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Oct 22, 2009 08:06 AM

Rue Cler.. a report [Durham]

Had my first dining experience at Rue Cler in Durham recently. I had been wanting to dine there for a while based on all the positive feedback. My experience, however, was slightly underwhelming.

Dinner was early as the my gf and I saw the place fill up. About the space, driving by I thought the inside was going to be a bit nicer and I guess a little more intimate. It's basically an open box with 2 brick walls and to windowed walls. I'm not saying the space isn't well utilized, but my thoughts of what the space was going to look like contrasted with the actual room. I realize I shouldn't have assumed anything about the space.

For dinner, I had the steak frites and my gf had the salmon. I had not had steak frites at any other French (or French inspired dining facility). The portion was ample with the small shoestring frites almost overflowing on the plate. Having not had Bearnaise sauce before but realizing what its components were, I'm not sure why I expected it to taste of more than just butter... perhaps it was the tarragon or wine reduction. It was okay but again not what I expected. The steak (ribeye) had a bit of grizzle but was cooked to my specifications. It was, however, very salty for me. I wasn't sure if the Bearnaise was meant to be eaten with the fries, the steak or both and so I experimented and liked it with either.

My gf let me try a piece of her salmon. Again, I tasted something very salty with the fish followed by the flavor of the salmon. My gf liked the dish just fine and so thats all that really mattered. The fact that she finished her dish meant either 1. that she really liked it 2. it was just the right portion 3. she was really hungry or 4. all of the above. Usually, it is half eaten and then the rest is boxed for the next day.

Of the things I tasted that night, I think I enjoyed the frittes the best. I enjoyed the meat because I rarely eat red meat though it was a bit salty tasting to me. The space was a little lackluster for both of us because we were sat along the wall where it is just one long bench with some cushions... my gf felt a bit claustrophobic. Also the acoustics can tend to lead to a slightly noisier dining experience.

I liked Rue Cler, but was expecting a bit more. I guess that means in due time we will have to try again. Maybe ordering off the fixed price menu is the way to go?

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  1. I hear ya about the space. I don't mind it, but sometimes it just doesn't work. I'm all about the space and the vibe of a place. I actually went there once and had to leave because it was so cold in there and that coupled with the cold walls was just too much on a summer day. I like Rue Cler a lot and have never had a salt issue there, which is good, especially considering it's the one thing that makes me crazy and might actually prompt me to send something back, which I so rarely do. We've almost always had the prix fixe. My husband almost always gets the fish and is impressed with how well they pull that off. I'm a big fan of the duck. Try the lunch sometime. The space is warmer during the day. The duck crepe actually has the frites wrapped in it and is bizarrely good and decadent. I love their hollandaise - it's nice with the asparagus and egg, which is invariably one of their course offerings in the evenings. Have you tried Vin Rouge? It went through a bit of a not so good spell, but seems to be very good again. Good bistro food and a somewhat warmer atmosphere.

    1 Reply
    1. re: suse

      Nope haven't gotten to Vin Rouge... yet. As I've mentioned to others.. so many places to try and so little time (and more importantly company to eat with). Lunch is a bit difficult as I'm in Chapel Hill and don't usually eat lunch out on the weekends (since we usually eat out for a performance during the night).

    2. I like Rue Cler a lot, but sometimes find problems with it myself. But never with the steak frites, salmon or (huge hit with me) the bearnaise. I even like the look of the room, although I do hear what you mean about it not being what you expect. My problems with the place are things like running out of something on the menu 15 minutes after opening. We went for brunch a couple of weeks back and about 3 of the 7 main course offerings weren't available. And we were there soon after they'd opened. I mentioned this to the guy, and he said "oh, we had a busy night last night." I'd buy that explanation if it didn't happen as often as it does. Try telling a disappointed 3 year old that she isn't getting the asparagus you've promised her. Another problem I've had: random (and unmentioned) substitutions. Bacon bits are not the same thing as lardons, and shouldn't be subbed without the server mentioning it when you order. That all said, I do like the place a lot. Still and all, Vin Rouge is my favorite - it sort of all comes together there - good food, comfortable place, really good wait staff - friendly, helpful.

      1. I was thinking about a Rue Cler report myself. Five of us ate at Rue Cler Wednesday night. The food was excellent, but the service was abysmal. We complained about the service on our way out and got a sympathetic nod, but not much else. Shame on me for not saying something at the beginning of the meal.

        Four of us had the 3 course prix fixe. The highlight for me was the spatzel with lardons, spinach and a cheesy topping. One member of the party had the salmon, which was outstanding. We had no problems with the salt in the dishes. Dessert was also quite good.

        I'm quite sad that it was such a bad experience as I really like the tasting menus; it's great bang for my buck. I've been there three times and always enjoyed the food, but after the service on Wednesday combined with a $250 bill, I don't think I'll go back.

        5 Replies
        1. re: anne7134

          Service is def. a problem. I once ordered the roast chicken, which clearly says on the menu "order 20 minutes in advance." No problem, we had some wine, we had appetizers. Then my husband's dinner showed up and my chicken didn't. I figured it was on the way, but another 5 minutes went by. I asked the waiter. He looked nervous. A few minutes later the manager came out and very nicely explained that the waiter had forgotten to put the order in, and what could they do to make my experience better. So I have to give them that they do listen. But there are too many times when they really can't seem to get that part of the meal right. it's a shame.

          1. re: LulusMom

            It's really a shame that they have service issues, as there don't seem to be kitchen issues. On Wednesday, the orders were correct and on time, and everyone else who came to our table was friendly and kind, but our waiter must have been having his worst night ever (and I think he was annoyed that we had a child with us). I was willing to overlook most everything, but when he went to throw (think frisbee) dessert on the table and hit my mother-in-law with the plate, hard, then re-threw the dessert and walked off without a word, I could no longer give him the benefit of the doubt.

            1. re: anne7134

              That is pretty unforgivable. The food there is so good (most of the time) and yet you'll likely never go back. I'd write them a letter.

              1. re: anne7134

                The reports of poor service is surprising. I work near by so I've had lunch there several times and have never had a problem with service. In fact, it's been better than most other places. I also think the space is quite nice. It's very similar to Piedmont.

                1. re: bbqme

                  My guess is they know you at this point, and make sure you get great service. As I said, I like the place a lot, but the service is def. a problem. We get there maybe every 2 months. I will say that they never have a problem with us bringing our 3 year old for brunch (we never bring her for dinner - more to her pity).

          2. I like the food at Rue Cler, but it's never a place that I think to go for dinner. I think it's the vibe. It's not chic, it's not cozy, it's not funky... it just doesn't have any of the characteristics that make me want to dine in that space. But I do think the menu is pretty thoughtful and interesting. I haven't had any particularly bad experiences with service. I can't remember a single cocktail that I've ordered there, and fun cocktails is something I really look for in a restaurant. I think Rue Cler is a good place with a bit of an identity crisis, and if they spiffed up their decor, their bar, and their cocktail menu just a little, I would probably eat there much more frequently. If you could put Rue Cler food in the Vin Rouge space, you'd really have a terrific restaurant.

            1 Reply
            1. re: durhamois

              Rue Cler food in Vin Rouge space. Perfect.

            2. I didn't have any problems with the service though our first waiter did suddenly stop waiting our table and was taken over by a blond lady. Didn't miss a beat. The first waiter did not initially explain what the prices were if we wanted to order the 3 course menu as a la carte. I didn't make mention of the Spaetzle as I wasn't sure how it should taste (not had it anywhere else before) and the same with ther Bearnaise. I hadn't had it before and so I wasn't sure whether what I had was a good representation or not. The temperature was a bit chilly for my gf. I usually run like furnace. I don't think the food was bad or I wouldn' t have eaten it. It just wasn't as good as I felt it should be.