I may have to dine on a little crow tonight. When Raleigh’s The Mint first opened in January, I wrote the following: “The Mint appears to be an old-school, protein-heavy restaurant with a contemporary twist.” Of course, my judgment was solely based on the menu on the restaurant’s website. And if you look at that menu, you probably wouldn’t argue with my conclusion.
But then something happened. Andrea Weigl of the N&O told me she was working on a story about molecular gastronomy in the Triangle, and she was going to The Mint. The Mint? Molecular gastronomy??? She then told me about this lobster dish that I had to try — the crustacean is cooked en sous vide, with a miso and caramel sauce (a combination popularized by cutting-edge pastry chef Sam Mason of New York’s WD-50). OK, something was up, and I was clearly NOT in the know.
I then received a copy of The Mint’s new spring menu, which will be rolled out in the next couple of days. This menu had detailed descriptions of each dish — descriptions for the kitchen and front of the house, but not for the general public. It was here that I finally realized that The Mint is doing something no other restaurant in Raleigh is doing — embracing some contemporary techniques used by top chefs and restaurants across the country. Whether it’s Alinea’s Grant Achatz, WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne, or McGrady’s Sean Brock, we’re talking about sous vide cooking. Using liquid nitrogen and alginate and other culinary “toys.” But this is food not for complete whimsy’s sake — it’s real food. I mean, we’re talking about Raleigh, after all.
Let me give you a couple of examples that an owner of The Mint has allowed me to share. The menu item is listed as follows: “Lobster- popcorn, miso caramel, peanut.” OK, that sounds interesting and different. But this is the “inside” information: “Half of a lobster cooked en sous vide at 60 degrees with butter and thyme. A popcorn puree on the plate along with caramel that has been mounted with miso paste (fermented soy beans)for a more butterscotch flavor. Garnished with a peanut croquant (glucose, fondant, isomalt, peanut butter).”
Here’s the menu listing for a beef tartare appetizer: “Beef tartare- fines herbs, shallot, maytag bleu, quail egg”
Here’s the detailed information: “Brunoise of filet mignon mixed with brunoise shallot, chopped fines herbs (parsley, chervil, tarragon, chives), black truffle shavings, and white truffle oil. The plate is garnished with a quail egg yolk on top of the tartare, yogurt crackers (yogurt, water, butter, flour, sugar.), and a foam made from maytag bleu and heavy cream charged in an isi (nitrous-charged) whipped creamer”
This ain’t your father’s Raleigh restaurant. This is an ambitious kitchen hoping to make a statement in the Raleigh culinary scene. It’s not all tricks and gimmicks, as there’s some very serious cooking going on here. Look at this dish: “Halibut- morel, English pea, celery root, truffle” “Seared halibut served with sautéed morel mushrooms (very woodsy, smokey, nutty. Honeycombed appearance, spongy texture, foraged), English peas, and celery root. There is a celery root puree and an English pea puree on the plate. The sauce for the dish is a truffle froth (truffle juice, cream, truffle oil, veg. stock.).” Who wouldn’t want to eat this?
I have yet to eat at The Mint, but I’ve made dinner reservations in a couple of weeks. I just wish I could get there sooner, as I’m kicking myself for being so uninformed. Like just about everyone else in the Triangle.