Monday, September 14, 2009

Chapel Hill: Margaret's 21st Birthday!

 The birthday girl and me

I thought it would be appropriate to make my first post about my recent trip to Chapel Hill for my sister's 21st birthday. Every time I visit the Triangle area I'm impressed by their food scene. We enjoyed several great meals while I was in town.


We went to Bonne Soirée for Margaret's big birthday celebration dinner. It is a really traditional French restaurant in downtown Chapel Hill- no web site, no Open Table, and a handwritten menu that changes daily. It's a tiny little place, run by a husband and wife team, with the wife, Tina Vaughn, keeping up the front of house and the husband, Chip Smith, as executive chef in the back. Ms. Vaughn was extremely knowledgeable about wine, so we were happy to let her assign wine pairings for each course. Sean, who took care of us, assumed a maître d’ role- he was the only server, with a couple of server assistants to back him up.

After much debate, we decided what we wanted to order. First, we shared the Chef's Featured Terrine and the evening's Fresh Pasta selection. We thought the terrine, a traditional-style Country Pâté, was lovely. The mustards that were served with it were nicely spicy and made a great accompaniment. It was paired with a German Riesling, which offset the spiciness of the mustard and richness of the pork in a great way. The pasta was amazing. It was a little nest of angel hair pasta, with a sunny side up local egg lovingly snuggled inside, topped with a sprinkling of black truffle shavings. Oh God, it was good. I wish we could have taken pictures of the food, but we (rather gingerly) respected the restaurant's no photography rule so as not to disturb the other guests. I can't remember exactly which Italian white was paired with the pasta, but it was dry and crisp. Cut nicely through that rich yolk.

Okay, second course. Probably my favorite course of the evening. It was this gorgeous local goat cheese soufflé. I'm always curious to see different restaurants' presentations of savory soufflés. This was heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Makes me happy to think about it now. It was paired with a nice little Vouvray, which happens to be one of my favorite whites.

For entrées, Margaret chose the scallops, which were served with a summer vegetable sauté, proscuitto, and a garlic cream. I swear, the scallops took a back seat to those vegetables. There were sugar snap peas, pearl onions, and mushrooms, and they were all so perfectly crisp-tender I was in awe. Her dish was paired with a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which I thought was a really fun little wine. I think it was mostly Roussanne, which always kind of reminds me of a full-bodied Chardonnay, and it worked really well with the cream sauce. I had the lamb special, which was a duo of preparations. There was a breaded chop and some pulled, braised, shoulder, served with a fried polenta cake. I didn't really think the chop needed to be breaded, but it was still delicious and flavorful. The pairing was some sort of Grenache and Syrah blend, maybe a Côtes du Rhône.

Finally, we shared a light, creative little play on peach Jell-o for dessert. The chef suspended a half of a (poached?) peach in a peach gelatin. It was so pretty, again, I wish I had a picture I could display. It was just right after such a great meal- I don't think I could have mustered up the energy for a heavy chocolate dessert. It was paired with a sparkling dessert wine, which cut through the gelatin texture perfectly. Overall, one of the most amazing dinners I have ever had.

After an amazing birthday dinner at Bonne Soiree


After dinner, we had a cocktail at Lantern, which was the runner-up of dinner choices. I had their Hibiscus Petal, which was a concoction of Hibiscus-infused vodka, lime juice, and Thai basil. I love anything with basil in it, so I enjoyed it. Margaret had the Late Blossom, which combined Luksosowa vodka, Lillet Blanc, lychee juice, and orange flower water. She didn't really love the lychee flavor, which she had never tried before. Overall though, I really liked the bar atmosphere, which was dimly lit, with crimson walls and black bar furniture. Next time I'm in town, I'm going there for dinner.

Hibiscus Petal and Late Blossom cocktails at Lantern

Right before I left, we grabbed lunch at Allen & Son barbecue, which I have been wanting to do the last couple times I visited the area. It was kind of in the middle of nowhere, and there was a line out the door at 1:30 pm. Good sign.
Allen & Son Barbecue 
It was not the mustard-based BBQ I've grown used to here in SC, but rather, a vinegar-based sauce, which was spicy, tart, and delicious. The portions were huge and the food was cheap. The slaw was great, too- I don't like too much mayonnaise, and it was just the right amount. For dessert, the peanut butter pie was to-die-for. I will definitely go back.
Loaded BBQ plate with slaw and hushpuppies at Allen & Son
So, that about sums up the foodie highlights of my trip. I had so much fun! Happy birthday Margaret!