Spice Street, Chapel Hill

Spice Street is an unexpectedly trendy restaurant to have in the quite University Mall in Chapel Hill.  The restaurant has a cavernous interior with high ceilings, warm burnt orange walls, and dark mahogany furniture.  The high ceilings are bought down into the space with huge, ivory linen light fixtures.  They were quite stunning!  The dining area is very large with a few separate dining spaces and a bar area with a long cement bar and several bar tables.  The techno music was faint and added a nice funkiness to the space.

I was skeptical of Spice Street when I saw the eclectic menu, which includes Mediterranean, Japanese, and Chinese dishes. Restaurants which venture into so many styles of food rarely do any well.  Given this decided to try it one night when we were just looking for drinks and appetizers.  We sat at a bar table and ordered a glass of wine as we studied the appetizer menu.  We tried the Spice Street Platter, which includes chicken satay, lamb/beef kefta, pot stickers, spring rolls, and calamari and each is paired with a dipping sauce.  The chicken satay, pot stickers, and spring rolls were all quite tasty, though nothing stood out.  The kefta was very flavorful with lots of herbs and was served with a tangy yogurt sauce.  The calamari was also very tasty with a light breading which wasn’t oily.

Given my low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised.  The lovely setting is perfect for a drink and some nibbles at the bar.  With the large variety of choices it would also be a good option for groups as everyone should be able to find something that suites their tastes.  The food is well prepared, though I am not sure I would rush back to try the entrées.

Spice Street
http://www.spicestreetchapelhill.com
201 South Estes Drive
Chapel Hill,NC27514
919-928-8200

Rue Cler, Durham

A few weeks ago we headed to Rue Cler for a nice relaxing dinner.  We didn’t have a reservation but managed to get a high bar table right by the window.  Since, the restaurant is on the corner it is a nice place to watch the world go by.  The large space is split into two smaller, more intimate rooms with a nice slat-wood wall.  The tables are simple and fairly closely packed adding to the charming, energetic vibe. 

For dinner, they offer a regularly changing prix fixe menu and a few French bistro classics, such as steak frites and coq au vin, as a la carte options.  What is fantastic about the menu is that all of the dishes on the prix fixe menu can be ordered separately, which allows for endless options. 

I started with a tart from the prix fixe menu.  It was delicious!  The mushroom and leek topping was offset by the acidity of a simple tomato sauce which all sat on a buttery crust.  G actually started with the gratin dauphinois as a starter rather than a side.  It was a decadent version of this dish with layers very thinly sliced potatoes, cheese and cream.  For our entrées we opted with dishes from the a la carte menu, steak frites for me and coq au vin for G.  Both were wonderful versions of these classics.  The steak was perfectly cooked to my requested medium and the frites were cut addictively thin and perfectly seasoned.  The coq au vin too was rich and hearty with nice thick cuts of vegetables.  Finally for dessert we shared the terrine au chocolat which was absolutely indulgent!

The waiter was also very helpful, with an easy going attitude.  We will most certainly be back for delicious a French meal in a warm charming atmosphere. 

Rue Cler
http://www.ruecler-durham.com
401 East Chapel Hill Street
Durham,NC27701
919-682-8844

Top of the Hill, Chapel Hill

Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill is an iconic local joint with a premier location right on the center of Franklin Street.  Every college town seems to have one of these places that is the go-to place for students to take out-of-towners who come to visit.  For some reason, I haven’t really had to the urge to try this place since it always seems so packed and such a scene.  We decided to finally try it during the summer when the students were out of town and it was relatively quite.

It has a nice atmosphere with a great balcony that overlooks Franklin St.  It was a hot night so we opted to sit indoors.  It was a busy Friday night and it took our waiter awhile to get to us.  We weren’t too hungry so we decided to share an appetizer and an entrée.  We started with the Polynesian Calamari which is crispy fried calamari rings, pineapple, sweet onions and poblano peppers with chipotle remoulade. It was a tasty rendition and I did enjoy the sweet touch of the pineapple.  For our entrée we split the Locavore Burger which was served with bacon, smokedgouda, garlic aioli, lettuce, tomato, red onion on house baked roll and beer battered fries. It was a very good cooked-to-order burger and the fries were deliciously addictive.  We enjoyed it and were happy that we decided to share since it was definitely enough food.

The food was good, not great, and generally what you would expect from this type of establishment.  However, the service was apathetic; the waiter never told us the specials (the table next to us was told) and it took two requests to get some water. It is a good place to go with a large group, share a few appetizers, and enjoy a beer and the scene.

Top of the Hill
topofthehillrestaurant.com
100 East Franklin Street
Chapel Hill,NC27514
919-929-8676

[ONE] Restaurant, Chapel Hill

We had been wanted to try ONE in Meadowmont for some time.  This is a one of restaurants by Shane Ingram of Four Square (which I enjoyed!), though the Chef de Cuisine is Sean McCarthy.  We tried once a couple months ago but they were booked as it was Duke graduation weekend.  So, on a random Friday evening we decided to try it.  The space is über modern with clean lines, dark woods, gray and orange chairs.  The highlight of the space is the wide open kitchen.  There is service seating at a sleek blue under-lit bar which overlooks open kitchen.  We opted to sit at the bar and watch the action.  The menu has a heavy focus on seafood and offers several small plates options.  As is typical for us, we opted for two soups and three small plates.  The shrimp and clam cioppino which had a spicy tomato shellfish broth and was chock full of seafood.  It was quite tasty and nicely balanced the acidity of the tomatoes with the spice and herbs.  The curry butternut squash bisque with lobster was rich and creamy with lots of curry flavor.  There was a small amount of the lobster in the placed on the soup.  While G liked the curry in this, I felt it overpowered the sweet delicate lobster.  The Peruvian ceviche that evening was made with a white fish and was lovely! The red onion, lime and chili just complemented the light fish.  The squid ink tagliatelle with littleneck clams was the highlight for me that evening.  The perfectly al dente, beautiful dark pasta highlighted by the flavors, and visually, with sautéed spinach and white wine & sausage cream sauce.  Lastly, we had the creole spiced seared tuna which was also delicious and served with rock shrimp etouffee, red rice and pickled okra salad.  We really enjoyed all the dishes tried and the variety of flavors and techniques that were used in the preparation.  The service too was extremely friendly and helpful, as we had several questions on the menu.  My only slight complaint was that all of our small plates came out at the same time and we had to eat the hot ones first and wait on the cold dishes.  It would have been nice, since we didn’t order main courses, if the small plates could have been coursed so that we didn’t have to juggle all three plates.  We will most certainly be back to sit at the kitchen bar watching the action and try more wonderful flavor combinations.

[ONE] Restaurant
http://www.one-restaurant.com/
100 Meadowmont Circle
Chapel Hill,NC27517
919-537-8207

Elaine’s On Franklin, Chapel Hill

This past Saturday G and I went to a concert at UNC and we walked on Franklin before hand trying to decide where to eat.  We settled on Elaine’s on Franklin and walked in around 6:15pm.  The place was packed!  Of course we didn’t have a reservation but we were lucky enough to find a spot at the bar.  The space is smaller space with dark blue accent walls and a beautiful tin ceiling.  It is a open floor plan with many tables in the small space so it was a bit noisy.  But, the bar is a buffered a bit by glass partitions so it isn’t quite as loud.

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Market Restaurant, Raleigh

G and I headed over to Market Restaurant after a movie on Saturday.  It is a funny location but that didn’t bother us since everything in Raleigh is a drive anyway.  It was packed and the hostess said it would be a 25 minute wait.  It is a lovely, open space with pleasant green walls, simple wooden furniture and an open kitchen.  It has a very west coast (think casual SF or Seattle) relaxed feel to it.  We had waited about 10 minutes and a spot at the bar opened up.  We decided we would go ahead and eat there as we always enjoy sitting at the bar and watching all the action!

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Ãn Restaurant, Cary

G and I finally got a chance to try Ãn when we found ourselves with a free night during the busy holiday season.  It is a large restaurant in a quiet, slightly out-of-the-way part of Cary.  The entrance is a dramatic drive thru. The interior is just as dramatic with high ceilings and a sleek design.  Throughout the restaurant there are elegant modern design elements such as large mirrors, a stainless steel bar and glass dividers.  Since this was a last minute plan, we didn’t have a reservation and they were full that night but we were content sitting at the bar.

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