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Venue Review: One Restaurant

New and improved One restaurant merits five stars
One Restaurant
By "Greg Cox"

This summer, One’s owners closed the Chapel Hill restaurant temporarily for a reboot. It was barely three years since the place had opened with a big-budget decor, so changes to the dining room amounted to little more than new flooring and a fresh coat of paint.

The floor-to-ceiling wine rack stocked with bottles whose labels read like the transcript of an oenophile’s dream still greets you just inside the door. Sleek modern leather-upholstered chairs in shades of crimson and pewter still sit at coffee-dark wood tables, and at a long counter that affords a front-row view of the action in the open theater kitchen.

It’s on the other side of that counter that dramatic changes have taken place. So dramatic, in fact, that I think it’s safe to think of the new incarnation of One as more than just an update. It’s a complete operating system upgrade – call it One, version 2.0.

Taking my cue from the restaurant’s name, I offer my comments by the numbers.

Two: Number of co-executive chefs leading the choreography on a stage framed in gleaming stainless steel stoves and countertops. Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan have worked in some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the world – in some instances, together in the same kitchen. As a result, their fluid teamwork is as obvious as their considerable skills.

The chefs’ star-studded culinary pedigrees are likewise evident on the plate. Precision and attention to detail can be traced to the kitchens of The French Laundry and Per Se. Molecular-gastronomy genes inherited from Alinea and El Bulli frequently contribute a delightful touch of culinary magic. The bewitching blown-sugar “candy apple” with a chocolate stem and a filling of cotton candy that elicited oohs and ahs at our table recently comes to mind.

Five: Number of courses in the chefs’ tasting menu. That’s not including the complimentary dishes that will come your way, from the multiple amuses at the beginning of the meal (recently, a sweet-and-savory trio of madeleines, macarons and a whimsical riff on Pop-Tarts) to the “cookies and cream” bonbon at the end. Highlights of the current tasting menu include parsnips in brown butter with cocoa gnocchi; pimenton-poached grouper with okra jam and “hazelnuts like chickpeas” (referring to their texture, presumably achieved through the culinary wizardry of molecular gastronomy); and “beef in chrysanthemum crust,” an inspired dish that’s at once exotic and comforting.

The chefs shop daily at area farmers’ markets, so the entire menu (including tastings) evolves with the season. Rest assured, though, that regardless of what’s in the offing, the meal will be from start to finish the best $50 you’ll spend.

Better still, if you’re adventurous enough to put yourself entirely in the hands of the chefs, try the $65 impromptu tasting. Depending on their inspiration – and your appetite – you might score as many as nine courses. The seven-course tasting I luxuriated in recently started off with the trio of amuses, plus a beef tartare with cured egg that proved so popular it has since made its way onto the regular menu.

Of the epicurean parade that followed, a few snapshots: miniature balls of cumin-scented squash falafel, nestled among rosettes of thinly sliced zucchini on a bed of squash “hummus”; salt meringue-baked flounder, voluptuous against a backdrop of creamed greens and a surprisingly delicate mustard sauce; supple, rosy slices of spice-rubbed lamb with fresh dates roasted to a sweet, crisp-edged turn; a perfectly formed quenelle of fig leaf ice cream on a puddle of green peanut horchata dotted with vanilla-perfumed tapioca beads.

Infinity: Number of possible meal combinations if you’d prefer to go the traditional appetizer-entree route. Okay, I’m not a math major, and that number may be a slight exaggeration. But given a regular menu that includes a dozen or so appetizers (half of them vegetarian) and a tantalizing handful of entrees, choosing certainly won’t be easy.

Especially when you factor in the entrees-for-two option. Once an obligatory romantic offering at fine dining establishments, here the entrees for two offer a tempting (and, at $34, relatively affordable) way to follow a tapas-style sampling of appetizers. Once you’ve decided on that course of action, though, you’re still faced with a dilemma: Sunburst trout with Carolina Gold rice, green olives and sultanas? Or rack of lamb with heirloom carrots and fennel pollen?

Zero: Number of service miscues I encountered over the course of two visits. Under the direction of general manager Paul Jennette, One’s exceptionally well-trained wait staff deftly walk the tightrope between friendly and polished. Which leads me to ...

Four: Number of waiters who will arrive simultaneously at your table, if you’re a party of four, to serve each course you’ve ordered. It’s an old school touch that they manage to pull off without the old school stuffiness.

475-plus: Number of wines to choose from. The bottles on display near the entrance are just the tip of the iceberg. The full list, accessible on iPads, is one of the very best in the Triangle in terms of quantity and quality. Sean Rouch, the restaurant’s knowledgeable and approachable sommelier, hopes to have that number over 500 in time for the holidays.

Five: Number of stars that the new and improved version of One clearly merits.

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November 8, 2013 - Triangle.com - Greg Cox

This summer, One’s owners closed the Chapel Hill restaurant temporarily for a reboot.

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