Dinner at Magnolia Grill – May 21, 2009

Mid-day Thursday Erin e-mailed me to see if I wanted to eat at Magnolia Grill that night.  I keep a short list in my head of places I want to eat (which includes Magnolia Grill, Nana’s, Revolution, Watt’s Grocery – all in Durham – and a few others in Raleigh such as Fins, Bloomsbury Bistro and Poole’s Diner).  So without hesitation I agreed to go to dinner.

I’ve heard a lot about Magnolia Grill, some good, some bad, and some great.  I’m going to jump into the really fucking good category.  Is it worthy of a #11 best restaurant ranking by Gourmet magazine?  I don’t know, it probably depends on the criteria.  The food was really good, memorable even in some instances.

Naturally we went into the evening with our usual attitude of appetizers only, creating our own version of a tasting menu.  Right off the bat we were told they were out of the soft shell crab, which admittedly was a bit of a disappointment, especially when we saw other tables getting the soft shell crab.  Presumably those who received the soft shell crab had made reservations and were given some priority (we showed up without a reservation and would just have happily eaten at Revolution or Watt’s Grocery if we couldn’t get a table).

The first round we received was a beet salad with Celebrity Dairy goat cheese along with grilled shrimp with a romesco sauce, chorizo and potatoes along with some greens.  The beet salad was probably the least exciting thing we ate.  Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but safe.  The shrimp for me may have been the best thing we ate, and I don’t generally like (or order) shrimp.  But I knew from the menu description that it would remind me of my first job back in Chicago, and it didn’t fail.  I wish I could go back just to have the shrimp dish.

The second round we received was their one ‘signature’ dish which is a twice baked grit souffle with mushrooms, and a generous slice of seared foie gras with rhubarb compote and a micro-green type salad which had mint in it.  The grit souffle was good, great even, had I not tasted the foie gras dish first, which was one of the best presentations of foie gras I’ve ever had.  The use of a finishing salt was and much appreciated, both in flavor and the crunchy texture it added to the liver.

For dessert Erin ordered the buttermilk vanilla bean pie (with a lard crust), fresh strawberries and whipped cream, while I ordered a lemon almond custard cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  Desserts certainly didn’t disappoint but were perhaps more traditionally Southern than the ‘new’ Southern approach of the savory element of the dinner.  I’m not complaining about it though, because it was all delicious.

We’ll be back for sure, it’s just a matter of when.  Durham continues to surprise  us in the quality, quantity and range of restaurants that it has to offer.

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