Chef Michael Chuong confirmed late today that he has left An, the Cary restaurant he started with the backing of Ann Goodnight.
Goodnight's husband James founded and still runs SAS, a business analytics and software company in Cary. Ann Goodnight met Chuong when he was the executive chef at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary.
Chuong declined to say what led to his departure saying it was a "private matter." But he says he is working on a new venture and would keep us posted on that project.
In 2007, N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox gave An three out of four stars. (Now Greg awards reviews on a five-star scale.)
Here is that review:
ONE 'AH!' AFTER ANOTHER
By Greg Cox; Correspondent
The tuna tartare was flawless, the pearl-sized nuggets of ruby flesh punctuated by salmon roe, capers and a whisper of Dijon mustard. A quail egg crowned the presentation, and crisp taro chips served as edible utensils. By any standard, I thought, a memorable presentation.
Then I noticed the serving plate nestled atop a small fishbowl, in which swam a single Vietnamese fighting fish. Call it gilding the lily if you like, but I was impressed.
Open since September at The Arboretum, an is one of a small but rapidly growing category of restaurants I call "gourmet ethnic." In that high-stakes environment, where the opening bid is Kobe beef or foie gras, and where classically trained chefs strive to outdo one another with increasingly elaborate interpretations of traditional ethnic dishes, an was simply raising the ante.
I won't soon forget the fighting fish presentation. Nor will I forget the Sea Harvest, which serves up a half lobster tail, oysters on the half shell (recently, the peerless Kumomotos) and lump crabmeat in an appetizer presentation that is as pristine as the tuna tartare's is elaborate.
I've accumulated several fond memories at an, for that matter -- more than enough to convince me that Ann Goodnight knew what she was doing when she offered to back chef Michael Chuong (who had impressed her as executive chef at Prestonwood Country Club) in opening his own restaurant. Chuong's distinctive take on crab cakes, for one -- he plays the marine sweetness of crabmeat against the earthy sweetness of taro root in cakes delicately crusted in Panko. The surprising, and surprisingly well-matched, tang of a tamarind demi-glaze on his steak au poivre, for another. The inspired pairing of Thai curry and French puff pastry in his rock shrimp cassolette, for still another.
Best of all, though -- even more memorable than the tuna tartare -- is Chuong's miso- and maple-glazed sea bass with caramelized pork belly. The chef's ability to use maple as a flavor accent without overwhelming the delicate fish is itself an impressive feat. His pairing of sea bass with pork belly, exhibiting the uncanny similarities of their flavor and texture, is nothing short of a revelation.
The kitchen isn't perfect. Vietnamese style spring rolls and summer rolls are both lavishly filled, but their too-thick wrappers (not to mention their $10 price tag) will make you yearn for the simple rolls served at traditional Vietnamese restaurants. And a dessert of soggy-crusted tempura bananas does nothing to disprove my theory that bananas and tempura don't go together. But these are minor complaints.
The tuna tartare is no longer on the menu, but those seeking the fighting fish experience will find it in a couple of sashimi presentations offered by sushi chef Richard Fong. For sushi aficionados, a few telling clues should be sufficient: that he comes to the Triangle from New York (where he still buys his fish), that his offerings include the locally rare amberjack and that his California rolls are made with real Alaskan king crabmeat. In short, those who choose to dine on sushi are in for a rewarding experience, whether they eat at the sushi bar (which also serves light Vietnamese fare), in the dining room or in the lounge.
Wherever you dine, rest assured you'll find yourself in a dramatic setting with a French colonial vibe, from the towering mahogany columns supporting the ceiling of the main dining room to the 20-foot antique canoe suspended over the lounge to the wait staff clad in crisp black slacks and Nehru-collared jackets.
Snappy attire notwithstanding, the wait staff -- or to be more precise, some of the wait staff -- are the weak link in the an dining experience. Depending on the experience and polish of your server -- there's an unusually wide range here -- you will be pleased or parched.
Desserts, except for the tempura bananas, are worth the calories. I'm partial to the Belgian chocolate macadamia cookies, served warm from the oven. In a world where chocolate terrines and fruit sorbets are common, they're a memorable conclusion.
2800 Renaissance Park Place, at The Arboretum, Cary, 677-9229, www.ancuisines.com
Cuisine: Contemporary Asian
Rating: 3 stars
Atmosphere: contemporary, with a French colonial vibe
Recommended: taro crab cakes, Sea Harvest, rock shrimp cassolette, maple glazed sea bass, steak au poivre
Open: Lunch weekdays, dinner nightly.
Reservations: recommended for lunch and dinner
Other: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover; full bar (excellent wine list); smoke-free (smoking permitted on the patio); get a sitter; live music (jazz) Thursday-Saturday.
The N&O's critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories:
4 stars: Extraordinary.
3 stars: Excellent.
2 stars: Good.
1 star: Fair.
Zero stars: Poor