Second Empire Restaurant is in the historic Dodd-Hinsdale House, whose architectural style is the Second Empire Victorian style developed in France under Napoleon III and marked by heavy ornate modification. The home was built for Mayor Dodd and completed in 1879 but lost quickly due to finances. Col. Hinsdale purchased it in 1890 and it remained in the family till 1971. Till 1993 the house suffered vandalism and then Ted Reynolds and family bought it and started the restoration to transform it into a restaurant. In Sept. 1997 the restaurant and tavern opened for business. The structure retains its original exterior, heart pine flooring, masonry walls and windows. Four main rooms of the main body now make up the restaurant and a tavern was made from additional rooms and a glassed atrium room. There is a small parking lot by the back entrance and otherwise you’re on your own. At the front entrance is a dramatic stairway lined with photos and awards. High ceilings, soft music in the background, lowered lighting and art on the walls surround the widely spaced large white cloth covered tables. Chef Daniel Schurr offered a couple specials in addition to the printed menu and offers many gluten free options. His style was to stack multiple ingredients into each dish. Service was friendly but the pace was slow.
We started with Negroni cocktails. Meanwhile the server brought some warm slices of cornmeal bread with rosemary and softened butter. The bread was tasty and the butter was stamped with their logo.
Grilled Latin seasoned prawn and “Cheerwine” pork belly came with sautéed brown basmati rice, grilled pineapple, braised bok choy, curry cauliflower puree, jicama, cucumber, coconut milk and vera cruz sauce. “Cheerwine” is an old soft drink that was slightly sweet. The huge prawn sat on top of the rice and others with the pork belly beside. The prawn was cooked perfectly as was the belly. Two amazing main ingredients and lots of other stuff on the plate.
Seared foie gras was a special that night. It came with apple butter puree, garlic spinach, potato rosti, carrot slaw and a fried quail egg. The rich and delicious foir gras was accompanied by so many other things it was hard to get it all. But the foie was cooked perfectly and worked well with all the other ingredients. They also managed to keep the egg slightly runny.
Roasted Pennsylvania duck breast was plated with hickory smoked oyster mushrooms, saffron risotto, bacon, bok choy, roasted baby carrot salad, star anise and orange reduction sauce. This was an extraordinary plate – just delicious. The duck was cooked with almost all the fat rendered yet it was still pink and juicy. The risotto was a bit thick but tasted great with the duck. The sauces were fun and also blended well. All good here and our favorite of the 2 entrees.
A 6 oz Angus pan roasted beef filet was an evening special and that came with Tuscan kale, Carolina white beans, yellow squash, tomatoes, braised fennel salad and asparagus. Some creamy horseradish topped the meat and it was surrounded by smokey bacon jus. It was cooked as requested but didn’t have enough beefy flavor. The beans, howerver, were first rate.
Coconut buttermilk chess pie was described as a buttery rich short dough crust with buttermilk, coconut custard filling, served warm and topped with house made toffee caramel ice cream then garnished with toasted coconut, almond lace cookie, mango sauce and fresh fruit. The pie was in an individual tart shell rather than cut from a pie. The crust was thick but tasty but the custard filling didn’t make it for me. The cookie was thin, crisp and lovely. The ice cream sweet and creamy.
They sent us home with a box of salted caramel macarons.