Restaurant Reviews

Durham | Chapel Hill | Raleigh | Carrboro | Cary and Morrisville | Beyond the Triangle

Durham

Chamas Brazilian Steakhouse

Reviewed on December 14, 2004

Chamas Brazilian Steakhouse is fun, different, and apparently (I am told) authentically Brasilian. For $30, there's a buffet of salads, cheeses, vegetables, etc. to start, and then--when you're ready for the meat--you flip a round tag green-side-up and servers start coming to your table with spits of roasted meats. There are many different cuts of beef prepared in various ways, lamb, pork, poultry, and fish. The servers, in what I imagine are traditional costumes, cut the pieces you wish, and you then use tongs to pull the slices from the spit onto your plate. You can eat all you want as the servers periodically keep coming round and offering more. (When you're sated, just flip the tag red-side-up, and the servers won't both you; unless, of course, you subsequently flip the tag green-side-up again, in which case they'll start coming back with more.)

The combination of quantity and festive atmosphere more than offsets the inconsistent food quality, though some of the meats are quite good. When we went with friends the top-round and lamb were very good, the skirt steak and chicken also good. The fish was dreadful, but hey--it's really a meat place! And once you find things you like, you can pile your plate high. They also provide complimentary fried bananas (excellent) and mashed potatoes.

Dessert, in the highly unlikely event you have room, is an extra charge, and the selections look nice. Alternatively, for no extra charge, you can go back to the buffet and have cheeses and bread.

Chamas is located in Brightleaf Square, in the restored-warehouse space formerly occupied by Brightleaf 905 (and before that, by Fowlers). The phone is 682-1309. It's definitely worth trying at least once.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Four Square Restaurant

Reviewed on December 20, 1999

Some of you may have seen the four star writeup of Four Square Restaurant in Friday's "What's Up" supplement to the News & Observer. Its food was described as "among the very best in the Triangle" and its atmosphere as "formally elegant." What's more, it's relatively close to the Duke campus (2701 Chapel Hill Road, the old Bartlett Mangum House; tel. 401-9877).

There's little I would add except to say that the food quality, in my experience (and that of some of our other colleagues), can be a bit uneven. It's not quite Magnolia Grill. But when it's great, it's truly superb.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Orient Garden

Reviewed on November 25, 2001

We've eaten three times at "Orient Garden," a relatively new Chinese restaurant in Durham, and have had exceptionally good meals each time. Although small, the restaurant is reasonably attractive with a large tiled decoration of a dragon on one wall. The menu is standard but they will make you special dishes on request.

This restaurant does not have quite the depth of Peking Garden in Raleigh, our favorite in the Triangle, but it's very good and a lot closer. The address is 202 W. Highway 54 ("South Point Crossing" Shopping Center, next to Kroger) in Durham, tel. 806-3333.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Papas Grille

Reviewed on February 20, 2006

For those who haven't recently been to Papas Grille (in the Loehman's Plaza shopping area on Hillandale Road, close to Rt. 85), it's really gotten quite excellent. This is a classic (and classy) family-run restaurant. Sam Papanikas is the executive chef, his brother Chris is the general manager and maitre d', and their parents (Glen and Angelika Papanikas) are the owners. Sam is turning out some wonderful dishes, including a truly superb "confit" of salmon and an excellent roasted lamb; and all of the traditional Greek dishes (the family being of Greek ancestry and the restaurant itself describing its food as "Hellenic and Mediterranean Rim") are also first rate. The restaurant's atmosphere is sophisticated but, at the same time, almost homey, making Papas Grille a very pleasant dining experience. Prices, too, are reasonable for the quality, though certainly not cheap. My only complaint is that the wine list, which otherwise is quite good, does not list vintages.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Sitar India Palace

Reviewed on September 19, 2005

Easily the finest Indian restaurant in Durham, and arguably the best in the Triangle, Sitar India Palace is located in the Regency Plaza strip-mall off Shannon Road, near 15-501 (tel. 490-1326). With one important exception (discussed below), this restaurant has been consistently good for some years, and recently has gotten even better. It's also been expanded and renovated, and now has two attractively furnished rooms so there's usually plenty of room. Prices are relatively modest, especially given the quality. The buffet is an exceptional bargain, around $15 for a broad range of delicacies, including wonderful desserts. Be forewarned, though, that there is an important exception to this restaurant's quality: the Tandoori-oven cooked meats are often served overcooked and dry. This occurs even when I warn against it. Oh well, at least the non-Tandoori items are excellent.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Tonali Cocina Mexicana

Reviewed on August 28, 2007

TONALI Cocina Mexicana is a much lower key but still somewhat sophisticated analog to Jibarra in Raleigh. It's family run (Andre Macias is the chef and owner), modestly priced, with tasty innovative food. It's also much closer to home (3642 Shannon Road, Suite 1, in Durham, 489-8000).

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Tosca Restaurant

[Note from December 16, 2011: Tosca is under new management with a new name, and I haven’t yet been there. -Prof. Steven Schwarcz]

Reviewed on July 20, 2004

Tosca has become, we think, consistently good for sophisticated Italian/Continental cuisine in a terrific brick-warehouse setting. It's right in Durham in the "West Village" loft apartment complex, at 604 W Morgan St, not too far from Brightleaf Square. The phone is 680-6333.

[Review from August 9, 2001]
Friends of ours are raving about Tosca, a brand new Italian restaurant in Durham. They've eaten there twice and say the food is authentic, very good, and reasonably priced, that the atmosphere is "homey," and that Carmi the owner is charming.

Has any of you been there? If so, would you like to offer your views?

The restaurant is located in a renovated building at 604 Morgan Street (entrance on Fernway), and the phone is 680-6333.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

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Chapel Hill

Bin Fifty-Four

Reviewed on November 17, 2005

Opened less than two months, Bin Fifty-Four is the crème-de-la-crème of steak houses. It rivals in quality my favorite steak house in this country (Brooklyn's Peter Luger) but has a more upscale, decidedly genteel, atmosphere, reminiscent of a private club. Everything Bin Fifty-Four offers says "quality," from the heavy wooden front door, the understated name inscribed subtly on the door, the finely carved wood tables, the beautifully unique (but sensible) wine glasses, and the fine service.

The steaks are just amazing. As an appetizer, the Kobe beef tartar topped with a quail egg is perfection. As main courses, the dry-aged Kansas strip is one of the most delicious pieces of beef I've ever tasted. The T-bone steak for two is heavenly. The filet mignons are as good as they get. One gets a choice of three specially-prepared steak sauces in separate dishes, all delicious but wholly unnecessary.

The side orders, such as chanterelle mushrooms or roasted root vegetables, are also excellent. And the wine list is exceptional, especially for such a new restaurant.

Just when you think you can't eat any more, Bin Fifty-Four offers a range of special desserts, including a unique twist on southern banana pudding-topped with caramelized meringue-that would make a French pastry chef swoon.

This is the "real deal." It's very pricey (about $100 per person with wine, tax, and tip) but truly worth saving up for.

Bin Fifty-Four is located in the Glen Lennox shopping area on Highway 54 (Raleigh Road) in Chapel Hill, where the Grill at Glen Lennox used to be. The phone is 969-1155. Reservations are essential.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Carmine’s

Reviewed on March 10, 2010

If you like authentic “New York-style” Italian food, the type you can get in Little Italy in the Bronx, try Carmine’s in Chapel Hill. Located in the easily accessible Eastgate Shopping Center (in which Trader Joe’s is located), Carmine’s is unpretentiously perfect. The description on the restaurant’s website, http://www.carmineschapelhill.com/, is completely accurate: “a relaxing and family friendly eatery that serves the finest and freshest Italian food at affordable prices.” The phone is 929-4300 or -4350.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Carolina Crossroads Restaurant (in Carolina Inn)

Reviewed on June 5, 2004 [Originally reviewed Dec 4, 2000, I ate at this restaurant again on June 5, 2004 and it was every bit as good.]

Chef Brian Stapleton and Sous Chef Todd Dumke are really hitting their stride at this Southern formal-style restaurant in the Carolina Inn (in Chapel Hill). It's a good place for holidays, special occasions, etc., with very attractive decor and a quiet ambiance.

If you do go, you might want to ask Todd or Alal, who manage the front of the restaurant, to have Chef Stapleton or Dumke let you know what dishes they recommend for the evening. You won't be disappointed.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

CholaNad Restaurant

Reviewed on December 16, 2011

This is a new (less than three-week old) South Indian restaurant located at 308 West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, in the lovely space previously occupied by Cypress-on-the-Hill. I ate there last evening with friends, and the food was truly excellent: authentic flavors, yet innovative, and beautifully presented. Chef Subash has years of prior experience cooking at restaurants in the two leading hotel chains in India (Oberai and Taj), and it really shows. And the physical décor is sophisticated and delightful. All in all, CholaNad is a really high class experience—yet the prices are moderate. The phone is 1-800-CHOLANAD (1-800-246-5262). They also have a website: www.cholanad.com.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Dos Perros

Reviewed on March 10, 2010

Charlie Deal, who runs the excellent Jujube Restaurant in Chapel Hill, has broadened his ethnic appeal with Dos Perros, an upscale, fun, and festive (though moderately priced) Mexican restaurant. Named after Charlie’s two dogs, Dos Perros is located near Durham’s American Tobacco Campus and thus convenient to DPAC, Carolina Theater, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and other downtown-Durham venues. The address is 200 N. Mangum Street, and the phone is 956-2750.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Elements

Reviewed on October 9, 2012

A truly wonderful new restaurant, “Elements,” has opened in nearby Chapel Hill. Describing its food as “contemporary new American cuisine” (although I’d note an emphasis on pan-Asian), Elements presents a weekly changing menu of (mostly) locally sourced delights expertly prepared by Chef Michael Chuong, formerly executive chef at An restaurant in Cary. This restaurant is both sophisticated and a family affair, with Chef Michael’s two daughters, “V” and Van, helping to run the front. The décor is elegantly modern, and the atmosphere is just perfect—with a choice of indoor and outdoor dining. The prices are reasonable, especially given the high quality. And there’s a well selected wine list, also reasonably priced. Although Elements has been open only a few months, we’ve already eaten there six times; and it keeps getting better and better! Elements, which is open Tuesday through Sunday, is located in Chapel Hill’s new “East 54” complex, and the phone is 919-537-8780. The website, which includes directions, is http://www.elementsofchapelhill.com/.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Il Palio

Reviewed on October 7, 2009

Il Palio's (relatively) new chef, David Rose, is highly talented, but it's still not the authentic Italian that it (sometimes) purports to be.

[Reviewed from June 10, 2004]

Chef Jim Anile is now in charge, and his food, while good, is neither authentically Italian nor light.

[Note from 2003]
I had mentioned that, this past summer [2002] in an attempt to obtain a five-star rating, Il Palio hired the renowned chef, Claudio Brugalossi, of La Taverna in Perugia, Italy, to replace Chef Villella. It appears, however, that Chef Brugalossi was unable to sell his restaurant in Italy and, at least as things now stand, will not be coming here. Meanwhile, Chef Villella has left.

[Review from Nov 22, 1999]
Il Palio has brought on Gennaro Villella as executive chef. An Italian, Chef Villella is intent on making the menu items more authentic but, at the same time, more innovative. Ruth Reichl of the New York Times, for example, has described his cooking as joining "excellent ingredients and unusual combinations ... dominated by the natural taste of the food, ... a cuisine that depends on finesse and balance...."

Chef Villella has started by making his mark on Il Palio's Sunday brunch. It's simply extraordinary and, at $18.95 per person (including champagne), really worth trying.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

JujuBe

Reviewed on February 1, 2006

JujuBe, a Chinese/Vietnamese-inspired fusion restaurant that recently opened in Chapel Hill's Glen Lennox shopping area (off Highway 54), is a joint venture run by chef Charlie Deal, formerly from California, and the Triangle's own Giorgios Bakatsias. This is a quite special restaurant, most definitely worth trying-again and again! The physical space is attractive and highly sophisticated, with deep reddish and greenish hues punctuated by photographs of Asian street scenes. There are essentially three rooms: a front room on the left with tables, a front room on the right with bar seating around the open kitchen, and a back room with a single long table overlooked by a gold Buddha-like statue. The food is excellent, starting with a fascinating array of small or large appetizers (the dumplings are especially good) that can be shared or just eaten in lieu of a main course. However, main courses, such as the ginger roasted chicken with jujube and shallot compote or the sliced steak, are equally delicious and well prepared. Desserts, too, are very nicely done. JujuBe also has fine wine and high quality saki selections.

I have been to JujuBe with friends three times, and everyone has always been pleased if not delighted. The phone is 960-0555.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Lantern Restaurant

Reviewed on February 14, 2002

In the space on Chapel Hill's Franklin Street formerly occupied by Darbar, there's a new pan-Asian restaurant that's well worth trying. Lantern is a very chic and sophisticated place that would not be out-of-place on Manhattan's upper east side. That by itself has negatives as well as positives, the negatives being a high noise level and a bit of an "attitude." But the food is interesting and quite good.

Although the menu is small, the choices are outstanding and varied. Equally important, where the dish purports to be authentic, like the Vietnamese pho, the flavors are quite true to the homeland cuisine.

Everything we had on several occasions, with one exception, was quite good. I especially recommend the black mushroom and cabbage dumplings, and the steamed grouper with black beans, seared ginger, and scallions.

The only exception was, the one time we ordered dessert, the coconut rice pudding. We returned it. Perhaps other desserts are better.

Lantern is located at 423 W. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill, and the telephone is 969-8846. The restaurant does not take reservations (for parties fewer than five) and can fill up quickly, so it's best to go early or late.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Lime & Basil Vietnamese

Reviewed on May 28, 2004

A new, and quite good, Vietnamese restaurant has opened in Chapel Hill. Located at 200 Franklin Street, "Lime & Basil" occupies a simple storefront that belies the quality of the food. This is light, fresh, tasty, and (at least as to some dishes) reasonably authentic Vietnamese food that is definitely worth trying. There also are a wide variety of vegetarian dishes (though anyone ordering a vegetarian dish, who isn't strictly vegetarian, should ask for the traditional Vietnamese fish sauce instead of soy-based sauce). Lime & Basil does not yet have a liquor license, so I bring in beer and wine. The service is not yet perfected, but Gracie who works the desk is delightful and eager to be accommodating. My only real complaint about this restaurant is that it doesn't generally take reservations, so it's hard to plan to go there from any distance.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Los Potrillos

Reviewed on December 28, 2004

In Los Potrillos, we finally have discovered truly excellent Mexican food in this area. Located in an old house at 220 W. Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill (the same house in which, until last year, Spartacus Restaurant had a Chapel Hill outpost), Los Potrillos Mexican Restaurant makes everything from scratch with care and finesse. We have been there twice, with friends, and sampled a wide array of traditional dishes. Everything was excellent. We even ordered some dishes without cheese to see what "healthy" Mexican would be like-and it was so good that we didn't even miss the cheese!

I recently had occasion to have several meals in Los Angeles at the famed El Cholo Restaurant, and-in my admittedly limited judgment-found the food quality of Los Potrillos to be every bit as good, and in several dishes more refined.

The phone number for Los Potrillos is 932-4301. It's open every day until 10pm.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

One Restaurant

Reviewed November 4, 2013

With the arrival of chefs Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan, Restaurant "One" (see http://one-restaurant.com/) in the Meadowmont Village neighborhood of Chapel Hill is becoming a truly world-class dining establishment. Just 15 minutes from Duke, One offers an innovative and changing menu that compares in both imagination and quality with many Michelin two-plus starred restaurants. (Professor Reichman, whose culinary standards are among the highest I've known, describes One as the "best restaurant within 200 miles.") Happily, though, the cost is quite reasonable for the quality—and that includes One's extensive and finely chosen wine list. Floresca and Ryan trained in many of the world's best places, including the French Laundry and elBulli, and we are fortunate that they are now bringing their magic to the Triangle.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Red Lotus Restaurant

Reviewed on August 28, 2007

RED LOTUS Restaurant is a much lower key but still somewhat sophisticated analog to An Restaurant in Cary. The menu presents over a dozen Asian-inspired styles of preparing the food, each style being applicable to a variety of meats and soy-bean based protein sources. Red Lotus also offers a healthy (and tasty) brown rice option. For those on diets or having dietary restrictions, this is the perfect spot, and it's also reasonably priced. Located in the 239 S. Elliot Road-space vacated by Charlie's Chinese (when Charlie retired) in Chapel Hill (tel. 968-7778, www.redlotusasiankitchen.com), Red Lotus is pleasant, nicely appointed, and a place one can return to often. The manager/proprietor is Kevin Zhu.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Vespa

Reviewed on July 26, 2001

VESPA: I can't seem to retrieve my review of this, but a reasonably accurate review is listed at http://triangle.citysearch.com/profile/6158357/. My only caveat is that the restaurant has gone through phases: first being excellent, then going downhill in quality, and then rising back up. Last I ate there it was on the rise.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

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Raleigh

Bloomsbury Bistro

Reviewed on May 24, 1999 Reconfirmed by visit on July 20, 2002.

I mentioned this wonderful restaurant several years ago but hadn't had the chance to go back since last year's renovation. The good news is that it's better than ever -- well-prepared innovative food in a pleasant and sophisticated atmosphere. It's located at 509-101 W. Whitaker Mill Road, near the "Five Points" in Raleigh, tel. 834-9011.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Jibarra Restaurant

Review updated on December 16, 2011

Jibarra Restaurant has moved to downtown Raleigh and, although it preserves some of its excellent dishes, is now more of a bar scene.

Review updated on October 7, 2009

Though still good, Jibarra is no longer quite the star that it was. It moved into a more sophisticated space in downtown Raleigh and has become more trendy but less of a culinary mecca. Part of the reason, perhaps, is that its great executive chef went back to Mexico City, though he technically continues to advise as a "virtual" excecutive chef.

Reviewed August 28, 2007 & again on December 10, 2007

Jibarra restaurant, which bills itself as "modern Mexican" though its influences seem to derive also from Spain, France, and Latin America, is one of the Triangle's truly outstanding fine dining experiences. The atmosphere is refined, spacious, and modern, the food ethereal. The wine list is short but well chosen, especially for Spanish wines.

Although it would almost be an injustice to pick out special dishes for recognition (all being so scrumptious), one dish is truly incredible by any standard: Cabrito Asado al Horno, which is slow cooked (sous-vide) bone-in, young goat, served with potato confit, guacamole, chunky salsa molcajeteada, and flour tortillas (as an option to make tacos).

To understand why the food is so wonderful, consider Executive Chef Ricardo Quintero. After being educated at Centro Culinario de México in Mexico City, he trained at two three-star Michelin restaurants in Northern Spain, Akelarré and Arzak, and then at Tezka, which many consider México's best restaurant, before being hired by Jose, Joel, and Hector Ibarra, who run Jibarra.

Located at 7420 Six Forks Road in Raleigh (and easy to get to via I 540; tel. 844-6330 (http://www.jibarra.net/), Jibarra is a marvelous experience for the gourmet and the gourmand.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Margaux's Restaurant

Reviewed on September 18, 2000

Margaux's Restaurant in North Raleigh serves among the finest "fusion" cuisine in the Triangle and now, with completion of the Route 540 link from Route 40 to Strickland Road, is easy and quick to reach. I've had dinner at Margaux's twice, once during the week and once at a special "tasting" event. The food varied from very good to exceptionally excellent. The chef, Andrew Pettifer, is a delightful fellow from Australia. Steven Horowitz manages the front, and is quite professional. The service is generally excellent.

The following July 1999 review of the restaurant by critic Taylor Davenport is quite apt: "Margaux's is one of my favorite Triangle restaurants. ... [It] is a dimly lit, medium-sized restaurant that's innovatively decorated with modern sculpture and colorful murals. An oversized stone fireplace serves as the restaurant's focal point. From the dining room, there is a partial view of the kitchen, which adds to the restaurant's bustling, city-like ambiance." (I'm told that Saturday nights can be crowded and noisy. I've been there on a Sunday and a weekday, and it's been fine.)

The address is 8111 Creedmoor Rd. (Brennan Station Shops) in North Raleigh, tel: (919) 846-9846. Take 40 east, exit onto 540 north, and then take the Strickland Road exit. Continue east on Strickland for a few miles until you hit Creedmoor. Take a right onto Creedmoor, and it's the second shopping center entrance on the right. With normal traffic, it's taken me only about 20 minutes door to door from Chapel Hill.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Nina's Restaurant

Reviewed on December 11, 2000

In the past I've mentioned Nina's Restaurant in North Raleigh, but it's really worth describing again. This is the best "regional" Italian restaurant in the Triangle (Il Palio, in contrast, being the best "continental"-style Italian restaurant). Nina's is what you would get if you were, say, at a top restaurant in Little Italy in the Bronx. The atmosphere and decor are also the most reminiscent in the Triangle of a traditional Italian restaurant.

Nina is the chef and her husband, Chris Psarros, is the manager in the front. She's originally Sicilian but was raised in Brooklyn and cooks a range of reasonably authentic dishes from throughout Italy. He's originally Greek and is intent on developing an excellent wine list. They are both experienced professionals in this business and run an exceptional shop. You may want to ask Chris if Nina can come out to say hello and give recommendations. Her enthusiasm and authentic warmth are not to be missed!

Nina's is located towards the rear of Harvest Plaza in North Raleigh. This is quick and easy to get to. From our house in Chapel Hill, for example, it's 25 minutes door-to-door. Take I-40 East, then 540 north. Take the last exit of 540, where it ends (I think it's called Leesville Road). Turn right off the exit ramp and continue on that road for a few miles. (The road's name changes from Leesville to Strickland.) You'll know you're close to Harvest Plaza when you see Lead Mine Road on the right. Harvest Plaza is a few blocks past, on the left. The restaurant's address is technically 8801 Leadmine Road - BUT BE CAREFUL: this is not the same as the Lead Mine Road you previously had passed. Guess that Raleigh is trying to compete with Durham for confusing road names. If lost, and for reservations, the telephone is 919-845-1122.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Peking Garden

Reviewed on November 6, 2000

Our next-door-neighbors, who are Taiwanese, have long been trying to persuade us to go to Peking Garden restaurant, which they claim is easily the most authentic in the Triangle. Well, we tried it on Saturday and were persuaded and delighted.

This is a great Chinese restaurant, by far the best we've been to in the Triangle. It has a superb selection of traditional Chinese dishes, as well as all of the more traditional dishes seen in the U.S. I started, for example, with one of my favorite appetizers which I've never before found in this country - Thousand Year Old Egg - and it was excellent. We also had an array of other traditional dishes, and each was very good to excellent.

As if that wasn't enough, the decor is warm and welcoming and the service is quite professional.

Peking Garden is in Raleigh at 126 Millbrook Road, tel. 848-4663. There may be a better way to get there but I took 40 East to Wade Avenue, then north on the beltline (440), then north on Six Forks Road. After a mile or two on Six Forks, there's a shopping center with the Colony movie theater on your right (immediately before Millbrook Road). The restaurant is in that shopping center. From our house in Chapel Hill, it took about 25 minutes.

P.S. The "Squirrel Fish," which must be prepared with 24 hours advance notice, is incredible.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Saint-Jacques Restaurant

Reviewed on October 27, 2005

Lil Lacassagne has created, in his restaurant Saint-Jacques, a delightful French dining experience. I first got to know Lil some years ago when he was headwaiter at Il Palio restaurant. He would describe his lifelong dream to open a fine restaurant.

Well, Lil has succeeded with Saint-Jacques, and we are all fortunate as a result. This is, to my knowledge, the Triangle's only really good traditional French restaurant. (Vin Rouge, with its new chef, Matt Kelly, is now quite good but has more simply prepared bistro-style food.) Lil describes Saint-Jacques' approach as emphasizing flavors and subtlety. He is a warm and welcoming host, dedicated to doing everything possible to ensure a pleasant evening. The restaurant's atmosphere is not overdone but, like Lil, warmly elegant.

I was at Saint-Jacques on a Saturday night with a party of seven. Five of us had truly excellent dinners. For example, I had a subtle but tasty duck confit, then a superb ris de veau, followed by one of the best cheese plates I've had in this country. The two in our party who had seafood (one mussels, the other sea bass en papilotte) were a bit disappointed, though. Perhaps the lesson is to order meat.

The wine list is well thought out, includes a nice range of choices that complement the food, and is not overly pricey. For those willing to experiment, it also includes some of the better up-and-coming wines from our own Yadkin Valley. (That area of North Carolina is actually beginning to produce some good wines, not a total surprise because, before Prohibition, NC was the nation's leading wine producer.)

Saint-Jacques is located in North Raleigh but easily accessible from Durham and Chapel Hill via I-540. The address is 6112 Falls of the Neuse Rd, and the phone is 862-2770.

Diane Dimond adds the following:

"I agree wholeheartedly. I've only been to Saint-Jacques once so far (this summer), in a party of five, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a real pleasure to find such an authentic and excellent classic French dining experience in Raleigh. If I recall correctly, the one person in our party who ordered fish was the only person who did not rave about his food. So that seems to be the weakness."

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Second Empire Restaurant

Reviewed on January 10, 2000

A year or two ago I mentioned what a great restaurant this is. The Triangle website (triangle.citysearch.com) is featuring a recent writeup on it. Anyone interested can find it at:
http://triangle.citysearch.com/E/V/RDUNC/2010/41/41/cs1.html

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

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Carrboro

India Palace

Reviewed on April 17, 2000

For some reason, we've never tried India Palace Restaurant, at the Carrboro-end of Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, until this weekend. Several friends have told us repeatedly that it's their favorite Indian restaurant in the Triangle, and so we decided to sample the Sunday buffet. It really is exceptionally good, and a tremendous bargain to boot. Tel. 919-942-8201.


Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Provence

Reviewed on October 14, 2002

An excellent and exciting new restaurant has opened in Carrboro (immediately west and contiguous to Chapel Hill). Owned by an experienced restaurateur husband-wife team from France, Felix and Anne Roux, Provence serves regional French bistro-style food, focusing to some extent (though not exclusively) on Provencal cuisine. Felix is the chef, and Anne manages the "house" with the assistance of Christoph, the maitre d'. I ate there Saturday night with a party of six and, a full-house notwithstanding, every dish was prepared and served to perfection. The fish was especially excellent, indeed quite extraordinary by any measure.

Provence is in a charming, though simply decorated, small house at 203 West Weaver Street, effectively a continuation of Chapel Hill's West Franklin Street. There's parking in the rear. Reservations are accepted for parties of six and (I did not check) perhaps fewer. The phone is 919-967-5008.

Though open only since mid-August, Provence will, I believe, soon become known as one of the Triangle's premier restaurants.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

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Cary and Morrisville

AN Restaurant

Reviewed on August 28, 2007

AN Restaurant is stunningly beautiful, designed and constructed with emphasis on space, light, and beauty (though a bit more emphasis on reducing the noise level would have been desirable). The pan-Asian food is truly innovative, sophisticated, and delicious, all prepared by Vietnamese-born chef Michael Cheung. This is a place for special occasions. It's located at 2800 Renaissance Park Place in Cary, tel. 677-9229 (www.ancuisines.com), right off of I 40.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Saffron Restaurant

Update of review on December 16, 2011:

Saffron Restaurant morphed into two when the owners apparently split up, and another Saffron now is open in the East 54 complex in Chapel Hill.  

Reviewed on August 17, 2006

Saffron Restaurant, near RTP (Research Triangle Park), aspires to be a world-class Indian restaurant, and it's wonderfully close to succeeding. The executive chef trained at the renowned Bhukara Restaurant in New Delhi and then at Tamarind in New York, and his cuisine combines some of the best of both places. Bhukara specializes in lamb dishes, and Saffron's lamb dishes are as good as any I've had at Bhukara. Tamarind (at least the one in London I've been to, which I think is related to the one in New York) is superb at presentation and spices, and Saffron comes close on both counts. Saffron also has a fine wine (and, of course, beer) list, chosen to well complement the food.

Saffron's physical space is sophisticated and pleasant, and the service is (mostly) professional. The prices are moderate for the quality. Saffron also has a professional and informative website, from which you can view the menu and other useful information, at www.saffronnc.com.

The restaurant is located at 4121 Davis Drive, Morrisville (near RDU Airport), which is easy to get to. Take 40 East to exit 280 (Davis Drive); then turn left onto Davis Drive and continue about 4.4 miles until, on your right, you see the McCrimmon Corners shopping center in which Saffron's located. For reservations, call 469-5774.

This really is a special restaurant and well deserves a visit.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Maximillian's

Reviewed on December 16, 2002

This is a relatively new restaurant on Chapel Hill Street in Cary, but is the phoenix of an older restaurant of the same name (with same owner/chef) that was on Buck Jones Road. The first restaurant was a real "hole in the wall," with very irregular hours (sometimes you would find a note pinned to the door saying he had decided not to open that night), but fantastic food. The new place is very "grown up," upscale decor, dependable hours, and still fantastic food. I've forgotten the owner/chef's name, but his forte is with hot spices, and there is an Asian influence in many of his dishes and sides. Portions are generous to a fault. Most every dish has an unusual aspect to it, so you won't be bored, whatever you order. I highly recommend the grilled Caesar salad (yes, the lettuce is grilled), and the regular tuna dish (can't remember its name), but everything I've had there has been great. I highly recommend it.

Prof. Diane Dimond

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Beyond the Triangle

Lemaire Restaurant and Jefferson Hotel

Reviewed on March 18, 2003

When you think great food and vacation, Richmond may be one of the last places you have in mind. Viewed from Route 95, this capital city of Virginia looks a bit dreary. But good things sometimes come wrapped in plain paper.

Richmond has one of the best restaurants in the South, conveniently located in one of the best hotels in the country. The restaurant, Lemaire (named after Etienne Lemaire, who served as Maitre d'Hotel to Thomas Jefferson), is Richmond's only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant and one of only 35 restaurants in North America that have received the Five-Diamond award. (By way of comparison, Il Palio Restaurant in the Siena Hotel is Four-Diamonds.) Lemaire serves exquisite regional Southern cooking inspired by European classical and American contemporary influences.

At least equally attractive is the 264-room Jefferson Hotel, in which Lemaire is located. The website's description is, perhaps, an understatement of the Jefferson's elegance and charm: "Opened in 1895, The Jefferson Hotel is one of only 22 hotels to carry both the Mobil Five Star and the AAA Five Diamond ratings. ... The Jefferson comes replete with rich tapestries, antique replica furniture, embellished faux-marble columns, a 70-foot high ceiling with a stained-glass skylight, and a magnificent sweeping staircase hauntingly similar to the one in Gone With the Wind."

The Jefferson is also perfectly located for visiting the historic and cultural sites of Richmond, of which there are actually many. It is, for example, midway between (and walking distance to), on one side, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Monument Avenue, Science Museum of Virginia, and Carytown - and on the Jefferson's other side, downtown Richmond including the Shockhoe Slip historic district, the Canal Walk historic district, and the Museum of the Confederacy.

Coupled with the fact that it takes just 2-1/2 hours to drive to Richmond from the Triangle, this is a great destination for a surprisingly delightful, and remarkably reasonably priced, mini-vacation.

The Jefferson is located at 101 West Franklin Street in Richmond, tel. 800-424-8014.


Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Nottaway Restaurant

Reviewed on October 20, 1999

You're driving to D.C. on Interstate 85, all you see are trees, and you're hungry but not for fast food. There's hope.

Sue and I almost always eat along the way at the Nottaway Restaurant, right off of exit 39 (Warfield, Virginia). It's a solid family country restaurant with some first rate home cooked food and a warm and welcoming atmosphere. And it's not exactly pricey. (Last night, for example, on the way home from a conference in D.C., I inadvertently ordered a bottle of wine with dinner, thinking from the price for the wine that it was just a glass!)

Nottaway Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner (till, I think, 8:30pm). Make sure you try the homemade pies.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Trattoria L'incontro (near La Guardia Airport)

Reviewed on May 21, 2003

Perhaps my favorite Italian restaurant in New York is not in Manhattan, but in Astoria, Queens. Those who fly through La Guardia may know that Astoria is a thriving and colorful ethnic neighborhood within minutes of the airport, with many excellent Greek and several excellent Italian restaurants. There resides Rocco Sacramone, and his extraordinary paean to great food from the Abruzzo region of Italy, Trattoria L'incontro. The beauty of its location is that one can have a delightful meal prior to a flight and be at the airport by local roads, guaranteed, in less than 10 minutes. Even if fully booked, Trattoria L'incontro is wonderful at timing the meal perfectly to your flight. For example, I recently got to the restaurant later than intended, at 6:50pm, and told them I wanted a 7:50pm cab in order to be at La Guardia at 8:00pm, leaving a full hour to board the 8:59pm to RDU. Though compressed, the meal was incomparably delicious, impeccably timed, and deeply relaxing. And I even brought back several home-made Italian specialty desserts for my family. Trattoria L'incontro is, in all seriousness, one of the true highlights of any trip to New York. Rated "27" for food by Zagat (and described in their guide as "phenomenal"), it is located in Astoria at 2176 31st Street, near the intersection with Ditmars Blvd. The phone - definitely make a reservation - is 718-721-3532.

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

Woodlands Resort & Inn in Summerville, South Carolina

Reviewed on June 10, 2004

Note that Chef Vendrinsky recently left to start his own restaurant, "Siena," on Daniel Island; and Chef Scott Crawford, formerly head chef of a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, will be replacing him.

[Review from Dec 21, 2001]
We just returned from our favorite place to spend a mini-holiday: Woodlands Resort & Inn in Summerville, South Carolina. Putting aside for a moment the beauty of the inn and its location, this place simply has one of the consistently best restaurants we've eaten at in this country -- in every way the equivalent of a Michelin two-star restaurant in France. Yet it's just about a four hour drive from the Triangle.

1. The Restaurant:
The website describes the restaurant as follows: "Our AAA Five Diamond award-winning restaurant enjoys a stellar reputation from food critics around the world. Flavorful, contemporary regional American cuisine is presented as an ever-changing feast for the discerning palate." The website also relates that "Conde Nast Traveler's 2000 Reader Poll named The Dining Room at Woodlands one of the
top three restaurants in North America."

This is no hype. The food is ethereal -- immensely flavorful and brilliantly creative. Executive Chef Ken Vedrinski is a food magician!

And the service is equally amazing, completely professional and yet warmly welcoming. The wait staff is mostly French, trained at two and three-star restaurants in France.

2. The Inn: After a dinner at Woodlands, you really don't want (and possibly have imbided too much) to leave. No problem. The website again describes it accurately: "Guests at Woodlands are treated royally - in nineteen sumptuous and handsomely appointed rooms, each with its own personality created by noted New York Designer David Eskell-Briggs. ... No detail is too small ... Your stay at Woodlands is all about superb comfort and grand style."

All this may sound pricey. It is, but not excessively so. Woodlands is about half the price, for example, of The Inn at Little Washington. And it's arguably better!

Woodlands is located in the historic and charming village of Summerville, off Route 26 (the highway that connects I-95 to Charleston). It's a relatively short drive to visit Charleston for the day. Woodlands is also about 20 minutes away from the beautifully restored plantations of Middleton, Drayton, and Magnolia, along the Ashley River.

Woodlands' website is excellent and contains much more detail. This place is truly amazing!

Prof. Steven Schwarcz

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