Today was my first working uptown, so I decided to congratulate myself on a job-to-be-well-done with dinner at a place I’ve been dying to try. Halcyon is located in the Duke Energy Center Complex, adjacent to the Mint Museum entrance (the parking deck can be slightly confusing; take the Plaza elevators, not Tower, to level 2).
I didn’t take too many interior pics (plenty of nice ones here, though) but the space is expansive and gorgeous. The restaurant calls itself farm-house chic and the decor lives up to that description. Chocolate accents compliment pale blue walls and custom wood tables by Gary Marcus glint with sunlight from the massive floor-to-ceiling windows. The bustling partially-open kitchen plan offsets the swank with just the right balance of homey flavor.
Balance seemed to be the theme for my dining experience tonight. The service was quick but not rushed (I arrived before the dinner crowd while they were setting up for the Mulderbosch Wine Dinner later.) The plentiful staff was attentive but not annoying. After asking my waiter for suggestions I was pleased to find, and inspired to write a review because, the current menu debuted only last night, making me among the first to try the season’s selections. I chose the road less traveled of the small plates options — my own road at least — Homage to Hominy. I’ve never actually had pork belly but wanted to try it. I’ve also never had hominy (its not the same as grits) and I’ve never enjoyed ham hock. Ham hock broth sounds like something my grandma would try to make in lean times, but it would come out all hammy and oldpeopley. I feared the dish would have that over-porky taste I dislike, but since I get paid tomorrow and I think I’ll be eating here often, I decided to take a chance.
My meal was preceded by just the right sized individual serving of toast with house made balsamic and strawberry butters. Yes, I said strawberry butter. I could actually smell the strawberries over everything else as soon as the plate came over. Very tasty.
I can’t be 100% sure, but I think I’d be hard pressed to find a cocktail menu in town hipper than Halcyon’s Libations. Titles that name drop Chihuly and Bearden reflect the restaurant’s playfully chic personality and art-infused location while ingredients like squid ink (highlight of The Kraken) show that creativity abounds here. Who needs a late night diner when there’s “Some Pig“: Maker’s Mark 46 steeped in bacon for three days and filtered, with a splash of orange bitters and maple syrup. Garnished with a bacon strip.
Yeah, that just happened.
I passed on cocktails tonight but a fellow diner raved about how tasty and rich the flavor was. Trust, I’ll work my way through the drink options (and the dinner and lunch menus as well) over the next couple months. I wasn’t there for liquor, I was there for grub. And good lawd, the grub.
Remembering that I was ordering from a new menu, I was amused to overhear one of the chefs ask how many pork bellies my dish required. The answer is just one, and one was more than enough.
Again, the word of the day is balance. I generally don’t like tomato-based dishes because the tomato taste is too strong, but the farm-fresh stewed tomatoes were just enough to balance the flavors of the pork. The hominy was not overcooked and maintained a firm bite, giving the ham hock stew a nice, hearty texture. The pork belly itself was delicious and fork tender in that perfect way that makes my tummy sing on sight. My misgivings about the brothe were unfounded; this is obviously not my grandma’s ham hock. I was surprised to find strips of meat throughout the stew, making the dish much more filling than it appeared at first sight. In short, it was perfect. The portion looks too small to share, but it definitely works for two and was too much for me to finish alone. (I wouldn’t try to split that pork belly any more than that… it’s going to cause an argument.) If your waiter forgets to offer you a spoon, ask for one. It’s thick enough to eat with a fork, but you want to get the most out of that broth.
I’ve waxed poetic enough… go to Halcyon and try it for yourself! Hit me up before you go… there’s a good chance I’ll be in the neighborhood. 😉