Araka in Clayton has long been known for its delicious, inventive fare. Executive chef Michael Burnau recently took over the kitchen and has introduced a new menu that proudly carries on the Araka tradition.
The new offerings at Araka feature tons of glutenfree, vegetarian and vegan options, and we’re told that almost any menu item can be made in a gluten-free version. We decided to start off with the vegetarian Spanish Spring Roll ($10), and the vegan Crispy Tempeh Bites ($10). The spring roll was served in small sections, each stuffed with calasparra rice, wild watercress and topped with a dollop of fresno-saffron aioli. Each was a crispy burst of flavor. The bites were small cubes of tempeh, a soy-based foodstuff somewhat similar to tofu, coated with panko and served with a nicely spicy citrus hotand- sour sauce. Anyone who has written off anything soy-based as rubbery or tasteless should try this dish. The fried bites, accented by the tasty sauce, tasted downright decadent. Both appetizers were plated beautifully.
The Bibb Lettuce Salad ($10) was substantial, and topped with orange slices, avocado, sunflower seeds and dressed with a red wine vinaigrette. It was flavorful, light and a great segue into our entrees: the Pan-Seared Day Boat Scallops ($29) and the Soy-Mirin Tofu ($19). The tender, rich scallops were served on a bed of coconut-ginger jasmine rice with a tangy red pepper-citrus salsa and an orangebalsalmic glaze that provided a good balance. The vegan tofu dish had the option of adding shrimp ($6), chicken ($8) or salmon ($10) for the carnivore who might want to give soy a try. We decided to add the shrimp, and though they were delicious, the tofu cubes were savory and held the dish together on their own. They were served on udon noodles accented with daikon radish, cilantro, pea tendrils and edamame.
We finished up with the Chocolate- Hazelnut Bars ($8), which came with raspberry sauce and creme anglaise on the side. Imagine a high-end Kit Kat bar—a perfect balance of smooth and crispy.
The dinner menu also had flatbreads and pasta dishes—items that we’ve earmarked to try next time. Extra kudos to Araka for providing reusable, recyclable ‘doggy bag’ containers!
While the menu has recently been updated, the striking, modern interior of the restaurant, with its huge ceilings and unevenly textured wall tiles, remains unchanged. We’re glad, since the sleek light fixtures fringed with strands of chain are some of our favorite restaurant accoutrements in town.
We found the service at Araka to be as exceptional as the food. The wait staff was attentive and took the time to answer all of our questions about the various preparations. Their pride in the operation was more than evident.
The new menu at Araka is definitely delicious, and while the restaurant provides a rare fine dining alternative for those who require vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, the skill of the kitchen staff is such that the dishes transcend those labels.