1002 Ninth Street
Ninth Street, Durham
Magnolia Grill is known as one of the finest dining establishments in Durham. Being as I’ve lived here four years now, I figured I should get around to trying it. Its menu is what I dub New American cuisine, otherwise known as fresh, local ingredients combined in inventive ways to create spins on the basic meat, starch, veggie, and sauce concept. It’s housed in a grey-painted brick building at the far end of Ninth street and is divided into a bar dining area, where reservations are not needed…
…and the main dining room, where they are.
The high square windows managed to give the restaurant a cathedral lighting that felt warm and welcoming. The artwork is also nice, with some large geometric paintings mixed in with more whimsical animal figurines.
We began with a fig salad served on a bed of mixed greens with serrano ham, mascarpone, blue cheese, basil and shaved fennel.
The presentation was lovely and I especially liked the lush creaminess that came from the cheeses. The balsamic vinaigrette was excellent and reminded me how glad I am that I overcame my vinegar aversion a few years ago, though I still won’t touch plain white vinegar with a ten-foot pole. The basil packed a flavor punch that was a bit too strong but the crunch from the Serrano ham was just right. A great dish.
Both the sourdough baguette and the garlic foccacia bread was really, really good. Make sure to try one of each!
For my main course, I had herb-grilled salmon nicoise with a brown butter tapenade vinaigrette, arugula pesto, cranberry potatoes, summer beans, and pickled sultanas.
I have no idea what the pickled items were on top-they weren’t the sultanas because those were the raisins mixed with the other veggies. Whatever they were, The caper berries* were delicious–I enjoyed eating something pickled that was neither too bitter nor too sweet. The arugula pesto drizzles didn’t add much to the dish but the brown butter sauce, which managed to not taste all that buttery, was great. The salmon tasted good and the vegetables, often my favorite part of a meal, were delicious. With the tapenade mixed in, though, my taste buds were tired by the time I’d finished eating-too much flavor, if that can be a fault!
To end, we shared a hazelnut tart with figs, vanilla brown butter and a white chocolate and fig cream.
Obviously, figs were a big hit this evening. The dessert was divine as the baby figs melted in my mouth but they also added a tiny kick of tartness. The tart was moist and the brown butter sauce worked even better here than on the salmon dish. I also liked how the hazelnut bits and figs seemed casually, yet artfully, tossed around the plate.
Magnolia Grill lived up to my expectations. Other than perhaps trying to do too much with the entree, every dish was well-crafted and satisfying. I look forward to trying it again when the seasons change.
*Thanks to poster walrus1 on my review hosted at carpe durham, I now know these were caper berries, which makes a lot of sense for the nicoise theme to the dish.