Restaurant Review Roulette: ONE Restaurant

December 23, 2010

Shane Ingram has firmly established himself as one of the top chefs in the Triangle, as his Four Square in Durham has been on Greg Cox’s top 25 lists for years.  It’s been over ten years since Ingram opened Four Square, and this past summer, he opened a new place — ONE Restaurant (or, as they like to do on the website, [ONE] Restaurant — not sure if they get a penalty for excessive use of brackets).

Here’s what I know about [ONE]: It’s in Chapel Hill’s Meadowmont Village.  It appears to have an open kitchen.  Its price points are somewhat high for what seems to be a relatively casual place, but they’re not outrageous by any means.  The menu does not appear to be overly ambitious on first glance, but then looking at the accompaniments to the main dishes, you start to think that the menu is intentionally understated.  And then you remember that this is Shane Ingram’s place.  You know it will be pretty damn good.

And so, Greg Cox will be reviewing ONE tomorrow.  Interestingly, Cox gave Four Square only 4 stars last year, hitting it hard for some service issues, but praising the food.  The Yelpster crowd is very mixed on its assessment of ONE.  I don’t really rely on the opinions of Yelp’s reviewers, but there was enough dissent here to throw me for a loop.   I really think Greg will like ONE, giving it at 4 stars.  I doubt, however, that he will be willing to give it that extra half star, and I wonder if he’ll dock it half a star.  That’s the difficulty of this prognostication business.   So I’m going to go with 4 stars, but I’ll be hedging a half star on either side.

Here are the odds.

5 stars — 7 to 1

4.5 stars – 3 to 2

4 stars —  1 to 1

3.5 stars — 3 to 2

3 stars — 4 to 1

2.5 stars — 7 to 1

2 stars — 14 to 1

1.5 stars — 20 to 1

1 star — 50 to 1

Place your bets, and let me know what you thought of [{(ONE)}].

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Edit, December 24, 2010 — It’s a 4 star review for ONE. [REALLY].

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Reverse Restaurant Review Roulette: Name that 4-Star Chinese Restaurant

December 15, 2010

The top of page 3 in the food section of today’s News & Observer had its typical tease for Greg Cox’s weekly review, which is how I usually identify the restaurant to be reviewed.  In some instances, they don’t name the restaurant, so I end up sending Greg an email to find out the subject of the review.  They did something completely different today, which I hope doesn’t become their standard procedure: the teaser said, “Greg Cox gives four stars to a Triangle Chinese restaurant.”

Geesh, they’ve already told us how many stars the restaurant receives, so I can’t do my typical story this week.

So, we’ll turn it around for once.  We know that a Triangle-based Chinese restaurant is getting a 4-star review on Friday.  We just need to guess what restaurant that might be.  I’m going to have to disqualify myself, because I’ve dined with Greg at one local Chinese restaurant, that was pretty darned good.  And he told me about a couple of others.  I will say that if he gave 4 stars to the restaurant where we ate, I’m going to be at odds with him.  But I don’t want to jump to conclusions here.

What are the 4-star worthy Chinese restaurants in the Triangle?

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Edit, December 17, 2010

Greg Cox awarded 4 stars to Asian Grill in North Raleigh, a tiny establishment in a strip mall that features Shanghai cuisine, including very tasty soup dumplings.  I am a complete novice when it comes to Shanghai cuisine, but I actually accompanied Greg when we had lunch there several weeks ago.  It was delicious, including some dishes I’ve never had before (sea bass with a wine sauce).  They had soup dumplings.  Really good soup dumplings.  This place is good.  Damn good.  But is it 4 star worthy?  In a vacuum, yes, this place has 4 star food.  It’s really good stuff.  But under the N&O’s rating system, a casual place like this can only get 4 stars.  It’s as high as it can go.  I’m not sure that Asian Grill represents the pinnacle of casual Chinese dining.  I know that Bella Mia, for example, represents the pinnacle of pizza, and they got 4 stars.

However, I leave that discussion for another day, when I write about the inherent problems with a star-based system.  Until then, just get over to Asian Grill.  It’s a great addition to the local dining scene.


Restaurant Review Roulette: Spartacus Restaurant

December 8, 2010

OPA!!!  You know, I really like Greek food, but I rarely eat it.  The saganaki is always a treat for the family, you can’t go wrong with kabobs, and any cuisine that highlights lamb can’t be bad.  There’s lots of great olive oil and herbs I love and feta and more.  Why, oh, why do I hardly venture out to a Greek restaurant then?  And why have I never been to Durham’s Spartacus Restaurant, which has been open for 17 years and is the subject of Greg Cox’s review this Friday?  I can come up with a lot of excuses.  I don’t get over to Durham all that much anyway.  Hell, I don’t get out to eat that much, period (except for lunch).  And when I’m craving a food, it’s probably not the simple, classic style of cooking that is Greek food (except for the occasional lunchtime gyro, but even that’s not something I do all that much).

Anyhow, I suspect Spartacus has lasted for nearly 2 decades because it’s good, high value food.  It’s a place where the owners value the customers.  It’s not because of it’s location, in the old South Square area on the Chapel Hill side of Durham, nestled by a Target and a Sam’s Club (or maybe that is a reason for its success, with all the traffic in the area).  Maybe it’s because of their belly dancer, Paola.  I might give the place a try on a Friday night just for that!

I also think that Greg Cox will have liked Spartacus.  Maybe not loved it, but a strong like.  So the question ultimately comes to this: is Spartacus a 3 star place, or does it get that extra half star?  My head tells me that it’s just 3, but for some reason, I’m leaning towards that 3.5 star review.  I could chicken out and give them both the same odds, but I’m not going to do that.  Here we go:

5 stars — 100 to 1

4.5 stars – 25 to 1

4 stars —  3 to 1

3.5 stars — 7 to 5

3 stars — 6 to 5

2.5 stars — 5 to 2

2 stars — 5 to 1

1.5 stars — 8 to 1

1 star — 23 to 1

Yeah, I really went out on a limb with those odds.  Anyhow, what’s your prediction?  And do I need to get over to Durham?

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Edit, December 10, 2010: Argh!  I really missed on this one, as Greg Cox gave Spartacus 2.5 stars.  I’m losing my touch.  Or I’m getting lazier by not doing any research on this place.


Restaurant Review Roulette: Thai Thai Cuisine

December 1, 2010

Wow, I haven’t written a thing in two weeks.  I’m reaching a new level of inactivity and irrelevance.  And I even missed Greg Cox’s review last week.

Sorry about that folks, and I hope my absence is just a temporary phenomenon, as I truly have so much to write about.  Great dishes.  Great road trips.  Farmers, chefs, bakers and more.  New restaurants opening.  But it will all have to wait, as we have some wagering to do.

This week’s subject: Holly Spring’s Thai Thai Cuisine.  I love this place, just for their website, which states on the home page: “WE OPEN EVERYDAY!”  I haven’t been here, and the menu looks like just about any other Thai place in the area.  So it all comes down to execution.  Is Thai Thai Cuisine’s basic food better than the other Thai establishments in the Triangle?  Are their ingredients fresher?  Do they make their own curry pastes?  The hell if I know.

I found no guidance on Chowhound, andYelp and Urbanspoon are absolutely worthless here.  One guy stated that the place is a little pricey.  Boy, that irks the shit out of me.  Here’s a place where the most expensive dinner entree is $13.95,  and it’s a little pricey?  I’m so sick and tired of people thinking that Asian food has to be less than 10 bucks for dinner, or it’s too expensive.  That’s narrow-minded and just plain wrong.  End of rant.

I suspect Thai Thai Cuisine is a great little place for Holly Springs.  If I lived over there, I’d probably dine at Thai Thai now and then.  But I don’t live there, so unless Greg Cox surprises me with a 4 star review, I’ll stick to Thai House on Hardimont (and even that ain’t all that).  Sigh.

So, here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 138 gazillion to 1

4.5 stars – 17 to 1

4 stars —  5 to 1

3.5 stars — 2 to 1

3 stars — 2 to 3

2.5 stars — 3 to 2

2 stars — 4 to 1

1.5 stars — 9 to 1

1 star — 29 to 1

Have you made the trip to Holly Springs and had some of that Thai Thai Cuisine?  And even if you haven’t, how many stars do you think it’ll get?

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Edit — December 3, 2010 — Oh, yeah, I still got it.  Seriously, though, Greg Cox gave Thai Thai Cuisine 3 stars.  It’s just another neighborhood Thai restaurant folks.  Nothing to see here.


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.

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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?

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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.


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???

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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!