Epicurean

New places for food and some fun

CORRESPONDENTJanuary 5, 2011 

So you've made a New Year's resolution to get in shape. Before you sign up for a health club membership, you might want to check out these places where you can get a workout and a meal under one roof.

Sparians Bowling Boutique and Bistro (141-120 Park at North Hills St.; 803-3718; www.sparians.com) is, as the name suggests, unlike any bowling alley you've ever seen. The 18 bowling lanes are surrounded by plush couches in a vibrant upscale setting, with an electronic wonderland of Xbox games, Nintendo Wii and huge HD-TVs providing additional entertainment. Three private suites with six lanes accommodate up to 350 people for birthday parties and other group functions. Waiters deliver beverages and light fare throughout the center.

Those who prefer a full sit-down meal can adjourn to the Bistro, where temptations include shrimp cocktail, baby back ribs, Cobb salad and Louisiana gumbo with andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken, alligator and crabmeat. And that's just for starters. Entree options cover a similar spectrum, from grilled rib-eye to penne Bolognese. Of course, if you're serious about that New Year's resolution, you might want to stick with the grilled salmon with roasted tomatoes, sautéed garlic spinach and asparagus - hold the key lime butter sauce.

Maybe you just want to give your lungs a workout. In that case, head over to Wellington Park in Cary, where every night is karaoke night at Able Bar & Grill (6446 Tryon Road; 859-8088). And that's not the most unusual feature about this little strip center eatery, not by a mile. That honor goes to the menu, which is posted on a Boar's Head chalkboard near the entrance - entirely in Chinese.

Fortunately, a printed English menu is also available. Turns out those pictograms on the chalkboard translate to an eclectic offering of authentic fare - most of it street food - from regions all over China. Owner Able Liu, who hails from northeastern China, is most proud of the handmade dumplings from that region.

"We didn't grow the wheat," he says of the dumplings, but we did everything else ourselves." Other options include grilled kebabs from Xinjiang (including lamb, beef, chicken and, for the adventurous, chicken hearts), Szechwan hot pot bowls (lamb, pork or seafood) and cook-at-the-table hot pots for two, four or more.

A former software engineer who came to N.C. State in 1998 to study, Liu says he opened Able Bar & Grill primarily for expats like himself who long for the food of their homeland. "But everybody is welcome," he says.

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