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Jan 21, 2008 07:49 AM

Herons, Fearrington or Magnolia Grill?

I'm planning my husband and my birthday dinner (Are birthdays are back-to-back.) I was thinking of Magnolia Grill or Herons. We really appreciate great food, interesting menus and fabulous, but not stuffy service and these two popped to the top of the list. Also - what about Fearrington?

Any opinions?


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  1. I cannot speak to Herons, as I have not been there yet, but I strongly believe that you cannot go wrong with Magnolia Grill. The food is wonderful, and it's very reasonable for "fancy eatin'" - the wife and I ate to the bursting limit (2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts) with 2 glasses of wine and 2 beers for $150 including tip. I think you'd be hard pressed to eat better at either Herons or Fearrington, particularly without spending considerably more.

    I wrote a much more extensive review on my blog, but I do not want to violate the posting ettiquette here.

    1. Magnolia Grill is always a good choice, although the food is sometimes amazing and at other times just good. I have only eaten at Herons once, but every dish served at the table was excellent, and the wine list was really good. Beware, it ended up being quite a bit more expensive than a normal dinner at Magnolia would be. Another option is Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill. It is definitely a bit stuffy, but not in the fake way and the result is truly amazing service. The quality and consistency of Bonne Soiree has made it my favorite spot in the triangle.

      7 Replies
      1. re: nekst

        I second Bonne Soiree. Truly polished food and service. Interesting wine list with all winners and expertly executed food. Best in the area in my opinion.

        1. re: sluetgenau

          Thanks everyone - we're a big fan of tasting menus - and do that every time we go to the Inn at Little Washington. I'd love to go someplace that does one. ( I know MagGrill doesn't, but I'd still go there, of course.)

          Bonnie Soiree - I've never heard of it. Do they have a website or a tasting menu? I'm going to check it out!

          1. re: Sharkbait

            I don't think Bonne Soiree has a tasting menu, but they do have a wine pairing option. Go anyway, you won't regret it. It is a really small place -- I think 10 or 11 tables. I think Herons does have a tasting menu. Not a bad dilemma to be in. Enjoy!

            1. re: Sharkbait

              I also vote for Bonne Soiree over the other options. One of my favorite restaurants in the country (and holds its own with my absolute favorite - Manresa in Los Gatos, CA). Fantastic cuisine and old-world polished service. Intimate and charming atmosphere. Chef worked directly with the Inn at Little Washington chef for a while, I believe, and the results in my opinion are just as good. Do the wine pairing. I believe it's $25 additional, and the co-owner, Tina, has knowledge of wines that is beyond amazing.

              I've been to both Magnolia Grill and Bonne Soiree quite a few times each, and I'm consistently more impressed with Bonne Soiree. The atmosphere is also a notch above (e.g. you can actually have a conversation in there without being drowned out by background noise).

              Bonne Soiree review:

              1. re: mikeh

                Thanks all!

                Does Bonne Soiree have a website?

                This is now a big contender!

                1. re: Sharkbait

                  Bonne Soiree does not have a website. The food is very old-school, but as mentioned, in a polished, reverence for classic technique sort of way. (ie, not a bad thing.) I don't know that I'd put it on the level of the Inn at Little Washington, as previously mentioned, but certainly very good as far as this area is concerned. I'm not positive that they do a tasting menu, but they tend to be very accomodating of other requests, so who knows?
                  Avoid Fearrington at all costs. Well, let me rephrase. By all means book a room there--some of the most luxurious accomodations I've experienced-- but the restaurant is barely a shadow of what it once was, despite its reputation.
                  Agree with the rec for Il Palio, on the other hand, which has been resurrected recently at the hands of its new husband-wife chef-sommelier team.
                  Haven't been to Four Square in awhile, but I'm surprised that it hasn't yet made this list--has it gone downhill? I've heard nothing but good things from friends who have been recently.
                  Have not, on the other hand, heard such rave reviews on Herons, though I can't comment myself.

                2. re: mikeh

                  I don't think you're going to go wrong w/ any of the options you're considering.

                  If you are looking for a tasting menu, you should consider Il Palio as well. The menu menu isn't that exciting but the tasting menu can be phenomenal, particularly w/ the wine pairing option.

                  I'd put it in the same tier (price, food, and service) as the others you're looking at

          2. Herons is FABULOUS. Excellent and creative food, understated service, beautiful restaurant. I'm assuming price is no object? Herons is quite pricey (I believe more so than the other selections), but in my opinion it's worth it. Hope it's a great birthday!

            1. Bonne Soiree
              Fearrington House
              Il Palio

              are all on my "go to" lists.

              Magnolia Grill has, and always has, great food, if you don't mind eating crammed in like sardines in an overcrowded loud environment. But for special occasions, we prefer to put our money in places with a bit more "atmosphere" on top of the food.

              I don't know why Fearrington gets bad raves here on Chow, it always has been, and still is, one of the best in the area.

              But all of the ones on my list above are "no hesitation" places to eat out.

              7 Replies
              1. re: fussycouple

                I think Bonne Soiree is it! I'm going to call today.

                Just out of curiosity - what's an average bill dinner for two, with starters, main course and dessert? (Maybe 2 glasses of wine.)

                1. re: Sharkbait

                  My last three meals there (yes, I keep the final tab because it's handwritten very prettily), which always included two apps., two entrees, and two desserts, but no wine, have been $97, $118, and $120 (that meal more expensive because of the venison). That includes tax, but not gratuity. More specifically, our apps/salads have ranged from $8-16, entrees from $21-42 (but most in the mid-upper 20s), and desserts $8.50.

                  1. re: Sharkbait

                    My bills have been about $100 per person (including 3 courses, wine pairing, and tip.)

                    1. re: nekst

                      Ok - great. Thanks! That's totally doable. I'm in for 3/14 at 745! I'm so excited!

                      Then again, next to the Inn at Little Washington - everything looks cheap!! (4 of us for 2 dinners Fri-Sat and breakfasts came to $3200. SCARY, but totally worth it!)

                      1. re: Sharkbait

                        Earlier you asked about a tasting menu so I'll relate my nice experience at Bonne Soiree. My wife and I were undecided about two appetizers (an amazing fish soup and a pate dish) andmentioned this to Tina who then suggested that we have both, splitting them as first and second mini courses. Brilliant! And no extra plate charge! I bet they'd be willing to do the same for you if asked nicely.

                        1. re: bbqme

                          I will add my support for Bonne Soiree. Great food. Here is an example of their service -- we were planning dinner and had decided on wine by the glass. Tina said, with your choices, I suggest a particular wine. We don't usually serve it by the glass, but we have a bottle open, so let me serve you two glasses and I will charge you our typical "by-the-glass" price. I assure you this was a bargain. Great food, great service, a gem of a place.

                      2. re: nekst

                        We ate there last night again. Bill was within $5 of the last time we ate there at $237, including tip (2 people).

                        This included the wine pairing, which we get each time we go. We get the wine pairing even at the risk of wines we wouldn't normally order because Ms. Vaughn is informed about wine without being snooty, and it is fun sometimes to let someone else make the choice. We feel "in good hands" with Bonne Soiree. Not to mention that the wine pairing is a great value.