Restaurant Review Roulette: Spring Rolls

November 17, 2010

Disclaimer: I’m mailing this one in, folks.  I took my daughter to Asheville last night to see Elton John, and she insisted on getting back in time for her 8 AM class today.  So after a 3-1/2 hour show, we stopped for the night in Hickory at 1 AM, got up at 4:50 AM and made it to Raleigh at 7:40.  I’m damn tired.

So, this week’s review is of a restaurant that I should have known about — it’s in Raleigh’s North Hills — but I hadn’t heard a thing about it.  It’s an “Asian Fusion” place (their term, not mine), called Spring Rolls.  It looks to be fairly fancy.  It tries to be lots of different things.  I’m not even taking the time to check out Yelp or Chowhound.  I only looked at two pages of the menu.  And I’m guessing 3.5 stars.

Here are the odds:

5 stars — 25 to 1

4.5 stars – 7 to 1

4 stars —  3 to 1

3.5 stars — 3 to 2

3 stars — 2 to 1

2.5 stars — 5 to 2

2 stars — 4 to 1

1.5 stars — 8 to 1

1 star — 27 to 1

I don’t have a clue, so help me out this week.  Is it good?  Is it just another “OK” fusion joint?  And how many stars do you think it’ll get.

And I promise I’ll write some more soon.  I’ve got lots of items in the works, but I’ve been too damn busy to write anything.  Thanks for hanging in with me.


Edit, November 19, 2010: Spring Rolls gets a 3-star review from the N&O.  I should have done some research.

Restaurant Review Roulette: Chef’s Palette

November 10, 2010

You know how many restaurants’ menus just list a few ingredients to describe a dish?  Like Alinea, with these examples: Short Rib, Guiness, peanut, fried broccoli.  Or Sardine, black olive, tomato, arugula (and note their use of the Oxford comma).  Yes, this gives you some idea of what might be in the dish, but it gives you no clue of what the dish actually is.

This week’s contestant in our game of Restaurant Review Roulette doesn’t have this exact problem, as the menu thoroughly describes each dish (more on that later).  However, Cary’s Chef’s Palette uses a different approach to confuse the diner: they make up names for dishes that leave you guessing as to what they are.  Let’s have a quiz.  I’m going to list five menu items, and you try to tell me what they are:

  • Tidal Pool Rendezvous
  • The Mad Hatter
  • Earth and Sky
  • Vesuvius
  • The Howling Wolf

Have at it.  Now you might be able to figure out that the Tidal Pool Rendezvous is seafood-based, and probably some form of crustacean or bivalve.  The Earth and Sky involve some meat (the Earth) and some bird (the Sky).  But really, do you have a clue what these dishes really represent?  Did you even come close to establishing that The Howling Wolf is “Jumbo shrimp dredged in a spicy apple butter barbeque sauce, served over a crawfish and sweet basil infused potato cake and drizzled with a white remoulade nestled in a pool of corn soubise.”

The other thing that sticks out about this menu is how detailed the actual descriptions are.  Here’s your answer for the Tidal Pool Rendezvous: ” Colossal Scallops wrapped in rosemary-peppered bacon and lightly seared.  Served with creamy stone ground gouda grits and grilled asparagus.”  OK, that sounds pretty good, except for the damn bacon around the scallops.  Folks, contrary to popular belief, bacon does NOT make everything better.  A rosemary-peppered bacon would overwhelm a decent scallop, so keep it away.  Here’s the description of Vesuvius: “House made marinara ladled over a nest of angel hair pasta, crowned with char grilled shrimp and finished with aged parmesan reggiano.”  OK, they must stack this baby up like a big-ass cone, and hope it shoots the marinara out of the middle.  Now THAT would be cool.  But I suspect it’s just a marinara pasta with shrimp.

So what about the food?  Beats me.  I never heard of this place until this morning.  Like most places, some people appear to love it, and it’s just “meh” for others.  To me, this place looks like an acceptable option for a strip mall.  They look like they’re trying to be all things to all people, and that’s a very tough task.  In the end, I suspect Greg Cox liked it just fine, but he didn’t love it.  And so (drumroll, please), I’m guessing this is a 3 star review.

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 20 to 1

4.5 stars – 8 to 1

4 stars —  3 to 1

3.5 stars — 3 to 2

3 stars — 1 to 1

2.5 stars — 2 to 1

2 stars — 4 to 1

1.5 stars — 7 to 1

1 star — 35 to 1

And by the way, these folks do know the difference between “palette” and “palate.”  So what do you think will be the outcome of Greg Cox’s review of Chef’s Palette?  And why?


Edit, November 12, 2010 — Greg Cox gives Chef’s Palette a 3-star review.  If you bet anything other than 3 stars, I’m going to use that money on something a bit less artsy.

Ashley Christensen’s Take on Barbecue — With Fullsteam!

November 4, 2010

As I wrote earlier, Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner is preparing a very special barbecue dinner to benefit the Lucy Daniels Center.  This won’t be any ordinary barbecue, however.

Ashley cures the pork for 3 days, with a special rub of salt and other herbs and spices.  This turns the pork into the most amazingly succulent swine you’ll ever taste.  But then she slowly smokes that pig over nut wood (typically pecan) for hours and hours, until a nice, crust is formed and the meat is redolent of that sweet smoke.  Of course, she has her own take on sauce.

You know it will be good.  No, you know it will be the best damn barbecue you’ve ever had.

But there will also be beer.  And we’re talking about beer that was created to be served with barbecue: Fullsteam’s Hogwash, which is a hickory-smoked porter.  We’ll also be serving the Fullsteam Carolina Common, a lighter beer for those who prefer it that way.

And as far as side dishes are concerned, you won’t be disappointed.  Don’t expect some limp green beens or dried out corn sticks.  There will even be a special Brunswick Stew.  And banana pudding so good, it’ll make you want to smack someone.  I mean, kiss them.

We will have some of Ashley’s roast chicken for those who don’t eat pork.  And if you’ve had that chicken before, it’s the best.  Anywhere.

But I need you to buy tickets to this dinner.  Yeah, it’s pricey, but it’s for an amazing cause.  The Lucy Daniels Center is the Triangle’s leading non-profit provider of children’s mental health services.  Why is this a big deal?  Because in this economy, with so many people unemployed, it’s harder than ever on children.  And parents don’t have the resources to pay for the help their kids’ needs.  The Lucy Daniels Center provides some sort of financial assistance to 90% of the families who receive care.  A large portion of those families receive care for free.

So I ask you — No, I BEG you — please go to the Lucy Daniels website and buy tickets to the dinner. Or call Patti Wilt at 919.459.1611. You’ll have a great meal.  You’ll enjoy the beer.  And you’ll know you’ve done something very special for families in need.  And there’s nothing better than that feeling.  Not even the banana pudding.

Buy tickets thru PayPal here:

Or call Patti Wilt at the Lucy Daniels Center at 919.459.1611

Adults are $75, kids under 14 are $35, and all but $25 is tax deductible.  Sorry, no beer for the kids.

Restaurant Review Roulette: Pop’s

November 3, 2010

A long time ago, Pop’s was a really hip restaurant owned by hipsters, visited by hipsters, and all with a hipster attitude to match. The menu was fairly ordinary semi-upscale Italian, but the food was good. But that was indeed a LONG time ago. A lot has changed over the years. There’s no more attitude. They’ve actually moved locations. And the food is still pretty damn good. Or so I’ve heard, because I have not been to Pop’s since the days that they opened. It’s not that I held a grudge for all these years over the place’s attitude, it’s just that I never made it back to Durham to eat there.

And now Pop’s is about to be reviewed by the Raleigh News & Observer’s restaurant critic, Greg Cox. I think Mr. Cox will like Pop’s. I hope he has a silly title for the review, like, “Pop’s Rocks.” Mikey would like that title, I bet (that’s an obscure joke based on an urban legend that 2 people will get). But I look at the menu of Pop’s, and I scream, “I WANT THAT IN RALEIGH!” And I also know that the owners, John Vandergrift and Chris Stinnett (who also own Rue Cler), really care about their craft. So I do think this place will get lots of shining stars from Cox.

But how many??

It’s not a 5 star place. It will get at least 4 stars, I can confidently proclaim. Will it get that elusive extra half star? That’s the big question, and I could be a chicken shit and give 4 and 4.5 stars the same odds. But I, however, am a fearless prognosticator who dares to take the big chance, to live on the edge, to go without a helmet, to shoot for the stars, and to get rid of the training wheels. I’m going with 4 stars, but only because I think Greg Cox will start to be a bit harder to please.

Am I right? Am I wrong? Does anyone really care?

5 stars — 7 to 1

4.5 stars – 5 to 4

4 stars —  4 to 5

3.5 stars — 3 to 1

3 stars — 6 to 1

2.5 stars — 8 to 1

2 stars — 16 to 1

1.5 stars — 25 to 1

1 star — 60 to 1

What sayeth you?  How many stars will Pop’s receive this Friday???


Edit, November 5, 2010 — Damn, I hate being wrong in one way and right in another.  I hate it when my odds are off, as Greg Cox gave Pop’s 3.5 stars.  I was right when I suspected getting 4 stars would be harder than ever before.  And Tom from Raleigh, you should have bet some money!