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Greek + Lebanese Pair Perfectly at Jasmin

December 5, 2010

2430 Hillsborough St
Raleigh, NC 27607
(919) 755-9991

A great lunch spot, Jasmin is sure to please with its healthy ingredients and even lighter prices.

 

by: Allison

Jasmin was recommended to me by a friend of mine, who is a student at NC State. He would always rave about how delicious and affordable it was, and kept urging me to try it out since he knew I had a thing for Mediterranean food. Of course, when I found out Jasmin offered both Greek and Lebanese, that sealed the deal and I made plans to try it out for lunch one day.

Located on the corner of Hillsborough St. and Horne St., Jasmin is located in the heart of NC State’s campus area. The crowd for lunch that day – and every day I’ve visited Jasmin since – was comprised of mostly college students, several of them with book bags and laptops in tow. But as soon as I got the chance to taste what Jasmin had to offer, I realized it isn’t just the convenient just-off-campus location that drew its consistent crowd; it’s the delicious, fresh-tasting food.

Since I’m such a sucker for both Greek and Lebanese cuisine (probably because they’re so similar in nature), I realize I’m slightly biased in writing this review – thanks to my taste buds. However, if you’re one who hasn’t really warmed up to this type of food yet, I dare you to go to Jasmin and try to find something that you don’t like. Because there is so much to choose from, you really can’t go wrong. From fresh green salads dressed in feta cheese, tomatoes and olives, warm-pressed paninis and pitas to the most mouth-watering (and generous) helpings of their homemade hummus, there’s something for everyone at Jasmin.

I’ve been to Jasmin several times and would now consider it a favorite lunch spot in Raleigh. If you can get beyond the headache of finding a parking spot on Hillsborough, the warm and energetic atmosphere inside is a nice treat to break up the work day… or a lazy Saturday.  As far as the best items to try, I usually order the Greek Pita for lunch - Vertically roasted chicken topped with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and tzatziki (Greek yogurt-cucumber sauce… Jasmin’s is one of the most flavorful versions I’ve tried.) For a side, I’ll either get the Greek salad, fava beans or hummus (served with warm pita points – yes, I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to pita bread and anything I can dip it in!)

However, I have tried some other dishes, checked out what others order most often and gotten some recommendations from Jasmin “regulars”. Based on my findings, here’s what else to sample at Jasmin:

Gyros Platter: Gyro meat, Greek salad, yogurt cucumber dip and fries (yes, fries!). $6.99 (This is known as “Jasmin’s Best!” dish.)
Greek Salad: Romaine, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers, red onions, kalamata olives pepperoncini, and Jasmin’s home made dressing. $5.99
Pesto Chicken Panini: Jasmin’s “Signature Creation” panini has roasted chicken, ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and pesto sauce.  $4.99
The Mediterranean Platter: Roasted chicken (shawarma), Greek salad, hummus, yogurt cucumber (tzatziki) dip and (2) grape leaves. $7.49

These are just a few suggestions, but I hope from these examples you can get a feel for how tasty (and affordable) this place is. Another highlight to Jasmin is their wide variety of sides to choose from. Because there are so many choices, Jasmin makes it easy to build your own “platter,” and this option is very popular among customers.

I ran out of pita bread. No worries, I have a spoon for the hummus!

Although the wide selection and and reasonably-priced items make this such an attractive spot, I have to say the best part about Jasmin is how fresh the food tastes. It’s always refreshing, and slightly rewarding, to visit a place that tastes like an indulgence but feels like a healthy meal – because it is. …Unless, of course, you’re just there to dip some fries in some tzatziki sauce. In that case, don’t do that… at least not at Jasmin! There’s far too much fresh, delicious and deceptively good-for-you meals to be had here.

Visit Jasmin Mediterranean Bistro Online

Who has the best Happy Hour in Raleigh?

September 28, 2010

We’re excited to develop and devote an entire section of the blog to Happy Hours in the Raleigh area. Please send us your restaurant & bar picks for favorite HH food & drink specials and we’ll be sure to include them!

Tradition meets innovation at Gravy

September 27, 2010

Gravy serves up comforting Italian fare with a twist at its inviting Wilmington St. location.

135 S Wilmington St Raleigh, NC 27601 (919) 896-8513

Allison Says:

Gravy, Empire Eats‘ take on Italian cuisine, is part of the recent boom of up-and-coming restaurants in the downtown area. I’d been wanting to go for a while, so I was excited when Brad suggested that we go there one random Sunday evening.

I had high hopes for the place, since anything Italian – especially something named after GRAVY – usually needs not try hard to win my affection. And, I figured the next-door location to Sitti had to be a good sign. Turns out, Gravy met my expectations and surprised me in the most wonderful ways. The space is modestly sized, but warm – like a tiny Little Italy version of its next-door neighbor. The vibe is comfortable and relaxed in the most modern way, with a beautiful bar down the left-hand side and interesting artwork that makes for good conversation points. We were seated by the window at the front of the restaurant; a sweet little table perfect for date night that was accented by a simple tea candle light (my favorite).

Dining at a place like Gravy on a Sunday evening was a pleasant surprise, especially given that Brad – the consummate deal-finder -  usually suggests a “bargain” meal to be had at the end of the weekend… Something with “buy one, get one” anything or a place that accepts one of the Clippers Magazine coupons in his stash. (Not that I don’t enjoy half-off sushi or Mexican combination platters as much as the next girl. Anyway…) Little did I know, we had stumbled upon the best Sunday night deal in town.  Gravy offers a Sunday special of $11 all-you-can-eat spaghetti & meatballs, or $7 for one bowl. Brad was sold and ordered the $7 entrée, which was so flavorful it made me realize why they needed the all-you-can-eat option. Before our main courses came, we shared a plate of the risotto cakes… just mouth-watering is all I can say. The portion seems small (I believe there are only three to a plate), but given how rich they are, it actually is the perfect serving, especially as a prelude to their generously sized entrées.

The highlight of the meal would never have happened had I known what I ordered was going to actually come out looking like. I relied on the server’s dreamy description of a mysterious “Mediterranean sea bass special” to make my decision, and boy am I glad I did. That said, I was not prepared for the actual fish – eyes, teeth, ribcage and all – to arrive on a dinner plate in front of me. You see, I’m the kind of gal who is not above eating most anything… but I usually need it to look pretty, or at least camouflaged & dressed up, in order to mask the reality of whatever it is I’m putting into my mouth as much as possible (i.e. sushi).

Needless to say, I was not prepared for THIS:

…Okay, so the picture is from my cell phone and the shot definitely doesn’t do the preparation justice (the basil caper sauce was the perfect consistency and actually looked so good I could have tipped it back and drank it.) But it did take a lot for me to take that first bite! I have to say… wow, it really was one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever tasted – and I LOVE seafood. I have always been fond of sea bass, and have said since I worked at McCormick & Schmick’s out of college that their version was the best I’d ever tasted. But Gravy’s version was completely different, in a delightful way. It was seared and marinated in what tasted like heaven, and after the first few bites I picked up the pace with my fork and almost forgot that what I was eating had eyes that were staring up at me the whole time. The fact that I was able to get this caliber of fresh catch in the Triangle was a fun (and delicious) discovery, and one that I certainly was not expecting to find at an Italian restaurant on Wilmington Street… much less any Italian restaurant in general.

All in all, I left completely satisfied – from the first bite of home-made garlic knots to the last bite of meatball I stole from Brad’s plate. This place is a great find, and although it is new, I can see it feeding hungry couples, families and friends for decades to come. And though this particular Sunday is what sold me, I’d love to dine there any other night of the week.

Featured Items:

*Risotto Cakes (‘Arancini’ crispy risotto balls, fontina fontal, Gravy [house-made marinara...delish!])

*Spaghetti & Meatballs (Sunday house special)

*Mediterranean Sea Bass (seasonal special)

Brad Says:

I’m going to make this one short and sweet since I have only been once.  I feel like in order to give a restaurant a fair grade, I should at least eat there more than once.  That being said, going off of one visit I would highly recommend it.  If you go on Sunday get the spaghetti and meatballs.  There is no need to start with the “all you can eat.”  If you want more they will allow you to add the $4 extra on to the order, I was sure to ask ahead of time.  The spaghetti was the best I have had in Raleigh, but be sure to ask  the weekly flavor.  They apparently change it often.  Allison’s meal was great also.  Like most sea bass it was a little pricey, but when combined with $7 spaghetti it’s hard to complain about such a great meal for under $40.

Final thought – I ate too many garlic knots.

Visit Gravy Online

Sitti: my warm & delicious pick for best restaurant in Raleigh

September 10, 2010

Sitti has its vibrant atmosphere and flavor-packed Mediterranean cuisine to thank for its staying power in the downtown Raleigh restaurant market.

137 S. Wilmington Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 239-4070

by: Allison

First, I have to give credit where credit is due. Brad just loves to tell this story, particularly now that I’ve completely changed my tune. The first time I walked by Sitti, a Lebanese restaurant on Wilmington St., I turned up my nose when Brad said, “We should try that out sometime.” Lebanese?! I’m good, I thought.

About a month later, I was invited out to meet some friends there for drinks and appetizers. I ate beforehand, of course, because I just knew I wouldn’t find anything besides a cocktail that might possibly appeal to my taste buds. Of course, all this was thrown out the window within nanoseconds of sitting down at the table, where there was warm, toasted pita bread waiting (I can hardly ever say no to that… even when I’m full). The bread – paired with their signature, gritty olive oil-based dipping sauce – was the hook, and with every dreamy Mediterranean dish that followed, I fell more and more in love with Sitti.

Since then, I have enjoyed dining at Sitti with friends and family for every occasion, from girls’ nights out to birthday dinners to low-key nights after work. The food speaks for itself (see my recommendations below), but what truly sets Sitti apart from other Raleigh spots is its warm yet energetic vibe and excellent service. The modern decor is a perfect backdrop for family-style seating (picture: cozy booths and rustic, oversized picnic-style tables intended for multiple parties.) The charming “nook” area at the front of the restaurant is a great spot for socializing on any given evening – perfect for downtown people-watching  through the inviting floor-length windows. The entire space is always buzzing, and every time I’ve been I take away a new appreciation for dining at Sitti.

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s about how good the food is. Like I said, it speaks for itself…

My favorites dishes at Sitti:

Appetizers:

*Hommos (naturally!)

*Halloumi (cheese seared with dates, roasted almonds and drizzled with olive oil)

*Kibbee Mikkli (fried dumplings of ground beef & lamb mixed w/cracked wheat & onion, stuffed w/sauteed minced lamb, onion, pine nuts & spices.. YUM!)

Entrees:

*Seabass (pan-seared with shitake mushrooms, tomato broth, garlic confit & white truffle polenta)

*Chicken Kabob (grilled chicken marinated in yogurt, garlic and lime juice)

*Fatteh with lamb – my VERY favorite, and I normally am not a lamb eater! (stewed lamb over white rice, crispy phyllo, pine nuts, whipped yogurt & garlic)

*Goat Cheese Pizette (tomatoes, olives, oregano & basil… served/ Sitti salad, which is dressed in a delicious lemon vinaigrette)

Desserts:

*Chocolate Fondant (warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream)

*Ashta (layers of phyllo dough, milk pudding, bananas, honey & pistachio)

I should also mention that they have a fantastic in-house wine list… I am now a huge fan of Lebanese wines. Who knew?!

I hope you will try Sitti today, if you haven’t already. It’s got every aspect of a great restaurant down to an art form. I will rarely say these words, but Brad… you had the right idea all along.

Brad Says:

She likes to talk/write a lot, I like to eat.  Get the Fatteh with Lamb.  “Stewed lamb over white rice, crispy phyllo, pine nuts, whipped yogurt and garlic.”

Visit Sitti online

Lilly’s has the best pizza in town!

September 10, 2010

The eclectic decor of Lilly’s Pizza, nestled in the charming “Five Points” district of Raleigh, adds to its appeal.

1813 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27608
(919) 833-0226

by: Brad

I love pizza.  I’ve had it all too.  Some say N.Y.C. (not saying it’s bad) has the best pizza money can buy, I disagree.  If you live in Raleigh and haven’t been to Lilly’s it’s a shame.  Just to get my point across, I was so satisfied the first time I ate there that I have not tried anything different since.  Every weekday they offer 2 slices, 2 toppings per slice and a drink for about $6.  Every time I have been (going on 30 times) I got 2 slices, 1 meatball and mushroom and 1 bacon and pineapple.  Everytime I leave just as happy as the last.

If you are going there for lunch, I have two suggestions.  Either keep another shirt in your car, or eat on a nice day outside.  The smoke from the kitchen inside is usually thick and will leave you smelling like pizza all day.  That is the only negative thing I have to say about Lilly’s.

Visit Lilly’s Pizza online

Our first post: “Our Place”… Taverna Agora!

September 9, 2010

1813 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27608
(919) 833-0226

For our very first post, we thought we’d “review” Taverna Agora, a fantastic Greek restaurant in the Crabtree area of Glenwood Avenue. Here, we each give our take on the humble little Mediterranean treasure we like to call “our place.”

Brad Says: Food – Calamari = A+, It’s honestly the best I’ve ever had.  (Disclaimer – Calamari is a food that I have only been eating for a couple of years.)  It is lightly battered and fried, but never greasy.  Also, for seafood away from the coast, the scallops are the best you will find in the area.

Atmosphere – Driving down Glenwood Avenue you will notice the location does not look that great.  It’s a not a very intimate feel on the outside looking in.  That all changes once you step inside the restaurant.  Even being on the front patio, you would never know there is a four lane highway 100 feet away.  Everything inside and out of the restaurant helps you to realize its authenticity.  The atmosphere and decor take your focus off of anything other than good conversation and great food.

The outdoor patio provides a cozy, rustic setting for enjoying Greek wines & dishes.

Allison Says: As Brad said, the location is extremely unassuming. The Crabtree area of Glenwood Avenue is known for its retail staples, furniture superstores and tons of chain restaurants, and you definitely wouldn’t expect to find a gem such as this in the mix of it all. But it is – right between a Boston Market and a Golden Corral, to be exact. And I love that! Part of the fun in dining at Taverna Agora is the complete shift in perspective, energy and atmosphere that greets every patron instantly upon arrival.

Entering the restaurant itself is such a pleasant, calming experience. Designed around a traditional Greek blue and white color palate, the inside and outside is accented by vines, wood detail and candle lighting. Unlike some of the other restaurants just yards away, this is the kind to entice you to stay a while, even before tasting the food.

The service is always on point, with servers eager to communicate unique daily specials and offer their recommendations. The outdoor dining area is my favorite place to eat; perfect for date night, as each table is set up to accommodate a generous amount of space for each party. The hanging vines and intertwined lights are the perfect accent to the window openings on the patio – just enough to almost entirely mask the four-lane road right next door. Truly, it feels like the closest I’ve ever been to a terrace in Greece. It’s just perfect!

The food is spectacular. I usually try to veer off the menu for my entrée, since their daily specials are always changing and never disappoint. One of my favorite features they sometimes offer is the scallops, shrimp and mushroom linguine tossed in a light butter/lemon sauce. It’s so satisfying, but not heavy. I also really enjoy the calamari, which comes with their fresh, home-made tzatziki (Greek yogurt-based) sauce for dipping, and a side Greek salad. All in all, you really can’t miss with Taverna Agora. It truly is a “hidden treasure” – but the secret has been out for quite some time… it’s got a loyal following of regulars and is always packed to the brim.

Visit Taverna Agora online

Welcome to The Hungry Couple!

September 8, 2010

We’re so excited to share our blog with you!

Stay tuned for delicious updates!

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