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Durham Alivia's Bistro

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Has anyone been yet? What are your thoughts? I stopped by just to peek and liked the look. The menus look interesting and the wine list seems fun.

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    1. I've enjoyed myself the two times I've been (once for lunch and once for drinks). My entire lunch was too salty however -- even the salad dressing. Me no like to much NaCl.

      The entire inside space is non-smoking. Awesome! I can enjoy a beer without smelling like smoke.

      For a much more complete review, check out fellow foodie Brian Z's musings:

      1. We stopped by for drinks & an app last night. The draft beer prices for their selection of 8 micros & imports are in the $5-7 range, which is kind of the direction things have been heading, but it's still slightly jarring to not see any good beers for $4 or $4.50.

        We shared a leek, vidalia onion & chanterelle tartlet, which took a good long time (~20 minutes) to appear, despite having been ordered at around 6, before the dinner rush really started. When it arrived, the rim of the crust was a deep brown (not burnt, but dark enough that it couldn't have spent much more time in the oven without protection), but the interior wasn't set, it was runny. The ingredients & the seasoning were nice, and the crust was actually really good, so I'm going to chalk this up to still working the kinks out.

        I have to echo what peetoteeto said about being able to get a good beer on that block without enduring the smoke (though the back room at Federal is nonsmoking, it's also kinda bleak). The decor & the atmosphere at Alivia's are kind of Glenwood South-y, but I still felt more comfortable there than at Tyler's, which continues to feel completely devoid of humanscale comfort, even after having been open for a year.

        I continue to be impressed at the ambition of Durham restaurateurs . . . Alivia's is going to be open from like 7:00 a.m. til 2:00 a.m. 7 days a week (or so they claim). Between them, lunch & late-night at Piedmont, and cafe stuff at Rue Cler (albeit just on weekdays), Downtown Durham is suddenly maybe way *too* outfitted for actual urbandwellers. Hopefully they can all hang on to these ambitious plans until more people actually move down there . . .

        1. The food is the most creative of the "new crop" and quite promising. Lots of little quirks to be ironed out, but its a promising, albeit ambitious, concept. Some stuff is indeed over-salted, and I LOVE salt. Based on what Ross has written, it seems they're still working out proper cooking times. I was not able to visit Piedmont in its first couple opening weeks and cannot compare, but I felt as though Rue Cler was running more smoothly in its early, early days. The scope of Alivia's is much broader, however, so it might take more time. Again, I'm counting on the creative food to set this place apart.

          A friend of mine had a somewhat unpleasant experience there that I was not a part of. We'll have to see how this pans out.

          That link above ran in print this past Thursday, so it is current.

          1 Reply
          1. re: BryanZ

            They still have not worked out the kinks unfortunately. Slow, slow service. Food uneven and often overcooked. Nice atmosphere for sure, but general sense of disarray Report from a friend who had dinner there a few nights ago, "Worse than disappointing." For a sure thing, better to head over to Vin Rouge on Ninth Street. Quality consistent, atmosphere less self-conscious. Service prompt and professional and bistro staples have pizazz.

          2. I added this to a Piedmont thread a couple of weeks ago but got no response, here's my Alivia's experience:
            Large crowd and an impressive-looking menu (the lunch and late-night appeared especially good). However, for my situation, it was all down-hill after the drink order. (And I understand they just recently opened and that was certainly taken into account, however...) The first courses were decent: pork bone soup and a whole leaf romaine salad (complete with a cold, stiff "poached" egg). Then we waited for 45 minutes for our second course, all the while never being asked if we needed a drink (or anything) or given any info on when we might get our food. When we did inquire what was happening our server immediately offered the explanation of kitchen mix-up (which we did not doubt, just didn't understand why no one would let us know) and an offer to speak to the manager. We declined and finally received our plates. My companion had a tartlet which was rather enjoyable but I had a truly awful and deceptively-worded dish. The menu listed "spice-rubbed half chicken" with chickpea fritters, vegetables and fried okra. There was no okra and the chicken was baked and extremely heavily breaded, not to mention bland except for the taste of salt. I literally had to play "find the chicken" and once I had, my plate was covered in castaway breading (which most resembled the coating of a cheap seafood place). There was no "spice" and the whole thing was a $15 rip-off. The service did not improve from there either, no asking of how things were (especially troublesome in light of how long we waited). Most other diners appeared to be enjoying things and the place was bustling. I'm curious to know what experiences other diners have had there. Until then I am very reluctant to return.
            And I agree about the beer prices, too high. The late-night menu looks tasty but they seem to only want to serve that after 11pm. And $9 corrected coffees? no thanks.

            1. A group of us went to Alivia's for dinner this week. Generally, we were impressed. They were doing a hopping business for a Wednesday night and had generally good service. No undue waits for our food, although I do think they need to hire another bus person, as the hostess was on water refill duty, and we had to flag her down for that. For first courses we has the cheese plate and the spinach salad. The cheese plate was enough for our group of 4 to get a bite of everything, and we felt that it was a great variety of flavors and textures. The spinach salad was shareable, but not huge, with very nice pecans that were more toasted than candied and so no overly sweet. The Blue cheese that came with it was on the mild side for my liking, but a nice creamy touch. My husband felt they went overly light on the dressing, but I felt with the other components it was enough moisture.
              For main courses, we tried the scallops, grouper, chicken, and pork chop. I had the scallops and thought they were wonderful. They were seared almost to the point of cooked through (the way I like them) with a crispness where they had been in contact with the pan. The grits cake was a nice combination of creamy and crunchy exterior and worked well with the scallops. However, I must add to the comments regarding use of salt. My scallops were topped with chopped country ham that was pucker inducing salty. I ended up segregating much of it and not eating it. The idea of a pork topping was fine, but the country ham needed to be de-brined or something first! My friends pork chop, was large, juicy and beautifully cooked. Clearly quality local ingredients done well. My husbands grouper was well cooked and the sides were well seasoned, but he felt that with a mild fish like grouper, the fish could have been spiced more aggressively. Others have talked about the chicken. It is very heavily "rubbed" and comes out looking like fried chicken. But we found it to be moist and flavorful. The chick-pea fritters were a table favorite. Crunchy exterior, creamy well seasoned interior and vaguely reminiscent of an Indian samosa.
              We opted for dessert over at Amelia's but the desserts all looked quite appetizing. Overall, we were pleased and would come back again. Hire bus staff and check the salt levels are our main recommendations for improvement.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Lucydevil

                We've been for lunch and it was good and the place had a nice enough vibe. I had a salad and my man had a smoked salmon sandwich. It's nice to be able to choose fries or salad as a side and it was pleasant to hang out a while, have a coffee and get some work done. Haven't heard great things about dinner, though.

                1. re: suse

                  Two visits -- both times for lunch. I was impressed to see that two of Lantern's brightest kitchen stars had relocated there. I love the patio, but unfortunately, the experiences both left much to be desired. A shame, too, because I'd love for this place to succeed.

                  By and large, the food was good, but not great. They're missing a real opportunity with their salads, though; it always breaks my heart to order a salad and get a pile of standard foodservice grade greens with absolutely nothing added to enhance texture or depth of flavor. Granted, not everyone can secure great local greens everyday, but these salads seemed a bit lazy IMHO. The Federal's salads, at that price point, would be a good model for them to follow.

                  The service, unfortunately, was horrid. Without going into detail, it was slow, inattentive, and somewhat snarky.

                  Perhaps most disappointing was the espresso I ordered. They source Intelligentsia coffee and tea from Chicago, which is an excellent roaster on par with Counter Culture. The espresso I got was too cool, had virtually no crema, and tasted watery. Too bad. I hope they get their act together and do some serious training moving forward. Until I hear otherwise, I'd stick to The Federal.

                  1. re: Doug.NC

                    So not only the espresso is "too cool" there. I agree with the snarkiness factor of the employees, but it's a great place to sit - better than the Federal if you don't want smoke and there's not a good outdoor spot available. The sandwich we had was better than the salad, though the chicken on my caesar salad was actually surprisingly flavorful, not the bland chicken strips most places slap on there. I do agree that the Federal has better salads. I would like them to succeed, too, but honestly, I don't see the service changing anytime soon. If I'm not mistaken, there are some of the same Fowler's hipper-than-thou-cuz-i've-got-cool-tattoos folks working there, or at least their best friends - the folks who are afraid that some sort of pleasant attitude or even a smile could tarnish the hipness they so lovingly nurture.

                    1. re: suse

                      "If I'm not mistaken, there are some of the same Fowler's hipper-than-thou-cuz-i've-got-cool-tattoos folks working there, or at least their best friends - the folks who are afraid that some sort of pleasant attitude or even a smile could tarnish the hipness they so lovingly nurture."

                      Classic. Though the service I encountered there was nothing short of friendly (then again I've been known to be pretty snarky myself), I have heard similar reports. People in the know tell me they've made small changes to make it a better place to just hang out. In the past weeks I've heard that the bread is now in a basket as opposed to being served tableside. The servers apparently now give people a bit more space now and are less hovering. Given the long hours and all-day dining this makes sense.

                      1. re: BryanZ

                        A bunch of former classmates of mine and I returned to Durham this past weekend and chose Alevia's... the food was ok, but the service was absolutely the worst we've experienced in a while- and not necessarily the fault of the waitress, who seemed harried and confused. From the beginning, we waited for everything... including a good 20 minutes just to get wine glasses, having us prompt them to bring us bread and water, as well as water glasses, and then repeatedly, they forgot at least one person's dish (it was a party of 10)... needless to say, it took just as long to get the bill straightened out (including running our cards twice, and losing one of them along the way... not to mention them forgetting to add the gratuity and then the waitress reminding us she needed a tip). Knowing what else is out there in Durham and Chapel Hill, I'm assuming they'll make their money off of the after hours imbibing, but truly, truly disappointing, given their food was ok.

                        1. re: wenster

                          My husband and I took our moms to Alivia's one of the first weekends they opened. We loved the interior, the big garage doors are cool and I can totally see sitting out on the patio after work. Unfortunately, our experience was similar to that of many other posters. We had to constantly chase servers to get drinks, the check etc. But the biggest disappointment was that all of the food that finally did get delivered to our table was cold. In some cases, ice cold. Eating cold eggs Benedict and grits just doesn't make for a great dining experience. My husband had a burger and fries, they had forgotten to put it with our order so it came after all of the rest of us started eating. Server didn't bring any condiments, etc. We really, really want these new places to succeed! But it seems they've now been open long enough to have some of these problems solved. We'll try again, but hope they are reading these posts!

              2. Was back at Alivia's this week with a very large group in a rather curious arrangement so I won't really reflect on service.

                The food here just seems short of being good. The same execution and seasoning problem they were having in their early weeks have continued. I still think the food is creative in theory, but the sauces and protein cooking times are off. I also feel like they place too much on the plate and create this big kind of mush that lacks harmony. Nothing I've had there has been bad, but it should be better than what it is.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BryanZ

                  One of the most succinctly written posts I've read in awhile... and I totally don't want to try this place after reading this thread. That's about all I have to say about that.

                2. we live down the street from alivia's and we've been there several times. i think we've finally given up. nearly everybody who works there has an attitude problem. seating is nonsensical. service is slow and snarky. sometimes the food is better than average but it's not great enough to justify having a lousy time. they never have salt and pepper on the table and when you ask for it, they ask if they can take it away midway through dinner. when you order a coffee in the morning they roll their eyes when you ask for cream and sugar. we, too, were hoping alivia's would be good enough to rival rue cler, the federal, piedmont, pop's, vin rouge... but it's too expensive and has way too much attitude.

                  1. I had to add my thoughts to this old thread - we ended up at Alivia's last Sunday out of desperation (it was foolish to go out looking for lunch at 4pm on Sunday, we know that) - there were so many things wrong, it was comical. Sticky, sticky tables. Filthy plates. Bad hot drinks. Flies everywhere. Distracted service. Lettuce that had seen much better days in a salad.

                    Despite all this, the food was pretty good. But everything else was so bad (and my elbows were sticking to the table, which needed to be re-finished - water wouldn't wipe off that stick) that we will never return.