Monday, October 16, 2017

New Tasting Menu: Crossroads at The Carolina Inn

Chef Brandon Sharp has introduced a new tasting menu for fall. Chef Sharp, a Greensboro native, graduated from UNC with a degree in philosophy, then moved on to culinary school at CIA in Hyde Park, NY. His pedigree includes some of the nation’s most prestigious kitchens: Gary Danko in San Francisco, the French Laundry in Yountville, and Restaurant August in New Orleans. He subsequently received a Michelin Star when he led Solbar at Solage Resort and Spa in Calistoga, California, where he maintained that distinction for seven consecutive years. He returned to Chapel Hill in fall 2016.

A tasting menu is planned for each season. This one will be available Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, through December. Wine pairings proved exceptionally well-conceived. Cost is $75 for six courses; wines add $65. Considering the quality of the experience, it’s a bargain.

We started with an amuse- a morsel of lobster, enhanced with mustard, presented on strips of tart apple and celery.

First course was Tiradito of Hawaiian Hamachi. Tiradito is a Peruvian variation on sushi- sliced, rather than cubed. Hamachi- a white-fleshed fish, its texture akin to tuna, “cooked” in a citrus marinade, was joined by green tomato cubes and puffed rice- delightful crunch- sauced with Fresno Chile. Eric Bordelet Poire Authentique (2015), from Normandy, France, light and sparkling, with notes of pear, created a delightful complement.

Risotto can be made to absorb virtually any flavor. In Black Truffle Risotto, the earthy truffle flavor emerged without being overpowering, surrounded- physically as well as perceptively, with yellow corn zabaglione. I’ve usually had zabaglione as a dessert, but its custardy texture served the sweet corn beautifully. The wine was Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay (2015), a classic Napa design with mild oak and vanilla. Corn and chardonnay pair beautifully, I think.

My wife remarked that she found herself eating, and enjoying, things she usually will not order. Rabbit Loin with Rabbit Ragout is a case in point. Tender and elegant, sauced with Mole Verde- ground pumpkin seeds and mashed green chiles, the presentation was surrounded by charred orange slivers, black olives, and raisins. The accompanying Clos del Portal Negre de Negres (2014) Priorat DOQ, from Spain, is dark, almost black (hence the name), about 60 percent Grenache.

Grilled Flatiron Steak used Masami Ranch Beef, an American version of Kobe, a shoulder cut, rendered tender. Pieces of bone marrow introduced an original experience. I have never encountered bone marrow cooked this way- crisp morsels, uniquely flavored. Salt-baked cippolini onions were the primary accompaniment, surrounded with a cauliflower puree swirl, all enhanced with thyme gremolata. Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (2014) from Alexander Valley is another California classic; it stood up well to the deep beef flavor.

Buckwheat Blini- 3 inch pancakes- hosted Boxcarr Creamery (Cedar Grove, NC, Rocket’s Robiola cheese. Momma Rocket is the goat who provided the milk for the cheese, which is covered in mild ash and bears the texture of brie. Thousand-Layer Caramel Apple lent a sweet supplement. This is best when assembled as a small sandwich, blending all flavors in each bite. Amanda Clark (, a guest at the table, termed Michele Chiarlo Nivole (2015), a Moscato D’Asti DOCG from Italy “dangerous,” it’s so good- fuzzy and floral, slightly sweet. I’m looking for it in wine markets!

This decadent evening concluded with Mafioso Chocolate Cake and Honey Oaked Gelato, with figs. The cake is made with chocolate from Tanzania, powerful but not too intense. Pastry Chef Annika Loureiro joined The Carolina Inn team this summer. Born in Sao Paulo Brazil, she grew up in the kitchen watching her grandparents create traditional dishes and desserts. Before relocating to Chapel Hill, she held forth at Uchi, in Dallas, and Prospect, in Brooklyn. The dessert wine with this course, Royal Tokaji Late Harvest (2015) PDO, from Hungary, is a point of national pride, deservedly so.

So many chefs these days, especially the younger ones, create complexity by piling on more ingredients. As I reflected on these flavors, I found subtlety, refinement, and balance. What Chef Sharp and his team are doing at Crossroads strikes me as highly sophisticated. I look forward to many returns.

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