Sunday, January 10, 2010

The new best restaurant in the Triangle: Heron's

We'd eaten at Heron's not long after it opened, and we'd had a completely adequate meal--but at prices higher than the quality merited. When we learned that a new chef, Scott Crawford, was on the job, we tried it again, and the food was better but still not what we'd hoped. Our server explained, however, that Crawford had not yet fully redone the menu, and we should try again later.

A couple of weeks ago, the newspaper's food critic awarded Heron's his first five-star review, so we decided the time was right for that return visit.

When I made the reservation, I asked that the woman relay to Chef Crawford my desire to experience his very best and my willingness to pay whatever extra amount was appropriate. She said she would, but she was doubtful he would do anything different. That's fair enough; a restaurant in a hotel is not an easy place to concoct one-off tasting menus. Later, though, she called me back and said the chef might just do something special.

So, when we arrived tonight, we had no idea whether we'd be eating the normal five-course tasting menu or something Crawford had created for us. Our servers ushered us into a lovely partially open room, a space that made me happy all night, and asked if we wanted to see our menu at the beginning or the end of the meal. By quick consensus, we opted for the end; we would be surprised.

Crawford did indeed assemble a special menu for us, one with seven courses, and every bite was delicious. From start to finish, the food was outstanding. With the fall of The Mint and with this one meal, Heron's is, at least to my taste, the best restaurant in the area. Each dish merged three key elements--an emphasis on local ingredients, a bow to the season, and classic technique--with a restrained but always evident playfulness that made you pause and admire your plate before proceeding.

Consider this example, which was the fish course. Rather than go with a traditional fish, Crawford sent us vanilla poached lobster with parsnip, warm buttered tangerine, and almonds. The presentation made it easy to put all the tastes together while also obviously and humorously evoking the fish shape. Most importantly, it was delicious, the lobster cooked perfectly and the use of tangerine inspired.

The only flaw in the meal was the service, which though quite good was still not where it should be, with tiny missteps abounding. None of these issues, mind you, would be noticeable in a lesser establishment, but in a restaurant with a chef of this caliber and so gorgeous a setting and ambitions of earning three Michelin stars, the service should be flawless.

That truly is nit-picking, though, and if you live in this area, it should not slow you for one second from heading to Heron's, ordering the tasting menu, and letting the artful kitchen work.


Todd said...

I have no idea if I'll ever have a chance to go, but as a foodie I appreciate your dedication to the culinary arts (or at least eating!).

Mark said...

A little of both, I think.


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