Small plates, romance at Undercurrent

by Brian Clarey

Between skipping breakfast, shoveling down sandwiches at my desk, slurping noodles over the kitchen sink and mindlessly noshing in front of the TV — I mean just shoveling in snacks like a tender loading coal into one of those old-timey locomotives — sometimes I forget what a meal is supposed to be. A meal should be more than just the consumption of calories. Each meal should be a celebration: of the bounty that nourishes us, and the people with whom we share it. I occasionally remind myself — and my wife — of this with a trip to a real restaurant, with silverware and cloth napkins, a chef and serious kitchen help, where your server just keeps on refilling your water glass even when you don’t ask him to and there is no all-you-can-eat option on the menu. So we locked down a sitter and made for the lights of downtown Greensboro, such as they are on a Tuesday night, and a meal at Undercurrent.

If you haven’t seen Undercurrent’s new location in the downtown section of Battleground Avenue, then you haven’t been there since November 2006. This new spot, in the shadow of the ballpark, is much bigger than the original location. Fully a third of the floor space goes to an elegant barroom with wing-back chairs and windows on the street. Natural light infuses the dining room before dusk, making shadows among anta columns, lending a sense of drama to the classical sculpture and canvasses. An open-kitchen design keeps things busy and in-line. It was a Tuesday night, so the room was thin: some scattered two- and four-tops, a large party at a banquet table and a round table of men each trying to out-order the other. For us the choice was simple: a bottle of Seghesio 2007 Zinfandel, a few courses off the tasting menu and a couple shared hours in a hectic weekday schedule. Undercurrent boasts a fine menu of seafood, steaks, chops and poultry, but our thinking was volume and variety. Undercurrent has been teasing my inbox with releases about the tasting menu: three courses at prix fixe for $25 or a la carte at $4, $8 and $13 apiece, sort of a recession concession that spares nothing in quality and taste. For instance, a salad of greens with chevre, strawberries and balsamic vinegar made a fine first course. And because we had trouble deciding on a second course, we ordered all three. Rare medallions of ahi tuna sat atop a cold summer roll with soy syrup and pureed peas for a balanced combination of flavors. A duck breast held magnificent smoke flavor against pecans and a dark fruit sauce. And most interestingly, wholewheat flatbread conspired with herb-dusted bleu cheese, figs and chunky, sweet mustard to summon ancient, musky flavors that really worked well with the zinfandel. For a third course, I chose the evenings special appetizer: a seafood medley consisting of two beautifully grilled shrimp with saut’ed fennel and a saffron emulsion, more rare tuna medallions atop an arc of grilled pineapple and a section of tempura-fried avocado, and a quarter of soft-shell crab, succulent, corn fried atop a mango-corn relish. My wife took the special trout, a filet wrapped around sun-dried tomatoes and a light couscous. We didn’t share. We did need to add some closure to the meal, which we usually like to do with chocolate. So we made do with a chocolate pate, which consisted of two dense and velvety chocolate slabs with mint leaf and blanched lychee. And at our server’s suggestion we sampled a black-andwhite sponge cake saturated with caramel and cream. It was the right thing to do. It will likely be weeks before we can once again show dinner the respect it should properly be accorded. And there will likely be a lot of pizza and mac and cheese between now and then.

Cornmeal-dusted trout surrounds sun-dried tomatoes.

Undercurrentsmokes its own duck breasts in house. This one is sliced atop greensand graced with a dark fruit sauce. ABOVE: Tuna medallions — rare, ofcourse — with a soy reduction and cold spring roll. The green stuff ispureed peas. (photos by Brian Clarey)

Undercurrent Restaurant 327 Battleground Ave, Greensboro NC 336.370.1266

Undercurrent Restaurant 327 Battleground Ave, Greensboro NC 336.370.1266