Well, what you see above are certainly the only mussels I flexed during the long, lazy MLK weekend … But it was still a good weekend because seafood and chocolate are a few of my favorite things.
Mussels are one of my favorite seafoods, and I enjoyed outstanding bivalves at Kitchen in Chapel Hill with two friends for lunch on Saturday.
Kitchen is a small but welcoming space with a contemporary feel. The menu is fairly small, comprised of straightforward bistro-type fare. I knew ahead of time I was likely going to order mussels, as I’d read up on them.
They didn’t disappoint.
One of the reasons I love mussels is because of their texture. They’re not big and slimy like oysters, but neither are they as small and chewy as clams. The ones I ate at Kitchen were medium in size and nicely plump.
But it was the cooking broth that elevated them to a superior level. (As is usually the case. Mussels are fairly mild tasting in general, so what you cook them in can make a big difference.) The menu said it was a traditional preparation of pernod, tomatoes, onions and herbs.
The mussels were accompanied by great-looking fries (the thin kind) that were served in a cute paper-lined tin cup with a handle. Unfortunately, they looked better than they tasted. The flavor was excellent, but they were very limp and a bit greasy.
My favorite part of mussel-eating is sopping up the leftover broth with bread. If the fries had been good I would have used those, but bread is best. Upon my request, our server brought a small plateful of delicious grilled bread that had been brushed with a little olive oil — perfect. Once I polished off two pieces of dipped bread I ate a few spoonfuls of the broth alone before finally forcing myself to stop. Ahhhh …
On Saturday night I ate with another friend at 618 Bistro, which has been quietly operating on Lake Boone Trail in Raleigh for more than a year. The menu looked wonderful, but I was a little worried with my dull-tasting caesar salad starter. (Too much dressing — should’ve asked for it on the side. And though it was house-made, I don’t think they used anchovies, or enough garlic or lemon.)
The entree was much better, thank goodness. It was described on the menu as: sword fish (sic), herb crusted, house risotto and cucumber orange relish in lobster cream sauce. The actual relish made me chuckle, since it was made from cucumbers and Mandarin oranges instead of fresh, regular oranges. But hey — it was sweet and refreshing. The risotto was outstanding. Creamy and well-flavored. I didn’t see any herb crusting on the fish, but it was well cooked (looked and tasted grilled) and flavorful. I wish there had been a bit more lobster cream sauce. It was very delicate and couldn’t quite stand up to the meatiness of the swordfish in such a small amount. I ended up scraping the sauce off the fish with my fork and licking it so I could enjoy it better.
Side note: Once again … my new fits-in-my-purse-and-isnt-too-conspicuous light doesn’t do a great job. Most tiny lights project weird patterns or are too bright. Does anyone have any suggestions?
The best part of all was the super-delicious cinnamon bread pudding. Oftentimes bread pudding can be too dry, too heavy on the nutmeg and/or have too many raisins. 618 Bistro’s version was served very warm and moist, and the cinnamon level was ideal. It was so good that we finished it off before I even thought of taking a photo.
I would like to try 618 Bistro again. It could be one of Raleigh’s better restaurants with a bit more attention to detail and execution.
To top off my weekend — can you guess? Chocolate.
After lunch Saturday we had briefly visited Foster’s Market’s second location right beside Kitchen. I spotted some good-looking brownies and immediately administered the heft test.
First, I have to confess that if I could only have one dessert for the rest of my life, I’d have to choose a brownie. But I’m picky about them. I don’t like cakey versions. Nor do I liked underbaked brownies. Fudgy yes; but there’s a fine line between fudginess and undercooked. (My brother and other people rave about Ghiradelli’s boxed mixes, but every time I make them sections are underbaked and fall apart.) I don’t care that much for add-ins like cream cheese, fruit, cinnamon or other non-traditional ingredients. Nuts are okay, though.
I did have two favorites: Ina Garten’s recipe for Outrageous Brownies (time consuming but oh-so-worth-it) and Whole Foods’ Triple Threat Bar (delicious, but not as traditional as I like). And now I have a third: Foster’s brownie.
It was perfect. First of all, it was heavy, which, in my opinion, indicates richness and an adequate amount of chocolate and other important ingredients. Out of curiosity, I weighed the Foster’s brownie on my food scale when I got home — just over half a pound! (No, I did not eat it all at once!)
When I removed it from its plastic wrap the top was nice and satiny, another good sign. And it had walnuts baked in. If a brownie’s going to have nuts, they should be walnuts.
On the one hand, I’m sad my new favorite brownie is all the way in Chapel Hill. But on the other, I’m extremely relieved!