401 Foster St., Durham; 919-683-1213 or piedmontrestaurant.com.
It was big news last year when Andy Magowan (and Abby Pearce) left Federal, Durham’s popular gastropub, to join forces with Drew Brown, formerly of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas. The result of their collaboration is the wildly successful Piedmont, serving an ever-changing selection of Italian- and French-inspired dishes, like roasted duck breast with fig risotto and house-made pâ°té with house-pickled vegetables. The cheese selection and wine list are consistently first-rate.
2) Bonne Soirée
431 W. Franklin St., suite 10, Chapel Hill; 919-928-8388.
At this small, year-old restaurant, chef-owner Chip Smith (an alumnus of the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, VA, and Jean-Louis at the Watergate in Washington, DC) serves Provençal-inspired cuisine with a Southern inflection. Regional favorites like Carolina potatoes, Virginia ham and collard greens are incorporated into what is otherwise a very traditional Gallic menu. Smith’s wife and co-owner, Tina Vaughn, gives terrific wine-pairing advice.
3) J. Betski’s
10 W. Franklin St., suite 120, Raleigh; 919-833-7999 or jbetskis.com.
This Raleigh newcomer focuses on the overlooked cuisines of Germany and Poland; chef Todd Whitney does a remarkable job of showcasing the varied and nuanced flavors. Standout dishes include a roasted beet salad with toasted-pumpkinseed oil and horseradish Quark (a soft, fresh cheese popular in Germany and Austria) and seared scallops flavored with a goulash vinaigrette. Luckily the menu is not so haute that it forsakes staples like kielbasa and pierogies, the latter of which are often served in brown butter laced with crunchy bread crumbs.