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looking for delicious place for celebration dinner in Raleigh/Durham area

Hi All --

I am on my way to Raleigh in a couple of weeks for a family get-together where there are lots of things to celebrate and we'd like to go out for a wonderful dinner. I'd like to see what restaurants people recommend. Looking for something delicious, distinctive, though it doesn't necessarily have to be fancy if it's great. We're fairly adventurous, though strangely my dad doesn't like Thai (weirdo). Price isn't really the biggest consideration.

I'm coming from NYC, so if you know New York at all, here are the places I would consider if we were having it here -- it's a real range:

Momofuku Ssam
Babbo or Lupa
Pio Pio in Queens
Ghenet Ethiopian
Le Bernardin or wd-50 if I was feeling crazy

Local seafood would be great. People seem to be mentioning Kemp's -- good? Possibly really great eastern style vinegary barbecue for more downhome food...? My parents live in a really rural area and don't have a fine dining experience that often either, so we're also open to that... anything!

Thanks for any and all recs!

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  1. hmmmm... looking at this bon appetit article...

    http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/20...

    Crook's Corner sounds nice:

    http://www.crookscorner.com/

    Opinions?

    4 Replies
    1. re: cocofaye

      There's a great place in Chapel Hill that where I've received great service and excellent food. If you call ahead and request it, they can prepare a special menu for your event, as long as there's enough notice. I've linked below to some of the special menus they've done. It's next to Bin54. I think you'd really like it.

      http://tinyurl.com/cocofaye

      Btw, I'm eager to go to Momofuko next month and enjoy the crispy pig head.

      Crook's Corner is OK, but not very adventurous. You can do better. Take a look at Watt's Grocery or Nana's. For BBQ, I like The Pit in Raleigh, b/c they serve drinks. For the authentic experience, go to Allen & Son in Chapel Hill.

      Kemp's is a mass produced seafood place. Everything but the slaw is battered and fried. You can do far better here.

      Whatever you do, don't miss LocoPops. Their wacky flavored popsicles will blow your mind.

      1. re: Tom from Raleigh

        I'll 2nd Tom's rec.

        Crook's isn't adventurous by design. It seems like every year they get more aggressively seasonal which is great. Where else are you going to find mayhaw or honeysuckle sorbets? We had the soft-shell crabs there tonight and they were phenomenal. Watt's is, to me, the same way. Simple, fresh, well-executed, and delicious.

        Both Watts and Crooks are a good ways from Raleigh.

        1. re: Tom from Raleigh

          I'll 3rd Tom's motion, especially given the places in NYC you listed.

          In addition we have Magnolia Grill, Lantern, Panciutto, Fearrington House, and The Mint, all of which can be recommended for various reasons.

          1. re: Tom from Raleigh

            thanks so much! these places sound really great. jujube sounds really amazing -- i may call this week about the special dinner and surprise the family.

            You will love any of the Momofuku's. If you can get into Ko, do it, do it, do it. You won't be disappointed. If not, Ssam is just as good in a different way. I've almost always gotten in on a whim with no reservations, even on the weekend, and you have a great opportunity to try lots of wonderful little dishes. the apple and kimchi bacon salad is great if they have it. and the raw fluke in buttermilk. and the oysters. yummmmm... I'm a seafood person and haven't tried the head, but you've inspired me for next time.

            particularly thanks for the 2 bbq recommendations. i'm always doing this in NYC -- weighing authenticity or slight delicious edge against the having of booze... we'll see what the parents say, but since it's their vacation i think i can guess the answer!

            after i askled about kemp's i did more digging, and yeah, no!

            LocoPops sounds like a great destination for a long bike ride.

            thank you, thank you!!!

        2. Don't do Kemp's. I called just the other day and they don't source any of their seafood products locally. Your best bet for casual-to-moderate-style seafood would be Blu Seafood and Bar in Durham, NC http://bluseafoodandbar.com/

          However, the best local seafood is gotten in the more upscale places that put a premium on fresh, local ingredients.

          What I have in mind is Watts Grocery in Durham - http://www.wattsgrocery.com/ - (a great neighborhood place with a farm-to-table ideology),

          or Magnolia Grill in Durham - http://www.magnoliagrill.net/ - (which incidentally is listed just one spot below Le Bernardin on the Gourmet Magazine list of America's top 50 restaurants) even though the atmosphere is non-stuffy and "biz cas."

          Watts currently has a great pan-seared/fried local fish on their menu (it rotates through snapper and grouper and triggerfish based on what is fresh from the fishmonger) on a bed of peas, greens, asparagus, and other farmer's markets delicacies. Magnolia Grill also currently has a nice spice-nut-encrusted grouper on their menu.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mikeh

            thank you thank you all. Magnolia grill looks great if my parents turn out to want something more conventional and I'm really excited about Watts which looks nice and laid back. just wonderful!

          2. Kemps is fried seafood served to the masses. Good, but very casual and not special celebration material. Blu Seafood in Durham has fabulous food and if you requested the Chef's table it would be truly memorable. The regular menu is fine, though. Next door is Vin Rouge offering excellent French provincial cuisine. Watt's Grocery, also in Durham, offers contemporary southern food using local ingredients by a French-trained chef in a stylish setting. I've heard good things about Fins in Raleigh but haven't been. You noticed that your fellow New Yorker Andrew Knowlton dubbed Durham & Chapel Hill the"Foodiest Small Town In America" with good reason. Crooks Corner is the granddaddy of local contemporary southern cuisine and still very good. Try the shrimp & grits. Really. Enjoy your visit and make sure you try our local, independently owned joints.

            1 Reply
            1. re: PeterB

              Watt's Grocery is changing to their new menu in the next few days so should be interesting.
              Second the nod to Blu Seafood for nice, local place for good seafood.
              Also suggest Piedmont, Rue Cler, Pop's and Four Square. I haven't been to Revolution, but friends who have, have enjoyed it.
              And for casual, lunch place we love Parker & Otis - can't beat the porch for a nice place to relax for lunch.

            2. Sorry - I'm not a New Yorker, so I know nothing about the restaurants you've mentioned. However, as a Triangle dweller, I'd recommend Frasiers, J. Betski's, The Pit, Papa Mojo's, Angus Barn or Watts Grocery with no hesitation. All are on the nicer side of casual, and we've had great experiences at each. I'd skip Kemp's - not that good. I've not been to Jibarra since they moved downtown - upscale Mexican cuisine - but I've seen mixed reviews on it.

              Anyone been to The Mint lately?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Suzy Q

                I would add Bon Soiree and Lantern in Chapel Hill

              2. Hog Heaven in Durham - I live near Boone and sometimes drive there just for the barbecue. It is the best I've ever had - period. You can taste the hickory in the meat and it's the perfect mix of vinegar and red pepper.

                In fact it's so good that I didn't want to put the sauce on the meat - I just knew that it would somehow mess it up. Boy was I wrong, the sauce made it even better.

                I liked it so much I found myself ordering a couple of pounds for the road... They ship it anywhere too.. says so on the menu - a whale of a thing to say if you can't back it up.. but they backed it up.

                It's off the guess road exit in Durham off of 85...