Herons is the signature restaurant in the Umstead Hotel and Spa. The 98 seat restaurant features a view of the kitchen as well as the landscaped grounds and art on the walls. The large, white cloth covered tables are appointed with chairs and couches with pillows. The room is decorated in earthtones with lots of wood, lowered lighting and no music. The elegant place takes itself seriously in that they have a dress code asking you not to wear jeans, shorts, sandals or tattered clothing. The menu changes seasonally and tries to feature local produce and proteins. It is divided into 4 categories which each have about 5 choices for you to pick from Some choices do have a supplemental charge. Beverage pairings are available in addition to a huge wine list. Service was first rate and the pacing and portion control were spot on. The food was very good and they threw in lots of little things in between courses.
The amuse bouche was a faux sweet basil leaf topped with roe, creme fraiche and herbs from the garden. The leaf was thicker than I expected and thus had more chew and texture. The tart flavor was from a bit of yuzu gel.
Butter and breads were next. The butter was topped with sea salt and black pepper. Breads were a sage, honey corn (loaf shaped) that was a bit sweet and really tasty. The Hein corn epi bread (twisty) was quite crisp. A tarragon black bun was chewy and a bit dull.
Dashi poached oysters with Charleston gold rice and champagne sabayon were a first course choice on the menu. The Harkers Island, NC. oysters came 5 to an order and were presented with a dramatic cloud of liquid nitrogen. The show didn’t affect the wonderful flavor of these little shells of goodness. It was an excellent blend of ingredients with a fine result.
Charcoal grilled Hamachi was presented with a white asparagus, squid ink pasta and aji limon. The pasta was rolled into a tight coil that was perfectly cooked and blended nicely with the citrusy sauce. I think I prefer hamachi raw as it has no strong flavor then, even though this was cooked nicely. The fish was best eaten with the sauce and throw in a little of the pasta and you had some tasty bites.
Some sorrel macarons were filled with a foie gras mousse, raspberry puree and a crisp black onion. They were on an interesting clear glass plate filled with black stones. There was lots of texture in this bite of interesting flavors.
Foie Gras was with buckwheat waffle, tonka créme, strawberry and golden honey sauce. The waffles were little puffs that were light and good and strawberries had been broiled to darken the skin and cook them. Both of these were terrific with the seared foie gras. Add a bit of the honey sauce, cream and crunch of the individual puffed buckwheat and you have a winner of a dish.
Alaskan Crab was with sweet peas, kohlrabi, yuzu, mint and smoked buttered dashi. The large piece of crab on the top was butter poached and supplemented with lots of crab meat in the sauce below. The fresh taste of the peas and mint made this a perfect spring dish.
An in between snack was a ‘corn dog’ that was filled with pheasant sausage and topped with pickled mustard seed relish. It was on top of some truffled ketchup. The hot crisp coating was perfect with the sausauge and seasoning. It was fun and good.
Lamb was with barbecue chicory, carrot, garlic-pinenut purée and lemon jus. The boneless lamb was stuffed with sausage and was alongside poached and rolled carrots. Cocoa and spinach powder dusted a good part of the plate. The lamb was tender and the sausage really added to its flavor. It was a good plate.
Dry aged duck was with rhubarb, beet, wheatberries, lavender and szechuan pepper. The Peking duck had been dry aged for 10 days The szechuan sauce was also under some red wheat that added a nice texture to the plate. The meat was cooked a bit more than I’d like but it was savory with only a little liver flavor.
A pre-dessert was a honey twill sunflower crisp with a yuzu and peach center topped with poppy seeds. It was not crisp but had good flavor. I’m guessing the rain during the day tampered with their desired finished product but it was still quite nice.
Strawberry was with sakura cherry blossom tea, rhubarb, raspberry namalaka and poha. The faux strawberry was mousse and the rhubarb was in a sorbet as well in crisp dried sheets. Another plate of good spring flavors with lots of textures. Good all around.
Chocolate, tainori 64 percent was combined with Sicilian pistachio, matcha and Cantonese cocoa. The pistachio was worked into a praline and the matcha into mousseline – or anything your tongue is happy to touch. Little cubes of cake added to the mix as did white yogurt crumbles. This plate was filled with various textures and also rich flavors of chocolate.
An extra dessert was a gooseberry filled with chartreuse, a raspberry madeleine and a chocolate cookie sandwich. The gooseberry was a tart explosion in the mouth. The raspberry madeleine was buttery but not hot and the chocolate cookie was fun with a bit of white sauce in between the two cookies.
For a final treat they sent you home with a couple salted caramel macarons.