Sean Fowler’s Mandolin Restaurant Opening on Fairvew Road

Sean Fowler’s Mandolin Restaurant Opening on Fairvew Road

November, 22, 2011, by Khaner

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Sean Fowler’s earliest memories are of cooking outdoors with neighbors and family set to the tunes of Cash or Nelson. That intersection of Southern food, music and friends is at the heart of Fowler’s venture, Mandolin. Named after a symbolic blue grass instrument, Fowler likens the mandolin to what he’s trying to do as the chef/owner. “I think the mandolin exemplifies the Southern aspect of music, and is in a lot of ways, a humble instrument,” he said. “When done well, I think it certainly shines – not unlike the Southern food I’m trying to do.”

Opening this month (date is TBD) on the corner of Fairview and Oberlin near Raleigh’s Five Points district, Mandolin is Fowler’s flagship return to the Raleigh food scene.  A native to the City of Oaks, his undergrad took him out West where he started his culinary training at Johnson & Wales in Denver. 

Chef/Owner Sean FowlerIt was at the Alpenhof Lodge at Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he gained his first exposure to the farm to table philosophy, a mindset he also encountered after moving to New York and working at Le Bernardin, a Michelin Guide 3-star restaurant.  Missing North Carolina, Fowler returned home where for the past six and a half years he was with Chapel Hill’s Fearrington House Inn.

“With Mandolin, going back to the freshness of ingredients while getting away from the fine dining aspect is very important to us,” continued Fowler.  “We’re going to make it a bit more approachable and comfortable – bring a bit of refinement to Southern cuisine which can sometimes be seen as a little low brow.”

Sporting a full bar and hefty wine list, Fowler and crew think they have the answer for a spot that hasn’t fared too well for restaurants in the past (Manga and Evoo both closed their doors in the same space).  “I don’t think this location is cursed,” said Fowler.  “I think there have been issues with parking which we’ve addressed: We have access to Red Dragon’s parking lot and the lot behind Hungry Howies.  I think we’ll be serving a market that is ready for this fresh farm to table type of food, I personally love this location.”

Open six days a week (closed on Mondays), serving lunch Tuesday - Friday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday, Mandolin’s menu will have some staples, but will mostly change with what’s available during the season.

With all the pieces together and opening week around the corner, it appears Mandolin is primed for a long stay at Fowler’s childhood stomping grounds.

See Mandolin's website for more info.

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MandolinSean Fowler

  • bcb
    11/22 06:04 PM

    Menu looks promising albeit pricey.  I am hopeful quality and portion sizes are comensurate with $$.  If so, this place could give Frazier’s and Poole’s some serious competition.

  • KK
    11/23 10:16 AM

    Oh my, was not expecting that price point at all with the line “going back to the freshness of ingredients while getting away from the fine dining aspect.”  Looks like the only time I’ll be able to afford to try it is during lunch and I’m sadly nowhere near there at lunchtime :(

  • hayes-barton native
    11/23 11:15 AM

    My thoughts exactly, KK, seems a bit pricey for all the down-home language.  Menu sounds inviting, but prices would, I presume in this economy, put it out of the neighborhood/drop-in restaurant genre and make it more of a special occasion place.  Hope it makes it, though.  Another place to go is always welcome.  Maybe they should consider a toasted chicken salad sandwich with a 6-cent cherry coke as a lunch item in honor of the building they’re occupying.

  • tc
    11/23 11:37 AM

    After seeing the menu, in Raleigh, these prices are exactly what I expected?  Black truffle, foie gras, and it’s a similar price point to Pooles…I think they’re doing just fine. 

    Way I see it, if I go and get what I pay for, then the price is right on.  Plus they do have a bar menu that has lower price range items, which is always great to see, and for me, does make it a possibility for drop-in traffic. 

    I’m psyched to try this place, looks and sounds great.

  • ncmyk
    11/23 11:39 AM

    lack of parking was a significant factor in the closing of the other restaurants here - looks like they have at least realized the problem and addressed it.

    however, as packed as red dragon is at lunch time, i can’t believe they agreed to share their parking!

    the lunch menu here actually looks good and the prices aren’t too bad - except that adding cheese or bacon to your buger is going to cost an extra two bucks (wtf?) that seems a little excessive.

    i look forward to trying them out.

    11/23 01:38 PM

    I knew my idea of pimento cheese on pork rinds would catch on eventually.  Nothing is better.  NOTHING!

  • Steelcity36
    11/23 04:04 PM

    What is wrong with these prices? Isn’t the main competition Bloomsbury and Glenwood Grill? I think if you can’t charge these prices in Hayes Barton then Raleigh as a whole is doomed as far as good restaurants go. 

    Maybe if it doesn’t work out somebody could open something unique in this space like a chili bar!

  • sally
    11/23 06:57 PM

    Are you joking, Steelcity? Did you know there used to be a chili bar there?

  • ncmyk
    11/24 11:30 AM

    what’s wrong with the prices?  if you go to logan’s the difference between a burger and a cheeseburger is 25 cents.

    for two bucks it should be a whole block of cheese.

    maybe the main competition is right next door, which is alway has people standing outside the door to get in at lunch.

  • Alex
    11/27 06:57 PM

    I ate there with my wife on Wednesday. Though the service was working out some timing kinks, the food was delicious. I give it two thumbs up. It was pricy, but it was worth it. The Beef Tartar with quail eggs was fabulous, I loved the little kick of spice in the egg. The wine list is diverse and the cocktails are also interesting and tasty as well. I will be back again.. without a doubt.

  • bring back Johnson's
    11/28 10:24 AM

    Decor was cool.  He did a great job with the space.  went there for drinks and a quick bite to eat this weekend. wrong place for that.  They have almost no small plate options, besides small over-priced apps, and the bar menu stops at 5:30.  Menu looks great but at those prices I won’t be eating there that much.  I’d eat there all the time if the bar menu was full time.  Food was decent.  Service was awesome.

  • Bill M
    11/28 02:29 PM

    I went hoping to eat the bar menu and was disappointed to learn that it ends at 5:30.  Shouldn’t it start at 5:30?  2pm - 5:30 pm is just a late lunch menu.  Otherwise, the food was great.  The beef tartare with quail eggs was really great.  Food was awesome, service was decent - still learning, which I understand. I wish them well.

  • tc
    11/28 02:46 PM

    I went for a drink and bite to eat as well.  Had the tartare, oysters ‘mandolin’, and scallops.  All were absolutely delicious.  The only service hiccups were completely based on it being their first day (even first hour) open…as the staff was extremely attentive and friendly.  For the quality of food+service, I’ll pay those prices again and again.  Can’t wait to try a full dinner, brunch as well. 

    Hopefully at some point we might see the bar menu made available more regularly, even if at the bar only.  Between lunch and dinner is a tough time for me to make it, and those pork-on-pork nachos sound amazing. 

    For me, Mandolin is a more than welcome addition to the Raleigh restaurant scene.  Here’s hoping they’re here to stay.

  • Justin
    11/29 11:41 AM

    I hope they make it because the menu looks great, but I agree with comments above about pricing. Sure it may be “worth it,” but for a restaurant to survive more than a few months it needs repeat business. I’d be much more likely to go back again and again at a lower price point for “southern food.”

    Somewhere closer to NOFO’s pricing would make more sense.

  • KK
    11/29 11:46 AM

    “What is wrong with these prices?”

    There’s nothing wrong with the prices in and of themselves.  But when the owner is saying in interviews he wants to do farm to fork without the fine dining element, you’re not expecting $25/plate for dinner.  That, to me, is a price point that wades into fine dining territory.  Though I guess when your working experience is in places like Jackson Hole and NYC, these prices don’t seem expensive.

  • tc
    11/29 12:39 PM

    Why should they charge prices close to NOFO?  The ingredients/products/quality are nowhere near the same.  I think comparing to Pooles, Lantern, Watts Grocery, and even where he used to work, Fearrington House, makes much more sense in that regard. Poole’s is succeeding with those prices, why can’t Mandolin?  NOFO is more akin to Elmo’s or Porter’s. 

    Personally, I see the owner’s comments as more related to atmosphere+attitude, rather than pricing.  I guess I just don’t see the two as absolutely linked.  And….it seems he charged more while at Fearrington House.

  • Justin
    11/30 11:41 AM

    I’m doubting that a fine dining establishment will work in that location. I think it’s more likely to be a successful business if it becomes a neighborhood gem with repeat customers. It’s why retail stores have sales! Get people in the door.

    It can still be a great, innovative restaurant. Just skip the foie gras and truffles and trim the prices by 25%.

  • tc
    11/30 12:46 PM

    Out of curiosity, why would a restaurant with a higher price point not work in a location where it’s surrounded by one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Raleigh and just a stones throw from downtown? 

  • Justin
    11/30 02:45 PM


    Lots of restaurants have failed at that location, regardless of price point. Yes, it’s in an affluent neighborhood, but not in downtown or on a main thoroughfare. It misses out on walk-in business, particularly from travelers. There are hotels, for example, downtown, at North Hills or Crabtree.

    IMHO, I’m pessimistic that it will get the repeat business necessary to survive. I would definitely try it once, but then I might not go back for a year or more as I try other fine dining options for a few special occasions. But at a lower price point I might go multiple times per year.

    Even at lower prices, a restaurant will make more money if I visit 3-4 times a year, instead of just once.

  • watergirl23
    12/09 03:28 PM

    sounds like every other restaurant in raleigh… like i said all along, they should have thrown a small sports bar there with local beers, dart boards, pool tables, and bar food.  there is nothing quaint like that in that area (i lived there at cc home apts for 4 yrs and ended up at PR everytime i wanted a quick drink or game of pool).

  • watergirl23
    12/09 03:29 PM

    sounds like every other restaurant menu in/around downtown raleigh.  lame and pedestrian.  should have put in a sports bar with local beers, dart boards, and pool tables.

  • Raleigh Restaurant Girl
    12/14 09:04 PM

    So…tried Mandolin last night…overall, I think it has a great deal of potential.  But, that said, it has a long way to go…quite a few misfires from the kitchen.  The atmosphere is wonderful…simple, yet sophisticated…the menu is exciting…sets the stage for a fabulous meal.  Unfortunately, despite the fact there seemed to be a preponderance of servers/waitstaff…the execution was average.  It started with a salad of greens and root vegetables, that was about the size of my fist (and I have a small hand)...certainly not worth the $9 price…and it was underdressed to boot!  Another appetizer, which was tasty, but arrived at the table cool, was the fried oysters and pork belly…with a semi-soggy coating on the oysters.  Main course included a beet flavored pasta…which likely would have been delicious, but arrived at the table cool, and the pasta less than al dente; a dining companion had the pork ribs, which were spectacularly seasoned ie. delicious sauce, but tough.  Not surprisingly, the service was poor…it took forever to get each course, which is probably why many of the dishes arrived at the table lukewarm to cool! The word on the chicken and waffles was the fried chicken was “delicious”...but the waffles, “eh?!” So, overall, I give Mandolin a B minus…not so hot…but it is still early, and I am willing to give them another chance in a month or two…after they have had a chance to iron out the wrinkles.  They comped me for the lousy salad, which was a sign they care about putting out a high quality product…time will tell if they are able to produce a consistent, high quality product, which will match the high prices. If not, Mandolin will probably meet the same fate as the other failed restaurants previously in that space.

  • george
    02/20 06:47 PM

    All dishes arrived quite cool. The plates were cold, not even lukewarm. A place for people who like cold dishes.
    Can only imagine how delicous all the dishes would taste ...
    It is sad that bad performance in serving ruins such great dishes and creativity.

  • Yesenia
    03/12 11:58 PM

    Hey i got the menu app working ecrfpet and i modifed some menu items to open a window using orderFront:  action, that opens the window fine and i can see it and everything, but for some strange reason after you close that window, the program dies, this happening in the debugger.-ouput-Program received signal:  “EXC_BAD_ACCESS”.killquitIts something wrong with memory management, because when i uncheck release when closed on the inspector for that window it doesnt crash, but i dont want that window to save things people do i want it to close and forgot the stuff.

  • veggiesRus
    05/04 03:04 PM

    Oh, I’m SO glad someone finally thought of opening up a restaurant in Raleigh that features southern food!  What a novel idea!!!!!!!
    (if you don’t catch my sarcasm, check yer head.)

  • Veggiesrus
    05/04 03:06 PM

    Oh, I’m SO glad someone finally thought of opening up a restaurant in Raleigh that features southern food!  What a novel idea!!!!!!!

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