“South” to Close — French Brasserie to Open

May 30, 2008

I’m a big fan of Kevin and Stacey Jennings and their restaurants. Frazier’s is one of the top places in the Triangle. Vivace is a hip Italian establishment with a great vibe. And Porter’s is one of my favorite every day type of restaurant. South, in Raleigh’s North Hills, however, is a different story. I never really loved the place, primarily because I never understood what they were trying to do. The food could be good, but it was inconsistent and disjointed.

Well, South shall not rise again as it will be closing on June 7. The good news is that the Jennings will be opening a French brasserie in the same location this fall. I’m looking forward to this venture, where I can get three different types of moules frites or a cassoulet when the cold weather hits. Breads will be made in house. The wine list will be all French, and I know Scott Lutgenau, their Director of Operations and Sommelier, is already salivating over that prospect.

Interestingly, just like the classic brasseries, this place will be open all day, serving breakfast, too!

The space will be completely renovated, which is essential, as South’s decor never worked for me. I’m looking forward to seeing the black and white tiled floors, accordion folding doors, and bistro mirrors.

I’ll see if I can get into the place while they’re renovating and provide you with some updates (including photos).

Frankly, I’m extremely excited about this change, and this should be a great addition to North Hills.


Clinical Dining

May 28, 2008

Shortly after my first child was born, my wife gave me a video camera. C’mon, every dad has to have a video camera, right? I used that sucker quite a lot, early on, but after a year or so, it got used less and less. I haven’t touched that camera in 10 years or so, primarily because I realized that I was no longer participating in the action. I was documenting it, trying to get the “perfect shot.” Those perfect shots often took 5-10 minutes at once, where you were more focused (no pun intended) on keeping the camera in frame and not really paying attention to what was truly going on.

The exact same thing happened to me with dining and the internet. I would go out to eat, taking my camera along. I ultimately found myself more concerned with taking lots of food porn, so that I could share my experience with my “friends” on eGullet. I paid less attention to my dining companions — my real, honest to goodness friends — than I did with my camera and the lighting.

That pretty much stopped a couple of years ago, however. As I spent more time with bloggers and the like, I realized that the people who spent so much time on the photographs weren’t all that fun to be with. It’s not that I didn’t like them, but they weren’t enjoying the meal itself. They weren’t engaged with the others at the table. I asked myself, “Am I like that?” and the answer was a resounding “Yes.”

Sitting at the table, sharing a meal with friends and family, is an activity that in many ways defines us as human beings. Our events of celebration and sorrow typically revolve around food. Every culture has their food-specific holidays, and the evening dinner is still considered to be the highlight of our daily family routine (although it’s certainly on the wane). The meal is incredibly important to us, socially and nutritionally.

But when the meal loses that social dynamic, I lose interest in it. The foodie with the camera makes me feel the same way as the person who has to tell me how many grams of fat are in every dish I eat. They take the fun out of it, turning my meal into a clinical exercise.

Yeah, I’ll still take food pictures now and then, and I’ll even chronicle every dish in a meal occasionally. But I’m glad that’s the exception and not the rule, as I truly love to interact with those around me and to appreciate the food that’s before me. Boy, meals are so much more fun now.

Ego Building 101

May 28, 2008

You’ve already heard about my train trip with my son to DC, but I have a semi-odd side story about that trip. Anyhow, Benjamin and I are sitting on the train, enjoying ourselves, and I manage to get involved in a discussion with a woman in the seat in front of me. She’s probably in her mid to late 50s or so, spending much of the trip doing needlepoint. We talk about France (she lived in Lyon, the lucky devil) and other things that have little substance at all. I tell her what my son and I will be doing in DC. We didn’t introduce ourselves — it was just small talk.

As we pull into Union Station and start gathering our bags, I wish her well. At that point, the young lady sitting beside her, with whom I didn’t exchange a single word and who had spent much of the trip with her computer, looked at me and asked, “Are you Dean?” I pause for a second and respond, “Yes.”

“I read your blog,” she states.

My first thought was, OK, this is very odd. And then she told me that she had read my post about going to DC with my son. She was guessing who I was, but it was an educated guess. My son sort of looked at me like he was saying, “Dad, you’re famous!” Too funny.

Anyhow, we introduced ourselves and went our separate ways. This reader says she’s never posted a comment on the blog before, so I encourage her to do so. I promise I won’t “out” you anymore than I already have.

I’m not sure if there’s a lesson to be learned here, other than there are no strangers on a train. Particularly when you announce your plans to the world in advance.

Being Dad

May 26, 2008

This post isn’t really about food, and that’s just the way I want it. I just spent three glorious days in Washington, DC with my 9-year old son. As many of you know, I have 4 children — 2 boys and 2 girls — ranging in age from 14 to 7. When you have so many kids, you kind of lose sight of the little things. You’re too busy keeping everyone on schedule, with soccer or dance or other school activities. As a lawyer, I spend about 60 hours a week trying to take care of my clients and building (or maintaining) my practice. I get home from the day to feed my wife and me (neither of us really want to eat her cooking). Anyone who is a parent knows it’s a constant struggle to keep track of car pools, doctor appointments, soccer and basketball practices (I coach both sports!), and all the other stuff. Oh, and then I find myself spending time writing about food every once in awhile, too. Frankly, when I get to the end of each day, week, month or year, it seems I really haven’t spent enough time just being Dad. Read the rest of this entry »

Food Geeks Hit the Comics Page

May 20, 2008

I laughed at today’s “Shoe” comic strip.  I often think that this is what has happened to our dining world, filled with food geeks and bloggers who want to photograph every dish presented to them.

The Cost of Corn and Indiana Jones

May 19, 2008

I’m taking my 9-year old son to Washington, DC this weekend, taking the train, seeing the sights. We’ll eat pizza at 2 Amys, find a decent burger and some ice cream, and a Ben’s Half Smoke at the Nats’ game on Sunday. And of course, we’re going to my favorite cinema in the world, the Uptown Theatre just up the street from the National Zoo. The Uptown is very old school, where the screen is so big, it’s curved. I remember seeing Dances With Wolves there ages ago, and boy, it was a memorable experience. I’m going to take him to see the new Indiana Jones flick (yeah, it’s a PG-13 movie, but I think he can handle it). I’ve bought the tickets already and will be sure to get some popcorn.

And then I read this article about how our energy and food policies will likely drive up the price of movie tickets. How’s that? Well, the sales of concessions, and mostly popcorn, subsidize the costs of movie tickets. Without concessions, the theaters would have to double the ticket prices in order to make some money. And now there’s a corn shortage, with approximately 40% of the crop being made into ethanol. Granted, popcorn is different than the corn grown for ethanol, but there’s still a shortage. And with a shortage comes increased prices. So, in order to maintain accustomed levels of profitability, theater owners either have to raise the price of popcorn or theater tickets. The experts predict the increases will come at the box office rather than the concession stand — as much as a buck or two a ticket.

So, when you go to the Raleigh Grande Cinema for the new Will Smith movie in July, and you’re paying 10 bucks a ticket, just remember that it’s the humble ear of corn that caused the price increase.

Cherry Chocolate Cake

May 15, 2008

My wife likes chocolate, but she loves cherries. Seeing it was her birthday recently, I thought I’d combine the two and make a special chocolate cherry cake. Sounds simple enough — just search the internet for cherry chocolate cake, and something yummy will pop up, right? Wrong. Well, there are a lot of recipes for a chocolate cake that had cherry pie filling in the middle. I wanted there to be bits of cherries in the chocolate cake batter. And cherry flavor in the icing and in the filling, too. So I started to improvise. The results were pretty damn good — not perfect — but that’s where you come in! Read the rest of this entry »