Review: Flying Biscuit Cafe (Raleigh, NC)

I try to do some research on restaurants before I try them, and I generally avoid chains, so I don’t know exactly how we ended up at the Flying Biscuit Café one night several months ago.  It’s a regional empire with a handful of locations across Georgia and North Carolina.  Unfortunately, it merits a review because for all the wrong reasons.  You can’t always win, but sometimes you wish you could have that time and money back.

To begin with, the place, which is nestled in Cameron Village, is much larger on the inside than I suspected.  The décor is bold or gaudy, depending on your viewpoint – bright orange, purple, and green walls, with vinyl fruit-and-vegetable cartoon tablecloths that echo the wall colors (only louder).  In the style of Cracker Barrel, there are knickknacks and kitschy items everywhere.  We were seated in a purple and lime green booth.

The menu is extensive – offering breakfast all day (a good thing in my mind), salads, sandwiches, and a range of entrees, including a number of vegetarian options.  After we ordered, a small plate of three big biscuits was brought to our table.  They were fluffy and warm but a little bland.  My wife said they were too sweet; I didn’t detect much flavor.  They were served with a side of apple butter that was heavy on the cinnamon.

I ordered a fried green tomato BLT, which was described as having, beyond the namesake ingredients, goat cheese and a cashew relish.  I opted for roasted potatoes on the side, described mysteriously on the menu as “moon-dusted”.  I don’t recall the reasoning, but apparently this refers to the use of rosemary.  In fact, the potatoes were like those sad hotel breakfast buffet potatoes.  The sandwich was absolutely no better.  It was served on toasted plain white bread, the fried green tomatoes were too densely breaded – almost impenetrable, really, and the goat cheese was not distributed at all.  It was clumped in one little spot, so that I tasted it in maybe one or two of the bites that I took.  The cashew relish was similarly indiscernible, and may not have added much anyway considering the crunch of the fried tomatoes.  Although I can’t recall now which sandwich my wife ordered, she was equally unenthusiastic about her meal.

There were other negative aspects of our visit as well.  First, there were three or four flies flitting about our table the whole evening, and we were sitting inside [there are a handful of tables out front along the sidewalk].  Second, our daughter’s kid’s pancake was 1) too big for the plate it was on, making syrup application a tricky proposition, and 2) served on a piping hot plate (presumably just out of the dishwasher).  Who serves a meal to a 3 year old on a scalding plate?

When we were finished – it didn’t take long, since we only ate 1/2 of our food, at most – the waitress brought us the wrong check.  An honest mistake, to be sure, but one that just confirmed what I had already decided: I don’t plan to return.

Review: Only Burger (Durham, NC)

May has somehow become the month of burgers and fries on this blog – two nights ago I followed up recent trips to MoJoe’s in Raleigh and Bull City Burger & Brewery (BCBB) in Durham with a visit to Only Burger.  I’d tried their burgers once before, from their truck, and didn’t especially love them (though I did enjoy the fries), but I was eager to check out their new storefront off of Shannon Rd. in Durham.

The space itself is tiny, with only a handful of tables.  Cavernous ceilings make it exceptionally loud, even if only a few patrons are present.  Despite the starkly limited menu, ordering at Only Burger is a bit tricky.  Your choices are spelled out on an array of placards above the counter, but they aren’t really arranged logically, and they don’t tell the whole story.  I think it would be helpful if the types of cheeses available were listed, and to mention, for example, that you can get your onions grilled, if you like.  I ordered a single ($4.75) with cheddar (an extra $0.50) and fries ($1.75), and my wife got a single with cheese and a side of onion rings ($2.75).  This, especially the former, is a good deal – for $7 you get a burger and a hefty cup full of fries (enough to split).

Your order is packed up in a paper bag when it’s ready.  Truckside, this is a necessity, but in the restaurant it’s just cumbersome.  It’s difficult to remove the fries and especially the onion rings from the bag without spilling some, and there’s really nowhere to put things – your burger’s foil wrapper immediately becomes your plate.  But these are minor quibbles.  The burger itself was quite good.  By comparison, BCBB’s burger was downright elegant (and a good bit juicier), but lacked the nice charry crustiness of Only Burger’s version.  The patty was well cooked and appropriately seasoned.  The fries were good but not great; similar to those from Five Guys, if a little less greasy.  The onion rings, on the other hand, were just bad.  The onions were cut too thickly, and there was almost no seasoning.  The accompanying dipping sauce was equally as forgettable.

The use of local, fresh ground meat and the varieties of cheese available – American, cheddar, swiss, pepperjack, pimiento, and maybe one other – puts Only Burger squarely ahead of Five Guys in my burger hierarchy, even if the overall experiences are roughly equivalent.  Only Burger also routinely offers specials, some of which are very enticing.  On the night I was there, they were offering 2oz lamb sliders with feta and tzatziki sauce.  It was very tempting, but, as you can probably tell from my last few posts, so is a good old-fashioned hamburger.

Review: Bull City Burger & Brewery (Durham, NC)

Perhaps no other area restaurant in recent memory has been as eagerly anticipated as Durham’s Bull City Burger & Brewery (BCBB henceforth).  Since well before their late March opening, people have been talking this place up as the next great thing.  With such lofty expectations, perhaps the restaurant was bound to disappoint some.  Indeed, reports of a shaky start cropped up immediately after the place finally opened its doors.  Waits were too long, portions were too small, prices too high.  After reading all of the pre and post-opening comments, I finally got the chance to try it myself yesterday.

BCBB is situated in a rather vast space right in the heart of downtown Durham.  It’s in an old building with high ceilings, but the feel of the place is modern, casual, and welcoming.  There’s an attractive bar, an Enomatic wine dispenser, and a small kid’s play area tucked away in one corner.  Rows and rows of communal seating fills the majority of the floor space, but there are some smaller, more private tables available as well, in addition to a handful of outdoor picnic tables.  Just place your order and pick your seat, and the friendly staff will bring your food right to you.

Much of the hype surrounding BCBB stems from their farm-to-table approach and their dedication to crafting everything in-house, from the buns down to the condiments.  This homey approach is slightly skewered by the “Five Guys” style industrial size boxes of flour and frying oil sitting right beside the order counter.  The menu is straightforward – burgers, dogs, and fries – but offers quite a bit of choice for personalization.  I ordered a “Green Monster” (gruyere, roasted poblanos, shaved raw red onion, $8) and my wife opted for a custom burger with cheddar, mushrooms, and “BCBB sauce”, which turned out to be a tarragon mayonnaise.  With cheese and mushrooms at $1 each, her burger also totaled $8.  Fries are separate, and BCBB offers either “Dirty Fries” (hand-cut, skin-on, peanut oil, $2) or “Duck Frites” (shoestring, finished with duck fat, fresh rosemary, and fleur de sel, $3).  The former were very good, but he latter are the way to go.  The lovely fresh rosemary and perfect seasoning made for some amazing fries.  As for the burgers, both were perfectly pink and very juicy.  The tarragon mayo on my wife’s burger was incredible.  Although mine was also very good, I thought it could have benefited from a little salt and the roasted peppers contributed surprisingly little flavor.  The substantial homemade buns were perhaps a little dense but complemented the juicy patties nicely.  The whole experience was completely satisfying – the best burger and fries we’ve had in the Triangle.

I didn’t try any of the home brews, but BCBB does offer a Boylan soda fountain instead of the usual Coke-Pepsi HFCS-containing selections.  Beverages are served in hefty glass mason jars.  Score two more points for BCBB.

To address some comments I’ve seen: our orders came out promptly, and the portions were huge – I left completely stuffed.  I regard $10 or $11 as a great price for a fantastic burger and fry experience, and I will be gladly coming back as soon as possible.  Next time, I look forward to trying the pretzel-crusted fried pickles and the bacon “bull” peanuts.


MoJoe’s Burger Joint (Raleigh, NC)

I’ve been to MoJoe’s a number of times over the course of the past several years.  What stands out for me about the place is not necessarily the supremacy of their burgers, but rather their striking consistency.  I know exactly what I’m getting here, and I’ve never had a bad experience.

To begin with, you must deal with the tiny, tricky parking lot.  The indoor dining room is also especially small, but is complemented by a wonderful, sprawling outdoor patio with varying degrees of cover/privacy.  Just pick your seat and a handful of servers will swing by to address your needs.  The menu is limited, to be sure, but, as the name implies, people come here for the burgers, and I haven’t sampled anything else.  I can’t say that it’s the best burger in Raleigh, but it can be thoroughly enjoyable.

I ordered the “inferno”, with grilled onions, jalapenos, and pepper jack cheese.  The patties are most definitely frozen (note their perfect shape), but they’re well seasoned and cook up surprisingly juicy.  My burger was spicy and quite satisfying, thanks in part to some nicely caramelized onions and an above-average bun.  My wife ordered a mushroom-swiss burger, and was equally pleased.  Fries are crinkle-cut (also frozen) but are remarkably crispy.  They are perhaps a little heavy-handed with the vaguely cajun seasoning.

Overall, MoJoe’s provides a good burger at a good price (about $5-8, plus extra for fries) with great consistency.  Combined with the delightful patio space, it’s enough to bring me back repeatedly.

Review: Tribeca Tavern (Cary, NC)

The Tribeca Tavern in Cary is a huge place.  You can’t miss it from the road; it looks something like a castle.  Inside, a massive staircase leads you to believe there’s seating for hundreds.  The furnishings give it the look and feel of a tidy, mid-range hotel.  Countering this and striking a distinctly casual note are giant TVs everywhere and ludicrous oversized images of, for example, a man eating a slice of pizza, or two people chomping on a burger.

In fact, the first thing you see when you walk in is a 6 or 8 foot tall blow-up of a burger stacked impossibly high with toppings.  If this doesn’t signal the restaurant’s culinary intentions, the “Red Robin” style specialty burger menu certainly will.  They range from “Southern Lovin” (fried green tomatoes, bacon, goat cheese) to Jimmy the Greek (ground lamb, tzatziki, olives).  There are burgers with bbq on them, or fried onions, or a fried egg, you get the idea.  But that’s not all: if burgers aren’t your thing, the menu covers an immense range of options from shrimp and grits to fish tacos to pizzas.  That’s covering more culinary ground than your local Ruby Tuesdays does.    The waiter may give you a spiel about how nearly everything is made in-house and how many of the ingredients are sourced locally.  In fact, he indicated that just about the only things not made in-house are curly fries, pasta, and bread.  But considering the breadth of the menu and type of foods offered, that seemed highly unlikely.  You’ve got to be skeptical of restaurants that offer that kind of variety: there’s just no way that nearly everything is made in-house, or that the quality of every dish is at a high level.

Tribeca Tavern does use organic NC beef, which they grind in-house daily, allowing you to order your burger rare, if you so choose.  The cheeses offered are mostly local, but feel free to opt for Kraft American (from Illinois) or Gruyere (from Switzerland).  The choices of side items with your burger or sandwich are extensive (14 items!), from tater tots to mac & cheese to sweet potato casserole to soup or salad. Unfortunately, fries are one of the things not made in-house.    The “local” focus at Tribeca does extend to the beverage list, which features Fayetteville’s Mash House beers and root beer.  I tried the root beer, and it was pretty good.

I ordered the “All praise Holly Grove” burger, which was topped with Holly Grove Farms goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and “charred” onions.  It was cooked the way I requested (medium) and it was juicier than a burger from, say, Red Robin, but really it was just ok.  There just wasn’t much flavor – the patty needed some seasoning.  The “peppered” onion rings were atrocious.  They were very densely breaded, and, despite their name, vastly underseasoned: they just about ruined the entire meal.  The specialty burgers are very expensive (at $13 perhaps the most expensive burger I’ve ever ordered) but, to be fair, they are so massive that the first thing I did with mine was set aside half for another time.  On the plus side, the fried calamari was breaded with a very light hand and had a nice spiciness to it.  And guacamole was surprisingly acceptable, if a little undersalted.  The guacamole is supposedly made to order, but it came to our table within a few minutes of placing our order.  I did not get to try the cheesy puff appetizer (puff pastry, brie, cashews, bacon, raspberry dipping sauce), but that sounded like a little much anyway.

For dessert, I tried a brownie sundae, which was nice and warm but, oddly, not rich enough.  The brownie was homemade, but the whipped cream most certainly was not.  I also tried the banana crème brulee, but I would not recommend that to anyone.  There wasn’t much of any banana flavor to the crème part, and there was hardly any crustiness to the brulee part. It was actually much more like a pudding, and for some reason, all of the vanilla bean seeds were found at the bottom of the dish, rather than being distributed throughout the custard.

In the end, this place is equivalent to one of those “ale houses” in a nice shopping center.  The fact that they offer local ingredients is commendable, but does not a successful restaurant make, and doesn’t justify the high prices.  You can make a much better burger at home, and for a lot less money.  The restaurant needs to pare down the menu and cut their own fries to go with their gourmet burgers.  I’d think a small restaurant focusing on gourmet organic burgers and excellent fries could do really well.  For example, Durham has Only Burger and the forthcoming Bull City Burger and Brewery.  I wish the conversation about this kind of place was inverted: instead of  “WOW” they make everything in-house, it should be of course they do, and “WOW’ everything tastes great.

Rating:  * *

Review: Bella Mia (Cary, NC)

Several weeks ago, I had some friends in town from Washington, DC.  We were making plans to go out for dinner, and I was asked where we could get good pizza in the area.  “There’s really not any great pizza in the Triangle,” I replied.  That was before I knew about Bella Mia, which, with its ultra-hot coal-fired oven, has been hailed as the long-awaited arrival of “real” pizza in the Triangle.  A recent visit confirmed this for me.

Upon entering the restaurant, I felt a little under-dressed in shorts and sneakers, but the space is nicely balanced between the casual and the upscale, save for perhaps the outdated dance music playing on the radio.  The interior is sleek, with dark wood tables and an open kitchen.  It’s a fine place for a nice date or for bringing a 2 ½ year old (as we did).

We ordered a margherita pizza ($9.50) and a “Canal St” calzone ($11), which was stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, and sausage.  I understand that good pizza is primarily about a good crust, and this crust was delightful, but it must be said that the toppings were what kept this pizza from being extraordinary.  They were actually too sparse: there was a very limited amount of sauce, which was perfectly fine, but the mozzarella slices were alarmingly thin – borderline paltry – and there were only a few small basil leaves on the whole pie.  Furthermore, there was a lot of vacant space between the toppings and the edge of the pie. As a result, all I could really taste was the crust.  Flecked with char spots from the coal-fired oven, it did have a great flavor and texture.  It was poofy on the edges and quite thin, but not crispy, in the middle.

The calzone, on the other hand, was phenomenal.  The ricotta was creamy, the sausage was cut into nice big chunks, and it was stuffed to the edges in the same great crust as the pizza.  Served with a judicious amount of tomato sauce, it was addictive – one of the best things I’ve eaten in the Triangle in quite a while.  The one improvement that could have been made was the plating: the calzone was crudely cut into three large pieces, with a little tomato sauce strewn on the middle section.

The rest of the menu was tempting too.  Bell Mia offers house-made pastas (the lasagna special almost won me over, but I was there, like many I suspect, to try the pizza), and I’ve heard good things about their lemon-rosemary roasted chicken wings, stuffed mushrooms, and nutella dessert pizza.

A note on ordering: the pizzas are about 12” in diameter, but, being thin and not overloaded with toppings, might leave you a bit hungry if split in half.  Most people I observed were ordering individual pies.  The calzone was decidedly more substantial and could probably serve two.  But don’t worry about it too much: any leftovers are not going to go to waste.

In the end, like many other recent commenters, I’m thrilled to have Bella Mia in the Triangle.  Now I know exactly where to go for good pizza.

Rating:  * * * *

Review: Lucky 32 (Cary, NC)

Some restaurants try so hard and come up just short.  Lucky 32 is one of these places.

The interior is nicely appointed, with an understated, sophisticated feel, and there is a pleasant outdoor patio, but the size of the place is off-putting: it is enormous.  You kind of feel like you’re in the most elegant Ruby Tuesday’s you’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, the food, despite its focus on local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients, reinforces this impression.

The menu is nice, if a bit extensive, with a center section that changes seasonally.  On a recent lunch visit, the choices were appetizing: grilled peaches with chevre and country ham, local grass-fed burger, cornmeal crusted Carolina catfish (for the alliteration-minded), and a host of other traditional southern classics.  It must be noted here that the phrase “voodoo glaze” was associated with a disconcerting number of dishes (six) on the current menu.  In fact, the restaurant, which has a sister campus in Greensboro, has always focused on regional southern American fare, with a bent towards Cajun cuisine; this was made official with the recent name change to Lucky 32: Southern Kitchen.

The problem is that while the food is respectable, it never goes beyond that.  I have dined at the restaurant a handful of times over the past few years, and I have to say that there has been nothing memorable about any of the dishes I’ve tried. Among the dishes I can recall, I’ve had a nice fried green tomato appetizer and a very pedestrian “Russian River” chicken (with seemingly frozen vegetables).  Most recently, a dish of shrimp and grits was well seasoned and had a perfect level of spiciness to it, but the shrimp were better suited for popcorn frying, the andouille sausage was mediocre, and the grits were swamped by too much sauce.  I wondered how different it tasted than the restaurant’s rendition of jambalaya.  The prices for lunch were generally reasonable, although the burger was priced at a substantial $11.  The shrimp and grits, $12 at lunch, jumps up to $19 for dinner with the addition of one side item.  While the portions are significantly over-sized, the relatively high costs are unfortunately not reflected in the quality of the dishes.

Speaking of over-sized, beware of ordering desserts at Lucky 32 – they are gigantic.  A slice of chocolate peanut butter pie was absurdly large, and a “miniature” complimentary birthday brownie was almost as big.  Each of these was easily enough to feed an entire party of four.  A simple vanilla ice cream dish was more reasonable with three smallish scoops, and while the fudge sauce was good, I did not care for the ice cream itself (from Homeland Creamery in Julian, NC), which suffered from poor texture.

On the plus side, the wait staff is very well trained, with good knowledge of the menu and a seemingly genuine interest in food.  In the end, however, I’d prefer to take my money elsewhere.  Yes, the food and experience are far superior to any Ruby Tuesday, but they also fall well short of a place like Watts Grocery in Durham, where this kind of cuisine (at similar prices) is executed superbly.

Rating:  * * *

Review: Cantina 18 (Raleigh, NC)

Since Greg Cox is issuing his review of Cantina 18 this weekend, I thought I would too.  However, a disclaimer is warranted: I visited this restaurant around 3 weeks after its opening, and this restaurant, perhaps more than others, apparently had some kinks to iron out at its inception.  But on to the review:

I was excited to try this new place in Cameron Village, and could not have been more disappointed.  An off-shoot of 18 Seaboard, a restaurant which I visited once and did not especially love, Cantina 18 is a more casual affair that aims generally, but wildly, at southwestern inspired fare.  There are tacos, yes, but they tend to have exotic fillings like duck confit-pineapple-asiago, or chicken-apple-cranberry-goat cheese.  In fact, all of the flavors profiles seem badly construed.

To start with, there were chips and salsa.  The salsa was virtually saltless.  We ordered guacamole, which turned out to be a big mistake.  It was nearly inedible, with a mayonnaise-like consistency (and taste!).  The tacos didn’t sound that great to me, and I wanted french fries, so both my wife and I wound up ordering sandwiches – an avocado BLT for her, and a pressed shredded pork one for me.  You’d think the avocado BLT would be an easy win – how can you go wrong? – but the avocado was mysteriously similar to the guacamole.  The sandwich was awful.  Perhaps worse still was mine, with a kind of pickled cabbage slaw and finely shredded pork.  The pepper jack cheese and lime crema were components of the sandwich that I could scarcely distinguish.  It just tasted bad.  The fries were no better, as the lemon zest and seasoning were again off the mark.  We did not want finish our meals.

A few positive notes: the service was generally attentive, the the chips were limitless, and the outdoor patio seating is a nice option.  But overall, based on our experience, I’m glad I didn’t try the crazy sounding tacos, and I’m not so sure that I ever will.

Rating:  *

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:  * * * *

Review: Buku (Raleigh, NC)

We went on a recent Saturday night around 6 pm.  The restaurant is located on the bottom floor of the Progress Energy building in downtown Raleigh, and, in a way, this fact – more even than the food itself – wound up defining our experience there.  Based on the location and the likely day-to-day clientele, I understand why it is this way, but Buku felt too corporate to be a truly special experience.  And, for me, the food didn”t quite overcome this.

To begin with, the outdoor patio is a nice option, but is not charming in any way.  With cold concrete block surroundings, simple black iron tables and chairs, and no barrier to the loud traffic, the pleasures of being in the city are lost.  At this price point, I don’t want to feel like I’m just sitting on the sidewalk.  I did walk through the interior as well, and, while sleek and elegant, it didn’t feel particularly inviting either.  But on to the food.

The premise of Buku is “global street food”, and the menu ventures, quite literally, all over the place.  The chef is William D’Auvray,(formerly of Fins, which occupied the same location), and based on his background, there’s a strong showing of southeast Asian and Indian offerings.  But, in the name of true globetrotting, there are also Latin American and Mediterranean inspired dishes too, among others.  Most of the dishes are small plates that are meant to be shared, but there are a few entree size options on the menu as well.  A far-flung array of sauces and condiments are also available to pair with your food.  Making our selection was difficult as everything looked delicious.  Sampling a large variety of things was quite tempting.

We shared the Columbian arepa, the pierogies, the Viet crispy crepe, and the beef tataki.  We were told the dishes would come out as they became ready, which was fine with me.  Instead, however,  they all arrived simultaneously, very shortly after we ordered.  This resulted in a very crowded table.  The arepa was not more than the sum of its ingredients – just a big disk of moist, dense cornbread, with some queso fresco on top and a little green salsa.  The portion size was large, and the flavor fine, but unremarkable.  The pierogies were puffed in brown butter, which I love, but the chicken filling was quite bland.  The crispy crepe was delicious – a perfectly crunchy shell with sprouts, nicely cooked shrimp, and mushrooms.  The beef tataki was also excellent, piled high with greens and tossed in yummy soy dressing.  All of the portion sizes were good, and 4 “tapas” was just about right for two hungry people.  For dessert, we ordered sorbet (choice of 3).  We chose coconut, pineapple, and raspberry.  The coconut was almost too milky, the pineapple was excellent, and the raspberry was just average.  We paid $42 total (including tip), but we had only water to drink.  The service was competent and unobtrusive; I had no complaints there.

Overall I just had the feeling of being in a hotel that was trying really hard to be fancy.  Everything felt a little slick and there was just no warmth, from the decor to the flatware and silverware, and even to the food, which, though well prepared, didn’t really satisfy me completely.  That said, it’s a nice option for Raleigh, and I’d go back to give it another shot.

Rating:  * * * 1/2