When Shane Ingram came to the Triangle a little over a decade ago, he brought a resume that included work in internationally renowned restaurants Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, Emeril's in New Orleans, and The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia. He opened Four Square in a restored Victorian mansion in 1999, and the Durham restaurant quickly earned a reputation as a premier fine-dining destination. Four Square remains a bastion of elegance, though Ingram's inventive menu has always shown hints of a wild side.
With the July opening of One in Chapel Hill, Ingram opens the cage, throws away the key and lets his wild side run free. The completely open "theater kitchen" provides a culinary show for everyone in the sleekly stylish dining room. Patrons in the adjoining wine lounge can watch the action on a closed-circuit screen as they peruse their options on an iPad that sorts the extensive wine list by color, flavor profile and country of origin.
The iPads are not just a gimmick. They function as an electronic sommelier, suggesting pairings for every dish on the menu. Look up the letters d and f that follow a listing of squid ink tagliatelle with Littleneck clams, for instance, and you'll see that they correspond to the iPad's "medium weight whites" and "lighter, easy drinking reds." With 24 options in those two categories alone (one in each category available by the glass), One more than lives up to its "one place for food and wine" motto.
But to call One a wine bar would oversimplify. Small plates represent only a handful of listings on the menu, which includes large plates, brick oven pizzas and other fare for a traditional multicourse meal. And while the menu is printed on old-fashioned paper, exploring Ingram's seasonally evolving offering is every bit as enjoyable as playing with the iPad.
Current options range from beer-steamed mussels with fries to stewed tomato farro linguine with braised duck. Rock shrimp and pork belly "croutons" with marinated eggplant and cannellini beans is a well-conceived dish that's as rewarding as it is playful.
You can still score a bowl of curried blue crab soup, a lemongrass-sparked coconut elixir generously garnished with nuggets of sweet crabmeat that's a breath of tropical breeze on a chilly winter night.
If you find yourself pining for the grilled North Carolina trout that got away in a recent menu change, you'll find solace in the herb-rubbed red snapper that took its place. It's served with Lyonnaise potatoes, fall garden vegetables and a roasted tomato clam vinaigrette.
Or you could head ashore, where the rewards include red wine-braised beef short rib with a bacon, beet and turnip hash, and a juniper berry-cured grilled duck breast with an orange, ginger and carrot puree.
The mixed-media presentation of food and drink offerings also includes an oral recitation of nightly specials. It pays to listen. A recent special featuring venison ravioli showered with shaved white truffles was the most memorable dish I've had recently.
Whimsy for dessert
If the savory fare at One is playfully inventive, desserts are downright giddy. The kitchen frequently dabbles in molecular gastronomy to produce fetching temptations such as milk chocolate caramel tart with a foamy peanut "elixir," and plum brown butter financier with late harvest Riesling ice cream.
Ingram's kitchen staff has quickly gotten up to speed, though there are occasional misfires - an oversalted piece of fish, say, or a tough, overworked crust on an otherwise exemplary pizza topped with wild mushrooms, Gruyère, smoked gouda, truffle oil and fresh herbs.
Even so, One is an exciting addition to local dining. In a world where old-fashioned gourmets are being joined by a growing number of modern foodies, Ingram is adept at satisfying both.