Capital Club 16 (Raleigh, NC)

image courtesy of flickr

When my wife and I lived downtown, more than 5 years ago, there wasn’t much going on. Walking around the city at night, we wouldn’t see too many people; it was rather bleak.  This was before Fayetteville St. was transformed from a desolate concrete stretch to an open boulevard and before places like the Raleigh Times existed to draw people away from the entertainment hub of Glenwood South.  A lot has changed since then, but one of the most notable and welcome developments is the opening of some good restaurants downtown.  I’m thinking of places like, among others, Poole’s Diner, The Pit, Dos Taquitos Centro, Sitti, the Busy Bee Cafe,  and, very recently, Beasley’s Chicken & Honey.  Another place that figures squarely in downtown Raleigh’s renaissance is Capital Club 16, a restaurant that, even if it’s culinary star doesn’t shine quite as bright as some of the other places mentioned above, has nevertheless become a hip urban nightlife destination.

The restaurant is housed in a lovely, grand space on the corner of Martin and Salisbury Streets.  It’s inviting and feels sophisticated, even a little luxurious, while retaining it’s pitch-perfect of-the-moment coolness.  Part of what makes it work is the gorgeous furniture – all beautiful rustic dark wood and marble tables along with stately but sleek vintage chairs.  The dark browns and black contrast nicely with the white walls.  It’s as nice of a place to take a date as it is to conduct a lunch time business meeting.

The menu is small and has a bit of a German bent to it, with schnitzel sandwiches and various sausages on offer.  I ordered one of the night’s specials, a “Chicago-style beef” sub with fries ($10), and my wife ordered the burger with pimiento cheese ($9).  Despite arriving au jus, mine was closer to a Philly cheesesteak than to a French dip.  Regardless, it was one of the better renditions of either I’ve had in a while, with a bit of a salty and wine-tinged bite.  The extra jus was completely unnecessary.  Unfortunately, the hoagie roll was a bit weak for the job, and became rather mushy during the course of the meal.  The fries were decent, pleasantly airy and crispy, but nothing memorable.  My entree also came with a very small cup of vegetables in vinegar.  I didn’t care for it, but it wasn’t much to discard: one little crinkle-cut carrot coin, a tomato fragment, a celery sliver.  I also thought the plating could use a little improvement, as my pickle spear was buried under a mountain of fries, along with a few other mysterious pieces of cooked celery.  Service was attentive and professional.  It was a solid meal, but nothing to get too excited about.

Although I’d go back to Capital Club 16, I don’t feel inclined to hurry back, and it wouldn’t be at the top of my list of downtown eateries.  There are too many other good choices now, with even more on the horizon.  Still, thanks in part to places like this, things are looking up for downtown Raleigh,

Tomatoes!

photo courtesy of my wife

Everyone raves about summer tomatoes, and there’s a good reason for it: they are so good at this time of year.  There’s no substitute for a good juicy tomato, and no shortage of uses for this seasonal bounty.  From sauces to salsas to sandwiches to salads and beyond, or just eaten straight off the vine, the taste of fresh ripe tomatoes is unmistakable and refreshing.  So now’s the time to stock up on them at your local farmer’s market.  There are many different varieties to choose from, but one of our favorites is the little bright orange sungold tomato.  Here’s how we recently used a bunch of them:

Tortellini with Spinach & Cherry Tomatoes

– The recipe calls for packaged tortellini, but it’s fabulous with homemade goat cheese & herb ravioli.  And real garlic of course.

 

CSA Haul: Lettuce

image courtesy of my wife

This spring, we have been eating salads almost daily thanks to the abundance of lettuces coming from our Hilltop Farms CSA.  Farmer Fred grows green and red romaine, red bibb, and red leaf varieties, and they’re all great.  From taco salad to Asian wraps to sandwiches, or just simply dressed with a classic homemade vinaigrette, we’re eating lots of delicious and healthy greens.

CSA Haul: Turnips

image courtesy of my wife

Farmer Fred of Hilltop Farms is keeping us supplied with plenty of turnips these days.  You can use them in mashed potatoes, slice them ultra thin and serve them like Dean over at VarmintBites did here, or slather them with cream and parmesan and roast them like we did with this recipe.  We didn’t use that much cream or cheese, and subbed in some fresh oregano for the savory, but it was definitely yummy.

CSA haul: Arugula

Farmer Fred at HillTop Farms loaded us down with greens at the season’s first pick-up last week: spinach, kale, pac choi, green and red romaine lettuces, and arugula.  This last one is not always my favorite, but here’s a great way to use it.

Arugula, Fennel, & Orange salad (courtesy of Allrecipes.com)

Vinaigrette: 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil

Salad: 6-8 cups arugula, 1 bulb fennel (chopped), 2 oranges (segmented)

Directions: just whisk up the dressing and toss with the main ingredients.  It doesn’t get much easier!

Buttermilk Biscuits

When I was growing up, every weekend my dad would make breakfast.  The repertoire was limited but satisfying: pancakes, waffles, French toast (occasionally), or biscuits.  I recall liking all of them (as I still do) and a cooked breakfast always feels like a decadent affair after a week’s worth of cheerios-and-milk, granola and yogurt, or toast with cream cheese and honey.  So, with a bottle of creamy buttermilk in the refrigerator, I decided it was time to work on my biscuit craft.  This weekend, to start with, I pulled out “The Joy of Cooking”, because the recipe was guaranteed not just to be there, but to be simple as well.  And it was certainly easy.  I decided to make monstrous, restaurant-size versions, and within thirty minutes I had these piping hot fluffy biscuits (pictured above) on the table.  To go along with them, I whipped up a simple sausage gravy (cook meat, add flour to create a roux, add milk or cream, cook until thick, season).  They were delicious with the gravy or with some honey, but I have to admit, a hot biscuit with butter and a little jam can be deeply satisfying.  In fact, that was the best of all – just like dad used to make.

The recipe follows:

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

5 tbsp butter

2/3 – 3/4 cup buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients.  Cut in butter.  Add buttermilk and stir until dough just holds together.  Transfer to a floured surface, gather dough, and flatten to desired thickness.  Cut out circles (I used a glass).  Bake at 450°F for 10-12 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.

Note: Keep the fatty ingredients cold and don’t work the dough too much.  You can brush the tops with milk, cream, or melted butter prior to baking for a nice finish.  I’m looking forward to experimenting with these in the future, playing with the recipe to adjust the sugar or salt or to incorporate lard, for example.

Homemade Graham Crackers

The title of this entry, posted as a Facebook update, elicited a response of “I refuse to believe that’s possible”.  But it is possible, even easy, and the results are delicious.  First, let’s call the graham cracker (and it’s cousin, the animal cracker) what it really is: a cookie.  The fact that graham crackers derive their distinctive texture in part from whole wheat flour does not make them a health food.  And, as you’ll see from the ingredient list below, neither do the substantial amounts of fat (butter) and sugar.  But, like most any homemade food, these graham crackers don’t contain those mysterious (and nearly ubiquitous) industrial ingredients like partially hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup, “artificial flavor”, and soy lecithin.  Instead, what we get is a simple shortbread, which, even if it doesn’t quite have that familiar crumbly texture, tastes oh so much better.  The recipe here is from The Craft of Baking.

Clementine Sorbet

What do you do when it’s 100 degrees outside and your daughter, told she can pick a fruit from the grocery store, selects a huge bag of clementines?  Make clementine sorbet, of course!  It’s easy ice-cold refreshment.

Here’s how you do it: Dissolve 1 1/2 cups sugar in 2 cups water to make a simple syrup.  Allow it to cool completely.  Stir in 2 cups fresh clementine juice and some clementine zest (a tablespoon or so).  Freeze in your ice-cream maker or make it into popsicles.

Herbs

Growing herbs is one of the simplest and best ways to improve your home cooking, practice sustainable eating habits, and save money at the same time.  We grow [pictured, from left to right] rosemary, mint, chives, basil, thyme, sage, and [not pictured] cilantro and oregano.  At one point we had some dill and parsley going too.  We use these in countless dishes on an almost daily basis.  The use of fresh herbs brightens the taste of almost any dish, from savory to sweet to salads.  And, by growing your own, you simply pick only what you need.  It’s easier and more economical than dealing with the rest of that huge bunch of grocery-store cilantro after you’ve used a handful in some guacamole.  Growing herbs doesn’t require much outdoor space; you can even grow them in pots.  So go for it!