Happy birthday to Carolyn!

Last night we took her to 18 Seaboard in Raleigh.

I had made reservations and they seated us in a nice, round booth with tall walls that allowed some privacy.  There was room for 6, close, or 4, comfortably.  We had lots of room but were close enough to share across and around the table easily.

Our server was an extrovert named Rusty.  He knew the menu thoroughly and was very pleasant but not overbearing.  They had one girl whose sole function seemed to be bringing fresh spoons as needed to the table.  When we ordered soup, she popped up and then, again, when desert was on the way.  As I finished my cocktail, a different server who happened to be cruising by asked if I wanted another.  I said “I think I prefer a glass of wine, now.” and he smiled, acknowledged that and sailed away.  Other people helped clear away empty dishes as they happened by at the correct time, so we were never crowded, but they were so graceful about it that we didn’t feel hovered over, either.

We began with cocktails.  Carolyn had the Pear and Vanila Sangria, I had a Mandarin Mojito and Chuck had a glass of Oban, 14 year old Scotch.  The mojito was tasty, the vanilla vodka in the sangria kinda made it taste like a banana popsicle, the Scotch was mellow and very lightly peaty.

Chuck had the Canellini bean stew with fresh rosemary and chives.  I had the Carolina coast she-crab soup.  We shared a cheese plate.

Two of the cheeses were goat, but one was a lovely blue, so I was OK. Sadly, I don’t remember the names of the  cheeses.  I do recall that one was an NC goat cheese with grape leaf ash in it.  That one was Chuck’s favorite.  There were restaurant-made whole wheat crackers and 3 dabs of chutneys to go with the cheeses. One was cherries with balsamic vinegar, there were walnuts with a little apple and a touch of rosemary, and the third was a kind of cranberry paste with port.  That was a party unto itself.

The bean stew was delicious, well seasoned with fresh herbs.  It was evident that the chef likes rosemary, as I do, but he wasn’t heavy handed with it.  Rosemary can be a strong flavor and he has a delicate touch.

The crab soup was delicious.  It is NOT Lowcountry She-Crab Soup, but they didn’t try to claim that it was, either.  It is a cream based crab soup with sherry drizzled over it, however.  There was a pile of freshly picked crab meat in the middle of the bowl and I didn’t leave any.  I did share a little, though.

Chuck had a glass of Tasmorcan Elio Perrone 2007 Barbera and I had a glass of Artesa 2007 Chardonnay.  They serve 7 ounce pours. (Yay!)  Carolyn was still sipping sangria.  (It was a BIG glass.)

For our entrees, Chuck and I each had 2 of the appetizers and Carolyn had the Shrimp and Scallop penne pasta with butternut squash, asparagus, creme fraiche and grana padana cheese.  I had to ask Rusty what grana padana cheese is.  He said it’s like Parmesan.  As expected by this point, it was perfect.  Enough sauce for flavor, but not floating everything. Gorgeous scallops and shrimp in an adequate abundance.

My dinner was Flat River Farms fried green tomatoes with corn relish tartar sauce and aged balsamic and Crispy Pamlico Shrimp with apple horseradish slaw and a Texas Pete aioli. The crust on the tomatoes and shrimp was not heavy, but was not exceptional.  However, the condiments made the dishes.  The horseradish in the slaw was spicy, but not over powering.  The Texas Pete aioli was very much like roumelade.  The corn relish tartar sauce was overly mayonnaisey for my taste, but the balsamic vinaigrette was drizzled over slivered spinach and finely chopped red peppers and was perfect with the tomatoes.

Chuck had the Grilled asparagus chopped salad with cranberries, sweet potatoes, bleu cheese, and green peppercorn puree (with bacon left off) and House-cured citrus salmon with caramelized leek potato salad and dill crema.  Next time we go, I’m having that grilled asparagus salad.  It was amazing.  There were 4 stalks of nicely grilled asparagus laid around a tower of salad, that was of the chicken salad type rather than the green salad type.  It was splendid. Not heavily dressed and the blue cheese was present but not overpowering to the rest of the dish.  The salmon was thinly sliced and folded onto dollops of the potato salad with a drizzle of the crema.  It was very delicate, but quite flavorful.

Then, we had dessert.  With coffee.

Carolyn had Egg Nog Bread Pudding with peppermint ice cream.  Chuck had Sticky Toffee Pudding that we almost had to pry away from him to get a taste.  I had the Pecan Pie Creme Brulee.  They brought a lemon cake with “Happy Birthday” written on the rim of the plate in chocolate, too.  (When I made the reservation, I was asked if it was an occasion and I had allowed that it was Carolyn’s birthday, but that if they did anything to draw attention to her, she’d kill me.  There was a birthday party there and there were candles and singing, but all they did for us was a very nice treat, quietly served.) The desserts were as lovely as the rest of the meal.  The creme brulee was made with brown sugar and had pecans scattered, heavily, on top.  The other 2 were well made examples of exactly what you’d hope for.  And generously portioned, but not so much that we were miserable after a 2-and-half hour meal.

I cannot recommend 18 Seaboard enough for any occasion or excuse.

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