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Enoteca Vin, Raleigh


DonRocks
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Did I say that?

Yes, I did.

Chef Ashley Christensen is my idea of a chef's chef. A hard-working craftsman producing world-class dishes without running up against the rampant egos that are the downfall of otherwise talented cooks trying to make a name for themselves in this competitive, cold hard world.

How many restaurants have you dined in lately that have the following:

1) a chef who is sweating bullets on the line in the kitchen

2) true, fresh, seasonal local ingredients

3) recipes that are elegant, ethereal, transparent and clean

4) depth of flavor that relies on the essence of the fresh ingredients, rather than some odd juxtaposition of flavors that should never have come into contact with each other.

There can be nothing "better" than this without much costlier ingredients and way more hours spent preparing the meal. This is as good as it gets in terms of food, cuisine, wine and fine dining, less the formality of a multi-starred restaurant.

And it's in a bistro setting.

Oh, and here's a minor detail: if you consider selection and pricing, they have the best wine list in the United States of America.

Yes, that's right, I just said that: if you consider selection and pricing, they have the best wine list in the country.

Furthermore, my guess is that they have the single greatest Burgundy list in the entire world outside of Burgundy, with the possible exception of some Michelin-starred restaurants in France (but not many). Yes, I just said that too.

And this is a bistro in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The prices for the wines? About what you'd pay at retail, or about half what most other restaurants charge (assuming they had these wines on their lists, which they don't). When I was last there I enjoyed a perfectly stored 1978 Margaux with my dinner for $195. Think about this: when a restaurant offers expensive wines such as this at-or-near retail, they're taking the risk that the wine is somehow bad or defective, not you. However, this wine, like all other wines I've bought from them, was in perfect condition. There's a lot of good inexpensive stuff, too, and about thirty interesting wines by the glass!

Enoteca Vin is a connoisseur's place to dine, and will not remain a secret much longer.

The food is simple, elegant, and brilliant. The chef is an artist, but not a tortured, angry artist; merely a talented artist performing her craft with humility to the best of her abilities.

Too good to be true? Maybe, but I'm telling you to heed my words before the October issue of Food and Wine Magazine comes out. You heard that little secret here first, my friends.

It is a privilege to dine at Enoteca Vin.

You should go now, before it catches on, because I promise you, dear reader, that it will catch on sooner rather than later.

Listen to what I say here,

Rocks.

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Here's Vin's website. Note that the wine list on the site is just for wines sold by the glass -- three different pour sizes.

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it here: the reason for Vin's excellent wine program comes from the fact that its owner is Chrish Peel, who also owns Carolina Wine Company, which I can say without hyperbole is the most important wine shop in the Southeast. The value of CWC comes not what they have in their shop or with their internet sales -- it comes from their email offers, where most of their stuff is presold well before arrival.

I've previously said that Vin wasn't likely to be my "go to" restaurant in the area, primarily because of the lack of complexity of Chef Christensen's dishes. I think it's time for me to go back and re-evaluate.

Thanks for the report, Don.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I've previously said that Vin wasn't likely to be my "go to" restaurant in the area, primarily because of the lack of complexity of Chef Christensen's dishes.  I think it's time for me to go back and re-evaluate.

Hi Dean,

It's precisely that lack of complexity that makes the dishes so magical to me.

Nothing is tortured, nothing is busy, nothing is muddled. A bite of corn or tomato will taste like the purity and innocence of the farm, without any of the flavors being challenged or lost. On their dinner menu on the web, they have a dish called Day Boat scallops with local butter beans, white corn, and yellow Tomato-vidalia relish. In this dish, every single kernel of corn shines through, not as a drowned-out drumbeat in a loud song, but as the purest kernel of corn you could imagine. And each butter bean has its own place in the dish. This is a string quartet where each instrument can be enjoyed individually if you wish to hear them, but the entire ensemble works together to offer a testament to the season.

Here in Washington DC, we have an all-organic restaurant called Nora whose ingredients "read" of a certain purity, but the execution renders them dried out and boring.

We have star chefs who pride themselves on playing with food, pairing this-and-that item with whatever clever ingredients they dreamed up the night before, and then making the dish look like something it's not. The results can be interesting and even quite good, but it's more about the chef than what went into the dish. No chef in the world is more important than a good tomato.

And then, of course, there are the cowboys, the race drivers, feeling the need to throw as many items into a dish as possible.

But Ashley is young and self-trained, has an uncorrupted aspect to her cooking, and an exceedingly rare ability to let the ingredients speak without feeling the need to put a strong personal imprint on them. She realizes, rightly so, that no human intervention can improve upon the freshest seasonal ingredients. However, she also has the ability to put together plates that amplify and heighten those flavors, without setting them in competition with each other or overwhelming them with external noise.

If you go on a night that's not busy, ask if she'll arrange a special tasting menu for you. She truly appreciates customers who put their faith in her to assemble and present a multi-course meal.

All this, coupled with one of the best wine lists in the world.

Cheers!

Rocks.

P.S. Did I mention that they have a good wine list?

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I ate there last year when I was in town for the WUSA's All-Star game. I don't remember exactly what I had, except that they had some charcuterie - which I was empressed with. This was when proscuitto and all of that was the big craze here in Atlanta. I was surprised that a place in Raleigh would have it. I can't remember what else I had, but I did enjoy the wine. And their list is excellent. Although the service at the bar was a bit slow (kind of snobish). But I'm sure that's different now. I went to NC State for 3 years (a while back), and Raleigh had nothing like this back then. Now it's really come along. The downtown area is really coming into its own. There's another fairly good wine bar/restaurant and a tapas bar in the warehouse section, just a few blocks from Enoteca Vin. And The Flying Saucer has a very impressive selection of draft beers ($2 pint nights on Mondays also.)

DonRocks, if you like the straight-forward and simple type of dishes, you should check out Woodfire Grill if you're ever in Atlanta. Chef Tuohy does some really nice stuff.

-Greg

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DonRocks: Thanks for the post!

I love Vin, and I have said so before!

I am glad to hear that someone who writes better and with more authority than me also has a very favorable impression of Vin.

Time after time, when my wife and I (and now our baby) get a hankering for good food, we invariably find ourselves making the short drive to Vin, and we are always happy. We've probably eaten there over 30 times, and we have ALWAYS been very pleased with our meal, whether it was a small meal of appetizers at the bar, a full dinner, a New Year's eve tasting menu, or a Sunday brunch. Add to the food a great wine list and a pleasant atmosphere, and you have a great establishment.

It is truly a unique restaurant, especially in downtown Raleigh.

For those who haven't been, check it out.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just received an email from Carolina Wine Company and Enoteca Vin owner, Chrish Peel (it's a mass mailing for CWC customers), but he included Don's review of Vin. Chrish's lead-in to the email was this:

I couldn't resist quoting a really nice "review" of Vin from the excellent foodie website eGullet.  A great website.  Check it out!  Though don't expect the same sort of butt-kissing and back-biting that goes on in some other sites.  This one is serious.

Followed by this:

eGullet Review of Vin

This is going to sound like bragging, but nothing is more gratifying than when somebody gets exactly what we're trying to do - and says you're doing it well.  And it’s even better when it’s somebody authoritative.  Don Rockwell is a longtime customer here - and despite the fact that he lives in Washington D.C. - a repeat diner at Vin.  He's also the eGullet Forum Host for D.C., Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.  Here, in full, is his review of Vin under the heading "Enoteca Vin, Raleigh, most important restaurant south of NYC?"  As Don said when I asked his permission to quote this, "I was not bs-ing, not networking, not doing anything, when I said that Vin may in fact be the most important restaurant south of NYC.  I believe in my heart that it was my favorite meal of the past year."  Thanks again, Don.  And I hope everyone enjoys this post.  We sure did!

We're now trying to see if we can't arrange a special eGullet dinner at Vin. Stay tuned for details!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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By the way, the other point of Chrish's email is to promote Vin's current Brunello by the glass focus:

Vin's Brunello Mini-Focus

1. '95 Poggio Antico 1.5 oz $5.50/ 3 oz $11

A wonderful, very traditionally-styled Brunello.  One of my favorites.  Our bottle price is $65.  The national retail average is $69.99.

2. '99 Castel Giocondo 1.5 oz $6.25/ 3 oz $12.50

A Wine Spectator 95, and for me, the strongest vintage yet for this large Brunello estate.

3. '99 Banfi 1.5 oz $6.25/ 3 oz $12.50

Ditto.  Except this one's a Wine Spectator 94, and even larger estate.

4. '97 La Fornace Riserva 1.5 oz $7.25/ 3 oz $14.50

One of the most successful '97s.  Big and very ripe, yes.  But also fresh and accurate.  A Wine Spectator 96.

5. '97 Antinori "Pian della Vigne" 1.5 oz $8 / 3 oz $16

A Wine Spectator 97 and "amazing Brunello".

6. '95 Valdicava "Madonna del Piano" 1.5 oz $8 / 3 oz $12

A profound Brunello.  Our bottle price is $65 below the LOWEST retail price in the Country.  (Aside from CWC.)

* Brunello Tasting Flight: 1.5 ounces of all 6  $39

I'm done shilling for CWC and Vin. At least for today!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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We are regulars at Vin and agree that they are one of the few restaurants where we know we can always get a good meal, but I must admit I have been rather frustruated with them lately. Why does the service always take so so so long? They have tons of people working there. Why does it take them so long to get to your table. When it is just my husband and I, we usually sit at the bar, as the service is always much faster there. Once we were there with a big group of family, some older with less tolerance, and it took incredibly long. When we complained they said "well, it has only been an hour since you ordered and it always takes longer here". First of all....why? Second, it may have been a good argument, if it hadn't taken a waiter about 15 minutes just to come to our table in the first place!

Second, the last two times there I ordered seafood and both dishes contained lots of sand. It was really upsetting. First, was the mussels appetizer and most recently (last Sunday night) that great scallop dish with the limas and corn. It was an incredible dish and I wanted to really enjoy it, but every bite was full of sand. Should I have said something? Probably. But it puts such a damper on a group's evening for one person to complain and then have to wait for a dish to be redone, etc. I just ate it and tried to make the best of it. But, this is just not something that should be happening when my portion of the bill alone was about $70! It should be a flawless meal.

I know this is a rant, and I really want to continue to know I can enjoy Vin, but have been increasingly frustrated with them. These are mistakes that a really good restaurant should not be making.

Okay, I will shut up now.

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I'm working on a dinner at Vin for the eGullet crowd, but we do have some limitations. First, we'd need to do this on a Monday night in order to get the place to ourselves (unless we can get such a big crowd to justify closing it during the weekend -- good luck). Second, Chrish would provide us with some kick-ass Burgundies, which should make this good from the wine folks' perspective. Third, we'd need about 25 to 30 people to make this work. Finally, the cost would be steep, say, $70 a head (prepaid), but it'd be well worth it.

If we were to do this, who'd be up for it? I'm thinking late Sept. to early October. For the out-of-towners, I could take you to an excellent barbecue lunch on Monday so you can get the best of both worlds.

So, who's in?

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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if the date works, then i'm down like charlie brown.

of course with a dinner like that on a monday, i will have to forgoe my usual "macho burrito" special at torrero's for lunch. while it doesn't taste good, it is oh so cheap...more or less the antithesis of a vin dinner then!

William McKinney aka "wcmckinney"
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I'm working on a dinner at Vin for the eGullet crowd, but we do have some limitations. First, we'd need to do this on a Monday night in order to get the place to ourselves (unless we can get such a big crowd to justify closing it during the weekend -- good luck). Second, Chrish would provide us with some kick-ass Burgundies, which should make this good from the wine folks' perspective. Third, we'd need about 25 to 30 people to make this work. Finally, the cost would be steep, say, $70 a head (prepaid), but it'd be well worth it.

If we were to do this, who'd be up for it? I'm thinking late Sept. to early October. For the out-of-towners, I could take you to an excellent barbecue lunch on Monday so you can get the best of both worlds.

So, who's in?

I am so jealous of this thread.

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My trip to the Carolinas for business at the beginning of October has just been cancelled.

I was seriously going to schedule it around this event, since I don't know anyone from EGullet and would love to dine someplace this fantastic.

Work sucks.

Diana

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We'd love to go, unless you pick the one weekend in September that the in-laws are here (They would not go). I believe that'll be the 10th-13th of September. They're going to be here for The Log Home & Timber Frame Expo - should be a loggy timberish good time.

Mid to Late September or Early October would be perfect. Easily my favorite time of year.

One question though, how much wine are you talking about?

5 glasses and I'm too toasted to drive as I don't drink very often.

Yes, I'm a lightweight.

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In the interest of full disclosure, a trusted friend of mine just went to a restaurant in New York City that has been open for only three weeks, called, nor surprisingly, Cru. According to him, the wine list there has 66 (yes, sixty-six) PAGES of red Burgundies. Supposedly, the prices are quite good, too. I realize this has little to do with Vin, but in light of my first posting (and the fact that it's getting so much attention, which is making me squirm a bit), I thought I should add this.

Cheers!

Rocks.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As posted elsewhere, the October edition of Food and Wine has an article about Vin, Ashley Christensen, and Chrish Peel. Way to go!!!

Though she's only 28, Christensen has the vision and confidence of a far more seasoned chef. "I like the words 'pristine,' 'artisan,' 'quality,'" she says. "Not 'luxury': That's easy to obtain. You can buy it. Quality you have to seek out."

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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