Madison's (Old Edwards Inn) - Highlands, North Carolina
About five years ago, the Old Edwards Inn in Highlands was renovated, transformed into a four-star (or five-star or however many stars mean really, really fancy and) inn, resort and spa. In the course of this transformation from an old-timey inn on Main Street, they opened a fine dining restaurant, Madison's. In its first iteration it attempted (somewhat bizarrely, and without much grace) to borrow from molecular cuisine and also incorporate a set of rather bizarre flavor combinations. Different is not always better. Back then the restaurant was rather too taken with itself, and my first meal was not a success - quite the contrary with a check that suggested that the owners felt that the food was more sparkling that it was.
However, over the past two years, I have had several improved meals at Madison's, culminating with an excellent dinner last night. The chef de cuisine (at the restaurant for two years now and now in charge of the menu) is Chris Huerta, who worked with Guenter Seeger in Atlanta (at Seeger's, which, until it closed in 2006, was Atlanta's premier restaurant - Seeger is attempting to open a New York restaurant) and who was a stage at Per Se. Huerta is a serious young cook with a serious blog ("Chipped China"). My friends and I were very pleased with the style and assuredness our meal. In strictly culinary terms Madison's is - by some distance - the most accomplished restaurant in the area (go to On the Verandah for the view and good food). Madison's has a quite pretty space and in contrast to some area restaurants is light and airy and is relatively quiet. They also have an ideology of "Farm to Table Dining," which they are expanding - mostly vegetables and pork at this point.
I began with Huerta's Apple and Bacon Hushpuppies (ah! bacon!), which were the best hushpuppies I have ever eaten. Granted claiming that one found the world's best hushpuppies may be akin to picking low-hanging fruit, but they were delicious. A friend had a very creamy (and nicely composed) vidalia onion soup and another companion had a salad of Chilled Local Carolina Shrimp Salad, Florida Citrus, Winter Greens, and Vanilla Citrus Double Cream. Let us ignore the "local" shrimp as we are several hundred miles from the sea in the western Carolina mountains, but the Vanilla Citrus Double Cream was a very becoming complement to the fresh shrimp.
For entree I chose the compelling (although not visually remarkable - unless one likes a symphony of gray and brown) Braised Duck Leg, Celery Root Ravioli, and Stewed Hand Harvested Mushrooms with Natural Jus. It was a luscious combination with perfectly moist duck leg and properly cooked ravioli with its intriguing celery root stuffing. If not quite worth a photo, it was the most polished entree I have had in these mountains since the grand Frog and Owl closed fifteen years ago.
Dessert was an assured smooth vanilla-bean panna cotta with butterscotch sauce and crumbled espresso biscotti and a cornet of vanilla bean (I think) ice cream. Another appealing and modern presentation with a mix of flavors that were delightful, if not quite startling.
Madison's also has an extensive wine list and well-selected wines by the glass.
But for one who spends a month in the mountains each summer, Madison's poses a problem. Should every dinner out be a dinner at Madison's. Is everything else just slumming?
Old Edwards Inn
Fourth and Main Street
Highland, North Carolina
866-526-8008 or 828-526-8008
Seaport Food Lab: Wiley Dufrense
4 days ago