Raleigh Once Again

Properly prepared fish used to be the truest test of a chef's talents. But lately I've found pork to be, quite literally, the tougher of the two to cook. A "rack" of pork -- a misnomer -- was further proof of this thesis. In reality a single-cut pork chop, the overcooked white meat challenged both knife and jaw and was overwhelmed by an intense citrus-coriander sauce. A scoop of creamy mashed sweet potatoes and buttered leaf spinach added the only real finesse to the plate.

Despite the tiring duration of the meal, dessert was a necessity for two reasons: One of my dinner guests is a pastry chef, and the Raleigh tends to present, along with regulars such as cräme brulee and chocolate cake, innovative sweets such as almond cake with basil ice cream and pineapple soup with coconut sorbet. Bowing to my friend's curiosity, we ordered a citrus "terrine," which turned out to be a slice of layered gelatin mold that relied largely on grapefruit, accompanied by a wonderfully creamy, homemade passion-fruit sorbet. Even the diehard chocolate fans at the table (that would be me) admired the dessert's refreshing qualities.

A poolside stroll was a fine way to finish the meal. The courtly elegance of both building and landscape, joined together by balmy breezes, is sufficient reason to visit the Raleigh. On looks alone, it's understandable that the place provokes such loyalty; as for the Raleigh Restaurant & Bar, the cuisine is sometimes inspirational enough to do likewise.

Side Dish
Lately I've been doing some gourmet market research -- at a gas station. A "flagship" Shell station, to be precise, located on the corner of SW 27th Avenue and South Dixie Highway, right across the street from Metrorail's Coconut Grove stop. Not only does the filling station's attached food mart A which boasts more square footage than a small house -- stock the usual sodas, snacks, and toiletries, it also has a coffee counter where workers grind fresh beans, and a Subway Sandwich Shop. But the real attraction is the wine rack (there's a wine refrigerator, too, for chilled whites and champagne) and gourmet-goodies display. Tinned pate and smoked turkey, cheeses, exotic olive oils, jars of roasted red peppers and baby corn, flavored vinegars, even imported cookies and crackers -- all at prices that compare favorably with those of specialty shops and markets. Which means they're not cheap. But they are convenient, and if you're used to buying such products, the bill won't exactly induce a fainting spell.

With all due respect to E-Z Kwik Kuntry Grocery Store, the granddaddy of fine quick-shop cuisine and a perennial Best of Miami winner (2988 SW 27th Ave.), Shell's wines certainly are fine and thoughtfully chosen. For less than ten dollars, I purchased a 1989 Marques de Riscal rioja reserva, ideal for immediate consumption. So I immediately consumed it -- well, when I got home, anyway. Why should my car be the only one fully gassed?

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