Thursday, March 31, 2022

Second Empire

The Chef’s Table at Second Empire in Raleigh should be on every foodie’s bucket list. My hubby and I recently splurged and did the 4 course tasting menu, while seated in the kitchen. It's definitely dinner and a show, and every morsel we tasted was absolutely sensational. While we don't feel the need to do the in-kitchen dining again (and I certainly do NOT recommend for a first date - it's a pretty stark and sterile environment in there!) it was an experience we will never forget.

Sitting in the kitchen, you have a front row seat to all the action. We both remarked at how clean the space was – you could almost eat off the floor it was so tidy! We were allowed to walk around the kitchen, but decided we’d have just as much fun observing from afar. Wine pairings accompany each course, but you can order other drinks as you wish. They also take note of any food allergies/aversions you may have. Nice (appropriate) touch.

The first course blew our minds: Sauteed Scallop with Pepsi-Braised Pork Belly, atop Oyster Mushroom and Pea Risotto, with Spinach, Kabocha Squash Puree, Apple Salsa and Brown Ale Reduction. This was the description for ONE COURSE. OUT OF FOUR. These were not humongous portions, but they were incredibly delicious and rich. This was our favorite course. The scallop was seared to perfection and the Pork Belly was smoky and meaty – not fatty at all. I was so enamored with all of the sauces of the night, this brown ale reduction being the best. And the creamy risotto as a bed for the protein? Divine.

Scallop with Pork Belly

Next up, another one of my favorite proteins – Salmon with Fingerling Potatoes, Kale and Parsnip Puree with a Caper Sauce and Smoked Bacon Cider Vinegar. The chef is a flavor magician. Everything on the plate worked together beautifully, and though reading it seemed excessive, the flavors complimented each other so well. The kale was crispy, providing a nice textural contract to the moist salmon, starchy potatoes and smooth puree. Again, that acidic sauce was a home run. I think that’s what I love so much about dining out instead of cooking at home - the incredible sauces!


I love a mid-meal palate cleanser, though this truly could have served as dessert and ended the meal for us. A scoop of Mango Sorbet, with Berries and a house made Vanilla Wafer was a burst of acidity to the palate, helping rejuvenate our taste buds. It was bright and refreshing, and I didn’t know I needed it until I devoured it.

Mango Sorbet

Our second favorite dish of the night was the Rack of Lamb, served with Butternut Squash, Black Eyed Peas, Chorizo, Asparagus, Beets and a Madeira Raisin Jus. Seriously? Pairing madeira and raisins? Mad scientist flavors going on here. The lamb was succulent, unctuous – all the good words. I loved the bitterness of the beets, the sweetness of the butternut squash and the savory fruity flavor from the sauce. I had made the terrible mistake of finishing my plate on each course, but I was NOT about to stop with this one.

Rack of Lamb

Finally, we had made our way to the dessert course. I loved the Coconut Buttermilk Chess Pie, topped with Berries, homemade Butter Pecan Ice Cream and an Almond Cookie. The tart shell was clearly made from scratch - super buttery - and it was the perfect container for the warm coconutty custard. The tangy Mango Sauce underneath broke up the richness. I hate to admit that I ate off my husband's plate on more than one occasion this evening. We ended up boxing up the rest of his dessert to take out.

I cannot say that either of us slept comfortably after this much outstanding food. It was truly rich beyond belief, and I was not prepared for how delicious everything would be. I am also embarassed at my lack of willpower...but when in Rome (or Raleigh). I am obsessed with this place now, and highly recommend it as your next splurge dining experience when you want to celebrate something special or just get out of the house!

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