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30 January, 2012

The District

Posted in : Dining in Durham - NC, Restaurants on by : The Gourmez

I posted this review over at Carpe Durham earlier today. It’s of a practically secret restaurant—amp up your excitement levels! Okay, not too high, though.

The District
410 Blackwell Street
The American Tobacco District

Head inside the glass doors by the waterfall at the bottom floor of the Fowler Building in the Tobacco District, and you’ll find the District, a restaurant only open on Thursdays and Fridays from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm for lunch and from 7:30 am to 10:o0 am for breakfast (edited 2/3 to update hours and add breakfast!).

The Fowler Building is also the home of the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, and their culinary program is why the District exists in the first place. It’s a training ground for future chefs and a means for them to put what they’ve learned into practice for a few months at a time. The District is only open for part of each semester, and the husband and I decided to try it last Thursday on its opening day with this group of students.

Keep in mind that everything is student-run here, so be forgiving! The wait staff is also comprised of chefs-in-training, and they rotate with the back of the house each month so they can all experience all aspects of restaurant operations during a meal rush. The menu is small, consisting of about 5 appetizers and salads, 5 sandwiches, 3 entrees, and 3 dessert options.

It will stay the same throughout the semester. Worth noting is that they serve Joe Van Gogh coffee, and it was great! So many restaurants serve bad coffee, so I always celebrate the exceptions to that.

We started with the crab cakes, which were served with a red pepper remoulade. They were probably the best dish we had and delicious.

They were jam-packed with crab, fried nicely, and had a great kick from the diced yellow and red peppers inside. The remoulade was also good, though the salad was overly dressed with a strongly lemon vinaigrette. Those patties, though, they were wonderful.

My husband’s tuna melt sandwich was a simple affair—grilled white bread, lettuce, tomato, and swiss cheese that wasn’t melted.

He was okay with it, but probably wouldn’t order it again. At $7, it’s not a bad deal, but a little more imagination would have been nice. Personally, I was sorely tempted by the Asian short rib entrée but decided that the shrimp tacos were more up my alley, being as I’ve only recently started enjoying ribs.

First, the negative: they don’t make their tortillas, so that sacrifices some of the quality of a taco dish, but they do fry the chips in house (and the potato chips, too). The shrimp were cooked just right, and I enjoyed the unexpected and somewhat southern take on tacos—they were served with tomato, lettuce, very thinly sliced and grilled green and red bell peppers, and a green chile salsa that tasted like chow chow. Definitely don’t order them expecting taqueria-style tacos, but I rather liked the interesting take on the dish. The guacamole was some of the best I’ve had in the area, heavy on the lime and cilantro.

We passed on dessert, but what they had is worth mentioning. You can order bananas foster with vanilla ice cream, and they will prepare it tableside for you. Another patron had it while we were there—talk about a fun spectacle while dining! They also offer flourless chocolate cake and a changing ice cream flavor. This day it was cobbler themed with peach bites mixed into spiced vanilla ice cream and topped with crumble. I almost talked myself into it, but I was really full.

The District is a fun restaurant if you need a change from the Tobacco District’ above-ground options and you don’t mind being a training ground for cooking students. They could do with some better quality ingredients in terms of bread and tortillas, but I definitely recommend those crab cakes and the dessert sounded great. Give them a go and help these students gain the experience they need.

Reviewed 26 Jan 12.

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