Modern dining in wooded North Carolina

24 Tables

Herons at North Carolina’s Raleigh-area The Umstead Hotel and Spa offers an extraordinary culinary journey incorporating the hotel’s themes of art, nature and wellness. With its own organic garden nearby, the culinary team, under the leadership of executive chef Steven D. Greene, curates top-quality ingredients for a fine-dining experience that’s rare in this neck of the woods.

A passion for locally grown fruits and vegetables and farm-fresh meats and seafood is evident in the often-flawless fare. Fresh flavors, surprising combinations, and eye-catching presentations are the hallmarks of dining the experience here.

The Vibe

The Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. The intimate 98-seat dining room features a full-view kitchen, original artwork and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the wooded grounds. Terrace dining is a lovely option in the spring, summer and fall.

Jackets are not required for dinner, but this is not a casual dining experience. The dining rooms is elegant and hushed with a open, soundproof kitchen that often mesmerizes guests as they watch Heron’s culinary masters in action.

A stellar wine list features more than 1,600 wines; craft beer and signature cocktails are available, too.

The Food

Choose a three- or four-course meal, or opt for the chef’s signature eight-course kaiseki dinner. Each course showcases Herons’ style of food in an intricate and artful form and creatively puts a regional spin on American cuisine. When ordering the kaiseki experience, the culinary team will delight your senses through an evening of artistic surprises.

Expect dishes like squab with maple, parsnips, black barley risotto, sesame and red currant jus; venison with cocoa dust, smoked vanilla-peanut relish, beets, celery root and hibiscus; or duck with broccoli, farro, sweet potato, pistachio, wild coriander and blood orange.

Much of Herons' produce is sourced from the sustainable culinary farm on the campus of tech company SAS, less than a mile from the restaurant, where Greene and chef de cuisine John Childers work with the farmer to grow organic micro-greens and fruit.

Ordering dessert is a responsibility at Herons. Recent examples of pastry chef Evan Sheridan’s whimsical decadences include a winter pear dish with hazelnuts, parsnip cream, dehydrated chocolate and maple-parsnip ice cream, and a Videri dark chocolate ganache with pistachios and smoked milk chocolate ice cream.

Breakfast and lunch, too, are worth exploring. Morning meals consists of gourmet versions of much-loved standards like the crab cake Benedict made with blue crab and country ham. Come lunchtime, opt for sophisticated dishes like cauliflower soup with smoked trout and brown butter, and roasted chicken served with rosemary polenta and pearl onions.

The Bar and Lounge

The Bar and Lounge is a local favorite and it’s not difficult to see why — you can dine on the cuisine of chef Greene in a more casual form than Herons, overlooking the hotel’s curated art collection. A favorite spot for diners in the lounge is near the hotel’s fireplace or on the terrace by the outdoor fireplace.

Some of the same items you see on the Herons menu you can also see on the bar menu, plus a fine selection of sandwiches. One can never go wrong the Umstead burger, served with vine-ripened tomatoes, pickles, cheese and fries.

The bar itself crafts culinary-inspired cocktails that offer a unique taste that incorporates the season's best flavors — we like autumn’s Apple drink, made with whiskey, apple, cinnamon, lime, orange and bitters.