Monday, January 26, 2009

Cool Runnings

I love to cook, but I also love it when someone else cooks! We eat out often, either for fun or when I'm just too tired to cook.

On Friday, I got home exhausted from several hours at a client site (I work as a library consultant, primarily in the area of workflow analysis and process redesign). When I picked up DC at work, he wanted to know what "the plan" was.

Being the spontaneous type, I rarely have a plan! I thought about how much I really did not feel like eating leftovers or cleaning up the kitchen. Then of course, I thought guiltily about how we really should eat the leftovers. But exhaustion won out over conscience. So, I cautiously suggested we go out for dinner. DC reminded me it was date night anyway (awesome, guilt absolved!).

Now the dread question: where to eat?? My appetite is very fickle, in that I can be about to drop from hunger but nothing sounds appealing. Also unappealing to my jangled nerves was the idea of a noisy, crowded place or having to wait forever to get a table. DC came to the rescue with the perfect suggestion: Jamaican food!

We are lucky here in the Triangle to have a wide variety of ethnic restaurants. Cool Runnings, our neighborhood Jamaican restaurant, is one of our favorites. Located in the Harrison Pointe shopping plaza at North Harrison and Maynard, Cool Runnings Jamaican Cuisine is a family-run restaurant that offers excellent service and terrific food.

Cool Runnings is an intimate little place with a fun and comforting vibe. You know you'll be well-taken-care-of when you walk in the door and are greeted by a staff that seems genuinely delighted to see you! I love the decor, too-- cozy tables, warm amber and Tuscan green walls (Jamaican flag colors), and a kitchen decked out to look like a beachside stand, complete with coconut fronds!

The food is fabulous-- between the three of us, we've sampled most things on the menu. DS has an adventurous flair for ordering and loves the rich Stewed Oxtails and the spicy, tangy Escoveitch fish. DC is crazy for the "jerk" seasoned offerings. I was kind of hoping they would have the delectable bbq rib special they sometimes offer, but alas, not tonight.

After being shown to our table, we gave our beverage orders: Pineapple Cream Soda for DC and me, and DS boldly chose the "Ting," which none of us had tried. (I asked DS what the Ting is-- no idea!) We love the fact that Cool Runnings offers imported Jamaican soft drinks.

Turns out that "Ting" is a tart, refreshing grapefruit soda. Unfortunately, DS is not a grapefruit fan. I offered to switch drinks with him. He solved the problem by creating his own concoction: adding some of my pineapple soda to the Ting!

Although we often order the jerk chicken wings for an appetizer (and I highly recommend them!), we opted just for entrees. DC chose the tried-and-true Jerk Pork, with plantains and roasted garlic potatoes on the side. DS again went for the "menu selection gold," and ordered the Curry Goat (also with potatoes and plantains). I was really in the mood for a steak, and went with the Jerk Rib Eye, which I had never tried before. Although I adore both the Rice and Peas and the Coconut Rice, I opted for the lower-glycemic-loaded potatoes, and my beloved plantains.

I should take a minute to rave about the sides. The plantains are always perfection, sweetly caramelized and slightly crispy on the edges-- YUM-O! The roasted garlic potatoes, which I had not tried before, turned out to be made with red potatoes (better for my blood sugar than russet potatoes!) and just the right amount of garlic. They were done to a "t," neither mushy nor with that chalky undercooked taste.

As I mentioned, the Rice and Peas and the Coconut Rice are both to die for. I especially love the Rice and Peas (the Jamaican national dish). Fragrant with coconut milk, fresh thyme, and savory red kidney beans, it is a real treat. Unfortunately, jasmine rice and coconut milk are especially bad for my blood sugar issues. As delicious as they are, I decided to forego them so that I could rationalize getting the irresistible plantains (also extremely bad for me!).

My Jerk Rib Eye turned out to be fantastic-- moist, tender, and spicy-- perfectly seasoned. I enjoyed dipping both my steak and my potatoes in the zippy jerk sauce. DC found the Jerk Pork perfect, as always. The only slightly disappointed one was DS, who enjoyed, but was not crazy about, the Curry Goat. Although I didn't try it, our friend Marie loves it and raves about it in her blog.

Also as mentioned above, one of the best things about Cool Runnings is the solicitous and personalized service. The Owner/Chef is very attentive to her customers and always makes a point of stopping by the table to ask how things are. We were completely won over to Cool Runnings when, on our first visit, she overheard us talking about DC's birthday and then showed up at our table with a Bread Pudding, complete with lighted candle, to sing Happy Birthday!

Friday was no different! She was running a special, offering a complimentary Bread Pudding with orders of $20 or more. Since it is our favorite dessert on the menu, we were thrilled. DS also asked the waitress for some Mango Pie. When the Chef herself brought over our Pudding, she mentioned that it was complimentary, and also said the Mango Pie was on the house, since she couldn't help noticing that DS did not eat much of his Curry Goat. DS protested that he'd just got full on his potatoes, and we insisted on paying for the Pie. However, we were most impressed that she knew DS didn't completely enjoy his Goat. The Chef also took the time to answer my question about how to choose plaintains in the market, so I can try fixing them at home. This kind of superlative customer service (along with the fantastic food) is why WE LOVE COOL RUNNINGS!

Now, to rhapsodize about dessert! As I've said, the Bread Pudding is our favorite dessert on the menu (at least for DC and me). It is, hands, down, the BEST bread pudding I have ever tasted! And since my sister is an absolute fanatic for bread pudding, believe me, I've been made to taste a lot of puddings! Cool Runnings' Bread Pudding is rich, buttery, and moist, and sweet, but not too sweet. It's dense but also fluffy at the same time, with no hardened bits of crust-- the texture is bliss! Lightly bound by a rich egg custard, there is just a whiff of Jamaican rum in the sauce that lightly naps the plate. I would so love to have the recipe, but then, of course, I'd have no excuse to make DC take me to Cool Runnings for dessert!

The Mango Pie is a revelation, and deservedly adored by DS. It is a silken custard-based pie with a gorgeous apricot color and the sweet, tangy, unmistakable flavor of mango. The creamy custard in no way overwhelms the mango flavor. Pure joy, if you love mangoes as I do! I'm pretty sure I could substitute mango puree for the lime juice in my frozen Key Lime pie recipe and it would be a showstopper. It's a good thing DC is not as crazy for mango as I am.

Cool Runnings is a family-run restaurant, and sometimes on summer evenings, we are lucky enough to meet the other members of the Chef's family. Her young son, who looks to be a bit younger than DS, serves as an exquisitely polite maitre d', while her outgoing daughter serves the food and knowledgeably answers questions about the menu.

Delectable food, superlative service, and an inviting ambience: what's not to love about Cool Runnings Jamaican Cuisine?

We give it the coveted 5 Wooden Spoons!

(And if you don't have time to eat in, call ahead (919.467.1545) and order takeout. Cool Runnings does quite a brisk business in take-out orders.)


  1. That meal sounds amazing I am jealous haha.

    Jamaican Cuisine sounds so exotic and delicious.

    I hope I can find a good Jamaican place in Cali.

    Your lucky to have that restaurant around, places that are family owned, and have a smaller menu are usually very authentic and delicious and serve what they know is their best.

    Your post reminded me of "La Cubana Restaurant" it has a small menu, family owned, but damn it's good and they have some specialties you won't find in ANY Cuban restaurant around here. (Like "Aporreado de Tasajo" which is dried reconstituted beef in a type of creole sauce, and they have the Spaniard "Fabada Asturiana" which is a bean stew with blood sausage which they use "Morcilla" (a type of blood sausage) which most places forget to add)

  2. Oh, it was a wonderful meal, lucky us!! Yes, you are right about it being better to stick to what you know you can prepare well and have a smaller menu than to try to have lots of mediocre things. Cool Runnings really does seem like what good home cooking would be like if you were Jamaican! I'd be surprised if there is not a good Jamaican restaurant in your area, given the variety of other ethnic cuisines to choose from.

    La Cubana Restaurant sounds amazing! I think the best restaurants are the ones where it's clear that they are just excited to share their favorite (not necessarily fancy!) food with you. I've never tried blood sausage before, but my friend Marie loves it, and I bet it's delicious in bean stew. Beans and sausages always make a "happy marriage!"


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