Sunday, May 31, 2009

Magnolia Grill

In March our friends Winnie and Jerry sent us a gift card to Magnolia Grill, which was #1 on my list of restaurants to try in Durham. Nick and I decided to redeem it at the beginning of May to celebrate his new job and my being done with my first year of graduate school. Apparently you have to make reservations a month in advance so we decided to try our luck with a walk in right as they opened.

We each ordered an appetizer and an entree. Nick ordered the special app which was a red snapper sashimi in a hot crab broth and the lamb entree with a local spinach salad and some polenta that was very delicious. I got the pork belly appetizer with a butterbean fondue and some pickled turnips that cut the richness of the pork belly. My NC triggerfish entree came with israeli couscous and squid. There was a great interplay between all the textures on the plate. It was a great meal.

The best part came when we ordered dessert. Nick's banana pudding cheesecake and oven roasted bananas came with a candle on it to celebrate his new job. It was a sweet surprise and a great end to a great meal.

The service was excellent, attentive but not too fussy. We were able to catch glimpses of the dinner service from our table, which was very fascinating. There was a chef in particular who was so tall his head grazed the pots in the rack hanging overhead.

Thank you, Winnie and Jerry, for a fabulous dinner experience! We really appreciated it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tacomentary and Watts late night

Since I promised this post while I was gone, I want to tell you all about the Tacomentary I went to with Nick, Emily K, Tali, and Gina. I misplaced the pics, though, so none this entry. Some Carpe Durham contributors made a documentary about taco trucks in Durham. On May 1 they held a screening party at Pinhook, complete with Benito's taco truck parked right outside.

We made it there around 7pm, waited in line for an hour, got our tacos and made it inside for the viewing. It was a pretty cool experience, especially since I love taco trucks. Listening to the proprietors with their hope for the future and the pride in their tacos was heartwarming.

Nick and I got some pastor, barbacoa, and lengua tacos. They were delicious and greasy. Unfortunately for Tali and Gina, the taco truck had run out of vegetarian tacos long before we got there, so they were pretty hungry. We headed over to Broad street cafe to listen to some music and have some beer to wait for Watts Grocery late night at 10:30pm.

Tali had the pimiento grilled cheese with fries, Gina had a salad, I had the asparagus bisque and shared a red velvet cupcake with Nick. Emily wanted to have an ice cream sandwich, but they didn't have any so they gave her some ice cream for free. The bisque was intensely asparagus-y while the cupcake disappointed. I had high hopes after my brown butter cupcake there months ago. For one, there was no cream cheese icing! The texture wasn't as creamy as I'd like, either. I think I'll stick to lunch and brunch at Watts Grocery next time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Start of summer!

I am now terribly behind on posting. I meant to do it while I was at home in CA, but I've forgotten my camera cable and I don't think the posts are as exciting without pictures. So, it'll be some long overdue posts when I get back to NC.

Right now I'm in sunny CA after having just been in Boston. I was visiting Sylvia there and it was great to enjoy the weather and wander the city for miles and miles. Boston is definitely a walking city!

Posts you have to look forward to:
Tacomentary and Watts Grocery late night
Magnolia Grill
and a bunch more from NC food that I can't remember.

This past Saturday I worked the trash and compost duty at the Nicholas School graduation. I was asked by my boss to help with "greening" graduation but apparently this just meant taking care of the trash and compost. It was really disheartening to see how many people did not understand the difference between trash and compost, even if the bins are right next to each other and there are clear signs posted. I mean, these people are related to environmentalists!

Therefore, my fellow volunteers and I had to sort through the trash and put it in the compost bags. Without gloves. Deep down, we all knew that the compost and trash bags were probably going to the same place after Duke sanitation picked them up, because Duke itself doesn't have a compost pile.

Things like this are pretty discouraging when the school is supposed to be all about the environment. Maybe I'm just being cynical, but sometimes I feel like it's just for show. The students are genuine but sometimes I'm not sure if the school is, with all the extraneous packaging and wastefulness.
In other news, Nick got a job at Duke! He started this past week and I think he's really enjoying it. It signals a big change in our lives and I'm pretty excited about it. Talk to you guys when I get back to NC!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Saigon Grill

During the last week of classes, I decided again that I was homesick and only some good Vietnamese food would do the trick. It seems like that's my homesickness cure now! We decided to go to Saigon Grill, which just opened a few weeks ago. We had been there once before while they were still working out service issues. The servers were literally running from the table to the kitchen and back again, and the kitchen was slow to churn out orders. We liked the place but agreed to give them some time to get in the groove.

So, this time service was much more streamlined and our food came out in a reasonable amount of time. We ordered goi cuon (spring rolls) to start. Nick got the pho dac biet (deluxe beef noodle soup) and I got bun thit nuong tom cha gio (vermicelli with charbroiled pork, shrimp, and egg roll).

Their rendition of goi cuon was pretty good, but it's pretty easy to make delicious. Nick thought the pho was decent, but needed more flavor. Maybe more star anise or cinnamon which is the opposite of Pho 9N9's version which was way too cinnamony.

I liked my bun but I was sad that they only gave me one cha gio. The shrimp was the best part! There was a good ratio of noodle to vegetation and meat, which is key in the dish. I also liked that they included mint in the lettuce, bean sprout, and cucumber mixture.

As we were paying our bill, I found out that the owner and his family came from Sacramento! Go California! We were pretty dang excited about that. We'll probably be back many times in the future.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


On the last day of our classes at UNC, my fellow Robertson Scholar bus riders from the Nicholas School and I walked down Franklin Street to Sugarland Bakery. The bakery specializes in cupcakes, wedding cakes, and gelato. It also features coffee and a full bar, and is open until midnight daily. How's that for variety?

The interior is super cute and whimsical, with turquoise blue walls, bright accessories, and displays of beautifully swirled gelato and delightful cupcakes.

I made each of my companions promise to let me take pictures of their cupcakes before they ate them. I was pretty satisfied with the quality of the pictures. Everyone was a great hand model!

Erin's chocolate chip

Gina's banana nutella

Matt's blood orange and pina colada gelato

A trio of cupcakes for Matt, Matt's wife Brittany, and me (clockwise from top): chocolate malt, carrot cake, and vanilla latte

Andrew's chocolate malt, complete with some non-verbal commentary. =)

I asked him not to hold his up since he was the only one that got a cool plate, and Andrew was playfully offended that I didn't ask him to be a hand model.

I liked my cupcake a whole lot. The frosting was light and not too sugary, while the cake was moist and full of vanilla flavor. The only beef I had was that the cupcakes were in a refrigerated case, so when served the cake was cold and the frosting a dense lump. I insisted on letting mine warm up to room temperature, which again got me some flack from Andrew. It was worth it though, when my vanilla late cupcake was subsequently the most awesome dessert in the world.

I'll be back to try the mini cone gelato sampler this summer!