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Mar 2, 2009 08:49 AM

Cypress, Chapel Hill

Has anyone been here yet? It opened up in the space vacated by the Trail Shop on Franklin.

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  1. My wife and I recently had dinner at Cypress on the Hill. We were really excited to learn about this place opening; she and I are both huge fans of Magnolia Grill, so learning that the Cypress chef and co-owner was the chef de cuisine at MG was welcome news.

    They have done a beautiful job with the interior. It is light and airy with an open kitchen at the back of the restaurant so that the noise level is low but you still get the vibrant feel of the open kitchen.

    We only had wines by the glass, so I didn't spend a lot of time studying the bottle list, but there were good options available by the glass. I had a sesame crusted tuna appetizer, grilled quickly and left mostly a beautiful ruby red inside, properly cut into tuna sashimi style chunks. It was great, served with pickled ginger and a light vinaigrette. Oddly, there was also a small ball of wasabi, but no soy sauce or other liquid to mix it with. I understand reasonable people may disagree on this, but I am not a fan of placing bits of wasabi on the fish directly. Imo it overpowers the fish.

    My wife had coquilles St. Jacques for an appetizer, which was a special that night and served in a ramekin. She reported that it was very good, an excellent version of the dish.

    I had the whole grilled fish entree which was also great. It was scored so that it was easy to pick the flesh off the fish with just a fork, and nicely spiced and seasoned with chilies as the predominant note. It was not, as reported, very spicy. I overheard two waitpersons describing it as a 7 or 8 out of 10 in spice level, but I found it to be a 4 or 5. I like spicy food, but I'm not one of those people who prides himself on eating fire and then acting like it wasn't hot. This was a well executed dish (with roasted green beans in a soy demi-glaze), just not terribly hot. My wife had an entree featuring a white fish steak (type of fish escapes me), which she reported was good, but not exceptional.

    For dessert we had a roasted banana napolean with a brown sugar semi-freddo, which sounded a lot better than it tasted. It wasn't awful, it just wasn't anything special. The banana flavor overpowered everything else, and it really would have benefited from incorporating a contrasting flavor, perhaps something tart, or texture.

    The house made bread served throughout the meal was fantastic. The service was uneven; there was one server (not ours) who was obviously knowledgeable, engaged, and skillful. Our server was pleasant and trying hard, but just not up to speed yet. When I asked for a recommendation between the whole fried fish and the short ribs, she said "I would go with the fish, because you just don't see whole fried fish in restaurants." A well-meaning, but patently absurd, recommendation. I later overheard this person explaining to the neighboring table that the vegetarian dish on the menu was really only for vegetarians and needed to be saved for vegetarians. Probably a directive from the kitchen (and not a bad one) but inartfully and awkwardly communicated.

    By the time we left the place it was packed, with many people obviously and vocally fans of the chef from his time at MG. Overall, considering that it hasn't been open very long and making room for the possibility that we got a bad draw in the waitstaff and with our dessert selection, I would definitely go back. It is a very strong addition to the Chapel Hill restaurant scene and presumably will only continue to get better as they get some of these kinks worked out.

    19 Replies
    1. re: GogglesPaisano

      I'm glad you liked it and this is by no means a jab at your reporting abilities. All of the dishes sound boring. That server should probably be let go.

      1. re: GogglesPaisano

        My husband and I have visited Cypress twice now, once when it first opened in February and again last week. From our first experience, we were impressed with the food (I also had the whole fish, which was black sea bass, I believe.) and the interior, but the place was far too bright! They have a lovely set-up, and it looks very sleek and modern inside, but the lights were almost glaring. They have since toned it down a little, but it is still a little bright for me.

        Apart from the lights, my only other issue with our first visit was the bartender, who was incredibly rude and even condescending to us! We watched him blatantly ignore several of the servers who came to him with drink orders; he was constantly rolling his eyes, and at one point, he even pulled a face at the GM's turned back. It was extremely unprofessional, and had the food not been so exceptional, we probably would not have returned. He was not there this past weekend, so perhaps they got wind of his behavior?

        Our most recent visit was an absolute delight -- as I said, they had turned the lights down a bit more, the rude bartender was gone, and the food was once again superb. We had a Charleston-style crabcake appetizer that was over a mixed green salad, as well as a french bistro-style egg salad that rivaled the same plate when I had it outside of Paris! For entrees, I enjoyed the "Cypress Duck Two Ways," the confit was a tad bit salty, but the breast was absolutely perfect. My husband had Cobia, which came over low-country rice with a wonderful citrus salsa over it. We each cleaned our plates -- Chef Gallis and his crew are easily the most talented in all of Chapel Hill, if not the whole Triangle.

        On another note, I must say we also had a fantastic server. She was extremely knowledgeable about everything on the menu, gave us wine and food recommendations (which we took her up on and were not disappointed with!) and to top it all off, she had the most beautiful smile on her face the entire evening. I usually am a "less-is-more" person in regards to waitstaff, but this young lady moved around the dining room with such grace and calm that my husband and I were struck by it.

        All in all, we are so happy to have found a new place to take our friends -- we will definitely be back again and again!

        1. re: jeannie71

          I have to ask - when you say Gallis and crew are "easily" the most talented in Chapel Hill, are you including Bonne Soiree in this comparison? Because that's laying down the gauntlet right there...

          1. re: mikeh

            Ah, Bonne Soiree! You're right; it is pretty close. But you know, I still have to say that Cypress' has my vote. With their open kitchen, you can watch everything they do. All of them move effortlessly around their stations, let alone the fact that every dish I have ever seen from them has been perfect in appearance and certainly in taste. As someone who has worked in many, many restaurants over the years, I am just so impressed by their communication (although sometimes they do get a little loud :) and efficiency of movement back there. As our server put it, they are an "All-Star line-up": Gallis with Acme and Magnolia Grill under his belt, the Chef de Cuisine is the former La Residence Sous Chef (back when their food was something to write home about), the Cypress Sous Chef is also former Magnolia Grill, etc. Cypress literally culled the best of the best from area restaurants and brought them together under one roof. No rookies here.

            One last note: I'm delighted at how many local growers and farms they utilize, Cross Farms and Celebrity Dairy, to name a few. Way to go!

            1. re: jeannie71

              NOT WORTH IT; TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE WITH A RUDE WAITER AND LESS THAN MEDIOCRE FOOD. WASTE OF MONEY, WASTE OF TIME - if you want a good night with absolutely lovely food, don't go for any less that BON SOIREE.

              1. re: foodie922

                oh c'mon. If you're going to trash a place like that, at least describe in more detail exactly how and why the service and food didn't live up to your expectations. Posting a two-liner doesn't really help others truly analyze the place.

                Now, while I fully agree with you that Bonne Soiree is in a class of its own (as one of my favorite restaurants in the country), I don't think Cypress on the Hill is trying to be Bonne Soiree (although prices are about the same). They fill different niches depending on what atmosphere/vibe you're in the mood for.

                My meal there was exquisite in every way. Chef/owner Alex Gallis focuses very strongly on fresh, local, organic ingredients, and my menu culled the best of the current source offerings in each dish that was crafted. I started with a Sneads Ferry fried soft shell crab with red slaw, red peppers, and a remoulade, while my fiancee had the corn chowder with crawfish, bacon, potato, charred corn, and paprika aioli. My soft-shell crab was one of the best renditions of soft shell crab I've ever had. The corn chowder was spot on too and quite interesting, but I still prefer the more "Southern/Continental" style of preparation that Magnolia Grill does for this dish.

                For entrees, I had a whole fried red snapper with soba noodle & tomato confit salad, ginger soy glazed green beans & spicy sambal butter sauce. And by whole, I mean WHOLE - head on and all, plated in dramatic fashion upright (in the orientation that fish are when they're swimming) on a long, thin plate. Now, I grew up in Florida close to the beach, so I know fresh seafood and have high standards for it. This was the best whole fish I've ever had in a restaurant. and we're 150 miles from the coast! Again, Chef did a wonderful job incorporating subtle Asian elements without it being gimmicky or "fusion-y." The flavors just worked so well together. (Warning: this dish is slightly spicy, so if you have more of an alligator tongue be forewarned).

                My fiancee had a grilled pork chop with "cornbread" spaetzle, glazed baby carrots, spring vidalias, applewood bacon, roasted apple sauce & bourbon jus. The chop was wonderfully tender but the standout was the bedding of yummy veggies and sauces. One of the top 3 pork chops I've had.

                For dessert, we had a special pear dessert drizzled with honey and served with a chocolatey-cremey tower thing (can't remember what it's called). Delicate, light, fresh, not overly sweet. A great way to end.

                Our waitress was top-notch too. Unobtrusive, efficient, pleasant, and knowledgeable about recommendations, ingredient sources, and any question we could throw her way. There wasn't a service hitch the entire evening. The atmosphere is somewhat modern with its lines, colors and "open airduct" ceiling, yet formal enough with white linens and heavy-set silverware. The large windows and skylights give the place an airy, open feel.

                1. re: mikeh

                  I went to Cypress on the Hill earlier this week. I liked it, didn't love it. I started with a vidalia chowder. This was supposed to be finished with bacon, and they left it off for me (not a red meat eater). This was probably a mistake on my part, but they really pushed how wonderful the soup was, and said it would be fine without the bacon. I think it would be better with it, although still fairly pedestrian.

                  I then had the whole fish that mikeh discusses above. Absolutely wonderful and fresh fish, and really nice recipe. I think they should have held back on the fermented black beans though - a single tablespoon would have been more than enough. This isn't for spice reasons (I can take it very very hot) but because by the end of the meal I felt overwhelmed by the saltiness of it. Still, I have to say I loved it.

                  The wine by the glass selection is not bad, but nothing to rave about. I'll give it another try, but I'm not sure this place is up to its price point.

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    I heard that Cypress on the Hill is having their first wine dinner on May 18th, it looks to be awesome! I've eaten there twice and love the crab cakes! Are there any other wine dinners in Durham and Chapel Hill that look good that anyone can recommend?

                    1. re: foodandwinesnob1

                      Panciuto in Hillsborough does seasonal wine dinners. I think it's my third-favorite restaurant in the Triangle behind Bonne Soiree and Magnolia Grill.


                      The next wine dinner should be a must because we're getting into a good season for Panciuto where they source almost 100% of their ingredients from local farms and the summer availability really complements their dishes very well.

                      Tim Lyons' Blu Seafood and Bar in Durham has an upcoming $45 four-course wine pairing menu on May 20 entitled a "crustacean" dinner. That should be a knockout:

                      1. re: mikeh

                        I've been going to the Blu wine dinners and think Tim's food is generally very good. I've not heard of Panciuto, but went to to the website and it looks nice. They weren't listing any wine dinners though. Is it something you'd recommend? I hope there is more going on in Chapel Hill Durham than just this one. I want to get in on the action!

                        1. re: foodandwinesnob1

                          I think there was a wine dinner going on at Acme in Carrboro recently. Not great food though (not horrible, just not great).

                          1. re: foodandwinesnob1

                            Chapel Hill Wine Company does wine dinners once a month in conjunction with several Chapel Hill and Durham restaurants - Acme is one of them. They have them listed on their web site here:, or you can sign up to be on their email list. That's how I learn about them.

                        2. re: foodandwinesnob1

                          Google "recession dinners" "chapel hill" and you'll get some more...

                          1. re: fussycouple

                            Do what fussycouple says. A few that come up are worth trying out.

                            1. re: mikeh

                              I've been to Acme but didn't like it. I did just hear that Nana's and the Siena is having a series. Opinions anyone?

                              1. re: foodandwinesnob1

                                Il Palio is doing a dinner at Elodie Farm. For those of you that have not been recently, the updated menu is well worth checking out. Reasonably priced unlike in the past and market driven.

                            2. re: fussycouple

                              Thanks fussy couple I googled it and these look great!, and seems to be almost every other week. I'm calling now for reservations.

                            3. re: foodandwinesnob1

                              Celebrity Dairy hosts wine dinners each season where Chip Smith does the cooking and Tina Vaugh (from Bonne Soiree) picks the wines .

                              1. re: bbqme

                                That one sounds very worth looking into. Thanks as always bbqme. You seem to be a font of information!

              2. I emailed Celebrity Dairy about their series, since there were no prices mentioned on teh web site and the link to the reservation form was broken.

                Most dinners are $50 for each person and you bring your own wine. With the Chip Smith/Tina Vaughn dinners, the price is $75 since Tina does the wine. If anyone wants to see the brochure they sent me, email me privately and I'd be happy to forward it to you.

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