In the Crabtree Valley Mall food court, just around the corner from The Cheesecake Factory, a mega-chain where feeders flock and wait for an hour or more to be seated, lives Kabobi, which opened without much fanfare last month. The customers are coming, not like the torrential eaters at The Cheesecake Factory, but in a consistent drip, drawn by exotic smells unusual to a food court--aromas of roasting okra, savory stews and Persian marinades.
"People seem timid at first," I'm told by an employee, "but once they taste our food, we usually will see them again." And that's what I'm told by several customers; there is something special in the food that makes them want to come back.
Not only is the food satisfying, the price is incredibly right--the most expensive item on the menu is $6.99. A couple who had been standing several feet away has finally approached the counter to order, after numerous propositions by a Kabobette to sample the goods. They each leave with a plastic bowl ladled with aash, a stew of spinach and mint, thickened by the mere presence of garbanzo, kidney beans and short noodles, and a platter each of tender chicken kabob with well-seasoned basmati rice tossed with lentils and raisins.
"The people in the mall need to see us first and if they have courage, they will try the eggplant stew, for example" Sam Sanjar, Kabobi's owner, tells me as he cooks the vegetables for the stew in question in a sizzling hot pan. "Next, they talk with co-workers and then they become our customer as well. We now have people who travel a distance to come and eat with us."
Certainly, being family owned and run adds special character to Kabobi. Sam Sanjar works up to 12 hours a day with his young son, Samir, at his side while his wife, Massi, runs U.S Market Rotisserie in RTP, which serves Persian delicacies three nights a week and typical Southern food for lunch.
Sam is committed to using good quality ingredients, and like a chef in a fine dining establishment, he and his son are continually checking their line of food, to monitor seasoning and taste. "Even if business wasn't going up, I would not reduce the quality of the food we produce here," Sam adds, and he intends to introduce more Persian savories as his business grows.
The Cooking Show, which debuted Oct. 18 at the Raleigh Convention Center, presented innumerable ways to view and prepare food. A couple of booths that I would like to mention are The Oasis, which are two women, Michele al Sayeh and Sarah Khader, both American Muslims, who had the longest line of people at the show waiting to sample their Middle Eastern specialties. Although the two do not have a restaurant or even a catering company, because the response and interest in what these two women prepared was so strong, they are actively seeking out new venues to show there stuff.
"We want to break the barriers of how people perceive Muslims, especially women," says al Sayeh. For more information and to see what the women are cooking, call them at 270-7164.
The other booth that I wanted to mention, although there were plenty of wonderful participants at the cooking show, is Sylvia D'Italia, 2526 Hillsborough St., corner of Pogue. Owner Sylvia Forrest spent many years living in Europe as a Coca-Cola exec and developed a real passion for gelato, the real thing. Her cafe, which also has on the menu paninis and salads, offers an amazing assortment of gelato from tiramisu to green apple, which is made from real fruit. Sylvia is now branching out to provide her rich gelato to full-service restaurants and catering as well, and she was recently asked to bring some of her Italian ice cream to be served at the March of Dimes chef's auction Nov. 2. Her gelato is definitely worth a stop... .
Help!! There are alligators at Cape Fear Crab House, 520 St. Mary's St.,... on the menu anyway. With the entrance of Fred Robbins, the new owner-operator who replaces beer meister Bob High, who left the restaurant newly wed, changes are occurring from menu offerings to lower prices, with several main staff positions being filled by new hires. Now open seven days, lunch and dinner, the menu includes stir-fried alligator over rice, alligator bites, and many new fresh seafood plates. Lunch features daily non-seafood specials at $6.95 a pop... .
Jay DiBella, owner of DiBella, 208 Wolfe St., will be opening JAYZZ, which will be right next door to his Italian restaurant. JAYZZ will offer a buffet for lunch and at night turn into an attractive jazz club and bar with many of the fixtures imported from Italy. Dinner patrons at DiBella will be able to view the live music through a glass wall separating the two restaurants, and are also invited to come and enjoy the music at no additional charge. JAYZZ is expected to be open by Nov. 7... Just a few days old, The Supper Club, 5610 Atlantic Ave., opened to serve what owner Cheyenne McDougald calls "upscale Caribbean and soul food." McDougald, who until recently worked as a cosmetologist, began saving her money months ago with an idea to support several talented Caribbean chefs who didn't have a restaurant to work out of. Opportunity presented itself, Cheyenne left her former employment, and now puts in all her time at the new restaurant which serves lunch and dinner 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and usually later on weekends.
Before there was Whole Foods there was Mary Bacon and her vision of eating simple, good food in a comfortable, friendly setting. Thirty years later, on Oct. 18, Mary celebrated with employees and friends, past and present, who in some way or shape were related to restaurant Somethyme, which closed back in 1986. In 1976 Bacon opened Pyewacket in Chapel Hill and in 1982 Anotherthyme, at 109 N. Gregson St. in Durham, which still serves with the same commitment Bacon began her first restaurant with. Congratulations, Mary!
Interested in going a little less meaty for Thanksgiving? You might then be interested in joining the Triangle Vegetarian Society's annual feast Nov. 27 from 1-4 p.m. at Parizade, 2200 W. Main St., for a 16-course vegetarian banquet, which some people travel from points far north to attend; the price is $23 for non-members. For more info on upcoming non-meat events check out www.trianglevegsociety.org...
Verde, 2200 West Main St. in Erwin Square, the latest Bakatsias addition, is very much a front for the work of its executive chef and part owner Roberto Gianfalla, who has put heart and soul into this very casual, lime green, samba-bopping food spot. The restaurant features a menu that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fare is on the light side, Mediterranean bent, and nothing is over $11, with the exception of special entrees, which might run a buck or three more...
Later in the year, I am told by Adrienne Szabo, the lovely manager at Vin Rouge, Bakatsias will be moving onto sweeter things when it is expected that Chocolat, next door to George's Garage on Ninth Street, will be opening around New Year's Eve. The concept here, I'm told, is a chocolate bar (no pun intended), where customers can buy and sample different types of chocolate while nursing an aged whisky or brandy or whatever goes well with the chosen sweet.
The Fearrington House, 2000 Fearrington Village, just received the top five-star rating for its fourth year in a row from ExxonMobil, which puts out an annual publication of North America's best lodgings and restaurants... Talulla's, 456 W. Franklin St., the former home of The Silk Road Teahouse, is finally expected to open sometime in November. The menu is expected to have a Mediterranean touch with influences from further east as well. Talulla's is the concept of Benji Shelton, former owner of Lilly's Pizza in Raleigh and Demir Williford of Nomadic Trading...
Owner Kevin Callaghan wanted to do something fun with his staff at Acme, 110 E. Main St., for Halloween. The restaurant will be offering a five-course seafood dinner Oct. 31, showcasing the versatility of seafood paired with wine from all over the world. The Acme team came up with a menu that begins with a Mexican ceviche and ends with bluefin tuna flown in fresh for the event from Boston. Cost of dinner is $59 for food and wine.
Don't forget to eat out Nov. 18 and support RSVVP, when 10 percent of restaurants' proceeds go toward feeding the hungry in the Triangle. Go to www.ifcweb.org for participating restaurants.