Fins-tastic!! D’Auvray’s New Location Rocks

finsdoor.JPGAs 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).

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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.
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Wild Alaskan King Salmon with pioppini mushroom, frisse, house-cured pancetta, frites, mushroom soy and brown butter

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Veal tenderloin with veal sweetbreads, Trumpet Royale mushrooms, roasted apple, candied baby vegetables, glace de viande


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Cannon of baby lamb with wild mushroom-potato hash and a red curry veal reduction

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Rum baba with caramelized bananas and encrusted ice cream (was it banana ice cream?)

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One of the interesting sconces in Fins. The decor definitely sparked a lot of discussion.

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Baking area

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The pass

Fins
110 East Davie Street
Raleigh, NC
919-834-6963

http://www.myspace.com/finsrestaurant

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8 Responses to Fins-tastic!! D’Auvray’s New Location Rocks

  1. Bob Engel says:

    Never have I been more proud to see our farm’s mushrooms on the menu than when I see what William at Fins does with them.

  2. al says:

    I found your blog while looking for more information on Fins after reading Cox’s N&O review. I have to say, I was pretty disappointed.

    First, it was a Thursday night and the place was fairly emtpy. Asked if we had a reservation and I said no. Despite being empty and never ever having that many people the, they made us wait 20 minutes.

    I got the salmon with a different sauce as I am not a fan of mushrooms. The sauce was fine, the fish was awful. I asked how it was cooked and affirmed it would be medium rare, unfortunately, it was more medium well. Not to mention it didn’t taste very fresh. I should have complained, but I was too hungry to wait. I was really disappointed especially after the rave reviews.

    I will say the Tiramisu was fantastic.

  3. Varmint says:

    Did they tell you why you needed to wait? I’m really surprised about the freshness of the fish, as that has never been a concern. They take great pride in their fish, and having seen their walk-in, with the fish on ice, it’s really unusual.

    I have heard a few people comment to me that their big problem with Fins is not the food, but the front of the house. I think Lisa is a very nice person, but at least 3 or 4 folks have told me that she comes off as aloof and not very gracious. When I read comments on Citysearch or its kin, the front of the house is the primary complaint. I’d like to hear others’ opinions.

  4. al says:

    No, they just said they wanted to seat the reservations first, but then came back and sat us. There was a party with about 10 people, but they were seated after us. Besides, it was only 2 people. The bar is pretty though. I would definitely go for a drink and dessert.

  5. Cheryl says:

    You asked for comments about the front of the house at Fins so here’s mine (which I think I’ve posted on another website): on our first visit to Fin’s several years ago, we were about 10 min. late, my fault of course. When we arrived, Lisa made a comment about being on the verge of giving away our table; I was very apologetic, promised to do better the next time (being tardy is kind of a personal Achilles Heel for me). And indeed, we’ve been good about arriving on time since then. Lisa has been very hospitable to us on our subsequent visits, coming over to chat with us if she’s not too busy. She always calls us by name and makes us feel welcome. As for me, I’ve been more careful to phone a restaurant if we’re running late…but so far, I’ve made sure we’re not late to Fins.

  6. Cheryl says:

    Addition to my previous comments: I echo the raves about the new Fins. I think it’s even better than before. I too hope they succeed in a big way downtown….and I don’t see why they wouldn’t, especially once all the new construction is completed in the area. Seems that Fins fits in with the plan of downtown Raleigh being a destination area. Yes, Fins is sophisticated but not in a snooty sort of way. And I don’t think one has to be a “food snob” in order to enjoy William’s creations.

    As for emulating William’s cooking….if I could cook like William, where would we go (to eat) for special occasions or as a treat to ourselves? I can bake various breads, do pretty well with fresh veggies, comfort food, etc., but when I dine out, I want something that I wouldn’t fix at home because it’s either too labor-intensive or quality ingredients aren’t readily available—and I can always find that at Fins.

  7. VaNC says:

    Okay, we went to Fins Saturday night. Our third visit. And I must say, I want to like this place, I do, but I just can’t. The experience was just not great. For all the ambience and the prices, which are some of the highest in the area, I expect a pretty darn flawless experience. And it came up short in so many ways. The last time our service was good, but just inexperienced. This time the service was downright bad. And the food just okay, if not bad.

    We had a early reservation and it was pretty empty when we got there, although it was filling up when we left.

    FIrst, I ordered the passionfruit martini, which I remembered really liking before. It has changed in color and taste. Tasted more like pineapple juice this time. Will not be ordering it again.

    We told our server that we were going to the ballet and he suggested we only get two courses, given the time. Okay, fair enough. I ordered the salad described as baby lettuces with fried artichokes and hearts of palm. I love heart of palm and usually order it when I see it. When delivered it did not seem like the salad I ordered at all. The “lettuces” were one lettuce only…romaine. They may have been baby, but seemed to be just the inside leaves of romaine, still with the hard stalk bottoms. The fried artichokes had a good flavor, but were not crispy when served, seemed to have been fried a while back. The worst part was NO HEART of PALM! I asked my server where they were and he said “oh, we are out of heart of palm tonight!” Hello, it was the main reason I ordered the dish. It would have been nice to know that !!!!

    We had ordered a glass of wine when he served the appetizer. There was a long long wait between courses. A glass of wine would have made this wait more tolerable. But it never showed up. After a long while, the waiter flew by and said “I think he is plating your entrees now”. Then about 5 minutes later, he finally comes by with our wine and says “ya’ll were trying to make a show, weren’t you” as if he wondered if he needed to hurry the kitchen up. Another five minutes and we get our entrees, placed in front of the wrong people…. something I usually forgive, but it was just another thing wrong and laughable. Our server was popping in and out so fast, not listening, that I felt like I was in a fast food restaurant.

    Maybe the service would have been forgivable if our food had been better, but it was just not good. I ordered the sea bass, which was in a broth of some form, on a bed of something described as caramelized squash, with a mango salad which was given to me in a separate bowl and I was supposed to pile it on top. Well, I can tell you that the fish was cooked well and was good. I can only tell you that cause I pulled it out to the side to taste it. There is no way I could have tasted the fish with all the overpowering acid on the plate. The broth the dish was sitting in was very vinegary and had been soaked up in the squash. The mango salad, only some of which I put on top, was also very vinegary. So, together, you couldn’t even begin to taste the nice fish. Overall, it was a very unpleasant dish.

    My husband said his fish (he ordered the turbot) was well cooked too and very hot when served, as he loves it, but was served sitting on something cold (can’t recall what he told me it was) which he said was rather disconcerting.

    We ended up, due to the long wait. having to woof down our food and not finish our wine to be able to make the ballet. I have to say, given this experience, I don’t think we will be going back. There are just too many good restaurants downtown, for a much cheaper price! A restaurant charging these prices needs to have a higher quality of service than this and more consistent food.

    The only highlight of the night was that our daughter liked her sashimi!

  8. jvLin says:

    al: The wait was likely just a marketing tactic. Here in LA, some of the high-end restaurants also do the same thing. If it happens again, I suggest you leave the restaurant, call in for an immediate reservation, and go back to be seated. It’ll save you a good 17 minutes. As for the fish, I know I would have bitched if the fish wasn’t fresh. But then again, I do live right next to the ocean, so there may be different standards.

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