A few months ago my gal pal Jill told me about a new restaurant coming to Raleigh - she mentioned she knew the proprietor from his work in Fearrington Village, which Pittsboro foodies will tell you is a great start to any restaurant recommendation. So I've watched the Mandolin Raleigh Facebook page patiently for months, waiting to see those fortuitous words: "We are open for dinner tonight!" When I saw that post this morning, I immediately called and reserved a table for two for dinner, just in case. (I realize it might not have been crowded, with it being a day before Thanksgiving, but I like to have a plan.)
The Location: Five Points area of Raleigh, at the corner of Fairview and Oberlin (parking in rear, on street, and behind neighboring buildings).
The Company: I asked another good friend, Denise, to join me. She just started a new job last week and we hadn't yet had the opportunity to celebrate. This made for a great "girlfriend date" as we called it, but Mandolin is sure to become a go-to date spot as well as a nice choice for larger groups and families. There were several groups dining with children while we were there tonight.
The Meal: Upon recommendation of our waiter, we started with two first course appetizers - the Panzanella Salad ($10 - country croutons, smoked farmers cheese, caper berries, oven-roasted tomatoes, house-made pickles, frisée, and herbs) and Oysters “Mandolin” ($14 - maple braised pork belly, parsnip puree, mustard greens, and pecan-parmesan-dusted, fried oysters). We skipped out on the Sweet Potato Soup with Thyme and Marshmallow “Smores”, but that is on the "must try" list for a future visit. As a vegetarian, I was incredibly pleased with the salad. On less hearty visits, that salad paired with a soup would be a perfect meal for one. Denise, who had originally thought to skip her first course, was happy she didn't upon trying the Oysters Mandolin.
For our second (main) course, I enjoyed the Beetroot Fettuccine with Pecorino Romano, Walnuts, Grilled Fennel, and Granny Smith Apples ($16). The immense size of the bowl it was served in seemed to dwarf the dish, but after the Panzanella Salad, it was plenty of entree and more would've been taken home in a to-go box. Denise selected the Grilled Striped Bass with Bok Choy, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Confit Duck, Grapefruit, and Grains of Paradise - about half-way through her entree she proclaimed, "I'm going to crave this later." I'd say she liked it.
Neither of us particularly saved room for dessert, but skipping it was not an option. We shared the Hot Chocolate Soufflé with Chantilly Cream that was finished table side with a hot chocolate glaze and the cream. Word to the wise: don't skip dessert. I'm really looking forward to making another trip back to try the Spiced Apple Pop-tarts with Vanilla Ice Cream.
Since we were celebrating, we splurged and ordered a bottle of wine, assisted by the sommelier. Even upon his best advice, we ordered a red wine (just under $50 for the bottle), even though traditionally a white wine would have paired better with our entrees. (It certainly didn't stop us from enjoying any of our selections, though!)
The Service: "Hospitality" and knowledge of offerings and the background of each are key elements here and not a single member of the staff missed a beat. From the first greeting, to the final check, the service was gracious, friendly, and genuine.
The Final Bill: Tip included, we walked out spending about $150 for our entire experience. If you're price conscious, our dinner could have easily been a fraction of that total had we opted for single glasses of wine (most between $7 and $12) and shared an appetizer.
The Verdict: I've had the pleasure of checking out many local establishments in their first few weeks of operation. More often than not, I have to be willing to give the establishment a "second look", hoping that opening kinks have been worked out. No opening kinks here, folks! What I'm really excited about though is that Mandolin will be offering a Saturday and Sunday brunch beginning in December, which they generously provided me a sneak peek look at tonight... and I'll be back for that in just a few weekends. They're also serving an impressive lunch, so if you work in the area or can get away from the office long enough to make it to Oberlin and Fairview for lunch, make sure you do so soon!
Given the buzz that Mandolin has been building here in the area, I'd suggest calling or visiting their site to make reservations via OpenTable over the next few weeks and on the weekends during December... just to be on the safe side. Are you planning on checking out Mandolin soon? Are there other places coming to the Triangle that we should check out? Let us know in the comments below!