Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Catalan In Wilmington

A woman we met in Wilmington agreed with us: food in Charleston is boring. No one wants to say anything negative about the most beautiful city in the South, but Wilmington, North Carolina is miles ahead. Perhaps because this little port town, bypassed by freeways, locked on a swampy little peninsula by itself has to try harder. Perhaps it's just that Wilmington is more interesting. I like this town a lot.

That there is a Catalan restaurant at all in Wilmington is mind bending, but this Catalan place isn't Spanish at all. Remember Catalonia, like Basque Country, crosses borders and there are French Catalans and they cook. This one does at any rate. Le Catalan French Cafe & Wine Bar was a great find.

Bear in mind yesterday the weather was total crap. It was mid 40s, windy, rainy and bone numbingly cold. So this snug warm room was just the place to stop off and warm up. At first my wife wanted to order quiche which had been positively reviewed on Urban Spoon but for once I had the good sense to override her and said we should eat the specials.

She fought back suggesting hot tomato soup might be right for the day as a starter (she was right) and then she went overboard with no encouragement from me and ordered a tasting of three French wines, red to keep out the cold you understand. No extravagance was spared and the cassoulet pictured below was perfect, earthy with crunchy beans, not the canned variety, duck meat not greasy and the perfect foil for mouthfuls of creamy light shrimp and orzo pasta baked under a cheese crust, the other special of the day and so good I forgot to photograph it.

We talked at some length with the staff including the owner who was born in Antigua in the British West Indies, married a Frenchman and had two kids in Paris before her family convinced her husband the chemical engineer that Wilmington was the city where he should realise his dream to open his own restaurant. Good job they did on this riverfront Wilmington street.

Inside we were feeling good, outside it was still crap so we did what one does in the circumstances and we went to the beach.

The drive to the beach took ten hours, well not really but the six lane highway had traffic lights every eight car lengths and the traffic engineers have not yet heard of synchronization so the journey from river to ocean just felt like a winter trek. In summer it must be actual merry hell what with all those people seeking what we found: sun sand and sea. And there we also found a big fat happy yellow Labrador.

Cheyenne loved the freezing wind and empty streets. Every frozen leaf merited close inspection so as a result we got to walk not very far but I got frostbite anyway. I love my dog.

In the Carolinas we have discovered they love their beach homes in the extra large size. In the Outer Banks, our next destination, they call these towers "rent machines" because mainland families come to these barrier islands with all their families intent on holiday-making en masse. Some puny little Keys stilt house wouldn't do at all for these serious vacationers.

While I can say Wilmington is an interesting town Wrightsville Beach could be Anywhere-By-The-Sea, seen from Fort Myers Beach north, a selection of bars, fish restaurants, dust catcher stores all boarded up out of season. The Usual.
Not without pretensions:

That would go over well in Key West ..."Respect Our Community..." Ain't nobody got time for that while vacationing in the Lower Keys! This part of the world really is interesting. But freezing cold. Front Street would be a cool place to hang outdoors in summer. Not on a 42 degree evening.

Check out Wilmington, the Port City. I like this place.