The Mint — Cutting Edge Cooking in Raleigh???

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.

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8 Responses to The Mint — Cutting Edge Cooking in Raleigh???

  1. LB says:

    Wow I will definitely have to check out the Mint now…

    If you are interested in molecular gastronomy, and up for a little road trip I have a great suggestion for you: the Town House Grill in Chilhowie, VA. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Raleigh- but worth the trip! My husband and I have made it 3 times since finding about it back in February. The chef was Grant Achatz’s sous chef at Alinea, and his fiancee, also at the Town House, was head pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s…don’t know how they ended up in Chilhowie of all places but I’m glad they did! Having recently dined at Alinea and McCrady’s I can say that their food is more like “real” food than Alinea, and flavors are much more sophisticated and well-executed than Sean Brock’s.

  2. ncn8tive says:

    A friend and I ate there Tuesday night, the first time there for both of us. We enjoyed it thoroughly. I had that lobster appetizer…was talked into it by the waiter. I was a bit apprehensive that the bourbon caramel sauce would be cloying, overwhelming the natural sweetness of the lobster. But I was wrong. Something about the buttery “popcorn” puree…it just worked.

    For entree, I had the duck breast with parsnips watercress, pear and gorgonzola. I’m a sucker for blue cheese of any type. It was cooked perfectly to order, medium-rare with a nice crispy skin. The pear was whole roasted with a burrowed cavity filled with a luscious melted gorgonzola. The only lackluster note was the large julienne of parsnips. I wouldn’t just say that the were crisp, they were fibrous.

    I’m not a dessert person, so I settled on the sorbet trio. A light refreshing end to the meal. Nothing extra-ordinary about it, but it was good.

    One thing I really liked was the offerings of wine by the glass. I had a flight of 3 2oz pours. That allowed me to have a different wine with each course, without getting sloshed, or having to decide on a single bottle between my friend and myself, regardless of what we chose to eat.

  3. Mom Clayman says:

    What can I say about watching my son develop such culinary talents? He didn’t learn it from me – he developed those skills on his own – I raised him on comfort food… meat & potatoes… but amazed when he started developing sauces and his own style. He has the right attitude to make The Mint a dining experience – something that’s worth repeating over and over. I live 6 hours away so I can’t partake as frequently as desired so all of you – enjoy! And tell him his mama sent you!

  4. Varmint says:

    This is great — the second time a chef’s mother has chimed in on this blog. It doesn’t get much better than this. Thanks, Mom Clayman!

  5. T Mac says:

    Glad to hear they are making some changes and I’ll be excited if they pull it off.

    We dined there twice not long after opening and it was quite disappointing. Mediocre food both as to ingredient quality and preparation. Service had huge time gaps (52 minutes from app clearing to entree service) and the wine list was missing the first 4 items we ordered. Lots of floor suits walking around but they seemed little concerned with guest service in the half full restaurant. All could be kinks, but really with the ambitious pricing and 6 moths of free rent….well they should do better. We need more grat restaurants, I look forward to your report.

  6. Wes says:

    the BLT at lunch is good, they put about 7 strips of bacon on it

  7. whit says:

    Sorry to stay a bit off-topic, but:

    Chilhowie?!! Seems like a menu like that might get someone beat up much less struggle for customers . I hope it can survive – that’s still a drive from Abingdon and even further from Blacksburg and Roanoke. Next time I visit parents in Bristol, I make try and make a trip. They must do a year’s business during the apple festival.

    I hope my first thoughts are really really wrong.

    There was a great (as I remember it) place called the Swiss Inn north of Abingdon but it wasn’t able to hold on.

  8. Jeremy says:

    After reading a few of the comments, I must jump in. I was a professional chef for years and though I have hung up my professional tongs, my (and my wife’s) world still revolves around good food.

    I’ve eaten at several 4 and 5 star restaurants and the best food and service were at The Mint. Raleigh needs to recognize–and take pride in–this gem of an establishment.

    I’ve never had so good a meal, and spending our money on genius culinary creations is absolutely one way we will “take it with us.”

    After traveling the world and eating some amazing dishes, we’re glad it’s only 45 minutes for us to reach The Mint–which we’ll be doing often.

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