The Katharine is well worth a drive from Greensboro, for several reasons.
First, there is the historic Reynolds Building, a prelude to the Empire State Building, now the Kimpton Cardinal luxury hotel, with apartments on the top floors.
Then there is the ambience of the restaurant and bar — a French brasserie concept, art deco in style, with tile floors, filament lighting, and the kind of seating that encourages lingering, multi-course meals and conversation.
And of course, there is the food, in classic brasserie style, a step above bistro or French home cooking, a deliberate, conscious notch below the haute cuisine that often strays into the pretentious.
The restaurant is named in honor of Katharine Reynolds, a bon vivant who loved Parisian style and French cafes.
Executive chef Adam Barnett trained with some of the country’s best, including Eric Ripert and Patrick O’Connell. This is one of the few restaurants with a full-time sommelier on the floor. I found descriptions and suggestions from Christina Morris (who is also assistant manager) accurate and easy to follow.
A large number of selections are available by the glass. Although most are unfamiliar to me, all I tried were enjoyable. Creative cocktails and extensive artisan beers abound as well.
One word of caution: Prices occupy the upper end of the scale for the Triad. At this level, expectations elevate, and miscues and details that might be overlooked at lower cost become more evident.
On the other hand, when my wife and I split salads, no extra charge was entered. Arugula and shaved fennel salad, in light lemon vinaigrette, is decorated with fried parsnips.
Natural apple sweetness emerges from grilled apple and squash, the latter ingredient firm, a bit undercooked for my taste. Baby kale, goat cheese and pumpkin seeds lay the foundation, dressed with light hazelnut vinaigrette.
Apple rutabaga soup is a thick, smooth blend, the flavors of both main ingredients clearly evident with an occasional pop from fried sage.
“Butcher’s Block” provides Austrian spec (ham), saucisson (a French dried sausage), pate and homemade chow chow, plus a dollop of whole grain mustard for accent. The small salad that shares the presentation is lightly dressed, yielding additional flavor, not just decoration. This is large enough to share, providing quite a taste adventure.
From the raw bar, fresh oysters are sourced from various locales. If you are a fan of shrimp cocktail, you would be hard pressed to find a better example, with four deveined, tender jumbos presented over cracked ice, a moderately spicy horseradish cocktail sauce alongside. At the price and in this setting, I would have expected something more elaborate, however.
I defer to Tracy, my go-to snail critic, regarding baked escargot. (This is one of the few things I cannot eat.) She gave this rendition good marks, although not the highest.
I tasted the garlic and herb butter sauce, soaked up by tiny biscuits, along with champignon mushroom slices — downright luscious. On a future visit, I intend to order the escargot sans escargot.
One traditional feature of a brasserie is the plat du jour. Saturday’s lamb shank is wonderfully tender and deeply flavored, a product of long braising, extended with red wine reduction. Tuesday’s feature is coq au vin, a breast and leg surrounded by red wine reduction darkened with cocoa. The chicken itself is a simpler, lighter rendition than which I am accustomed. Both these are presented over mashed potatoes and carrots.
From the set menu, roasted chicken turned out to be, in Anna’s appraisal, “the best ever.” I agree. Abundant flavor, moist, tender texture.
Trout, sourced from Sunburst Trout Farm in the North Carolina mountains, is fresh and tender, enhanced in classic style with brown butter and toasted almonds, placed over jasmine rice with steamed bok choy. Pan-roasted salmon, from quality, sanitary, open pen farms, was cooked just as ordered, enhanced with dill mousse and borscht sauce, plated over sliced savoy cabbage, turnips and Yukon gold potatoes. The deep red sauce lends complexity of flavor as well as vibrant color.
Pappardelle pasta hosts braised lamb ragout, rapini and sheep’s milk feta cheese. Good, but a little disappointing — too much fat and skin remained on the lamb, the texture was dryish, and the overall flavor was just not as rich as some other local renditions of this perennial favorite.
Grilled pork chop is another winner, however, a challenge for the best, nearly an inch thick, perfectly trimmed, with excellent natural flavor. This is placed over white bean cassoulet, another personal favorite, flavored with ham hock, celery root and carrots, baked with a light bread crumb topping.
The menu promised mustard greens, but they were not included in my serving.
Flat iron steak is firm, appropriate for the cut, exhibiting solid depth of flavor, deepened with melted herb butter and a pan reduction with sherry and shallots. Hand-cut pommes frites burst with real potato flavor.
In addition to item-specific vegetables, some alternatives are offered. Haricot verts are al dente, dark green, thin beans, classic French. Mashed potatoes with lumps of potato burst with flavor in one serving, but they were thin and light on another. Fried Brussels sprouts bear light and crisp exterior leaves, al dente overall, accented with curry aioli — great!
Special menus are usually provided on holidays. I visited with friends on Thanksgiving, and Jerry ordered one of the specials — baked glazed ham, with haricot verts, mashed potatoes, curried deviled egg, mixed greens salad and apple pie. We rated this par for this sort of offering.
Two other desserts reflect the level of polish and expertise I would expect from a serious pastry chef. Opera cake alternates multiple layers of almond, coffee and butter cream with a chocolate glaze on the exterior. Crème caramel is rendered special by thyme-infused plums.
Service, while always competent, varied from one occasion to another. Deliveries may or may not go the proper position at the table. Pacing between courses was appropriate on some visits, delayed on others. The restaurant has been open for over a year, so I would have thought a more uniform system would have been in place, considering the level of investment and ambition this place otherwise indicates.
In Europe, the best restaurants are often housed in hotels. That is rarely the case in the U.S., but the Triad has become a leader in this regard.