Date Night: Second Empire

Since its Restaurant Week here in the Triangle we will provide reviews of places nicer than our usual sports bars. Reviews by sports guys for sports people.

Every significant other appreciates a good date night. Fortunately, the greater RDU area is home to a lot of really good restaurants. I’m especially fond of a lot of the unique, locally owned places over in Durham.

But one place in Raleigh that I’ve been wanting to try for years is Second Empire. Touted as “Raleigh’s Most Romantic Restaurant,” it’s supposed to be one of the best date spots around. Especially if you’re looking for a baller dinner.

Another reason I’ve been wanting to try it is local radio host and personal hero Steve Logan says it’s as good as any restaurant he’s eaten at anywhere. I’m sure you’ve heard the ads. In addition to taking BC to back-to-back ACC title games as OC and turning Matt Ryan into a top three draft pick, he’s also a cultural aficionado. He loves good wine, food and music. I trust his judgment.

My wife and I are expecting a baby boy in April, so date nights will start becoming few and far between. So we kept an eye on OpenTable and found a reservation.

Keep in mind, it can be tough to get in there on the weekends or special occasions/holidays (like Valentine’s Day).  There are actually two restaurants within the restaurant. There’s the main dining room upstairs, which is a little fancier, and a tavern downstairs, which is a little more casual.

My wife and I ate in the main dining room because, why not? The tavern is supposed to be awesome as well — I really liked the menu — but we decided to go all out.

If you’re unfamiliar with Second Empire, it’s located in this really cool, old Victorian house that is randomly on Hillsborough Street. There’s limited parking behind the restaurant. However, there is a pay lot across the street in front of Taverna Agora (which is another one of my favorite spots). The Passport Parking app is starting to take off around here and makes things easier. Or just take an Uber so you can slug a few martinis and not worry about it.

The service was outstanding. They have it down to a science. You have a primary waiter plus a backup. Since the dining room isn’t that big, it’s very attentive.

I was most surprised about how reasonably priced the menu was. When you see the atmosphere and all of the awards on the wall when you walk in, you’re expecting to pony up some dough. But the prices were actually in line — or less than — a lot of higher end restaurants around. It was less expensive than a Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s. Appetizers ranged from $11-$16 and entrees top out at $38 (keep in mind the menu changes).

First test of a good restaurant — can you make a good martini? There’s not a lot to a martini, but it’s easy to screw up if the balance of the ingredients are out of whack. They passed with flying colors. One of the best I’ve had.

The food? Outstanding. It’s really good without being overly pretentious. I had a crabmeat phyllo package for an appetizer and my wife had a lentil soup that were both delicious.

For the entree, I had the grilled yellowtail ahi tuna. It was perfectly rare and came with these awesome curry potatoes. I cleaned my plate in no time. Cara has a ribeye special that was really good.

I’m not a big dessert fan — I’m rarely impressed or excited by a dessert menu. But this was the first time where I actually would have eaten everything on the menu. We ended up splitting the key lime pie, which was a good choice.

All in all, it was a great night. If you’re looking for a romantic spot and don’t mind spending a little coin, Second Empire is second to none.