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Dec 18, 2006 02:54 AM

Triangle: Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill is perfection

It's so difficult to put the dining experience my fiancee and I had this evening into words because so many things were so sublime, but simply put, Bonne Soiree has redefined our standard of the perfect culinary experience.

We dined with high-enough expectations, given the previous reviews here and in print, but frankly, we never expected that the experience would outdo so many of the "greatest of the greats" that had previously led the top of our charts.

I'll start off with the caveat that neither of us drink, but for information purposes, I'll mention that Bonne Soiree does offer a $25/person wine pairing that seems an incredible deal given Tina's breadth of knowledge therein. We overheard her rattle off varietals and vintages with abandon appropriately suited to each and every dish that other parties mentioned. It was impressive and is just one example of the jeu de'vivre that Tina seemingly possesses in operating this restaurant. Her passion for fine cuisine was palpable and exciting and added to our anticipation at what creations would be brought forth from the kitchen.

Her husband Chip Smith handles the dirty work in the back, and believe me, it's some of the finest tastes my palette has ever encountered. For our first course, I started off with an endive salad with carmelized onions, a most delectably ripe pear, toasted walnuts, a few other goodies, and a light dressing ($8.95). It was beautifully and tastefully presented on the plate, but the standout was definitely the perfection at which the pear was chosen. Couldn't have tasted better. My fiancee ordered the ravioli filled with Carolina sweet potatoes and a broth comprising of Virginia ham, collard greens and pot liquor ($11.95). She was floored at its goodness.

Second course: I wish I could remember all the ingredients, but my memory eludes me, so you'll just have to excuse my generalities. I ordered oxtail ($27.95) (constituted in such a manner as filet mignon usually appears on a plate), surrounded by a wonderful brown broth (not sure what it was) with delicious morsels of sweet potato, porcini mushrooms, and other chunks of goodness (again, I apologize for not pinning this down better - if any of you go in time to catch their early winter menu, let me know). Anyway, all of this "goodness" intertwined and built upon one another is such a silken and unified manner that it was difficult to believe that something could taste so wholesome yet be wrought from such ingenuity at the same time. My fiancee ordered a braised pork tenderloin ($21.95), also with a pork belly, with some wilted greens, grilled sweet potato chunks, and some other really delicious stuff (we're still trying to figure out whether the shaved purplish "stuff" on the side was shaved prunes or sweet pickled mushrooms of some sort, but in any case, the entire dish was heavenly and each ingredient complemented the other so nicely).

Service as impeccable beyond belief. I recall many prior complaints lobbied at high-end restaurants around here being seriously lacking in the service depeartment, but finally one bucks that trend, and bucks it completely asunder. The service was understated, smooth as silk, perfectly paced, respectful, and appropriately conspicious. Out of the many dozen restaurants of national and international renown at which I have dined, the service fell within the highest echelon - comparable to Gary Danko and Charleston Grill, and BETTER than Michael Mina, Jardiniere, Striped Bass, Charlie Trotter's, Daniel, etc.

Oh yeah, dessert: my fiancee ordered the warm walnut and caramel crisp with fresh whipped cream over it ($8.50), and I had a pot de creme ($7.50) served in a dainty and tasteful...well...pot with a lid. What a beautiful way to top off a beautiful meal.

I hate how I've gushed so much, because it appears disingenuous. Yet, thinking back...and I do tend to harp on every little infraction when it comes to any aspect of the dining experience...I can think of none. I cannot imagine any dish that was ordered by either of us tasting any better, nor can I imagine how the service could've been any more impressive.

Just my luck: after living five years in the San Francisco Bay Area and having dined at literally every single high-end restaurant out there (except for French Laundry), and Bonne Soiree beats them all. Go figure.

I think I'll stick around the Triangle for a bit...

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  1. Thanks for this, mikeh! I'm very excited to try Bonne Soiree, despite the rather silly name they picked for the place.

    I just returned from a jaunt to San Diego, and the whole trip reminded me that our Triangle dining options are something we can feel pretty good about. We ate at a restaurant that is universally considered to have the best Mexican food in all of San Diego (about 25 minutes north of the Mexican border), and you know what? We have better tacos here, by far.

    With new, exciting sounding eateries opening in Durham and CH, like Piedmont & Bonne Soiree, I think we're getting to be in pretty good shape. Hopefully this trend will continue.

    2 Replies
    1. re: durhamois

      Great review;
      thought it doesn't sound like the old fashioned fff I'm used to. So is there a selection for veg types like me? I'm not fussy going out about chicken stock & that sort of thing. Seafood's ok too.

      1. re: Rory

        Seafood definitely has prominence on their menu. I believe seeing at least a striped bass dish (a house specialty) and flounder as well. One of the specials the evening I went was a sea scallop.

        As they used to operate a seafood restaurant on the Outer Banks, I'm not surprised.

    2. Wow, they're even more expensive than Magnolia Grill? I'll have to hear some more good reports and wait for a special occasion to try them out.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bbqme

        thanks Mikeh, the seafood house experience is a great plus; they know what to do with fish, which can be easily ruined. Now that's an expensive meal I would be happy to pay for.

      2. I am in need of suggestions because I am at a lost...

        I am planning to propose to my girlfriend this October 2008. So the best atmospher for a celebration dinner is what I am seeking (including best quality food, service, and experience). There are a number of resturants I am considering. Here is my list and let know you best thoughts and opinions.

        BIN 54
        Bonne Soirre
        Fearrington House Restaurant
        Fairview Dinning Room
        Saint Jacques French Cuisine

        2 Replies
        1. re: emhgso

          I hope she doesn't read this board!

          I must admit, I have never eaten at any of these restaurants (yet) - but I am getting married at Fearrington in a couple of months and I can tell you, they know weddings! They absolutely take care of everything. So anyway, I can imagine that the Fearrington restaurant folks would be all about helping with a proposal. Special occasions are kind of their stock in trade. (For instance, I'm sure they could coordinate with the Fearrington florist if you wanted a bouquet on the table or something.)

          My one suggestion is to pick based on atmosphere, privacy, service - because you are NOT going to be paying much attention to how your food tastes! I know that's heresy on this board, but it's the truth.

          1. re: emhgso

            I think Bonne Soirre would be perfect. It's intimate. It's romantic. And I am sure Tina would be glad to help make it unforgettable. I love Fairview, especially outside which would be really nice in October so I'd make that my second choice. In my opinion, Fearrington House is cold and pretentious and the food is nowhere as good as they think it is. No matter where you propose, it'll always be special to you both.