FINS Restaurant in Raleigh
We just tried it for the first time last Saturday night before the symphony. At 6:30pm on a Saturday, there were only a few tables occupied. Worrisome for their long term prospects unless things REALLY heat up later in the evening.
The ambience is metropolitan upscale. There is a large open room with tables that are spaced far enough apart to offer a sense of personal space. We were at a 2-top booth against a wall that sat close to another table on the same booth bench, so that wasn't quite as airy. I'd stay away from the wall if they guide you there. Decor has some whimsical touches, with blown glass sconces appearing a little like elk horns and criss-crossing fabrics beams hanging from the ceiling to provide soft light and visual interest. A large glass waterfall pane separates the dining room from the large bar.
Service was prompt and pleasant throughout. The only small miscue was not removing an empty wine glass upon bringing a fresh glass. No big deal.
I was thoroughly impressed by the menu. I felt I could happily order any item on it. Feeling this way, I asked my waitress to have the chef fix me his choice of an appetizer and entree. Anything he wanted to do to show off his skills.
My appetizer turned out to be an octopus salad, which would have been at the bottom of my choice list. I have had bad experiences with octopus in the past... chewy, rubbery, and tasteless. But this was an excellent surprise. Tender, flavorful slices of octopus cut on a bias, layerd on top of field greens with chopped almonds and a subtle tangy vinegar dressing. I was quite pleased. My SO took the waitress's recommendation for the house salad, with thin pear slices, mushrooms, sliced almonds, and a ginger vinaigrette. She was very happy with it.
Although Fins is definitely a seafood reastaurant first, they offered a lamb dish that caught my partner's eye. She is crazy about lamb. The waitress vouched for the quality of this meat dish and it turned out to be a unique presentation with good flavor. The lamb was sliced thinly and laid out in a petal fashion on top of a circular stack of diced potato and onion "hash". She liked the lamb, but thought the hash got boring before she was through with it.
My mystery entree turned out to be fillets of turbot, crusted in a coursely chopped almond crust (this guy must go through five almond trees a day!). The fillets were presented on top of some fava beans in a soup bowl and they poured a miso broth around it. While there was nothing wrong with the fish or the presentation, it just seemed a bit ho-hum to be picked as a show-off item when the chef had free range to select anything to demonstrate his skills. Turbot is a "safe" fish without a great deal of unique flavor or "fishy taste," and the miso broth didn't add a great deal to it. I couldn't fault the quality of the ingredients or cooking, I was simply disappointed that I didn't get something more adventurous.
For dessert, we shared a rum baba (a rum-soaked yellow cake) topped with bruleed banana slices and served with a small scoop of fried banana ice cream. I liked the cake and bananas, but the crust on the ice cream was thick and soggy. I ended up scraping it off and just eating the ice cream underneath.
The wine list had a satisfactory (but not remarkable) number of wines by the glass in several varietals.
With two glasses of wine, the dinner came out to around $100. I plan to go back to try more items on the menu.
By the way, the restaurant doesn't have a normal web site. Instead, they have a MySpace account that has all the usual information you would be looking for (including lunch and dinner menus). Just go to MySpace and enter Fins as your search term. It is listed as "Female, married, age 30." -- Weird!
Another PS: There is no obvious sign on the place as you drive by. The name is written in pale grey on the glass door, and you can't read it from the street. Look for the bar through the big plate glass windows. That is the easiest way to tell you've hit the right spot!