Promising a bit of fire and funk, the pan-Asian restaurant Krill opens Friday in Durham.
The latest project from prolific restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, Krill is a menu meant for sharing, serving small plate and giant entrees to pass around. The restaurant opens at 506 Ramseur St. in Durham, near Ponysaurus Brewing.
“I have a great love affair for southeast Asian cultures, which are so vibrant and alive in their flavors,” Bakatsias said. “Krill represents something so small in the universe that gives us so much.”
Busy year for Bakatsias
Krill becomes the first of Bakatsias’ many planned restaurants to open in 2022. Later this year he’ll add a Wilmington location of his Greek taverna Kipos, plus two other projects in Raleigh’s North Hills, followed by East End Bistrot, a new French restaurant in Raleigh.
Jason Lawless, the longtime chef of Bakatisas’ Parizade, is Krill’s chef and partner. Originally from Texas, Lawless cooked in some of New York’s finest kitchens in the early 2000s, working for chefs like Gray Kunz, Floyd Cardoz and Alain Ducasse.
Cardoz and Kunz, two of New York’s most influential chefs of their generation, both passed away in March 2020. With them, Lawless said he learned how to build flavors with toasted spices and aromatic herbs.
“The thing with Gray, everything had chile, acid and sugar. He was always searching for how many levels of flavor he could put in a dish,” Lawless said.
The Krill menu is built with lemongrass and tamarind and lime and coconut milk, flavors Lawless said he’s always wanted to build a restaurant around.
“This kind of food is good for the soul,” Lawless said. “All of the flavors, this is food that’s alive.”
The Krill menu is divided into chilled and hot small plates, noodle bowls, versions of fried rice and larger entrees. Look for a daily ceviche topped with mint and coriander seeds, a classic sour and sweet green papaya salad, fried Peking duck lumpia rolls, tamarind pork ribs, dumplings with shrimp and pork and a wok-fried whole fish, its skin scored and crisped in oil.
On the bar side, there’s a Krill version of the Singapore Sling, a sake selection, local North Carolina beer and the Japanese lager Sapporo.
“One dish that took me by surprise is the uni udon mussels dish, with uni butter,” Bakatsias said. “It felt like a sophisticated blend of French and Asian flavors, the thai basil, sake and scallions.”
A place for Krill
One morning before the pandemic, Lawless said he got a text from Bakatsias with an address and an ask to meet him at the space.
“I said this is it,” Lawless said of the Krill space. The restaurant will be somewhat smaller than many of Bakatsias’ projects, with less than 50 dining room seats, but more space at a bar, a dozen-seat chef’s table and an outdoor patio.
Lawless will pull double duty, remaining executive chef at Parizade while also leading Krill. The two restaurants represent something of a split in dining in recent years, with Lawless wearing a white chef’s coat in the white-tablecloth Parizade, and changing into a T-shirt and hat, a uniform he says matches Krill’s vibe.
“It’s just more of a kind of playful restaurant,” Lawless said.
The Krill dining room features brightly colored murals, including one near the bar depicting the late chef and food documentarian Anthony Bourdain hunched over a stool with a bowl of noodles.
“We’re funky; we’re going to do whatever we want with the menu and have fun,” Lawless said. “This place transforms you.”
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