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Vin Rouge -- Durham


Varmint
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Matt Kelly is an eGullet member who posts on these fine boards from time to time, but perhaps more importantly, he is the chef at Durham's Vin Rouge. This French bistro is owned by restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, and I must admit that I've never been a big fan of Bakatsias' establishments -- they focus on the trendy, food is up and down, and in the end, there's more style than substance. Matt Kelly appears to have turned a failing restaurant upside down by focusing on the classics, with attention to detail and most importantly, taste.

Kelly is a young 28, but his credentials are pretty damn strong. A grad of the Culinary Institute of America, he has worked at the Inn at Little Washington, the local institution, the Fearrington House, and most recently, my favorite Raleigh restaurant, Fins. His dream restaurant has always been a French bistro where he can cook "like a grandmother." Kelly's dream came true when Bakatsias hired him several months ago to see if he couldn't save Vin Rouge, which had lost most of its customer base and could have easily folded. Kelly welcomed the challenge, changed the way the restaurant thought about food, and has created a restaurant that I would be proud to have in my neighborhood.

A brief mention of the space is warranted: the kitchen is exposed to the dining room where the bar is located. There is a second dining room which appears to be much more peaceful. Vin Rouge has a huge outdoor dining area, much of it covered from the elements with ceiling fans to keep the air flowing. It was on this back area where I dined on Kelly's fare.

I started with a salad of figs picked by Kelly earlier in the day, quickly pan roasted, and served with arugula, walnuts and bleu cheese. Oh, I forgot to mention that the salad is served with a leg of duck confit where the skin was crisped perfectly. I could eat this salad several times a week for dinner, and would be a very happy man. At less than $10, this salad is a steal, too.

I then tried a whole, grilled rouget served with a tapenade and pistou, complemented with a fried zucchini blossom. Kelly gets whole fish, and this specimen was seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper. The classic French condiments went well with the fish. My only complaint is that I wish the rouget had been boned, as such small fish leave tons of annoying bones to deal with.

My final course was pan roasted ivory salmon, served with crab meat, braised cabbage and a whole mustard beurre blanc. I'm a sucker for braised cabbage, and I was very pleased with Kelly's version. The fish was most excellent -- very moist, not overcooked as is the case with most salmon (yet keeping a perfect crust), and carried enough flavor to handle the sauce and cabbage.

Each of these dishes was a special, and it's obvious that Kelly's specials are showcases for what is fresh and what he likes to do. You can't go wrong with any of his specials. The regular menu at Vin Rouge reads like a greatest hits of classic bistro faire, including onion soup gratinee, mussels, house-made pate, sole meuniere, steak frites, and sauteed calves liver. Based on Kelly's commitment to freshness, I have no doubt these items are as good as his specials.

The French bistro genre is often tired, primarily because of the lack of attention to simple details. It's easy to do a crummy bistro, but it takes someone with a lot of passion and guts to create something out of the ordinary. Matt Kelly has succeed with Vin Rouge, and I hope he keeps on doing his "grandma cooking."

Vin Rouge

2010 Hillsborough Road

Durham, NC 27705

919-416-0466

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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When did he take over? You said he took over a "failing" restaurant. We ate there awhile back, can't remember exactly, and found the food inconsistent and not quite worth the $$. If this is a change I'd love to go back.

challah-baker

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Do go back, and talk to Matt. Ask him what's good. He's very passionate at what he does, and I think he's turned Vin Rouge into a damn fine neighborhood restaurant. He's been there since the beginning of the year, I believe, but it took him several months to re-orient the inertial forces that had caused the restaurant's quality to decline so much.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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This French bistro is owned by restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, and I must admit that I've never been a big fan of Bakatsias' establishments -- they focus on the trendy, food is up and down, and in the end, there's more style than substance.

What are his other establishments?

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  • 10 months later...

I just wanted to bump up this discussion to see if anyone has been to Vin Rouge lately. I've heard that Matt Kelly continues to improve this restaurant. It's what I would call an "honest" restaurant.

I remember kidding Matt that he should have tried to take over the helm of a more "ambitious" restaurant. How foolish of a comment that was, as this type of place may be considered to be far more ambitious than what springs up throughout the Triangle -- this is a chef and a restaurant that takes pride in the classics, while giving them just a slight modern twist.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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What are his other establishments?

the first one that I remember was on Hwy 70W around the Orange-Alamance line...I think it was called Mr. B's (last time I was by that location, it was Dockside Dolls---I'm guessing patrons go there for more than the food ....duh....don't think Mr. B owns it!) He's owned at least two in Cary.....cannot recall the names, but I think at one time these two were across from each other in the same shopping center, never went there but I seem to recall reports about the drop-dead interior design. Then he had another one in a small shopping center on Newton Rd. right off Six Forks Rd. in Raleigh....I think this was Cafe Georgio's. Seems like it had a big grand opening, lots of hype. Went there a couple times....food was OK, service wasn't too great. My perception of Bakatsias establishments is that they're usually noisy and that there has always been some glitch with the service.

Maybe Vin Rouge is not in the same mold as the others. We'd pretty much given up on B-owned restaurants, but we'll have to try this one.

CBHall

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  • 3 weeks later...

This is in response to Varmint's query about anyone dining at Vin Rouge recently. My wife, I, and too friends all went a few weeks ago and the food was as good as always. I started with the Onion Soup Gratin (French Onion Soup), which was delightfully beefy and cheesy. We shared a bottle of unclassified Chateaunuef de Pape, which was one of the cheaper wines on the menu and just delicious. Our waiter offered us the bottle for free if we could guess what grape was included that made it unclassified. I guessed Cabarnet (which turned out to be right), but he was just kidding and actually didn't know himself. Anyway,

For dinner I had the tripe, which was rich and soft and a true delight to find on the menu. My wife had the Salad Nicoise, and our companions had the Macaronni Gratin, and another dish that I don't recall (it was a basic meat dish, pork loin or roast chicken [ I just tried the web site to check the menu, but it's down right now. ]). All of the meals were just delightful, warm, and just the right thing for a still cool spring's night.

I can't recommend Vin Rouge enough, though my cardiologist might disagree.

Bryan C. Andregg

"Give us an old, black man singing the blues and some beer. I'll provide the BBQ."

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  • 3 weeks later...
I just wanted to bump up this discussion to see if anyone has been to Vin Rouge lately. 

Am late with these comments due to being out of town. Prompted by the positive posts on this thread, hub and I dined at Vin Rouge for the first time a week ago and were suitably impressed. My only regret is that I'd had a late lunch and so my appetite wasn't completely primed for an early dinner (we were going to a performance afterward)...but I managed to clean my plate anyway. :wink:

Any restaurant that serves good bread and generous portions of beautiful salad scores lots of points with me right away and VR did that. I had a salad with beets, goat cheese, lardons and toasted walnuts (not finely chopped, but good-sized pieces); sole meuniere, haricots verts, and potato puree; and lemon tart, which I surely didn't need but it was sooo good. Hub had the poached pear salad and whole dorado (sp?) which he thought was excellent (and he's still talking about it), with a melange of sauteed vegetables which were difficult to see since they were under the fish. No dessert for him, but I kindly shared a little of my tart. Servings were generous but not overwhelming. An aside: I hate it when it seems that the kitchen staff has counted out an exact number of, for example, green beans or diced potatoes or pieces of (small) pasta per plate....just a tad pretentious, IMO.

We sat outside under the covered patio, pleasant enough even on a hot day what with the overhead fans. Service left nothing to be desired and I especially appreciated that they had noted that we needed to be out by a certain time. We were in no way rushed but at the same time, there were no long lapses between courses, thus enabling us to leave on time for our destination. As with all Bakatsias restaurants, great attention is given to decor and VR is no exception. It does indeed resemble a French provincial eatery, both inside and out. We definitely plan to return to VR and urge other Triangle eGulleters to give it a try if you haven't already done so.

CBHall

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