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Giorgios is cookin' 

The latest from Bakatsias and friends

click to enlarge Grasshopper, Giorgios Bakatsias newest restaurant in Durham, serves Asian street food. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER NOBLE KELLY
  • Photo by Jennifer Noble Kelly
  • Grasshopper, Giorgios Bakatsias newest restaurant in Durham, serves Asian street food.
If you have followed the career of Giorgios Bakatsias in the Triangle, you will know that the man always has something new up his sleeve. It's as if Bakatsias has an endless supply of money to throw around in order to entertain us, and the results are quite varied. From the over-the-top conceptualism of Spice Street to the reliable French bistro cuisine of Matthew Kelly at Vin Rouge to the new club in Durham with the giggle-inspiring name The G Loft (why not just go all out and call it The G Spot?), Bakatsias is always coming up with something to delight, or at the very least amuse and perplex us.

This month in Chapel Hill and Durham, he's at it again, with a little help this time. A new restaurant group is tearing full speed ahead and opening the first of three restaurants, with the other two to follow in a matter of weeks.

Noble Food Group is a new partnership between Bakatsias and Charlie Deal, a California native who moved to the Triangle after having two successful restaurants in Santa Cruz. One of these restaurants was Charlie Hong Kong, and two of Noble Food Group's new places are a direct evolution from the popular Asian street food he served there. Deal says the name Noble Food was inspired by the idea that the grand culinary traditions of Asia are truly noble cuisines and should be given the respect they deserve, without too much fusion or Western influence.

The first of the three restaurants, Grasshopper, should be open in Durham by the time this goes to press. Located next to Vin Rouge at the intersection of Ninth and Hillsborough Streets, Grasshopper will serve Asian street food--mainly dim sum and noodles, as well as specialty cocktails, teas and a selection of wines served in 8- or 16-ounce decanters. The modern Asian interior and garden hung with lanterns will be open for lunch through late night, serving until midnight during the early week and until 2:30 a.m. later in the week and on weekends. They will serve a dim sum brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and be closed on Mondays.

Following closely behind (slated to open in late August) is Bin 54, an upscale steakhouse in the old Grill at Glen Lennox location in Chapel Hill. The restaurant was still under heavy construction when I saw it, but I could already tell that Bakatsias' design will be sure to impress, with a modern clubby look and lots of red and dark wood tones--manly enough for a steakhouse, but with enough thoughtful design elements to balance it out.

Bin 54's main draw will be the wood-fired grill and the high quality meat, but they are aiming for an impressive wine list as well, and there will be a table in the wine room for up to six diners. There will also be a large bar with a lounge area adjacent.

Next door to Bin 54, and slated to open in September, is Jujube, which is a larger, slightly more evolved and upscale version of the dim sum and noodle idea. The menu will be similar to Grasshopper, but larger. There will be a large dim sum bar as well as tables, an Asian-inspired garden with seating, and a full bar with signature cocktails. Jujube will also be serving dim sum brunch.

Overseeing the wine and beverage programs for all three of the restaurants is Brett Davis, who will also be general manager at all three locations. Davis has worked with Emeril Lagasse as a captain at the Commander's Palace. He was in the wine distributing business for many years and is now in the process of studying for his Master Sommelier's Diploma.

Three restaurants in a matter of weeks is a huge undertaking, but not too surprising when you know that Giorgios Bakatsias is involved. There's one thing you can say for the man--he's got drive. Charlie Deal and Brett Davis do not appear to be daunted by the task either; they seem full of energy and enthusiasm. Let's hope they are full of ideas for good service and great food as well.


click to enlarge Tasca Brava's Marta Brewer has been diagnosed with an inoperable cancer. - PHOTO BY LISSA GOTWALS
In January of this year, I wrote an article about Tasca Brava, the authentic Spanish tapas restaurant in Cary that serves some of the best food in the Triangle. Since then, they have opened a sister restaurant in North Raleigh. (The original Cary location will remain open until they find a buyer to take over the space.) When I spoke to Marta Brewer, who owns the restaurant with her husband Juan Samper, she was very excited about the new space, saying, "So much love has gone into this space. We have put all our love and work into it." Shortly after the new restaurant opened, it was discovered that Brewer has an inoperable cancer, and that it is aggressive and spreading. Since then, Samper has been operating both restaurants single-handedly, throwing himself blindly into the work in an effort to keep their business afloat, and also perhaps to distract himself. But business is not good, not even at the new restaurant where they had put all their hopes.

It will never cease to amaze me--the crappy food that is flying out of restaurants, the hour-long waits at overpriced and overrated food warehouses along the stretches of our secondary highways. Just up the road, another family-owned restaurant that makes food fraught with love, food that you would be lucky to find anywhere in the world, is struggling, perhaps on its last legs.

Samper says that Brewer is keeping a positive attitude, and that she hopes to beat the cancer. For now she is taking a holistic approach, being that the cancer has spread so quickly and chemotherapy makes her very sick.

Restaurants are primarily entertainment--they entertain us, our taste buds and our stomachs. But there is a human story behind every one of them. For selfish reasons, as well as for Juan and Marta, I hope that Tasca Brava survives.

E-mail Besha Rodell at beshalebax@aol.com.

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