Jimmy V's Osteria & Bar in the Sheraton Hotel is a homage to Jim Valvano, the late and beloved N.C. State University basketball coach. Like his 1983 championship team, the new eatery is full of promise and prone to occasional missteps.
Dishes such as the grilled salmon in a maple mustard glaze hit nothing but net (or, considering the context, perhaps I should say it hits nothing but Lorenzo Charles' hands). The lobster macaroni and cheese moved my dining companion to raves of "unbelievable"—no mean feat considering she grew up in the home of a commercial seafood fisherman. The large plate of macaroni in a cheddar parmesan cream was topped with succulent pieces of lobster that had notes of sweetness. I'm a fan of the version served at nearby Bolt Bistro, but this dish is even better.
The Valvano Meatballs from the appetizer menu are hearty and invoke visions of a grandmother's preparation more than they do a chef's toque. The red sauce will prompt you to scoop it up with pieces from the table's bread basket – or perhaps that's just me. (To be fair to the aforementioned Bolt, I find its version of meatballs—more foodie than homemade in style—more appealing.)
For pizza, it's a challenge to choose from the ample selection of 10-inch, thin-crust pies: Duck confit (duck, figs, poached pear); Smoke & Fire (smoke gouda, chipotle peppers, chicken); or Goat Cheese (garlic, spinach, beets). I opted for the namesake Jimmy V's pizza, loaded with capicola, pepperoni, salami and mozzarella. The crust is satisfying and crispy; it tastes lighter than you would expect.
The Limoncello Cheesecake, with its bits of white chocolate and raspberry reduction, is the surest shot on the dessert menu. (Skip the tiramisu. It isn't bad, but there are better versions found locally.)
Speaking of limoncello, Jimmy V's house-made version hits like a rim-rattling slam dunk. According to one server, the restaurant uses Everclear in its creation. If you have bad memories of drinking Everclear, you can opt for one of several craft beers—bottled and on draft—as well as wine and cocktails.
Like a basketball team early in its season, Jimmy V's is still working to get some of the fundamentals down. A recent Sunday evening found the kitchen and the lone bartender overwhelmed by what a waitperson described as "an unexpected rush." This led to long waits for both food and drinks at times. In fact, desserts took so long to arrive that our server had them removed from the bill.
That was just one example of the floor staff's attentiveness. When I was seated at lunch, the hostess noticed a couple of magazines under my arm and offered to find the morning papers if I wanted reading material.
I would call a non-shooting foul on one server, though. After hearing that my dish was good, the server's response was an enthusiastic "Rockin!" That's acceptable at Wild Wings and Applebees, but out of place at a restaurant with several entrées in the $23–$29 range. (More than 2 percent of the restaurant's revenue is donated to the V Foundation, proceeds of which go toward cancer research.) It's a small thing, but it is indicative of the challenge in blending the personalities of a sports bar with a hotel restaurant's somewhat upscale menu.
Speaking of incongruities, while most of the artwork and photos are Valvano-related, one of the entrances is surrounded by a wall full of famous movie quotes. That in itself is fine, but at the top of the wall, one quote is an excerpt from Valvano's moving speech at the 1993 ESPYs. Seeing words that have such import to so many people displayed in conjunction with such exhortations as "Show me the money!" is jarring.
Valvano's 1983 team overcame injuries and regular-season losses to go on its improbable championship run. Given a little more time to establish its identity and work out a few kinks, Jimmy V's could easily go on an Elite 8 or Final Four run of its own.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Power forward."