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[posted on eGullet 2003-2004]

Enoteca Vin, Raleigh, Most Important Restaurant South of NYC?

Did I say that?

Yes, I did.

Chef Ashley Christensen is my idea of a chef's chef. A hard-working craftsman producing world-class dishes without running up against the rampant egos that are the downfall of otherwise talented cooks trying to make a name for themselves in this competitive, cold hard world.

How many restaurants have you dined in lately that have the following:

1) a chef who is sweating bullets on the line in the kitchen

2) true, fresh, seasonal local ingredients

3) recipes that are elegant, ethereal, transparent and clean

4) depth of flavor that relies on the essence of the fresh ingredients, rather than some odd juxtaposition of flavors that should never have come into contact with each other.

There can be nothing "better" than this without much costlier ingredients and way more hours spent preparing the meal. This is as good as it gets in terms of food, cuisine, wine and fine dining, less the formality of a multi-starred restaurant.

And it's in a bistro setting.

Oh, and here's a minor detail: if you consider selection and pricing, they have the best wine list in the United States of America.

Yes, that's right, I just said that: if you consider selection and pricing, they have the best wine list in the country.

Furthermore, my guess is that they have the single greatest Burgundy list in the entire world outside of Burgundy, with the possible exception of some Michelin-starred restaurants in France (but not many). Yes, I just said that too.

And this is a bistro in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The prices for the wines? About what you'd pay at retail, or about half what most other restaurants charge (assuming they had these wines on their lists, which they don't). When I was last there I enjoyed a perfectly stored 1978 Margaux with my dinner for $195. Think about this: when a restaurant offers expensive wines such as this at-or-near retail, they're taking the risk that the wine is somehow bad or defective, not you. However, this wine, like all other wines I've bought from them, was in perfect condition. There's a lot of good inexpensive stuff, too, and about thirty interesting wines by the glass!

Enoteca Vin is a connoisseur's place to dine, and will not remain a secret much longer.

The food is simple, elegant, and brilliant. The chef is an artist, but not a tortured, angry artist; merely a talented artist performing her craft with humility to the best of her abilities.

Too good to be true? Maybe, but I'm telling you to heed my words before the October issue of Food and Wine Magazine comes out. You heard that little secret here first, my friends.

It is a privilege to dine at Enoteca Vin.

You should go now, before it catches on, because I promise you, dear reader, that it will catch on sooner rather than later.

Listen to what I say here,



On 7/21/2004 at 7:20 AM, Varmint said:

Here's Vin's website. Note that the wine list on the site is just for wines sold by the glass -- three different pour sizes.

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it here: the reason for Vin's excellent wine program comes from the fact that its owner is Chrish Peel, who also owns Carolina Wine Company, which I can say without hyperbole is the most important wine shop in the Southeast. The value of CWC comes not what they have in their shop or with their internet sales -- it comes from their email offers, where most of their stuff is presold well before arrival.

I've previously said that Vin wasn't likely to be my "go to" restaurant in the area, primarily because of the lack of complexity of Chef Christensen's dishes. I think it's time for me to go back and re-evaluate.

Thanks for the report, Don.

Hi Dean,

It's precisely that lack of complexity that makes the dishes so magical to me.

Nothing is tortured, nothing is busy, nothing is muddled. A bite of corn or tomato will taste like the purity and innocence of the farm, without any of the flavors being challenged or lost. On their dinner menu on the web, they have a dish called Day Boat scallops with local butter beans, white corn, and yellow Tomato-vidalia relish. In this dish, every single kernel of corn shines through, not as a drowned-out drumbeat in a loud song, but as the purest kernel of corn you could imagine. And each butter bean has its own place in the dish. This is a string quartet where each instrument can be enjoyed individually if you wish to hear them, but the entire ensemble works together to offer a testament to the season.

Here in Washington DC, we have an all-organic restaurant called Nora whose ingredients "read" of a certain purity, but the execution renders them dried out and boring.

We have star chefs who pride themselves on playing with food, pairing this-and-that item with whatever clever ingredients they dreamed up the night before, and then making the dish look like something it's not. The results can be interesting and even quite good, but it's more about the chef than what went into the dish. No chef in the world is more important than a good tomato.

And then, of course, there are the cowboys, the race drivers, feeling the need to throw as many items into a dish as possible.

But Ashley is young and self-trained, has an uncorrupted aspect to her cooking, and an exceedingly rare ability to let the ingredients speak without feeling the need to put a strong personal imprint on them. She realizes, rightly so, that no human intervention can improve upon the freshest seasonal ingredients. However, she also has the ability to put together plates that amplify and heighten those flavors, without setting them in competition with each other or overwhelming them with external noise.

If you go on a night that's not busy, ask if she'll arrange a special tasting menu for you. She truly appreciates customers who put their faith in her to assemble and present a multi-course meal.

All this, coupled with one of the best wine lists in the world.



P.S. Did I mention that they have a good wine list?


On 8/11/2004 at 7:16 PM, Varmint said:

I just received an email from Carolina Wine Company and Enoteca Vin owner, Chrish Peel (it's a mass mailing for CWC customers), but he included Don's review of Vin. Chrish's lead-in to the email was this:

I couldn't resist quoting a really nice "review" of Vin from the excellent foodie website eGullet.  A great website.  Check it out!  Though don't expect the same sort of butt-kissing and back-biting that goes on in some other sites.  This one is serious.
On 8/11/2004 at 7:16 PM, Varmint said:

Followed by this:

eGullet Review of Vin

This is going to sound like bragging, but nothing is more gratifying than when somebody gets exactly what we're trying to do - and says you're doing it well.  And it’s even better when it’s somebody authoritative.  Don Rockwell is a longtime customer here - and despite the fact that he lives in Washington D.C. - a repeat diner at Vin.  He's also the eGullet Forum Host for D.C., Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.  Here, in full, is his review of Vin under the heading "Enoteca Vin, Raleigh, most important restaurant south of NYC?"  As Don said when I asked his permission to quote this, "I was not bs-ing, not networking, not doing anything, when I said that Vin may in fact be the most important restaurant south of NYC.  I believe in my heart that it was my favorite meal of the past year."  Thanks again, Don.  And I hope everyone enjoys this post.  We sure did!

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