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New restaurants and happenings 

Sure, you call yourself a barbecue fanatic. You look for joints that only burn wood. You engage in the great Eastern N.C. vs. Lexington, vinegar vs. tomato, dry vs. wet, pork vs. beef, North Carolina vs. Memphis vs. Texas debates. Your face is a semi-permanent red from standing over the grill. You even blend your own secret sauce. Sorry, you're still an amateur.

That means, unfortunately, you won't be allowed into most of the National Barbecue Association's 16th Annual Conference and Exposition at the Hilton North Raleigh (3415 Wake Forest Road). That's because it's only open to "the barbecue industry and members of the trade."

Not to, um, rub it in, but that means when the conference opens Wednesday, Feb. 14, you won't be allowed to participate in the "Consulting with the BBQ Masters" workshop. On Thursday—BBQ Professionals Day—they won't let you in to hear keynote speaker Dr. Wes Osborne of Texas A&M University, a "Certified Dr. of BBQ." And Friday, don't try to sneak into the BBQ Exhibit Exposition for Professional BBQ Businesses because "[i]n order to participate in the official events planned during the convention you must display your name badge at all times."

But you're not totally smoked. Saturday, Feb. 17, is "Public Day for Backyard BBQ" starting at 10:30 a.m. There'll be an expo of grills, sauces, rubs, marinades and accessories (many for sale), voting in the People's Choice BBQ Sauce Contest, and workshops on preparation of chicken, brisket, ribs and pork shoulders. And on "butt selection."

The price is $15 at the door, $10 each for additional adults in the family (up to 4), and $8 for children 12 and under. Info: www.nbbbqa.org.

And here's a reminder of events to mark the martyrdom of St. Valentine on a Feb. 14 in the third century, a day also believed to be when birds paired up for mating. So the overlapping of a saints' feast day and a lovers' ritual inspired by birds mating patterns got us where we are today.

The Grape at Cameron Village (403 Daniels St., Raleigh, 833-2669, www.yourgrape.com) is having a special Valentine's dinner and a Pink & White Valentine's wine tasting on Saturday, Feb. 10. It also offers chocolate dishes ranging from a chocolate cream cheese brownie to Belgian chocolate fondue, plus DeVenoge champagnes.

Other special events in Raleigh and Cary are planned at: Nana's Chophouse, Frazier's, Vivace, Riviera, Second Empire, Bistro 607, Enoteca Vin, South and Herons.

In Durham, there's Nasher Museum Café, Nana's, Rue Cler, Pop's, Another Thyme, Magnolia Grill, Four Square, Vin Rouge and Piedmont.

And in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, check out La Residence, Bin 54, Lantern, Bonne Soiree, Il Palio, Trilussa, Provence, Fearrington House (officially in Pittsboro) and Dream Catcher Café.

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