Food & Drink

Big changes, big values at two restaurants

File this week's restaurant news under "M" for "makeovers, comma, major."

Gianni and Gaitano Cinelli, two of the indefatigable Cinelli brothers whose holdings include numerous Italian restaurants in the area, have closed the Gianni & Gaitano's location on Creedmoor Road. In its place, they have opened 8311 North Italian Chophouse (8311 N. Creedmoor Road; 847-8223). The Gaitano's half of the old restaurant has been transformed from a basic pizzeria to a casually elegant dining room, bringing it in line with the ambience of what was formerly the more upscale Gianni's dining room. The entire restaurant is now a single Italian chophouse, complete with linen-draped tables, a new lounge and live music on Thursday to Saturday nights. General manager James Iadanza has stocked the wine cellar with more than 100 wines (19 available by the glass), and promises more to come.

The Cinelli brothers hired Robert Sumber, a chef with many years' experience in similar restaurants on Long Island, to create a classic chophouse menu centered on hand-cut certified Angus steaks. The offering also includes a varied assortment of entrees and pasta dishes, with options ranging from classic lasagna to lobster ravioli, veal parmigiana to pork chop with banana rum glaze. A Sunday brunch buffet includes made-to-order omelets and oysters on the half shell.

Make-your-own pizza

But 8311 North is by no means a stuffy place. The New York style pizzas that are the crusty foundation of the Cinelli family reputation are also available. A separate area called Kidsville offers diversions for children, including a magician on weekends. Kids can also assemble their own pizzas, which the waiter then takes back to the kitchen to be baked. Best of all, prices are family friendly, with most entrees, including steaks, under $20.

Value pricing is also a big attraction at Korean Grill Buffet (4614 Capital Blvd.; 872-3731;, another restaurant makeover brought to you by a pair of prolific Raleigh restaurateurs: Chan Ho and Payman Bazooband, whose restaurants include Rio Churrascaria, Brasa, Baba Grill and the Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill chain. For their latest venture, the partners converted The Korean Steakhouse, a traditional full service Korean barbecue, into a buffet.

Grill it yourself

The concept is a familiar one in major metropolitan areas but new to the Triangle. Choose from an assortment of uncooked meats (options include beef short ribs and rib-eye as well as spicy pork, chicken breast and pork belly) on a chilled buffet display, take them back to your table and grill them to your liking on a gas-fired grill built into the granite top of your table.

If you need help, your server will be happy to get you started (and the restaurant's Web site provides a helpful introduction).

An assortment of traditional accompaniments are available on the hot and cold buffets. And if you'd prefer not to cook your own food, or if you'd just like to sample a variety, you'll also find a selection of prepared Korean and Chinese dishes on the hot buffet.

At lunchtime, the all-you-can-eat buffet costs $9.95 ($6.95 without the Korean barbecue). Prices are $14.95 on weeknights, with an expanded offering going for $16.95 from Friday to Sunday. Even if you make only a couple of trips to the buffet, that's a serious bargain by Korean barbecue standards.