Herbal Fixer – Lemon, Lime, Orange, Ginger, Cinnamon
Dinner Roll and Corn Muffin with Honey Butter
Housemade Pork and Duck Sausage with Fennel Orange Marmalade and Grilled Bread
Confit Duck Leg-Frisee Salad – Beets, Blue Cheese, Bacon, Grilled Bread, Sherry Vinaigrette
Chicken & Waffles – Fried Ashley Farms Chicken Breast, Buckwheat Waffles, Braised Greens, Sautéed Mushrooms, Bacon–Mushroom Emulsion, Truffle Honey
Pan Seared Duck Breast – Dirty Farro, Squash, Apricot, Kale, Black Trumpet Mushrooms
Simply Divine Caramel Cake – Buttermilk Ice Cream
Southern Banana Pudding – Vanilla Pudding, House Made Vanilla Wafers, Chantilly Cream
Carrot Cake – Carrots, Cream Cheese Mousse, Pistachio, Ginger, Carrot Sorbet
Owned and operated by Sean Fowler, a Raleigh native whose pedigree includes stints at New York’s Le Bernadin and Fearrington House, where we had enjoyed dinner the night before, it was minutes early for a 7:00pm reservation that we arrived at Mandolin and dropping my mother off at the door before allocating parking behind the restaurant she was already seated at a plush four-top when I walked-in, the dining room surprisingly sparse for a Friday night but soon to fill to perhaps 75% capacity with a crowd of locals enjoying relief from a week of ice and snow.
Lowly lit and decorated in blonde wood with black and white photos, jars of pickles, and the restaurant’s eponymous instrument filling space on walls and shelves it was with light music playing overhead and light gleaming from the kitchen that our server approached and describing the restaurant’s “refined Southern” style with focus on local protein and produce selected daily by the Chefs it was with two shared specialties described that we were left to decide, a hand mixed herbal cocktail of bright citrus and spice soon delivered over a whole lot of crushed ice.
Sensing our ‘first time visitor’ status and offering recommendations based on classics as well as dishes he felt to show the seasonal menu best it was eventually a three-course meal that was ordered, the first arriving alongside bread service that featured the city’s best cornbread and house-churned honey butter that immediately necessitated a second round, the soft dinner roll held over and later used to sop up bacon-imbued sauce.
Featuring a surprisingly large amount of duck, no less than four plates featuring the farm-raised fowl sourced from a farm ‘just up the road,’ round one of the menu featured two sizable portions of protein and with the saporous sausage finding plenty of balance in aromatic, chunky marmalade alongside toasty blackened bread the salad was even more impressive, a large and crisp leg of confit duck served over greens, several varieties of beets, winter citrus, and blue cheese all melded by a light splash of acidic vinaigrette.
Admittedly surprised by the portions considering the relatively low prices for such a ‘fine-dining’ space it was after a somewhat lengthy delay that mains would arrive and targeting two more plates of bird one would be hard pressed to levy a single complaint against either, the lightly seared duck rich and fatty atop the liver infused grains while the Chef’s signature chicken was well brined and impeccably crisp with naturally truffled honey adding just a touch of sweetness to the otherwise strongly savory accoutrements.
Unable and unwilling to pass on dessert, particularly with a menu featuring two personal favorites, it was again after a bit of respite that a trio arrived and paired with a much needed double-espresso over ice it was only the overworked carrot cake which was far too potent with ginger that failed to shine, the mason jar of banana pudding as light as a feather with crisp cookies juxtaposing Chantilly while the Caramel Cake and tangy ice cream more than lived up to its description as “divine.”