Includes: Piedmont, Durham, NC; Vinos Finos Y Picados, Raleigh, NC; and more
How do you like my multi-purpose title? The Triangle area — part of North Carolina’s Piedmont — is savory indeed. And tonight I’m going to provide a glimpse of two experiences to prove it: a recent pre dance performance dinner at the Piedmont restaurant in Durham and a “Spice and Sip Soiree” hosted by Lafayette Village’s Savory Spice Shop and Vinos Finos Y Picadas in Raleigh.
For quite a while, whenever someone inquired about my favorite Triangle restaurants, the Piedmont nearly always topped the list. But there’s been so much new to try in Raleigh lately that I hadn’t been in more than a year, until last Saturday night.
I knew that ownership had changed since my last visit, so I was relieved that the decor and some favorite cocktails were still in place.
It was a very warm evening, so I tried a new drink that sounded — and proved to be — oh-so-refreshing: the Coon Rock G&T (so named for one of the Piedmont’s partner’s local farm, which supplies the restaurant).
As far as I know, the Piedmont was one of our area’s earliest innovators in the specialty cocktail arena; I remember being impressed with their homemade bitters way back when.
The gin and tonic didn’t disappoint. It was crisp and light and featured interesting — but not overwhelming — flavors imparted by lemongrass, cardamom and fresh cucumber slices. (Eating the G&T-soaked cukes at the bottom of the drink was a delightful experience.)
My appetizer was a perfect summer combination of heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, fried basil and goat cheese with a lemon-thyme vinaigrette. It was as good as it sounds. I especially liked the basil. Frying the leaves rendered them a dark green and softened their taste. (I’ve had fried sage leaves before — adore them! — but never basil.)
My entree was three potato-cheese-rosemary cakes served on top of crispy kale and flavored with tomato sauce and lemon crema. The photo isn’t much to look at, so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you it was a satisfying dish of multiple, interesting textures and tastes.
But best of all was dessert: a panna cotta with a slice of fresh fig, two fat, juicy blackberries and lemon caramel, with cornmeal cookies served alongside. (Thinking of you, Jennifer!) After my cherished brownie, panna cotta is probably my second-favorite dessert. I love the silky feel and rich taste, and that it’s as good but slightly lighter than its Hispanic cousin, flan. Piedmont’s version was pretty awesome. The cornmeal cookies were great, too. They were very crispy and reminded me of shortbread.
The only disappointment was that under new ownership, the Piedmont boasts a bit less bang for the buck. IMHO, either the portions need to expand or the prices should drop. (Sister restaurant Zely and Ritz in Raleigh also features delicious but smallish food for largish price points.)
Have you ever been to a happy hour-like meet-and-greet-and-eat in a spice store? Neither have I, until tonight. I think Savory Spice Shop owners Bob and Cindy enjoy socializing as much as they like running their wonderful store. They’re always hosting events that serve not only to introduce their shop’s tastes, but that also encourage neighborliness.
Tonight’s beverages were provided by nearby Vinos Finos Y Picadas, a wine bar and shop that features South American wines (350 of them), light accompaniments (picadas) and live music.
I’ve yet to spend an evening there, but it’s on my list of must-do-soons. (Anyone want to come with?) I particularly want to try their empanadas, which I’ve loved since living in Panama during my teen years.
Of the two whites and two reds sampled tonight, I had one favorite of each. The Alma de Chile savignon blanc was really yummy, with “tropical fruits on the back end” of the taste.
I will admit I’m not a wine snob and don’t have the best palate. I can tell a difference between really fine and regular ol’ wines, but I enjoy them all, usually. And I’m very susceptible to experts’ descriptions. (Leather? Dirt? Yes, I can taste them!) But I really and truly could taste a hint of pineapple in the Alma de Chile.
My favorite red was the Clos de los Siete, a really nice, smooth, full-bodied but not-too-assertive Argentinian wine.
Bob and Cindy had prepared a great spread whose spicy flavors complemented the wines very nicely. Pictured in this post are just a few, including Mediterranean Spiced Cucumber Medallions and Peruvian Chile Lime Chicken Skewers. But the tastiest by far in my book was Erin’s Quick and Easy Guacamole.
Savory Spice is generous with recipes, and I took home a handful this evening, including the one for the guac. It has just five ingredients: avocados, lime juice, tomato, red onion and Mt. Elbert All-Purpose Seasoning. I’m always on the lookout for a good all-purpose mix, and I’m assuming it’s what gave the guacamole its unique taste. I just tipped open the lid to take a whiff, and smelling it makes me very happy.
It’s the simple pleasures …