Chances of a white Christmas in these parts are notoriously slim. But a recent flurry of restaurant openings has blanketed the Triangle with a diverse assortment of new ethnic options that, for many of us, is just as delightful.
To my knowledge, Klara's (200 S. Academy St.; 319-5656; www.klarasrestaurant.com) is the area's first Czech restaurant. Prague native Klara Novakova and her partner, Chip Sands, bought the Cary location of Vespa (the Chapel Hill location remains unchanged) in September. Novakova, who has a European hospitality degree, quietly started phasing in Czech dishes, temporarily retaining the favorites from the Italian menu she had inherited from Vespa. The partners also began redecorating the place with fresh paint, new furniture and lighting, and paintings of Prague scenes by Novakova's father.
The dining room makeover is still in progress, but the menu conversion was complete late last month, a milestone the partners marked by changing the name of their restaurant.
Klara's five-page menu offers a broad sampling of Czech fare, including smoked salmon with cold sour dill sauce, goulash, pork medallions with mushroom sauce and roast duck with sauerkraut and homemade dumplings. There is also a selection of beer snacks such as stuffed sausage and potato pancakes, as well as a beer selection that includes five Czech brews.
Also in Cary, Irie Café (2425 Kildaire Farm Road; 858-0893) has opened in Lochmere Pavilion. The colorful eatery specializes in Caribbean cuisine, with an offering that includes all the usual suspects, as well as a few offbeat options such as coconut curried salmon and "Yardstyle" oxtail stewed with butter beans. According to the restaurant's answering machine, Irie Café is open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, with live music Friday and Saturday nights. Call ahead, though, because the restaurant hasn't consistently kept to those hours in the early going.
At NY Deli Pizza + Kabob (682 Cary Towne Blvd.; 380-2790), which you'll find in the little strip mall across from Cary Towne Center, the restaurant's name pretty much tells you what the menu offers. Except, that is, for one tantalizing fact: The kebabs are the specialty of owner Saboor Hakem, a native of Afghanistan. That will be welcome news for those who have been craving Afghan-style kebabs since the closing of Bread & Kabob in Durham.
There's more than meets the eye, too, on the menu at Olive Branch Caffe (11520 U.S. 15-501 North; 942-2345; www.olivebranchcaffe.com) in Chapel Hill's Cole Park Plaza. At first glance, the offering looks like your typical family-friendly Italian restaurant fare: pizzas and pasta, with a selection of panini, wraps and salads for light appetites. According to owner Nick Giuggio, however, the pan-style pizzas are Greek style, with a crust that he favors because, in his words, "it's lighter and flakier than Italian -- even though I'm Italian."
In downtown Clayton, Lucky Chicken (226 E. Main St.; 553-5770) specializes in Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken. The restaurant, which is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Sunday, also offers a few Mexican dishes, and serves breakfast -- Mexican or American style -- daily. And in Durham, a second location of El Cuscatleco (5110 N. Roxboro Road; 477-4300; www.elcuscatleco.com) has opened in Riverview Shopping Center. The restaurant serves Salvadoran and Mexican fare.
Rounding out the list are two new Indian restaurants. Kadhai the Indian Wok (6260 Glenwood Ave., 785-2864; www.kadhaitheindianwok.com) is named for the cast iron wok in which the restaurant's specialty dishes are cooked. Sisters Amita and Rupel Shah, who opened the restaurant in October in Pleasant Valley Promenade, offer a full menu of northern Indian fare and a selection of Indochinese dishes.
In Morrisville, Taj Indian Cuisine (962-B Airport Blvd.; 460-3339; www.tajindiancuisine.net/) also specializes in northern Indian cuisine, offering a broad assortment of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
The forecast for the coming weeks calls for more flurries, in the form of Mexican and Japanese restaurants. Check back for updates.