Durham >Food & Dining > Rue Cler Restaurant
401 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC | Directions 2770135.997037 -78.899755
Neighborhoods: Downtown, City Center
To those that don't know – While I have seen reviews for Rue Cler from good, bad, and ugly I must confess that those who don't know just don't know. In this day an age $25 for a 3 course meal is unheard of. Go to San Fran, NYC, or Toronto and you will not find the same food for twice the price. For those that said they had to wait to be seated: what would you expect at a place that is popular? The owners took a chance and built a place in downtown Durham close to where one of the top ten restaurants in the country is established - Magnolia (I have spent a lot more there than I have ever at RC). RC is the type of place that if you get to know the staff, it is the go-to place for a nice evening. Whenever I go to a new neighborhood type restaurant I try to sit at the bar and get to know the help. We did and it paid off dearly. The first night we ate there, Cameron (Cam) gave us a sample of farm fresh eggs to take home. The next time we went there with the kids he looked after us like long lost friends. For V-Day he made sure we were looked after with a special bottle of wine. So to those haters out there, learn some restaurant rules on how to dine at a local place, and what is good and/or bad before putting the place on a pedestal of what it is not.
Excellent Food - Arrogant management - Inconsistent policies – I've lived in France for several years and in other parts of Europe. Over the years I developed a love of French and Belgium cooking. Rue Cler's menu, while not extensive, has some excellent French dishes. There Moules and Frites are some of the best I've had. My wife and I particularily enjoy going there for lunch.
Now the problem. The management appears arrogant and/or incompetent. Their web site says no reservations. Last year, this time-on Valentines Day, we arrived for dinner and was told that reservations were required. I referenced their no reservation policy and indicated that I had driven from Raleigh, and pleaded. We were given a seat in the bakery. We enjoyed our meal. Last Friday we ate lunch at Rue Cler. As usual, the food was good. There was no mention, at the restaurant, to make reservations for this years Valentines Day. I did call over the weekend and left a voicemail requesting a reservation. I left two calls requesting a reservation for 4 people at 7PM. No calls were returned. I continued calling, and on Tuesday finally the phone was answered. I was informed that they had a poor message service ( voicemail?????) and that the message was never relayed to them. Reservations were required and that they would not be able to accomodate me.
Rue Cler has the potential for being a great rerasonably prices restaurant. There menu could be expanded and their management needs to be a lot more attuned to their customers. Running "their business" should be tending to customers instead of sitting at the bar and working on a PC. Greeting customers as guests would also be a novel idea. A consistent policy on reservations is a must and responding to email and voicemail is not only a courtesy but is good business.
Rue Cler management can run their business any way they want - obviously, but I don't intend to subject myself to this type of treatment regardless of how much I enjoy their food.
excellent brunch! – I'll admit I'm not a French food expert, but for a small bistro in Durham, Rue Cler is wonderful. The ambience is a great blend of modern lines and raw materials. We went here by mistake after Piedmont down the street turned us away on Easter Sunday. We lucked out by eating brunch at Rue Cler. They have the most divine hot beignets. I have eaten brunch there several times since, and everyone has been extremely pleased with what they ordered. Our service has always been fairly attentive, but nothing to write home about. I have yet to eat dinner there, but the carry-out croque monsieur from their bakery front was good.
Faux-French, Pricey – After my first visit to this restaurant, I emailed some feedback to the owners of Rue Cler. They never replied. Here are a few excerpts:
My friend, ordered the crab croquettes and the porc confit and I had the steak frites. The croquettes were filled with mayonnaise in excessive proportions. If you are going to put caper in the croquettes, it should appear in the menu or at least the waiter/waitress should mention it! Although caper is used in French cuisine, it is almost a rule that it should be mentioned in the name of the recipes such as in "Aile de raie aux capres"... Neither of us cared for the appetizer after the first bite.
Another faux-pas on the menu, the description of the pork confit reads as if it were served with a tartelette on the side. We were taken aback by the seemingly complex yet unsophisticated tartelette. The soft flavor of the confit vanished completely as it was covered by the heavy butter crust of the tartelette. Harmonizing meat and crust isn't unheard of but this kind of culinary pirouette is usually better accomplished with a pate feuilletee such as in the "bouchee a la reine".
A word on service. The website said that we wouldn't find "snobby waiters" at Rue Cler. That's fine with us since we don't like snobby waiters either. That said we appreciate being helped by waiters who have some education about the food that they serve. Gentle manners don't hurt either.
Being French I feel offended by the interpretation that Rue Cler makes of "the passion for French food & wine" (website). No French cook would combine ingredients in the same disastrous combinations as you attempted or else they would go bankrupt. I thought that rue Cler would be the place to enjoy a fine dinner. [...] I have yet to be convinced.
A feast of flavor! – This little bistro gem is spectacular! I have now been several times for brunch, lunch and dinner, and I have never been disappointed. The dinner prix fixe menu changes frequently, and each new dish is a delight. You can tell that the chefs truly love what they are doing and invest a lot of creative energy in preparing the menu. The servers also do an excellent job of making the French menu and wine list accessible to the layman. I appreciate a restaurant that doesn't overload your plate with an unnecessary excess of food. The portions on the prix fixe menu are just right and leave you feeling pleasantly satisfied rather than uncomfortably full. I feel that $25 is more than a fair price for three delicious and unique dishes. At any other restaurant of this caliber, you would have to pay as much or more for one plate! And if you really do want more food, you can always order the larger, and equally wonderful, a la carte dishes. Also, this restaurant does not appear to take reservations, but they seem amenable to calling ahead. Despite the fact that they are always busy, I have never had to wait for more than 15 minutes for a table. I could give glowing reviews about Rue Cler all day, but the fact of the matter is, the experience speaks for itself. No frills. No hassle. No pretentiousness. Just great food and great service in an easygoing, wine-drinking atmosphere.
I guess I expected more – My friends and I do an "ethnic dinner night" once a month and try a different restaurant in the triangle area. One of my friends knew the owner, we had reservations, and we still had to wait 45 minutes to get a table. Blah! It's extremely noisy in there with the super high ceilings, so conversation among 10 people was extremely difficult!
The food was ok. For $25 for a dinner, I guess I just expected more...both in portion (yeh, I know it's French sized portions), and in quality. I just wasn't impressed. I thought more seasoning or sauces would've been used. The food was a little on the bland side.
As far as French food goes, I think Bloomsbury Bistro is better than Rue Cler.
Great for a weekend brunch/lunch – Rue Cler is one of my favorite restaurants in Durham. We go here about once a month. The bread they serve when you first sit down is awesome! For lunch, I recommend the Croque Monsieur with pommes frites on the side and the Beignets (french doughnuts), if you can get them before they run out. On the con side, they keep the dining room very cold so bring a sweater (even in summer). Sunday tends to be busier than Saturday for brunch/lunch. I have not tried the dinner menu.
Not very accomodating – Five of us went to Rue Cler for lunch. They were quite busy. We were seated promptly but waited 20 minutes for our order to be taken. My glass of wine, which cost $8.00 was a very low pour. At the end of the meal we asked for the checks to be separated, which should not have been very difficult, as three of us ordered the exact same thing. The server said he was too busy. Another five minutes for separate checks would not have been a bother as the lunch was apparently a long one anyways. Overall they were not very accomodating to a group, even though small.
Great Staff and Food – so, I have eaten brunch, lunch, and dinner at this wonderful establishment and cannot seem to get a bad meal. The staff is friendly and attentive, the food is very delicious, and the menu is not overwhelmingly large. Everything I've had has been great, but some of my favorites are The Moules frites and the steak frites with eggs. They also have great mimosas that will seal the deal if you're a brunch goer that likes to have some cocktails. Great spot, great atmosphere, just wonderful all around. I try to go back several times a month.
Wonderful food and service! – Since moving here three years ago from New York, Rue Cler is the first restaurant I've found that has a really interesting menu. I had a memorable lunch there, consisting of thin slices of perfectly grilled salmon over a bed of haricots vert and cubed potatoes, topped with Bearnaise sauce and accompanied by a glass of excellent Champagne. Simply divine! The service was friendly and professional, and the entire check came to about $22. In a great restaurant in York, it would have been at least twice that much.
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