When is dinner at Kindred not dinner at Kindred? When Joe and Katy Kindred turn over their Davidson restaurant to Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen for a special night to celebrate her new cookbook, “Poole’s: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner” (Ten Speed Press, $35).
That’s not a bad thing, though. A few of the best Kindred touches – warm pans of milk bread, inventive cocktails and Katy Kindred’s solid wine selections – were still in place Monday night for two seatings of a menu that featured Christensen’s recipes cooked by Joe Kindred’s staff.
Watching the turn between the 6:30 and 8 p.m. seatings (my spot was in the second) was a Who’s Who of Charlotte food fans, from fanatical cooks Betty Lee and Jennifer Lover (an occasional Observer contributor) leaving after the first seating to Dr. Dan Murrey and Charlotte magazine contributor Cat Carter arriving with groups of friends for the second.
It wasn’t cheap (dinner and a book logged in at $125) but it was five fantastic courses that included wine and cocktails. One friend (I’ll protect her, since she has a lot of chefs as friends) swore it was the best meal she has ever had in Charlotte. Me? Best is an impossible concept, but I’ll say it was very good.
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The lineup: Watermelon and avocado (sounds strange, but oddly satisfying) in a pool of fresh stracciatella. Deeply seared sea scallops on whipped tahini with a salsa of Castelvetrano olives (the really green, meaty ones) and crispy fried strips of artichoke. Tubes of pasta in a pecorini cheese sauce with deep-fried Brussel sprout leaves and pomegranate seeds (creamy, crispy and crunchy – check). A big piece of fried chicken schnitzel with apple and kohlrabi slaw in a buttermilk sauce with the texture of buttermilk. And finally, a huge slice of fluffy coconut cream pie that made one of my dining companions declare, “That’s a half a pie! She’s trying to kill us.”
The whole meal was an example of the kind of cooking that’s scoring points right now: Instead of pretentious, it’s home-style with thoughtful touches and simple ingredients presented with polish. It’s the kind of cooking that has earned a James Beard award and multiple nominations for Christensen, who owns seven food businesses in Raleigh (Poole’s Diner, Death & Taxes, Beasley’s, Chuck’s, Bridge Club, Joule and Fox Liquor Bar), and the kind of cooking that brought Joe Kindred very close to James Beard attention last year.
For one night, anyway, Raleigh and Charlotte (and Davidson) felt a lot closer together.