Saturday, April 12, 2014

SALO Project - Filipino PopUp Dinner

Pop-up dining is one of the hottest culinary trends in the country. The Triangle has hosted its fair share of these fleeting dining experiences, featuring everything from celebrity chefs to cuisine absent from the area.

Determined to prove that Filipino cuisine goes beyond lumpia and balut, Yana Gilbuena is traveling all 50 states in 50 weeks to share the flavors of all the 7,107 islands. Her SALO (Filipino for "dinner party") PopUp journey through the southeast landed her in Raleigh. Teaming with Crank Arm Brewing, Yana merged Filipino flavors with local ingredients to create a five-course beer dinner. Even though I grew up in a Filipino household, Yana's menu was full of dishes that never appeared in my Mom's kitchen.

One of the unique things about SALO's PopUps, other than the absence of utensils, is that it takes place in the home of a willing host - in our case, an apartment in downtown Raleigh. Unfortunately no one gave me the code to the door, so I spent my first five minutes there trying to break into the complex. But once I finally made it to the apartment Yana was busy cooking up our first course, pinakbet and tokwa't baboy.

A stewed combination of veggies from the Durham Farmer's Market, shrimp paste, and pork, pinakbet is a perfect partner to rice, or in this instance Yana's garlic fried rice.

The tokwa't baboy was an early favorite in the crowd. Crispy pork on top of a fried bean curb was a tag team of excellent texture.

SALO dinner is a long haul, about three hours, so it's best to be social with your dining companions. At the table I met a Duke post-grad student from Michigan, a couple with a cool Scottish accent, and the host, who told us his story about partying with Dave Chappell in his apartment. As the beer flowed and afternoon became night, Yana served us her third course, hamonado.

In the spirit of treating the dinner like a celebration, hamonado is typically a dish served for special occasions. Marinated in pineapple, the pork had a succulent sweetness that contrasted nicely with Crank Arm's Irish Red the Reflector.

The final savory dish of the night was highlighted again by sweet pork. Tocino, commonly served for breakfast with a fried egg, was a sweet finale to our savory courses. It was an excellent balance between savory and sweet.

Even though mashed sweet potato wasn't the most attractive dish, the kamote delight tasted like flan pudding. It was like a Filipino Snack Pack, a welcome sweet note to the end of the meal. Plus, after a night full of eating with our hands, we were happy to have a spoon to help us eat dessert.

"Masarap" is a word I grew up hearing a lot. Whether at Filipino parties, at my Tita's house, or trying to impress my mom with the tiny bit of Tagalog I knew. But masarap fully embodies Yana's meal and the SALO PopUp dinner.

SALO Project

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Trophy Brewing & Pizza Company

Years ago while driving down Morgan Street, I would glance over to the Burger Hut and think to myself, "I need to try that place out one day." But growing cities don't stay the same. Many fringe places like the Burger Hut get swept up by a city charging forward.

In its place are new ideas and optimism. Enter Trophy Brewing Company. The guys behind Busy Bee Cafe rehabbed the old Burger Hut, recreating it into a nanobrewery feauturing whimsical beers and a crowded patio. The buzz was so great that I decided to feature it in my Eater National Heatmap last year. After waiting for the weather to finally give the city a break, I was able take the bike out for a cruise on the first warm day in weeks. With no true destination, I dawdled around until thirstiness and hunger brought me to Trophy.

While examining the chalk board list of beer choices, a smiling and bearded face in the stool across from me yelled out, "You like saison? You should definitely try the Best In Show!" And as my new, bearded friend told me how it was tasty and easy to drink, I was just enjoying a cool brew on a warm day.

The beer just satisfied one of my needs and The Daredevil pizza fulfilled my other one. It sounds a bit intimidating at first: ghost pepper salami, fresh jalapenos, and sirircha. However, what I expected to be an engulfing heat was more like a lingering burn. Nothing that would embarrass you but definitely enough heat to get you sweating. With the constant glasses of beer, I was able to withstand the delightful spice from the pizza.

The dough bakes a puffier and chewier type of crust, similar to what you'd find at Lilly's. The 9" pizza, even though it was the smallest pizza size at Trophy, was enough to tame my appetite... accompanied by a few beers, of course.

Raleigh is changing constantly and change sometimes brings sadness or missed opportunities, but sometimes it bring delicious new beginnings.

Trophy Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mia Francesca - Brunch

Last spring, my friends and I ate just about everything on Mia Francesca's menu. Saving the best for last, Sara and I returned to partake in our favorite meal of the week: brunch.

A typical brunch menu is considerably limited, focusing only on a few choice breakfast and lunch dishes. Par for the course with their portion sizes, Mia Francesca's brunch menu is massive. Not only is there an entire page of entrees to choose from, but the menu also includes a long list of brunch time appetizer options.

Even if the ingredients of the dish have recently been put to question, I'm still a fan of calamari, no matter what animal or part it comes from. Mia Francesca's calamari had a lighter breading, which made it crispy, but the rings still had a chew. But I didn't mind as I happily munched away after dipping them into the restaurant's sweet and rich marinara sauce.

Sticking with another Italian staple, the bruschette alla romana has all the good things of American-Italian cuisine: carbs, garlic and cheese. The fresh mozzarella was a nice way to mellow the acid from the tomatoes. It was a simple and tasty start to the meal.

That awkward moment that you don't know how to pronounce the name of a dish so you don't order it. Initially I wanted to order the amatriciana al forno but when the server arrived, I panicked. Rather than showcasing why my parents wasted money buying Hooked On Phonics for me, I ordered the easier-to-pronounced frittata saltimbocca. Surprisingly, even with prosciutto and hollandaise, I felt like the frittata was under-seasoned. The cheesy polenta I got on the side was as advertised. Creamy goodness.

On our second visit to Mia Francesca's for brunch, I constantly practiced the pronunciation of amatriciana al forno, muttering the name of the dish under my breath until our server finally came. And even though I fumbled through the name as I ordered it, I successfully requested the dish I actually wanted. The amatriciana is the type of dish that Mia Francesca hangs their hat on, rustic and homey. It was all of that plus filling and comforting.

Out of our two visits for brunch, Sara made the best choice in the arancini benedict. Plump crispy risotto cakes replace the typical English muffins. With creamy risotto in the middle, the hollandaise sauce, and egg yoke, it was Scrooge McDuck rich.

Looking for something more basic on our second trip around, Sara ordered the egg panini. Bread, eggs, bacon and mushrooms. Nothing momentous but decent enough.

Even with bloated bellies, we I was able to do my blogger duty and stomach dessert. I stuck with the classics, cannoli and tiramisu.

The cannoli is served with a pistachio filling and a toffee brittle, which was nice but overall a routine sweet note to the end of the meal. The tiramisu followed along the same lines. I enjoyed the presentation and the raspberries were an interesting touch. Good, but another generic dessert.

For the Sunday morning meal where hipsters and church-goers meet, Mia Francesca serves as another solid option for the Midtown faithful.

Mia Francesca Trattoria on Urbanspoon