Tucked into a cabin-inspired, upscale shopping center a couple of miles from downtown Rutherfordton, The Water Oak Restaurant is a fresh breeze of seafoam-green walls, white linens, and blond pine floors.
Guests can dine indoors with a view of a grassy field, or in the courtyard under a canopy of water oaks.
The restaurant showcases the talent of Bryan and Shara Kilby, both graduates of the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College culinary program. The husband and wife have cultivated a light and creative lunch selection, and a dinner menu noted for aged steaks and exceptional risottos.
Bryan composes the entrées, while Shara shows off her pastry talents with tall, fluffy cakes and other desserts.
On the evening we visit, many diners are enjoying the surf-and-turf special—classically prepared filet mignon and lobster—and bottle after bottle of red wine. But we opt for a starter of buttermilk-battered calamari and entrées of lamb and seafood risotto for a meal of comfort parlayed with elegant twists.
A refreshing Finley Fizz, made with sweet tea-flavored vodka, lemonade, and soda, is a bright contrast to the calamari served with fresh marinara. A delicate four-bone rack of herb-encrusted lamb chops in a tangy mustard sauce hits the medium-rare mark perfectly. We alternate with bites of mashed potatoes and rainbow Swiss chard, which has a smoky grilled flavor.
A colorful plate of oh-so-creamy lobster risotto with an orange butter sauce contains succulent chunks of sweet lobster and is topped with four plump, seared-to-golden scallops. The fruit sorbet and slices of cake we see arriving at other tables are tempting, but we select a lemon tart with fresh berries and a buttery shortbread crust that almost outshines the curd.
I’m certain aged steaks, copious glasses of complex Burgundies, and perhaps a spiced carrot cake will lure us back soon.
The Water Oak Restaurant
205 Fashion Cr., Rutherfordton
$$$; (828) 287-2932