Review: L’Uva Enoteca (Durham, NC)

Over a Thanksgiving weekend filled with food, we managed to fit in a great meal at yet another of Durham’s culinary bright spots, the newly opened L’Uva Enoteca.  Located at the charming American Tobacco Campus, L’Uva is chef Jim Anile’s second restaurant in the Bull City, after the well-received Revolution

The inside of the restaurant is small and narrow, almost cramped, with décor that is unforgivingly modern and sleek.  One wall of the space is lined with semi-opaque glass that looks onto an adjacent lobby.  If the interior dining lacks a bit of warmth, the few tables that spill over into the lobby surely enjoy even less.  On the plus side, there is a nice courtyard patio that ties the restaurant into the rest of the campus, saving it from office building oblivion.  It’s meant to be an expensive looking place, and it clearly achieves an upscale feel, but it’s not a romantic dining room. 

As a party of six, we were seated at probably the largest table in the room, a chunky wooden table whose quasi-rustic nature tempered the modernity of the experience.  In the right setting, it would have been quite a charming seating arrangement, but, within the narrow confines of the space, the table was angled into a corner such that the wait staff was almost constantly passing (squeezing) through right behind us on their way to and from the kitchen.

The menu is Italian in a modern way, and changes often, in very much the same vein as Durham’s Piedmont.  One thing I found very appealing about L’Uva’s menu was the option, for many of the pasta dishes, to order a small or large portion.  In the age of enormous servings, this is a great way to both eat a more appropriate amount and save a bit of money.  I opted for a rigatini with sausage, rapini, and roasted pearl onions ($10 small, $15 large).  Naturally when ordering I completely forgot the portion option, and ended up with the large.  My wife ordered the evening’s special: beef tenderloin/spinach-goat cheese raviolo/ porcini mushroom sauce ($22), and another in our party ordered the very tempting roast chicken/white polenta/orange marsala sauce ($15).

The bread brought to our table was a first rate crusty ciabatta, served with an unremarkable olive oil/pesto dipping sauce.  Entrees followed quickly, and were uniformly well received.  My pasta dish featured some beautifully delicious crumbled sausage, and was perfectly seasoned.  It had a subtle complexity and just of hint of spiciness.  I probably could have consumed the entirety of my “large” portion; I imagine the small portions might leave a hungry patron wanting.  My wife’s entrée was perhaps even better, with expertly cooked beef over a winning medley of artichoke and pancetta, with just enough sauce.  The chicken dish was a bit less successful: although the meat was juicy and tender, the white polenta was unexciting in terms of both texture and flavor, and there didn’t seem to be enough sauce to tie it all together.  A couple of side dishes ($3 each) were also ordered: some buttery asparagus and some outstanding roasted brussel sprouts. 

It being a celebratory dinner, a round of desserts was also ordered.  A chocolate crostata ($6) was like a fudgy brownie, and better than average, although my wife didn’t care for the thin pastry wrapping.  Better was an almond-apple tart ($7), featuring some sugared almonds, ultra thin apple slices, and a heavy hit of almond extract.  I thought the pastry in this case was a bit soggy/insubstantial, but the overall flavor was certainly delicious.  The downside to both of these desserts were the extremely unripe strawberry garnishes.  Best of all was some excellent coffee gelato ($6).

To sum it up, L’Uva is another feather in Durham’s cap.  If it doesn’t quite fall into the uppermost echelon of Durham’s finest, it’s because the competition is very stiff.  But it was an excellent meal, and L’Uva should most certainly be considered among the top upscale Italian eateries in the entire Triangle. 

 

Piedmont Farm Tour

This Saturday and Sunday is the 16th annual piedmont farm tour – billed as “America’s largest farm tour”.  It’s a great way to learn about the Triangle’s local and organic farm & food scene.  You’ll get to meet local farmers & tour their farms!

With 6 new farms and 40 farms in all, the 2011 Piedmont Farm Tour has something for everyone! We are pleased to add to the tour this year, beautiful Lindale Organic Dairy, a 5th generation farm, an exciting new permaculture-style farm up in Hillsborough  –  Ever Laughter Farm, and Cozi Farm, which is raising animals near downtown Saxapahaw!  And, Suki Roth will be opening up her Herb Haven!  These farms, plus lots of your favorites, will make a great tour!

Load up a car with your friends and family , choose the farms on the map you’d like to visit and get out in the countryside! The tour is self-guided and farms and sites are located throughout the Triangle in Alamance, Chatham, Durham, Orange, and Person counties.. Visit any farm in any order. And, don’t forget to take a cooler so that you can take home some of the farm fresh products for sale at many farms!

Advance tickets are $25/car.  On the days of the tour, tickets will be $30.  The farms will be open from 1pm – 5pm each day.  For more information, maps, and tickets, visit http://carolinafarmstewards.org/pft2011.shtml

Review Update: Piedmont (Durham, NC)

Ever since Piedmont in Durham came under new management, I’ve been curious to try it again and note any differences.  Unfortunately, I must say that my most recent visit there was somewhat disappointing.  The space is the same, and the menu is similar, with perhaps more of a focus on pastas.  But, outside of the desserts, the food was a big letdown.  To begin with, three crudely cut sections of doughy whole wheat bread arrived, accompanied by some very bland butter.  The thickest chunk of bread was gummy, or undercooked, in the middle.  I ordered a potato gnocchi / caramelized leek / country ham / tomato jus dish that was served as a very small portion with a nice parmesan tuile on top.  The gnocchi was a little dense, the country ham flavor was not present enough, and the leeks were tough and chewy.  Still, it was tastier than my wife’s tagliatelle / mushroom / carrot / aged balsamic / cream dish.  Her noodles were soft and delicate, and it was a creamy dish – nice for a cold night – but it was terribly underseasoned and lacked much of any flavor.  Dessert, on the other hand, was much better.  We tried a perfectly decadent chocolate soufflé and an almond-fig pithivier (puff pastry like thing).  The latter suffered from a pastry that was a bit tough but was redeemed by the scrumptious filling.  It came with a few superfluous apple slices and a little smear of sabayon.  The magnificent soufflé was accompanied by a tiny dish of caramel ice cream and some extra ganache.  It was wonderful and insanely rich.  Either dessert was easily big enough to share.  When we were finished, the waiter brought us two small chocolate chip cookies with our check.  I thought it was an odd touch after we had just polished off two large desserts.  We’ll try somewhere else next time we’re in Durham.

Review: Piedmont (Durham, NC)

Piedmont is a restaurant of a type that, though imperfect, I wish could be found more readily in the Triangle, and especially in Raleigh.  For me it’s similar to the former Enoteca Vin, a sophisticated place with excellent, locally sourced ingredients and good preparation.  But unlike that restaurant (whose chef, Ashley Christensen, went on to perhaps greater success at the more raucous Poole’s Diner), Piedmont suffers a bit more from a lack of consistency, and, more importantly, from a menu that has some winners and losers.  I wish Piedmont delivered top-notch choices at every turn.

The space is modern, warm, and inviting, with an open, airy ambience.  It’s much more cozy than, say, Humble Pie in Raleigh, whose expansive space feels only hangar-like.  The lighting at Piedmont is dim but contrasts nicely with the dark polished concrete floor on the entry level.  There’s a small upper level for dining as well, which is made much more appealing by the addition of two sklylights.  It’s nice place to have a meal, and the feel of the place is well matched to the food.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve dined at Piedmont numerous times.  What I’ve found is an overall high level of quality, but a need for greater attention to detail, a bit of inconsistency, and most importantly, a lack of brilliance carrying through the entire menu.  Although some dishes have been exceptional, some have not.  For example, I recently had an amazing ½ poulet rouge with creamy mashed potatoes – simple, elegant comfort food that was as good as a similar dish at Poole’s.  This dish had me believing that Piedmont was a top 5 Triangle area restaurant.  But I’ve also had a crispy leg of duck confit that was not crispy, a bit greasy, and accompanied by heavily over-salted pan-fried potatoes.  The worst part about this particular dish was that my wife ordered the same thing, and we received two different plates.  While hers was artfully presented with braised greens (as described in the menu), mine was clearly just tossed on the plate haphazardly.  The duck was off to one side, barely resting on the potatoes, and there were no greens at all.  Although the waitress did bring me a side of the greens upon request, the lapse and the shoddy plating irked.

In addition to these dishes, I’ve also eaten respectable, though underseasoned, pomme frites with terrific aioli (an outstanding value at $5 for a gigantic bowl of fries), lackluster raviolis that overpowered with creamy cheesiness (a lack of nuance), unremarkable arancini, delicious first course cheeses with very nice grilled fruit-nut bread, and a good rendition of shrimp and grits for brunch.  Speaking of bread, the bread served at the beginning of each meal is not my favorite – salty focaccia chunks and baguette-like slices that I prefer to be less soft and more crusty.

In the end, I’d recommend Piedmont for brunch or lunch over dinner, and, if you go for dinner, you might stick with the meats and potatoes over the pastas and risottos.  I must say that I have not tried any of their fish dishes, or any of their tempting house-made sausages.  Dinner entrees hover close to the $20 range, and, though portion sizes are large, a better value can probably be had at the other meal times as well.

Rating:  * * * *