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Kids are Gone--How to Prioritize Triangle Eating Opportunities?

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Not sure exactly what I'm asking here or what advice I'm looking for but thought I'd throw this out for general thoughts or recommendations.

Our kids are away this week visiting grandparents which gives me and my husband a chance to try out some new fine dining establishments and/or revisit some old ones we haven't hit yet. We'll probably get to hit a couple of places this week and will have a similar opportunity again later in the summer. With the closing of MG, I'm reminded of the need to not take some of our local treasures for granted and to make an extra effort to try new places or revisit old ones rather than fall back on our usual haunts. We like all sorts of stuff and to some degree are a bit ambivalent in selecting among the possible options so would be particularly interested in thoughts on places that are particularly hot / on their game right now or otherwise should not be missed but may not get the most billing or recognition here or elsewhere.

To that end, I'm trying to decide what spots to hit first and/or whether it makes sense to revisit some old ones before trying all the new spots. We are in Raleigh so I am focusing mostly on Chapel Hill and Durham in order to take advantage of our extra time. Fearrington House we have done and will go back when we can spend the night. Poole's is our favorite in Raleigh and we will go again this week even though that will cut into our exploration elsewhere.

A few thoughts on what else is out there:

1. Heron's--only one of us has done actual restaurant; both have eaten at the bar; I know it's amazing but not sure we're really up for that this week, especially with so many others on the list (I'm also hopeful that I may get to hit this on someone else's dime at some point); should we just splurge and reserve some extra time and do this as our one event this week (besides Poole's) or better to hit some other spots?
2. Lantern--we've never been; seems this may should be our top priority; Asian is fine but not our favorite; given all the press though seems we should experience this.
3. Four Square--also never been and would really like to go; should we put ahead of Lantern?
4. Revolution--never been; not sure I'd really put it above the top 2 new places to visit based on what I've seen and heard but not really asked anybody to rank before; should we elevate it on our list;
5.What about Anile's Italian place in American Tobacco?; sounded really good and was getting some good buzz; based on menus, etc. I think I'd almost prefer trying that before Revolution personally--would that be a mistake from a general foodie perspective
6. Nana's--have been a few times but it's been several years; don't really hear much about it here; any reason to put this higher or lower on the list; should we go here before any of the new places?
7. Elaine's on Franklin--have been twice but was also several years ago; how are they doing? should we prioritize this over new and/or return to other favorites? should we put this over Nana's if we are revisiting?
8. Kitchen--have never been
9. Provence--is this still open?; we have never been but really wanted to go at one point; I just don't ever see much mention of it here or otherwise
10. Rue Cler--never been for dinner and has been awhile since we were there for lunch / brunch; same for Vin Rouge; if we were going to do one of these, is there a strong preference?
11. Piedmont--Haven't been since the change in ownership; would like to go back but seems we have more important work ahead of us?
12. Panciuto in Hillsborough--should we drive past some of the others above to get here
13. Bin 54--My husband really loves steak and wants to try; I don't eat red meat so I'm putting this further down; sounds like quality may have gone done some since it first opened; should I "sacrifice" for sake of my husband?;
14. On perhaps a bit of a different scale, we've also never been to Tonali, G2B, Geer Street Garden--if we were looking for a more casual or scaled down spot is one of these at the top of the list; are these fairly doable with young kids such that we should not waste our alone time on these?

Apologies for this being so long and rambling but welcome any general thoughts or advice. Thanks.

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  1. panciuto has a single source event this friday night in hillsborough. we have always enjoyed their 'special event' dinners: https://www.facebook.com/events/36890...

    g2b and geer street have been great going with our 2.5 year old, but you know - the meal has to be under 1.5 hours, right? (and start early!) tonali - service is slow, so i would not recommend with young kids.

    1. We're in the same boat next week (sans kid) and our priority is Indian food since that's the one thing we can't get ours to like yet. Given your focus on Durham/Chapel Hill, there's not too much I can contribute, but here's what I do know.

      Drop Piedmont way down on your priority list. It used to be very good but we were very disappointed with it the last (and it will be the last) time we went. Not worth it, IMHO.

      Not sure whether your should put Four Square over Lantern, but both are worthy contenders. My choice would be Lantern, but I'm probably a bigger fan of Asian than you.

      I like Elaine's just fine and I understand why many people love it, but you seem to have other, more interesting choices on your list.

      I don't know if this helps much, but either way, have a great time and enjoy your adult dining events.

      3 Replies
      1. re: rockycat

        Rockycat, I've been wanting to hear about the "new" (whats it been, like 4 years?) Piedmont, but no one I've talked to seems to have been. That bad, huh? I'm so sorry to hear that. Any details?

        1. re: LulusMom

          The service and drinks were good but the the portions were very small, small enough so that our daughter finished her entire plate and was still hungry. Needless to say, the adults were wondering where the rest of their meals were. The menu selection was very limited and not terribly inspired. We should have been clued in that there was a problem when we walked into a nearly empty restaurant in the middle of the dinner hour on a Friday night.

          1. re: rockycat

            Wow, rough. I'm sorry to hear it - that used to be a good place. But thanks for letting us all know.

      2. I'd drop Revolution off the list unless you want to stop by for drinks. I wasn't really much impressed. It is, however, a great looking place and a drink or two with a small plate would be a nice enough option.

        I love Elaine's. I was there last Wed. and made a meal of 3 appetizers and each one was knock your socks off good. A tuna ceviche with coconut milk and peppers (etc.) served with tortilla chips, then a soft shell (which they generously agreed to cook naked for me - normally it comes battered) with a really nice mayo and slaw, and finally a fois gras over pineapple upside down cake (really perfect as a dessert). I like the upscale yet casual feel of the place.

        I've also had good luck lately with Lantern's appetizers (wish to heck -yes, I'm a broken record on this- that they would change up their regular entree menu more often). But if you're not big Asian fans, I'm not sure why you'd want to go.

        Kitchen is a pleasant place that does pretty good food. I like it, it is comfortable, I go there probably once a month. Very seldom does it make me want to go back immediately, but it does keep me coming back.

        I like both Vin Rouge and Rue Cler, but VR wins out for me. I seem to find service/kitchen problems too often at RC, which is a shame considering the level of cooking. But it got bad enough that my husband, after taking one too many guests there and having the meal messed up, decided he wasn't going to go back. It must have been a year at least at this point. Maybe service issues have been cleared up, in which case it would be a great choice. But VR has great food, great service, is comfortable and casual and bustling.

        When I go to Bin 54 I normally go and sit at the bar on a week night, and take advantage of the happy hour half price appetizer specials. And they are almost always really good. The place always seems bustling, so they must be still doing something right. I can't really speak to the steak aspect since I mostly keep away from red meat.

        Provence is still open. Last meal I had there was good, but months and months ago.

        Nana's is very popular but never impressed me that much. I'd rather eat at Nanastacos across the street.

        Why not save Tonali and G2B for when the kids are along? Perfectly good places for kids to go.

        Good luck - hope you eat really well! Let us know where you go and what you loved.

        2 Replies
        1. re: LulusMom

          Thanks everyone for the thoughts so far. All super advice and just the sort of info we were looking for. Glad for any more thoughts and anything we may have left off the list. Thanks again.

          1. re: LulusMom

            If, per LulusMom, you end up at Nanataco or you're just driving by and "feeling peckish", the Mexican Chocolate milkshake is fantastic. The combination of the Mexican chocolate (darker chocolate with warm cinnamon) with the chill of ice cream is wonderful. Asking for it "spicy" adds a bit of chili powder that is indistinguishable at first, but kicks in for a nice finish. Perfect and refreshing for a hot day. Saw that they added some other flavors (e.g. Roasted plantain), but haven't tried it yet.

            Ok for kids too.

          2. If you don't mind the drive, add St. Jacques in North Raleigh to your list. The service is impeccable, and the food is classic French.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mpjmph

              When our kids are away, the parents focus on expensive or spicy. I've not been to Heron's so I can;t comment. I've been to Revolution and Lantern (a lot). I agree with Lulusmom that Lantern could use more variation in menu, Their entrees are excellent. I think I've had them all. Go to Lantern. I disagree with her re: Revolution. I think Revolution is going great as well. They take a few more chances in a way than Lantern, I feel like Revolution is more fun where Lantern is more refined.

              1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                If you like Indian food go to Cholanad, the restaurant is elegant and the food so refined & different.. I also second Kitchen, it always reminds me of a bistro I'd find in New York, buzzy with good food. & the great Flyleaf Books is next door for post-prandial browsing.

            2. Just went to Provence a couple weeks ago - it was good but not great. Nice little place though.

              Personally I wouldn't bother with Panciuto, maybe it's just my bad luck but I have never had a worthwhile experience there. However, there are other people on the board who love the place.

              Bin 54 rocks, but I am a red meat eater so there's that. Your husband will love it and I suspect you'll like it too even without ordering steak. Everything we've had there was fantastic.

              1. I did have a fabulous meal at Panciuto, but I have only been once. I have friends who dine there frequently who love it - but there have been mixed experiences from this board...it is a drive and the hours are limited.

                I agree with skipping Piedmont - I've been several times since the change and was disappointed.

                I have had some really nice dishes at Jujube in CH.

                Enjoy your week!

                1. I'd say Panciuto and Lantern for sure. The former is definitely worth the drive. I also love both Vin Rouge and Rue Cler. I've seen mixed things on Revolution, but mostly good stuff about L'Uva, and I had a very good meal at the latter, so I'd try that too. Geer St. Garden is easy with kids, but I did not enjoy it in one visit. I haven't been to Herons or several of the others on your list. Maybe Il Palio in CH or, back in Raleigh, how about Mandolin? Have fun!

                  1. If you have time for a drive further afield I highly recommend The Chef and The Farmer in Kinston.
                    They recently reopened after the fire and are better than ever.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: meatn3

                      We had a wonderful meal at One the other night. They took chances with things like sous vide and interesting combination like lobster roe and oysters. I'd love to give more feedback, but I was under the weather due to my allergies and couldn't taste anything. The texture on the sous vide salmon I had was very silky.

                      Even though I couldn't taste, One is now on my list of top expensive spot in CH, along with Lantern

                    2. I would call Panciuto the best, as well as most pleasant, restaurant in the Triangle.

                      1. Meatn3, your post got me off my duff to finally try Chef and the Farmer. You are right, it was very good, something I would recommend to anyone here. It's not Magnolia Grill as there were no tangents to the new Southern theme like "strange flavor eggplant" or successfully exploring the limits of marjoram in a dish :). But we had a very good meal with some nice riffs on traditional Eastern NC summer cooking, a very nice fairly-priced wine selection, an experienced server, in a nicely decorated historic downtown space. I could pick a few nits (grouper wasn't impeccably fresh, desserts were good but with a "made in advance" character) but we enjoyed the excursion.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: D R C

                          I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It's a challenge getting Triangle people to travel to Kinston. When I have the time I always feel that it has been worth the drive.

                          I've only had dessert there twice. One was delicious, the other was not to my taste (over the top sweet) but my dining companion loved it.

                        2. We've been out of town so perhaps you can use info for later on in the summer.

                          We don't like driving at night so we go out mostly for lunch. Current favorite places are L'uva in Durham at American Tobacco, Komo-Komo, a small very casual Korean/French bistro owned by a former Duke Washington Inn chef/CIA graduate, in Cary. We have been to Lantern and although it's always good, it's never made us want to come back the next day. Love Bella Mia and its pizzas but service is way too slow for a place that makes pizzas. Table is good and specials are usually interesting. Tonali is very good, miles and miles above any Mexican restaurant around and we always enjoy our meal. Even though it's close enough that we go for dinner, it doesn't seem to call out to us like our first choices do.

                          Revolution was one of our favorites since I think Jim Anile is a genius with fish. When they closed for lunch and opened L'uva, we took our appetites there. Starting with the best bread in the state, I can vouch for any of the fish dishes, pasta, risotto and extraordinary lasagna Bolognese. Menu changes often and I always have a hard time choosing between dishes that all sound as praiseworthy as the squid ink pasta I had last time we were there. We still like Revolution for dinner.