Hop aboard the Wake County Orient Express, where two new restaurants take you on a gastronomic tour of Asia without ever crossing the county line.
The first stop is North Hills, where Spring Rolls (4361-100 Lassiter at North Hills; 783-8180) features Chinese and Thai cuisines, with a quick side trip into Vietnam for spring rolls. Owners Eddie and Susan Tu, a brother and sister who previously owned a Chinese restaurant in Toronto, have broadened their culinary horizons to include traditional and contemporary fare for their new venture, served in a suitably cosmopolitan setting. Pending license approval, a full bar will offer lychee martinis and other signature cocktails.
Spring Roll's menu covers an eclectic spectrum from kung pao chicken to cherry flavor crispy pork, and offers especially strong selections of vegetarian fare and noodle dishes. Sections are devoted to variations on ho fun, pad thai, chow mein, Shanghai and spicy basil noodle variations. For dessert, the pastry cart skips over to the Western hemisphere for the likes of red velvet cake and key lime pie.
Next destination is Cary, where you're greeted by the sounds of a stone waterfall in the bar near the entrance of Ichibar (1207-J Kildaire Farm Road; 465-3166; ichibarrestaurant.com ). According to manager Wen Jiang, the restaurant's name is a bilingual word play on the Japanese ichiban, which means "number one," and the English "bar."
Presumably, the "bar" refers both to the one near the entrance, where patrons sip beverages including chilled sake and Japanese mojito, and the sushi bar at the back of the restaurant, whose selection is even more extensive. The menu is equally thorough when it comes to the rest of the Japanese repertoire, and the "Kitchen Special" section hits the high spots of Chinese-American fare, with two dozen options ranging from moo goo gai pan to General Tso's chicken.