After months of delay, The Mint (219 Fayetteville St.; 821-0011; www.themintrestaurant.com) finally opened last week in downtown Raleigh. And it looks as though it was worth the wait.
After sneaking a peek at the place, I'm guessing the restaurant's name is a reference to how much it cost to outfit the place. Raleigh Restaurant Group, the partnership that owns The Mint, was lured to fill the Fayetteville Street space, in part, by $1 million in seed money that the city put up to help pay for renovations to the city-owned building.
And we're talking lavish, people. We're talking custom fabrics, sculptures by noted local artists, and sumptuous banquettes so deep you'll need a GPS to find your way out of them. We're talking a dramatic two-story high dining room furnished in metropolitan chic style and overlooked by a well-stocked balcony bar. Did I mention that there's a 60-seat patio in the neighboring Exchange Plaza? A heated patio?
I didn't get a look at the kitchen, but I can tell you that it's sufficiently well-equipped to lure executive chef Jeremy Clayman, a Johnson & Wales graduate who cut his culinary teeth at the landmark Heritage Hotel in Nashville. Clayman's contemporary Southern bill of fare is suitably ritzy for the setting, though prices aren't as jaw-dropping as you might imagine. A first-course offering of butter-poached lobster with peanuts, popcorn and bourbon-caramel (think deconstructed Fiddle Faddle) will set you back $15. Beef tartare topped with a quail egg is a dollar more.
Entree presentations average around $30, and include seared rare tuna with Carolina Gold rice, soy pearl onions, snow peas and horseradish cream; grilled bone-in pork chop with Guilford County grits, braised bacon and Swiss chard; and rack of lamb with risotto and an apple-celery root slaw. There's also an à la carte grill offering, ranging from $17 for organic chicken breast to $42 for a 22-ounce cowboy rib-eye. Shareable sides, from haricots verts to horseradish fingerlings potatoes, will set you back another six bucks.
Initially, The Mint is open for dinner only, Tuesday-Saturday, with a late night menu offered after the kitchen closes. General Manager Doug Snyder (formerly of Bin 54) hopes to add lunch service by mid-February. As part of its deal with the city, the restaurant group promised to begin lunch service within three months of its opening.
Oh, and if you're worried about parking on increasingly trendy Fayetteville Street, don't. There's complimentary valet parking.
Tater's Grille, one of the newcomers to the Clayton restaurant scene I wrote about last week, has seen more customer traffic despite the fact that we had a little trouble telling folks exactly where it is. Tater's is in Cleveland Commons shopping center, which is across Cleveland Road from Oakland Presbyterian Church. It serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner Thursday and Friday.