Bin 54 - A Tasteful Splurge in Chapel Hill

Posted December 10, 2007 4:12 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2007 4:23 p.m. EST

Chapel Hill hasn’t had a high end steakhouse since the seventies when the Peddler burned down and the Danziger restaurant dynasty petered out, taking with them the legendary Ranch House. Except for the Farm House, a 1950’s relic still operating on weekends north of town, global and regional Southern cuisines have vied for Chapel Hillians’ tastebuds and credit cards for the last three decades.

Until last year.

Visionary restaurateur George Bakatsias, known for the flamboyant style of Parazade, Spice Street, and Grasshopper, saw a niche and filled it with an upscale, uptown steakhouse in tiny Glen Lennox shopping center.

Bin 54 brings twenty first century pizzazz to the old Morton’s/Ruth’s Chris steakhouse formula-- pricey a la carte menu with lumberjack portions. The beef (from American Kobe ribeye for $55, to the more humble hanger steak for $22) is, as promised, exquisite. Vintage cocktails (Sazeracs, Sidecars, and Old Fashioneds) are made from the highest quality liquor. The wine list is lengthy and intriguing, and the well-prepared side dishes (around $8) vary between the expected (sautéed spinach) and the unusual (farro risotto).

But for me, it’s the appetizers that flaunt the tremendous talent of Chef Dale Ray and his staff. Seared fresh foie gras with crisp polenta, poached pear and fig butter. Citrusy tuna tartare with wasabi crackers. Caramelized diver scallops with truffled potato puree and forest mushrooms. Watercress salad with apples, Maytag blue cheese and apple vinaigrette. It’s a challenge to get beyond these luscious temptations to the main course.

My advice: take at least three other adventurous friends and split the portions. It’s a shame to concentrate on steak, even a steak as perfect as you’ll find here, with all the other beautifully prepared goodies to choose from.

Skip lunch. You’ll not want to fill up before ordering one of Bin’s amazing and enormous desserts, creative versions of old standards such as banana pudding.

And finally, don’t be embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag. Even after sitting out all night, our leftover apple tart was the best breakfast I’ve had in months, prolonging the pleasure of Bin 54 for one more meal.