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Restaurants: An, Jibarra
Saturday, 2007 November 17 - 10:22 am
Two relatively recent upscale additions to the Triangle dining scene.

An. An is a modern Asian fusion restaurant; it describes itself as providing "New World cuisine, blending Southeast Asian flavors and European influences". Chef Michael Chuong brings experience from two four-star restaurants and one five-star restaurant in New Orleans; his credentials are impressive.

Amy and I went a few months ago. We started with some sushi, which was impeccably fresh and perfectly prepared. For the main courses, we selected a black angus steak, and the Miso sea bass.

Let me tell you something: the miso- and maple-glazed sea bass may be the best restaurant dish I've eaten in ten years, and that's saying quite a lot. The steak was decent, but utterly forgettable compared to the sea bass,. If you go to An, it is absolutely imperative that you get this dish. They could charge $50 for it and it'd be a bargain. At $26, it's a no-brainer.

They do have a couple of Kobe steaks on the menu; these seem to have become a staple for every high-end restaurant across the country. (You have to be careful, though; it's quite possible they mean "American Kobe", which is the same breed of wagyu cattle, but isn't fed beer and hand-massaged throughout its life as is done in Japan. American farmers claim it makes no difference; I beg to differ. It's still good, but not as good as the real thing.)

The service, presentation, and atmosphere were all flawless. The waiters were attentive and knowledgeable. The bar (where we waited a little longer than expected, due to some miscommunication between the hostess and the bartender) was classy, and served up some interesting specialty cocktails (including a green tea mojito, highly recommended).

It's a perfect restaurant for any special occasion, but I wouldn't wait for a special occasion to go there again.

Rating: 5 / 5

Jibarra. Having had such a great experience at a modern Asian restaurant, I was pleased that someone decided to put a modern and elegant take on Mexican food. Just as the local Asian restaurant scene is dominated by cheap Americanized buffets and take-out joints, the local Mexican restaurant scene is dominated by generic casual places with suspiciously similar menus: two hundred different combinations of rice, beans, meat, tortillas, and salsa, more Tex-Mex (i.e. depressingly greasy and brown) than authentic Mexican food.

So I was excited about Jibarra. Chef Ricardo Quintero was trained as a chef in Mexico City and worked in several fine dining establishments there. Eschewing an offer to work with Chef David Bouley in New York, he came to Raleigh to be executive chef under proprietor Jose Ibarra.

Jibarra bills itself as a tequila lounge as well as a restaurant, and they do not disappoint; they have a decent selection of upscale tequilas, including three premium blue agave tequilas. They also have an interesting cocktail menu; the pear-cilantro margarita was delicious and refreshing, and not overly sweet.

The meal started with an amuse bouche from the chef. We missed the explanation of what they were, but one seemed to be a chorizo fritter in a light sauce (served in a shot glass!), and the other was a tiny fried pork rind with what appeared to be a mix of cream and pico de gallo. Both were excellent; it seemed an interesting homage to Raleigh culture.

I got the ceviche sampler as an appetizer. One was a seared tuna and white bean ceviche with a balsamic-soy reduction. This one seemed a little lifeless to me; not bad, but not as flavorful as I would have expected. The second was a smoked salmon over guacamole; this combination, surprisingly, works very well. The third was the more traditional lime-marinated white fish with pico de gallo; this was flavorful and excellent.

Amy got the blue crab soup. This is a spicy dark soup; I tasted hints of cocoa, like a molé sauce. And chile peppers, definitely. It was served over a crabmeat butter cannelloni, which melted instantly as the soup was poured over it (table-side). The result? Delicious... but rich, very rich. Maybe a bit too much for an appetizer.

For entrees, Amy got the snapper, which was pan-seared and served with a slow-cooked tomato, onion, olive, and caper sauce. This might have been the most disappointing dish of the evening. Snapper has a delicate flavor, and I'm not sure pan-searing is the best way to bring it out. Grilled or sautéed might have been a better choice. And the sauce was cloying; when you slow cook ripe tomatoes and onions, a lot of natural sugar comes out, and that sweetness was overpowering. There was an odd plain side of rice, which Amy said seemed like Uncle Ben's, right out of the bag. I'm afraid I had to agree.

My dish was a duck breast, breaded and served with a molé-like sauce. It was accompanied by a sweet potato puree and a chile compote. The duck was not-quite medium rare; it was tender and flavorful, and the chile compote was a perfect accompaniment. My only complaint is that it was breaded. Duck is an oily, heavy meat; breading and frying it is a bit of overkill. Here is where you pan-sear something. Maybe the snapper should have been breaded and fried.

All in all, the food was inventive, but slightly disappointing. The service was friendly, but unfortunately a little slow. (After being seated at 7:45, we weren't done with dinner until well after 9:00. There was quite a long lag between appetizers and entrees, and dinner rolls didn't appear until after we were nearly done eating.) The atmosphere and presentation were definitely plusses: the place was beautifully decorated, and the food was served in an interesting array of bowls and dishes.

I think all the problems are correctable, and I certainly hope that this restaurant survives, because we need places like this.

Rating: 3.5 / 5
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Posted by Ken in: foodreviews


Comment #1 from Phil (Guest)
2007 Nov 17 - 1:01 pm : #
Thanks for the reviews. I'm looking forward to the An bass, and to trying the Jibarra everything.

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