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One Night In Durham


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My wife and I have to be in Durham next Sat. night the 16th. Searching this board it seems that NANA is the choice over Magnolia Grill. Is this still true? Are there another suggestions for a great experience in Durham. Thanks in advance.

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My wife and I have to be in Durham next Sat. night the 16th.  Searching this board it seems that NANA is the choice over Magnolia Grill.  Is this still true?  Are there another suggestions for a great experience in Durham.  Thanks in advance.

What's up, dlc?

The gf and I ate at Nana's on New Year's Eve, and it was a great meal. Just a few photos of our night...

Crispy Local Oyster over Cous Cous with a Mango, Pineapple & Vanilla Chutney


Delicious starter - even the gf (who is not a fan of any seafood) liked this. Creamy, briny oyster surrounded by crisp exterior - at first, I thought this outside was panko, because it was more crisp than usual, but I was informed that it was simply flour and seasonings.

House Cured Sturgeon Gravlax over Crispy Potato Cakes with a Frisee Salad, Lobster Creme Fraiche & Paddlefish Caviar


Remember that gf who isn't a fan of seafood - yeah, she didn't really go for this one. Sturgeon was quite good - smoky, salty. Caviar was a nice touch, but I didn't get any lobster flavors from the creme fraiche.

Local Pork Consomme with Wild Board Shank & Ricotta Agnolloti finished with a Brunoise of Root Vegetables


Ooh boy, this was intense - it's rare to find a well-executed consomme, but this guy hit the spot. Concentrated pork flavor with pillowy agnolotti - filling of boar shank and ricotta was spot-on.

Swiss Chard Rissoto with Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster finished with Porcini Broth & Yellowfoot Chantrelles


Meh...lobster was overcooked, mushrooms were good - usually impossible to go wrong with lobster and risotto...one of the weaker dishes of the night.

Pan Roasted Striped Bass over Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower in Maine Sea Urchin Broth


Very high-quality fish, with the cauliflower giving that added textural crunch underneath. Just a well-cooked piece of seafood...wish I could have tasted more of the sea urchin in the broth...

Wood Fired Fallow Venison with Local Collard Greens and Nana's Sweet Potato Gratin in Smoked Bacon-Vodka Sauce


Wowie - this was probably my favorite dish of the evening. Medium-rare venison with some wilted collard greens, accompanied by a perfect smoked bacon-vodka sauce. Holy moly, I could have used more bread to mop up that sauce - dynamite. The sweet potato gratin was also a really cool presentation, almost like a little layer cake...probably been done before, but the first time I had seen it.

Nice little dessert trio


Pretty tasty - I remember the bottom one being the best - some sort of caramel ice cream...I was too drunk from the immense wine pairings to care much about desserts... :wacko:

Overall, a solid meal. With that being said, however, I must admit that Nana's was not my first choice. I had originally tried to get in at Magnolia Grill for New Year's Eve, but, much to my chagrin, they were full. Nana's was doing a prix-fixe type menu New Year's Eve, and the gf and I wanted more of a tasting menu for the night, so we went in to talk to the chef, Scott Howell.

Chef Howell trained at the CIA, worked at Bouley, and was the sous chef at Magnolia Grill before opening Nana's. Surprisingly, when we went to talk to him, he was kind of a dick - I realize that he was probably busy getting everything ready for that night, but we were trying to make him some extra money with a tasting menu and were obviously very interested in food...I think I'm just being too sensitive about it, but I guess I just expected more...Also, in my humble opinion, we were charged entirely too much. Although this meal was quite good, it was by far the most expensive I have ever had - the total bill for the two of us, with two tasting menus, tax, tip and wine pairings was $370. Having dined out at nearly every "upper-end" establishment in Charlotte, I was quite surprised with the bill, but, eh it was New Year's Eve - oh well.

This entire post hasn't done much to answer your original question, but I hope that it helps narrow the search a little bit. Magnolia Grill has always gotten rave reviews, but we had a solid meal at Nana's. Hope you find something great, let me know how the search turns out!!

Edited by lhollers (log)
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Reading back through this post, I gotta be honest - what I really think you should do is travel the 15 minutes to Chapel Hill and go to a place called Bonne Soiree.


This entire night still haunts my dreams - Chip (chef and husband) and Tina (sommelier and wife) are both awesome, the wait staff was fun and knowledgeable, and the food was the best I have ever eaten. This was - literally - the perfect meal. Small, intimate, romantic, with amazing flavors and products. Seriously, at least think about giving this place a try...just sayin'.

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Magnolia Grill is still the gold standard in the area. Chef Ben Barker puts out food that others can only aspire to reach, and few ever get to that point. Scott Howell at Nana's is talented, but he's no Ben Barker. Nana's is a much simpler cuisine, and although Magnolia Grill's dishes can have unexpected layers of complexity, it's still accessible.

Can you get a great meal at Nana's or Four Square or a number of other places in Durham? Yup. Can you get a dish at one of those places that might be better than what you ordered at Magnolia Grill? Depending on your tastes, also a possibility. But night in and night out, the typical dish at Magnolia Grill is superior to anything in town. And Karen Barker's desserts are killer (strangely, they're nowhere near as complex as her husband's savory dishes).

As far as Bonne Soiree is concerned, it's a totally different animal from Magnolia Grill. It's tiny. It's quiet. It's French. And yes, it's damn good.

Dean McCord


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