Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sushi Love

As soon as I read Carpe Durham's review of Sushi Love, I knew I had to go within the next few hours. We had several rolls, including a rainbow roll, a sunset roll, an oyster roll, a lobster roll, a caterpillar roll and a sweet dragon roll. I don't like spicy mayo and most of their rolls have that, so I asked them to leave that off of all of them. The quality seems very good and I particularly liked the sunset roll, which had fresh salmon covered with thin slices of lemon. It was truly awesome.

The only real objection I have is their current pricing model, which is buy-one-get-one-free sushi, similar to Shiki Sushi. The problem is that I like nigiri the best, but I also like to try a few rolls. If they just take the lowest priced nigiri off the bill, then that means you pay for some potentially overpriced rolls. It only really works out better for customers if they just get rolls or just get nigiri, but I hate being limited that way. Why not just drop the gimmick and have lower prices?

We followed the sushi with an order of fried bananas, which was a giant dessert best suited for four people. I liked it a lot, but I probably liked it more than my two Most Faithful Readers.

Overall, I'm very happy that there seems to be a very good sushi place closer to home and very close to work, but I'll still be annoyed every time I order there.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kurama Japanese Seafood, Steak House and Sushi Bar

When most people think of Kurama, I suspect they think of it as a steak house. It's a huge restaurant with traditional hibachi style grills. They do a good job and put on a fun show, but I go there for sushi. In my opinion, they have the best sushi in Durham.

Look at these beautiful nigiri pieces. I almost always have mackerel, yellowtail, salmon and eel. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I tend to judge sushi restaurants by the quality of their mackerel. Kurama's is very fresh and not pickled or dry. Their yellowtail is buttery and delicious and their eel is nice and crispy. When I go with a larger number of people, it's fun to get a variety of rolls and nigiri, but this is what I get when I'm ordering for myself or two people.

I've been going there for eight years and it's where I was first introduced to sushi. My favorite roll is their Wizard Roll, which used to always be on their special board, but is now on their regular menu. It's shrimp tempura with eel and avocado. It's similar to a caterpillar roll or a sweet dragon roll at other places, but way better.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nana's

I consider Nana's to be one of the three most prestigious restaurants in Durham. It's been open since 1992, but last Thursday night I went there for the first time. I took a friend there as a birthday gift and it was certainly a nice gift for me as well. She ordered an heirloom tomato and Chapel Hill Creamery fresh mozzarella salad with a red wine and shallot vinaigrette and fried okra. She gave me a small portion of it and it was excellent. I'd never eaten okra cut into anything other than small slices, but it works quite well sliced lengthwise, too.

I had a bowl of tomatillo and cucumber gazpacho with Peeky Toe crab. This was great and was pleasantly tart. I like that it looks as if it's the square root of the crab, but then I am more than a little geeky.

My friend also had the beef filet over broccoli rabe and roasted red peppers with a sweet potato gratin, finished with a wild mushroom sauce. Considering I don't eat beef and don't like red peppers, sweet potatoes or mushrooms, I'll just say that it was a lovely shade of brown. She seemed to rather enjoy it, though.

For my main meal, I had the house cured Scottish salmon gravlax with black rice pancakes, roasted pepper creme fraiche, with a local French bean and cucumber salad. This was wonderful. The black bean pancakes, which appeared to have just a little bit of black rice in savory pancake batter were absolutely adorable. The salmon was perfect and the creme fraiche was lovely. I could not have been happier with this dish, which was only $9.


Finally, we shared an order of Nana's creme brulee while enjoying a mild argument about just how huge this was. I thought it was gigantic, but I was also already quite full and steeling myself for eating three quarters of the dessert. The dish was shallow, but it was also about the diameter of a grapefruit. In any case, it was a very nice serving of creme brulee in all respects and the blackberries were splendid.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sitar India Palace

A few days ago, I checked out the buffet at Sitar, which many think is the best in Durham. I'm pretty sure that most people also think that if you want truly excellent Indian food, you need to go to Cary. I don't recommend that people go to Cary often, so you know that when I do, it must be worthwhile, right?

The food at Sitar is certainly spicier than both Dale's and Taste of India's, but still quite mild compared to what I've valiantly eaten elsewhere. I thought it was quite good. I also enjoyed the kheer, which was just ever so slightly thicker than what I recently ate at Dale's.

Outside, there is the added entertainment of watching and listening to the demolition for the University Marketplace. Valerie, over at We Love Durham, took some photos just two days before I was there. The strip mall looks post-apocalyptic with Sitar as the only sign of life. Last month, Kevin, at Bull City Rising, reported from just outside Sitar and reflected on the lifecycle of the strip mall and that area of Durham.

Sitar will soon be opening a new location, at 3630 Chapel Hill Blvd., in the location of the former Lone Star Steakhouse.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Eastern Lights Blogging : Eggplant with Garlic Sauce

I tried yet another dish at Eastern Lights today that I hadn't tried before, eggplant with garlic sauce. The slightly spicy dish had, of course, eggplant, water chesnuts, corn, and a couple of other vegetables that I couldn't readily identify. The lunch portion, which comes with either an egg roll or a cup of egg drop, hot and sour or wonton soup, is only $5.25. That's incredible. I have a vague recollection that someone recommended this dish to me, but I can't remember who it was. If you are reading this and suggested that I try it, please comment. I will definitely be ordering it again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blu Blogging: Gazpacho and a New Dessert

After a really long and hot day, Blu Seafood and Bar was the perfect destination. My Most Faithful Reader chose a sashimi grade marlin special, which was served with a chilli sauce. Since she has to avoid peppers, she instead asked for the sauce that is normally on their yellowfin tuna tartare, a slightly sweet miso-vinaigrette. I tasted the marlin and it was excellent and my MFR was extremely pleased. She doesn't exactly go out of her way to eat raw fish, so this was definitely remarkable.

A new addition to their menu is the sautéed diver scallops with mango salsa, Cuban black beans, and fried plantains, which my 2nd MFR ordered. The scallops, as usual, were wonderful. He ate all the plantains before I got a chance to try any.

I got a dozen of the blue point oysters, since all of their raw oysters are half price on Tuesdays. I also ordered a bowl of their gazpacho, which contains dungeness crab. It was very good and refreshing. It was particularly nice, because the gazpacho didn't overwhelm the delicate crab flavor.
Chef Tim Lyons has developed a creative new addition to the dessert menu, pineapple spring rolls. They are effectively pineapple pieces covered in coconut macaroons, wrapped into spring rolls, deep fried and served over raspberry and mango sauce with vanilla ice cream. It was, as I'm sure you can already guess from the photo and the description, delicious.

They have two particularly exciting events coming up, another shellfish bake on July 30th and a Maine lobster feast on August 6th.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wabbit

The rabbit was sitting not too far from my parking space a few days ago and stayed there long enough for me to take five or six seemingly identical photos of it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pop's Backdoor

This weekend, I finally had some pizza from Pop's Backdoor Pizza and Calzones. Over the years, I'm sure many of us have had pizza in Pop's more formal restaurant. Now you can get a wide variety of take-out or delivery pizzas, calzones, appetizers, gelato, sorbetto, tirami su or chocolate pudding cake. They have a lot of delicious sounding pizzas and you can build your own pizza from a wide array of toppings.

We had a Pop's White, which was taleggio, fresh mozzarella, parmesan, garlic on ricotta spread. We had an additional topping, kalamata olives. It was quite good, but I definitely want to try some of their other combinations, such as granny smith apples, French brie, white truffle oil on ricotta spread. OK, I already know that's good. I'd also love to get a pint of their pineapple sorbet before I get around to making some myself.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rockwood Filling Station

I just had to try out Rockwood Filling Station tonight and I was by no means disappointed. They offer a wide variety of personal-sized pizza, sandwiches, salads and appetizers. Their house (pre-configured) pizzas ranged from $8 to $10 and that's what we tried tonight.

It does appear that they are still ironing out some wrinkles here and there, but they are somewhat minor. For example, my Most Faithful Reader ordered the White Pie, with ricotta, spinach, caramelized onions and fontina, but it didn't come with any caramelized onions. Our extremely apologetic waiter said that it's possible that someone ordered it without onions and he got the wrong one. That at least tells me that they do accept substitutions.

My 2nd MFR had the Ham and Egg pizza, with tomato, ham, egg, fontina and basil. He said it was very good, but it was challenging to cut it. All of the pizzas arrived at our table unsliced. I'm lazy, so I certainly wouldn't mind having them pre-sliced. On the other hand, I'm kind of glad I got to photograph them unsliced, but that isn't a normal consideration. According to their menu, the will slice it if you ask, so you might want to keep that in mind.

I chose the Anchovy pizza, which was simply wonderful. It came with tomato, anchovies, caramelized onions, olives and roasted red peppers. According to the menu, it wasn't supposed to have peppers and I don't particularly like them, but I managed to avoid them for the most part. Actually, now that I'm looking at the menu again, it doesn't mention that it has cheese on it either, but that was really good. I've recently started being fonder of olives. I wouldn't eat them for years, but these whole (pitted) ones were excellent. Best of all, they didn't skimp on the anchovies!

For dessert, we each tried the housemade ice cream, with homemade pizzelle cookies. My Most Faithful Reader had the Bailey's Coffee Crunch, which was good. She was not eager to share, which should give you some indication as to the quality of the dessert.

My 2nd Most Faithful Reader ordered the peach-mint sorbet, which I ended up confiscating. Note that all of the desserts were served with a couple of blackberries.

I ordered the chocolate mint chip, which was good, but the mint was extremely strong. I usually like overhwhelming flavors, but this was a little much for me tonight. Fortunately my 2nd MFR liked it better than his peach-mint sorbet (although he did like that) and I happily traded with him.

Overall, I was thrilled with my meal. They also do takeout and due to their limited parking, I'm imagining that this will be the most practical option for us. Now that I've discovered the Anchovy pizza, I'm not convinced I will want to stray, but you never know. I'm eager to try their calamari and their milkshakes. Creating my own pizza with all their eclectic options sounds as if it will be fun, too.

You can already check out other reviews at Delicious Durham, Bull City Rising, Carpe Durham and Eat at Joe's.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mushrooms at Home

After photographing all of those mushrooms on campus, I was really amazed to see the wide variety of mushrooms growing along my driveway.

This one is even yellow!

Considering that I didn't see more than two or three kinds on campus, I was really enthusiastic when I saw them.

I asked my 2nd Most Faithful Reader to take all of these photos for me.

I don't have any idea what kinds they are, but I've heard rumors that my MFRs have several mushroom identification books.

I didn't find any sites on-line that were that practical for mushroom identification. Do any of you know of good ones that make it easy?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Black Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Taking photos of butterflies has always been fairly challenging for me, because they don't exactly sit still for you.

That's why I'm sharing all three photos of what I believe is the dark form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). It's sitting on verbena bonariensis.

This way I don't have to decide which of the three photos to leave out.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Jeff Pippen for identifying this as a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Shrooms!

With all the rain we've been having, mushrooms have been popping up all over the place.

I've seen more on Duke's campus than I ever remember having seen before, anywhere.

I believe squirrels have uprooted some of them, or perhaps it's been curious summer campers, but I appreciated being able to see underneath one of these big ones.

As you can see, there are quite a lot of them, particularly on the Academic Quad. It's a little beyond a "fairy ring", I think.

I took the previous photos on Friday, but here is what some of them looked like today. They always go through multiple stages of development. If you want to see more mushrooms, check out Durham Bull Pen's recent post.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Taverna Nikos Blogging : Lunch!

On Friday, a bunch of my co-workers and I went to Taverna Nikos for lunch, which was a lot of fun. I hadn't been there for lunch since they re-opened, so I was quite excited at the prospect. We were sitting at a lunch table in the alcove, so the lighting is a little different from the photos I normally take. The lunch menu is similar to their dinner menu, but there are a few differences. One example is the zuchinni balls, above, which contained cheese and herbs and were excellent. I just had a taste, but it would be awesome if they put them on the dinner menu.

I ordered a lobster ravioli special, which was delicious. The ravioli were served in a tomato sauce with brocolli and mushrooms, but I asked them to leave off the mushrooms. Of course, I'd like to see this on the dinner menu, too.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Noodles & Company

A Noodles & Company location recently opened on Erwin Road, across from Duke's West Campus. Yes, it is a chain. If you can get beyond that and think of it as fast food, or something close to it, then that's sometimes easier to swallow. It's too bad that they don't have a drive-through window.

They have three different categories of noodles, Asian, Mediterranean and American and then they have four dishes in each category. You can choose a a type of meat or tofu that can be mixed in with that. You could also order a soup or a salad.

I had Japanese pan noodles with tofu, broccoli and shitake mushrooms and it was actually quite good. I'm starting to actually eat shitakes, which is quite a breakthrough for me, but it confirms that my general dislike of mushrooms is due to their texture, as I've suspected all along. The dish was a little on the salty side for me, but it was within normal limits. The small portion was perfect and cost only $5.95.

They have a nice selection of drinks, including IZZE, as you can see surrounded by the ethereal glow in the photo above.

This was the pad thai, with chicken and it was apparently reasonably good. One important question is whether it makes sense to get your noodles here or go to Chai's Noodle Bar & Bistro, an independent noodle place, just down the street. Chai's fare is exclusively Asian, so that may help you decide, but otherwise I'd say it would depend on the individual dish. I've been to Chai's oodles of times and they can probably serve your meal even faster, but some of their dishes are better than others, as is the case with almost all restaurants. I love their Udon noodle soup, but I'd probably go to Noodles & Company to get pad thai.

Another positive thing is that according to one reader, AH, the few dishes that are labled as spicy at Noodles & Company actually are. I know I've been to several restaurants lately, such as Rockfish, where they claimed to have an unusually spicy dish and it was barely hot at all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Happy Birthday Blu Seafood & Bar!

Tonight, Blu Seafood & Bar had a party celebrating their 1st birthday! The restaurant was packed and they were giving away free hors d'oeuvres and had great drink specials. Above is a platter of smoked salmon and avocado crostini and tuna tartare on black sesame crackers, with wakame. They were so delicious and we ate way more of these than were on this plate.

We also had baked oysters that had little pieces of bacon and possibly grits.

These pieces of watermelon had a splash of balsamic vinaigrette and goat cheese. They were really good.
This was cuban pork on a slice of plaintain and was terrific.

They also have a completely new menu! I never dreamt that their fried oysters could get any better, but now they have parmesan fried oysters and you likely know how much I love parmesan. They were delicious, perfectly prepared and had an almost creamy consistency inside. They normally come with a tomato corn salad, but we requested that we substitute sweet potato fries for that, since my Most Faithful Reader can't eat tomatoes. The sweet potatoes were thin chips, were very good and normally accompany the NY Strip steak.

We each ordered a dessert and I, of course, had to have a slice of the key lime pie.

I am so glad that we decided to attend the party, because I had a great time. You can read a year's worth of Blu Blogging and look forward with me to many years of great dining at Blu.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eastern Lights Blogging : Spicy Seafood Noodle

I've been meaning to write about this dish for a while, but I had to confirm exactly what it was that we ordered, because I was looking at the wrong section of my take-out menu when I started to blog about it and couldn't find it.

Eastern Lights offers a selection of handmade Chinese noodle dishes that are extraordinarily good. Several of them are soups, containing lots of seafood and pork. I've always been fond of San Shan Za Jang, which is noodles and seafood in a dark and creamy soy bean sauce.

I don't recall that I'd ever ordered Spicy Seafood Noodle before, though, probably because it's described as "Very Spicy". As you can see from the photo, it's noodles with squid, shrimp, scallops and vegetables. I didn't think that it was that hot, but since I've been going to this family's restaurants since 1981, I think my tastebuds have, to a large degree, become desensitized to their hot peppers. I'm much more sensitive to Mexican, Thai and some Indian cooking. Maybe you wouldn't find this dish that hot either, but I can't say for sure. It was slightly sweet, but not excessively so. I'm eager to try it again.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pickerel Frog

I briefly went over to visit my Most Faithful Readers this evening and noticed this frog on the edge of the ramp to their deck. I didn't have my memory card actually in my camera and I was in a hurry to get in, but thankfully my 2nd MFR took this photo for me.

From looking at Jeff Pippen's site, I believe this is a Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris).

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