Sunday, June 30, 2013

Genji Serves Up Tasty and Healthy Sushi

Is it really possible to find quality sushi at a grocery store? The answer is yes—inside Whole Foods at Genji, a purveyor of all-natural sushi and Japanese cuisine. 

Superior ingredients free of artificial preservatives or hydrogenated fats set Genji apart from other supermarket-grade sushi competitors.  What’s more, Genji serves only yellowfin and Pacific Northwest wild albacore tuna, which are low in mercury and feature an ideal flavor profile.

Vegetarian-friendly rolls abound, including inside-out rolls like avocado & cucumber and mango miso garden. When it comes to regular rolls, you’ll find the requisite spicy tuna, salmon and California. Special rolls worth consideration are the Seoul (seared albacore, shrimp tempura, red pepper, cucumber, scallion and a Korean gochujang sauce) and Sunset with spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber and scallion. Be advised: Special rolls will set you back $10 or more. 

White, brown and multigrain rice are available in the rolls. No extra charge for this secret tip: Ask for a side of eel sauce for dipping purposes. It’s way better than soy sauce with its thick texture and sweet flavor.

Even Genji’s compostable sushi trays are pretty nifty, although I’m confident this type of product drives up the overall price for patrons. Still, you get what you pay for, and it does cost more to eat healthy. 

 Genji Sushi on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Fresca Delights

Among the superlative new additions at Cary’s revitalized Waverly Place shopping center is Fresca Café and Gelato, a European-style destination that opened last spring. Fresca serves up a diverse assortment of sweet and savory crepes, pastries, gourmet salads and sandwiches, and made-in-house gelato, among other enticing offerings. 

The café’s warmly inviting interior features sleek tables and chairs with purchasable modern art on butterscotch-hued walls. One side of the dining room features a distinctive rectangular electric fireplace with a nifty Eiffel Tower image emblazoned on the wall just above it.

An iridescent espresso machine churns out more than its fair share of cappuccino, latte and café au lait. Chai tea latte and hot herbal tea provide a solid alternative to a cup of joe. And if you’re not in the mood for a hot beverage, consider a refreshing Italian soda, frappe or fruit smoothie instead.

If you want gelato, at any given time you can choose from among 18 tempting varieties fashioned with ingredients imported from Italy. Popular flavors include mocha java, stacciatella (vanilla with fine bits of chocolate), roasted almond, limoncello and Donatella (chocolate with hazelnut). For an unabashedly decadent yet impeccably balanced treat, try an affogato. Four scoops of gelato coalesce with a shot of poured-over espresso, and it’s all topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

The best-selling savory crepe, portabella and prosciutto, features lemon aioli, sautéed baby portabella mushrooms with prosciutto and Swiss cheese. Meanwhile, the strawberry, banana and Nutella creation (my favorite pictured below!) is the front-runner on the sweet side, as it even comes with a dollop of vanilla gelato. 

Amid the crepes and confections are specialty selections like the croque madame with toasted white bread, black forest ham, Swiss cheese, French mornay sauce and fried eggs. Chorizo quiche showcases spicy Spanish pork sausage, fontina and herbed goat cheese on a flaky crust.

Service at Fresca is enthusiastic and welcoming. Free WiFi Internet access is available, and lingering is encouraged. 

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Fresca Cafe' and Gelato on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Fire Pit Roars

The Fire Pit BBQ & Smokehouse in Wake Forest is an impressive counter-service eatery serving an extensive selection of wood-smoked meats ranging from beef brisket and pulled pork to dry-rubbed ribs and rotisserie chicken—and even house-made sausage and bacon. The restaurant uses hickory, oak and pecan wood to fuel the fire, legitimizing an unadulterated cooking process. 

Fork-tender and succulent beef brisket is my standout protein choice, although the St. Louis-style ribs are as flavorful as you’ll find anywhere in this area. Four available squeeze-bottle sauces provide the option for even more zest. My favorite is the house variety, which contains the proper blend of sweetness and spiciness.   

What also makes the restaurant stand apart is Chef Andrew Forster’s commitment to churning out quality provisions all the way down to the fresh golden hushpuppies. 

First-rate side items like locally sourced collard greens, mac & cheese and potato salad are all worth relishing.  For my money, though, the honey-kissed baked beans infused with bacon, pulled pork and brown sugar are worth the price of admission. 

Forster, a graduate of the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, is ably assisted by pit master Roy Poole, an Elizabeth City native who has been at The Fire Pit since before it opened. Then there’s the affable Jill Lazarus, who conjures scratch-made desserts like coconut cream pie, strawberry shortcake and banana pudding, all of which are worthy of blowing your daily calorie allowance.

Owner Ted Patterson has labored in construction for more than 40 years, and he’s designed several local restaurants over that time. His handiwork is evident at The Fire Pit, where exposed duct ceiling and sleek light fixtures coalesce with exquisite hand-crafted woodwork at the spacious bar. If you haven’t had a chance to visit yet, it’s well worth the drive. 

Fire Pit BBQ & Smokehouse on Urbanspoon