Since it opened near the burgeoning North Person district last fall, Stanbury has established itself as one of Raleigh's most successful neighborhood eateries. Reservations are a must, even on weeknights, if you want to be part of the crowd that can boast having worked its way through Chef Drew Maykuth's ambitious and constantly evolving assortment of small plates.
There are large plates, too, for those not interested in a vast gastronomic tour. On a recent Thursday, offerings included a gigantic pork chop nestled in spaetzle, sauerkraut and Riesling cream ($25) and tagliatelle with broccoli raabe topped with toasted chili, hazelnut and pecorino bread crumbs ($16).
But for adventurous dining, Stanbury's small plates are the way to go. Most options range between $7 and $12. Start with a pair for nibbles with cocktails or choose several to construct a memorable meal.
Between two visits, we enjoyed more than a dozen small plates, most of which were exceptional in their featured ingredients and artful presentation. One was merely delicious, and one, surprisingly, was a dud.
Among the best was the lamb belly served with cabbage and pozole-flavored blue corn grits from Anson Mills ($12). Leaner and meatier than pork belly, the generous portion was garnished with crisp radishes for a potent contrast of flavors and textures.
The steak tartare offered another delight and was perhaps the best example of the raw dish we've ever tried ($13). Infused with spicy nuoc cham vinaigrette, which left a teasing buzz on the tongue, it was showered with crunchy peanuts and minced mint, Thai basil and cilantro. Airy crab chips were the perfect for scooping up each rich morsel.
The roasted marrow is another elegant, indulgent option ($13). The presentation of the large bone may evoke Fred Flintstone, but the creamy marrow and piquant capers are more Wilma with stone pearls. The crispy pig head may disappoint those hoping for a face-to-face experience, but the minced pork patty has become one of Maykuth's most popular dishs ($12). It's served with tender Sea Island peas and topped with the golden ooze of a poached duck egg.
The smoked quail arrived on a bed of collards and cubes of rutabaga brushed with an apricot-chipotle glaze ($12). The splayed bird split easily for sharing and provided a satisfyingly primal experience.
One fish dish we tried, North Carolina swordfish crudo, was a disappointment. The thin slices of raw flesh looked like (and had about as much flavor as) steamed potato. Nevertheless, the citrus emulsion artfully smeared on the bowl, lightly seasoned with tarragon, truly was finger-licking good.
While not a mecca for vegetarian fare, Stanbury does include a few standout vegetable dishes. Glistening chunks of roasted beets adorned with citrus, chopped hazelnuts, mint and a dollop of creamy quark were fabulous ($7).
We finished with a cheese plate. The options were a 5-year-old Gouda from Holland; the Spanish Idiazabel, made from raw milk; and creamy Point Reyes blue cheese from California ($4 each). The contrasts and accompaniments of marcona almonds, chunky fig compote and toasts were pleasing, though the Gouda was bland.
Stanbury collaborates with its neighbor, Escazu Artisan Chocolates, for desserts, but none was offered this night. Instead, the check arrived with two dark squares of Escazu chocolate, a luscious way to cap off the meal.
A few quibbles: Service can be spotty. We were served our first course without utensils, and fresh plates were not offered between most courses, even when littered with quail bones. If you go on a cold night, avoid sitting by the drafty roll-up glass window.
However, the overall experience of an evening at Stanbury is equal to Chef Maykuth's established reputation for creative fare. Just remember that this sense of spontaneity doesn't apply to showing up without reservations.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Spinning plates, large and small."