Venue Review: The Twisted Fork
At 20 ounces, the porterhouse steak at Twisted Fork is relatively modest by porterhouse standards, but it's still a hefty slab of meat. It's tender and juicy, too, obviously cut from good quality beef. In fact, I could find only one fault with the porterhouse I was served, and I had only myself to blame for it.
Well, sort of. Let me explain.
Twisted Fork, in the Triangle's newest major mall, is one of a new breed of what you might call interactive restaurants. In this "twist" on the traditional menu ordering concept, customers are encouraged to collaborate with the kitchen to tailor a dish to their personal specifications.
At Twisted Fork, this means that choosing one of the 40-odd meat, seafood and poultry options on the menu is only the first step in ordering an entree. Then you get to decide whether it will be grilled over mesquite or lump charcoal or, in some cases, pan-seared. Finally, you choose a companion sauce from a variety of options -- Maytag blue cheese butter for a steak or ponzu pesto for fish.
I knew all this. But I'd forgotten that you could walk up to the display case and select precisely the steak you want. If I had, I wouldn't have chosen a steak with the meat on the New York strip side of the bone thicker than the filet side. The uneven steak I was served had a strip side cooked medium-rare, but a filet closer to medium.
In my defense, I was distracted by the colorful jazzy vibe of the multilevel dining room, and by the fact that I'd stumbled onto the Tuesday night wine special, when all bottles are half-price. Having just scored a bottle of Newton Claret 2000 for $23, how was I to remember that I could order my steak market-style?
Besides, our otherwise enthusiastic waitress never mentioned that option. Nor, for that matter, did a different server on another occasion. Come to think of it, I don't recall seeing anyone ordering his main course from the display case (though I did observe a few people making scouting forays to the pastry case, where some two dozen house-made desserts, from chocolate Grand Marnier cake to blueberry sour cream pie, are on display).
I suspect that, after an early management push to encourage market-style ordering, the wait staff have responded to the reality that most people would just as soon stay in their seats and order from the menu. And, with that bias-cut porterhouse the lone exception, my experience suggests that they're safe in remaining in their seats.
Mesquite-grilled jumbo scallops are soft and sweet under a smoky char-striped exterior. A thick tuna steak, grilled spot-on medium as ordered, is irreproachably fresh, as are the 2-inch nuggets of salmon, mahi-mahi and grouper in seafood kebabs.
And if the $30 tab for the porterhouse is too rich for your blood, a 12-ounce hanger steak (aka onglet, the traditional star of classic French steak frites) will deliver intensely beefy flavor with a modest sacrifice in tenderness for about half that tariff. Duck breast, ordered pan-seared per our server's suggestion, is indeed rosy-centered and crisp skinned as promised, though the layer of fat between skin and flesh is a bit thicker than it should be.
Appetizers are a simpler proposition than entrees, with no decisions to make about cooking method or sauce. Certainly, the crab cakes with harissa mayonnaise don't need any fine-tuning.
You might, however, consider tweaking the dip sampler by substituting the five olive tapenade for the hummus that's the default companion in a trio with a very good crab dip and roasted red pepper and white bean dip. And you may want to see if the market will sell you some of those addictive homemade yogurt crackers.
It's no surprise that Twisted Fork is the brain child of Dean Ogan, the trend-setting restaurateurs who also own Michael Dean's, Bogart's, Hi5 and Red Room. Raleigh may have only partly taken to their "twisted" market concept, but judging by the crowds, it's clear they like the experience.