At first glance, Sake House (1141-128 Falls River Ave.; 676-5788) appears to be pretty much like any other Japanese restaurant. Then, as dining room manager Bob Ricker seats you, he hands you a wine and sake list along with the menu. And you realize how the restaurant got its name.
The list offers what may well be the area's best sake selection, along with an education on the subject -- everything from how sake is made to recommended serving temperatures and food pairings for the different varieties. Ricker, who assembled the list, will even suggest tastings that demonstrate the compatibility of various sakes with, say, ginger or soy sauce.
That's not to say that Sake House's only attraction comes in liquid form. Solids are well represented by a kitchen that turns out everything from tempura to teriyaki to rice and noodle dishes, and by a sushi bar whose extensive offerings cover the spectrum from tuna sashimi to Mexican roll (grouper tempura, tomato, avocado and hot sauce).
You won't find any tuna at the sushi bar at Bright Palace (1207-J Kildaire Farm Road; 468-7188) in Cary. In fact, you won't find any fish at all. The sushi bar -- the entire restaurant, for that matter -- is strictly vegetarian.
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The menu is divided between Japanese and Taiwanese cuisines, with options ranging from familiar veggie fried rice and tempura to more exotic fare such as sesame seed king mushroom casserole and vegetarian "codfish" with cedar sauce. A third category featuring Cantonese cuisine is slated to be added soon.
Richard Ong, a native of Taiwan and a vegetarian for the past 10 years, opened Bright Palace in mid-September. As an introductory special, he's giving customers a coupon good for $20 off their next meal (minimum purchase of $40).
In Chapel Hill, Mint (504 W. Franklin St.; 929-6188) has opened in the former Shorty's Bar & Grill spot. Owner Rupinder Singh has given the space a makeover, transforming it into a casually elegant Indian restaurant with a cozy bar.
Singh, who previously owned Tamarind India Bistro in Apex, has hired Tamarind chef Daljit Singh (no relation) to run the kitchen at his new restaurant. The chef's 30-plus years of experience (which includes work in some of India's finest restaurants) is reflected in an ambitious menu of northern Indian fare that includes specialties such as black pepper prawns and nargisi kofta (vegetable dumplings in an exotically spiced sauce garnished with dried fruit) in addition to the usual curries, kormas and tandoori dishes. There's also a strong vegetarian offering, as well as vegetarian and non-vegetarian thali combinations.