When you look back at this year, 2012 was definitely one in which the improving economy influenced the dining scene out in the Triangle. The improving economy meant several things: more interesting restaurants opening up and higher menu prices. It also means busier dining rooms which is good and bad, I guess. But overall it was more good than anything. The Triangle is a growing region regardless of the current financial indicators, and it's slowly becoming more of a food and gourmet type region. Which is fantastic for those of us who call it home! So here's some of my favorites for 2012, meals, restaurants and otherwise.
Favorite meal (Basic) for 2012: Soo Cafe and its Korean fried chicken! I had never tried KFC before so imagine my surprise when Soo Cafe hit my radar screen. Bare-bones and utilitarian inside, their fried chicken rocks it out and will give your taste buds a ride. Crispy, sweet, savory and more, I'll have a post coming soon on this little gem!
Favorite meal (Fancy) for 2012: I'd have to give it to the Fairview Dining Room and their Fall menu preview. Although the meal was comp'ed, it was still a fantastic experience. Great service, flavors and textures, this place is pretty much beyond where I'd normally eat at in terms of price and style. I admit to sticking to a slightly lower tier of restaurants which is fine because you can still appreciate all the effort they put into their preparation, presentation, flavor and ingredient selection.
Favorite meal (Outside of Triangle) for 2012: Yes, it's hard to argue against Gordon Ramsay's Steak out in Las Vegas. Came out to celebrate a 50th birthday and we got all out of hand. In a great way! Superb decor, service topped with delicious pork belly, ribeye steak, a sticky toffee pudding and ridiculous french-press coffee. I came out five lbs. heavier and my wallet five lbs. lighter. But it was worth it!
Funnest food event for 2012: While there are always old favorites like the NC State Fair and cooking classes, I really got a kick out of the Competition Dining Series sponsored by Got to be NC. Fire in the Triangle pitted 16 restaurant teams against each other in an Iron Chef-style competition complete with secret ingredient. Enjoyed Sono battling against Flights at the lovely 1705 Chophouse. Great event, I just hope they keep the ticket prices reasonable for 2013, it's gonna be even more popular!
Favorite new Durham restaurant of 2012: Yeah, it was close and they both opened up at the end of the year but Mateo over Pizzeria Toro. Love the rustic, sexy European feel to this place, their tapas also seem really authentic. From the pan de tomate to gambas, costillas and more, Mateo could fit into any urban landscape in the US which is a high compliment.
Favorite new Raleigh restaurant of 2012: I'll give it right now to Bida Manda even though I've only eaten there once. Same deal as above, it's a combination of decor, style, food and more. Bida Manda seems to be doing a very nice job right out of the chute with relatively authentic food and decent prices with a splash of hipness.
Saddest Departure of 2012: Overall it's been a good year even though we've lost some decent places like the Hibernian Pub, it's the circle of life...
(Cue in the Lion King music).
For every old stand-by that closes, two or more new, great places open up in any growing region. And that's the challenge as the food scene in the Triangle moves forward. If you don't adapt and evolve, you'll probably fall to the wayside but that's called progress. While there will always be appreciation for classic, regional cuisine, the additional layers of newer flavors and restaurants broaden and deepen the food scene which is always a good thing in my opinion!
So here's to 2013 and everything a new year can bring, for you and your loved ones!