First, an admission and then an assertion.
My Admission: I’ve leveraged and trusted Chowhound for more than a decade but this is my first post. No excuses …but fine dining is an avocation of mine. I’ve dined extensively here at home in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) and traveled religiously to New York and Chicago on ‘food trips’ for more than 10 years. To give you some quick context and at the risk of coming across as pretentious, in the last 90 days, circumstance and interest have allowed me to dine at Battersby, The Pines and Gwennette St. in Brooklyn; Restaurant Daniel and Atera in Manhattan; Next Restaurant, Alinea, Blackbird and Girl & Goat in Chicago and a meal on the way back from the coast at Chef and The Farmer. What’s my point … I’ll go out of my way for a meal and I’ve been exposed to some fine cuisine in the process.
My Assertion: Last Saturday evening, something changed …and my frequent flyer miles will suffer accordingly. I had an experience at a local restaurant that was so reminiscent of my best meals in New York and Chicago that I felt obligated to spread the word. Strangely enough, I was sitting in a dining room that I was familiar with … same chairs, same décor, same name …but what I experienced on the plate was new …the stuff of Michelin stars. When One Restaurant in Chapel Hill turned over its kitchen to Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan this summer it happened without much fanfare despite their impressive pedigrees. This list of previous employers caught my eye, heightened my expectations and what would often be a recipe for disappointment morphed into a ‘pinch me is this actually happening moment’ as I embarked on the tasting menu. Emblematic of the experience is their treatment of the humble squash. In Chef Floresca and Ryan’s hands, this largely unheralded vegetable was elevated to heights I’d never experienced. Paired exquisitely with a chickpea study in the form of beautifully golden orbs of falafel and a creamy squash hummus, the pattypan quarters and zucchini ribbons demonstrated a textural range and a deft aesthetic rarely seen locally by this diner. This wasn’t squash exalted by truffle or foie gras, there was no sleight of hand to behold. Rather, it was the elevated clarity of flavor and precision of the execution that keeps this dish on my mind days later. Course after course, this wonderful pattern emerged and repeated itself across lamb, fluke, flounder, cheese course and a duo of excellent desserts. I simply can’t wait to explore the À la carte portions of the menu. Wine pairings are also not to be missed as the sommelier I spoke with was both knowledgeable and attentive to the preferences of the group.
It wasn’t all perfection, the kitchen is still out front of the wait staff with regard to questions about ingredients and technique but heck I loved the fact that Chef Floresca came out to explain the salt meringue technique that not only solved the conundrum of overcooked flounder but also coaxed flavors out of a rutabaga that heretofore I thought impossible.
One Restaurant, by virtue of Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan’s cooking, has thrown down the culinary gauntlet and in my experience established the new standard for excellence in the Triangle. Chowhounders please judge for yourself!