As you enter 1705 Prime, general manager/sommelier Gregg Rinaldi greets you in front of a towering glass-enclosed vault that holds about 300 wines, 30 of them available by the glass. Among them is an impressive selection of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons.
Beyond the cellar the main dining room awaits, a softly lit study in understated elegance -- stone, mahogany, plush carpeting and linen-draped tables. Along the walls, floor-to-ceiling drapery separates the tables, providing semiprivate seclusion.
Waiters in crisp jackets crisscross the room bearing dome-covered platters. You open the menu to discover the Triangle's most extensive selection of Prime, dry-aged beef.
If all the other clues left any doubt, this is the clincher: 1705 Prime is the most ambitious venture to date of Rocky Top Hospitality, a group whose other restaurants include Michael Dean's, Bogart's and the Red Room.
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For all its sumptuousness, however, 1705 Prime is not your father's steakhouse. Dad will search in vain for shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller and other battle-weary warhorses of steakhouse tradition. In their place, executive chef Todd Ohle offers a more inventive menu in keeping with the new generation of upscale beefeater havens -- and befitting his background, which includes a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and a stint as private chef for the late Gianni Versace in Florida.
I don't think dads -- or moms, for that matter -- will miss the shrimp cocktail once they've tasted lobster "fingers," chef Ohle's lavish tempura-battered twist on chicken fingers. House-cured gravlax should prove more than ample consolation, too, as should foie gras with smoked blackberries and a fig vinegar syrup. Those pining for more traditional tastes will find bliss in a superb selection of oysters on the half shell, or in a massive crab cake constructed almost entirely of jumbo lump crabmeat and held together with a prayer.
Entree alternatives for non-beefeaters are likewise afforded more than the usual afterthought status given them in chophouses. A thick slab of sesame-crusted yellowfin tuna is cooked as precisely to temperature as any steak. It's a safe bet that the same care will be given to the preparation of Maine lobster risotto with vanilla and saffron, pan-seared diver scallops with white truffle oil, and chicken roasted under a brick.
Of course, 1705 Prime's claim to fame is beef -- specifically USDA Prime beef, dry-aged in house. Four or five cuts are typically offered, including a couple you'll not find elsewhere. One is the restaurant's signature rib-eye filet. The other is the prime cap, a cut so rare that it is listed only when it is available. For my money, it is the crème de la crème of steaks, and worth calling ahead to reserve a cut. Regardless of which cut you order -- other options include bone-in sirloin, Kansas City strip, and a whopping 28-ounce Porterhouse for two -- odds are it will be the best steak you've had in a long time.
Choice grade steaks are also available, but I can only imagine you'd order one here if you don't care for the taste of dry-aged beef (which some find gamy) or if you find the price of the Prime steaks (which currently ranges from $28 to $38, not including a la carte sides) too steep. If it's the latter reason, I say by all means forgo a couple of trips to Starbucks and spring for Prime.
The kitchen isn't flawless. Clams with chorizo in a gewürztraminer broth can be very salty on occasion, and the lobster bisque I sampled had a decidedly burned taste. Warm Valrhona chocolate cake with black cherries is richly satisfying, but the star ingredient in a dessert featuring North Carolina peaches was obviously past its prime season when I sampled it in early October.
Still, when all is said and done, I'd be delighted if a certain someone would take me to dinner at 1705 Prime for Father's Day.