Enrigo Italian Bistro (Cary, NC)

Cary’s updated Waverly Place shopping center has a lot of nice features – lovely fountains, movies and concerts on the lawn, a small children’s playground, a Whole Foods outpost that is not insanely crowded like Raleigh’s Wade Ave. branch – but it’s a work in progress, and it what it really needs are some great tenants to bring excitement (and people) to the area.  A few decent restaurants and shopping options would help the developers realize their purported goal of emulating the success of Raleigh’s North Hills.

One of the first handful of tenants that is in place is Enrigo Italian Bistro.  It occupies one of the prime spots in the shopping center, with a flowing, expansive, indoor-outdoor setting with a dino decking that allows diners a pleasant view of the courtyard’s grassy field and fountains.  Large glass panel doors that almost always remain wide open mean that the restaurant is really half inside, half out.  The decor is semi-upscale, and the waiters wear all black, but it’s more of a family restaurant than a romantic date spot.

The menu features Italian classics with few, if any, suprises: pastas, pizzas, and panini.  Prices are on the high side, especially for appetizers (for example, fried calamari/shrimp for $12.99).  My wife and I recently split a margherita pizza ($10.99) and a spinach salad ($5.99).  First, there was house-made bread to start off with.  It had a great crumb and was nice and soft, but could have used a touch more salt.  The accompanying olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip was insipid.  The spinach salad was disappointing.  It featured thinly sliced red onions, roasted red peppers (just a few thin strips), and “shaved” parmesan.  The cheese was plentiful, but it was more like little crumbs and tidbits.  The whole thing was brought down by a watery, flavorless balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  The pizza was big, probably around 14″ in diameter, and very thin.  It would be too much food for one person, but not quite enough for two.  The crust was sort of a feathery light crackery-crisp affair that was pleasant enough, but the rest of the ingredients were nothing to get excited about.  The cheese reminded me more of the pre-shredded variety than delicate fresh mozzarella, and the amount of basil on the pie could not have added up to even one leaf.  My wife says the pizza has changed dramatically since Enrigo first opened a few months ago; then, she was thrilled by it, but not this time.

I’d be willing to give Enrigo another shot, because it offers such a pleasant setting, and to try one of their pasta dishes.  And for sure I’ll be back to Waverly Place, especially if they can attract some more good businesses and restaurants.

Melina’s Fresh Pasta

Living in Raleigh, I don’t get out to the Carrboro Farmer’s Market very often.  But after a visit this past Saturday, I hope to be back more frequently.  This weekend the market was crowded with shoppers and overflowing with the season’s abundance: blueberries, peaches, corn, squash, heaps of tomatoes, and so on.  We purchased some of the fine produce, to be sure, but one other purchase really stole the show.  It was a pound of gnocchi from Melina’s Fresh Pasta ($7).  Expensive compared to dried pasta, sure, but it’s enough to feed 3-4 people, and, once you try it, it’s tough to go back.  There’s nothing quite like fresh pasta, and though I’ve made it before, my efforts didn’t come anywhere close to the deliciousness of these little dumplings.  They were so tender and delicate.  In addition to various noodles, Melina also offers a small menu of prepared pasta dishes (as well as cooking and pasta-making classes).  I’m eager to head back out to Carrboro and try some more!

Unio Olive Oil

Quite a few years ago, my wife and I were enjoying a great meal at the now-closed Enoteca Vin in Raleigh.  My wife loved the olive oil and inquired about it.  It was called Unio.  We looked it up and found it available on Amazon and the like, but never bothered to order any.  Then, passing through Lynchubrg, VA the other day, we stopped at a little gourmet market for lunch and found that they had a bottle of the oil for sale.  We purchased it, and, after confirming its wonderful flavor, wondered why we waited so long to buy it after that first impression years ago.

I love olive oil, but I’m no connoisseur.  This stuff from Spain is great though.  It’s light and delicate, with a fruity and faintly peppery taste.  Drizzled over some pasta, used in a salad dressing, or simply sopped up with some good bread, it will be much sooner than a few years before we buy our next bottle.

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.