Cluck, cluck little hen 

I love trying out new places!

New to me, anyway. I guess I can use living in north Raleigh as my excuse for not knowing about seven-month-old Little Hen in Apex.

Or is it Holly Springs? It’s listed various places as belonging to both — and I don’t blame either town for trying to claim this fantastic restaurant. One of the best I’ve enjoyed in the Triangle in a long time.

As is the current trend, Little Hen is a farm-to-table spot. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. The more farm-to-table quality eateries the better.) It’s family owned and on the small side, with a simple and appealing decor peppered with farmhouse elements.

The menu has three main groupings of food: Small Plates, Boards and Mains. The Small Plates section is further divided into cleverly named segments like Grinds (sausages), Parts (wings, pig’s feet, marrow, livers) and Grown (veggies). You choose which local cheese and charcuterie you’d like on your Artisan Board, while the Big Boards contain three or four dishes piled onto a wooden cutting board-like platter. (Plenty for two, it appeared, and I even saw several couples leaving with board-leftover takeout containers.)

I chose two vegetable smalls plates and shared another with my friend. The first colorful dish was sliced charred beets with caramelized red onions sprinkled with finely chopped pistachios. A ball of fried goat cheese about the size of a large truffle offered a nice rich counterpoint to the vegetables.

The second small plate was long slices of grilled zucchini served on top of white beans flavored with bits of basil and feta. Straightforward and wonderful.

Fortunately, the shared small plate turned out to be the most generously portioned and we couldn’t manage to finish it despite its deliciousness: fried sweet potato fingerlings coated in thyme honey butter and scattered with bacon bits.

Full as we were, we shared two desserts. (Because what foodie in her right mind passes up dessert when there’s a dedicated pastry chef on staff?) By far our favorite was a thin slice of dense, dense (flourless, I’m guessing) chocolate torte with “crispy topping” (delightful little chocolatey balls) and cherry ice cream and chantilly cream on the side. What great fortune: a few of my very favorite tastes on a single plate.

I’m trying to figure out when I can next make the 35-minute trek to Little Hen. However, I’m sad to admit it probably won’t be in time to sample two must-haves I spotted on the menu published yesterday, since offerings appear to rotate on and off every few days. (Namely, grilled escarole with blue cheese dressing, walnuts and cherry tomatoes, yum.  And, even better, corn and cheddar spoon bread with butterbeans, summer pepper salad and honey.)

Best to make a reservation — Little Hen is very popular. Understandably so.

Luscious Laotian

Yet another Asian restaurant has opened in the space formerly occupied first by Duck and Dumpling and then Fai Thai. Based on Monday’s experience, I believe (hope, pray) Bida Manda will be around for a long time.

The Laotian restaurant hasn’t even been operating a month, and some work colleagues and I dined there on its very first day of lunch service. Despite its youth, there were no service hiccups or food disappointments.

From what I can tell, Laotian food shares similarities with Vietnamese and Thai — not surprising, if you know your geography from that part of the world. I tried my first, but not last, Thai-or-Laotian iced coffee (sorry, I can’t remember which country). Very strong and very sweet, with cream. It reminded me of Thai iced tea without that distinctive smokiness.

My entree was the deceptively plain-sounding watercress salad. Crunchy, herby and pungent, it was comprised of romaine, watercress, shreds of red cabbage, tofu, hard-boiled egg slivers, mint, cilantro and a peanut vinaigrette. I opted for the tempura eggplant add-on (other choices were lemongrass chicken or soy-marinated beef) — small crispy cubes, lightly fried. Despite it being “just a salad,” the flavor and texture made my tastebuds sit up and take notice. And, as with Little Hen, made me want to return sooner than later. For dinner, this time.

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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