John Lai, a veteran chef whose 30-plus year career has taken him from his native Hong Kong to the Bahamas to North Carolina, has opened Banana Leaf in the former Bombay Beijing space in Cary’s Village Square Shopping Center. Lai has given the dining room a makeover, keeping the bamboo accents but lightening the look with a fresh coat of paint in a cheery banana yellow for a contemporary Asian bistro feel.
The menu follows suit with a pan-Asian offering that spans the continent from Malaysian coconut soup to Korean spicy noodles to Japanese udon to Thai curry. All the usual Chinese-American suspects are present and accounted for, and a respectful nod is given to ma po tofu and other Szechuan classics.
But the prime attraction is the Cantonese cuisine that is the chef’s specialty. Entire categories are devoted to casseroles (among them salted fish and chicken with eggplant, and beef stew with Chinese turnips), noodle dishes and noodle soups. The seafood category lives up to the Cantonese reputation for maritime fare with 18 options ranging from sweet and sour braised grouper to fresh squid with XO sauce. And if you’ve been searching in vain for Peking duck, you’ll be happy to know that chef Lai offers an authentic (and only slightly abridged) two-course version for $29.95. The menu doesn’t say so, but you may want to call ahead on this one.
Given the paucity of Cantonese options in the Triangle, Banana Leaf (1026 Ryan Road; 919-468-9958) promises to be a most welcome addition to the local dining scene. The restaurant doesn’t have a website yet, but you can check it out for yourself Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 9:30p.m.