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The State of Triangle (NC) Dining and Food


BryanZ
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Moderator's Note: This discussion was split off from this discussion about the best restaurant in the Triangle (NC).

I've found the overall dining scene in the Triangle to leave a lot to be desired. I'm just a student at Duke but have probably spent more hours researching the restaurant scene here than actually doing my school work. That being said, I've had some good experiences in the Triangle, but, generally speaking, compared to NY/NJ I'm disappointed.

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Comparing the Triangle to New York is sort of like comparing the UNC Tar Heels to the Boston Celtics of old. They play the same game, but ultimately, they're at totally different levels.

That said, I'm very happy with our upper-level restaurants. Magnolia Grill, Fins, Elaine's, Fearrington and Nana's could all get 2, and arguably for one or two of these, 3 NY Times stars. For the size of the Triangle, that's damn good.

What we miss out on is the breadth and depth of dining and food options. We don't have lots of options when it comes to, for example, great bakeries. Gugelhupf and La Farm come to mind, but beyond that, the options are limited. We can find good, but not great pizza.

We also don't have anything equivalent to a true NY Times 4-star restaurant, but that's due to our size as much as anything else. We're also too spread out.

Keep looking, Bryan. You might have to drive to one of the other towns in the region, but you'll find what you desire. And again, if you try to compare this region to NY, you're fooling yourself.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I've found the overall dining scene in the Triangle to leave a lot to be desired.  I'm just a student at Duke but have probably spent more hours researching the restaurant scene here than actually doing my school work.  That being said, I've had some good experiences in the Triangle, but, generally speaking, compared to NY/NJ I'm disappointed.

Well gee, and here I thought we were up there with NYC in terms of dining hot-spots :rolleyes: . Well, it's no SF either and wont be until the entire culture of the area is upgraded. It's a two way street, my friend, food scenes get better because the dining public rewards hand made quality over chain-style "value". The triangle is a haven for chains. Mangiano's, Firebirds, Outback... those places are packed every night. SF, NY, and other food cities are that way because there are a ton of people who couldn't care less about how much food they give you at Mangiano's, they want the goods and are willing to search and pay for it. The quality food scene in an area like this is driven by a much smaller percentage of the populous that is actually passionate about what they eat.

We are a b-market at best, and serving top notch food in a b-market is an uphill battle. Several years ago, I was the chef of an upstart market in a simillar area not too far from SF. We got a bunch of great reviews, but the locals would call on Friday afternoon looking for a table at 7:30. If you didn't have it, they went elsewhere. Perish the thought that they'd be willing to dine a bit earlier or later. After a write-up in the SF Cronicle, we had people from that market asking sheepishly if we could possibly fit them in a week from Wednesday. It was all could do to not ask them how many tables they wanted. It's just a different mentality. Ultimately, until the public at large rewards true commitment to hand-made quality food over an essentially passable meal at a chain, you're only going to have a handful of people willing to take that extra step. Plenty, after several years of putting in that kind of effort for a pedestrian income will say, "Screw it" and go into wine sales or something.

I think it's certainly headed in the right direction, mind you, but it may be asking a bit much for it ever to catch NY.

Oh, and...GO HEELS!

edited to add: sorry to pile on, I actually started my reply earlier and just got back to my computer to finish it. I was unaware that someone else had already replied.

Edited by detlefchef (log)
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I realize to expect NYC quality in the Triangle is fooling myself, but, then again, I never really expected something like that. I do find it insulting, however, that I cannot get decent Thai, Japanese, or Chinese food within 20 minutes of Duke (Most of the Triangle except for really getting into Raleigh). Futhermore, I haven't even discovered restaurants serving traditional cuisines, French, Italian, Continental, that are up to the standards I've come to expect from a mid-to-upper level restaurant (I'm not talking NYT 3-4 stars here, just good, slightly creative food). I will continue to explore and research and spend more money than I have in pursuit of truly understanding the restaurant scene in this area. I know I'm a food snob but don't hate me for it :-\.

That being said, I've enjoyed Magnolia, Fairview, and Elaine's but they were not "special" to me. The flavors were fine but there was little done to excite or push me. I got close to enlightenment with Magnolia though, with a foie gras served with a mini peach bread pudding (I think) and the grits soufle.

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ben barker is brilliant, the king of the triangle, the fearrington house has changed so I am not sure of what they serve and how. But i can say Scott howell at nana's doesn't even cook. and he can't hold any talent, same thing for daniel and second empire. Ashley at vin is just a great person so if you want to smile go talk to her. All the others are mean.i agree though, this town needs something cutting edge... :hmmm:

The complexity of flavor is a token of durable appreciation. Each Time you taste it, each time it's a different story, but each time it's not so different." Paul Verlaine

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Cutting edge requires deep pockets, a passion for food and service, and time. Finding those three things together in one (what restaurant ever lasted more than a couple years owned by partners?) person is rare. When they do occurr it is in a market much bigger and more diverse than the Triangle.

Suppliers are also a problem. With the exploding growth of Sysco and US Foods and the close demise of Southern Foods there is too little competition. Quality and selection are sufferring.

People want cutting edge and there are no doubt enough talented cooks around to execute but I do not think the public would pays the menu prices that would be neccesary.

-Ian

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Interesting remark about the demise of Southern Foods. I worked for them for awhile and feel it won't be long. I now represent another cpompany that frankly, does a much better job on center of the plate. You sound like a industry insider and I assume that you have figured out how to play with the likes of Sysco and US. By the way, there are plenty of companies in our marketplace who carry many of the brands or like brands that SF did.

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Cutting edge requires deep pockets, a passion for food and service, and time. Finding those three things together in one (what restaurant ever lasted more than a couple years owned by partners?) person is rare. When they do occurr it is in a market much bigger and more diverse than the Triangle.

Please tell me this is a joke.

If there is ANY region in the world ready for a Culinary Explosion it is the Triangle!

The per capita income/price of living is higher than 75% of the country, not to mention the highest # of PHD's/capita in any area in the world! What makes you think they aren't ready? I have worked at 2nd empire, magnolia, nana'a, vin and not to mention countless other chefs in this area. This area is ready noone has stepped up yet to take the responibility and put this place on the map. The money is here. The demand is here.

We have some of the countries best produce, livestock, fisheries, etc. The resources, market, and talent are here.

It's just a matter of time.

Edited by ChefSwartz (log)

The complexity of flavor is a token of durable appreciation. Each Time you taste it, each time it's a different story, but each time it's not so different." Paul Verlaine

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My comments were not ment as a joke.

The reality is cutting edge food, service, and atmosphere is a huge investment in time, money, karma, and motivation. In order to be successful enough to pay the help and stay open for more than a year or two those with the chops and money would prefer a location with denser population and more international visitors.

I grew up in Durham and agree that the whole area is ripe but the kind of people it takes to own and run this kind of restaurant are rarer than PhDs.

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If there is ANY region in the world ready for a Culinary Explosion it is the Triangle!

The per capita income/price of living is higher than 75% of the country, not to mention the highest # of PHD's/capita in any area in the world! What makes you think they aren't ready? I have worked at 2nd empire, magnolia, nana'a, vin and not to mention countless other chefs in this area. This area is ready noone has stepped up yet to take the responibility and put this place on the map. The money is here. The demand is here.

We have some of the countries best produce, livestock, fisheries, etc. The resources, market, and talent are here.

It's just a matter of time.

Look at your own facts. 75% is the most important number you show. I'm sure the food in the triangle is better than 75% of the rest of the country. In fact, you could argue it's even higher than that based on the high number of PHDs, etc.. Let's say it's better than 85% of the other markets in the country. Last I checked, 85% is pretty much a "B" and it certainly puts us behind the likes of NYC, SF, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.. Wasn't that how this whole thread got sidetracked, that some kid from NY whined about the fact that we're no NY?

So great, your facts prove that the food here is likely better than in, say, Des Moines, or Indianapolis, or Cleveland. Of course, I don't think anyone was disputing that.

Wealth does support high-end restaurants, but that doesn't always mean "great" restaurants. As I said in my response to Bryan, the fact that chains are thriving here speaks volumes. Compare that to a city like Berkeley, CA (which is actually a pretty good social comparison on many levels). Places like Outback, Mangiano's, etc. just don't do well. Sure they have a few, but nothing like here. I mean, we have an entire outdoor mall that is essentially dedicated to "destination" chain restaurants! A lot of this money you speak of is driving to Southpoint for dinner to eat at places that one can find in every other B market in America. Not simply grabbing a bite at Firebirds because they're shopping, but getting in their car on Friday night and going there for dinner.

The triangle also doesn't have any pockets of International communities that other cities tend to have. There's no Chinatown, no Little Saigon, etc. Cary has a nice enclave of Indian stores and restaurants, and East Durham has a good concentration of Mexican food, but that's pretty much it.

As for the products. Yes, there is good stuff here. Again, likely better than Indianapolis, Cleveland, etc. However, as someone who's lived and/or cooked in NY, LA, and SF, the variety and quality of pretty much everything you mentioned is absolutely second tier. The Durham Whole Foods would probably be about the 5th best market in Berkeley, CA. Obviously there is a bigger selection available to wholesale, but Whole Foods is a very good barometer of what the upscale dining public is buying. I ask them why they don't have, say, frisee around more often and I'm told it's because nobody buys it.

Yes, things are headed in the right direction, so I suppose that does mean it's "just a matter of time." But right now, I believe the call for better places is mostly being made by a vocal minority rather than the public at large.

I know a lot of the local chefs and food professionals, and most of them are as committed to great food as anyone I met in other (better) markets. To a person, they all complain about what an uphill battle it is here.

Of course, a house doesn't have to cost $500K here either.

Edited by detlefchef (log)
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This reminds me of the time two summers ago, when I discovered a stand in the NC Farmers Market in Raleigh, selling heirloom tomatoes. I was so excited, because I wanted a regular source for these without having to go to Carrboro. Most of the customers walked up, took a look at these misshapen and strangely colored specimens, and moved on. They were having trouble selling these tomatoes at the same price as the hybrid field tomatoes. I spent the next 15 minutes acting like one of those guys at the fair, trying to get people to come and try the tomatoes. They sold more tomatoes in those 15 minutes than they had the prior 3 hours. It's about educating this region, and it's in my personal best interest to do that. Educate the public, create a market for better products, and then I can rest that I'll have the good stuff available.

But the big, red beefsteak tomatoes will always sell better, unfortunately.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Detlechef and ChefSwartz both bring up excellent points. I tend to be in that vocal minority (with ChefSwartz) that sees the potential for Triangle dining, yet I'm still unfulfilled and somehwat disappointed with both current and future prospects. The reason for my disappoinment is because of the points the Detlechef brings up. Southpoint is pretty disgusting, and that's saying a lot since I'm originally from New Jersey, the land of mega shopping malls. The difference, as Detlechef points out, is that people go to the "Streets" of Southpoint more to eat than to shop. As a somewhat bored college student, my friends and I have driven to Southpoint only to find a 2 hour wait at PF Chang's at 5:30, and a 1.5 hour wait at Cali. Pizza Kitchen. I choose these examples because they're not bad restaurants and, to be honest, they offer up food that is far better than most in the area. What is disturbing, however, is how the entire Triangle converges on these locations as if they are true dining "destinations". As long as Southpoint remains the mecca of "fine dining" for the masses of the Triangle, it will have a hard time breeding a creative and unique culinary scene. The resources, money, and people are there (for the most part), but I'm worried that I won't see the Triangle's potential develop to its fullest in my four years here.

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Moderator's Note: This discussion was split off from this discussion about the best restaurant in the Triangle (NC).

I've found the overall dining scene in the Triangle to leave a lot to be desired.  I'm just a student at Duke but have probably spent more hours researching the restaurant scene here than actually doing my school work.  That being said, I've had some good experiences in the Triangle, but, generally speaking, compared to NY/NJ I'm disappointed.

You're comparing big apples and oranges. The population of the NY metro area is 20+ million. The Triangle is about 1+ million. At least you have something to be thankful for - you'll get a better education at Duke than you would at 95% of the colleges in the US. Robyn (not from NC)

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Moderator's Note: This discussion was split off from this discussion about the best restaurant in the Triangle (NC).

I've found the overall dining scene in the Triangle to leave a lot to be desired.  I'm just a student at Duke but have probably spent more hours researching the restaurant scene here than actually doing my school work.  That being said, I've had some good experiences in the Triangle, but, generally speaking, compared to NY/NJ I'm disappointed.

You're comparing big apples and oranges. The population of the NY metro area is 20+ million. The Triangle is about 1+ million. At least you have something to be thankful for - you'll get a better education at Duke than you would at 95% of the colleges in the US. Robyn (not from NC)

Again, I'm not comparing the two geographic areas directly. As I've tried to make clear, I'm not looking for NYT 3-4 stars, just good, somewhat creative cuisine. And I full well know that Duke is better than 99% of colleges out there and value my education extremely highly. I reserve my right, however, to comment on the dining scene, as separate from me academic pursuits.

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O.K., so maybe our ethnic diversity isn't concentrated in a stereotypical, tourist trap like chinatown or whatever else. But I see quite a few asian markets, tanquerias, and indian stores springing up left and right.

Education is definitely important. The broadcasting of the food net. to our remote towns has helped. But if you look at the trends of the market, people want consistency. The best restaurants in the world, not only serve the best quality experience possible, but they also do it consistently. The guys here just dont meet those standards, whether its "southern charm" or whatever, they just dont seem to push that much. Does that make their food any worse of quality, no, just less consistent. I have been in and worked in some of Chicago's finest (TRU,charlie trotters,topolobampo) and the quality of ingredients is EQUAL. Besides they ship in most of their stuff from around the US, anyway.

The competition up there is fierce. Instead of 10 guys competing for a job they have 100. I really feel we have that same capacity already, except it is for technical jobs and .com's and pharmecueticals. Not for culinary jobs, yet, because noone has raised the bar.

We have a brand new Johnson and Wales in Charlotte that is cranking out future bad-ass chefs left and right, and we send a ton of people out of state to the CIA. And when ALL of them get to their externship where do they want to go? A select few get homesick, but the majority want to go to NY,CHI, CALI because noone recongnizes any talent here in the TRI(except ben). It does not mean its not here it just hasn't blossomed yet.

I consider it just a matter of time, 5-10 years before we have another JAMES BEARD award winner. or not, who knows.

I get myself down when I think about the evil of the big city, I think the workaholism is poisonous, the cutthroat antics absurd, and the environment treachorous. Do we really even want this kind of progression?

I guess everytime I make a point I could counter it myself, sorry didn't mean to cut anyone off.

When I see the people lining up for the corp. rest's in this area, I cant get angry, they just dont know any better. In fact very few people in this world really appreciate the diversity of food. They are here, there is just a larger number of them in the NY's and CHI's of the world.

:blink::blink: Independent's Best Restaurant 2005 is: :blink::blink:

:blink::blink: drumroll,drumrolll,drumroll,drumroll,... :blink::blink:

:blink::blink: ?!!?!?!?!?!?!?Angus Barn?!?!?!!?!?!?!!? :blink::blink:

The complexity of flavor is a token of durable appreciation. Each Time you taste it, each time it's a different story, but each time it's not so different." Paul Verlaine

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:blink:  :blink: Independent's Best Restaurant 2005 is: :blink:  :blink:

:blink:  :blink: drumroll,drumrolll,drumroll,drumroll,... :blink:  :blink:

:blink:  :blink: ?!!?!?!?!?!?!?Angus Barn?!?!?!!?!?!?!!? :blink:  :blink:

The Independent is one of the more "free-thinking", widely published magazines in the Triangle. When they name Angus Barn as the Triangle's best restaurant you damn well know there's something wrong.

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Actually, I think that the designation of the Angus Barn as the "best" restaurant in the Triangle demonstrates exactly what y'all are trying to say. But it is incredibly important to recognize that the Independent did not name the Angus Barn as the region's best restaurant. This was based on the people's vote, and the editors' vote would never go that way. This vote is, unfortunately, representative of our suburban, chain, strip-mall culture, however. At least I'm glad that a locally owned institution such as the Barn won the vote.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Shwartz, don't write off Chinatowns as some "stereotypical tourist trap". While there is certainly an element of that in the bigger ones, the concentration within neighborhoods like that breed a strong basis of ethnic cuisine. In East Oakland, CA, there's a 6X3 block stretch of Vietnamese restaurants, each turning out different versions of Pho, all of which are outstanding. Other cities at least have strip malls or one or two blocks that are exclusively Asian. One can say, I like so and so for this dish, but think so and so does this one better. Here? Gee let's talk about Vietnamese restaurants... well, I'm waiting. You can either shlep out to Capital Blvd for Pho-Cali and get a decent bowl of Pho or now you can go to 9n9 in Durham. That's really it. Dalat and that place on Guess Rd. in Durham just don't count. That's two good choices in a 25 mile radius. Give me the stereotypical tourist trap any day.

Certainly the brightest sign of good ethnic cuisine comes from the burgeoning Mexican scene. The little enclave on Indian down in Cary is nice as well. On a bright note, if anyone wants to get down with the real Mexican scene, drive out Hwy 98 east of Durham towards Wake Forest. A few miles after Hwy 70, you come to a Papa John's Pizza on your left. Just past that (through the light), you'll see "Tortilleria y Carniceria" (sp) on the shopping center marquis. Inside is one of the more impressive tortilla machines you'll see along with several rotisseries churing out great chickens. In addition, the hot case features an assortment of prepared meats by the pound. Nice fatty carnitas, lengua, and best of all, braised beef cheeks! Their homemade salsa is damn good as well. They don't, however, sell tacos, only stuff by the pound.

I suppose I should start a new thread on Mexican, but I've a very extensive study on Durham and Chapel Hill Mexican and would love to share notes.

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Actually, I think that the designation of the Angus Barn as the "best" restaurant in the Triangle demonstrates exactly what y'all are trying to say.  But it is incredibly important to recognize that the Independent did not name the Angus Barn as the region's best restaurant.  This was based on the people's vote, and the editors' vote would never go that way.  This vote is, unfortunately, representative of our suburban, chain, strip-mall culture, however.  At least I'm glad that a locally owned institution such as the Barn won the vote.

It should also be noted that those polls are notoriously easy to stuff. The actual number of people who vote is alarmingly low, so if one place gets their act together and recruits their staff and regulars to hype them up, they can usually swing it.

Mind you, it isn't cheating or anything, and I've done it at every place I've ever run. Of course, the down side is then the paper squeezes you for a half page ad thanking your loyal customers.

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In my opinion the lack of truely good regional cuisines is based on a combination of the absence of members of that particular region (we don't have a strong cetralized community of chinese for instance) and more importantly, the age of the communities that we do have. New York and San Francisco and plenty of other places have chinatowns or indiantowns or whatever that are a hundred years old. That amount of time gives the other members of a locale time to come to terms with the food and learn to appreciate it. You have to give it time. Ethinc immigration to the Triangle area, excluding hispanics, is based on university and technology, and those are recent advancements.

If you look at BBQ in the region you'll see what I mean. Most people in this area learn very quickly what restaurnat they prefer to eat BBQ at. Chains don't last in that environment. Similarly, because it lacks the BBQ food tradition, finding good BBQ in places like New York is a limited prospect. It's there, but in ratio to the population it may as well not be.

Edited by bandregg (log)

Bryan C. Andregg

"Give us an old, black man singing the blues and some beer. I'll provide the BBQ."

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I suppose I should start a new thread on Mexican, but I've a very extensive study on Durham and Chapel Hill Mexican and would love to share notes.

Detlechef, if wouldn't mind PMing me some of your favorite restaurants in Durham/near Duke, Mexican or otherwise, it would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps others would like to know of your favorites, as well.

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Moderator's Note: This discussion was split off from this discussion about the best restaurant in the Triangle (NC).

I've found the overall dining scene in the Triangle to leave a lot to be desired.  I'm just a student at Duke but have probably spent more hours researching the restaurant scene here than actually doing my school work.  That being said, I've had some good experiences in the Triangle, but, generally speaking, compared to NY/NJ I'm disappointed.

I've done significant research into the dining scene in the Triangle (particularly Durham and Chapel Hill) since I moved to the area.

It's taken some time to identify my favorite restaurants and some of them are more than 20 mins drive from where I live.

So far, I've found good Chinese, Indian (several), Japanese, Mexican, NC barbecue, vegetarian, Vietnamese and Italian.

Not all are cheap (as in places you can afford to eat at every week) but for me, good food is worth saving up for.

Foodie Penguin

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BryanZ seems to have set unobtainable or at least quixotic goals for Triangle dining. If only we were like New York where there are no California Pizza Kitchens with lines out the door, and Frank Bruni could come down here to dole out 3-4 stars to a Thomas Keller inspired restaurant where we would freebase some lima bean powder off a plate scented with rice and gravy...then we would finally be in business.

Is Triangle dining perfect? nope. Is Triangle restaurant criticism inadequate? Yep. Does this mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water?

There are plenty of good eats around the Triangle, dadgumit. And I would include Angus Barn in that line up. I think we have the best dining diversity here between Atlanta and Washington DC (with the notable exception of a high end Mexican place, when o when will you arrive?).

Furthermore I think we are guilty of conflating fine dining with good eats. There are some incredible meals around this area that you could not pay for in New York City if you knew every secret handshake at the "21" Club. If you could get the atmospherics and essences of Allen & Sons, Pan-Pan (may it rest in peace), Magnolia Grill, or your own friendly neighborhood spot/cafeteria line up in the Northeastern corridor, I would gladly move to the land of high rent and low weather...

William McKinney aka "wcmckinney"
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BryanZ seems to have set unobtainable or at least quixotic goals for Triangle dining.  If only we were like New York where there are no California Pizza Kitchens with lines out the door, and Frank Bruni could come down here to dole out 3-4 stars to a Thomas Keller inspired restaurant where we would freebase some lima bean powder off a plate scented with rice and gravy...then we would finally be in business.

Is Triangle dining perfect?  nope.  Is Triangle restaurant criticism inadequate?  Yep.  Does this mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water? 

There are plenty of good eats around the Triangle, dadgumit.  And I would include Angus Barn in that line up.  I think we have the best dining diversity here between Atlanta and Washington DC (with the notable exception of a high end Mexican place, when o when will you arrive?).

Furthermore I think we are guilty of conflating fine dining with good eats. There are some incredible meals around this area that you could not pay for in New York City if you knew every secret handshake at the "21" Club.    If you could get the atmospherics and essences of Allen & Sons, Pan-Pan (may it rest in peace), Magnolia Grill, or your own friendly neighborhood spot/cafeteria line up in the Northeastern corridor, I would gladly move to the land of high rent and low weather...

Whoa whoa, unattainable goals, I think not. For the fourth time, I am not looking for cutting edge cuisine of NYT 3-4 star caliber. I am, however, calling for a much needed spark in Triangle dining so that solid ethnic and some creative cuisine may be consistently found without much difficulty. I may be young and brash, but I don't think that I am being unreasonable. Wcmckinney, you actually highlight a few of my strongest beliefs, namely how there is no authoritatvie restaurant criticism (how I hate Citysearch) from which local diners can make educated restaurant choices. Without a trusted guide, foodies and non-foodies alike are often relegated to chains and their insane waits for merely acceptable food (ie the aforementioned Pf Chang's and CPK). I love egullet and have learned a lot already from posters like detlechef who share some of my same sentiments and are trying to educate individuals like me who are still new to area and are trying to discover the true extent of Triangle dining. This thread is not about transporting NY or Boston or LA to the Triangle, for I know this is simply impossible. It is, however, a place to try to enact some change through inspiring others to visit new and lesser-known restaurants that may elicit further discussion about the "state of Triangle dining and food".

And by the way, I've found it very hard to get decent pizza around here. You can get decent brick oven pies at local trattorias but I've yet to find a good pizzeria where I can get a couples slices for under five dollars. Everytime people call Domino's or Papa John's, a little piece of me dies inside.

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  I think we have the best dining diversity here between Atlanta and Washington DC (with the notable exception of a high end Mexican place, when o when will you arrive?).

Are you saying that there's a high-end Mexican place in Washington? If so, I'd like to try it!

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