Given Faire’s prime location on the ground floor of Crescent Commons, a spanking new mixed-use addition to Cameron Village, it isn’t surprising that the restaurant’s October debut was accompanied by considerable fanfare. It didn’t hurt that Faire is owned by Eschelon Experiences, the up-and-coming restaurant group whose holdings include The Oxford, Mura, Zinda and Cameron Bar and Grill in Raleigh, and expanded once again in January to include Basan in Durham.
Faire’s 120-seat dining room and lounge certainly live up to the Eschelon reputation for eye-catching decor. The look is sleekly contemporary in shades of ivory, persimmon and deep marine blue framed in dark wood and stone (including a dramatic slate tile water wall), with a stylistic nod to the midcentury modern decor that was in fashion when Cameron Village was built.
Taking his cue from the setting, executive chef Christopher Hill offers a menu that looks simultaneously to the past and to the cutting-edge present. With more than a decade of experience in a diverse assortment of restaurants, resorts and country clubs – most recently overseeing the gastropub kitchen at The Oxford – Hill is particularly well-suited to the task.
For the traditional
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Say you’re in a traditional steakhouse mood? Start with the shrimp cocktail or an iceberg wedge. Both stray a bit off the old-school path – a house-made spicy “ketchup” stands in for the cocktail sauce in the shrimp cocktail, and the wedge is a deconstructed presentation with an excellent green goddess dressing – but either should hit the spot.
Then turn your attention to the “À La Carte” heading on the menu, where you’ll find a selection of grilled-to-order steaks and seafood. Be advised that the cuts are premium and priced accordingly. A 16-ounce rib-eye will set you back $43, and an 8-ounce swordfish steak runs $29, without sides. But rest assured, you get your money’s worth. That rib-eye is one of a handful of 14-day dry-aged steaks on offer, and you can count on it being cooked within a shade of the requested temperature. Seafood is irreproachably fresh, and I’m reluctant to fault the kitchen for cooking a beautiful piece of sushi-grade yellowfin tuna closer to rare than the medium-rare that my table companion had ordered.
Gild the lily, if you like, with any of a dozen or so optional enhancements. Get your New York strip Oscar style, which will set you back another $15 but rewards you amply with jumbo lump crab, asparagus and béarnaise sauce. Or add some smoked shallot and herb compound butter to your swordfish steak. That one’s complimentary.
True to steakhouse tradition, entrees in this section are served à la carte. You’ll want to supplement your order with a couple of shareable sides. It’s a tough call between the lemon asparagus and Brussels sprouts gratin, but the truffle-scented shoestring fries are a no-brainer.
For the adventurous
Those seeking a little more culinary adventure will find it (after priming their palates with an order of bone marrow-beef shank croquettes, say, or some impeccable cornmeal-crusted oysters paired with an inspired citrus sabayon) under the deceptively simple heading of “Entrees.” There, the culinary road takes a more creative turn, arriving at destinations such as garlic- and orange-glazed duck breast, flanked by a cluster of pickled cherries and batons of eggplant bread whose earthy flavor and bread pudding-like texture are at once comforting and daring.
An even more exotic option: pink peppercorn-encrusted tuna (unapologetically rare this time) with curried greens, foie gras, banana polenta and orange-vanilla coconut milk. Who’d have thought that such a combination would work?
Regardless of which route you take, your journey will come to a satisfying conclusion with the chef’s contemporary takes on an apple-currant cobbler and peanut butter mousse cake. And it will be fueled by a solid beer and wine selection curated by Michael Tinley, who embodies the ideal sommelier traits: knowledgeable and unintimidating. The cocktail list leans more to trendiness than tradition, though bar manager Ryan Ladue is more than capable of whipping up a proper Manhattan.
The wait staff are widely varied in experience but uniformly eager to please, and more often than not, manager Arnaud Halna is there to pick up any dropped balls. Even so, service needs to improve to a level commensurate with Faire’s prices.
For its part, the kitchen is already living up to the restaurant’s bilingual word-play of a name: “fare” as in food, and “faire” as in French for “to make” – from scratch, that is, with a strong locavore focus on everything from meats to microgreens.
Turns out the restaurant’s name is also a tribute to the N.C. State Fairgrounds that were once located nearby. When I spoke to chef Hill, I mentioned the restaurant’s commendable consciousness of the history of the place – including the stylistic nod to what I called “the Golden Age of Cameron Village.”
To which he confidently replied, “I think the Golden Age of Cameron Village is now.”
Touché, Mr. Hill.
2130 Clark Ave., Raleigh
Cuisine: steakhouse, contemporary
Rating: ☆☆☆ 1/2
Atmosphere: Sleekly contemporary, with a nod to midcentury modern style
Noise level: Moderate
Service: Eager to please, needs more polish to live up to the prices
Recommended: Cornmeal-crusted oysters, bone marrow croquettes, grilled steaks and seafood, peppercorn-crusted tuna
Open: Dinner nightly, brunch Sunday.
Other: Full bar; get a sitter; limited vegetarian selection; patio; parking in garage (entrance on Clark Avenue) or in Cameron Village lot; valet parking available Tuesday-Saturday after 5:30 p.m.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent.
☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.