The first time I ate at G.58 Cuisine, early on a Tuesday evening, I was more than a little surprised to find the dining room nearly full. The crowd included a couple of large parties, and there was even some spillover into the adjoining lounge. So you can be sure that, when I returned for a second visit on a Saturday, I made reservations.
I needn’t have bothered. The place was nearly empty. At first I was puzzled by this flip-flop of the usual weeknight and weekend dinner crowds.
Then it dawned on me. The location, near RTP and the airport, is ideal for the corporate crowd, but hardly a prime night life destination for locals. Open since July, G.58 Cuisine quickly has locked in on one of its target audiences. The other one — which is to say, pretty much the rest of the Triangle — remains elusive.
And that means, if you go before word gets around, chances are you’ll be able to get a prime time table at one of the most exciting new Chinese restaurants — no, make that restaurants, period — to open this year.
That G.58 Cuisine has set a very high bar for itself is evident the moment you step inside, and find yourself in a space that could, at first blush, easily be taken for an art gallery. Indeed, the stunning floor-to-ceiling bas relief on a wall just inside the entrance, of men scaling a skyscraper, is a physical embodiment of the restaurant’s “the sky’s the limit” philosophy, according to manager Joseph Procida.
The dining room is just as dramatic, with decor highlights, including wall-spanning murals and tapestries imported from China, sculptures ranging from jade horse to abstract wire, and an eclectic collection of paintings. Silk lotus chandeliers suspended over tables draped in crisp white linens (with a different fresh flower arrangement on each), serve notice that the restaurant is just as serious about food as it is about art.
The kitchen, staffed by a battery of master chefs brought in from regions all over China, delivers the goods in the form of a menu billed as a “contemporary approach to traditional Chinese cuisine.” On the plate, that translates to artful presentations of a wide variety of dishes — most, but not all, of which will be readily recognizable to a fan of authentic regional Chinese cuisines.
Faced with a selection of equally enticing starters, the appetizer sampler neatly solves the dilemma for the first-timer. You get your choice of three, served in traditional blue and white china bowls on a tiered base of carved wood. We went for the tea-smoked chicken, crispy veal with red chiles and peanuts and honey-sweetened lotus root, and were delighted with all three.
Alternatively, you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t resist the foie gras mousse: precisely cut blocks of silky liver, each glazed with a translucent layer of apple gelée. Garnished with a lacy black rice cracker and a rivulet of sauce riddled with candied citrus peel, the dish has no Chinese equivalent to my knowledge. But it’s a memorable presentation in keeping with the posh setting.
Either way, you’ll want to plan on a return visit (or round up a crowd) to explore the dim sum (a streamlined selection that includes scallion noodles and Chinese buns served with sweetened condensed milk), and soup offerings. The Shizitou (aka lion’s head) meatball soup features the most delicate rendition of the classic jumbo pork meatball I’ve ever had, in a broth whose sparkling clarity belies its rich flavor.
The entree offering is an eclectic assortment of some 20 dishes, from pan-seared cumin lamb chops to Chilean sea bass with brandy sauce. They live up to the high standards set by the starters.
Peking duck is prepared by a chef with 15 years of training making the dish. That experience is evident in everything from the exemplary crackling-crisp-lacquered skin to the elegant presentation, with all the traditional accompaniments (plus the welcome bonus of honeydew melon).
G.58’s signature 12-ounce lobster tail is cut into chopsticks-manageable pieces, lightly breaded and deep-fried, then returned to its shell and set on a savory dune of tempura crunch — which, once you taste, you’ll realize is not merely a garnish.
Even humble braised beef short ribs, succulent in their own right, are elevated with a black truffle sauce and bejeweled with a colorful necklace of fresh vegetables.
So far, I’ve just scratched the surface of the entree offering, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say you won’t be disappointed, whether you order the $18 shrimp and tofu in ginger and scallion sauce, or spring for the $48 lobster tail.
I’m afraid the same can’t be said for desserts. Ask your server which are house-made, and opt for one of those. Ginger pudding, which turns out to be an Asian-accented creme caramel, is a winning option. By all means, steer clear of outsourced options such as the dense, gelatinous cheesecake.
Service is attentive and eager to please, by and large, though the level of polish doesn’t always live up to the stratospheric expectations set by the food and decor.
Even taking into account its minor flaws, G.58 is already a worthy fine dining option, and offers an experience unlike any other in the area. Given time and a little more polish, the restaurant might well fully live up to that “sky’s the limit” motto. And of course, somewhere in that sky there’s the potential for another star in its rating.
10958 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville
Rating: 4 stars
Atmosphere: art gallery meets fine dining restaurant
Noise level: low/moderate/high
Service: attentive and eager to please, needs a little polish
Recommended: appetizer sampler, Shizitou meatball soup, lobster tail, Peking duck
Open: Lunch Monday-Saturday (dinner menu only served on Saturday), dinner nightly.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; limited vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot/street parking.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: 5 stars: Extraordinary. 4 stars: Excellent. 3 stars: Above average. 2 stars: Average. 1 star: Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $20. $$$ Entrees $21 to $30. $$$$ Entrees more than $30.