As a rule, I do a fair amount of homework before I pay a first visit to a restaurant. It isn't unusual that I already know which dishes I plan to order before I set foot in the door. Occasionally, though, I'm not able to get my hands on a copy of the menu in advance, or the menu changes before I'm able to stop in for a meal, or the dish turns out to be not at all what the menu description led me to expect. Sometimes, I change my mind based on a waiter's recommendation, or even a last-minute whim.
Regardless of the reason, I've found that these "Plan B" orders can yield pleasant surprises. As luck would have it, I've been the happy recipient of these sweet and savory serendipities in just the past couple of weeks.
Ribbeez at El Señor (2001-U Wide Waters Parkway, Knightdale; 261-0808). You won't find these meaty, chipotle sauce-slathered pork ribs on the regular menu at El Señor, which is in all other respects a typical Tex-Mex eatery. The very name "Ribbeez" looks out of place on the supplemental menu (labeled "Daily Specials," though it's permanent enough that it's laminated), where they're listed among the likes of huevos con chorizo and caldo de camaron. With bone ends trimmed to facilitate finger food-style noshing, they're the sort of thing you'd expect to see among the appetizers at a trendy brewpub. But they go great with Dos Equis.
Big Asterisk Biscuit at Morning Times (10 E. Hargett St.; 836-1204; www.morningtimes-raleigh.com). Anyone familiar with the breakfast fare at this downtown Raleigh coffeehouse won't be surprised that the homemade buttermilk biscuit is as light as a cumulus cloud and almost as big. Or that the sausage, egg and cheese it contains are first-rate. The surprise is that the "crispy hash brown" described on the menu is actually a golden brown potato cake served on - not alongside - the biscuit. In the interest of not dislocating my jaw, I prefer to remove the hash brown cake and eat it on the side. If you do the same, be advised that the biscuit is so delicate it may fall apart if you don't handle it with care. On the bright side, I've heard biscuit crumbs count as zero calories.
Avocado-coconut gelato at Market (938 N. Blount St.; 754-0900; www.market-raleigh.com). If you read last week's review, you know I scored this creamy, exotic off-menu delight when the waiter offered it as an alternative to the dessert I'd ordered (which wasn't available). You may also recall that I said the avocado-coconut gelato is no longer available, either. Not to worry. If ever there were a restaurant where virtually anything you order has the potential to yield a pleasant surprise, Market is it.