Food & Drink

Ethnic cuisine choices expand

Chapel Hill is the new home of the NCAA men's basketball champions, and of course Raleigh can always lay claim to being the state capital. Meanwhile, Durham is not about to give up its reputation as the Triangle's most vibrant and varied ethnic dining scene without a fight.

With the recent opening of Green Leaf (4215 University Drive; 493-0033; www.greenleaf ), the Bull City is even challenging Cary's primacy as the local hub of Indian cuisine. Billal Hossein, a native of Bangladesh, opened the restaurant's doors late last month in Parkway Plaza, in the space that was formerly occupied by Taste of India (and briefly, by Madras Palace). Other than nominal cuisine, Green Leaf has little in common with its predecessors.

The menu may well be the area's most extensive, and is certainly the most varied. The offering spans the subcontinent, from the dosa and uttapam of the South to the curries and tandoori dishes of the North. There's a broad selection of familiar vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare, as well as Indo-Chinese dishes and rarities such as natu kodi kura (Corn ish hen in a sauce of tomato and coconut milk) and punugulu (fritters with chiles, onion and ginger).

If all the choices are overwhelming, you can opt for the lunch or dinner buffet (which features Indo-Chinese dishes on Wednesdays. Green Leaf is open for lunch and dinner daily.

Nor will you lack for choices at Saigon Grill (2929 N. Roxboro Road; 220-5979), a new Vietnamese restaurant whose offering runs to more than 100 listings. In addition to the usual vermicelli, rice and stir-fry suspects, you'll find over two dozen dishes under the Saigon Grill's Specialties heading, ranging from catfish in a clay pot to rabbit in a coconut curry sauce.

According to owner Kim Do, however, the restaurant's real specialty is the beef noodle soup, pho. Given that Do's parents (who previously owned a Vietnamese restaurant in California) make the soup the old-fashioned way, simmering bones and spices for hours for maximum flavor extraction, I'm not inclined to dispute her claim.

Saigon Grill serves lunch and dinner daily. Beer and wine service should be available soon, pending permits. In the meantime, if you're looking for something more exotic than a Coke, you can choose from 22 authentic libations ranging from salted plum soda to Vietnamese iced coffee. If you're brave enough to try the beverage described as "seaweed, Chinese apples, herbs, dried longan drink," let me know how it tastes.