Restaurant Profile: A’Verde Cocina + Tequila Library

Chef Katsuji Tanabe celebrates his new culinary venture at A'Verde.
Chef Katsuji Tanabe celebrates his new culinary venture at A'Verde.
The Carajillo dessert cocktail.
The Carajillo dessert cocktail.
Enjoy chips with distinctive salsas and elevated veggies like salt crispy potatoes and al pastor cauliflower.
Enjoy chips with distinctive salsas and elevated veggies like salt crispy potatoes and al pastor cauliflower.
Items that emerge from the kitchen possess a wow factor, like this Ube flan dessert.
Items that emerge from the kitchen possess a wow factor, like this Ube flan dessert.

What a difference a change of scenery has made for Chef Katsuji Tanabe.

“The last few years have been like a roller coaster ride,” the Bravo television series Top Chef alumnus said in an exclusive interview with Cary Magazine. “Moving here from Los Angeles and opening a restaurant in Raleigh was amazing, but then suddenly everything fell apart (due to the pandemic). It was heartbreaking and soul-destroying.”

When Tanabe opened High Horse eatery in downtown’s City Market in 2019, local foodies rejoiced. But COVID-19 proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for the business, which closed its doors in July 2020.

Adobo fried rice is available for dinner and weekend brunch.

The chef encountered some dark days following the setback. He turned to alcohol and became disheartened. In a moment of clarity, though, he realized he needed to make a positive change and venture back toward a thriving kitchen.

Fortunately, Tanabe connected with owners and restaurateurs Lou, Joy and Amber Moshakos of the Raleigh-based hospitality management group LM Restaurants.

A reenergized Tanabe is encouraged by the warm welcome he’s received since A’Verde opened this spring. The 5,500-square-foot restaurant provides guests with a vibrant, inviting oasis to enjoy the chef ’s distinctive take on his native Mexico City cuisine.

The splurge-worthy red velvet tres leches cake.

“When you visit, you should go with an open mind,” he said. “Be willing to try new flavors, and don’t expect it to be traditional Mexican food. We don’t serve rice and beans with every dish.”

Raised in a home with a Mexican mother and Japanese father, Tanabe’s intriguing heritage is reflected in his cuisine.

“Sometimes people may think I’m going to serve carne asada sushi rolls or tempura chimichangas, but in reality I’m not trying to put two different cuisines together,” he explained. “What I do is build layers of flavor that balance well. Japanese food is rich with umami, and Mexican food is about acid and spice. My food has touches of my cultural background.”

The ceviche tostada with Ahi tuna.

A well-composed menu provides an approachable selection of small plates, veggie sides, greens, tacos, and “big deal” main course dishes.

Start your meal with a bowl of warm, house-made chips served alongside white habanero, tomatillo avocado, and creamy chipotle salsas.

Feeling adventurous? Try some seasonal guacamole and add grasshoppers on top. For what it’s worth, we sampled — and liked — the exotic, crunchy protein
roasted with cumin, cinnamon, paprika, rosemary, and thyme.

Whatever you do, be sure to order a skillet of the sublime Grandma’s Cornbread. The sweet-and-savory offering is derived from a cherished family recipe dating back to the 1950s.

“This is a popular menu item that we bake every 45 minutes so it’s always hot and fresh,” Tanabe said. “It’s not traditional Southern cornbread, but people have embraced it.”

Among the stellar small plates, the ceviche tostada with Ahi tuna, serrano chiles, truffle soy, sesame macha salsa, and fresh lime juice reigns supreme. There’s also the chopped salad bursting with flavorful ingredients like Manchego cheese, fresh avocado, corn, bacon, egg, pickled red onion, and two types of greens. If you want something with ampedup spiciness, try the roasted local oysters with fresh habanero peppers and chorizo aioli.

A can’t-go-wrong variety of veggies will tempt you six ways from Sunday. Consider, for example, street-charred corn inflected with togarashi pepper; pineapple-laden al pastor cauliflower; habanero-tinged salt crispy potatoes; and Dad’s Refried Beans, which, of course, have a backstory.

“My father does not understand the concept of refrying things,” Tanabe explained with a smile. “So, he makes beans with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and onions, which takes them to the next level.”

Speaking of next-level goodness, the entrees at A’Verde will not disappoint. The artfully presented Cohinita Pibil, for instance, involves braised pork shank in miso, achiote, sour orange, and aromatic spices served with pickled onions, black beans, and blue corn tortillas.

Decor at A’Verde is vibrant and festive, as evidenced by the custom murals, a well-stocked tequila library, a warm, inviting dining room, and a souvenir from the Top Chef television series.

“For our tortilla program, I bring in corn from Mexico,” said Tanabe. “It is the only corn that is organic, heirloom, and non-GMO, so it’s very difficult to find. We use a stone grinder and make the tortillas by hand. It’s definitely a labor of love.”

Choose from five elevated taco selections, three of which include crispy pork belly with Arbol honey sauce; truffle mushroom encompassing Cotija and gruyere cheese; and octopus suffused with Castelvetrano olives, chimichurri, and mint.

Another hugely popular main dish arrives in the form of chicken enchiladas with cotija cheese and creamy green tomatillo sauce. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself licking every molecule of sauce from the plate.

The popular chicken enchiladas entree with cotija cheese and green tomatillo sauce.

More than 20 menu items are gluten free, and several are vegan.

If you manage to save room for dessert, order the red velvet tres leches cake or a Carajillo cocktail comprising Licor 43 Spanish liqueur, espresso, spiced vanilla cream ice, and roasted marshmallow.

Cleverly named craft cocktails, like Hot Mess and Aloe You Longtime, emerge from an attractive and expansive bar. Just a few steps away, the tequila library contains shelves filled with diverse assortments of the potent agave-centric elixir.

Street-charred corn is among the restaurant’s standout veggies.

A’Verde’s effervescent interior showcases hand-woven baskets, veladora candles situated on the tables, large-leaf plants and striking murals by local artist Arianne Hemlein. Inspiration for the space came from Tanabe, Amber Moshakos and renowned restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, a longtime friend of the Moshakos family.

The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. Weekend brunch is available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Octopus tacos, local NC crispy pork rinds and kale and Dad’s refried beans all vie for consideration.

Adventurous eaters will appreciate the fresh guacamole topped with roasted grasshoppers.

A’Verde Cocina + Tequila Library
2300 Walnut St.
Centrum at Crossroads, Cary
(984) 200-3469

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *