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Venue Review: Halcyon

Have a Halcyon day, or night
By "Helen Schwab"

To bask in Charlotte's relatively newfound Uptown Metropolitan Cool, the single best seat in town is at Halcyon.

Specifically: One of the subtly patterned upholstered dining chairs.

Facing twinkling Tryon Street, overlooking the cascade of stairs down to street level and The Green. At night.

That's as opposed to cool-but-less-comfortable seating by the entry, or cool-and-comfortable but facing-away-from-the-view barstools. Or a seat with your back to Tryon. Or lunch.

Those are fine, mind you, but not the apex, the part where you calmly marvel at the beauty that is your growing-up city - preferably as you sip a clever cocktail, the choices of which are remarkable.

You're amidst a setting that juxtaposes earthiness against that urban view: dramatically arboreal light fixtures; glossy, rough-edged wood tables; wrought utensils, egg-shaped shakers, egg-colored plates (robin's, that is), water bubbling gently in a central table fountain of stone and servers swirling swiftly, quietly, competently about you.

When chef Marc Jacksina's food is right, the whole is ... yeah, I'll say it: an organic experience.

Nutty, rich risotto made with heritage rice from Anson Mills and roasted mushrooms. A few perfectly fried oysters over deconstructed Brussels sprouts, with root vegetables, country ham vinaigrette and Tabasco hollandaise. A behemoth of a pork chop with thyme brioche bread pudding. "Doughnuts and Coffee," the Thomas-Keller-esque dessert of cinnamon-sugared beignets with chocolate pot de crème and raspberry sauce.

When it's not - like overcooked grouper with half its accompanying tiny clams unopened, or overwarmed bread turned toast, or an inconsistent lamb livermush - it's still pretty. And staff hastens to fix or replace anything amiss.

I'd say the difficulties are in execution, not conception. Jacksina has the right ideas on flavor combinations for this Arts and Crafts-styled location that's more craft than art: Lush, earthy - more sensual than surprising.

But craft requires precision.

Sometimes the menu at this Something Classic family member (recently joined by fun Fern) just needs to be clearer. Lamb ribs are Denver ribs, not chops, and not the kind of country pork rib that's incredibly meaty. I've heard people say they weren't what they expected. (Note to staff: Repeating that they're Denver ribs doesn't help the unknowing.) Slow-cooked and glazed with cumin, lemon and honey, they emerge tasty and lush - but if you're thinking meaty ribs, you'll pout.

The menu makes smart, consistent use of what's in season - the lineup is slated to change significantly in the next two weeks - and Jacksina says he's working with recently added chef Jamie Swofford (Brett Levan is also in the kitchen) on developing a plot on his Cleveland County farm especially for the restaurant. Mixologist Maggie Ruppert also follows the seasons, brilliantly.

A muted, ethereal Harriet Goode painting of Halcyon, the woman who in Greek myth became a bird (a convoluted story, even for myth), hangs in the restaurant. The story's essence defines halcyon as tranquil and protected, and halcyon days came to be known as the calm for two weeks around the winter solstice.

That's Dec. 22 this year. Bask.

Reviews & Comments
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12/9/11 - The Charlotte Observer - Helen Schwab

Sensual food in a beautifully crafted uptown space

(Full review)
Dec 30, 2011 - DarnYankie2
Pretentious, Vapid and Pathetic --and ludicrously priced to boot.

Halcyon means idyllic, a return to an earlier time. How about if the owners of Halcyon (and Helen herself) return to the drawing board. Are they joking? There is nothing “Farm House Chic” about this place. How about vapid, vacuous and pretentious. “Roasted Local Heritage Breast. NC Sweet Potato Waffle House-Crafted Chicken Sausage. Pepper Gravy. Local Greens” or “House-Ground NC Short Rib, Chuck & Ribeye Black Pepper Aioli. Green Tomato Chow Chow Local Cheddar. Leaf Lettuces With House-Cut Fries - With Dressed Local Greens” -—this isn’t a menu description, this is a laundry list.

I have lived and dined all over the world and this restaurant is a joke.
Oh, and by the way, if you work there, how about greeting the table in under 2 minutes instead of us wondering if it was self-serve for more than 10 minutes. And pedantically repeating the menu to me doesn’t wet my appetite or help me choose.

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