Beans and bread

 Includes: Lantern, Chapel Hill, N.C. and Watts Grocery, Durham, N.C.

I am, once again, woefully behind in my blogging. My keyboard just can’t keep up with my mouth!

First, a cherries confession

Well, guess what? The liquored-up cherries I made were indeed delicious, but they were not equal to the jarred Luxardo brand served in many bars. And from the way my daughter talked, they weren’t equal to the non-alcoholic version (made by her boyfriend’s mother) than started the whole cherry fixation.

So I tried again. This time, alcohol-free. And I have a couple of theories.

First of all, I actually like the plain ol’ cherries better than the boozy ones. I think the infused cherries will be great in cocktails. But for everyday eating, the others take the prize.

I also theorize that smaller cherries would be better — and we don’t have that variety around here. Only imported Bing and Ranier. Erin’s-boyfriend’s-mom’s cherries were small. And so are the jarred Luxardos.

Here’s the recipe I used for the non-alcoholic version. I plan to eat them on plain Fage Greek yogurt for breakfast tomorrow.

It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood

Raleigh’s restaurants are getting better and better by the day. But I’m still often drawn to our neighbors, Chapel Hill and Durham.

Chapel Hill used to be known as one of the nation’s foodiest small towns. But Durham bests it now.

Still, Chapel Hill remains home to some awesome restaurants, one of which I’d never managed to try until a couple of weeks ago. Every time I thought to go to Lantern it were booked solid.

Now that I’ve finally been, of course, I know that you don’t need a reservation to dine from the same menu in the atmospheric back bar area. The ambience is pretty fantastic: dark, intimate, lit with red paper lanterns. When I walked back to check it out early in the evening I could see why many people prefer to eat there instead of the main dining room. But as it got later it was almost claustrophobically crowded. So early is key for a more serene dining experience.

My friend John and I supped in the main room that fronts Franklin Street. We loved everything we ate, but for me, the chaat appetizer stole the show.

Why in the world would I order Indian street food in a Chinese restaurant, you might ask? Many, many diners had enthused online about the appetizer, and our (excellent) server confirmed that it was indeed very special.

She described the chickpeas as creamy on the inside.

Huh? Now, I love me some chickpeas. Eat them a lot. But the texture is always pretty consistent whether they come out of a can or I cook them from dried — not very exciting, and definitely not creamy on the inside.

I’m not sure how Chef Andrea Reusing does it, but I’ll be damned if they weren’t creamy inside. And even more interesting, the outsides were … well, I wouldn’t go so far as to describe them as crispy, but they definitely had more of a bite-through-’em consistency. The little cubes of potato were similar in texture.

The dish also featured zucchini, pickled red onions, cauliflower bits, mint chutney and who-knows-what-all spices. A virtual riot of colors, textures and flavors. Something in the melange — not sure what it was — imbued the chaat with a slight pucker factor. Lemon, maybe?

Anyway, the end result was outstanding.

Now I’m definitely not one of those people who orders the same favorite every time they return to certain restaurants. But it’s going to be difficult to resist the chaat next time I go to Lantern.

Just a few days later I found myself at Watts Grocery down the road in Durham. I’ve been a fan of Chef Amy Tornquist’s way with Southern foodstuffs since her Nasher Museum cafe days.

Like at Lantern, it wasn’t my entree that impressed. And this time, it wasn’t even an appetizer.

Well, one appetizer did take second place. The farmer’s cheese and basil hushpuppies — served with basil mayo — were fantastic. We didn’t think they could be topped by the unassuming-looking dinner rolls that were delivered shortly after the pups.

But in this case, looks were definitely deceiving. I’m not a big fan of dinner rolls — except for Watts Grocery’s, now. They were by far the lightest and most delicate rolls I’ve ever had. Oh-so-soft. Little pillows of perfection.

Since my dining companions — my mom and our friend Jim from Portland — were both traveling the next day, I took home leftovers. I was wary when they insisted I stash a roll on top of what remained of mom’s flounder dish. (We only had a roll leftover because we’d ask for a second basketful after we devoured the first. They were literally that irresistible.)

But, believe it or not, that little roll was almost as delicious the next day, even after being refrigerated with fish for more than 12 hours, and even without butter.

The moral of the story is: Do not forgo the bread basket at Watts Grocery, low-carb/wheat belly/Paleo be damned.

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About atarheeltastes

I'm a passionate foodie who started this "temporary" blog during a gustatory tour of Tuscany. I decided to continue, since I love to dream about, plan for, prepare, eat and write about food!
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