Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rolling Into Raleigh, NC, With a Knife And Fork

aloft RaleighAfter a couple of decades in Ohio, we are making the move to North Carolina. We decided to check out the culinary scene in Raleigh. Here are a few great finds.

Going Aloft In Raleigh

After 22 years in the Toledo, Ohio, area we are on the move to North Carolina – the Raleigh area to be more specific. Before this can all come to pass, we need to have a new world headquarters building for Vino-Sphere (or, as my wife would put it, we have to buy a new house).

Recently we flew into Raleigh to meet with a Realtor and tour a few homes. Green Dragon (my wife) gave me two options for our hotel stay – an econo-budget hotel or aloft Raleigh for just a few dollars more. As much as I love drying off with towels that feel like sandpaper to save a few cents, we decided to stay in aloft instead.

Aloft is part of the Starwood family of hotels, which includes Sheraton and Westin, among others. Aloft brings a funky, eclectic style to its hotels that is refreshing. You have to love a chain that has a pool table in every hotel. It also offers bicycles for use by guests. Bright colors are splashed throughout the sleekly stylish property. The WXYZ bar was hopping on Saturday night  and their Refuel area (a food station open 24/7) also offers made to order breakfasts.

The rooms have high ceilings befitting their “loft” status and are done in cool gray tones with upgraded finishes throughout. We had a nice perch located across the from NC State campus and the iconic Memorial Bell Tower. When we tired of the view, we could pull down shades decorated with colorful, modern art graphics.

A nice feature of aloft Raleigh is the outdoor terrace on the fifth floor on the front of the hotel that extends the bar seating area over Hillsborough Street. We enjoyed a nice glass of wine while observing the comings and goings on one of Raleigh’s main avenues.

Raleigh RestaurantsHitting Downtown Raleigh

After a long day visiting houses on the market, we finally were ready for some dinner. Raleigh is a city of about 450,000 people and is part of the Research Triangle, which has a population of about 2 million. Raleigh has a vibrant foodie scene.

We had gotten a tip that Gravy was a “do not miss” restaurant experience. When we arrived downtown, we discovered that it was swarming with people out on the town during this pleasant weekend night. We also would have had a two-hour wait to get into Gravy.

No problemo. We noticed an appealing restaurant next door, Sitti, an upscale Lebanese restaurant and slipped inside. We had about a half hour wait, but the time was passed pleasantly with some newly-made friends who just recently went through the house hunting process.

Having a comfortable house is critical when making a move, but so is having a city with a good vibe. We got that in plentitude at Sitti – the restaurant was buzzing with an energetic crowd enjoying the evening and some very tasty food. We enjoyed an appetizer of kibbee mikli – ground beef and lamb with pine nuts fried in cracked wheat with a labneh yogurt sauce. My entree was the kafta kabob, a lamb dish served with their delicious rice which had vermicelli noodles and roasted almonds.

The service was excellent and the quality of food superb. To accompany our dish we ordered two Lebanese wines, mine from Chateau Ksara. Sitti is a sure thing when you are looking for a great dining experience in Raleigh.

A Hunger For More

The next morning we decided to take a stroll and go out for breakfast. About four blocks away we strolled into the Flying Biscuit. This is a fun environment with bright artwork and funky Americana strewn throughout the restaurant. It was clear that this was the place for a Sunday brunch or a lingering weekday breakfast.

I’ve had a lot of biscuits in my day, but these surely rank with the best. They were served with cinnamon apple butter and I would have been content to eat a half dozen. I restrained myself and instead saved room for my short stack of buttermilk pancakes and applewood smoked bacon – now that’s great down home cooking (with a side order of funk!).

After another grueling real estate marathon, we regrouped at aloft and prepared for dinner. This time I had prepared ahead and made reservations at Gravy. Of course, since this was Sunday night, the crowds were much diminished. So there is no misunderstanding, Gravy is an Italian restaurant, not a good-old-boy home-style buffet. Gravy, to an Italian-American is the pasta sauce that their mother and grandmother would cook fresh every night.

Gravy is a boutique style fine dining establishment. It has an intimate dining room with the focus on local ingredients. I selected the lasagna after an online tip that this was their best dish.

For the wine we went by the glass, not wanting to navigate an unknown city with numerous traffic circles in a rental car. I ordered the Terradoro di Paolo Anglianico and the Green Dragon had the Massa Fuso Reserve Barbera from Piedmont. The Sunday crowd in Gravy was a little more subdued that the one we saw through the window pane the night before – but the service and food was exceptional. Each bite was a luxury – and the portions were perfect in size.

We’re looking forward to exploring the culinary haunts of Raleigh. At some point, we’ll need a house – but in the meanwhile, we’ll be well-fed.

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