This ‘Top Chef’ star is opening his anticipated new restaurant in Cary on Friday
3:11 pm, Wednesday August 10th, 2022
3:11 pm, Wednesday August 10th, 2022
JULI LEONARD firstname.lastname@example.org
This one you can call a comeback. A’Verde Cocina, the new restaurant from former “Top Chef” competitor Katsuji Tanabe, will open its doors Friday, March 18. The opening marks the two-year turnaround for Tanabe, who moved to North Carolina to open High Horse in downtown Raleigh’s City Market, only to have that project closed within the first few months of the pandemic.
A’Verde Cocina, one of the most anticipated Triangle openings this year, is at 2300 Walnut Street in Cary, near the Centrum shopping center. Tanabe partnered with Carolina Ale House owner LM Restaurants to open A’Verde, building a restaurant with a menu blending authentic Mexican dishes and popular Tex Mex staples. “It’s a good comeback story,” Tanabe said. “It just gave me back my confidence and the ability to enjoy and showcase my flavors. I come into this with a different mentality and way of seeing things, appreciating much more than years ago.”
A MEMORABLE REALITY TV STAR Tanabe is one of the most memorable contestants in the many seasons of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” a reality competition known for showcasing some of the nation’s most talented young cooks. Tanabe first competed in the show’s Boston season in 2014, then “Top Chef Mexico” in 2016 and an all-star season in Charleston, S.C., in 2017. Before the pandemic, Tanabe moved his family from Los Angeles to Raleigh while opening High Horse — a visually spectacular and culinarily ambitious restaurant in City Market.
Tanabe said that restaurant was built around entertainment, with a life-fire grill on display in the dining room and a lively patio that became a nightlife draw, with its shot glasses made of ice. Its closing meant months of uncertainty for Tanabe, he said, before starting a partnership with LM, that included a “chef in residence” role at Vidrio, then launching A’Verde. “After COVID, everything changed,” Tanabe said. “It feels gratifying to be able to rise from that.”
THE FOOD WILL SHINE The A’Verde Cocina menu blends Mexican and Southern dishes, with starters like tableside guacamole and cevice tostada, plus local pork rinds, cornbread with honey truffle butter and roasted oysters with chorizo and habaneros. Larger plates include the fiery braised pork dish cochinta pibil, enchiladas, Adobo pork belly fried rice and broiled trout. Vegetables get some special attention on the A’Verde menu, featuring Tanabe’s version of elote, al pastor cauliflower, chipotle brussels sprouts and blistered local okra.
Tamabe said all tortillas served in A’Verde will be made with heirloom blue corn from Oaxaca, nixtamalized and ground in-house. “The flavor is amazing,” Tanabe said. “That’s something I’m very proud of, it’s not an easy process, but the freshness and quality, it’s more like a pillow. It makes you realize how good a tortilla can be.” Given Tanabe’s celebrity and personality, he’s often the centerpiece of the restaurant. Here, as he focuses on more overtly Mexican flavors and dishes, he imagines the food will shine.
“High Horse was a Mexican restaurant but we didn’t say it out loud,” said Tanabe, who is of Mexican and Japanese descent. “Here I’m embracing my background.”
Moving from the center of downtown Raleigh’s nightlife scene to the Cary suburbs mirrors who Tanabe expects A’Verde’s diners will be, he said. “Personally, I’m my target demographic,” Tanabe said. “People in their 40s, with families, who want to go out and have fun, but not somewhere overly fancy or expensive.” Even though it’s in Cary, Tanabe is bringing the bell and frozen shotglass idea from High Horse, which customers can hurl at a bell once they throw back a shot. “My restaurants are entertainment,” Tanabe said. “People come for good food, but to have fun as well.”
MARCH 16, 2022