Mea culpa! I’ve been slack about blogging and now there’s too much to catch up on. Get ready for a l-o-n-g (but hopefully tasty) post. Divided by mini-chapters for your easy perusing pleassure.
And hey, shades of Italy: I’m the slightest bit tipsy! Here goes …
My uncle’s birthday and mine are a week apart, and my mom decided to come down in between to celebrate with us — a bit late for him, a tad early for me. Birfday sammie.
On Saturday we met friends for lunch at Spize Cafe in downtown Raleigh. I’ve been to Spize a few times and absolutely love it. It’s fresh and vibrant and different. There are a couple of traditional Thai items on the menu, but most are a bit more unique, like Thai- and Vietnamese-inspired baguette sandwiches, salads and specialties. They used to be open for lunch and dinner, but now only for lunch.
On Saturday I had Tom Yum soup. Aside from a few mushrooms and other veggie bits, the dish was primarily broth. But it was so vibrantly flavored that it could have had nothing but the broth and I would have been content. Spicy-hot, slightly tangy and refreshing, it was a great thing to sip on a cold day.
To accompany, I ordered a fresh mint roll. You can enjoy Spize spring rolls either fresh or fried. Typically I prefer fried — I won’t tell you what the fresh wrappers make me think of! — but I didn’t want a crunchy shell to dampen any of this roll’s delicate flavors. Beansprouts, noodles, carrots, whole mint leaves and other crispy delicacies shone through the wrapper pretty as a picture. And it was delicious to boot, dunked into the thin, peanutty, sweet and sour sauce.
Dinner on Saturday was so-so (that’s what we get for not making a reservation anywhere), but dessert was oh-so-delicious. Yet more uncommon Escazu truffles. Above, from left to right: vanilla sour cream ganache (my uncle’s), strawberry balsamic (mine) and bacon sea salt dark chocolate (mom’s). And to top it off, peanut butter hot cocoa. Wow. As much as I love peanut butter and chocolate, why have I never thought to combine those two in hot chocolate?
Purposeful potluck leftovers
Just a word about this, since it’s such a great idea — courtesy of Cyndi! (Yes, she of the AVOCADO salad and chipotle chocolate chili.) Four of us single women each made a family-sized entree and got together on Sunday night to share dinner. We dutifully brought along our take-home containers to carry out shares of each entree — meaning no cooking the rest of the week!
The entrees included french lentil salad with feta, veggies and lemon vinaigrette; a bright, fresh veg (and chicken for the others) stir fry with glass noodles; a Moroccan dish featuring butternut squash, chickpeas and warm spices served atop spelt; and my fake meatloaf. What a great idea! I think we’ll be doing it again in the near future.
My company had a function at The Umstead hotel in Cary, with food by the renowed Heron’s. Everything was delicious. Favorite app: a split, juicy Medjool date with blue cheese crumbles and thick morsel of bacon.
But best of all, the very best butternut squash soup ever (several of us agreed). And I’ve slurped numerous butternut squash soups this season, as evidenced by this blog.
The banquet captain noticed our ecstasy and offered the recipe. No wonder we loved it! I could feel the heavy cream on my tongue with each spoonful. And I was right. One butternut squash, an onion, some broth, some spices and 1.5 quarts of heavy cream! To serve four people. Yikes! And yum! (Cream soup with butternut essence, anyone?!) The presentation was equally fabulous — an experience, as The Umstead put it. Each serving was poured individually into each diner’s bowl. Special and heavenly.
Happy birthday to me! I treated myself to pizza TWICE today. Lunch was a faux pita pizza at Zoe’s Kitchen, but dinner was the real thing.
When my friend Tobi discovered I had no plans tonight other than Weight Watchers and True Blood, she took control and whisked me out to dinner. I’ve been dying to try Bella Mia coal-fired pizza in Cary, which has been generating quite a bit of buzz. (N&O food critic Greg Cox recently named it restaurant of the year.)
We arrived to a one-hour wait — on a Wednesday night! (We watched in frustration as tables emptied but weren’t re-filled. Turns out the family-run kitchen was, apparently, kind of overwhelmed.) Luckily, we snagged a first-come, first-served two-top in the bar area after about 45 minutes.
I now understand what all the fuss is about. I ordered The Broadway — toppings were tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, arugula, grand cru cheese, prosciutto di parma and olive oil.
Jing, our most excellent server, explained that Bella Mia uses both wood and coal — the wood primarily to jump-start the coal. Together, they boost pizza oven temps to a fiery 900 degrees. We could see the flames leaping.
I’m a thick crust (i.e. Chicago deep dish) person, honestly. But Bella Mia’s thin crust has converted me. Airy bubbles along the outer edges, mildly chewy and yeasty elsewhere. The whole pie had a nice, subtly smoky taste (that coal again).
A couple of regulars at the table beside us graciously sent over a plate of wings. Again, I’m not a wings fan (nor chicken, period), but … these were also coal fired — juicy, meaty and simply yet wonderfully flavored with rosemary, thyme and olive oil.
Enjoyed with old Springsteen and U2 tunes, an intense Founders Red’s Rye PA (might be my new favorite beer) and the good company of Tobi, our neighboring diners and the management, it was a perfect way to celebrate my 51st.