This week's magic word is "diversify." Bonus points if you know how to say it in Japanese or Thai.
Raymond Wong opened Orient Garden in 1997 in Cary, and the Chinese restaurant proved so popular that he has since opened locations in Durham and Morrisville. Wong officially opened his fourth restaurant in February in Morrisville. But this one isn't another Orient Garden.
To be sure, Asian Aroma (100-104 Jerusalem Drive; 380-0387) does offer a broad sampling of the Chinese-American fare that is the foundation of Orient Garden's reputation. But, as the restaurant's name implies, the aim is to present an offering that goes beyond the usual kung pao and lo mein suspects. To that end, Wong has hired an additional chef to develop a supplemental Thai menu, which he expects to be able to offer by the end of the month. Eventually, Wong hopes to expand the menu further, with possibilities ranging from Vietnamese noodle soups to authentic Chinese dishes.
The pan-Asian offering is even more ambitious at Tasu (8919-109 Brier Creek Parkway; 544-8474), which opened in late January in North Raleigh's Brierdale Shopping Center. Owner Tham Nguyen, who also owns Shiki Sushi in Durham, assembled an international kitchen team to create a menu that spans the continent from Chinese minced chicken with eggplant to Vietnamese shrimp and noodle soup to Thai basil chicken to Japanese steakhouse fare. The sushi bar offering is identical to Shiki, including buy-one-get-one-free nigiri and rolls available anytime.
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For some, the wine list will be as much of an attraction as the menu. Selected by wine expert Tina Vaughn (who owns Bonne Soirée in Chapel with her husband, chef Chip Smith), the list is well-matched to the menu and exceptionally well-priced.
Unfortunately, Tasu's first month has seen shakeup among the kitchen staff, leaving the menu in flux. Nguyen is evaluating the offering, and will make decisions about its direction based on customer response and the eventual makeup of the kitchen staff.
Finally, good news for fans of Battistella's New Orleans Kitchen (3920 Arrow Drive; 571-7465; www.battistellaskitchen.com), which closed a few months ago. Plans to demolish the Crabtree Inn, where the Cajun/Creole eatery was housed, have been put on hold. The Inn's management has invited owner/chef Brian Battistella to reopen his restaurant in the same spot, and that's just what he has done. Battistella's is open for dinner, Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30 to 10 p.m.