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Bulk gentian root around Portland?

I've been trying to locate gentian root and some other bittering agents like cinchona bark for making some homemade cocktail tinctures. Anyone have a suggestion for shops within a 45 minute drive of Portland that might sell these kind of herbals? It's nearly impossible to buy gentian online unless you want a pound (or are willing to pay almost the equivalent cost in shopping) but gentian's what makes Moxie bitter so I figure there's got to be some kicking around somewhere. :)

Best place to buy a wok in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill?

I've been looking for a decent carbon steel wok and the Wok Shop in SF is out of their hand-hammered model right now. I'd like to get a chance to handle anything else before I buy. Are there any Asian markets in the Triangle that sell a decent one? My first stop was Li Ming's in Durham but theirs were mostly mass-produced/stainless models. I have a few more places left to try but if anyone has a favorite, sing out! The help would be appreciated. :)

Jun 12, 2012
Bricoleur in Southeast

Triangle food trucks: Upper-middle class meals on wheels

I think that novelty factor is the key with food trucks right now, demonstrated if nothing else by the popularity of "food truck rodeos". (*shudder*) They're the cool new thing that's getting a lot of press so everyone wants to try them, and cost, experience quality, and well, taste aren't really a factor quite yet. (It's also why the price of even the most roadworn roach-infested food service truck seems to have jumped 50% in the last couple years.) As the buzz wears off though, there's really not a huge amount to recommend the experience except convenience, price, and/or the best food available in the area you're parking. I don't doubt the good trucks will hang on and prosper, but I suspect a lot of the pilot fish and remoras will find themselves with dwindling businesses in a year or two unless they find a captive audience.

Jun 07, 2012
Bricoleur in Southeast

The Pig--Chapel Hill

Cooking over wood is romanticized, but that might be because it's rare and becoming more so. And as it fades out, you lose a lot of the regional character of barbeque.

You can put a gas smoker in a suburban shopping mall chain. I've eaten at a lot of places like that, as well as restaurants claiming to the highest standards and none of them have compared to the product of a wood-fired pit, regardless of the style the restaurant was serving. Especially given how little is done to the meat with Carolina style, shouldn't there be more gas-smoked places receiving the same kinds of accolades as the traditional pit restaurants? The wood really does make a difference.

Mar 01, 2011
Bricoleur in Southeast

The Pig--Chapel Hill

Made a second visit to the Pig recently and I'm not sure if I've just hit a string of bad nights or if the idea of the place is better than the reality.

I ordered the gumbo ($9) as my main dish. It was a large bowl but it wasn't very interesting or flavorful. I prefer a darker gumbo made with a brown roux and while the various bits of chopped meat in it were interesting, I couldn't help feeling like I was eating leftovers. A small cup would likely hit the spot on a cold day; as a meal-sized entree it was a little too bland to really work.

The fried chicken plate ($14) was entirely drumsticks for some reason, 3 in all, served with two sides. (fries and fried green tomatoes in this case) The chicken was passable, but there are a lot of places to get reasonable to decent fried chicken for significantly less around here, The tomatoes were tasty, the fries so-so.

For novelty, we tried two extra sides: frito pie and the (brussell) sprouts 'n 'shrooms. The former was kind of fun in a kitschy way, served right in the bag of Fritos with a spoonful of the house chili and a gigantic glob of sour cream. Not what I've eaten in Texas (the chili overladen with red and green peppers and minimal if any chili heat) and it arrived cold enough that the sprinkling of cheddar in the bag hadn't melted (probably due to that massive glop of sour cream) but not terrible.

I actually liked the brussell sprouts as did my companion who normally refuses to eat anything even vaguely cabbagey. Mostly that's a testament to the fact anything can be made edible if you throw it in a deep-fryer. The mushrooms come out well-browned and the sprouts get an all-over nooks and crannies roasting you can't really achieve with an oven. The cost of this, of course, is that you're eating as much fryer oil as you are vegetable. The sprouts were delicious, but incredibly greasy. (Makes sense; all those yummy crispy blackened edges are places you've evacuated all the water from what you're frying, making it a perfect sponge for oil.)

I think the most telling thing about both visits is both times things we normally would have devoured (or even fought over) were left over. And in some cases, we left them behind as not being worth carrying home. There's definitely some good ideas coming out of this place, but so far the execution hasn't made me a fan.

Jan 20, 2011
Bricoleur in Southeast

The Pig--Chapel Hill

I've only visited once, so I'm reserving judgement, but the meal I had that visit didn't match up to the reviews. I should say up front I love the idea of the place and everything on the menu is right up my culinary alley. The quality and presentation on that night was lacking though.

We started with the charcuterie plate, their "tongue-in-cheek" and country ham with pimento cheese and pickles. The T&C was tasty (sort of a mortadella with cured pork pieces within) but neither the ham nor the pimento cheese had a lot of flavor and the plate was served with four packages of cellophane wrapped saltines, which strikes me as a lousy carb for a $7.50 appetizer. We had to ask for more saltines because even being overly generous with meat and cheese, there were nowhere near enough for even two people.

My companion ordered hush puppies. Usually those don't last long after hitting the table with us, but there were still two or three left when we were done. They weren't bad, just kind of greasy and blah. (The table next to ours left their entire basket behind when they left.)

For mains, I had the pork belly sandwich which would have been great if the bread had been able to stand up to the meat. On a supermarket hamburger bun, by the time it reached the table all structural integrity was gone, and it was fork or nothing. Again, not bad, a good idea and decent ingredients brought down by a kitschy choice of bread.

The bbq pork plate was decent and my companion commented that the added smoke and seasoning made their pork rank slightly higher Allen and Sons. However, the atmosphere was a serious negative for her and I have to admit, the place is about as charming a place to sit and eat as a bus station. Aside from some quick afterthoughts like some blinds from Ikea, the room was dark, cold and cheerless. Don't get me wrong, we both love hole in the wall places with a passion, but given the ambition of the food they're putting out, a little bit of effort in that regard would go a long way toward building a following. As a place for a couple on a date (as we were) or family or whatever, it falls flat.

We haven't given up; we're planning another trip in the near future to try the fried chicken and (hopefully) the short ribs. Still, with all the kudos people are giving the place, I was expecting a slightly better impression than the one we left with.

Dec 13, 2010
Bricoleur in Southeast

Gourmet Kingdom (Carrboro) issues?

Ate there on Wednesday, everything was as good as usual. Had the double-cooked bacon, the cumin lamb, and the Cheng-Du dumplings. The dumpling were a little more delicate than usual and kind of fell apart, but everything else was fresh and tasty.

Oct 11, 2010
Bricoleur in Southeast

hello all. SF transplant. here for gradschool at UNC. need help.

I shop at both Harris Teeter and Food Lion depending on what I'm cooking and I'm frequently fascinated by the weird casual classism/racism I hear from people who'd die from embarrassment if I pointed it out. Teeter is great for general shopping, but if I'm looking for anything beyond the most generic cuts of meat, I usually head over to FL because they cater to a population that knows what to do with the offcuts. Their produce isn't generally as pretty as Teeter but it's frequently significantly cheaper and they stock a good supply of dried peppers, beans, and other Mexican staples. Best of all, they don't pretend to be a gourmet market, so you don't run into things like the $5.99 bag of barley Teeter tried to sell me when I needed some for a stew. Barley is $5.99 a silo; Food Lion doesn't pretend it's anything else.

-----
Harris Teeter
, New Bern, NC 28560

Jul 20, 2010
Bricoleur in Southeast

Tres Amigos in Carrboro

I occasionally worry that the building alone is going to kill the place. It looks more like a survivalist bunker than a restaurant and it's always empty when I stop in. I'm usually there at odd hours though, so maybe it fills up during lunch and dinner.

The food is at least as good as anything you can get at the taco trucks. They make the tortillas to order, the meats are varied and tasty, and they have Mexican Coke. Plus, the owner and cooks are really sweet. It's worth the stop for days when you're craving tacos in a sit-down setting.

Apr 07, 2010
Bricoleur in Southeast

Sandwhich moving (Chapel Hill, NC)

FWIW, a detail you leave off is paying the larcenous rents on Franklin Street costs more. Yes, Sandwhich uses lovely products. Personally, I think what they do with them is somewhat overrated, but I won't dispute your tastes. What I will say is that many of the people eating at McDonalds aren't there because they so much prefer it. It's that they can get out the door with some change from a ten dollar bill.* Anything that jacks the prices at Sandwhich higher should be a cause for concern because it further divides people into those who can afford to be fussy and those who can't.

*(In fairness, on the Sandwhich web site the menu does currently list a few options that will get you out the door for less than a sawbuck which is a good deal considering their ingredients.)

Feb 19, 2010
Bricoleur in Southeast

Durham: Saigon Grill

Maybe they had an off night , but I had a really disappointing meal at Saigon Grill recently. They were friendly and the food was nicely presented, but in terms of food quality and price we felt like we'd wasted our money..

We started with the grilled pork spring rolls which arrived very slightly cold, as if they'd been made earlier in the day and had been sitting; the pork was dry and didn't really zing. Okay, it's an appetizer and that's what nuoc cham is for; the iced coffees with condensed milk were tasty enough to let it slide.

I need to take at least some responsibility for what came next because I do know better. When faced with a large menu in an unfamiliar Vietnamese restaurant, the percentages say to go with the basics. Pho, Bun, maybe the stew, maybe not. Everything else *might* be ambrosial but until you've at least tried the standards you're rolling the dice. My partner was torn on whether to get pho or be adventurous and try the fried quail dinner. I offered the above opinion but not with much force; it was her dinner after all and all the reviews I'd read had been good. Okay, spend a little extra and see where it takes you.

I knew what I wanted walking in and I was glad to see they offered a few roll your own spring roll options. There were the usual pork and pork meatballs, but they also had one I'd never seen before, a beef sausage rolled in pepper leaves. At $16.95 the price was more than a little steep but we were already in for more than I'd expect to spend in a similar restaurant; take another chance.

No matter how I felt about the food, I will say our server was terrific, very attentive and friendly. He brought out the spring roll plates first, and we dug in.

Our first observation was "Hm...a larger bowl would really be nice here" as the hot water bowl supplied was too small to hold even half a sheet of rice paper. The sausages came out on a separate plate, tiny oblongs wrapped in dark leaves, covered with a pile of fried shallots and peanuts. They were...okay, but nothing to write home about, really dense cigars of excessively overcooked hamburger, very dry and with a flavor/texture that suggested they'd been in the freezer for awhile. The noodles were starchy and somewhat overcooked. The vegetables were actually quite nice with a pile of purple and green basil, lettuce, etc, though I really missed the pickled carrots/daikon that have come every other time I've ordered this. The sausages themselves were not bad exactly, but they're not something I'd ever order again.

The Fried Quail had really nice presentation, three(?) little split fried quail on a bed of lettuce with halved tomato slices arrayed around the plate, a big bowl of rice and a large bowl of a dark dipping sauce that tasted of star anise. The dipping sauce and the greens were both quite tasty, but the quail was dry and again, tasted like it had been the freezer too long. I wound up eating the lettuce (which had a dressing oddly enough; it was a salad unto itself) with most of the rice soaked in dipping sauce. Again, not terrible, but nothing about it made me want to rush back either.

Total cost of the meal (spring roll, two iced coffees, fried quail, spring roll construction set) came to $55 including tip. I've certainly paid more in places that looked worse, but nothing we ate was sufficiently good to make it seem worth it. I might return for a bowl of pho if I'm around Durham, but as a destination restaurant it just didn't stack up.

Jan 27, 2010
Bricoleur in Southeast

La Spiga: Italian in Needham, MA

I was glad to see it come in as it was nice to get some variety on Highland St. And for lunch, it still seems like a decent option, though the food is mixed. Everyone I know who has tried the pastas say they're terrific, but I've found the sandwiches to be just okay, particularly for the price. The $8.95 sausage and brocolli rape wasn't bad, but the sausage was crumbly and not particularly flavorful, and the rape wasn't drained well so the bread wound up soggy. Same with the veal cutlet which was so dull I wound up raiding the pizza condiments and oil and vinegar, just to get some flavor into it; the cutlet was breaded and fried beautifully, but there was no seasoning to it at all.

It seems to me like a work in progress. I haven't given up on it yet, but I still haven't found the menu item that would make me rush back.

Nov 30, 2007
Bricoleur in Greater Boston Area

SPIGA ON HIGHLAND

I work in the area; it was nice to find an alternative to the chains on Highland. I just tried it for lunch the other day.

The Calabrese pannini was okay; sausage, smoked mozzarella, brocolli rabe on a fennel dusted foccacia. A little small for $9 and everything felt a little wet in a bad way, like the rabe could have stood being drained significantly more. As others have commented, it was very salty, but their range of choices is pretty impressive; I'm hoping they have the flexibility to do a rabe/chicken/mozz. sandwich for example; that level of saltiness would work great against the blandness of chicken breast.

Oct 05, 2007
Bricoleur in Greater Boston Area

New Restaurant in Quincy - Firefly BBQ

The bbq competitions probably mean less than you'd think. How they treat their meat when it's 40-50lbs over the course of a weekend as opposed to the process necessary to service three restaurants daily is likely very different.

Real barbeque is labor-intensive; I suspect that's the main reason we don't have many of the kinds of places you find down south and in Texas. To do it right and make a profit, you need cheap rent and cheap labor and both are in short supply around here.

May 18, 2007
Bricoleur in Greater Boston Area

New Restaurant in Quincy - Firefly BBQ

No, there are lots of people who feel the same way. It's not a bad place; we use the Framingham one as a good default when we have a lot of people or kids and need a place with a relatively innocuous menu. It's still pretty much chain barbeque though, nothing to write home about or wait in line for but perfectly fine for a quick lunch or dinner before a movie. I *wouldn't* recommend travelling for it and personally, I like the bbq at Tennesee's across Rte 30 better, though they lack the decor and the full bar.

At Firefly, I usually stick with the sandwiches or the fried chicken dishes which I've found to be consistently good.

If they smoke on premises at all (and I'm not even sure of that) odds are good they're using a gas smoker; it's not like they're running a wood pit in a Framingham shopping plaza.

May 18, 2007
Bricoleur in Greater Boston Area

Soulfire: I give up

Have you tried the brisket at Uncle Petes? It's not like any bbq brisket I've had elsewhere (not even Texas) but it's moist and really flavorful without the problems you mention above.

May 17, 2007
Bricoleur in Greater Boston Area

Mortadella on a Cuban? [moved digression from Boston board]

In both cases I'm referring to Castro obviously, but you make a valid point. At what point does it become "authentic" though? According to Tabit, the Cubano pretty much ceased to exist in Cuba after 1959 because the ingredients were no longer readily available. Is the correct sandwich the American version, the the "last" recipe to leave Cuba or the version made with Arakak cheese? (I'm a bit dubious about that part of the article.) It's rather like trying to define the canonical "Italian" sub. Too many fingers stirring the pots.

Jan 11, 2007
Bricoleur in General Topics

Mortadella on a Cuban? [moved digression from Boston board]

[We moved this non-local digression from this thread on the Boston board http://www.chowhound.com/topics/358316

]

I interviewed the owner of the Montrose (Eddy Tabit) and Paul O'Connell over at Chez Henri about their Cubanos awhile back. Tabit immigrated to the US post-revolution and according to him, while mortadella wasn't common in the Havana sandwich, it was frequently used on other parts of the island. Given that the Cubano was likely an import in the first place, (Cuban chefs were training in Europe prior to the revolution and brought a lot of French and Italian techniques into the cuisine.) the "correct" version is sort of a snipe hunt.

Personally, I like the mortadella, it adds a nice peppery bite to the sandwich. On the other hand, I had a place try to foist corned beef on me once (clearly celebrating the unsung Irish influence on Cuban cuisine) and that was just awful. With the Montrose, I'm sure they're happy to leave the mortadella off if it offends you.

Jan 10, 2007
Bricoleur in General Topics

Old Viet's rest. in Arlington Ctr.

I'm really sorry to see them go but I'm not surprised. Even on a Saturday night I don't think I ever saw them more than half full and the room in the back felt abandoned. Still they were vastly better than the Pho Pasteur in Harvard Square.

Jan 06, 2007
Bricoleur in Greater Boston Area