Venue Review: Terrafin Station (North Raleigh)
The original TerraFin Station, which opened in 2010 in the Cleveland community south of Garner, had been open a little over six months when I visited the restaurant for the first time. I haven’t been back since.
To put it bluntly, in a region with so many tantalizing new restaurants to check out, there’s little incentive to return to an out-of-the-way spot that clearly isn’t ready for prime time.
I can only guess that they eventually got their act together, because a second TerraFin Station opened last November – in North Raleigh’s Quail Corners Plaza, no less, hardly a location that you’d call “out-of-the-way.” I felt duty-bound to check it out.
I enlisted the help of my wife, who’s always a good sport about keeping me company at places I’m not all that keen on visiting. One bite into our first meal, I was feeling considerably less guilty about dragging her along. We’d started with pimento cheese fritters, panko-crusted orbs of gooey goodness that proved so addictive that – well, let’s just say the first bite wasn’t the last.
The lettuce wedge wasn’t bad, either, though its deconstructed presentation put a harsh spotlight on out-of-season tomatoes that might otherwise have slipped under the radar. The dish seemed a little fussy, too, for a family-friendly restaurant that doubles a sports bar – though it must be said that TerraFin’s floor plan, which includes a large TV-free dining room separate from the bar, will be welcome to many. So will an umbrella-shaded patio that’s screened from the parking lot by a wrought iron fence and planter boxes spilling over with geraniums.
It was a Friday night, and we decided to try the weekly fish fry special, which turned out to be a respectable (if somewhat greasy) take on beer-battered haddock. Better still was the exceptionally tender and juicy veal porterhouse with a rosemary-garlic pan jus. Like most entrees, it came with a choice of two sides. I particularly liked the garlic mashed potatoes.
We’d had a filling meal, so we decided to skip dessert.
OK, that’s not the whole truth. The other reason is that I chickened out. I still hadn’t forgotten the apple “crisp” we’d ordered at the other location three years ago, a dessert that appeared to have been so aggressively reheated in a microwave that my wife said it should have been called “applesauce.” And to think she was willing to return with me to the scene of the crime (sort of). Didn’t I tell you she’s a good sport?
At any rate, the new TerraFin Station had certainly earned a follow-up visit – which it got, a few weeks later. In the interim, the menu had been tweaked a bit, and the veal porterhouse was one of the casualties. Consolation could be found in a pineapple-brined bone-in Heritage Farms pork chop.
The selection of certified Angus steaks remained intact, doing their share along with the likes of dry-rubbed ribs and buttermilk-marinated fried chicken to give an accounting for the “Terra” half of the restaurant’s name.
The “Fin” half, on the other hand, was more of a mixed bag. Fried calamari were reasonably tender, though there was considerably more breading than actual squid on the plate. Grilled swordfish, offered as the fresh catch special and touted by our server as coming from North Carolina waters, was a dry disappointment.
There’s absolutely nothing to fault, on the other hand, about the pan-seared duck breast that was offered that night as a special with tarragon rice and a ginger-tomato sauce. Turns out it’s a really good idea to pay attention when your server is reciting the specials. Clearly, that’s where Christopher Knight – a young chef who worked locally for 13 years before heading out West to broaden his skill set, then returning to open TerraFin Station – struts his stuff.
The duck was so good, in fact, it gave me the courage to have another go at that apple crisp.
And am I ever glad I did. Featuring still-discernible slices of apple still in their (tender) skin, a classic oatmeal crumble and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this was the real homespun thing.
I hear chef Knight also makes a wicked chocolate brownie with Double Barley Brewing’s Thrilla in Vanilla porter (the bar offers an extensive, locally focused selection of draft and bottled beers). You can bet I won’t be shy about giving that one a try next time.