Chi Zhang’s idea for his tiny Persuasian Restaurant in Dilworth? A casual Asian place, “a Chinese/Vietnamese/wine bar with a really big wine menu with really great pricing a patio tasty and healthy food a place where I can say, ‘You guys know me. You guys will always know you’ll have a great time here.’ ”
Unlike many owners with ambitious and wide-ranging plans, he started with that last part.
He greets and remembers customers and their favorites. He’s keeping the menu simple until he thinks he – and his dad, who’s cooking – can do more well. He’s ramping up takeout, with mobile-phone ordering and the promise that if you stop at next-door Food Lion to grocery-shop for 10 minutes, your takeout will be ready when you’re done. If he can get those things right, he says, controlling the growth so service stays friendly, positive and personal, all the rest will come.
Right now, the menu consists of a handful of starters, then entrees categorized by protein: chicken or pork ($9.75), shrimp or beef ($11.75), or vegetarian ($7). Each category sports nine or 10 preparation options at the same price, from spicy kung pao to black bean sauce to ginger white wine.
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Yes, sesame chicken and General Tso chicken are in the list, but so are shrimp with cashews and beef with garlic sauce. Edamame prove bright and perfectly salted. And the “chef’s specialty” pho is a fine, light version.
Food arrives hot, vegetables (American-easy ones, from broccoli to carrots) fresh and bright, portions plentiful, seasoning well-done. Is it upscale or innovative? No. Is it proving reliable and simply vibrant? Yes.
Takeout will likely always be a mainstay, but the dining room is clever and comfortable, a vast remake of the cramped and dark China Saute former tenant. “East-meets-west” photo collages (look for Bond – the real, Sean Connery one – with chopsticks replacing his Walther) dot the walls, and a bookcase offers a range from philosophy to “The Hunger Games.”
Zhang was a co-owner, with brother-in-law Phong Luong, of Zen Fusion in Dilworth and says he “grew up” working and learning “everything” from Baoding owner Robert Lee. He’s also a partner in the NexTable app, which he calls a hobby that took off: It allows diners to make real-time reservations online and text updates, and allows restaurants to text diners when their table is ready, and more.
A lot more wines, plus mei fun noodles, fresh summer rolls and lettuce wraps and more gluten-free and health-conscious fare, are coming to Persuasian, says Zhang. He figures the neighborhood has lots of pubs but not many places for casual wine consumption.
“It’s going to take time” to become that place, he says. “It’s not going to be overnight.”