Fasten your seat belts and get ready for a culinary tour of Asia, made possible by the recent openings of a flurry of new restaurants.
First stop is Shanghai, whose cuisine is featured at Asian Grill (6611 Falls of Neuse Road; 232-9488). The restaurant opened in Falls Village in March, originally as a pan-Asian-with-sushi-bar concept. Business was slow, though (could it be that the trend has peaked?), so husband-and-wife owners Christine Li Gu and Gia Gu decided last month to drop the entire menu and replace it with the cuisine of their childhood.
The house specialty is Xiaolongbao (also known, thankfully, as soup dumpling), delicate dumplings magically filled (at least it seems like magic) with hot soup and crabmeat or pork. The rest of the lengthy menu showcases Shanghainese cuisine with a selection ranging from Chinese ham and winter melon soup to crispy skin quail to eel with garlic sauce to stir-fried Shanghai thick noodles.
To my knowledge, it's the only authentic Chinese menu in the Triangle that doesn't specialize in Szechwan fare. Here's to taking the road less traveled.
Cantonese style dim sum, another underserved specialty in the area, just got a boost with the opening of Dim Sum House in Morrisville (100-104 Jerusalem Road; 380-3087; www.dimsumhouse18.com). May Ling and her husband, Gao Jiang, opened the restaurant in August, just two months after arriving in the States from their native Fujian Province.
Dim sum is served all day, every day - on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 10:30 a.m., it's served from traditional dim sum carts pushed through the dining room. On weekdays, dim sum is ordered from the menu, which also offers an impressive selection of authentic Cantonese dishes and a modest sampling of Thai fare. Thumbnail pictures of each dim sum offering are thoughtfully printed on the menu - training wheels for the dim sum cart, you might say.
The fusion concept
Also in Morrisville, Martin Sreshta serves up a fusion of Japanese and Indian flavors in a bowl at Martin's Curry Rice (9549 Chapel Hill Road; 349-2363; www.martinscurryrice.com). Inspired by the curry rice vendors in the railway stations of Japan, Sreshta has spiced up the concept with the flavors of his native India, creating three signature "traffic light" sauces named for their colors: red (spicy with chiles, curry spices, tamarind and coconut milk), green (a mild blend of garam masala, mint and cilantro) and yellow (curry sweetened with applesauce and honey - a favorite with kids, according to Sreshta). Pick a sauce and a protein (chicken, beef, fish, egg or tofu) or vegetables, which are stir-fried to order and served over rice.
The counter service eatery is located in a generic strip mall, but you can't miss it. It's the shop with the red, yellow and green umbrellas out front.
Next stop is Chapel Hill, where Archira Thai & Sushi (2110 Environ Way; 960-2724; archirathaisushi.com) offers a gastronomic tour of two countries under one roof. The restaurant is owned by Bangkok native Sandy Mason, a veteran restaurateur who has owned restaurants in Washington, D.C., and is the current owner of Lotus Leaf in Cary. Located in the new East 54 residential and retail complex, Archira is open for lunch and dinner daily.
Hop over to Cary for Japanese fare in a serene setting (including a tatami room, if you like) at Yuri (1361 Kildaire Farm Road; 481-0068; www.yurijapaneserestaurant.com). The itinerary hits all the usual Japanese high spots, with an occasional surprise (Cajun-peppered tuna tataki, for instance, and "monkey brain" - which turns out to be an appetizer featuring a deep-fried avocado half stuffed with crabmeat and spicy tuna), and a brief side excursion into Korea for bulgogi.
The adventure winds up back in North Raleigh, where the owners of Lemongrass Thai Restaurant have broadened their scope to include the entire continent at their next venture, Café Asia (9650-145 Strickland Road; 848-6205). Green coconut curry, Vietnamese shrimp summer roll, Indonesian egg noodle, spider roll - they're all there among the dozens of offerings, along with signature dishes such as lobster pad thai and Korean barbecued lamb. Guess that pan-Asian bistro trend is still going strong, after all.