Best restaurants 2016 from the News & Observer, Raleigh NC

At least according to Greg Cox. I am pleased to see a couple of Hillsborough restaurants make the lists, and Gourmet Kingdom got a shoutout too.

If you don’t want to deal with the interactive graphic, there are a couple links on the page to a printable .pdf version.

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Does it seem to you that Cox is just dialing it in on some of the category winners? Some are the same year after year and I don’t think it’s because they really still are the best. I tend to think he just can’t get to a lot of the places so the winners become carry-overs out of convenience.

And to highlight just how much personal taste is involved in this whole process, Cox gave Bida Manda a Silver while a different publication only this week called Bida Manda the best restaurant in the state. Not just Raleigh. Not just the Triangle, but the whole state. I’m not sure I necessarily agree, but it does point up that this is only one person’s opinion.

My take on Cox’s column is that it is useful to find out who’s opened recently and where they’re located, but that’s about it.

I wonder if he ever looks at what he’s written in previous years to compare?

I also wonder how often he gets the opportunity to try other restos in the state, with print media budgets being what they are these days.

I must be the only lone dissenter who is tired of all the Ashley C. kudos. To be fair I would need to go to Death and Taxes before deciding I don’t like it, but I have been pretty disappointed over the years with Poole’s, Beasley’s, Fox’s. Joule I have enjoyed.

Also I think Stanbury merits higher than Silver.

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You’re not the only person I’ve heard say this. Personally, though, I can’t say since I’ve not been to any of her places! I guess I should fix that at some point.

I tend to agree.

My problem with AC is not that she isn’t a terrific cook and a great businessperson - she is both. What I dislike is her seeming attitude that she can tell the customer what is good, what is acceptable, what is comfortable, etc. and the customer will damn well like it because, well, she’s AC and she knows best.

We seem to have a longstanding tradition in this area of acting like lemmings when it comes to hot spots. When “Everyone” says this is the place to go or the person to like, we all follow along dutifully and woe be to the person who dares have a different opinion. I saw this tendency very clearly on CH and even saw it in conversation long before social media existed.

We have an embarrassment of fine chefs in this area and AC isn’t even our first James Beard award winner. She has earned all the success she has achieved, but enough with the unrestrained adulation, already. And Greg Cox, enough kneeling at her altar. All you get from that is a pair of sore knees.

And, as far as I’m concerned, you’re quite right about Stanbury.

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I’ve been to Poole’s, Beasley’s, and Chucks. The food at Poole’s and Beasley’s was that good but they were among the most uncomfortable restaurants I’ve ever been to. Every aspect seemed to be specifically designed to make the diner’s experience as annoying as possible.

Chuck’s shared the annoyance factor, with the added bonus of leaving me quite underwhelmed by the food.

As much as I enjoyed the food at Poole’s, we have too many great restaurants in the area where the management cares about the guests’ comfort for me to want to deal with AC’s places.

Couldn’t agree with you more rockycat.

Another place that seems all hype and not much substance is The Lantern. It is … ok. Certainly not worth the $$ and sometimes the attitude. And for crying out loud, they need to change the menu up a bit.

My experience at Bida Manda was so disappointing, I wrote an email, then called and said read my email. Wish we had just gone to Merlion again.

BTW, I heard Merlion closed. Anyone know if they will reopen elsewhere?

It is my understanding that they have revamped Merlion and re-opened under a new name - Rasa Malaysia:

What did you find disappointing about Bida Manda? I haven’t been in a few months but I’ve always enjoyed it quite a bit. I hope it hasn’t changed for the worse.

rockycat, honestly almost everything. It was raining, we were very hungry having run around with kids at the children’s museum all day. I mean, in our state for us to not be able to finish our dishes and have to grab something else on the way home… It was a complete failure, from technique to flavor to concept. Maybe an off day, but I didn’t see great promise even if the kitchen was firing on all cylinders. Service was great, though.

Specifically, what we liked most were the shrimp chips they serve when you sit down. Great garnish, too. Our spring rolls were so greasy, oil was dripping down our fingers. Also, the filling had very coarse black pepper and it was all we could taste. Whole fried snapper at least wasn’t greasy, but overcooked, and accompanied by odd steamed veggies that felt like “fusion” gone wrong. And it came with very little rice. For the price, not okay. Herb salad was okay, except the shrimp with it tasted pre-cooked. Pad Thai was inexcusable. Rice noodles were all cut small. There was a puddle of grease, yet still the noodles were clumped together. (How does that even happen?!) Can’t remember the other stuff. Overall, everything was lacking that Thai/Laos punch. If they want to subdue the flavors on purpose, execution must be perfect, in my opinion.

Especially considering they charge Manhattan prices in Raleigh, I don’t see us going back there. Shame because the children’s museum is the best ever.

I’m very surprised. In my experience the food has been quite flavorful and, when requested, Lao-spicy can just about disintegrate your socks. I can’t/don’t want to eat my food that spicy, but they sure will do it when asked. I particularly like the Green Papaya Salad with the trout and the Caramelized Ginger Pork Ribs, but their Larb can really be incendiary. I agree that the amount of rice seems small but they will bring more.

I’m not sure what prices are in Manhattan these days, but even by Raleigh standards Bida Manda is not overpriced for a downtown restaurant. They aren’t a budget place but they are certainly not the highest around. I really hope that you just caught them on a very off day.

As far as flavor and concept, I can understand everyone has their own preferences. I actually wasn’t referring to heat, I’m talking about the rest of the flavors. (I expected most of the dishes to have clean, yet sharp flavors that intermingle as you eat them. )

But I can’t remember a kitchen meltdown like this. We ate the spring rolls and are thinking, we’ll send this back. Then after trying other things we were just looking at each other like, what do we do, send it all back? The worst offender was the Pad Thai, which we actually complained about to the server when he asked if we liked everything… but he didn’t offer a replacement, so we just stopped there. (Even though that happened, I would still rate service very good, cooking just needed to be above average to keep us coming back.) Still, fine, it can happen. You’re a regular, and obviously have more experience.

What I will debate with you, however, is the prices. I think $17 for a Pad Thai or $18 for an herb salad is too much. I used to complain Merlion was inconsistent and expensive, but at least 50% of our items came out well prepared. (And they will re-fire dishes.) I heard Merlion had increased prices again, so maybe these places don’t have enough competition. We’ve been to one other place in Raleigh, just can’t recall right now. Maybe it was Turkish, will try to find our pictures. It was fancy-ish, too, but not as expensive (at that time.)

Also, the tables at Bida Manda don’t seat four people properly. For that price, we shouldn’t be struggling to keep our dishes and plates on the table.

Actually, I talked to family today and was told the new Merlion is actually close in price and Raleigh is usually $1-2 more per item than Chapel Hill, so for the triangle area, the price is right. Seems like NYC and the Baltimore/DC area are more affordable when it comes to Southeast Asian cuisines.

So no debate on the price in and of itself anymore. But still feel they didn’t provide an experience reflective of the price point.

If you do visit again, could you please post back here and let me know how it went? Thanks.