I was recently invited to dine at Il Palio, the four-diamond rated Italian restaurant located inside the beautiful historic Sienna Hotel along East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. The restaurant opened in 1987 but the hotel and restaurant changed ownership back in 2009 and both underwent major renovations last summer resulting in a new modern & open design in the dining room and a revamped menu from the kitchen.
The kitchen is helmed by Executive Chef Teddy Diggs who took the reins at Il Palio in early 2014 and oversaw the restaurants renovations. He was recently named one of the top “16 Chefs to Watch in 2016” by the foodservice website Restaurant Hospitality and was previously the head chef of prestigious restaurants in Washington DC and Martha’s Vineyard prior to moving to Chapel Hill. A main element of the kitchen renovation was the addition of a wood-fired grill which helped to reshape Il Palio’s Northern Italian menu featuring wood-grilled steaks, chops and whole fish incorporating flavors indigenous to Italian cooking like “smoke” and “wood” as a result of the grilling process.
Of course being there several fresh pasta dishes as well featuring seasonal local ingredients. But when I say pasta here don’t think of your typical pasta and sauce dishes. The menu features dishes like hand-crafted acorn fazzoletti with roasted local mushrooms and pappardelle with bolognese ragu just to name a few. We started things off with the delicious house made rosemary and sea salt focaccia bread and the nine herb salad was which was amazing. It came with great light lemon dressing and garnished with a tiny edible flower.
Next up we enjoyed the fresh house made fettuccine pasta & porcini mushrooms. It is honestly one of the best things I have ever had. I’m actually not the biggest fan of mushrooms but the way Chef Teddy prepared them they were just so flavorful that I honestly couldn’t get enough of them. And nothing beats freshly made pasta. The dish was a big hit at our table. These particular mushrooms are only in season for a short time so at this point are probably not on the menu anymore until next season, but they were are strong indication of the creativity and skills in the kitchen and how they can incorporate seasonal offerings into incredible dishes throughout the year.
As I mentioned earlier the wood-fired grill stoked with hard woods allows for creative meat dishes that incorporate smoke as an actual flavor. My wife ordered the 6 oz. beef filet with salsa verde. It was cooked perfectly and was delicious. We also shared the Chicken “al Mattone” with herb batuto and baby arugula which was excellent as well.
My wife and I enjoyed the look and feel of the dining room and overall atmosphere at Il Palio. It is an upscale dining experience for sure, but it’s very approachable. Perfect for a special occasion and getting dressed up, but also a great option for just a fun evening out with a great meal (no jacket and tie required). There are seating options for all occasions, ranging from a private table for two and large booths for group to a large communal “chef’s table” with a view of the kitchen. Service wise the hostess and wait staff were exceptional. Our server chatted with us throughout the evening and sharing welcomed tips about the menu and wine pairings for each dish.
I was happy to see that Il Palio also has a patio area for outdoor dining during the spring and summer months. I don’t need an excuse for a return visit to Il Palio but I enjoy eating outside this time of year and I’m already thinking about dining there again soon to see how the summer offerings have been incorporated into the menu. I am also looking forward to trying a few more of the many wines from their large Italian collection. I’m not sure just yet what I will order next time for dinner, but one thing I do know is what I will have for dessert. The first thing I will tell my waiter on my next visit is to save me one of the Videri dark chocolate souffles. They only make a handful each night and I hear it is wonderful!