Mo's Diner Dinner Menu

STARTERS

mussels lyonnaise 12.00
jumbo lump crab cake & remoulade 12.00
beef carpaccio, virgin olive oil, capers & parmesan 9.00
grilled spicy shrimp and remoulade 7.00
grilled andouille sausage, peppers, onion & remoulade 7.00
sauteed chicken livers, onions & madeira on goat crostini 10.00
grilled sea scallop, sauteed vegetables & lemon butter 11.00
sauteed spinach & cheeses with baked phyllo 7.00

SALADS
caesar salad 7.00
warm brussel sprout salad, shiitakes, roasted red pepper & goat cheese 9.00
iceberg wedge with gorgonzola dressing & crispy bacon 8.00
warm goat cheese salad, asian greens & toasted pistachios 8.00
pear salad with gorgonzola, pecans, greens & balsamic 9.00
beet & blood orange salad with goat cheese, marcona almonds & balsamic syrup 9.00
mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers & vinaigrette 5.00
grilled caesar salad with bacon, eggs and shaved parmesan 10.00

ENTREES

garlic & herb shrimp, mushrooms, capellini & romano 18.00
sauteed nc black grouper, lump crab & lemon butter 28.00
grilled pork tenderloin, caramelized onions & basamic 17.00
pan roasted sea scallops, spinach, asiago &lemon linguini 24.00
grilled, dry rubbed filet mignon & roasted wild mushrooms 32.00
shrimp, chicken, andouille, rice & spicy tomatoes 19.00
spicy shrimp & scallops, cucumber salad & lemon butter 24.00
pan fried catfish, remoulade & basmati 17.00
seafood stew in a saffron tomato broth 28.00
grilled marinated chicken & lemon butter 17.00
oven roasted rack of lamb & fried spinach 25.00/37.00
squash, spinach, green beans, corn & mashed potatoes 14.00

Mo's diner: a place to dine on simple foods prepared with care
some menu items vary depending on availability
vegetarian, vegan, allergies and dietary restrictions are gladly accommodated

party rooms available for business meetings and celebrations

Compliments to the Chef

Compliments to the chef

As almost 60 diners tasted their first course, a bite of a dried tomato, jicama salad and cured tuna, the chef who prepared it, Sam Poley, spoke about his first encounter with the person who was the reason they had gathered Sunday night. More than a dozen years ago, Poley was a young cook at Parizade restaurant in Durham. In the macho, trash-talking world that is a restaurant kitchen, the often-smiling Hamid Mohajer was the only chef who didn't judge him, a 25-year-old newbie who couldn't find the salt.

"I hadn't spoken to Hamid in 15 years," Poley said. "But when I found out he was in need, I called immediately."

This summer, the Triangle food community learned that Hamid, who with wife Holly owns Mo's Diner in downtown Raleigh, had been diagnosed with lung cancer. The couple's health insurance had reached its cap, and they were inundated with medical bills. In response, fellow chefs and friends organized a series of fundraisers, including Sunday's six-course wine dinner at Mo's.

Then Hamid, 52, died Saturday morning, and the event changed from an opportunity to help a friend to a chance to honor his life.

And so, from the amuse bouche through the dessert, chefs emerged from the kitchen to present their creations and remember their friend.

Off the college track

Hamid Mohajer (pronounced HAM-id, mo-ha-JER) came to the United States from Iran in 1976. He enrolled at then Campbell College in Buies Creek. The Iranian revolution in 1979 disrupted his studies; his parents could no longer send money so he could finish college. Seventeen credits shy of graduation, he got a job on a tobacco farm and then busing tables at the now-closed Darryl's on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Eventually, he worked his way into the kitchen, becoming a cook.

Given the transient nature of restaurant kitchens, one could name a Triangle restaurant at random and find Hamid likely worked there: Parizade and the original Giorgios in Cary, both owned by prolific restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, Fat Daddy's, Bloomsbury Bistro, Cappers Restaurant and Tavern, Glenwood Grill, Angus Barn, O'Henry's, Maximillians and Karen's in Cameron Village, where he met his wife.

The couple supported young chefs, said Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner. They followed her career, first dining at Enoteca Vin and then at Poole's, always with an encouraging word or a thumbs up from their table.

As Christensen migrated from table to table Sunday night describing her chilled tomato soup with avocado, cucumber and heirloom tomato relish, she raised her glass of Vinho Verde and asked diners to join her in a toast: "to my friend Hamid, to your friend Hamid."

The third course came from chef William D'Auvray of Fins, now bu.ku. D'Auvray, known for his ability to cook seafood, prepared snapper atop grilled king trumpet mushrooms with a summer Viet salad and cashew-chili sambal sauce.

D'Auvray worked with Hamid in the '80s at Bakatsias' establishments in Cary, and they often went fishing. "Hamid and I go way back," D'Auvray told diners. "He was the kind of person no matter how hard things got, he made it seem easy. I'm going to miss him."

Welcome to Mo's

Seen through the lens of today's downtown, the Mohajers' decision to open Mo's Diner, a play on their last name, might have seemed easy. But in February 1997, the quaint blue house with red shutters on the edge of Moore Square wasn't in the safest neighborhood. In that first year, they spent more on security than rent. Guests recall "No trespassing" signs all over the property, and there are still bars on the front door window.

Still, the couple developed a loyal following of customers from North Raleigh to Sanford. The regulars came for birthdays, anniversaries, dinners before the symphony. They loved that the wait staff hardly changed. They liked that their favorite waiter knew their drink orders.

The restaurant's cozy interior likely contributed to repeat business. Each of its four dining rooms is painted a different color and has a fireplace. And each room is filled with homey decorations: Norman Rockwell plates, framed covers of the Ladies' Home Journal, Easter-colored tea cups and saucers lined up on a mantle. Each table features a white tablecloth, a small vase of fresh flowers and ladder-back chairs in every hue.

Among the regulars there Sunday were Edith Fleming and her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, Meg, John and John Edgar Calcagni. The family has been going to Mo's Diner about every six weeks for 10 years. Hamid, Fleming said, was "like one of my grandsons to me. He gave me special attention."

Hamid's food was simply prepared but consistently good, a lesson that stuck with chef Bret Jennings, who owns Elaine's on Franklin in Chapel Hill. Jennings prepared the evening's fourth course: confit duck hearts and gizzards with mustard greens, peaches and almond crunch.

When Jennings first came to North Carolina at 19, he worked for Hamid at the Glenwood Grill, starting as a bus boy and rising to sous chef. "This is what I learned from Hamid: Keep it simple and do it well," Jennings said.

The beef course, spice-rubbed tenderloin served with potatoes and minted watermelon salad, was served next, prepared by chef Walter Royal of the Angus Barn. Hamid worked there in the 1980s. Owner Van Eure filled a table of eight at Sunday's dinner. One of her party, Michael Highsmith, donated the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon for Royal's beef course.

With open arms

The restaurant community has made similar, generous gestures since Hamid's illness became known. When word spread that Hamid and Holly were in need, waitress Vanessa Smith says, "Multiple people just called and said, 'What do you need?'"

Chefs opened their restaurants to host wine dinners. Wine distributors donated wine. A hospitality company donated glassware. People volunteered to wait tables. Sunday's wine dinner sold out within 48 hours as regulars quickly booked tables.

The restaurant's longtime staff, already a close-knit crew, has pulled together even more since Hamid became ill in March. Holly stepped into the kitchen as Hamid stayed home in pain. The staff handled Holly's duties: answering the phone, taking reservations and acting as host.

Holly took Hamid to the doctor weekly and kept her other job waiting tables at Ruby Tuesday, which provided the couple with health insurance.

When Hamid's illness sent him to the hospital Aug. 24, the staff buckled down to survive Downtown Raleigh Restaurant Week, which meant a full house every night. Chefs filled in. Wait staff ran to the grocery store to buy ingredients. Holly's brother came to check deliveries.

That spirit of collaboration was evident Sunday night. By the time chef Matt Kelly of Durham's Vin Rouge - another Giorgios Bakatsias restaurant - sent out crème caramel for dessert, diners were mingling, chefs were drinking wine and the wait staff had started to relax. Another fundraiser almost done at the end of a long emotional week, and $9,000 added to the $13,000 raised so far.

Hamid would have felt honored. As waitress Smith told the assembled diners at the beginning of the evening, "I can't think of a better way to celebrate the passing of a dear friend." Her voice cracking. "It was his wish to go on with this tonight."
andrea.weigl@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4848