Ahi Tuna Tartare with citrus-shaved fennel, chick peas, cucumber, smoked sea salt, avocado mousse and cumin-lime vinaigrette. Perfect tuna - not too fishy - and the salad made for a refreshing start to the meal.
Spring Salad: Artesian blend baby lettuce, strawberries, feta, shaved Vidalia onion, roasted pecans and honey poppy seed dressing.
Sweet Pea Soup: Fresh peas, marjoram, marscapone and watermelon radish.
The salad was decidedly Southern, particularly topped with those super-thin, tasty onions. A hit of fresh pepper really brought out the contrasts of sweet and pungent.
But the star was the soup. Maybe the best thing on the menu. Robust but not too overpowering on a warm day, and the marscapone made for an unbelievably creamy consistency. Seriously. Pea soup. Who knew?
Pan-Roasted Rack of Lamb, served over fava bean purée, baby squast ratatouille and horseradish lamb jus.
Chesapeake Wild Striped Bass, with Elodie Farms goat cheese polenta, long-stem artichokes, basil pesto crust, crispy shallots and roasted tomato caper sauce.
The lamb was nice and tender, though mine could have used a bit more salt, even when I took bites including the other accoutrement. Still, quite tasty, especially the ratatouille.
The bass was perfect - the flavorful crust added more than just crunch to the evenly cooked, flaky fish. Goat cheese polenta = amazing. Only sour note for me was the artichoke. Pickled flavor was too stark a contrast with the more subtle, savory notes of the dish. Unnecessary, but easily pushed to the side, so didn't spoil the otherwise remarkable entrée.
Strawberries Three Ways: Strawberry shortcake made with lavender, strawberry buttermilk ice cream and miniature chocolate cookies sandwiching strawberry cream.
Vanilla Angel Food Cake with blackberry coulis, almond chantilly cream and candied basil.
Pistachio & White Chocolate Cheesecake with raspberry chambord reduction and pistachio brittle.
My dear sweet Lord this was amazing. Cheesecake was super creamy and light, and the pistachio really comes through. (Chef Cunningham confessed that his staff has to keep this away from him if they'll be any left for the customers.) The angel food cake was floating on air, and we couldn't stop raving about the candied basil - just a wild flavor combo and a treat among treats. The shortcake made with lavender was such a whimsical touch and a sweet congruous nod to the candied basil. This was a sampler of everything they're offering this spring, but they should put this on the menu as is. The best dessert I've had in Durham.
My dining companions. That's me on the left, with Don Ball, director of Food and Beverage at the Washington Duke Inn, Chinmayi Sharma of the Duke Chronicle and Charlie Brinson of the food blog Eat It, North Carolina.