When Elaine Lopes and her sister Elli learned that Bean and Barrel was up for sale, they didn’t just see a business opportunity. As owners of Tarantini, a popular Italian restaurant just across the parking lot from the coffee shop and wine bar, they were keenly aware of the shopping center’s off-the-beaten-path location on the southern fringe of Orange County. They felt a responsibility to preserve the only convenient all-day watering hole for residents of Governors Club and other nearby communities.
So they bought the place. To ease the transition for regulars, they continued to operate as Bean and Barrel for the first couple of months.
“We kept the place open through the whole transition,” Elaine Lopes say proudly, adding that they achieved the dramatic transformation of the dining room and bar into a casually elegant space with mid-century furnishings and stone sculptures entirely between opening hours. She credits her sister, an architect by training, for the new look.
In April, they opened the doors of Flair Restaurant & Wine Bar for the first time.
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The restaurant still serves locally roasted coffee and pastries on weekday and Saturday mornings. But the sisters envisioned a dinner menu as distinctive as the new decor and as diverse as the global wine selection, which includes some 16 wines by the glass and is still growing. To put that vision on the plate, they hired chef Robert Warren, a Johnson & Wales graduate who interned at the acclaimed Wintergreen Resort and worked for six years as sous chef at the restaurant of the Chateau Morrisette Winery in Virginia.
The chef delivered the goods in the form of an eclectic offering that runs the gamut from Hangover burger (with bacon and sunny-side-up egg) to a modern boneless-breast take on duck à l’orange.
The duck isn’t the the only dish that will have you brushing up on your culinary French. Sprinkled in among the likes of house-made hummus and olive bruschetta under the Starter heading, you’ll find the obligatory wine bar charcuterie board, a “Fruit and Fromage” board (“fromage” translating in this case to brie, compté and gorgonzola cheeses) and a delightful smoked salmon tartare presentation punctuated with sauce pistou.
Steak frites is something of a surprise listing among the starters, presumably put there because it features a filet cut into shareable pieces. It comes with a small salad, though, and the skin-on fries are so good you might find yourself wishing you’d ordered the dish for yourself as a light main course.
The chef’s Cajun-accented riff on shrimp and grits – half a dozen jumbo shrimp in a cream sauce riddled with bits of tasso ham and andouille sauce, served over seared grit cakes – is a best-selling entree, and justifiably so. A filet of dijon-crusted salmon, draped over a colorful medley of vegetables and parsnip puree, is another keeper.
Lamb ragu over pappardelle pasta ought to hit the spot on a chilly November night, and those craving a more ample take on the steak frites – and willing to trade those fries for wild mushrooms, greens and roasted parmesan potatoes – will find it in a 6-ounce filet with a red wine reduction.
But for my money, the surprise hit of the entree offering is the roasted chicken. Juicy and well-seasoned beneath a textbook mahogany skin, the bird (you get a bone-in breast with the first wing joint attached) is napped with a dill beurre blanc sauce. Grilled asparagus, buttery rissole potatoes and a vibrant tomato relish round out the presentation – and reinforce a recurring theme of thoughtful, well-executed vegetable accompaniments.
In the case of duck á l’orange, the accompaniments – a sautéed medley of chard and spinach, and a gruyere-capped root vegetable gratin – even took on a de facto starring role when I ordered the dish, partially salvaging a presentation that was marred by chewy breast meat and insufficiently rendered fat.
Kitchen execution is generally solid, though; the only other miscue I encountered was the olive bruschetta, whose salty tapenade topping was applied with a too-generous hand. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb when I say you’ll be happy with pretty much anything on the menu.
And by all means, pay attention when your well-trained server is reciting the specials. Your reward could be pork osso bucco, falling off the bone in a puddle of pumpkin risotto, say, or a rib-sticking rendition of cassoulet with confit duck and house-made sausage.
You may want to save some of that cassoulet to take home, and leave room for dessert. Blueberry white chocolate bread pudding with lemon ganache is one example, or an individual roasted sweet potato pie with vanilla ice cream and bourbon caramel. The fact that they’re as pleasing to the eye as they are to the sweet tooth is just icing on the cake.
Like the artfully plated savory dishes – and most everything here, for that matter – desserts are done with what you might call a certain flair.
50100 Governors Drive, Chapel Hill
Cuisine: contemporary with a French accent
Atmosphere: casually elegant
Noise level: moderate
Recommended: smoked salmon tartare, steak frites, dijon-crusted salmon, roasted chicken, sweet potato pie, specials
Open: Light breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch Sunday.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; limited vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.