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nice birthday dinner - chapel hill, raleigh, durham

It's my boyfriend's birthday next week and want to take him somewhere really nice for his bday - a place with great food and ambience...I don't live in the area, so I have no idea where to take him and searching past posts didn't really help. I've heard that Magnolia Grill is good, but I would love your recommendations. We both love meat, seafood, ethnic...anything really, as long as it's good! Thanks for your help!

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  1. I think Elaine's (on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill) is really good for ambience and intimate dinners - it has that kind of candlelit lean-across-the-table feel. The food is delicious, also (there's a menu on the website, http://www.elainesonfranklin.com/). And then you are in walking distance of the Lantern, which has a very sexy bar for cocktails before or after.

    1. Agree with both of those recs in Chapel Hill... would add Mag Grill and Four Square in Durham and Vin and Fraziers in Raleigh. Request Robin or Erin if you go to Elaine's. Mag Grill, though, isn't necessarily the most romantic restaurant in the world...

      1. Totally agreement on Elaine's, and Magnolia Grill. Very good food at both, and I think they're both romantic (although perhaps Elaines a little more so, just because it is smaller and quieter). Also a fan of the Lantern, although I am not sure I'd call it romantic. If he is a steak lover, Bin 54 would probably fit the bill. And I'd add Piedmont and Rue Cler to the list ... they're both hot places right now, and maybe a little more bustling than you'd find romantic, but they're have great food and if that busy-ness doesn't bother you, then I'd even call them romantic.

        1 Reply
        1. re: LulusMom

          bin 54 is a great place to eat for 2. very romantic atmosphere, and the food, although very expensive for what it is, is masterfully prepared

        2. I'd put Four Square into the mix. Maybe a small notch below in the food department but much more intimate ambiance than Mag Grill.

          1. I would Starlu in Durham--great food, quiet atmosphere, and great service. MAgnolia Grill can be really loud and I found the food to be less than what I would want for the money honestly.

            2 Replies
            1. re: maisimai

              has starlu improved? i've only been there for lunch. Both times the food was completely uninspired. For instance, at a work lunch i had a southwestern-style chicken burger (or it could have been turkey) with 'tortilla strip 'fries''. I thought these 'fries' would be thick cut tortilla fritters, instead they were regular, from-the-store tortilla strips. served with ketchup. the service was also terrible. my friend used to cook there and he said that the food and service suffered because of an overly egotistical and overall poor chef/manager. In fact i thought i heard they were out of business?

              1. re: maisimai

                We knocked Starlu off our list 10 months ago due to cruddy service and sub-par food. It's such a shame because we loved it when they first opened.

              2. only out of business for lunch, sadly. i'd agree with your friend's assessment of the chef's overinflated ego... almost to the point of delusions of grandeur. in my experience, the food reflects that all too well.

                1 Reply
                1. re: HeelsSoxHound

                  the last time I ate at starlu, there were only 2 or three tables sat in the restaurant, so it was very quiet. I could hear the chef yelling at the servers, which completely ruined my dining experience. Why would you yell at your servers in an open kitchen? and why the hell would you stuff the open kitchen back in the corner? I might give starlu another try for dinner/latenight; i hope i have a better time.

                2. I attended a "business in the kitchen" seminar and dinner at Starlu last year. I found the chef engaging and positive. But then again, I didn't work under him in the kitchen...I know that's a totally different story most times.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: peetoteeto

                    Wow - totally disagree with everyone here except for the above post. I went to Starlu for dinner a couple of weeks ago - I had their snapper with gnochi and a caesar salad and my 2 friends had their hanger steak. We all thought the food was excellent and chef/owner an engaging and personable person. It was my friend's birthday and he even treated her to a complimentary glass of champagne.

                    The service was good - no problems there and I saw no signs of an egotistical owner/chef!

                    Starlu also raises money through the restaurant for charity. See bottles of change on Starlu's web site:


                    In 2006 the owner/chef also had what he called a lox for locks breakfast - trading donated hair for breakfast. This donated hair goes toward wigs for people in need. This hit a special note with me as someone who works in the oncology field.

                  2. I like the vibe at Jujube. My "boyfriend" - aka husband - and i sat at the bar not too long ago and had a great time. Asiany fushiony and just all around fun. Pricey enough to make it a birthday treat, but it won't kill you. Unless you're into uppity stuffy I wouldn't go with 4 square. i took the hub there for his birthday once and was not only broke afterwards, but felt like i could have just stayed at home. a place needs to have a vibe - there needs to be at least a minor buzz in the room. romantic, yes, but not stuffola. definitely second the lantern bar - wildly romantic if you're okay with lots of people around in a smallish space and great vibe. really dark with red lanterns - sexiest bar in the area.

                    1. thanks for all the help, i decided to go for elaine's...we've both wanted to check the place out for awhile now...i know the menu frequently changes, but what has everyone liked there?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: californialoving

                        The menu changes frequently, but we went last month and had a really great moroccan flavored fish dish. I *think* tuna, but I can't swear to it. Can't remember the appetizer I got, but I also usually have pretty good luck with desserts there (and I'm picky on that front). They tend toward the simple/straight forward.

                        1. re: californialoving

                          If it's on the menu, don't miss the seared foie gras on an apple tart tatin. You could honestly eat this either as an appetizer or dessert! The f.g. isn't a massive slab that overwhelms everything else and the combination of sweetness and texture differences is heavenly. If you are unsure about foie gras and have wanted to try it, but are worried about not liking it, this is a great way to experiment. You can always scrape it off and eat the tart alone (heresy).