Bowing to public pressure -- mostly from my wife -- I opted to have my birthday dinner at Four Square after all. I found it better than Magnolia Grill, Elaine's, and Fearrington House; comparable to Nana's; arguably a little worse -- though very different -- than Il Palio. There were the same inconsistencies that I notice at every higher-end restaurant in the Triangle, but, more than this, I have grave reservations about the kind of haute eclectic cuisine that seems so inescapable these days. Take this dish, which we didn't try:
"Pan Seared North Carolina Flounder with a savory crab and curried currant oatmeal cookie, caramelized tomatillos, grilled Japanese eggplant and a roasted jalapeno-Champagne butter sauce"
Does one really need to serve North Carolina flounder with a curried currant oatmeal cookie and Japanese eggplant? Only a genius could pull off this kind of highwire act, but unfortunately the Triangle is somewhat short on geniuses. This kind of thing reminds me of the lesser mortals who insist on writing free verse. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound can handle free verse -- can in effect create their own compelling forms as need dictates -- but the rest of us should recognize that we require the crutch of traditional forms if we are not going to make fools of ourselves.
Here's how I grade what we did try:
Rhubarb and zucchini tart -- A-
Bacon and potato chowder -- B
Pork stuffed calamari in choc. almond sauce -- D
Steamed escolar with rice croquettes -- B+
Beef tenderloin with rosemary frittes -- A
Pastry-wrapped leg of lamb -- B
Blueberry financier -- A-
Espresso-Kahlua bombe -- B-
Chocolate brioche toffee Bread Pudding -- B
Bread -- B+
Coffee -- B
Interestingly, I thought the entrees outperformed the appetizers and desserts, which reverses the usual order of things at restaurants like this. The beef tenderloin was exemplary.
The room was quiet and elegant, though slightly marred by the colorful amateur-looking expressionist paintings on the walls. These belong in a beach cabana, if anywhere. Service was friendly but very rushed. Our food arrived quickly and our plates were prematurely whisked away. Our waitress took my bread plate while I still had a piece of bread in my hand.
Four Square is a relatively good choice for an elegant meal, but I continue to question whether any of the local restaurants in the haute eclectic category are worth the money, and I continue to maintain that by any standard -- creativity, subtlety, discipline -- Udupi is the best restaurant in the Triangle, followed by Gugelhopf and Waraji. The desserts at Gugelhopf -- the cherry marzipan tart, for example -- are not as fancy as those served at a place like Four Square, but, when fresh, they exhibit a thorough trained instinct for what actually tastes good as opposed to what sounds clever on