And they were there to eat shabu shabu in all its different incarnations. For the uninitiated, shabu shabu is a Japanese dish that's simply a bowl of piping hot broth, usually seaweed, fish or meat based, accompanied by a plate of thinly sliced beef and vegetables cut to be cooked easily in the hot savory liquid. Ideally, chopsticks are used to separate the slices, and then each piece is dipped into the hot broth quickly enough to barely cook them and then pop the pieces into the mouth.
Shaba Shabu is actually two distinct eateries housed inside one home, one Thai and one Japanese. The Thai section has an antique, earthy, traditional feel. Nearly everything from the cutlery to the chairs has been imported from Thailand. Pieces of a rice plow from Lampang made of gold teak rest on two walls. Separating a private room, which seats up to 25 with silk and hand-sewn cotton pillows, is a wall of about 30 or more small urns sent from Koh-kred near Bangkok, placed on glass shelves. This indoor patio creates a sense of privacy without total isolation.
The Thai room is separated from the Japanese restaurant by a contemporary style bar. This is the only spot in the restaurant where one can order select items from both menus. The chef insists that in order for customers to enjoy a complete experience, they need to eat in the part of the restaurant where their food was prepared. If a patron wishes to have sashimi, a table is reserved for him or her on the opposite side. This allows the patron to, in effect, eat in both restaurants.
Entering Japan, the lighting is brighter, the sound more treble and the walls bare white. Shoji screens are created out of fiberglass and tinted amber. A full sushi bar, along with tempura and yakitori stations, lines the right wall. Directly adjacent are three rows of tables reserved for shabu shabu. They consist of a long bar top divided into separate eating areas, each one with its own metal bowl for broth resting on a heating element, and an exhaust fan which runs the table's length, cleverly hidden behind a stylish silver vent.
Charles Meteesatien, the chef and owner, who also owns Sushi Blues, showed me how he makes a lunch of pad Thai, or Thai stir-fry, and a small plate of sashimi. He placed a large wok on blasting high heat and splashed it with oil that smoked on contact. He then broke an egg, which rapidly fried, followed by a small toss of cubed tofu, sweet radish, tailed shrimp and par-boiled rice noodles. He slapped this with a mixture of vinegar, sugar and fish sauce and a large dash of paprika and fresh bean sprouts. In no time I was handed a plate, steam billowing up into my nostrils, full of the scent of sweet shrimp. As I began to eat the elements of earth, soft, crunch and warm fill my mouth.
In contrast, Meteesatien demonstrated the preparation of sashimi. His whole demeanor changed as he did. He slowed down and became a fine artist, making flowers out of anything his hand touched and grass out of daikon radish. As he sliced and diced, a Brazilian Samba be-bopped in the background. The singer whispered, "Everything is as it is," and it suddenly became apparent how different these two cuisines actually are. Meteesatien is well aware of these differences. He invites us to experience it for ourselves. You'll feel well-traveled afterward.
Shaba Shabu, Holly Park Shopping Center, 3080 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh. Phone: 501-7755
The Fish House and Oyster Bar at Leesville Shopping Center on Strickland Road, became Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill last month. Apparently the Crazy Fire located in Cary was doing so well, the owners decided to give it a try out here. So far so good!
The new Restaurant EVOO, short for "Extra Virgin Olive Oil," on Fairview and Oberlin, replaced Riptides, which closed last year. EVOO offers a Mediterranean menu featuring everything from wood-fired pizza to rack of lamb.
Further down on Glenwood are two relatively new spots: Cody's Chinese Bistro at 301 Glenwood and The Cockeyed Chef, which is next door. Cody Tseng, chef and owner, opened his namesake restaurant on Jan. 15. After years of cooking traditionally at the Peking Garden in Raleigh, Cody was looking to jump into the trend toward making Asian cuisine more hip. He calls his style at the new location, "authentic yuppie city cooking."
Not far away is The Cockeyed Chef, where Gino Izetta, together with his wife, is already receiving attention for his innovative blend and taste. The couple arrived from New York after nine years at their restaurant, Madelaina's, known for its delicious Northern Italian dishes.
Are you looking for a restaurant with a dockside feel? Well, over on St. Mary's at Peace Street is The Cape Fear Crab House, which opened late last year. Bob High, owner/operator/master brewer, gives us a coastal experience at his 100-seat establishment. There will be a wide beer selection, bluegrass the first and third Thursdays every month, starting early at 7 p.m., and a plasma screen TV to sit down and relax by. As it gets a bit warmer, they'll open up the patio, where "you can shuck oysters and drink beer to your heart's content."
Chef Jim Anile took over the kitchen at Il Palio in February. He comes to North Carolina via California's historic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. Jim brings a "modern" approach to his Northern Italian menu and is planning samplings of his food at wine dinners and other events throughout the Triangle, as well as at Il Palio. As a matter of fact, Thursday (March 27) at 7 p.m., Anile will be pairing his food with select wines from the Livio Fellugo Estate of Italy. For more on his schedule of events, visit www.sienahotel.com.
Another addition at a local establishment is David Young, who recently joined Provence as assistant chef in January. David was a sous chef at The Fearrington House . He is very enthusiastic about his new position and has great respect for owner and chef Felix Roux, who has a great deal of experience at restaurants all over the world.
George Bakatsias' newly opened Spice Street at University Mall, 201 South Estes Drive, is being touted as "a revolutionary new concept in dining entertainment" and "a culinary experience created to nourish the soul and share flavors from around the world." Look for everything from a spice market to a wine tasting cellar, all located on premises.
By the way, Bakatsias, who owns several restaurants in Florida and in the Triangle, opened Doce, at 2500 Meridian Parkway, nearly two years back. Business has been doing well for this trendy lunch spot and now there is talk that another Doce will be opening in Raleigh; the date has not yet been revealed.
Snow did not deter crowds from local wonder Scott Howell's third restaurant, Q Shack, on opening day Feb. 17. Located just up the street from Nana's, Scott's first spot, the Q Shack is a laid-back, more casual eatery, compared with its predecessors' more formal approach. Q Shack is a place for barbecue-lovers with everything from paper plates to outdoor dining in the spring with real picnic tables. Coming in October, look for restaurant number four--Pop's Chop House in downtown Raleigh.
Another new spot is Theo's Kallari, which had its grand opening in December in Brightleaf Square and specializes in everything Mediterranean. The owners, Elias and Helen Dalitsouris, import select ingredients from their farm in Sparta, Greece--including the olive oil. They offer some of their products in a small retail area combined with the restaurant.
Restaurant Beat is a monthly column about news and events at restaurants around the Triangle. Send your news and suggestions to Erika Gamel at email@example.com.