Friday, August 6, 2021

Herons

Herons Restaurant at The Umstead Hotel and Spa has been on my bucket list for a very, very long time. I was eager to experience their four course tasting menu, and last month presented the perfect opportunity to celebrate. If only the meal was as fabulous as the company!

My sweetheart proposed to me before we went to dinner(!!!!!!), and this splurge-worthy, over-the-top meal seemed like the ideal way to celebrate off the evening. We even got flutes of complimentary champagne to honor the occasion! My kind of place.

Love these teal plates!

The service at Herons is impeccable. They anticipate your every need, and strive to take exceptional care of you. Little touches go a long way: lemon and lime slices for your water, warm lavender oil wash cloths to clean your hands, mini pound cakes to take home with you at the end of the night - they know how to pamper their guests. I was expecting an amuse bouche before the first course, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we'd receive a small, whimsical bite between all four courses! And the servers seemed genuinely excited to bring us each bite. We started off with a Sunflower/Sunchoke Tuile, filled with Egg Mousse and topped with Caviar. A fantastic way to tantalize the taste buds, and visually stunning.


First Course: Flounder Crudo with Cantaloupe, Caviar and Puffed Grains. I would soon learn that each course is a work of art. I admired the intricate plating and this was a delightful dish for summer. I love discovering unexpected flavors that work well together. Would I have ever paired raw seafood with fruit? Probably not. But as it turns out, I'm a big fan.  


Unfortunately, my sweetheart's first course didn't come out quite like he was hoping. The "King Crab" was presented like this:

Needless to say, he was disappointed that the dish was more green (and frozen) than crab. That should have been a tell-tale sign that our dinner was going to be a bit more avant-garde than we had initially anticipated.

I love a bread selection and at Herons, you get 3 options, each better than the last. A Truffle Parker House roll, Red Cornmeal Muffin and Pretzel Roll were each enhanced by softened, salted butter. This was the most outstanding bread course I've ever experienced.

Our second amuse bouche was a Cornmeal Puff with a Blueberry Foie Gras Mousse. I liked the idea of this, but it did not come together as a successful bite. Foie Gras is a fickle mistress, and she was a bitter one tonight. 

Second Course: A 62 degree Egg with Grits, Mushroom Ragout and Shrimp, with Truffle Crisps for dipping. This was my favorite course of the night, and I was so busy eating it, that I didn't capture a photo! The soft boiled egg yolk married beautifully with the mushroom ragout - super umami. This was a luxurious riff on shrimp and grits. The truffle crisps were a nice touch, but I can ALWAYS use more truffle flavor.

To up the whimsy, we were presented a Mini Pheasant Corndog with Truffle Ketchup. This was super cute and clever. The meat was flavorful and tender and a yummy bite but again, I can always use more truffle.

Third Course: Salmon with Coconut Tartare, Zucchini Linguine, Heart of Palm and Charred Okra, with a Red Curry Sauce. If you read that and thought "how does all of that go together?" you're not alone. I honestly don't know what some of it was doing on the plate. The star was the salmon, which was cooked to absolute perfection. The red curry sauce was a little too sweet, and the coconut tartare reminded me of a diced hard boiled egg with mayonnaise (eek, sorry!) The zucchini linguine was yummy and salty but didn't really have a place on the plate. This was the most confusing course for me, but they can sure cook some salmon.


To get our palates prepped for dessert, we were presented with a Yuzu-soaked Cucumber that was hollowed out and filled with Watermelon Sorbet, and topped with Black Sesame Seeds. I loved the refreshing sorbet, but the cucumber was not yuzu-soaked enough for me. Perhaps a squirt of citrus on top would have rounded this out more.


Fourth Course: Peaches with Corn Pudding, Honeysuckle, Creme Fraiche and Hibiscus Ice. Considering we're in the thick of peach season, this seemed a very appropriate dessert, but I could have used more corn pudding and less hibiscus ice - it melted into the creme fraiche and watered down what should have been a rich, luxurious sauce. Stunning, but not satisfying.

The bill was accompanied by Almond Joy Ice Cream Popsicles underneath a beautiful chocolate sheet that said "Congratulations"! These ice cream pops were sensational and I will never say no to seconds on dessert. And the mini pound cakes that we got to take home were perfect with coffee the next morning.


It's hard for me to recommend this place to anyone who is not a foodie (I'm a foodie and still struggled with some of these dishes) but it was very fun to pretend I was on Top Chef. It seemed a bit "fancy for fancy's sake" but it was an experience I will never forget, because it was the best night of my life (so far!)


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