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Triangle here I come?


smogle
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For those of you just joining this discussion who may not be from around here, the "Triangle" is the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, consisting of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. This is one of the 10 fastest growing areas in the US, and it actually has the fastest growing Latino population. Much of the growth is fragmented -- this area represents all that is suburban sprawl. Durham and Chapel Hill have a much more liberal and artistic bent, whereas Raleigh is the state capital and has a greater percentage of those who represent the "Old South."

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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"The Inn at Little Washington which is in the middle of a 4 block town far from anywhere is successful because of the food and service."

Yes, but for the purposes of this discussion, no. The Inn is considered a "Washington, DC" restaurant despite the fact that it is in the sticks, relatively speaking, compared to the downtown DC core. It has always received an inordinate amount of local press from the nation's 2nd or 3rd most important newspaper--the Washington Post--the chef and restaurant has been championed for what seems like decades by Phyllis Richman alongside the likes of other DC-area chefs she helped make into national superstars like Jean-Louis Palladin, Bob Kinkead, Roberto Donna, etc. There was a critical mass of cooking talent here which she helped create awareness of nationally--at a time when the country started worshipping chefs more--and into which the Inn could be folded into. Without the proximity to a media-market like DC I doubt the Inn or the reputation of its chef would be what it is today. We don't cook or create or promote in a vacuum.

That's just not gonna happen as easily or to that degree with anyone cooking in the Triangle, or for that matter anywhere in this region because of what has been eloquently mentioned time and time again on this thread--the critical mass of elite professionals doing elite work isn't there yet, the customer awareness to support it isn't there yet, there isn't much nationally significant media attention drawn to this region and local media is over-worked and stretched in many directions with less budget and staff than larger markets--though exceptions like the Barkers do emerge as exceptions do also emerge from cities like Louisville, Cleveland, etc. I feel for the professionals like soupkitchen and phlawless working in this scene who are smart and savvy enough to reflect accurately what's going on around them and suggest they are the agents of change! And eG of course.

You're in perhaps the first wave of culinary maturity in fine dining--with my region, DC, perhaps well into the second wave of maturity and diversity--are the Beard-winning Barkers your version of Jean Louis Palladin, who served in DC as a guiding light, arriving on the scene with breakthrough gushing talent and media skills able to rally all sorts of local chefs (and critics) around him, drawing talent from afar to DC to work with him, to orbit around him, and teaching others the cell-phone-toting, celebrity chef-globe-trotting ways? I think the question for you all to answer within your region is--will emulating the Barker example improve your dining scene or keep holding you back? Will the Barkers rally your region's versions of the next Michel Richard, Gerard Pangaud, Roberto Donna, Bob Kinkead, Patrick O'Connell, etc--and help put their names, whoever they may be, on the national map?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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90% of tickets in this town

soup

green salad

-------------

Beef MW

Snapperw/Schrimps

-------------

choclate something

This is the vain of our existence

Maybe I'm being rash.

It does not matter what you sell as long as you are able to stay in business and make a living.

Thats the main goal of a restaurant, the other goals of the property should make your misssion statement.

After that said what digusts me is these mega eateries that sell this mediocore bullshit and get by serving garbage, but people fucking love it.

People say you can't knock success. Bullshit. I'm starting to ramble.

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Soup-

Forget about the town. What about your restaurant? There's no way in hell 90% of your tickets work that way, simply because William doesn't set up his menu to accomodate them.

Again, it's easy to identify problems. The challenge is solving them.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I've lived and eaten here a pretty long time now. Believe it or not, the food scene in Raleigh has dramatically improved over the last few years. I used to think of the Streak o' Lean at Big Ed's as Raleigh "haute cuisine." While chains have flooded the market, a number of other mid-range independent restaurants serving good food have opened and seem to be succesful--not a lot, but more than before. I do lament that there is no top notch restaurant such as what can be found in Durham/Chapel Hill. But, I don't think anyone has ever really tried. I can't think of one that has started and failed. Can you, McCord? I'm not in the restaurant biz, but I find it nearly impossible to imagine that an outstanding restaurant with a great chef serving innovative cuisine in a modest-sized, intimate restaurant would not be successful, even if the restauranteur kept the glitz of the dining room to a minimum. Too many people from too many parts of the country with too much money have moved here in the last 5 years or so for such a place to be unsuccesful. I mean, Vin certainly isn't cutting edge, but it moves in that direction, and the place seems to do a thriving business despite relatively high prices. In my opinion, what has been missing is a chef/restauranteur who offers that.

Edit to fix 20 typos.

Edited by Zeb A (log)
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In my opinion, it is just a matter of time. The extended and ongoing development of the downtown, both with businesses and lodging, make the area a natural place for such a venue. All we need is someone with some vision, talent, and cash.

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I live in a small town in Northern Italy which has two restaurants. The difference between the food quality offered is small, but one is slightly superior to the other. The better one has people waiting in line, while the other is literally empty. The reason is that Italians are culturally aware of food quality. In Italy restaurants that serve really mediocre food can only survive on tourists.

The average consumer in the United States is just not culturally aware of the difference between average food and good food. Until the consumer changes and becomes more aware restaurants are trapped financially. While you are discussing the problems of a smaller market, as a former Chicagoan I can assure you there are also long lines at PJ Changs and in other chain restaurants in Chicago while innovative young chefs stare at empty tables in their restaurants. Remember independents in Chicago have to compete with the all-powerful Lettuce Entertain You chain.

The Italian equivalent of the "Today Show", Uno Mattina, is on every morning. They devote at least an hour per program to food and wine (on weekends more). This show is followed by a show on healthy eating, which is followed by a show on cooking everything at home from scratch, which is followed by another cooking show. From 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day the largest television channel in Italy devotes 4 to 5 hours to eating, cooking and wine. In addition there are two channels, Gambero Rosso and Alice, exclusively devoted to food. That's cultural awareness.

The problems for a chef in the Triangle are the same for chefs throughout the United States - it is more only a matter of degree between Manhattan and Raleigh. Like all American cities they are more similar than they are different when it comes to food.

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Serious amounts of cash. I put a an offer on a restaurant and was going to set up a small french bistro. I low balled big time, and got the axe. But the fact is to set up a restaurant that ya'll are talking about is big cash. For example the wine bar April&George 22/sqft, this facility would take easily over $500,000 put in ventilation, grease trap, front on the house etc. It takes a lot of money. $500,000 won't even allow you to open your doors. Again this is one example and a choice local in Raleigh. There are other locations and examples that would not be as expensive.

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Cash is king.

I exchanged some PMs with Cap'n Varmint on this topic, and he asked me to post my most recent message here.

Durham is a pretty random place for a premier restaurant. Why is it there and why is Chapel Hill close behind? It is because there is an artsy fartsy academic feel to those places, which can be fertile ground for food development (see Chez Panise and probably many more).

But, in the long run, premier restaurants are predominantly found in Cities--at least, that has been my experience. Why? Because that is where the money is (and where more people live and work). Raleigh food growth has been stunted by its suburban sprawl--hence, the chains and the strange Raleigh strip mall restaurant phenomenon. As downtown gets more and more housing; as Glenwood South continue to be a gold mine (or at least very busy and popular); as the downtown continues to be rennovated; the city of Raleigh will be the obvious place for such restautants. In 10-15 years, people will find it hard to believe that Durham was once the food hub of the Triangle.

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There are plenty of other options to Glenwood South that would draw the numbers needed to recoup an investment, I believe that it's actually a bit tapped out, and most of those who choose to spend their money probably wouldn't be interested in something we would choose to open/patronize. Look at Bistro 607, they used to serve an amazing lunch that was reasonably priced, and the dining room was most often empty. I have no idea what the food is like now, I haven't been in three years at least. And I think 500g's is a bit steap, maybe for the Bogart's and Sullivan's, but there a lot of areas that are still very affordable.

"Godspeed all the bakers at dawn... may they all cut their thumbs and bleed into their buns til they melt away..."

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I think that anywhere in the Triangle, lunch is a risky proposition. It's pretty much that way anywhere across the country, too, as we all too often have time constraints that limit anything for lunch.

Bistro 607 is an interesting choice, because I've never been a big fan of theirs. To me, they made decisions from the get go that I thought were compromising -- just the thing that we've complained about on this thread. Had they gone all out, it would have been more successful in my opinion. Their cheese selection is a joke. If this place took only a few more chances, they'd do better. I really, really have wanted to love Bistro 607, and I've eaten there half a dozen times in the past several years, but I always leave feeling that they don't quite "get it."

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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There is a chef in Raleigh that brings what ya'll are talking about to the dining scene. I don't want to sound like I'm plugging my boss, but he is good, damn good and people need to support his restaurant and the food he does. His pre-fixe dinners rival anything I have eaten or seen anywhere. I'm not trying to say he is the best chef(he is a great chef), but what I am saying is that he is doing the action ya'll have been discussing for six years and he is achieving and his food is delicious. His pre-fixes are bad ass. To talk about restaurants and how we want what others cities have is okay, but we must support the great local restaurants that already exist.

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I don't think I'm spilling the beans on this, but soupkitchen's talking about Fins and its owner-chef, William D'Auvray. As I've said many times previously, Fins is my favorite restaurant in Raleigh. With the exception of the desserts, everything that comes from that kitchen excites me. Sometimes, it challenges me. He occasionally makes dishes that are almost cloying, but many times, that's to offset some of the heat he adds. This dishes this kitchen puts out have gobs of flavor, but every once in awhile, they'll come up with an extraordinarily subtle dish. It's a great contrast. Too bad it's stuck in a nasty North Raleigh strip mall.

Isn't William considering doing something downtown???

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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About 6 years ago, McCord suggested we go to Fins. We enjoyed our meal, but didn't return. I can't think of any reason, other than location. About a month or so ago, we went back. Wow. First, the restaurant space was more attractive. Second, the food was outstanding. I don't recall what we ate, other than some sort of steampot appetizer/soup. Everything was really really good. I was much impressed. Though different, it was reminiscent of Aqua, where we had a lunch when in SF last year--and I thought that meal was great as well.

Still, I think the location is unfortunate. I've been twice and got lost both times. It isn't near anything. I wish it was located in downtown, Five Points, etc.

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I live in a small town in Northern Italy which has two restaurants. The difference between the food quality offered is small, but one is slightly superior to the other. The better one has people waiting in line, while the other is literally empty. The reason is that Italians are culturally aware of food quality. In Italy restaurants that serve really mediocre food can only survive on tourists.

The average consumer in the United States is just not culturally aware of the difference between average food and good food. Until the consumer changes and becomes more aware restaurants are trapped financially. While you are discussing the problems of a smaller market, as a former Chicagoan I can assure you there are also long lines at PJ Changs and in other chain restaurants in Chicago while innovative young chefs stare at empty tables in their restaurants. Remember independents in Chicago have to compete with the all-powerful Lettuce Entertain You chain.

The Italian equivalent of the "Today Show", Uno Mattina, is on every morning. They devote at least an hour per program to food and wine (on weekends more). This show is followed by a show on healthy eating, which is followed by a show on cooking everything at home from scratch, which is followed by another cooking show. From 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day the largest television channel in Italy devotes 4 to 5 hours to eating, cooking and wine. In addition there are two channels, Gambero Rosso and Alice, exclusively devoted to food. That's cultural awareness.

The problems for a chef in the Triangle are the same for chefs throughout the United States - it is more only a matter of degree between Manhattan and Raleigh. Like all American cities they are more similar than they are different when it comes to food.

I think you have hit the nail on the head. Most American diners are food morons. I live in a southern city similar to Raleigh/Durham - and most of my neighbors can't taste the difference between Chef Boyardi and the kind of pasta I cook at home. As for higher levels of Italian cooking - they're totally clueless. The most popular Italian restaurant here buys its entrees pre-made and frozen from low-end wholesale places - and microwaves them.

In addition - I think another factor at work is that so many younger people are putting so much money into their houses - and have such incredibly huge fixed expenses - that they don't have enough disposable income to pursue things like high end dining or travel. I know people in their 30's here who own houses that cost $500,000-$1 million - but they have never spent $200 for a couple for dinner - or stayed at a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons. Every last penny goes to make the mortgage payment and the car payments.

By the way - my in-laws used to live about an hour south of the Triangle area - so my husband and I used to eat there once in a while (we always needed to decompress after visiting). We had some decent meals - but the only memorable one was at Crook's Corner ages ago when Bill Neal (think he was the chef) was still alive and in the kitchen there. I'm sure we never would have found the place on our own - a friend took us - because he insisted we had to try this new-fangled dish - "shrimp and grits" - which was perhaps the first example of "new southern cooking". It was the concept of the thing - perhaps more than the execution back then - and certainly more than the restaurant itself - that put Crook's Corner on the map. I still have an old Bill Neal cookbook. It's interesting reading - even though I never have and never will make a dish using squirrels :).

The better new southern restaurants these days aren't in Raleigh/Durham though (in my opinion). They're in places like Charleston - where there are lots of tourists who don't mind spending big money dining. So - if I were an aspiring chef - as opposed to a cook - the Triangle area would be far down on my list of places to start working unless I had some compelling reason to be there. Robyn

P.S. Even though my favorite cuisine is French - Italy is my most favorite country to eat in (it's hard to beat great food served without an ounce an attitude anywhere you go).

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My first 'southern' meal when I was a kid was squirrel. I had just moved to NC and a classmate invited me to spend the night. At breakfast on Saturday morning, her Diddy had gone hunting a couple of days before, and her Mama served squirrel brains and eggs.

They had the forsight to not inform me what I had eaten until I was finished. Certainly not the worst thing I've put in my mouth. And I was able to brag to my northern family members that I had actually eaten squirrel.

"Godspeed all the bakers at dawn... may they all cut their thumbs and bleed into their buns til they melt away..."

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My first 'southern' meal when I was a kid was squirrel. I had just moved to NC and a classmate invited me to spend the night. At breakfast on Saturday morning, her Diddy had gone hunting a couple of days before, and her Mama served squirrel brains and eggs.

They had the forsight to not inform me what I had eaten until I was finished. Certainly not the worst thing I've put in my mouth. And I was able to brag to my northern family members that I had actually eaten squirrel.

We have a friend who's a neurologist. He specializes in dementia. He works at the University of Kentucky now. He did some interesting work associating the consumption of squirrel brains in that area with various forms of dementia. So I don't think you'll ever find squirrel brains on my plate. By the way - this isn't a joke. Robyn

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