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I once knew a painter in Los Angeles who said her true ambition in life was to arrive at the door of the newest hot restaurant in town and have everyone turn and recognize her. Come to think of it, she was a lot like everybody else I knew in Los Angeles, and that might be the reason I moved to North Carolina. I'm just not that into what she called "restaurant reality." But golly, a girl's got to eat, and here in the Triangle, there's some new eating to be done.

As this area grows a mile in each direction about every three days, new restaurants are opening hand over fist. I asked my "Dish" writing crew to get out there and consume, then think deeply and write some profiles of a few of these new places.

Kate Dobbs Ariail, our art critic and well-known to her friends as an outrageous cook in her own right, snapped up the chance to write about the newest version of the legendary Nana's, not far from her loft in Durham. She lets us in on the mind-boggling multitasking that goes on behind the scenes in a famous restaurant when the chef goes into his kitchen dance.

I felt called upon to join in on this eating and writing festival because I am now the proud owner of a new restaurant in Carrboro called Panzanella. That is, I happen to be one of 3,500 "owners" of Weaver Street Market--a community-owned grocery store and Panzanella's proprietor. Take that as a disclaimer if you will, then read about my adventures in the glorious world of absolutely fresh vegetables.

Wells Tower does his final turn in "Dish" this season. He claims to be running away with a carnival, where he got a job operating one of the rides. This may or may not be in aid of his freelance writing career, which should pick up considerably when he moves to New York in May. We'll sorely miss his laconic irony. For this issue, he visited Sushi Blues in Raleigh, a new joint where the music and decor lean more toward R&B than the traditional Japanese samisen musak.

Mark Hornburg, an insightful cultural critic and notorious smart-aleck, braved the environs of the newest "draught emporium" in Raleigh, Flying Saucer, which offers 200 kinds of beer and a display of 2,000 commemorative plates covering the walls and ceiling. While sampling the cuisine--including the beer cheese soup--Hornburg encountered one of the patrons, a local bartender, who had some interesting predictions for the future of the emporium.

L.D. Russell, not a food writer but a philosophy teacher who lives at the Zen Center and is in love with his pickup truck, was thinking about death when he went to Elaine's on Franklin in Chapel Hill. Turns out this brand-new eat spot specializes in desserts as a memorial to the owner's deceased mother-in-law, Elaine, who was a great cook. Good thing, too, because L.D.'s banana split and his date's passion fruit sorbet turned out to be memorable.

We hope this issue of "Dish" opens some doors to interesting new culinary experiences for you in the coming months, dear reader. But take care: Don't become addicted to restaurant reality. And if you do, don't tell me about it.

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