In this issue, we review nine Chapel Hill restaurants that offer “high dining,” places where you expect carefully prepared dishes, a distinctive atmosphere, and attentive service. All nine seemed overpriced, some more so than others. It’s unfortunate that you have to pay between $10 and $20 for a full meal, but you’re paying for the package: the candlelight, the fresh roses, and the antiques. In some cases, like Restaurant La Residence, it’s worth it. In others, it’s not. A point worth remembering: expect smaller servings when you order seafood or a highly exotic dish; the more basic the food, the greater the likelihood there will be enough to fill you up. You can’t eat class.
AURORA, 454 W. Franklin Street, 942-2400. 6:30-10:30 for dinner; late night menu from 10-12; nightly except Monday.
Aurora’s popularity isn’t due to reasonable prices or exceptional food but to its atmosphere. Shiny, round night club tables, shiny floors, shiny shoes, baggy pants, costume jewelry, low-cut velvet dresses, and Big Band music replicate a nostalgic era: the 40’s.
Service is good; a well-organized staff moves people in and out without rushing them.
Entrees range in price from $4.25 for the fettuccine aurora to $6.95 for the shrimp scampi. All of the chicken dishes are good; try chicken marsala ($5.95). The shrimp chutney is good, but for $6.95 you get only five shrimp, over rice.
Aurora is persuasive. If you don’t find the menu too limited (12 entrees), and the atmosphere is to your liking, Aurora’s accessible location on Franklin Street can make it habit forming.
AVANTI BAR AND GARDENS, 406 W. Main Street, Carrboro, 967-7291. Lunch from 11:30-2:00; happy hour from 4:00-5:30, dinner from 5:30-10 nightly. Sunday brunch 11-3.
Avanti Bar and Gardens serves good food in an elegant but informal setting. The decor is simple: brick floor, wide windows, sparsely placed artwork on white walls, and a large wine rack in the center of the dining area. Service is cordial, but slow.
Entrees range from $4.95 to $6.95. For an appetizer, try hot brie with almonds, or the french onion soup, or an Avanti Garden salad; all three are very good. We had the seafood crepe ($4.95) and the Duckling a l’orange ($6.95). Both are enjoyable, but wouldn’t fill you up if that was all you got. Try the cheesecake for dessert; it’s excellent.
CHEZ CONDORET, University Square, 942-7996, Monday-Friday lunch 11:30-2:00 p.m.; Monday-Saturday dinner 6-9:30. Closed Sunday.
Chez Condoret is the best restaurant of its kind in Chapel Hill, rivaled only by La Residence. Jacques Condoret knows what he’s doing. You pay for it, with entrees ranging from $6.95 to $12.95.
Located on the lower level of University Square, where the Poet’s Corner used to be, the restaurant has been tastefully remodelled. The stained glass ceilings are lovely, and the dining area spacious. Fresh roses are on every table. Service is excellent.
The onion soup is authentic, and delicious. They don’t scrimp on servings; plates are heaping. House specialties are particularly good. Try chicken breast, sauteed with sauce Perigourdine in pastry crust ($8.50).
Dessert pastries are made daily.
THE OLDE HOUSE RESTAURANT, 2701 Chapel Hill Rd., Durham, 489-6613. Tea and scones at 4 p.m., dinner from 5 on. The bar is open until midnight.
We’ve included this Durham restaurant because of its proximity to Chapel Hill, its good food, and its unusual setting: a majestic old mansion with columns and chandeliers, high ceilings and a gallery atmosphere. Photography exhibits are integrated into three dining rooms, with old-fashioned fireplaces, ivory walls and dark woodwork.
The food is good but somewhat overpriced given the slow service and small portions. Entrees range from $6.25 to $9.45. Try the Hungarian Chicken Paprika ($6.75), or the Seafood Tempura ($6.75). Exceptionally good is the french onion soup. So is the cheesecake, and the Lane Cake (layers of raisins, nuts, cake, and coconut). The bread served with dinner was the most delicious we’ve had anywhere.
If you’re in a rush, this may not be the place to go. Owner Nina Parrish cooks alone on weeknights; we waited more than 45 minutes for our food.
RED BARON, Jones Ferry Rd., 929-8404, 5:30-10 every night but Sunday.
The Red Baron is a relatively new restaurant which specializes in seafood, with a $7.35 seafood platter. The prices are pretentious for what you get; the Shrimp Phillips ($6.65) was passable but not noteworthy; the serving was small. Their only chicken dish, chicken cordon bleu ($5.35), was dry and unspectacular. Service is friendly but slow.
The decor is quietly modern and earthy with stained wooden booths lining the walls, a spacious floor area. There are large canvases done in muted browns on the walls. Nice jazz over the sound system.
The Red Baron could do a thriving business as the only seafood place in town if the prices were more realistic.
RESTAURANT LA RESIDENCE, 220 W. Rosemary Street, 967-2506, 6:30-9 weekdays; 6:30-9:30 Saturday-Sunday.
La Residence occupies a remodelled residential home on the corner of Rosemary and Church Streets. The interior is more home-like than the Olde House Restaurant, but as formal. Each dining area is intimately small, with antique furnishings reminiscent of the nineteenth century. Large arrangements of fresh roses are in the front parlor; cakes, pastries and other desserts are arranged on a buffet. Lit candles throughout the house enhance the elegance that’s already there.
The food is as good as at Chez Condoret, the atmosphere is better, but the prices are somewhat higher, with entrees ranging from $8.00 for a chicken dish to $13.50 for an escalopes de Veau aux Fines Herbes. Service was excellent. If you can afford it, try it; highly recommended.
THE VILLA TEO, 1213 E. Franklin Street, 942-2266, 6:30-9:30 Monday-Friday; 6:30-10 Friday and Saturday.
The Villa Teo is housed in an “Italian villa,” with outdoor gardens and indoor gardens and a large gallery which displays paintings, sculpture, tapestries and furniture from Europe and America (some from the 15th Century).
In atmosphere, the Villa Teo outclasses every other restaurant in town, but the food we had was ordinary, despite the high prices and fancy names. The chicken romarin ($9.25) wasn’t bad but the serving was extremely small. The Paupiettes de Veau ($11.25), a veal and scallops dish, was extremely small also, and dry. The woman at the next table sent her roll back because there was mold on it. Ours tasted old. Maybe it was an off night, but we were disappointed.
WEST END REFLECTIONS, 116 Laurel Avenue, Carrboro, 942-DINE, 11-2 for lunch; 5-12 for dinner, nightly.
West End Reflections’ exterior is a tame looking brick building which used to house a health spa. On the inside, clever use of the indoor swimming pool creates a lounge area. The dining room is large and elegant, with enormous mirrors covering two end walls from floor to ceiling. Heavy wooden furniture, candlelight, goblets on every table, and stately music gives it a heavy European flavor.
Entrees range from $5.25 to $6.95. The menu offers international cuisine: London Broil, Beef Wellington, Roast Duck, Rack of Lamb. The trout stuffed with scallops is commendable. Try the hot apple pie with walnuts for dessert. Food and service were both good. West End Reflections isn’t well known, but is worth a try.
THE YACHT CLUB, 1301 E. Franklin Street, 942-5578, lunch from 11:30-2 Monday-Friday, dinner every night 6-10.
The Yacht Club is an authentically fabricated place, if there is such a thing, with expensive sailing decor: a wooden whale sculpture, conservative navy blue and white walls, and a dark wood glow. The place is obviously calculated for a slightly older group than college students: lots of young thirties hovering around the bar.
Entrees range from $4.25 (spaghetti with red clam sauce) to $8.25 (Rib Eye steak). Due to a small kitchen, the Yacht Club offers only nine entrees. The onion soup is excellent; so is the chocolate cheesecake. Our entrees were enjoyable but overpriced; large servings of rice seemed to dominate. Service was slow.