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Raleigh - best in downtown?

Gasp inducing, I know, but my husband and I haven't spent a night together without Lulu since she was a baby. I'm thinking (hoping!) I can talk the babysitter into an overnight and my husband thought it might be fun to go to Raleigh since we seldom get to eat there. I recently went with a friend to Buku (hi friend!) and enjoyed it very much and noticed that there were a few hotels down that way. And that Poole's is nearby. Is Poole's the way to go? We'd like something with amazing food, a fun atmosphere, not stuffy. I don't eat pork or much other red meat. Places we love for special nights out are Vin Rouge, Elaine's, Mateo (and other, but you get the idea). I'd love to hear what people think they'd do, if they were us. Thanks very much in advance!

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  1. For what you describe I'd probably pick Poole's. I like the food at Mandolin better but it's not downtown. At least 2 or 3 years since I've gone though, we normally drive from Raleigh to Durham or CH :-).

    6 Replies
    1. re: D R C

      We like to drink and not worry about having to drive. And lets face it, after about 7 years without a night fully on our own, this is a creative way to kill two birds with one stone. I had also thought of the Stanbury (forgive me if I have the name a bit wrong) but it looks like it is fairly far from downtown too. Willing to cab but would prefer to just walk.

      I understand why Poole's doesn't have a menu on their website, but it does make it harder for me to figure out if it will suit my tastes. That part is a little frustrating. Anyway, thank you so much for your response.

      1. re: LulusMom

        I think Elaine's is the closest in your post to Poole's. I want to like it, the food is good, but it has a critical mass of little annoyances that don't bother many folks, all documented here pretty well over the past few years. Stanbury is good, have eaten there 2 or 3 times, but I think the food is a bit better at Poole's.

        p.s. There's an annoyance I haven't seen yet LOL, no menu on the website. Most places post at least a seasonal sample. And on the other extreme, look at Oakleaf, which is updated each day with every detail.

        1. re: D R C

          Totally get it. Is one of them the whole "no reservations" policy? And the noise? Best to be prepared with a list of the bad points before presenting it to my husband as the best choice. And thanks again.

          1. re: LulusMom

            Exactly. No reservations, noise, hard to see the blackboard, few wine values, spartan main dishes. Ultimately, it's as expensive as some places I like better. Especially if you're only going once or twice, you should eat there, even if just because of the Beard nomination and foodie street cred.

            1. re: D R C

              I'd rather trust you on what food you like best. I don't much care about my foodie street cred, and the Beard nomination? Eh, I've been to restaurants with those that didn't do much for me. I feel as if I've seen raves on here about Poole's over the years, but doing a search I'm not finding more than "you should go to Poole's." Now I'm feeling conflicted. Eeek. I really *do* appreciate your thoughts. Places you like better would be very interesting to me.

              1. re: LulusMom

                Why thank you so much :-). Seriously, I like your original idea, and also that it was your first impression. That whole area has picked up so much since Poole's first opened, and I think you guys could have a great time. Maybe if you're lucky there will be an event at Meymandi or the convention center that you two want to see at the same time.

    2. You should have drinks at Foundation on Fayettville St, last time we went to Poole's we placed our name on the waiting list and walked over to Foundation for drinks.

      10 Replies
      1. re: chazzer

        Fantastic - this is great information. Thank you so much. You're also pro-Poole's I assume.

        1. re: LulusMom

          The food is great, it can be crowded and nosy but should be fun. Stanbury also has great food a little more like what you see in Ashville Restaurants, but may not be within walking distance from other places or your hotel.

          1. re: chazzer

            Yeah, I thought of Stanbury, and I really would like to try it. There are always cabs, right? maybe that is the way to go. Less 'tude and I have some idea about the menu. Really on a fence about this. What are some favorites at each (or other places)?

            Sorry to be a pest about this. I just get to Raleigh so rarely and the chance to do so and also have an unlimited amount of time solo with my husband makes me want this to be the best it can be. I really appreciate the help.

            1. re: LulusMom

              I'd take Stanbury over Poole's. The atmosphere/attitude at Poole's doesn't work for me but that's just my take on it. I can't fault their food. I prefer the atmosphere at Stanbury, cool without being overwrought, but there you have the walking distance problem.

              1. re: rockycat

                I'm thinking as long as there are cabs we'll be ok about the distance. Just how far is it from downtown? And, as stated below we could always have a drink afterwards once back near the hotel. I really appreciate everyone's help.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  Stanbury is super close to downtown… and with a wee bit of a walk, you guys can take the free R line bus back downtown to your hotel. I'd definitely go with Stanbury over Pooles.

                  and…. I will be your chauffeur! Pick any place you want; I'll take your guys to and fro!

                  1. re: Tehama

                    You are So sweet! We haven't even figured out which weekend yet, but we're actually pretty good walkers. But thank you so much. And thanks for the input on restaurants too - was looking forward to hearing what you thought.

              2. re: LulusMom

                The pork thing may be an issue for you at Stanbury, you may want to look at a menu or call and ask.

                1. re: chazzer

                  Very good to know - this is part of why I was asking what people especially loved there. The menu I saw (some random click on the web) looked doable, but I have this problem at Elaine's sometimes - even the fish dishes have pork and I'm stuck with the veg entree. I have absolutely no problem with veg entrees except when it is obvious that the chef's heart isn't in it, which is, I think, the case there.

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    I vote for Stanbury. There is meat on the menu, but there are plenty of creative dishes that don't have meat in them. We had a lovely green bean salad that reminded us of a classic green bean casserole with smoked blue fish. What I love most about Stanbury over Poole's is the sense of humor. At Poole's the atmosphere has such a seriousness, while at the Stanbury, their menu is whimsical. The night we were there was a Saturday and rather than the traditional Muzak, they had a Dead Show playing at a level that allowed conversation, but also enjoyment. To me that's a good sign.

                    Also, you guys could take a rickshaw there.

        2. I vote for Stanbury. Yes, you'll have to take a cab, but the vibe is better and the food equals or surpasses any that I've had at Poole's. You can always walk to grab a post-dinner drink at Foundation or Fox's after your taxi.

          1. Also: as far as I know you can't make a reservation for a small party at Poole's: first come, first seated. And unless you are there when the doors open it's usually a long wait.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pheebs

              We're pretty early eaters (having a 7 year old has done this to us), so it isn't likely we'd be there at peak hour, but yeah, nice to have a reservation and know what you're dealing with.

              So - what are some favorite items people have had at Stanbury?

            2. If you go to Stanbury, rather than a taxi you could almost take the 'R-line' (free restaurant shuttle, http://www.godowntownraleigh.com/_fil...) and walk from stop R3 around the Peace campus. I'm not completely sure it's safe though :-).

              3 Replies
              1. re: D R C

                You give with one hand and take with the other DRC. What do you mean about the safety issue? I don't know Raleigh at all, so I'm not sure if you're kidding or not....

                1. re: LulusMom

                  I would feel comfortable walking by myself at night in that area.

              2. Afraid I cannot offer much on the Stanbury to Poole comparison as I have not made it yet but hear great things about it. Stanbury is not far from the hotels around Poole's (Marriott, Sheraton) but it would be a long walk. R line is doable as noted but that's not always the greatest.

                If you're willing to take a cab from downtown though that does open up I think Mandolin or Bloomsbury Bistro. I really like Mandolin a lot although options can be a bit limited and Bloomsbury is very relaxing and can have some great food but know it doesn't get much love here.

                Neither of these is in downtown Raleigh and would be more expensive but when my wife and I were doing same sort of thing a few years ago she said she would rather save up another month or so and go stay at the Umstead and eat at Herons or go to Fearrington than anything else.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Guilty Gourmand

                  Wow, a totally different option that hadn't even occurred to me. Having grown up in a city I'm always sort of drawn to the idea of being able to walk (or cab) to places, but I have heard really great things about Herons and the Umstead. I will definitely sleep on that idea.

                  I do remember a friend saying he really enjoyed Mandolin, and I seem to remember others loving Bloomsbury, although I feel like I read some reports that it isn't what it used to be. Anyone who has recent experience of either (or Herons) have thoughts?

                  as always, thanks to everyone for your input.

                2. Hi LulusMom--
                  We live in downtown Raleigh, love to eat, & rarely drive. I have a couple of thoughts:
                  We haven't been to Stanbury yet, mainly because every time we've been to Admiral, I've been unhappy with the meat-heavy tendency of their menu. I worry that I'll have similar issues with Stanbury. It is, however, a perfectly safe walk from any of the downtown hotels. It's next door to Escazu, which we walk to all the time (just know that it's a sort of long-ish walk, so it depends on your stamina).
                  Poole's: I still love it (but I also rarely order an entree--prefer apps & sides). It is, however, very loud.
                  And just to confuse things--I'd throw Bida Manda into the selection mix. I really think it's the most interesting place downtown right now. Outstanding Laotian food. Outstanding cocktails. Beautiful, warm space. Super-nice owners & staff.
                  Holler if there's anywhere else you want to know about (also, btw--I'm the "nonmeat-eater" going to Blind Pig next weekend--we shall see!)
                  Let us know where you wind up!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: lisarosen

                    Hi Lisa, Geez, we sound like twins. The whole meat-heavy thing is especially nerve-wracking when you can't see a menu beforehand. But it sounds like rockycat found a number of very good sounding dishes on Stanbury last night. Like you, I enjoy making a dinner of a few appetizers. Can you tell me some of your favorites from Poole's?
                    I hadn't heard about Bida Manda, but I'm guessing I'd like it more than my husband. He's pretty adventurous but has a somewhat tamer pallet (sp?) than I do.
                    Good luck with the Blind Pig - I would really love to hear how it goes for you and the non-meat thing. And thanks so much for chiming in here.

                  2. We went to Stanbury tonight and sat at the bar as we had not made reservations. We meant to take a menu and scan it for you but we forgot that - along with our credit card. We got back the latter, still forgot the menu.

                    We ordered roasted beets with orange, hazelnuts, and quark; chicken fried chicken oysters with smoked polenta, gorgonzola, and red pepper jam; gnocchi with pecorino and bolognese sauce, and a Vietnamese-seasoned beef tartare.

                    The gnocchi was simple and insanely, crazy good with the pecorino being a foam. I never thought I'd go for foam but this was amazing. The chicken, well I wanted at least 3 more orders just for myself. How do you smoke polenta? I want to know and I want more of it. Caveat - although the menu did not list meat in the polenta I am sure there was meat and it was probably pork.

                    The beets were not ravingly creative but they were very good. I'm not the best person to review the beef tartare as I'm the person who likes well-done beef (see Beefmastor thread) but I did it because the Spouse loves raw beef, I love Vietnamese food, and I wanted to see if I could handle it. The kitchen kindly left off the cilantro as I can't stand the stuff and, without being asked, substituted mint which went beautifully with the dish. The Spouse thought it was outstanding.

                    Some of the small other dishes on the menu were raw oysters, fried oysters, smoked or cured swordfish, cauliflower bisque (I heard other diners raving about it), grilled quail, grilled romaine salad, a bibb lettuce salad something or other, grilled beef tongue with lentils, and others I can't remember. The large plates were ribeye with potatoes aligot that really streeeeeetched, grilled pork chop with a cream sauce of some type, tagliatelle, and scallops. I wish I could remember more.

                    Since Stanbury tends to use pork as a seasoning meat, you might want to ask questions about the exact contents of specific dishes. The staff is very accommodating. Oh, and the bartender is nice, too.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: rockycat

                      Totally wonderful info. What is it with people using pork as seasoning? (sorry - just me, I know) Other than that though, it sounds incredible. I see quite a few things listed that I want to eat. Thank you so much - menu not necessary due to your memory.

                      1. re: LulusMom

                        Why is pork popular on resto menus? Even when responsibly sourced, it's a remarkably simple way to add deep, complex, and delicious flavor to a dish. It spans a variety of cultural food ways, all doing so in a cost effective way. It's an incredibly versatile protein.

                        1. re: pheebs

                          Yes, I realize it is hugely popular and tasty - I was mostly kidding. But I do think that given that quite a few people don't eat it (Jews/Muslims/Veg or Pescitarians) it shows up unexpectedly surprisingly often (as in the smoked polenta dish). I ordered potatoes Lyonnaise at a local restaurant thinking I knew what went into those so I didn't bother asking the pork question and they showed up with bacon throughout. I got a little grumpy about that. But yeah, bacon bacon, pork, bacon - it makes people happy.

                    2. There is only one solution for this, you will need to eat at one place Friday night and the other on Saturday, we expect a full report the following day :-).

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: D R C

                        Oh, how we wish! But I think the babysitter might scoff at 2 full days. I could, however, do a lunch the second day ...

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          We did an anniversary night in Raleigh last year and stayed downtown (free room). Walked to pooles for a drink, then took a cab to herons for dinner, and finished the night with another drink at pooles (I love their beverage director). Had lunch at j betskis on the way out of town. Made for a nice trip. For what it's worth, I've been to mandoline once (must have been an off night. Poor service, glaring miscues on food) and haven't made it to stanbury yet (will be my next meal in Raleigh).

                          1. re: veganhater

                            Thanks for the info. I was wondering why I wasn't hearing people jump in with recommendations for Mandoline.

                      2. Must weigh in -- If you want to experience what Raleigh is becoming, then downtown is the place to be. If I had one night, and if I had not been to Poole's, I'd go to Poole's. Also Foundation, or Raleigh Times.

                        But I'd also want to check out Second Empire (or maybe the Tavern downstairs), also Battistella's, also Moe's Diner.

                        If I had two nights, of if I'd been to Poole's, I'd go to Stanbury. It's another part of what Raleigh is becoming, just not at the heart of it. I'd also want to go to Glenwood Grill, also Mandolin.

                        Too many choices! And good ones.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: jnwall

                          You might want to skip the Raleigh Times. I still love the building but the food simply isn't what it used to be. I've experienced that and had a few other people confirm. Too bad, since it used to be my go-to downtown casual place.

                          1. re: rockycat

                            I remember reading your post saying that Raleigh Times has gone downhill so had already mentally taken that one off the list.

                            jnw, unfortunately only 1 night which is why this is so tough. There are plenty here who are for picking the Stanbury over Poole's - want to make the opposite argument with details? I'm all ears (er, I guess eyes).

                            1. re: LulusMom

                              I would not go to Raleigh Times for the food, but for the drink and the ambiance, while on a pub crawl, after you've been to Foundation. .

                              I'd choose Poole's over Stanbury, as I said, not because the food is better at one than at the other, but because if you've never eaten at Poole's you ought to eat at Poole's, because Poole's is a pioneer restaurant, and Ashley is the closest we have to a rock star chef, and Poole's opened the doors in Raleigh for places like Stanbury and Mandolin.

                              Also there is that pig thing you mentioned -- one of the "must-have" items on Stanbury's menu is, after all, "crispy pig's head," a dish which IS really good, but to order it, you need to want to get back to your ancestors' "everything but the squeal" philosophy of dining.

                              1. re: jnwall

                                Definitely won't be harkening back to the ancestors (or else I'd be harkening to the bathroom for the rest of the night). What non-pork items do you love at Poole's?

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  Usually on the Poole's menu are a couple of fish dishes, beautifully done, also chicken, beef, usually at least one vegetarian main course. The small plates also provide vegetarian options.

                                  If vegetarian is really important, there is a place a couple of blocks from Poole's called Friction Kitchen that is all vegetarian, and lots of people really like it.

                                  Sitti is an interesting suggestion -- middle eastern food, prepared by folks who know what they are doing, wines from Lebanon as well as the usual European and American suspects.

                                  Also, in that part of downtown, Oro (http://ororaleigh.com/) specializes in small plates and we've eaten well there a couple of times.

                                  1. re: jnwall

                                    I'm not actually a vegetarian; just no pork. And my husband is a big meat eater. I've been to Sitti and enjoyed it, just don't think it is really as special as another similar place we go to in DC fairly often. Please know that I appreciate your (and everyone else's) ideas very much.

                        2. I would say this. Go early enough that if Poole's current menu stinks that you can go to some place else nearby like Sitti or Sono (if you like sushi). Maybe a place like Bida Manda but I wouldn't sya it is nice. Sure use a cab OR I think there is a bus that is free that does the main loop to all restaurants in downtown. Mandolin is closer to NC State and Stanbury is in the old Market restaurant space. I do not know if Mo's Diner is still any good in Moore's Square. Bloomsbury Bistro is also out of downtown area as is St. Jacques. I have been to 2nd Empire and wasn't impressed except for the setting.

                          19 Replies
                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                            We love sushi, but we get that around here. I really enjoyed Sitti when I had lunch there, but somehow it doesn't feel like it would be quite as big a deal (and we ate at Zaytinya in DC less than a month ago, and I have a hard time imagining it could be better than that - no offense to Sitti intended). Here's the deal - it seems as if it is down to the Stanbury or Poole's; if we wait and see, what if the menu at Poole's is totally unappealing? Will we be able to snag a bar seat at the Stanbury? Happy to go early (more time for postprandial carousing at the local bars), but would hate to miss out on either one because I hadn't made a decision.

                            1. re: LulusMom

                              Yes, if you arrive on the early side of service -- they open at 5:00 I think, which is really too early for me -- you can check it out and then head over to Stanbury if their offerings aren't to your liking.

                              But you will need a car to get over there from Poole's, 2 miles away, unless you want a good walk. Stanbury also opens for service @ 5.

                              I've tried to attach a recent menu from Stanbury, from December and from their Facebook page. I think they are both great, both in demand, both worth your attention. In my view, you won't go wrong at either place.

                              Ashley is a Raleigh person, got her start cooking for Andrea Reusing (SP? of Lantern fame) at Enoteca Vin, back in the day. The guy at Stanbury used to cook at the Admiral in Asheville. Not sure any of that matters.

                               
                              1. re: jnwall

                                That menu looks really good. Thanks so much for that. Two miles isn't much as long as the weather is nice (and since we probably won't get to do this until March it may well be walking weather). We're used to the early dining thing (we've got a young kid with an early bedtime) so maybe checking menus would work.

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  The obvious thing to do is go to pooles have some small plates a drink or two, and then walk to stanbury and do the same.

                                  1. re: chazzer

                                    *smacks head* This is a brilliant idea!!

                                    1. re: chazzer

                                      I LIKE that idea! That way, you can stop by Escazu Chocolate, too. JNW

                                      1. re: jnwall

                                        Totally and completely the obvious way to deal with this, and so happy to feel that the issue has been solved. Now ... to get the babysitter to commit.

                                        Serious and heartfelt thanks to everyone for their input.

                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                          If you do Escazu, save room for the historic hot chocolates. I like them better than the truffles.

                                          1. re: rockycat

                                            If we make Escazu this is done deal. Thanks for the tip.

                                2. re: LulusMom

                                  Sitti isn't even remotely in the Zaytinya zone. I like the go-early-to-Poole's-with-Stanbury-as-backup plan. I doubt you'll leave Poole's, honestly. I suspect you'll find apps/sides that tickle your fancy. I'd give examples, but truly, it changes every day. (However, if they have a beet salad or an avocado salad--get them.)

                                  1. re: lisarosen

                                    Right - I liked Sitti, but c'mon - no Zaytinya.

                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                      I don't think much of anything in Raleigh (or the Triangle for that matter) compares to the good places in DC.

                                      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                        You know, I'm sure you are right.

                                        But then, the commute to DC and back is a challenge when you have to be at work in RTP at 9 the next morning.

                                        And when you get to DC, you run into the folks who tell you that the food in DC doesn't compare with the good places in NYC. So, life's not fair.

                                        1. re: jnwall

                                          Laughing! When I lived in DC I made trips to NYC every 6 weeks. I loved home but NYC is NYC.

                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                            But even when you were in NYC, folks told you you shoulda been in Paris, or Barcelona, or Bologna.

                                            The capacity to imagine that it's better somewhere else is endless. I know.

                                3. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                  Just to clarify for those not familiar with Raleigh - Mandolin is nowhere close to NC State. It is in an odd little area which isn't really near any of the more well known clusters of retail. Loosely put it is somewhat between Five Points and the North Hills part of town.

                                  https://maps.google.com/maps?oe=utf-8...

                                  1. re: meatn3

                                    Actually, Mandolin is on Oberlin Road (intersection with Fairview) between Cameron Village Shopping Center and Glenwood Village Shopping Center, at least a mile from Five Points and even further from North Hills.

                                    But, very true, it is nowhere close to NC State, and it is in an odd little retail area where you can dine at Mandolin, get your shoes repaired, buy a huge diamond ring, or take a yoga class.

                                    1. re: meatn3

                                      My bad. I just go by the road names.

                                      1. re: meatn3

                                        It's equidistant between State and North Hills (probably closer to State, however) - and a mile from the Five Points intersection.

                                    2. The next day - don't forget to go to Joule for coffee. I haven't had brunch there, but the coffee is the best in town.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: cackalackie

                                        I absolutely agree with this idea. Fabulous coffee, good food, too.

                                        1. re: cackalackie

                                          What are your opinions on Benelux and Helios?

                                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                            Helios is great, especially on Saturdays. The Farmer's Breakfast and the egg on arugula salad are our favorites.

                                            Not familiar with Benelux, but they claim they are opening a place in Cameron Village this year.

                                        2. When is this trip going to happen so that I'm not pressed to ask.. Did you go yet?

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                            We're currently *hoping* to go in March. With all these snow days it seems harder and harder to plan (babysitters cancelling, snow days to make up at school, my patience being about at its end, etc. etc). Right now I'm liking the maybe stop at Poole's for an app or two and then on to the Stanbury. If we walk by Poole's and see nothing of interest on the menu (assume they have one posted in the window or at front desk) they we just move immediately on.

                                            1. re: LulusMom

                                              Ok, so did you get to Raleigh in March? If so, how did you solve the conundrum about what to do? How did it work out?

                                              Inquiring minds of Raleigh 'hounds want to know.

                                              1. re: jnwall

                                                Well .... because of numerous snow days, and various medical things (nothing serious, but kept us out of the whole "lets spend some romantic time alone" mode) things have been put off. My husband had asked for me to do this for him as either a Valentine's or birthday present. Both long since passed. All that said, we DID zero in on the Stanbury, with possibly a starter at Poole's, but more importantly a drink or 3 at the Foundation (which a friendly 'hound mentioned needed to be joined first). So now we just wait until we can find the time to do it. I'm hoping maybe early June? And, sadly, that is the way our scheduling goes. But now that I've gotten all this amazing input, I'm ready when he finds the time. Thanks so much everyone.

                                                PS - so ... who wants to volunteer to take care of Lulu for a night? (kidding!!!)

                                                1. re: LulusMom

                                                  I do! And she'll be just right around the corner for you if you get to missing her too bad!!!

                                                  1. re: Tehama

                                                    Ha! Boy would she love that. But I think I'll save you the trouble and let one of the babysitters deal with that. But can you imagine how much squealing would happen if she came home and heard she was going to get to hang out with you??

                                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                                      Seriously! The pleasure would be all mine. I'll we will have lobster and sparking (of course sparkling grape for her and sparkling adult grape for me!) :-)

                                                      1. re: Tehama

                                                        So, kind of a normal night for Lulu.

                                                        Kidding!