Sunday, May 20, 2012


When Greg Cox, the News & Observer's restaurant critic, recently awarded four and a half stars (of five) to Mandolin, a relatively new Raleigh restaurant, I figured I'd have to hit the place soon.  When I then learned that the chef was Sean Fowler, who had helped restore the Fearrington House Restaurant to the heights it had once enjoyed, I made an immediate reservation. 

I'm glad I did. 

Mandolin's frequently changing menu emphasizes local ingredients and traditional Southern food, but with modern cuisine touches.  The bacon-and-mushroom-infused foam on the delicious chicken and waffles is a simple example of the interplay of these two approaches.  The bourbon-marinated hangar steak was tender and flavorful and worked well with the other ingredients stacked both under and above it.  Every dish our group sampled was delicious. 

If you want to see if the place is for you, the online menu is not a bad way to start.  Though last night's menu was not the same as the one online,  the overlap was high, so you can use what's online as a reasonable guide. I should also note that the portions are quite large, so bring a healthy appetite, keep your order short, or plan on asking for boxes to take food home.

Oh, yeah:  Do not miss the miniature corn muffins in the bread basket.  They are wonderful. 

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the kitchen staff included the redoubtable Jeremy Clayman, who is one of the best chefs in the triangle.  I only wish Mandolin would feature him more.

Mandolin definitely is one of the better restaurants in the Triangle, and I recommend it. 

That said, Mandolin is not in the very highest tier of local establishments, at least not yet.  At that level, the restaurants, such as Panciuto, deliver such wonderful preparations that even the foods you know you don't like (in my case, Brussels sprouts spring to mind) surprise you by how delicious they are.  That wasn't quite the case here, as the vegetarians in our group noted. 

Nonetheless, I will certainly go back to see how the restaurant progresses.  I encourage you to do the same.

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