Sunday, October 15, 2017

Crossroads Chapel Hill

Ah, Chapel Hill. One of the happiest places on Earth - probably tying with NYC and NoLa for my favorite place ever. I spent 4 wondrous years here and look for any reason to go back for a visit. I had the great privilege of returning last week, to The Carolina Inn's restaurant, Crossroads Chapel Hill, for an exclusive preview of their new signature autumn tasting menu. I was delighted to be included in this group of diners, and even more thrilled with the creativity and execution of the menu. From Tiradito of Hamachi (raw fish) to Black Truffle Risotto (pure decadence), all the way to savory Robiola Cheese in a dessert course, this menu was thoroughly cohesive, intentional and well thought-out. Not to mention, overwhelmingly delicious! Executive Chef and 7-time Michelin Star recipient Brandon Sharp has brought this beautiful six-course menu to life. His 7 stars are very much deserved. This was an exceptional meal.

An amuse bouche of Lobster Knuckle with mustard, apple and celery ignited our palates with a jolt. This reminded me of a lobster roll, in bite size form. From the way these sweet and tart flavors played with each other, and the tender lobster meat, I knew we were in for a culinary adventure.
Amuse Bouche - Lobster Knuckle

Our first course echoed the amuse bouche: Tiradito of Hawaiian Hamachi, which is a Peruvian way of eating fish. The hamachi was raw and sliced about half an inch thick. Hamachi is a white fish, texturally like tuna, but richer. Puffed rice was a nice and nutty crunch, with perfectly cut cubes of green tomato and a Fresno Chile Cirtus sauce for heat and brightness. My favorite part about this dish might have been the wine pairing: a pear-cider like wine, that is made like champagne but meant to be consumed as a wine. My palate was wide awake after this course.
Tiradito of Hawaiian Hamachi
I got whiffs of truffle the moment the next course appeared in the room. The overwhelming scent just begged me to dive in to the Black Truffle Risotto, and as my fellow diner and friend John Batchelor remarked, it's like I had a Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally" moment. It was unbelievably rich and one of the best dishes I've ever had. I mean that so sincerely - it deserves a Michelin Star or a  James Beard Award all on its own. The risotto was surrounded by a sweet yellow corn zabaglione (like a thick "juice") which cut through some of the richness. The Stags' Leap Chardonnay was a beautiful match, and the acid helped cut through the full flavors, as well. I would marry this dish if it were legal!
Black Truffle Risotto
Our third dish was presented as Rabbit Loin with Rabbit Ragout, but it's really rabbit three ways: a beautifully cooked rabbit loin, surrounded by mouslin (rabbit sausage - YUM) and a slowly braised leg - the rabbit ragout. Each presentation of the meat was cooked perfectly and the earthy Mole Verde and Charred Orange sauces brought out different flavors in the protein. I loved the salinity of the dried olives, the sharpness of the pickled raisins, and the crunch of the pumpkin seeds. Everything on this plate was well-executed and intentional. I was beginning to see a trend - Chef Brandon is a master of his craft. I would have loved another pour of the Clos del Portal Negre de Negres Spanish wine (60% Grenache). You could really taste the slate soil this wine came from, which matched perfectly with the earthiness of this dish.
Rabbit Loin with Rabbit Ragout
My favorite part of the next dish, grilled Flatiron American Kobi, was the crust of the meat. Or the perfectly cooked medium rare center. No, it was definitely the sweet Cippolini Onions. Wait, I take it all back. I read the words Crispy Bone Marrow and my eyes lit up. It appeared as a fried mozzarella stick, but when you cut into it, the savory, unctuous bone marrow oozed all over the meat. The cauliflower puree benefited from this additional flavor too, and it was a nice contrast from the bright, lemony thyme gremolata. What better to pair with a dish like this than a beautiful California Cab from Stonestreet Estate? Red meat and red wine are a match made in heaven.
Grilled Flatiron American Kobe
I have a tremendous sweet tooth, but I could not get enough of this next pre-dessert course. It was truly satisfying as a complete dessert course, or as a fellow diner remarked, perhaps even a breakfast course! Buckwheat Blinis (like mini pancakes) are stacked high and should be spread with "thousand-layer Caramel Apples" (apples cooked for 16 hours with salt and sugar) and the star of the dish: Boxcarr Creamery Rocket's Robiola Cheese. It reminded me of a Brie-Goat Cheese hybrid, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper. It was so fun to build your own bite, and the super sweet, floral Moscato D'Asti was the perfect accompaniment. This was my favorite pairing, and the wine would have sufficed as a dessert all on its own.
Buckwheat Blinis with Thousand-Layer Caramel Apples and Robiola Cheese
Not being a chocolate fan, I was relieved when I saw that the last course was a Chocolate Cake. I thought phew, my tummy can take a break and I won't be miserable eating this last course! Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), this was an incredibly light chocolate cake, studded with figs, so it reminded me of a fig newton in the BEST way possible. The flavors were stunning! The cake was topped with syrupy figs and a buttery Honey-Oaked Gelato, which I would have loved just on its own. The Royal Tokaji Late Harvest was a syrupy dessert wine that went beautifully with this dish. Pairing dessert wines is an art and they nailed it both times. Really, any wine pairing is an art, and they truly thought through every single element of every single course, and paired the right wine consistently.
Chocolate Cake with Fig and Honey Oaked Gelato
You can enjoy Crossroads Chapel Hill's fine dining menu and wine pairings Thursday-Saturday from 5:30-9pm. This expansion from their a la carte menu will further establish the restaurant as a culinary destination in Chapel Hill. It's only $75 for 6 courses, and an additional $65 for the wine pairings (which honestly, makes the dinner that much more enjoyable!) I haven't left a dinner this impressed in a long time. I'm so eager to return.

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