ homemade cookie wafers, a chocolate dipped strawberry and raspberry cheesecake. The dessert choices which prominently featured berry flavors (which we both love) were the perfect ending to an excellent dinner. We both enjoy sharing dessert and having a few different treats to share made it even more fun.

Academy Street Bistro
Academy Street Bistro was the perfect place to enjoy our Valentine’s Day together. After spending an evening there I think it is a great spot for both special occasions or a casual night out with friends. The menu changes with the seasons and offers a variety of choices. Ranging from shrimp and scallops to filet mignon. They even offer a delicious black angus burger and have a very reasonably priced menu for children. Their lunch menu is equally impressive including a half wrap of the day, cup of soup, and small salad for just nine dollars. And if your are looking for a new brunch spot serve an excellent Sunday brunch as well.

Academy Street Bistro
Whether you live in Cary or are simply a Triangle Foodie looking for a new place to try and I recommend a visit to Academy Street Bistro. I’m looking forward to going back again soon once the weather warms up to enjoy dining on their outdoor patio. In the meantime, they have a few special events coming up that are worth checking out. I’ve provided some additional details below concerning their upcoming Easter Brunch and a special Beer Dinner featuring local brewery LoneRider Beer.

Upcoming Events at Academy Street Bistro

  • Sunday, April 5, Easter Brunch: 10:00am-4:00pm
    Menu features customer favorites from the Brunch menu plus, Chef Brian’s special Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Benedict, Smoked Salmon Benedict, Roasted Leg of Lamb and more.
    http://www.academystreetbistro.com/EASTER_BRUNCH_2015.pdf
  • Sunday, April 26th 5:30pm, LoneRider Beer Dinner
    Fantastic four course dinner featuring Kobe Beef Sliders, Veal Bratwurst, Roasted Applewood Smoked Bacon Wrapped Quail, Herb Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb and more. Each course paired with a different LoneRider Beer, including Hops You Rode on IPA, Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen, Eve Amber Ale, Sweet Josie Brown Ale and Tombstone Reserve-Oak Aged Rye Stout.
    http://www.academystreetbistro.com/Loneriderbeerdinner_docx__1_.pdf

Academy Street Bistro
200 S. Academy Street
Cary, NC
phone: 919-377-0509
website: http://www.academystreetbistro.com/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/academystreetbistro
twitter: @AcademyStBistro

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Midtown Grille “Tour of Spain” Dinner Recap

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Midtown Grille – “Tour of Spain” Dinner

Back in January I had the pleasure of attending a special “Tour of Spain” dinner at Midtown Grille in Raleigh. The dinner featured a 7 course meal created by Chef Benjamin Harris that paired Spanish tapas dishes with carefully selected Spanish wines. I’ve been to Midtown before, but this was my first visit with Chef Harris at the helm in the kitchen and Max Trujillo as Manger and Sommelier. I was already a fan of Midtown but found myself even more impressed after this latest visit with how they continue to elevate their game in the Triangle food scene.

Midtown has a quaint but casual atmosphere and a creative menu that features regionally inspired dishes. It is the type of place I feel comfortable recommending to people looking to celebrate a special occasion or just a casual night out with friends to enjoy great food and drinks. They are open for lunch and dinner and recently began offering brunch on weekends. They have a beautiful dining room and bar area including a private dining area that is perfect for special events.

The “Tour of Spain” dinner was held with 20 or so guests seated in the private dining area of the restaurant. Before each course was served Chef Harris would spend a few minutes explaining the dish to guests and Max, the Sommelier, would provide details about the wine pairing and talk about the region of Spain the wines originated from. Everything was delicious and it made for a wonderful evening out with my wife.

Below is a quick visual recap of the “Tour Spain” dishes served. These photos were taken by the talented Felicia Perry. I appreciate Felicia allowing me to use her pictures as they truly capture the essence of the Chef Harris’ creations. Felicia specializes in photogrpahic services and marketing assests for the food, restaurant and hospitality industries. You can view her portfolio and and learn about the services she offers at http://www.feliciaperryphotography.com/.

Photo Courtesy Felicia Perry Photography

Course 1: Marcona Almonds, Olives and Serrano Jamon  (cured Spanish ham) served with a glass of Santiago Fino from the Jerez region of Spain.

Photo Courtesy Felicia Perry Photography

Course 2: Bacalo & Salt Cod, Tomates, Potato, Olive Oil and Sous Vide with a side of Charcoal Grilled Octopus paired with a glass of Gramona Imperial Cava.

Course 3

Photo Courtesy Felicia Perry Photography

Course 3: Head on Gambas, Garlic, Chiles, Grilled Scallion paired with an Albarino from Rias Biaxas.

Photo Courtesy Felicia Perry Photography

Course 4: Eggs and potatoes with chorizo and saffron aioli paired with Bobal DeSanJuan from Utiel Requena.

Photo Courtesy Felicia Perry Photography

Course 5: Dates wrapped in cured Spanish ham (Serrano Jamon) paired with Hazana Tradicion from Rioja.

Photo Courtesy Felicia Perry Photography

Course 6: Albondigas & Ground Lamb, Romesco, Fennel paired with a full bodied Carignana from Priorat.

Photo Courtesy Felicia Perry Photography

Course 7: Almond cake with olive oil and basil ice cream paired with a  Santiago Pedro Ximenez from Jerez.

There is something special about understanding the history and culture behind the food and wine we enjoy at dinner. It makes for a much more meaningful dining experience and is a great way to enjoy a night out with friends. The “Tour of Spain” dinner at Midtown was a fun evening of excellent food and wine and I highly recommend attending one of their tour series dinners in the future.

Upcoming “Tour of California” Dinner at Midtown
As part of their ongoing tour series, you can join Midtown Grille on March 12 at 7 p.m. for a “Tour of California” dinner and wine pairing. You can view the menu of California inspired dishes and make reservations by visiting their website here.

Midtown Grille
4421-115 Six Forks Rd, Raleigh, NC 27609 (map)
website: http://www.themidtowngrille.com/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MidtownGrille
twitter: @MidtownGrilleNC
instagram: @MidtownGrilleRaleigh

 

 

 

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