Judging by the profusion of martini bars and dining rooms oozing with sultry sophistication, it's abundantly clear that the local dining scene has plunged eagerly into the 21st century. But one new restaurant is bucking the trend with a little old-fashioned romance.
At Villa Barolo, which opened a month ago in the old Valentino's spot in Chapel Hill (55 Vilcom Circle, near Timberlyne Shopping Center), the setting is intimate and posh without being stuffy. Patio seating overlooks a pond blanketed in lily pads.
The menu honors old-fashioned romance, too, with the likes of Delmonico steaks, beef Stroganoff and roasted Cornish game hens. A French-accented maitre d' prepares Caesar salads and cherries jubilee tableside.
But the menu is more than merely a tribute to the days when "fine dining" meant "continental." The offering also includes a number of contemporary updates such as pan-seared duck breast with oranges and raisins, and veal scaloppine with portobellos, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes in a Barolo wine sauce.
Villa Barolo is open Monday through Friday for lunch and every night but Sunday for dinner. A lavish brunch buffet is served on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 960-4224 for reservations, which are accepted. But of course.
Also in Chapel Hill, a quirky new eatery by the name of fuse has lit up the windows at 403 West Rosemary St., which had gone dark when Henry's Bistro closed a few months ago.
The mood is alternative-casual, and the menu lives up to the restaurant's name with a short but sparklingly varied fusion of Asian and American cuisines. Lettuce wraps, buckwheat noodles (hot or cold) and the Korean meal-in-a-bowl called bibimbap are popular.
But if you're in a more Western mood, you might opt for tempeh wrapped in collard greens, or a cheddar burger on an English muffin. And if you're a vegetarian, you're in luck. Virtually everything on the menu is available in a vegetarian version.
Fuse serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. And, reviving an old Henry's Bistro tradition, a late night menu is offered nightly (including Sunday and Monday, beginning at 9 p.m.) until 2 a.m. A few days ago, I stuck my nose into Greenshield's, the City Market brewpub that was recently closed by a fire. In addition to the heavy smell of smoke, I was greeted by a man whom I took to be a general contractor, judging by the architectural plans he carried.
He was on his way out, and in a hurry. I only had time for one question: "How long before it reopens?"
"We're hoping three months," was his reply.
Let's hope that means we'll be able to hoist a freshly brewed pint of Greenshield's Amber as a Thanksgiving toast to the pub's revival. In north Raleigh, Zest Cafe will celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 12 from 5-8pm with an all-Mexican menu. Call 848-4792 for details.
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