Starlu's New Year's resolution: fine dining and champagne for everyone | Restaurant Beat | Indy Week
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Starlu's New Year's resolution: fine dining and champagne for everyone 

There are plenty of reasons to visit Restaurant Starlu this New Year's Eve. Like many area restaurants, they will be serving a prix fixe menu that will showcase some of the chef's best work. New Year's Eve is a great time to check out a new and exciting restaurant, and as one of the newest and most exciting places to open recently, Starlu is certainly a good bet on that front.

But if I were you, I'd go for the cheap champagne.

I don't mean cheap champagne in the headache-inducing, sugary bubble water way. I mean it in the good champagne for very little money way. For New Year's Eve, Starlu will be serving Perrier Jouet Grand Brut for $29 a bottle, which is about $10 less than you can buy it at the supermarket. Chef and owner Sam Poley says, "I want everyone to have champagne on the table on New Year's Eve. I want to see every single table drinking bubbles." This attitude is part of Sam's greater philosophy, and the philosophy of the restaurant. It's not just champagne--Sam Poley wants to bring wine and truffles and fine dining to the masses.

Restaurant Starlu is located in the Southcourt Building at the corner of Shannon and University roads in Durham near the old South Square mall site (phone 489-1500). It used to be a big fancy sports bar, but you'd never know. The interior is clean but warm with a large open dining room, white walls and tables, great looking black chairs with orange piping, an open kitchen, a modest bar and lots of windows. From the appearance, the restaurant could be a super trendy and exclusive place in any big city. But the food and prices tell a different story.

Most of the dishes on Poley's menu are riffs on comfort food, and the prices are significantly lower than you might expect. "Too many chefs make menus that are all about themselves, and not enough about what people want to eat," Poley says. One of the entrees on both the dinner and lunch menu is baked macaroni and cheese with bacon and caramelized onions. It's really good, and at $10 it's a bargain, too. Other dishes include house-made gravalax, pork chops with sweet potato and onion tart and mustard sauce, and grilled salmon with vegetable caponata. Poley has set the cap for menu items at $19 (although specials may be more). His wine program is also set up in a way to be easy to understand and easy to drink well for not much money--bottles are grouped by price, $19, $29, $39, $49 and reserve. There are a surprising number of decent bottles for $19, and 13 wines by the glass.

Poley is one of those chefs who talks about "feeding people" in the spiritual sense of the phrase, by way of doing it in the physical sense. He speaks of a revelation he had while working at Pop's, when a man came in who looked to be beaten badly by life, but the bowl of food that was placed in front of him rejuvenated him and was obviously the best part of his day. At the time, Poley was wavering between a career in PR and advertising and his new career as a cook. In that moment, he says, he made his decision.

Since then, he's worked at many Triangle restaurants, from Mondo Bistro to Squids to the Governor's Club to his most recent gig at the Weathervane. He's now taken the next step in owning his own place. He says he knew that was the only way he was going to be able to give customers what he thinks they deserve: a neighborhood fine dining experience, quality without stiffness, comfort with luxury.

For New Year's Eve, Starlu will be serving a four course menu for $50 a person. The menu is much more French influenced than the regular menu, and in many ways more fancy. The cheap champagne may be the draw, but the food will surely complement it. Champagne on New Year's Eve way below retail price is just one of Poley's dining crusades. Right now and throughout truffle season, Starlu will be offering shaved fresh black truffle on any plate for $7. It's part of Sam Poley's quest to democratize fine dining on the back side of a building in South Durham.


Ring in the New Year with a dinner bell
Haven't been invited out and don't feel like staying home and watching Regis Philbin sub for Dick Clark on New Year's Eve? Or looking for a place to eat off your hangover on New Year's Day? Here's what's going on around the Triangle:

Raleigh/Cary

  • 518 West is serving its regular menu for New Year's Eve. They will also be open New Year's Day for the first time, for dinner only beginning at 5 p.m., serving traditional Southern New Year's foods along with the regular menu. 829-2518.
  • Bloomsbury Bistro will be offering a $65-a-person New Year's Eve dinner including four courses plus canapes and sparkling wine. 834-9011.
  • Enoteca Vin will be serving a three-course $65 (plus tax and tip) meal with paired wine flights. There'll be three wine flights available, each including champagne, for $25, $40 and $75. The bar will also have a special menu featuring oysters and champagne. 834-3070.
  • La ShiSh Cafe in Cary will be serving a special four-course New Year's Eve menu for $29.95 a person. 388-8330.
  • Nana's Chophouse will be serving a five-course dinner for $75 a person, which includes a glass of champagne. There will be live jazz, and the restaurant will be seating until 10:30. 829-1212.
  • Second Empire will be serving a three-course meal on New Year's Eve for $75 a person. They will also be offering a special half-bottle of champagne for $12. 829-3663.
  • Tavola Rossa will offer two dinner options, both of which include a five-course Italian feast. Early diners can eat for $65 per person beginning at 5 p.m. Beginning at 9 p.m., the cost will go up to $75 per person, and will include a champagne toast and party favors. Live music will begin at 7:30 p.m. For reservations, call 532-7100.

    Chapel Hill

  • 411 West is serving its regular menu New Year's Eve. They will also be open New Year's Day for the first time, for dinner only beginning at 5 p.m., serving traditional Southern New Year's foods along with their regular menu. 967-2782.
  • Elaine's on Franklin will be serving a four-course dinner for New Year's Eve for $55 a person, which includes a glass of sparkling wine. 960-2770.
  • The Fearrington House Restaurant will host a New Year's Eve champagne reception followed by an eight-course dinner. There will be a black tie ball afterward at the Barn. Dinner is $125 a person, the ball is $75 a person, or $185 for both. The Market Cafe at Fearrington will also be hosting a New Year's Eve dinner featuring a five-course meal for $55 per person. The Inn will also have New Year's packages available. 542-2121.
  • Il Palio in the Siena Hotel has a number of options for New Year's Eve dining. In the main restaurant there will be live music and the choice of a five-course $85 menu, or a seven-course $125 menu. In the Tuscany Room there will be an Italian Feast, which is all inclusive (beverages, entertainment) for $100 a person. They also have a number of overnight packages available. 929-4000.
  • Lantern will be serving a three-course menu for New Year's Eve for $59 a person. 969-8846.
  • Squids will be open New Year's Eve serving their regular menu. They will also be open New Year's Day for the first time, dinner only beginning at 5 p.m. 942-8757.
  • Talulla's will be hosting both a New Year's Eve dinner and a New Year's Eve party. The dinner will consist of five courses and include one beverage of your choice for $45 a person. Seatings are at 6 and 8 p.m. The restaurant will close at 10 p.m., and reopen at 11 for the New Year's party. The party costs $20 a person and will feature three DJ's and a midnight champagne toast. 933-1177.

    Durham

  • Bakus Tapas and Wine Bar will be serving all-you-can-eat tapas on New Year's Eve for $80 a couple. 286-0777.
  • Federal will be hosting a New Year's Eve party--a $10 cover charge includes a heavy appetizer buffet, one draft beer or glass of wine and a champagne toast at midnight. 680-8611.
  • Four Square will be serving a four-course New Year's Eve dinner with choices of dishes in each course for $75 a person. 401-9877.
  • Nana's will be serving a $75-a-person New Year's Eve dinner featuring a five-course meal and a glass of champagne. 493-8545.
  • Parizade will be serving a $69-a-person menu for the second seating of the evening on New Year's Eve (the first seating will be a la carte). There'll be dancing to a live band and a champagne toast at midnight. 286-9712.
  • Pop's will be serving a three-course dinner for $49.95 a person that includes a glass of champagne. 956-7677.
  • Restaurant Starlu will be serving a four-course New Year's Eve dinner for $50 a person. 489-1500.

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