Raleigh, N.C. — The second night of Fire in the Triangle proved a treat in more ways than one for the more than 100 diners at 1705 Prime Tuesday night. The competition dining series pitted chefs from the Washington Duke Inn's Fairview Restaurant and Battistella's in preparation of six courses judged by the diners.
Diners eagerly anted up for selections from Juice Wine Purveyors and Mystery Brewing. Brewer Erik Lars Myers said he picked the two beer options for week one – Evangeline Saison and Queen Anne's Revenge, a Carolinian Dark – with balance in mind. "I offered them one dark, one light; one high-alcohol, one low; one hoppy beer, one less so," he said.
Myers described the character of his brews to Fire in the Triangle planners, and he said that influenced their choice of ingredients for the cooking challenge this week. Local breweries are being featured each week in the dining series.
Before Tuesday's secret ingredient was announced to the room, Myers hinted at those raising a glass of Queen Anne's Revenge, "I assure you, this beer pairs well with tonight's dishes."
According to the Mystery Brewing website, the Queen Anne's Revenge "was designed to be a darker version of an English-style IPA, to show off the soft bitterness of traditional English hops but to balance them with the rich chocolate of roasted malt."
Just before the big announcement, another diner joined our table, and the big "V" on this T-shirt provided yet another clue. Sam Ratto, co-CEO and chocolate maker for Raleigh's Videri Chocolate Factory, was on hand to see how Tuesday's secret ingredient, Videri chocolate, was received. Ratto said he provided 20 pounds of the stuff to chefs Jason Cunningham, of the Washington Duke, and Brian Battistella.
Here's a recap of Tuesday's courses, results and reviews. In each round and overall, diners (the Joes) and local media foodies including WRAL Out & About (the Pros) grade the dish on aroma, presentation, creativity and other factors. All scores are out of a possible 30 points.
Course 1: Chocolate Covered Smoky Bacon, Strawberry Fennel and Shaved Chocolate Salad, Farmer’s Cheese Fondue, Honey Roasted Cashews (Battistella's).
The chocolate-covered bacon has almost become cliche, but its popularity is unquestioned. The execution on this one was what lowered its scores. Bacon was served in full slices, 3/4 dipped in the chocolate. "If you didn't want people to be able to cut it, why not crumble it?" wondered Johanna Kramer (@durhamfoodie).
The trail of Texas Pete (another NC product!) that encircled this salad made it clear that the first dish was Battistella's.
Dish score: 17.50
Course 2: Chocolate Mystery Brewery’s Queen Anne’s Revenge Braised Pork Belly, Sweet Potato Confit, Heirloom Tomato Jam, Chocolate BBQ Sauce (Washington Duke).
Kramer was more impressed by round 2. "Killing it," she said.
The melt-in-your-mouth pork belly marked the moment when the murmur in the room was silenced by diners simply digging in. The scores show it was among the favorites across the board.
Dish score: 22.63
Course 3: Chili Crusted Duck Mole, Garbanzo Bean-Mango-Red Onion Salsa, Crispy Duck Crackling, Roasted Poblano Coulis (Battistella's).
Diners expecting a mole option were rewarded with dish 3, and the sauce surely shone. I reached for extra bread to sop up every bit of it.
Dish score: 18.65
Course 4: Chocolate Espresso Lamb Loin, Chocolate Cipollini Onion, Asian Pear & Fennel Slaw, Chocolate Pinot Noir Bing Cherry Syrup (Washington Duke)
This aromatic dish wooed diners upon delivery. "Ooh that looks pretty," said judge Leigh Powell Hines (@Hinessightblog). "Fully drooling on the smell," Kramer said.
Not mentioned in the description, but detected in the tasting were candied bits of bacon that added another element to this exquisite blend of flavors. "Bacon is so right every time," another diner said.
The lamb was the clear winner at my table, but the only dish where Pros scored an offering higher than Joes.
Dish score: 22.06
Course 5: Moroccan Scented Chocolate Torta, Grilled Pinot Noir Marinated Peaches, Crème Anglaise, Spiced Chantilly Cream (Battistella's).
By the time dessert courses were served, our expectations were sky high, and this one delivered. Diners called it "beautiful" and "brilliant." A scattering of curry powder added an umph that took this dish to another level.
Dish score: 22.69
Course 6: Anise Scented Flourless Chocolate Torte, Caramelized Cashew, Orange Sabayon, Pomegranate (Washington Duke)
The anise, an uncommon taste, overwhelmed the chocolate and other flavors in this final dish. We had eaten much and well and many declined to finish this one.
Dish score: 19.04
After the chefs took a victory lap through the dining room, they talked about the challenge. "When I heard the secret ingredient, I just wanted to go home," Battistella said.
Cunningham saluted his competitor and hailed his team. They will face Heron's, winners of the first night of Fire in the Triangle.
In the end, Cunningham and the team from the Washington Duke edged Battistella, 21. 24 to 19.62. The Fire in the Triangle website has more on how scores are tabulated.
Most of the battles for Fire in the Triangle are SOLD OUT, but a few tickets do remain for Aug. 5 quarterfinal bout. Head to the Fire in the Triangle website to purchase tickets before they are gone!
WRAL's Out and About is the official blogger for Fire in the Triangle, so look for exclusive content, interviews and more from each battle!
Fire in the Triangle is part of the Got to Be NC competition dining series. The winner from the Triangle will go on to compete against the winners of the Fire on the Rock, Fire on the Dock, Fire in the Triad and Fire in the City competitions. The last chef standing wins $2,000 and the coveted red chef’s jacket. The runner-up will get $500.