When a new dining experience is so outstanding, the only thing possibly wrong is a too-skinny fork, well, it’s safe to assume it was a damn good meal. I can’t stress this enough: Dram Yard’s thoughtful, progressive fare has breathed new life into Wilmington’s culinary landscape. Rather than sticking to an overplayed concept of small shareables, the menu is a large-plate, family-style global expression of unsubtle masterpieces.
Being in the Wilmington food scene, I’m familiar with the area’s most notable chefs. That being said, when I bit into my first airy tuft of za’atar-dusted focaccia, I looked at my server (face glistening from glee and fruity olive oil) and demanded, “Who the hell is this chef?”
Somehow, the name “Kat Myhand” didn’t ring any bells. In doing some digging, I learned she had a hand in a few local kitchens (Reel Café, Elijah’s and several grocery markets). As far as I know, this is Myhand’s first Wilmington venture where she’s leading the helm. Again, I could be completely off. I just can’t imagine Wilmington has truly experienced her food in this form before. Because it would be memorable.
On a Thursday evening, a table for four was a 30-minute wait. I was thrilled Dram Yard already had gotten some air under its wings. While we waited, we sat outside in the restaurant’s courtyard (near the soon-to-be-open gazebo bar, located near their newly opened boutique hotel, ARRIVE).
Swanky cocktails were sipped aplenty, including the Bourbon Smash—a sweet, slightly tart play on an Old Fashioned with a fresh sprig of mint. Then I made my way to the Lavender Paloma—a citrusy blend of fresh grapefruit, tequila and floral lavender. I adored the dried flower garnish, but could see how some folks might not be fond of getting the potent pieces on their tongue. A friend ordered a gorgeous violet little number served in a highball glass. It was lovely, light and crisp.
Other than being a tad on the sweet side, every drink was well-balanced and super sippable. While they could easily get away with charging $14 a drink, Dram Yard has each libation reasonably priced around $10 to $12.
I won’t go too deep into the décor because we’re here to talk about food, but between the painted palm fronds that line the ceiling, intricate wiry décor (ask your server for the tale of Topsy the Elephant), rustic exposed brick walls, and vintage tiling, no detail at Dram is left untouched. Every square inch is graciously designed.
Undoubtedly, the best bread I’ve ever eaten in my life is Dram Yard’s “Focaccia.” It’s an ambrosial work of art. Ironically, the components are fairly straightforward; they all just happen to be flawless. Let’s start from the bottom up: On the base of the plate is a gleaming pool of fruity olive oil scattered with za’atar (a supremely aromatic Middle Eastern blend of thyme, toasted sesame seeds and the like). On top is an elongated brick of the most ethereal focaccia I’ve ever tasted. Each long side of the rectangular loaf was griddled on the plancha (a Spanish flat-top) to create a crisp, toasted texture to balance the fluffy interior. Every element was an education on texture. For the finale, flaky sea salt gave each bite a crunch. I will never look at bread the same.
Similarly, potatoes also now hold a special new place in my heart. When we asked our server Brandon (props to you, sir, for making our dinner even more of a memorable experience than it already was) for his other favorite “side,” he suggested the Pommes Fondant. He was not wrong. He described the cooking technique to us, and even as someone who’s well-versed in the kitchen, I was in awe of every step. The dish consists of four potatoes (likely Yukon golds peeled and in their purest form) in an otherworldly broth. The savory sauce was a seductive medley of nutty roasted garlic, lemony thyme and clarified butter. Every bite melts on the tongue.
The Market Fish of the evening was grouper, but I’m inclined to say it tasted more like sweet, silky lobster. I was convinced at this point in the meal everything Chef Kat touches turns to gold. By gold, I mean butter.
The presentation is three generous morsels of grouper, cloaked in a sweetly tart Meyer lemon coulis, with briny fried capers. Parsley oil brought a verdant freshness to the fish’s buttery consistency and the capers were bold little bursts of salt.
So far, everything I’ve described detailing Dram Yard has probably made you think this restaurant is as classy as it gets. While the restaurant is wildly tasteful, it’s not so chic you can’t exchange an enormous, fried pork handle with your friends. Seriously. The Tomahawk Pork Schnitzel is something of a marvel. The golden monstrosity comes with citrus and fresh parsley (which my dinner companions immediately flicked off to get straight to the source). The bright, acidic lemon breaks through the warm, crackly breading and every mouthful is a meaty taste full. Pick this behemoth up by hand and “chomp, chomp, pass” it with your pals, or it’s just not dinner done right.
I left feeling blown away by every single second at Dram Yard. I guarantee everyone else will, too.
Chef Kat, where have you been all my life?