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Vin Rocks


Zeb A
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Everytime I go to Vin, I leave happy. We recently had another great meal there. If you go anytime soon, try the following appetizer:

48-hour Niman Ranch fresh bacon with roasted

local sweet potatoes and rosemary jus 11_

It wasn't much to look at, but was just awesome. About a 2-3 inch think piece of "bacon" accompanied with the sweet taste of seet potatoes. I say "bacon" because, after getting a credit card receipt that described it as "pork belly," I confirmed that is a more accurate, though less appetizing, description.

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This dish demonstrates both the good and bad aspects of Vin. On the "good" side, they are committed to serving the best possible ingredients that are impeccably prepared -- at an amazing price, too. Plus they serve great wine.

The only downside of this dish is that it has been done for so many years (although, perhaps not in Raleigh), that it is not all that exciting. The chef at Vin knows her stuff, but she's ultimately very conservative when it comes to creativity. I think that's a reflection that she knows her customers. However, I'd like there to be a bit more risk taking at Vin. I'll still eat there, and I'll eat well. And I'll leave with a smile on my face. But I'll still want just a little bit more.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Point taken. Although:

1. This was just one small item on their menu.

2. Personally, pork bellies are risky enough for me. I know that you are partial to pork snouts, but you have to admit that you are a bit indiosyncratic.

PS: I really don't have the food vocabulary to debate "riskiness" in food preparation (and I'd be hard-pressed to even offer a definition), but I have eaten at quite a few places over the years, and I have never thought that Vin was particularly conservative in its food preparation. For example, I don't think that food served at Vin is any less risky than food served at Magnolia Grill in Durham. For that matter, taking a broader perspective, I don't think that, for example, the food at Danko in SF is any more adventurous than the food at Vin. Now, the food we were served a year or so ago at Akelare in San Sebastian was adventurous, and I think it would be outstanding if Raleigh were to somehow attract such a restaurant. Unfortunately, in my experience, what I would consider to be truly risk taking food is very hard to find, and, in most cities, we probably have to be satisfied with a different definition of riskiness.

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Not a fair comparison really, but, just looking a relative "riskiness," I don't see either place as being particularly innovative. (Though I must say, looking at these menus makes me hungry.)

Danko:

Appetizers

Lobster Salad with Melon and Thai Mango Dressing

Glazed Oysters with Leeks, Zucchini Pearls and Osetra Caviar

Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Toy Box Tomatoes and Zucchini

Corn and Arugula Salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Tomato Vinaigrette

Seared Ahi Tuna with Avocado, Nori, Enoki Mushrooms and Lemon Soy Dressing

Warm Lamb's Tongue Salad with Saffron Potatoes and Honey-Lavender Vinaigrette

Heirloom Tomatoes with Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Walnuts and Balsamic Glaze

Seared Foie Gras, Caramelized Red Onions, Figs and Huckleberries

Warm Quail Salad with Potato Cannoli and Champagne Grapes

House Cured Duck Prosciutto with Torchon of Foie Gras

Lobster and Corn Bisque with Maitake Mushrooms

Fish, Seafood and Shellfish

Horseradish Crusted Salmon Medallion with Dilled Cucumbers

Roast Maine Lobster with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Edamame and Tarragon

Seared Sea Scallops with Leek Purèe, Tomato Fondue, Saffron Sauce and Mustard Oil

Pancetta Wrapped Frog Legs with Sunchoke Garlic Purèe, Potato, Lentils and Parsley Sauce

Branzino Sea Bass with Braised Fennel, Picholine Olives, Preserved Lemons and Socca

Seared Tuna with Warm Bean Salad, Butter Poached Cucumbers and Orange Oil

Chickpea Crusted Black Grouper with Roasted Tomatoes, and Corn

Meat and Game Birds

Lemon Herb Duck Breast with Plum Compote

Moroccan Spiced Squab with Chermoula, Orange-Cumin Carrots

Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Potato Gratin, Roasted Beets and Fennel

Sautèed Guinea Hen Breast, Confit Leg with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Corn

Pan Roasted Quail Stuffed with Wild Mushroom Ragout and Port Glazed Figs

Beef Medallion with Orzo Risotto, Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Chutney

Vin:

APPETIZERS

Organic lettuces with fresh herbs, verjus and Parmagiano Regianno 6_

Roasted red and gold beets with Laura Chenel goat cheese, baby beet greens and Minus Eight vinegar 9_

Warm Maine lobster with herb salad and drawn butter 15_

48-hour Niman Ranch fresh bacon with roasted local sweet potatoes and rosemary jus 11_

Crispy wolf fish tacos with marinated red cabbage, roasted chili crema and grilled tortillas 10_

BOWLS

Lobster consommé with seafood quenelle 9_

Prince Edward Island mussels with broccoli raab and roasted garlic 12_

Arborio risotto with roasted plum tomatoes app 11_ entree 16_

ENTREES

Niman Ranch pork tenderloin with Brussels sproutpotato gratin and organic baby carrots 21_

Poussin three ways with foie gras cornbread pudding, braised Winesap apples and local cider jus 31_

Angus bone-in petite filet with organic arugula, crushed Yukon gold potatoes and roasted red onions 29_

Pan-seared NC wild striped bass with Mountain Hedgehog mushrooms, corn, black truffle and lemon 24_

Braised Wagyu shortribs with creamed spinach and soft polenta 27_

In contrast, what we ate at Akelare awhile back:

· Fava beans and broad bean salad under mint snow

· Lentils and wild mushrooms “Irish coffee” with germen and Phycoidee glacial)

· Rice with snails and periwinkles in tomato and basil film

· Grilled sole with citrus fruits and fresh asparagus

· Glazed mallard with garden roots and vanilla

· Toasted milk cream, strawberries in pink pepper, red must and grape verjuice dices

· Nuts, lemon and cinnamon in crispy equilibrium

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Perhaps using the term "risky" was inappropriate. Look as what Lesley is doing at Vin: They're straightforward dishes that, with a few exceptions, most decent home cooks could execute if they had access to the ingredients. Part of my point is that braised pork belly has been a restaurant staple since Tom Colicchio "introduced" the concept back in the early days of Gramercy Tavern. Is it a good dish? You bet. And if I had access to the pork bellies, I'd make it, too. Along with beef cheeks.

I'm not going to say whether Danko is more innovative, creative, risky, adventurous or any comparable adjective, as I haven't eaten there. I will say that what Ben Barker does at Magnolia Grill is far more creative and adventurous. The flavors are much more complex -- I can't or won't do most of the dishes he puts out -- and at a lower price point than what Lesley does at Vin. That doesn't make Magnolia Grill inherently better than Vin, but it's the reason why I enjoy my meals at Magnolia Grill more than Vin.

BTW, here are a few items from the menu posted on Magnolia Grill's website:

Grilled Monterey Sturgeon in Gumbo Sauce with Crawfish Jambalaya Cake,

Pickled Shrimp & Asparagus Salad, Green Tomato Emulsion

Pan-Seared Crispy-Skin Majestic Salmon in Roasted Poultry Jus

with Artichokes, Ruby Crescent Potatoes, Carrots & Meyer Lemon Butter

Slow-Cooked Pork Osso Bucco in Cider Jus with Creole Red Beans,

Braised Escarole & Sweet Pepper Relish

Pan-Roasted Chatham Co. Rabbit in Madeira Essence

with Gorgonzola Polenta, Hedgehog Mushrooms, Root Vegetables

& Sugarsnap Peas

Grilled Veal Rib Chop in Marsala & Sage Jus with Smoked

Bacon Spaetzle, Root Vegetable Hash, Swiss Chard & Black

Truffle Vinaigrette

Grits Cake Stack with Tillamook Cheddar Pimiento Cheese

on Braised Winter Greens with Mushroom & Tomato Ragu

Pan-Roasted Pheasant Breast on Wild Rice Risotto

with Pheasant Confit, Glazed Shallots, Country Bacon,

French Beans & Cognac Jus

Grilled Black Angus N.Y. Strip in Cabernet Oyster Jus with

Roasted Potato Remoulade & Sauteed Winter Greens

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I will say that what Ben Barker does at Magnolia Grill is far more creative and adventurous. The flavors are much more complex . . .

You know more than me, so I suppose you are right.

But, I've eaten at both places many many times, and, though I would certainly pick Magnolia Grill over Vin if I had to select one over the other for my last meal, it would not be because I thought that the food was more creative or adventurous at Magnolia Grill.

I can understand the words "creative" and "adventurous" when used in the sense of, "the food that Ferran Adria serve at El Bulli is creative and adventurous." I don't see the food of Ben Barker being creative or adventurous in the same way.

Also, though I am sure I show my ignorance, I hate phrases like, "the flavors are much more complex." They are meaningless to me and make me feel like there must be something really "complex" that I just don't understand, sort of like calculus. What's so complicated about steak with a cabernet oyster sauce?

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Maybe I'm biased, but here's my two cents:

Mag Grill food could be described as more complex simply because of the layering of flavors Ben chooses to use. On any one dish there are at least three 'bases' of flavor, take pork belly for example, it's rubbed with aromatics and allowed to sit for at least 24 hours, braised in more aromatics for 4-5 hours, then the components on the plate are all prepared seperately with their own profiles of flavor. The belly is then grilled or pan seared to order, and finished with either a viniagrette or stock-based reduction. Ashley at Vin is a great cook, but she doesn't have the resources i.e. 9-10 cooks available for prep and execution that Ben does.

I don't think Vin or Mag Grill are terribly innovative with their menus, but we've discussed this in other threads, and I don't really think they can be compared because of the vast difference in their kitchens. Ashley's food is simplified, and rightfully so, it's what their whole concept has been from the beginning with Andrea Reusing.

"Godspeed all the bakers at dawn... may they all cut their thumbs and bleed into their buns til they melt away..."

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phlawless, thanks for your post! Your description of "complexity" makes sense to me. I now think that perhaps we have been discussing different ideas.

I was initially reacting to Varmint's post where he said:

"The only downside of this dish is that it has been done for so many years (although, perhaps not in Raleigh), that it is not all that exciting. The chef at Vin knows her stuff, but she's ultimately very conservative when it comes to creativity."

To me, the things that we see on the menu at Mag are not all that different than the things we see at Vin. So, I don't find the menu at Mag any more "exciting," "adventurous," or innovative than the menu at Vin. And, I wasn't really trying to make some sort of Vin v. Magnolia Grill commentary--I just mentioned the Grill as an example of a premier triangle restaurant that, at least in my mind, is not significantly more innovative or creative than Vin.

I guess a different question is how the food is prepared and what level of effort, expense, aromatics, etc. goes into its preparation, which can result in more or less "complex" flavors. I know I don't have the knowledge to be able to evaluate that and I doubt I have the palate to be able to differentiate unless perhaps I ate similar items side-by-side. It does not surprise me to hear your description of how it works at the Grill. And, like I said, if I could only go one place in the Triangle, it would be there, so I am quite happy with the Grill experience.

Finally, all I really wanted to say in my initial post was that I like Vin quite a bit and ate a real good pork belly there the other night, and I recommend the bellies to the readers.

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I think the best way to appreciate what Ben Barker does at Magnolia Grill is to pick up a copy of his and Karen's cookbook: Not Afraid of Flavor. I quickly realized that most of the recipes in this book are far more complex than what I, as a reasonably decent home cook, would ever do. These aren't dishes that could be put together in a few hours: many of the components in a single dish require their own advance preparation. The number of items in what appears to be a fairly straightforward dish can be mind boggling. These are dishes that require, as phlawless stated, a team of cooks to execute.

As I've said, I'm always happy to go to Vin. I love what they do there and it's one of the top 3 places in Raleigh. But I generally don't choose to go there because the dishes there are comparable to what I could make, and in fact, do make at home. I guess that's ultimately an entirely subjective and idiosyncratic method of evaluating a restaurant -- my favorite places are generally those who serve dishes I can't or won't make myself.

And by the way, I'm eager to try Lesley's braised pork bellies!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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The (food) mission statement at Vin is buying the best ingredients (which they do, from Browne Trading for fish, Niman Ranch for pork, Formaggio Kitchen for cheese, etc.) and serving it carefully and, yes, in simplicity so as to work with wine. A quick glance at the Magnolia Grill menu proves that finding compatible wines will be a daunting task. Gary Danko's perhaps less so and really out-there places like El Bulli? Forget it. Every single wine and food professional I know who has been there (this would number upward of 100) basically looked at the menu said "screw it, bring whatever you want". The most consistent criticism of Adria's food that I have heard is that wine always clashed with something. What do you serve with, say, lemon and licorice, together? Cherries dipped in lard? Might as well drink mineral water. I think that knocking Vin by comparing it to what Magnolia Grill does is like saying that In n' Out Burger isn't up to Whataburger because they don't serve large burgers with jalapeno. Or Lexington #1 isn't as good as Sonny Bryan's becasue they don't do brisket. Same goes with comparing Vin to Magnolia Gril. Repeat after me: It's. Not. What. They. Do. Or. Are. Trying. To. Do.

Edited by jbraynolds (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...
I think that knocking Vin by comparing it to what Magnolia Grill does is like saying that In n' Out Burger isn't up to Whataburger because they don't serve large burgers with jalapeno. Or Lexington #1 isn't as good as Sonny Bryan's becasue they don't do brisket. Same goes with comparing Vin to Magnolia Gril. Repeat after me: It's. Not. What. They. Do. Or. Are. Trying. To. Do.

Although I started by "knocking" Vin, what I was really trying to do was distinguish it from Magnolia Grill, one of the other top places in the Triangle and why, if I had a couple hundred bucks to spend, I'd choose the Grill. Of course they're not the same -- that's my point.

As I said previously:

That doesn't make Magnolia Grill inherently better than Vin, but it's the reason why I enjoy my meals at Magnolia Grill more than Vin.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Everytime I go to Vin, I leave happy. We recently had another great meal there. If you go anytime soon, try the following appetizer:

48-hour Niman Ranch fresh bacon with roasted

local sweet potatoes and rosemary jus 11_

<<snip>>

What's the 48 hours refer to? Marinated for 48 hours? I've never been to Vin.

Coincientally, I received a Niman Ranch gift certificate for Christmas. I'm looking forward to ordering some pork and lamb and preparing some great dishes.

Foodie Penguin

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