Locally grown agricultural products were jettisoned from many menus around town during the recent economic troubles. But the close of 2010 brought the concept back. Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth is a spot-on beautiful facility adjacent to the Mint Museum that features "farm chic" cuisine. Owners Jill Marcus and Karen Teed, who also own Something Classic Catering, have devoted the space and the menu to nature.
Through Halcyon's glass front façade, diners catch glimpses of The Green and Niki de Saint Phalle's Firebird. From the bar, patrons can watch the kitchen or the Chihuly installation suspended over the Mint's stairwell. The interior of Halcyon is straight out of the Arts and Crafts movement: natural woods, stone, pottery. In other words, Halcyon is a push back from processed design. The dining room is small; in fact, with the patio, seating comes to 90. The ambiance is so relaxing, it can be jarring. But then the name Halcyon (Alcyon) is from Greek mythology and, to cut a long epic story short, is the reason the notoriously rough Greek seas become calm mid-January. Not surprisingly, this freedom of expression found a home in an art museum.
The natural outgrowth of this ambiance is a menu featuring local products — or as local as can be found here in the Carolinas. While proteins (animals) are not a problem, grains and fruit are. Thus, Executive Chef Marc Jacksina (formerly of Andrew Blair's, Lulu and Café Frappe) has designed his seasonal menus to take advantage of the vegetables, meats and cheeses from this region. The small menu — divided into grazing, brunch, lunch and dinner — is deliciously large in invention.
Order the winter salad and there will be nary a green in sight. Instead, parsnips languish on a carrot purée sided by thinly sliced beets "carpaccio" and trendy Brussels sprout petals.
In addition to a sensational French onion soup, a stuffed quail had my dining companion uncharacteristically quiet. A mushroom starter in a melt of chevre nestled in crêpes proved to be a hardy rendition of familiar fare. Densely rich beef short ribs arrived with luminous root vegetable hash while the smoke of the grill perfumed the asparagus beneath a marvelous salmon special.
For desserts, the apple brown Betty was warm and sweet, but the coffee and doughnuts — beignets and pot de crème — was over the top.
Entrées range from $18 to $25, but some specials push into the pre-2008 $30-plus range.
I could quibble with a too-brief wine list, but I won't. Also, the staff is still green — and not in the environmental way. But the kitchen works hard. In fact, the best seat is at the chef's bar. Sous chef Brett Levan, formerly of The Liberty, goes at a fast clip. The kitchen's professionalism will make you smile.
"You know, I can see the old Radcliffe from here," Jacksina wryly noted, mentioning a former restaurant which had been obsessively dedicated to local products. But Jacksina realizes flexibility can make a great restaurant even better. After all, durable restaurants are forged of pride, passion and plasticity. Halcyon has all that — only greener.