As I wrote last week when Greg Cox of the N&O re-confirmed Fins’ position as one of the top restaurants in the region, I’ve always been a big fan of William D’Auvray’s cuisine and execution. When he and his wife, Lisa, decided to leave their strip mall location in North Raleigh for the bright lights of downtown, I was pretty sure they’d have a great knew establishment. Well, when some men get a mid-life crisis, they buy a sportscar or have an affair. Not D’Auvray (and I’m not really saying he’s having a mid-life crisis, either, but read on). D’Auvray just opens the sharpest looking restaurant in the area with a 3300 square foot kitchen, five (yes, five) walk-in coolers, a Brazilian wood “wave” hanging over a lush granite bar, and a water wall. Throw in a robatayaki bar, a private room wired for business meetings, and a climate-controlled wine room. Oh, and a couple of million dollars of bank debt, too. We’re talking about a type of restaurant rarely seen in these here parts (An in Cary is the only other space that comes close).
Yes, the new restaurant is incredible, but is the food as good as ever? Of course it is. D’Auvray still bakes his own bread every day. He flies in seafood and other ingredients from across the globe. He creates flavor combinations I would never, EVER, think of. I really don’t need to go into great details of this man’s chops, as he’s got ‘em. He has always been able to flat out cook, and one of these days, I’m going to get the guts to ask him to let me spend some time with him in his kitchen — I want to learn how to cook some of the things he can do in his sleep.
I’ve eaten lunch at the new Fins twice, but had not managed to make there for dinner until last week, when a small group of friends and family dined there in celebration of my birthday. I’m not going to go through a recitation of what we ate, but it’s all as good as any place in the country that combines French technique, Asian flavors and American sensibility (or is it American flavors, Asian technique and French sensibility??). Without getting caught up in labels, the food, quite simply, rocks. Whether you’re there for the best raw fish in the state, cuttlefish in a sweet and dark and rich aromatic broth, or a simple salad of white beans, grilled octopus, and tomato water, you can’t go wrong. Oh, and get the veal tenderloin with the veal sweetbreads — that’s a bit of veal overkill, but damn, I’m happy with the excess. Plus, not nearly enough places serve sweetbreads, one of the most delicious and accessible types of offal you’ll find.
Service is very good, although it was a bit slow the night we were there. Of course, that could be because I disappeared from the table for 20 minutes to get a full tour of the place. Or that they knew we were there to celebrate. Regardless, we had a fantastic time. And although the traditional amuse bouche spring rolls are no longer being served, D’Auvray informs me that he’s going to bring back some sort of pre-meal teaser. Yeah!
My only concern about Fins is whether Raleigh will adequately support a venture so daring, so large, and so sophisticated. Is it too big? Is it ahead of its time? With nearly three times the seating capacity of the Leadmine Road location, William and his wife Lisa are betting that we are reading for a mammoth, high-style and high-cuisine restaurant. I truly want Fins to be here for a long time, so I encourage you to get downtown and try this great food. Get a group together to try some of Fins’ creative cocktails, or plan your next business meeting there. Or just give them a chance at lunch. You’ll be glad you did.
Wild Alaskan King Salmon with pioppini mushroom, frisse, house-cured pancetta, frites, mushroom soy and brown butter
Veal tenderloin with veal sweetbreads, Trumpet Royale mushrooms, roasted apple, candied baby vegetables, glace de viande
Cannon of baby lamb with wild mushroom-potato hash and a red curry veal reduction
Rum baba with caramelized bananas and encrusted ice cream (was it banana ice cream?)
One of the interesting sconces in Fins. The decor definitely sparked a lot of discussion.
110 East Davie Street