Thursday, February 5, 2015

Chef Travis Robinson takes G2B upscale

There's no surprise in stating the G2B Gastropub in Durham is a terrific restaurant. But the place, curiously located on the backside of an office building on Shannon Road, has been through a lot of change in recent months.
It started last summer, when the popular eatery briefly closed for a makeover to install a nanobrewery. Longtime Executive Chef Carrie Schlieffer was excited about the opportunities this created for entirely house-made beer pairings.

G2B Executive Chef Travis Robinson
Then, in fall, Travis Robinson quietly joined G2B kitchen. By December, Schieffer departed to open Bar Virgile for Chef-Entrepreneur Scott Howard and the restaurant's new public relations team announced G2B's "reopening" with Robinson as executive chef.

It's enough intrigue for a soap opera, but the good news is that all is well on all fronts. Schlieffer is happy at her gig, and Robinson has injected a new energy at G2B, which has boosted its pub-focused menu to feature elegant, upscale courses and stunning desserts.

Tim and I enjoyed a recent dinner as Robinson's guests. It's hard to imagine that the food or service is any less exceptional for those who make their own arrangements - which we heartily recommend.

We dined on a week night, choosing to be seated on the "restaurant" side, which delivers a more elaborate menu from the "pub" side, which now features bar-height tables and chairs. (The pub menu also has been tweaked, but popular demand recently returned G2B's outstanding burger to the list.) With the exception of a cluster of angular red leather clubs chairs, the space otherwise flows one to the next with the focus still squarely on action in the open kitchen.

We started with one of G2B's new beers, the appealingly crisp and wintery Rye Amber ($4) served in gorgeous stemware said to enhance the aroma. Other options available that day from Brewer Andrew Christenbury, offered in generous samples, included a creamy porter and hoppy IPA. Ever the good neighbor, G2B maintains its commitment to pouring other North Carolina craft beers.

Our drinks arrived with a pair of savory gougeres tucked into a tiny tin bucket and warm, butter-brushed herb rolls. This was followed later by a curious amuse bouche, chewy cocoa macaroons sealed with mild bone marrow butter.

Among the tempting appetizers we chose the Spanish Octopus ($12), in which perfectly charred chunks were served with earthy cranberry beans, piquillo pepper and the citrus zing of kumquats. We also ordered a pair of fresh Chadwick Creek oysters ($2 each) with a light Asian pear mignonette. They were tasty, but not nearly so good as the lightly tart and more imaginative wild elberberry garnish recommended by our server.

Our dinners were beautifully presented, though my Flat Iron Steak ($25) from Mill's Family Farm in Mooresville was the winner over Tim's coastal-caught Golden NC Tilefish ($24). The steak was rare for my taste (surprisingly, I was not asked about preference), but it was both tender and robustly beefy. It was served atop a pillowy, pale green puree of parsley root with grilled bok choy and delicate mushrooms.

The seared tilefish was a bit bland but surrounded by savory and perfectly cooked parsnip and lion's mane mushrooms in a soupcon of roasted vegetable dashi broth.

Pastry Chef Deric McGuffey appeared unannounced with a series of four showstopper desserts ($10 each). Each assembled seasonal and top local ingredients in deconstructed precision.

The Roasted Sweet Potato Bavarian was enrobed in a spiced red wine-yuzu geee and mind-blowing bits of candied salsify. Even better was the Confit Pineapple, in which a coconut custard - topped with caramelized white chocolate and passion fruit glaze - was flanked with wafer-thin slices of pressed pineapple. What really made the combination sing was the dusting of pink peppercorn that garnished the plate. Tim, who likes neither pineapple nor coconut, was reluctant to share.

The next two offerings were equally dazzling. The Espresso Parfait cleverly paired creamy a frozen mousse banded by a coffee gelee with bites of date cake and a crunchy haystack of shredded phyllo. The Warm Guanaja Chocolate was perhaps the most artful of the treats, with a fermented, almost boozy soft chocolate tart joined by bites of almond terrine, malted milk dots, devil's food cake and roasted banana ice cream tucked under delicate leaves of dehydrated chocolate.

It takes a light touch to make all that come together, and a playful spirit to follow it with a yet another sweet - a parting gift of small minted chocolate truffles rolled in crushed nuts. Combined, it's impossible to leave without thinking about when you'll next return.

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