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Straw Valley Cafe in Durham to get redesigned by chef at Il Palio

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  1. Wow. Sounds very ambitious. I hope he can pull it off.

    8 Replies
    1. re: romansperson

      He better improve the parking first and give it some signage cause most people didn't even know where Straw Valley cafe was if a friend didn't tell them.

      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

        Signage and marketing will be the life and death of the place. From 15-501, it appears nearly impossible to get to the place.

        We like the chef's food that we've tasted over the years at events like TerraVita, so we're excited for him to work outside Il Palio.

          1. re: Tom from Raleigh

            Yes I agree. I would have never known straw valley cafe or pomegranate kitchen were back there if someone hadn't facebook or twitter posted about them. The parking is all gravel if I remember and that needs to change.

            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

              Really? Is the parking a seriously big deal for most people? I am not being snarky, I promise, just wondering how serious an issue that is. Never occurs to me that it is a problem when I go there. LulusDad, on the other hand, might well agree with you. I'll ask him.

              1. re: LulusMom

                Well I'm saying if they plan to have an increase in customers.. then you want some scalability.

                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                  LulusDad says he hates potholes, and that if the parking lot is full of potholes he won't be a fan. But gravel in general doesn't bother him (and he's kinda big on his cars). By scalability do you mean can you deliver the same product to a bigger number of people? In that case, i definitely see your point. I have seen signs when parking there that said "for more parking go 50 Ft." or something like that, but I've never checked it out.

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    As far as I can remember, the parking lot does not have a pothole issue. Regardless, the project is very exciting. I love the property, correctly described as a labyrinth, and have been a big fan of the chef's food. It will be exciting to see what he can do without the constraints of Il Palio (Italian only, hotel dining room). I can't wait to see a menu. Anyone have inside info?

      2. That looks like a nice antithetical to all the other strip mall options on both sides of the street nearby. Looking forward to it, especially phase 3.

        1. This could be great news. I hope they don't do too much in the way of renovating/changing the space, but it doesn't sound like they will. I really enjoy Straw Valley, but wine I've had there has been swill, so it will be nice having something decent. And Chef Rose is an exciting cook.

          1. Someone I know was just there this morning and so the space is still open, but there is the obvious noise of construction.

            7 Replies
            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

              I was there last Friday and didn't notice anything at all going on.

              1. re: LulusMom

                All permits are in hand and I believe the restaurant will be open in two weeks. Very exciting

                1. re: veganhater

                  I'm very very excited. Thanks for the update.

                2. re: LulusMom

                  Y'all get ready. Straw valley opens their restaurant The Black House on Wednesday. We were able to get a sneak preview and it was pretty awesome.

                  They've done a great job with the space so far. Very warm and inviting. Fireplaces, water fountains, a wall of plants, lots of cool nooks and crannies. Plenty more is scheduled for the grounds and bar area, but right now they've got the dining room feeling great.

                  For those unaware, the service and beverage program are run by master sommelier Fred Dexheimer. As expected, the wine list is well chosen and lots of fun. He's also come up with a great cocktail list, taking full advantage of the juice bar in the cafe. Water comes still or sparkling courtesy of a Vero system. The coffee service in the cafe conveys to the dining room.

                  The menu is broken up into about 8 or 9 starters, a couple pastas that can be ordered half or whole, 3 seafood mains, 6 protein mains, a couple items for two, vegetable sides and starch sides. The mains were described as having a sauce and a heavy garnish, and sides ordered to round out a meal. The setup lends itself to sharing/family style. Highlights included beef tartare, ceviche, both pastas (no surprise considering the chef), scallops with black truffles shaved tableside, whole fried black bass with fermented beans (former chef from cypress is in the kitchen with Adam), duck breast, hangar steak, poulet rouge for two, Carolina fried rice, potato gratin, truffled sun choke purée (f#€king delicious), creamed kale, mushroom ragout and sautéed rapini. Amazing level of cooking on the first night with no real missteps. Very excited to see what happens after a few weeks under their belt.

                  1. re: veganhater

                    A couple pics. Duck breast and beef tartare

                    1. re: veganhater

                      Just to chime in on veganhater's coat-tails, +1 to everything above. and yes, the sun-choke puree was incredible, and the whole bass was fantastic. after looking at the pics, wish we'd have tried the duck. Oh well, all the reason to go back!

                    2. re: veganhater

                      Thank you so much. Sounds incredible. I've really missed AR's cooking at Il Palio. And I remember that fish dish from Cypress. Always loved the space at Straw Valley.

                3. The menu is now up. I'm salivating: http://strawvalleyfoodanddrink.com/ (click on the Black House to get to the menu).

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: LulusMom

                    Awwww you beat me to it. I want to know about the strawvalley menu. So when do we want to go visit? :-p

                    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                      First I'm trying it with my better half (not Lulu, my husband) tomorrow night.

                      1. re: LulusMom

                        Okay well we all look forward to details (and photos if that happens).

                    2. re: LulusMom

                      As promised, back with a report on my meal at The Black House last night. Spoiler: it was amazing.

                      I've always liked the space at Straw Valley, funky modernist house that wasn't really reaching full potential as a coffee place. They've put a lot of effort into making it feel loved again. It still has its fun funkiness (easy to get lost) but it looks beautiful. We started off at the outside bar. I had a house special Manhattan which comes with peach bitters. Probably the best Manhattan I've ever had (which is saying something), and served in a lovely glass. My husband went with a glass of Cahors. He's a fan of wines from that region; I'm usually not, but this one was elegant and not at all barnyard-y. Huge hit, and I had a glass myself later.

                      We sat next to one of the fireplaces, and could also see a little rock fountain. When the rain started coming down we had a great view of it while also feeling totally warm and cozy. So - great space, great drinks.

                      I started with the ceviche and my husband had the beef tartare. My ceviche was one of the best I've ever had. Husband also pleased with his starter. He went with the scallops with truffles; I had the duck breast. We shared two sides - the rapini and the hundred layer potatoes (they're called something like that - basically thinly sliced potatoes baked with cream and butter). Everything was just right. It was a great meal. We didn't have room or time for dessert (babysitter waiting). Maybe next time. I'm absolutely thrilled to have this place around.

                      1. re: LulusMom

                        I was waiting for this review since you said you were going. Given that they have a master sommelier, I would hope the drink program would be excellent. Glad to here it is rockin out of the gate. Hopefully it stays that way. Guess I'll have to try and book it soon for my wife and I to dine at.

                        I think we will be seeing a review in the N&O fairly soon too.

                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                          The sommelier is a great guy, and I really did love both the Cahors and the Manhattan (should have mentioned it is garnished with brandy soaked cherries). If you're looking for a special night out with the wife, book the babysitter and get yourself to The Black House. I am so happy it is here. Still haven't been to One, but have a hard time imagining I will like it as much.

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            I can say withouth having been to this place that the vibe is probably more laid back here than at ONE. If you've been to G2B, One still has that sorta rock n' roll edginess to its environment eventhough the food is very refined. So in that regards, I think you'd like the food just as well but the environs are completely different.

                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                              Thanks, I appreciate the input. I've been to One, but before the new chefs. Has the vibe changed? I think I got a little turned off One when I checked their menu one afternoon, trying to figure out if I should splurge and take myself there for dinner, and the first thing I saw was something like Ash-trout-egg (I'm making this up except for the ash part). And I'm not really interested in eating ash. Or hay, which is on the current menu (as in beef coated in black hay). I realize this is exciting for a lot of people and I do not begrudge them that at all. It just isn't that interesting to me. And honestly I should try it before making any judgement. My judgement is based solely on a reading of the menu, not on tasting the food. I may end up loving it (people I trust have raved to me about it). Just hard to want to pony up $10 for "coal roasted cabbage."

                            2. re: LulusMom

                              I've only had a few plates at the bar, but enjoyed One quite a bit. The food was beautiful and delicious, but totally different than Straw Valley. Definitely some tweezer usage in the plating, and portions lean towards tasting menu's. The room was nicely done, but still can't fully escape the strip mall location. Very different restaurants

                              1. re: veganhater

                                I just came back to my computer to apologize for what may have seemed like a rant. I hope to heck it didn't come off that way but think it may have. As I said, I'd like to try it. Every time I feel like I have a chance to do so, I look at the menu and decide there are other places I'd rather go for a spoil myself night (which doesn't just mean a fancy place - it could well mean a plate of nachos at the Federal).

                                I promise I will try it. And with an open mind.

                            1. re: durhamois

                              I hope you have as good a meal as I did. My strongest guess is that you will. I think you'll love it (and do have that Manhattan).

                              1. re: LulusMom

                                Just wanted to report that my wife and I had dinner at The Black House this past Saturday night and it was very good. However, there are still some flaws that need to be worked out.

                                Since the evening was relatively warm, we began with a few cocktails outside near the bar and later moved inside to get seated for dinner. The meal began with an amuse-bouche of chilled tomato soup served in shot glasses. A nice simple way to jump start our appetites and kick things off. We started with the baby kale salad, and then moved on to share the truffled sunchoke puree, sauteed rapini and the poulet rouge "for two". All the food was excellent, especially the sunchoke puree which I considered to have magical powers.

                                The atmosphere was lovely, of course, and the pacing of meal was very leisurely if not downright slow due to our server who seemed very distracted and disappeared for long periods of time. This wasn't a big deal for us since we didn't have time-sensitive plans after dinner and we were very much enjoying our wine and conversation. But if this pacing is typical, I could see it being a deal-breaker for some. Even more curious was when the kitchen sent out a few complementary small plates for us to sample after we had largely finished with the food we had ordered. The small plates were a welcome gesture, but the timing was certainly weird and we were too stuffed at that point to really appreciate them or eat much of them.

                                Still, I consider us all to be lucky to have this very unique (and somewhat labyrinthine) cafe/restaurant/bar serving up such good food in the otherwise miserable Hope Valley Commons area. I look forward to seeing what kind of events they’ll put on in the courtyard as the weather warms and improves.

                        2. The word I would use to describe our dining experience is, inconsistent. I absolutely love the setting: it's what I'd imagine dining at the home of a Berkeley professor would be like. The food was uneven: some items were underseasoned, another over-seasoned, but most they got right. The scallops were perfectly cooked but the duck breast was overcooked. The periogies, which were more like fried potato wantons, while perfectly fried, were bland, The other side we got was called greens and beans, which would lead one-- or at least me-- to think meant green beans but turned out to be red kidney beans, had very strong flavors. Not bad, just not what I was expecting. My main complaint is there is no coherent theme to the menu. Three of the entrees have Asian influences, (e.g., whole fried seas bass with black bean sauce and thai chilis) while none of the sides, that you have to order separately, have Asian flavors. The service, while attentive and cordial, was also haphazard. We had one person taking our order, another bringing the drinks, another serving the food-- I didn't know who our waitperson was. Also, their banter and gaffawing within earshot was disturbing at times.

                          For what price point they are operating at, they need to get a lot better at execution, both cooking and serving, and menu planning if they want to compete with the likes of Fearrington Farm, One, Four Square, Nana's, etc.

                          1. I've been meaning to post about the dinner we ate there almost a month ago. I completely agree with the comment that it is inconsistent. We went there for our anniversary and loved the setting but the hostess (who knew it was our anniversary) sat us in a room directly between two other two-tops that were occupied. It was very cramped and a little confusing given that we were surrounded by empty tables and empty rooms. Our excellent and observant waiter must have seen our faces and he came over and suggested we relocate to a room with much more space and a nice 2-top table by a sliding glass door. It was really appreciated. We had superb service and the restaurant went out of their way to help us celebrate with glasses of prosecco and dessert.

                            We started with delicious salads (beet salad and mixed greens) with beautiful presentation. We followed the salads with the antipasti plate which was also really wonderful (especially the burrata that they import from Italy according to our waiter). It was after this when the dinner fell apart, though.

                            I ordered the whole fried snapper. It was a gorgeous presentation (the fish appeared to be swimming upstream) and well cooked but saltier than anything I've been served in a restaurant. I expected some salt because of the fermented black bean sauce, but after a few bites it was inedible. My husband ordered the duck main which was also salty and he did not finish, but not quite as salty as my dish. As sides, we ordered a special of miso peas and the Carolina Fried Rice. The miso peas were rich and buttery but also terribly salty. The fried rice was delicious and the only dish eaten during our main course that wasn't oversalted. Everything was beautiful and the service was top notch, but given the price tag, I never expected to have issues with salt. When the waiter came to clear the plates, I mentioned to him that there were some issues with salt. He asked for more details (and mentioned he felt some things were too salty too) and told me he'd speak with the kitchen about it. He then brought us out two complimentary happy anniversary desserts.

                            Overall, I wanted to love it, but for $160 for 2 before tip (drinks and apps and mains since the prosecco and desserts were comped), I was extremely disappointed. Had one of the mains or both of the sides been salty, it would have been easier to forgive, but given that both of the mains were too salty to eat, I left with a bad (or maybe just salty) taste in my mouth.

                            I really loved the setting and I want to see them succeed, but I'm not interested in spending another $210 to figure out if they dialed back the salt.