Durham: Magnolia Grill.... again?
So, I went to Magnolia Grill last night and I have to say I was slightly underwhelmed. We started off with soups: me with a very good leek and potoato soup, my wife with an AMAZING corn and shrimp chowder. The mains were good, don't get me wrong, very good lamb t-bone chops with a side of slightly over salted chard and slightly over sauced veggies. My wife had a pleasant Carolina Grouper. The bread was superb, the service great (attentive and informative - the waiter knew a lot about the ingredients and cooking methods). The desserts were a lemon tart with strawberries and a double (triple?) chocolate cake, both very good but not take your breath away like I have had there before.
So, I guess I might have to (reluctantly!) agree with David A that Magnolia is inconsistent for the price and thus the price is questionable. Not horrible for sure, but not the world class status I granted it before.
One side note - the beers are cheaper than in a lot of crappy bars, interestingly enough - a pint of Bass is $3.25!
So, I might just sip beer and eat dessert there for a little while.
It's four years since this above-review was written but I just want to re-iterate his opinion. I ate at Magnolia Grill last night after a shockingly difficult time even getting them to give me a reservation. The hostess was about to seat us in the main dining area and then was interceded by the head waiter who took us to his dining area in the back. He was indeed informative and enthusiastic about the preparation. However, he actually waived us off of two or three things we thought we might try. This is very strange behaviour for a world-class restaurant to do. I don't consider the prices to be astronomical for the reputation of the restaurant. But, as the restaurant filled up and the noise increased, I was not re-assured by the dishes that came. We had their "signature" grits dish that was delicious for a starter. And, then the Seared Tuna appetizer that our head waiter urged on us - the slaw the rounds of tuna loin are on contains over 30 ingredients including Chorizo and apple. I felt as though they were trying to hard. It was tasty but I was a bit overwhelmed. When our main courses came, I had the rabbit in a simple mustard sauce and the accompanying spring veggies were terrific. The Rabbit was excellent - simply done. And, my companion had the NY Strip Steak. His was also very good. However, by the time the desert menus came, we were so full and so overwhelmed by noise, light, so many sensations, that the desert list seemed just like more work to decipher what the food would actually taste like. With some desert items reading like: celebrity dairy goat cheese waffles with honey thyme hand-made icecream, etc. it was more of a literary experience than something that made my mouth water.
I guess, like a teen-aged first date gone badly awry, I had too high expectations and the chefs tried way too hard to dazzle, so we ended the night early with feeling fully consumated. I might try it again and I might not but not before I gave other places a shot.
Interesting take. I'm personally a fan of the "use 50 different ingredients, a lot of them sourced from local farms, and it all somehow works" approach. it's very Alice Waters - Chez Panisse, but dare I say Magnolia Grill pulls it off better than Chez Panisse does.
too bad about skipping dessert. The dessert chef is actually Karen Barker, the wife of the owner. She has award-winning dessert recipe books to her name, and I find their desserts (which also source a lot of local fruits, cheese, etc.) to sometimes be the highlight of the evening.
btw, I hope you had/have a chance to try Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill while you're out here. It's IMO the best food in the Triangle, and one of my favorite restaurants in the country. Additionally, the old world French/Continental formality in that jewelbox of a restaurant is so elegant and understated - so unlike anything you can get on the West Coast.