Upon entering kō•än, one of Cary’s most anticipated new restaurants in recent memory, guests see two words inscribed on the window: “Public Table.”
“This speaks to how our restaurant approaches hospitality right from the front door,” said proprietor Sean Degnan, who opened Southeast Asian-inspired kō•än in the former Ān Cuisines space in November.
When he was growing up, Degnan explains, his family always made room at their dinner table for an additional, unplanned guest. That reminiscence inspired Degnan to ensure that anyone who comes to kō•än feels welcomed and appreciated.
“No matter how busy we are, there’s always space at any one of our public tables for people to sit,” he said.
A seasoned restaurateur, Degnan also owns the Latin American eatery so•ca at Cameron Village. He formerly ran the popular but now defunct bu•ku in downtown Raleigh. The Wake Forest bu•ku is still open but under different ownership.
With kō•än, Degnan has unveiled an expansive, high-ceilinged structure with a Zen-like atmosphere, abundant greenery and modern lighting, all renovated by Courtney Evans of Raleigh’s Tactile architectural and design firm.
Degnan brought in Drew Smith as kō•än’s executive chef. Triangle foodies may recall Smith from his culinary exploits at the aforementioned bu•ku and so•ca.
Winner of 2019’s Cooking for a Classic dining competition, Smith has spent considerable time traveling in Southeast Asia. While there, he was humbled and inspired by the region’s intricate cuisine.
“I know I will never master cooking this food, but I look forward to sharing my interpretation of it,” said Smith. “Some of the dishes are reimagined.”
Despite his unpretentiousness, Smith adeptly finesses Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine, but also showcases food from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. His menu includes an assortment of small plates intended for sharing and large plates sure to satisfy the most discriminating palate.
Smith considers the food approachable. We consider it soul-warming.
“Our Vietnamese pho is moving like crazy,” Smith said. “I make 30 gallons at a time in the kettle, and it’s hard to keep up.”
Among the small plates, deliberate between the ginger-infused lobster gyoza or the Filipino-inspired octopus with cilantro chutney, fish sauce and mango salad. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the habit-forming cauliflower that will almost make you think you’re eating General Tso’s chicken.
Surefire entrees include Korean barbecue with wagyu short rib, green tea smoked duck, and pork-belly-suffused ramen with a 63-degree egg. If you can only choose one standout dish, order the Thai red curry with seared scallops, lobster claw, shrimp, roasted kabocha squash and shiitake mushrooms, served atop Japanese rice.
Smith and his team also take great care to accommodate any dietary restrictions guests may mention, he adds.
“Whatever food sensitivities someone has, we are completely committed to the safety of our guests,” he said. “We make sure there is no cross contamination, and we can prepare meals from scratch on the fly if necessary.”
For people seeking a truly upscale encounter, kō•än provides an omakase (Japanese for “entrust yourself to the chef”) experience that will deliver 5- and 7-course tasting menus with wine pairings.
“It’s a 40-seat space that’s essentially like having a restaurant within a restaurant,” Smith said. “This gives us a chance to elevate the food and provide the best we have to offer.”
Speaking of elevating, Smith has assembled a first-rate kitchen staff, including a veteran sous chef and a former Korean cafe owner.
“Most of us have been friends for a long time,” he said, adding that he and Degnan have worked together for nearly a decade. “It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with these people.”
One unassuming star in the back of the house is pastry chef Francisco Almaguer, who served in the same role during the Ān Cuisines era.
Save room for one of Almaguer’s creative concoctions such as a dark chocolate terrine with passion fruit or the Tropical, a refreshing fusion of mango semifreddo, coconut tapioca, fresh pineapple and togarashi meringue.
An onsite beverage director or well-trained server will guide you toward any of the first-rate wines, beers and craft cocktails. Consider the Shacksbury Dry Cider, Ryujin “Dragon God” Ginjo sake or even a nonalcoholic strawberry-lime agua fresca.
Closed on Sundays, the restaurant is open six days a week for dinner with lunch service on weekdays. An airy patio has seating for approximately 100 people. Two private rooms are available for larger gatherings, and reservations are recommended.
2800 Renaissance Park Place, Cary
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