Local Eats: Watt's Grocery - Durham, NC

I'd heard so many good things about Watt's from everyone who had ever eaten there, so I thought it was time for my Em and I to go have a nice night out.

I have a hard time composing my thoughts when I write about food because I don't think the English language has enough words for describing flavors/textures/temperatures/essence. I use the same adjectives over and over again in my writing and I just wish there were better words for what I'm trying to say. It all comes down to how wonderful our experience was at Watt's Grocery.

Arugula and Strawberry Salad
This really is such a sign in NC that summer is almost here. Strawberries, are one of the few fruit that we grow really well in NC and restaurants celebrate them as soon as they come in season. The combination with the slightly spicy arugula is so nice.

Country Ham Tart - with caramelized apples, shallots, arugula and house made crème fraiche
We didn't order this but our server thought we should give it a try so he brought it out for us anyways. I'm so glad he did. The local pork and the caramelized apple go so well together and you really wish you could have more after your last bite. Salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and then the creme fraiche to cool it down and smooth it over.

Winter Salad - Arugula, oven-roasted tomatoes, fried shallots, with dijon vinaigrette
I love the idea of this dish. Put the things on a salad that are in season in our region and make a beautiful salad out of it. The canned oven-roasted tomatoes go so well with the salad that we started doing it at home.

Clam Fritters - with seaside tartar sauce and cole slaw
Just the thought of these makes my mouth water. I pretended at the beginning of this meal that I wasn't going to get anything fried so I could splurge my cholesterol intake for the main course, but of course, we had to get clam fritters. What on EARTH was I thinking to even question not ordering these. Fried to flakey perfection, these huge fritters are good enough to make a meal out of them. And by the way, Watt's also gives you plenty to go around.

Tasso Seafood Stew - shrimp, mussels, clams, caramelized onion, roasted tomato, house-cured tasso, and white beans garnished with roasted garlic crostini
Emily's dish was very rich in flavor with tons of different seafood swimming around in the rich bean based broth. Unfortunately, I was so full I couldn't fully enjoy our main courses. Not that I didn't eat everything on my plate though.

Watts' Pork and Peas - Sea Island Peas, duck confit, grilled pork belly, wilted greens, and pickled beets

I wanted to give both of these pictures to you because the dish was really stacked high and it was so pretty to look at from above as well. You could say that this is probably the most unhealthy dish on the menu. Duck confit AND pork belly, both cooked to amazingly well (I like my confit to be crispier), and sitting in a nice rich broth as well. Again, I wish I wasn't so full when I approached this dish, seems like a waste of amazing food lost on a full stomach.

Chocolate Tart
Now you realize that we were totally full right, well of course we couldn't skip desert. We ordered one desert and got two. Oh my. About . . . to . . . burst . . . need . . . sweatpants . . . must . . . force . . . down . . . all . . . the . . . . . . . food.

Banana Pudding
You get the point. Too full, but nothing stops me. I preferred the banana pudding over the warm choco cake. But, then again I'm more of a fruit person than chocolate.

We're very fortunate in Durham to have so many fine restaurants at our disposal. In my opinion of all the spots I've eaten in the area, which is not enough by the way, Watt's Grocery is one of the best. They succeed in producing amazing food that sources from local farms. A beautiful thing indeed.

--Joe Kwon

Frasca - Boulder, CO

In Boulder, CO is a beautiful restaurant that any food lover would appreciate. It's not cheap, it's not your every day type of restaurant, but the food is delicious and the service is impeccable.

The moment you sit down at Frasca, you get a sense that you're about to take long culinary journey. After being seated, the Maître d' is promptly at your table to pour you a complimentary glass of a project wine of the owner and chef of the restaurant. Of course being on tour I had to kindly and regretfully decline. (SO SAD!!!) This kind of sets the tone for the whole meal. You don't come to Frasca to get in and out and plow through your meal. It's a place you go to enjoy a nice ambiance and a a well executed meal with excellent service.

The servers at Frasca have a working knowledge that rivals any restaurant I've ever been to. If you don't know what kind of wine you'd like with your meal, just ask and they'll bring one right over. If you don't know what something tastes like or what an ingredient is, they'll bring the knowledge of a well seasoned chef straight to your table.

The Starter: They started us off with a plate of Salumi which is a sampling of 5-6 different offerings. A prosciutto, salami, a single olive, a couple yellow beets, some grissini, and some horseradish sauce. I often wish I could assemble flavors like these and eat them in moderation like you're forced to in restaurants. If I had any of these at home I'd be on my carpet eating out of a jar of olives dipping 5 sticks of prociutto wrapped grissini in horseradish sauce. I have a problem and that problem is great tasting food.

At Frasca you have the choice of ordering a la carte or going with the 4 course tasting menu. Each category features 4 choices with the desert selection obviously featuring 7 options (a couple require a supplemental fee). I highly recommend, whenever at all possible, getting a pris fixe meal, because you're already there to enjoy a wonderful dining experience. You might as well go all out.

Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Asparagus Soup with King Salmon Salad
Antipasti: My good friend Jan joined me for this meal. Jan got the asparagus soup. This was definitely the most decadent tasting asparagus soup I've ever tasted. If butter tasted like asparagus then this would be butter soup. It was delicious and the salmon on top just sent it over the edge. An absolutely perfect seasonal dish with the most asparagus flavor you can cram into a dish. Most delectable.

Colorado Lamb Shoulder “Spiedino” White Beans, Roasted Pepper and Capers
My lamb was a bit tough but the flavor was perfect. A mixture of the gaminess of lamb and the smokiness of the grill. The white beans and arugula were an amazing complement to the dish as well. Just the right pepperiness to the delicate flavor of the white beans. I was getting extremely excited for what was to come.

Four Story Hill Farm Rabbit “Agnolotti” Marsala “Brodo” and Pecorino Gran Cru
Primi: Of course if there is wild game on the menu I'm going to select the dish. These agnolotti were so f***ing perfect. I hate them for that. I hate them for this broth too. It seemed to be some sort of consommé with such rich flavor I could drink it as a coffee substitution in the morning. The rabbit inside was so smooth and flavorful it made me borderline emotional. And trust me getting me to show any emotion is difficult. Just ask Em!

Russet Potato Gnocchi Stonington Maine Lobster, Peas and Basil
I can honestly say I've never eaten gnocchi so smooth, but not mushy. I always think about making gnocchi and then I remember how pain staking it is to get perfect gnocchi. So why not order it at a James Beard awarded restaurant and taste what it's SUPPOSED to taste like. Perfect pairing of lobster chunks with the slight sweetness of peas and fresh basil. A beautiful dish that you'd have to be crazy not to love.

Maine Diver Scallops Ceci Beans, Chard and House-Made Pork Sausage
Secondi: The story behind these little morsels is this. There is a lady in Maine who personally dives for these scallops. By hand she has a crew of people working for her who dive down and hand select these scallops from the ocean floor. Before they are shipped across the country to various high end restaurants she must give the OK. From what we were told you don't want to work for this lady. She only selects the greatest quality scallops and I imagine takes the rest home for some clam chowder right? HA!

Anyways, our scallops were flown in the day before so they were about as fresh as they could be. So what does that translate to in real terms. Well first off the scallop has the most lightly beautiful oceanic flavor. I'm not saying it's fishy. That would be grossly incorrect to call them fishy. They are just so fresh. The texture is a lot like that of pan fried fois gras. It's tender and just enough texture to cut with the side of a fork. Absolutely beautiful. The scallops were so good I don't even remember what the accompanying parts of the dish taste like.

Chocolate “Torta” Hazelnut Buttercream, Bananas, Valrhona Chocolate Ganache, Hazelnut Crumble, Banana Gelato
Dolci: It's kinda hard to turn down an option like this. I love chocolate and I love hazelnuts. If you can imagine what this flavor combination tastes like, visualize the flavor in your head and multiply it times 10. That's about how yummy it is. I just wish I had a couple more bellies to try all the deserts and all the dishes from this meal.

In closing, this meal was not the cheapest of meals. But it also wasn't the most expensive meal I've ever had. It was however, one of the most memorable. Not only for the food, but the impeccable service and care the staff treats you with. If you're even a short driving distance away from Boulder you MUST try this place out. Frasca is a restaurant that I see returning to in the near future.

--Joe Kwon

Visit Frasca's website for information about booking and their current menus.