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Iron chefs, farmers' market-style


For all of us who love to eat, this is an exciting time of year. It seems that every week, a new summer vegetable is coming into season, new dishes are possible, and the romance that we have with our favorite crisp green thing or plump red thing is born again. The places in the Triangle where this giddy love affair is best played out are at the farmers' markets, and at restaurants with seasonal menus. In order to showcase the veggies and give readers an idea of what different restaurants in the area might do with them, I devised a scheme--to go to the farmers' market and buy three ingredients, and then give those same three ingredients to three area restaurants and ask them to come up with dishes based around the ingredients I provided.

I chose the three restaurants for their diversity of location and cuisine.

Enoteca Vin in Raleigh began as a wine bar, but in the years since they opened the food component has become just as strong as the extensive wine list.

Pop's in Durham was recently sold by Scott Howell to three friends--Matthew Beason, Chris Stinnett and John Vandergrift. Stinnett and Vandergrift, sharing duty as chefs, are sticking to the trattoria-style menu that has fueled the restaurant's success, but they have done some tinkering too, adding some freshness to their offerings. Chef Andrea Reusing at Lantern in Chapel Hill has been doing fantastic things with Asian foods since the restaurant opened in January 2002.

So off to the Carrboro Farmers' Market I went on a lovely Wednesday afternoon. I resisted some of the first asparagus at the Perigrine Farm stand and opted instead for bunches of Easter egg radishes, which are varied shades of pink and white. "I should have picked more of these this morning," the young man at the Sunset Farms stand said as I scooped up the last of the sugar snap peas he had to offer. And at the Brinkley Farms stand I found beautiful, bulbous spring onions. I then delivered the veggies to the three restaurants. Over the next few days I went back to see what they'd come up with.

Ashley Christensen at Enoteca Vin managed to get all the ingredients into one dish, a dish that was both beautiful and playful; soft shell crab on purple cabbage and sugar snap slaw with spring onion rings and boiled radishes. The soft shell crab sat atop the slaw, which had a surprising spice to it, thanks to jalapeno. The spring onions were used two ways, with the bulbs made into light, sweet buttermilk onion rings, and the greens grilled as a salty-sweet garnish. And the boiled radishes were dressed with sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice (did you know you could boil radishes, much like turnips? I didn't--yum).

At Pop's, Stinnett and Vandergrift created two dishes. The first was a salad that consisted of four little piles--grilled spring onions, pickled radishes, pickled beets and local arugala topped with goat cheese. The radishes, which had only been lightly pickled, retained a lot of their crunch, and the plate hit all the taste notes, from sweet to sour to creamy.

The second dish was seared North Carolina snapper on Lyon's Farm purple and yellow cauliflower and sugar snaps with grilled spring onions and a basil aioli. This was a visually beautiful dish, and one of the best pieces of snapper I have ever had.

At Lantern, Reusing made three small plates, each showcasing one of the ingredients I'd brought her. The radishes were pickled with vinegar and umeboshi plum and served with a salted sticky rice and pea greens. The onions were glazed with miso and sake, then grilled. The sugar snaps were served with toasted garlic, sesame seeds and chili flake. Each ingredient seemed to have been balanced, given its opposite and complementing component. Sweet onions with salty miso, crisp fresh sugar snaps with toasty garlic, tart crunchy radish with soothing rice.

As the summer moves on, take advantage of the fantastic local harvest we have, both at the farmers' markets and at restaurants. We are rich, in both respects.

Restaurant Notes

There's no doubt about it--Scott Howell is a busy man. While rumors keep circulating about a Nana's Cafe in downtown Durham and a second Q-Shack for Raleigh, one thing is certain.

Nana's Chophouse at 328 W. Davie St. should be open for business by the time this goes to print. The restaurant, which is housed in a former meatpacking plant, will serve lots of meat, as well as a few dishes from the original Nana's. Howell has hired Jeff Saudo, who has worked under Thomas Keller and Ben Barker, to oversee the kitchen.

The owners of Fortune Garden in RTP have opened another restaurant in the Greenwood Commons. Thai Tana is housed in the old Blue Sage location, and will serve the full range of Thai dishes from curries to whole fried crispy fish. Open for lunch weekdays and dinner Monday through Saturday.

Gemini restaurant and club has opened at 420 S. Dawson St. The huge space houses a restaurant, two dance floors, five pool tables, 20 TVs and six bars. The restaurant serves "authentic international cuisine" and is open for lunch and dinner, with a $7 buffet lunch Monday-Friday. For more information, visit

The owner of Udupi Cafe in Cary is opening a combined market and restaurant in the Triangle Square shopping center. Spice and Curry will serve southern Indian cuisine and should be open by the end of the month.

Vivo at 510 Glenwood Ave. is undergoing a personality revamp. The name, the food and the vibe are all changing. Now known as The Red Room , the Italian menu has been ditched in favor of tapas, and the atmosphere is said to be more lounge-like.

Watch for the opening sometime in July of Souki's at 311 S. Harrington St. in the old Cork Wine and Spirits space. The new restaurant is going to serve Thai food and sushi, and with three bars hopes to become a happening night spot.

Green Tango at the corner of Shannon and University Drive is expanding its hours. The chopped salad restaurant will now be open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and for the first time will be open on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Chapel Hill
Likity Split, an ice cream and hot dog shop, has opened in Meadowmont Village. The colorful little shop features weekly hot dog specials and some pretty creative ice cream dishes called "originals" that usually include some kind of cake as well as ice cream and toppings.

The Weathervane at A Southern Season is featuring the Saludos Company salsa band on the patio at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 27. No cover charge.

The Fearrington House Restaurant will be holding a cooking retreat on June 20 and 21 that will focus on outdoor grilling. The class is part of a package that includes dinner, overnight accommodations and a gourmet breakfast. Call 542-2121 for details.

Elaine's on Franklin will be serving a special early Father's Day dinner on Sunday, June 20. The five-course prix fixe menu will be $75 a person and includes wine pairings. For reservations, call 960-2770.

Panzanella in Carrboro's Car Mill Mall has opened for Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. As always, patio dining is available and dishes are based on fresh local ingredients.

Maple View Creamery has opened a second location in Hillsborough next to the new Super Wal-Mart off N.C. 86. The Maple View Creamery II will serve the same yummy ice cream as the original location, as well as selling Maple View Dairy's other products.

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