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New restaurants and happenings 

Now open! Herons (447-4200, www.theumstead.com/dining), the restaurant in the new Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, promises to offer as much local produce as possible on a menu that fuses classically "continental" technique with Southern flavors and favorites like country ham, cornmeal and pork. Yes, this venue is an upscale luxury scene, but Herons also hopes to be a regular with locals and has tailored the ambience in their bar, dining room and terrace to feel a little more homey and less formal (even if the prices remain at the luxury level). Visit their Web site for the increasing variety of forthcoming offerings—weekend brunch, wine tastings and traditional afternoon tea-salon.

Aurora, a beloved Chapel Hill institution serving northern Italian cuisine, has closed—at least temporarily. Its building on Raleigh Road was sold to UNC Hospitals and they say they're looking for a new location.

Locopops Gourmet Frozen Pops, a seasonal (all four seasons, that is) favorite on Hillsborough Road near Ninth Street in Durham, is expanding. Work has begun on a store in Chapel Hill and their kitchen is moving to 115 Market St. on the new plaza in downtown Durham—and it will have a small storefront.

Winter Wine Dinners continue at Raleigh's The Grape at Cameron Village (833-2669, www.yourgrape.com) on Mondays Jan. 29 and Feb. 26. $50 per person (plus tax and gratuity) buys you a four-course dinner paired with five wines. On Wednesday, Feb. 14, is The Grape's Valentine's Wine Dinner, which (like everywhere else) is filling up for their three-course menu paired with a bottle of red.

Carrboro's Panzanella (929-6626, www.panzanella.com) is having its Winter Wine Dinner Monday, Feb. 19, 7-9:30 p.m., featuring the wines of South Africa's Cape matched with chef's specials to complement the vintage. Panzanella's New Year's Eve oyster stew was such a hit, they will continue to serve it through this first month of the new year—providing they can get the perfect oysters for it.

If you've discovered you're already too late to get a table at Chapel Hill's Crook's Corner (929-7643, www.crookscorner.com) for the already packed Feb. 14 holiday, you can celebrate anyway on another day of the week. Their popular hearty winter menu keeps them in the running for a host of local and national awards—and not just for their renowned shrimp and grits—for goodies such as winter vegetable torte, winter wilted salad, local Brussels sprouts, mashed rutabagas and tender meatloaf. Chef Bill Smith's got you covered when it comes to Southern comfort food.

The Wine Cellar at Durham's Sutton Station (806-3111, www.geometrictools.com/thewinecellar) hosts regular samplings and special events. The next free store wine tastings (with the featured wines on sale at a discount) are scheduled for Fridays Jan. 26 and Feb. 3 from 5-7 p.m. Owners Danny and Doreen Moran make a relaxing neighborhood social gathering—a great transition from workday to weekend.

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