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New restaurants and happenings

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Among the restaurants still booking tables for Christmas Eve and Day are Penang, one of Chapel Hill's growing number of Malaysian, Thai and sushi restaurants. They're serving special holiday fare as well as their regular menu (933-2288, www.penangnc.org). So is Irregardless Cafe in Raleigh (www.irregardless.com, 833-8898), along with live, holiday jazz, their creamy sweet potato soup, and maybe roasted pork loin or grouper with mustard sauce. The menu depends on what worthy seasonal ingredients come chef Arthur Gordon's way. Both of these spots are serving New Year's Eve as well, with dancing following dinner at the Irregardless.

Durham's Anotherthyme Restaurant and Bar (682-5225) still has spaces for their New Year's Eve prix fixe dinner (menu still being determined), and Panzanella in Carrboro (929-6626, www.panzanella.com) has reminded us that they will be among the restaurants open New Year's Eve, serving a pre-selected three-course menu and complimentary glass of champagne. Choose from an array of appetizers and entrées (black-eyed pea and pancetta soup for a starter and thyme-scented chicken with polenta and morel mushrooms give you an idea of the range) for $38 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Likewise, the Underground Restaurant in Raleigh (664-8704, www.comeunderground.com) will serve their luxurious four-course "choice" menu for $55 per person. A note of congratulations is due to Underground—they were listed in the November 2006 Bon Appetit among "Best New Restaurants."

If you book an evening during this holiday time at Durham's Restaurant Starlu (489-1500, www.starlu.com), you will also be donating to a good cause. For every purchase of a designated wine for the month of December (it changes month to month), 50 cents per glass and $2 per bottle will go to a local agency dedicated to alleviating suffering in the Sudan's Darfur region.

The four-diamond Il Palio in Chapel Hill (918-2545, www.ilpalio.com), is another Triangle favorite for holiday get-togethers—and for Christmas Eve or Day, and New Year's Eve or Day. It's donating 10 percent of the price of each chef's special during the month of January to Cornucopia House (www.cornucopiahouse.com), a support center for cancer patients. While we're on the subject of doing good, let's not forget the volunteer opportunities to help distribute meals from food pantries or soup kitchens like the N.C. Food Bank in Raleigh, the Durham Rescue Mission and the Inter-Faith Council of Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

It's true: The lights are on again and Raleigh Joe's (821-5854, www.raleighjoes.com) is back in business! N.C. State students are relieved that barbecue is back on Hillsborough Street, along with expanded fixin' choices. There's apparently an alcohol permit in the works, too. They've been closed these last few months to change hands and get renovated. The students I've cornered and asked about it say something kin to—yay!! Affordable food done right.

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