In just three years, JMR Kitchens has established itself as an up-and-coming restaurant group with an instinct for food trends. The family-owned group’s first two ventures – Taste, a small plates wine bar on Medlin Drive; and The Oak, a bourbon bar and restaurant on Lake Boone Trail – have both hit the mark with an upscale suburban clientele.
So when the group decided to open a third restaurant, one that would expand on the Taste concept and take it into a new zip code in downtown Raleigh, their reputation was on the line. As savvy marketers, the owners knew that the name of their new venture could be a key element in its early success. The name needed to be as concise and catchy as their other restaurants’ names, and it ought to provide a tantalizing hint as to the restaurant’s character.
In a brainstorming session sometime before the restaurant’s November opening, the owners had come up with several possibilities for a name, but hadn’t been able to settle on one. Half-jokingly, managing partner Ryan Riek turned to his then 2-year-old nephew, Andrew, and asked him what they should name their new restaurant. His reply, though it’s not certain he was in fact addressing the question: “more.”
Regardless, the kid nailed it. The small plates offering at more. is loaded with temptations that will, in every sense of the term, have you asking for more.
Portion size, for one thing, tends to be smaller than what often passes for “small plates” elsewhere. The menu is divided into two columns: Shareable Appetizers & Sides, which are close to classic tapas portions, and larger Shareable Main Plates. Count on taking the menu’s advice and ordering two to three plates per person – and make at least one of those a pick from the Main Plates section.
Even then, you’ll occasionally come across a dish that stretches the definition of “shareable.” An appetizer selection of hand-rolled pasta – supple ribbons flecked with black pepper, slicked in a parmesan butter sauce and capped with a lacy Parmesan cracker, is addictive. But you’ll find yourself going cold turkey after just a couple of bites.
Mac-and-cheese, on the other hand, is as generous as it is gooey and cheesy, amped up with bits of house-cured pancetta, spilling over the edge of a ceramic cup, and capped with a crown of herb-roasted roma tomatoes.
Order the risotto fries and you’ll score a trio of plump, creamy-centered batons encrusted in a golden panko crust and topped with a shower of finely shredded Parmesan. It’s a deceptively hearty starter, whether you opt to get the fries served over a justifiably popular pork ragout or an equally satisfying mushroom ragout.
Steamed mussels live up to their “shareable” billing, too, though our party did find ourselves wishing for more grilled bread rounds to sop up all of that bacon-garlic-crushed-red-pepper wine broth. Evidently we weren’t the only ones. The kitchen has since increased the bread ration.
Main Plates portions are more substantial, by and large, though the category is not immune to the occasional sharable-challenged offering. Seared scallops are fat and flawless, but there are only two of them. Even when you factor in the rest of the presentation – a bed of parsnip puree, a couple of roasted grapes, a fried sage leaf or two, and a few fried parsnip ribbons – it makes for a dish that takes a lot of willpower (or a couple of very quick forks) to share.
The N.C. shrimp dish offers a more generous taste of the sea, in the form of five jumbos in a Mediterranean-inspired tomato-caper broth riddled with olives and fingerling potatoes. Roasted chicken is even more substantial: a brace of falling-off-the-bone tender thighs, served over mushrooms and snap-tender green beans in an appropriately named “intense jus,” and garnished with a sheet of chicken skin crackling that is itself worth the price of admission.
But it’s the hanger steak, served with chimichurri and textbook shoestring fries, that takes the bang-for-your-buck prize. My only quibble is with the garnishing plate smear of cumin-scented carrot puree that left me wanting – dare I say it? – more.
That said, the only outright disappointment I’ve yet to encounter is a plate of cold roasted vegetables that included a couple of fibrous parsnips, and was rather stingy with the promised goat cheese. The just-released spring menu solves that problem by replacing the dish with a variation on the theme: cold roasted sweet potatoes and onions in a caper salsa verde and (let’s hope there’s more of it this time around) goat cheese.
The new menu retains most of the dishes I sampled, though chef Scott Phillips has tweaked a few. An N.C. cider-IPA “float” (can’t wait to see what that is) has replaced the wine broth in the mussels presentation, for one. The chef has also added a few new temptations, including beer-battered cauliflower with cashew hummus, and cured salmon with “everything” cream cheese and a sugar-cured egg yolk on a pretzel bun.
While the menu does an admirable job of showcasing chef Phillips’ creative range with a mere eight of nine listings in each category, the bar takes a more literal interpretation of the restaurant’s name as its guide. A global selection of more than 150 wines (two dozen or so available by the glass) highlight an offering that also includes craft cocktails and a modest but thoughtfully chosen selection of craft beers. Anyone seeking help in navigating the extensive wine selection should find it in a wait staff who are, by and large, commendably well-trained.
As befits its location in the Glenwood South district, more. is a fashionably urban-rustic space with a nod to local history. The unusual bar is built with bricks salvaged from the old Dillon Supply warehouse, and all the tabletops – in the dining room and bar, as well as on the patio – are made of wood harvested from a single black walnut tree in Chatham County.
Be advised that those tables tend to fill up, especially on weekends. Clearly, a lot of folks in downtown Raleigh have discovered the place, and they’re coming back for more.
116 N. West St., Raleigh; 919-926-8415
Rating: ☆☆☆ 1/2
Noise level: moderate
Service: well-trained for the most part
Recommended: risotto fries, mussels, roasted chicken, hanger steak
Open: Dinner nightly, lunch Sunday
Reservations: suggested on weekends
Other: full bar (excellent wine list); accommodates children; good vegetarian selection; patio; parking on street and in Powerhouse Parking Deck.
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.