Friday, December 18, 2009

More for the Eve

Sonoma will have three courses and a champagne toast for $40 on New Year's Eve. Choices include duck breast with caramelized endive; beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms; N.C. rainbow trout with lemon and caper brown butter and more. 100 N. Tryon St.; 704-332-1132.

The Wine Shop at Rivergate offers a $50-per-couple three-course meal for the Eve. Among the options are scallops au gratin; rack of lamb; chorizo- and goat-cheese-stuffed chicken breast and more. 14142 Rivergate Parkway; 704-831-9000.

Providence Cafe will be open 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; the dinner menu that night includes choices such as cornbread "kettles" filled with crawfish and tasso; housemade osso buco ravioli; prime rib with pappardelle; sea bass with vanilla cream sauce; and oven-roasted lamb loin. Reservations recommended. (Also, the place has new menus for lunch, dinner and brunch.) 110 Perrin Place; 704-376-2008.

Passion8 Bistro has a five-course menu with Champagne toast for $150 per couple; seatings are at 6 and 9 p.m. and the menu includes escargot, smoked Sonoma duck, veal chop with gnocchi, chicken roulade and more. 3415 Highway 51 North, Fort Mill, S.C.; 803-802-7455.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Extreme expansion

Canadian quick-serve franchise Extreme Pita opened a Ballantyne Village location mid-December and has expansion plans for 15-20 more through "the greater metropolitan area" in the next five years. 14825 Ballantyne Village Way; 704-369-5022;

New Year's

The Wine Shop at Foxcroft offers a New Year's Eve dinner for two for $95 -- including a bottle of wine and a Champagne toast -- with seatings at 6 and 8 p.m. On the menu: seared scallop in saffron cream; choice of potato leek soup with crab or salad; pan-roasted chicken or roasted rack of lamb; and flourless chocolate torte. 7824 Fairview Road; 704-365-6550.

Blue has a special for its first seating (5-6:30): a three-course dinner for $29.95. Reservations required. Through the night, there'll be drink specials and a late-night menu, live music and a Champagne toast. And Blue will be open New Year's Day. Hearst Tower uptown; 704-927-2583.

Both locations of Cosmos Cafe will offer four-course tasting menus for New Year's Eve for $48.95, including a glass of Champagne, plus selections from the regular dinner menu. Guest DJs will be on hand as well. 300 N. College St., 704-372-3553; and 8420 Rea Road, 704-544-5268.

The Liberty plans three courses for $40, with choices including crabcake with shot of she-crab bisque; cedar-plank-roasted wild Scottish salmon; flat-iron steak; warm chocolate cake and more. 1812 South Blvd.; reservations: 704-332-8830.

Maddi's Southern Bistro offers five courses (with entrees ranging from Cornish hen to blackened mahi mahi to veal medallions) and a glass of Champagne for $45. 16925 Birkdale Commons Parkway in Huntersville; 704-987-7762.

Mert's Heart and Soul hosts New Year's Day Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 214 N. College St.; 704-342-4222.

Open on Christmas

Siblings Miro (7804 Rea Road; 704-540-7374), Sole (1608 East Blvd.; 704-343-9890) and Zen (1716 Kenilworth Ave.; 704-358-9688) will be open on both Christmas Day and New Year's Day for dinner.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Snuggies, fries, music: Links of the week

I may be on vacation, but so are others, many of whom are pondering how best to lie around on the sofa and eat, and many of whom (some also in the first group) seeking gift ideas. Therefore, I give you this invaluable tool. Be aware: It's irreverent.

Well worth thinking about in this holiday season are these tips on how some chefs avoid packing on the pounds. Not much that's surprising, but there's this disturbing/illuminating comment from a Boston chef: "The butter and meat and calories I consume are so minimal compared to what goes out on each plate." In other words, don't consume a whole serving of ... much of anything.

When you're out shopping, you might want to have considered this.

And how great is this concept?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pizza by any other name

The former Pizzeria Uno on South Tryon Street is now Mason's Uptown, but it's still run by the same folks -- they've just relinquished the franchise, explained manager Bryan Reece. There's pizza, but now it's a flatbread version, and the menu also now includes wings, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, black and blue grilled steak salad, half-pound burgers, wraps, New York strip, grilled salmon, pastas and more, including daily specials. (One of those is a soup and salad combo for $6.99, or a half sandwich with soup or salad for $7.99.) 401 S. Tryon St.; 704-373-0085.

Welsh Rarity

Café Central coordinates with Story Slam Dec. 19. The theater space presents “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and the restaurant offers a dinner special inspired by Welsh cooking: Queen Victoria’s Windsor Soup (typically lamb and/or beef with parsnips and other vegetables) for $4.95 and Gilded Saffron and Butter Basted Roasted Cornish Hen with Herb Garland, plus Welsh cheese and bacon muffins, for $14.95. Pick up a token from the theater to show you qualify for the special (Story Slam doesn't do tickets); if you prefer, that token can instead be used for a 15 percent discount on the regular menu, excluding alcohol and tax. (Plan to get to the restaurant by at least 6 to make the 7 p.m. show, say organizers.) 1401 Central Ave.; 704-930-7810.

BLT Lunch: $18

BLT Steak now offers a fixed-price "Express" lunch from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays: For $18 (yes), you get any two items from a list of soups, salads and half (yes) sandwiches. Among current options: chestnut apple soup with bacon and brown butter; endive salad with Gorgonzola, walnuts and pear; half sandwiches with fries of Prime steak and Fontina cheese; leg of lamb and provolone or organic chicken with sun-dried tomato. 110 N. College St. in The Ritz-Carlton; 704-972-4380.

More holiday plans (and somewhere open Christmas!)

  • Santa will be at Latta Pavilion Dec. 19, and 131 Main in Dilworth will host a breakfast buffet 10-11:30 a.m. for $3.95 for kids, $4.95 for adults. 1315 East Blvd.; 704-343-0131.
  • Maddi's Southern Bistro offers a "Maddi's for Two" menu through Dec. 30: one appetizer and two entrees from the regular menu, plus a piece of pie, for $37.95. 16925 Birkdale Commons Parkway in Huntersville; 704-987-7762.
  • Fiamma will be open for lunch and dinner Christmas Eve and dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Christmas Day. 2418 Park Road; 704-333-3062.
  • Gleiberman's Kosher Mart & Restaurant will offer full dinner service 5-9 p.m. Christmas Eve (reservations suggested), and will open for deli sandwiches 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Christmas Day. 5668 International Drive; 704-563-8288.
(Note to folks looking for Christmas Day meals: Hotel restaurants are a sure bet, and some Chinese places traditionally open that day.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remember Charlotte's "Best" 25 years ago?

The first "Best of Charlotte" book was being researched 25 years ago for the hotel chain Guest Quarters, and in Friday's CLT section, I take a look at three that are still around.

But I'm betting some readers remember rather a lot of the places that aren't, too, and so I'm sharing some highlights from the book (courtesy of reader Alex Coffin) here. Feel free to comment with your reminiscences, and I'm particularly interested in which ones you love that are still operating.

The 1985 book's dining-out section begins: "Charlotte's restaurants offer food from every continent (Antarctica excepted, of course) for every palate, pocketbook, mood, and time of day."

Well ... Casablanca counted as the sole African representative, with Egyptian mango juice getting special note. Others listed by cuisine were Rheinland Haus, Nakato's, Royal Palace, House of Hunan, Chez Daniel, Raga, Silver Cricket, La Paz, Nickleby's, Riccio's, Mangione's, Papa Gallo's, Giorgio's and La Tache, plus "American" winner The Diamond.
Subcategories included: Cheap all-you-can-eat: Fish Fare. Cajun: A.W. Shucks and Hotel Charlotte. Elegant seafood: The Fishmarket. Oysters: Calabash Cove. Soul food: Coffee Cup and Mildred's. Southern family-style: Laura's Rozzelle House. Cafeterias: McDonald's and Barclay's. Barbecue: Lexington No. 1, Smokey Joe's (both in Lexington) and Rogers and Spoons in Charlotte. Best imported barbecue: Papa Doc's Pig Palace and Old Original. Fish camps: Lineberger's, Mitchell's Fish House, Pat and Mick's Family Fish House (out of town) and Riverview Inn and Hide-A-Way Inn in the Charlotte area. Barbecue and fish camp: Gus Purcell's. Kosher deli: Leo's.

Then there are odder titles : "No-Surprises Steak House": Ranch House, and "Wholesome Fresh Fare": Pewter Rose (its first incarnation, at Spirit Square, not the current South Boulevard one).

"Mood" recommendations included: View: Slug's 30th Edition. Romantic hideaway: The LampLighter. Late-night people-watching: Knife and Fork. Gracious ladies' lunch spot: Eli's on East. Place to hang out with the old guard: The Townhouse. Place to see a newspaper person miss a deadline: D 'n 'P. Place to take a business client to lunch: Barley & Rye. Neighborhood jock hangout: Kenilworth Cafe. Old Charlotte dining spot: The Epicurean. "Far from the Madding Crowd" sanctum: The Chateau. Uptown downtown hangout: Jonathan's Uptown. Place to get cozy: Proposition XLV. Place to pretend you're a hillbilly: Po' Folks. European Cafe: Cafe Society. Songs with your supper: Zarrelli's.

And by-dish suggestions mention pizza at Carlo's, margaritas at Casa Gallardo, grits at San Remo, moussaka at Anderson's, lemonade at Wad's, fries at the Red Blazer. Thankfully, we still have several of those in particular: fried chicken at Price's, cooked vegetables at Gus' Sir Beef, hot dogs at Green's Lunch and onion rings at South 21.

What do you remember best, and which of the ones still around do you patronize?

(And for some terrific old photos, check out this.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tidings of great joy -- and holiday plans

  • Both locations of the Common Market (in Plaza-Midwood and South End) promise a "ba-rum-pa-pa-pum free Christmas," banning playing of "The Little Drummer Boy." Also, the South End location (1515 S. Tryon St.) hosts a holiday votluck (that's a vegan potluck) 2-6 p.m. Christmas Eve.
  • Sir Edmond Halley’s plans for Christmas Eve: an a la carte menu that includes turnovers of roasted porcini, truffle and potato with lavender goat cheese sauce; quail consomme; grilled artichoke salad; grilled filet with broccoli potato hash and crab bearnaise sauce; butternut squash risotto; New Zealand rack of lamb; and more. It will also be open for New Year's Eve, with a menu that includes roasted lamb and goat cheese pierogies, Maine lobster pot pie and pan-seared Muscovy duck breast.4151-A Park Road; 704-525-2555.
  • New South Kitchen plans a Christmas Eve buffet from 4-8 p.m. Among the lineup: roasted beef tenderloin, deep-fried turkey and salmon-crab strudel. $30 per person (plus 20 percent tip). The restaurant will also be open New Year’s Day, and has extended its operating hours, opening at 11:30 daily and closing at 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 Sunday. 8140 Providence Road; 704-541-9990.

  • D'Vine Wine Cafe for New Year's hosts a 5-9:30 p.m. by-reservation-only evening: four courses, $40, followed by a party with live music and complimentary Champagne at midnight. 14815 John J. Delaney Drive; 704-369-5050.
  • The Villa Antonio at 4707 South Blvd. will be open 4-8:30 for Christmas Eve dinner, and for New Year's Eve will have a 5:30 seating for $39 and others for $45: five courses and live music. 704-523-1594.

Links of the week

  • Owen's Bagel & Deli has updated its Web site, and it's as clever and fun as you'd expect from a place that has a sandwich called the Federllllinnnneee (yes, turkey is prominent). Go here.
  • Can't resist Eating The Road/Sloshspot's flow chart brilliance here, but the Will They Build It concept is visually ... um ... stunning? ... here. (General idea: Go to a fast-food place and special-order something fantastical. This comes complete with nutrition facts, which are fantastic.)
  • You thought "Twilight" had nothing to do with restaurants? Hahahahahahaha. Go here.

More for the holidays

  • Global's New Year's Eve plans: five-course meal with glass of champagne at 5:30 for $62; six-courser with same at 8:30 for $72. Among the dishes: diver scallop with Global succotash or truffled terrine of duck and veal; braised oxtail with grit cake or pompano sous-vide with leek fondue; Yule log with Myer's Rum raisin creme anglaise. 3520 Toringdon Way; 704-248-0866.
  • Foskoskies will be open for lunch Christmas Eve, then closed until lunch Dec. 26. For New Year's Eve, it will open for both lunch and dinner, and for New Year's Day will serve dinner only. The New Year's Eve menu is three courses, with price based on entree choice; options include appetizers of pickled ginger salad with tempura-fried shrimp, lobster bisque and pan-fried softshell crab over focaccia; and entrees of beef Wellington, grilled lamb chops, pomegranate duck breast, Lowcountry crabcakes and catch of the day grilled and served over saffron polenta cake. 2121 Shamrock Drive; 704-535-2220.
  • All N.C. Applebee’s owned by the Apple Gold Group will offer half-price appetizers 9 p.m.-2 a.m. and drink specials all day Dec. 31; for the closest location, go to

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Drink/dine out, do good

  • Amelie's is choosing a custom brew as its house blend, and wants customers to help, and also benefit Kids First of the Carolinas. The staff has narrowed the choices with Dilworth Coffee to two. You can come in, beginning Dec. 9, bring a new unwrapped toy or a $5 donation to Kids First, and get a sample of each of the finalists, a ballot for voting and an entry into a drawing for a Buche de Noel (Yule log) dessert. Kids First gives help to families and does not receive local, state or federal funding. Amelie's plans to call a winner Dec. 22: 2424 N. Davidson St.; 704-376-1781.
  • Presbyterian Hospice & Palliative Care is working with the Mr. Food no-fuss Meals location owned by Chip and Cindy Wilson to get donated dinners to grieving hospice families during the holidays and beyond. Volunteers will deliver a minimum of 20 Mr. Food meals each month to high-risk bereavement clients, says the hospice's Kathy Brown. Mr. Food is also offering 15 percent discounts to folks who use the coupon code "PresbyHospice" when ordering, to help support the hospice's mission. 704-365-4515; For information about the hospice, call 704-384-CARE.

So ... Even Mo Fro Yo

Yoforia plans to expand for the first time beyond Georgia with two locations in Charlotte -- Selwyn Corners and the Shops at Piper Glen -- this winter. Both will have self-serve stations and will be open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, to midnight Friday-Saturday and noon-11 p.m. Sunday. The yogurt comes in four flavors: original sweet-yet-tart, pomegranate, dark chocolate and mango, and toppings range from fruit to cookies. 2823 Selwyn Ave. and 6432 Rea Road.

Holiday meals

  • Both Red Rocks Cafes will be open regular hours on Christmas Eve, and taking reservations by phone and online at Also coming up: New Year's Eve features, in addition to the regular menu, at Strawberry Hill include a chilled seafood platter; "Red & Bleu Prime Filet" (with sundried tomato and bleu cheese crust); pecan-crusted mahi mahi; parmesan-crusted pork chop; and more. 4223-B Providence Road, 704-364-0402; the Huntersville location is at 8712 Lindholm Drive, Huntersville, 704-892-9999.
  • Caffe Siena at the Holiday Inn Charlotte Center City offers a four-course New Year's Eve meal with seatings at 6, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. and a DJ from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Among the dishes are sauteed Chilean sea bass, braised beef short rib cannelloni, pan-seared duck breast and roasted beef tenderloin. At 6th and College Streets uptown; 704-335-5400 ext. 458.
  • Mez hosts its second annual Black Tie Ball for New Year's Eve (8 p.m.-2 a.m.), with passed hors d'oeuvres, champagne toast and party favors for $25; other packages, including dinners and Ritz-Carlton hotel rooms are available, too. 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-2400.

  • Road trip required: Highland Lake Inn (86 Lily Pad Lane in Flat Rock) offers buffets on both Christmas Eve (allspice and peppercorn scented prime rib; Ashley Farm chicken braised with smoked bacon and more) and Christmas Day (Virginia ham, sirloin tips and more). Hours are 5-9 p.m. Dec. 24 (for $34.95) and 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 25 ($36.95); 828-696-9094

Monday, December 7, 2009

New menus

  • M5 has a new lineup that focuses on more hearty dishes, including new wood-fired flatbreads, braised lamb shank with Anson Mills polenta, pork chop stuffed with morel mushrooms, quail stuffed with figs and mushrooms and more. 4310 Sharon Road; 704-909-5500.
  • The Liberty has a new menu; among the dishes are farmhouse chicken pot pie with English peas, baby carrots and porcini veloute; Black Angus pot roast; English fish and chips using Maine haddock, with "smooshy peas"; Vidalia onion soup with blistered Vermont cheddar (don't you love "blistered" as an adjective?), plus grilled bangers (sausage), Buffalo calamari "fries" and more. 1812 South Blvd.; 704-332-8830.

Tastings, awards, zeitgeist

  • D'Vine Wine Cafe hosts a champagne and dessert tasting Dec. 17, with chocolate-covered bacon with goat cheese fondue; brioche French toast; passionfruit and mint sorbet; Simonnet Febvre Cremant; 2002 Ferrari Perle Blanc de Blanc; and more on the menu. $59.99;14815 John J. Delaney Drive; 704-369-5050.
  • Google Zeitgeist 2009 reports that among popular searches unique to specific U.S. cities, Charlotte's No. 2 search was for "Charlotte Restaurant week" and No. 3 was "Mez Charlotte." Tops? "Parent Assistant CMS." You learn something new every day...
  • AAA Carolinas gave its 2010 Four Diamond award to three Charlotte restaurants (15 in the state) this week: Bonterra, winning for the sixth year, Zebra for the seventh and McNinch Housefor the 13th.

Top chefs -- no, a different kind

Danny Cerqueda of the Carolina Country Club in Raleigh is one of a dozen semifinalists competing Feb. 6 for the U.S. spot in the 2011 Bocuse d'Or International Culinary Competition. Cerqueda and the others -- "Top Chef" contestant Kevin Gillespie from Atlanta, plus four from New York and one each from Vermont, Nevada, California, Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois (one woman among them) -- were chosen by the Bocuse D'Or USA Foundation's Board of Directors, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jerome Bocuse. Begun in 1987 by well-known French chef Paul Bocuse, that competition (also called the culinary Olympics) is held every other year and pits teams of two (a chef and an assistant) from 24 countries. It will be held in January 2011 in Lyon, France.

Last year, Tim Hollingsworth of the French Laundry led the U.S. team to sixth place -- which is the best the U.S. has ever done (it also placed sixth in '05).

The other semifinalists and current restaurants/businesses, according to the press release:
  • Luke Bergman, The Modern, New York
  • Michael Clauss, Daily Planet, Burlington, Vermont
  • Kevin Gillespie, Woodfire Grill, Atlanta
  • James Kent, Eleven Madison Park, New York
  • Mark Liberman, Roxy’s Black Sheep, West Palm Beach, Fla.
  • Christopher Parsons, Catch, Winchester, Mass.
  • Jennifer Petrusky, Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago
  • John Rellah, New York Yacht Club, New York
  • Jeremie Tomczak, French Culinary Institute, New York
  • Andrew Weiss, The Chef’s Workshop, Las Vegas
  • Percy Whatley, The Ahwahnee, Yosemite, Calif. (who was also a semifinalist last time)
And for "Top Chef" addicts, find out who thinks will be showing up on the second season of "Top Chef Masters" here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dine (or drink) out, do good

  • Mez hosts a fundraiser Dec. 7 for the Community Culinary School of Charlotte, with food, beer, wine, entertainment, a "silent auction and loud raffle" -- all for $25. The school is a nonprofit that provides training and job search help in the food service industry for adults; more at You can get tickets from CCSC chef Ron Ahlert by calling 704-375-4500, through the International Food Service Executives Association by calling Agnew Hopkins at 980-598-1526, or at the door.
  • The Liberty and the Olde Mecklenburg Brewing company have a deal: For every pint of OMB sold, they will donate $1 to the Dilworth Soup Kitchen. 1812 South Blvd.; 704-332-8830.

New chefs

  • Chef Thomas Kerns, formerly chef de cuisine at Harper's, now runs the kitchen at Terrace Café near SouthPark. With experience as sous chef at Upstream and Charlotte Country Club, among other places, he says his passion is "Southern classics with a twist" and that his menu includes "a lot of items that SouthPark diners haven't seen before." Among Terrace offerings: s'mores French toast; filet medallion eggs Benedict; tofu lettuce wraps, Highland Gaelic fish and chips, and more. 4625 Piedmont Row Drive; 704-554-6177.
  • Andrew King, owner of High Cotton Catering, is now also executive chef at Hotel Charlotte. He has preserved old standards such as shrimp Creole, she crab soup, po' boys and bananas Foster, and added such dishes as fried green tomatoes topped with housemade pimento cheese; sweet potato ravioli in blue cheese sauce; housemade chicken salad wrap; honey-glazed salmon; and more, plus chicken and dumplings with collards and mac and cheese as a daily special on Tuesdays. Other daily specials will shift, says King, as he tries new items (example: collard green egg rolls with orange-lime dipping sauce) to gauge reaction. 705 S. Sharon Amity Road; 704-364-8755.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More for vegans

  • Amelie's has on regular rotation several vegan soups: carrot ginger wild rice, spicy tahini chickpea and spicy Thai sweet potato. Also, if you give them 48 hours notice, you can get many of the place's other soups made for vegans, including farmhouse butternut squash and tomato fennel. 2424 N. Davidson St.; 704-376-1781.

  • Brixx offers a vegan cheese that can be subbed for regular cheese on any pizza for no additional cost. Also, it's caisen-free; not all soy-based cheeses are. (Casein, for the uneducated among us on this issue, is a phosphoprotein in cow milk and cheese -- so it's vegetarian but not vegan. It also has a similar molecular structure to gluten, so many people who have problems with gluten also have problems with casein.) Multiple locations.

Thanksgiving additions

Both Red Rocks locations will be open for Thanksgiving, offering a buffet (by reservation only) 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. for $22.95 for adults and $10.95 for those younger than 12. Among the offerings: herb roasted turkey, dry-rubbed sliced sirloin, lemon-cranberry-glazed Atlantic salmon, pineapple-glazed ham, fried chicken, a "dessert extravaganza" and more. Strawberry Hill: 704-364-0402; Birkdale Village: 704-892-9999.

BLT Steak offers a three-course menu noon-9 p.m. for $68 ($34 for younger than 12); choices include butternut squash soup; wild mushroom risotto; organic turkey with chestnut stuffing; prime rib; seared Scottish salmon; chocolate tart and more. 110 N. College St.; 704-972-4380.

Passion8 Bistro serves dinner 3-9 p.m. Among menu choices ($45 per person; free for 6 and younger): roasted butternut squash with honey-almond-mascarpone quenelle; organic turkey breast and roulade with stuffing, Grateful Growers bone-in pork chop, shrimp and pumpkin grits; family-style sides and ganache pumpkin bread pudding. 3415 Highway 51 N., Fort Mill; 803-802-7455.

Pewter Rose will serve day-after-Thanksgiving brunch (its usual brunch menu) 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Nov. 27. 1820 South Blvd., 704-332-8149.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New sweets and other news

  • The Crepe Cellar in NoDa begins this week opening on Sunday nights. Also new there: French onion soup topped with Gruyere, and "blasted Brussel sprouts": halved, fried (unbreaded) sprouts, tossed in an arugula sauce. 3116 N. Davidson St.; 704-910-6543.
  • On the new winter dessert menu at 300 East: white chocolate bread pudding with bittersweet chocolate sauce and pear preserves; pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust (also sold for holidays for $40 each); crostata of Nise’s Herb Farm apples and almond frangipane; butterscotch-chocolate creme brulee; Callebaut brownie; and housemade butter pecan ice cream sandwich with molasses cookies. 300 East Blvd.; 704-332-6507.
  • New exec chef at Mama Ricotta's is Tom Dyrness, who has worked as executive sous chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Restaurant in San Francisco and most recently at Mimosa Grill in uptown.

First Bite: The Liberty

First Bite is a look at a restaurant that's opened recently, based on one visit -- not a full-fledged review. (Want to get notes like this as soon as they're posted? Follow me on Twitter: @helenschwab.)

The food: Lush, wintry and rich -- from small plates like "pot of duck" (think pate) to pork belly sliders to beef short ribs served with Anson Mills farro (a grain cooked to risotto-like texture). Former Harper's group exec chef Tom Condron is roasting and braising and skillet-searing fare designed to go with beer (the place is, after all, subtitled "Gastropub"), but it's got the cold-weather comfort food thing going on, too. About 20 beers are available on tap (about $2.50-$6.50) and nearly 50 by the bottle ($2.50-$9), with new ones rotating in: Flying Dog, multiple Allagashes, Stone Ruination (yum) and more. The wine list is interesting, too, if not as extensive. Lucky Gastro-Pig is a winner of a dish, roasted Black Berkshire pork shoulder served with crepes (though four aren't quite enough), pineapple, jalapeno, lime, peanuts, slaw, lettuce and sauce, so you can roll your own little packages. Short rib is terrific and the burger's a big sloppy thing with herb aioli, bacon and Sweet Grass cheddar. And a great bun. Temps need attention, but it's on the right path.

The look: You won't recognize the space as McIntosh's, let's put it that way. Rough woods, kegs stacked as columns, backlit screens portraying foamy beer on walls and chandeliers, a rogue's gallery of family photos and classic beer ads in the bar: It's witty without going too far. (OK, the foamy beer may be going too far -- but the framed ads are nothing short of amazing. Plan to peruse.)

The service: Educated, conversant and willing to recommend both particular dishes and accompanying drinks, these folk, in jeans and T shirts, keep the vibe comfortable yet smart.

Note: The place will serve a Thanksgiving buffet 11 a.m.-5 p.m. for $18.95, with organic turkey, prime rib, carved ham, cedar plank salmon, salads, shellfish, sides, dessert bar and more.

Details: Lunch ($5-$12) and dinner ($10-$21) daily. 1812 South Blvd.; 704-332-8830;

Dine out, do good

  • Upstream hosts its first annual oyster bash Nov. 20: 10 varieties of cold water oysters (plus a "mystery" 11th!) with 10 paired wines and champagnes for $75, with a portion of the proceeds going to Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger. On tap -- for us oyster freaks -- are Kumamotos, Rappahannocks, Old Salts, Stingrays, York Rivers, Blue Points, Malpeques, Maison Beausoleils, Moonstones and more. Reservations are required; 6902 Phillips Place, 704-556-7730.
  • Buy a glass of Veuve Clicquot and six oysters for $25 at The Palm, and a portion will be donated to Dress for Success. The program aims to provide disadvantaged women with professional attire and support to help them find and keep jobs. This offer runs through the end of the year. Charlotte's Palm is at 6705-B Phillips Place Court; 704-552-7256.

Even more for Thanksgiving

  • Buca di Beppo will be open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, serving its full Italian menu, plus traditional fare. 10915 Carolina Place Parkway; 704-542-5146.
  • The Palm hosts a three-course dinner for $45 ($22.50 for children), with choices that include lobster bisque; slow-roasted turkey with stuffing; sweet potatoes; creamed spinach; New York cheesecake and more. 6705-B Phillips Place Court; reservations at 704-552-7256.
  • Eat Here Now offers a package estimated to feed six for $49.99 plus tax: 2 pounds of sliced turkey, 2 pounds of dressing, 8 ounces turkey gravy, three quarts of six sides and rolls or cornbread. Orders must be in by 5 p.m. Nov. 25 and can be picked up 8 a.m.-noon on Thanksgiving Day; 2016 Ayrsley Town Blvd.; 704-499-9999.
  • Stratos Restaurant Group (Nolen Kitchen, ilios noche, Big View Diner) offers takeout dinner for 8-10 for $195: herb roasted Sanders Farm turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, etc., plus an add-on dessert package. Orders are due Nov. 23 and you can pick up before 4 p.m. Nov. 25; 704-544-0313.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Think you know how to eat at buffets?

Among our links of the week is this one, on taking full advantage of buffets (including the charming disclaimer that the entire thing "should not be adhered to by rational human beings").

Don't miss the same author's "Where Should I Eat: Fast Food Edition" flowchart here.

And if you feel as I do about Rachael Ray, you may enjoy this, while if you feel as I do about banh mi, the Vietnamese cuisine's answer to sub sandwiches, you will like this.

Hooters where?

Among significant U.S. exports to Africa, one can now add the Hooters restaurant chain and all it's famed for: The continent's first Hooters is slated to open Dec. 12 in the city of Durban in Umhlanga. It's the first of three planned South Africa locations and will have, according to Hooters' press release, "a delicious local menu as well as Hooters' famous chicken wings" plus about 30 plasma TVs. Incidentally, the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament will be in South Africa -- and you can still get tickets! Go to

Turkey Day gets Soul and more

  • Soul will be open 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Thanksgiving, and among the quirky features will be hot sage sausage and brioche stuffing cubes, sour cream whipped potato croquettes with giblet gravy, turkey and provolone panini with cranberry aioli, fried mushrooms over creamy shaved Brussel sprout ragout, and tempura-fried green beans and onions with porcini cream. 1500 Central Ave.; 704-348-1848.
  • Villa Antonio at 4707 South Blvd. will be open 4-8:30 p.m. with its regular menu, plus a five-course Thanksgiving one for $28. Also offered: to-go dinners (noon to 8 p.m.) that feed six to eight for $135. 704-523-1594.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Operatic options

Opera Carolina serves up specials for National Opera Week (Nov. 13-22). On Nov. 19, The Palm offers Opera Ventura from 6-8 p.m., a lineup of hors d'oeuvres, wines and cheeses, plus a Wheel-of-Fortune-like game show called "Opera Wheel," in which guests spin for prizes and operatic singing. $20; 704-332-7177 ext. 210.

Blue wraps up the week with a champagne reception and five-course meal with live opera Nov. 22. mong the offerings: seared quail breast, with "Tonight" from "West Side Story"; Tega Hills mixed greens with "Rusalka's Song to the Moon" from "Rusalka" and "Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha"; pan-seared grouper or slow-cooked beef short ribs with "You'll Never Walk Alone" from "Carousel" and "Les Poissons" from "The Little Mermaid"; and more. Reservations required. Hearst Tower uptown; $65; 704-927-2583.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dine out, do good

The Melting Pot runs its sixth annual "Thanks and Giving" campaign through Dec. 5 to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: With every donation of $10 or more, guests receive a Fondue for the Kids Card that offers $20 off any purchase of $50 or more. All proceeds from the Fondue for the Kids Card will be donated to St. Jude. The Melting Pots of Charlotte also sell "Fondue a Cure for Childhood Cancer" signature chocolate fondue bars: $1 of each $5 you pay for the bar goes to the hospital. Info at or 800-478-5833.

Upstream at Phillips Place hosts a five-course J. Lohr wine dinner Nov. 13, with $2 from every bottle of 2005 "Carol's Vineyards" Cabernet Sauvignon going to the National Breast Cancer Foundation toward funding 500 mammograms. $65; reservations: 704-556-7730.

Special dinners

  • Single malt Scotch lovers get a dinner at Blue Nov. 13, with five dishes, cigars at the end and Hendrick Porsche providing a Porsche for a weekend getaway to one winner at evening's end. Among the pairings: warm brined Arctic char with Oban 14 Year Single West Highland Malt; roasted squab with Talisker 10 Year Single Isle of Skye Malt; and roasted venison loin with Lagavulin 16 Year Single Islay Malt. $75; Hearst Tower uptown (corner of College and 5th streets). Reservations required: 704-927-2583.
  • Fig Tree presents a five-course wild game menu with Spanish wines Nov. 11. Among the pairings: frog legs en croute with 2005 Jose Pariente Verdejo; and saddle of rabbit with 2006 Dominio de Tares Baltos Mencia. $70; 1601 E. 7th St.; 704-332.3322.
  • Revolution Pizza & Ale House hosts a Highland Brewery beer dinner Nov. 15 with owner Oscar Wong present. Beverages include St. Terese's Pale Ale, Oatmeal Porter, Mocha Stout and more. $35; 3228 N. Davidson St.; 704-333-4440.
  • Passion8 Bistro hosts a book launch dinner Nov. 18 -- one of several restaurants across the country doing dinners that night -- for "Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town," a book celebrating slow food in Italy. Author Douglas Gayeton will attend the dinner at Chez Panisse (whose legendary chef Alice Waters wrote the book's introduction), while the publisher will join the dinner in the East Hampton's Nick and Toni's. Zagat is supporting the venture, and the cost -- $180 per couple -- includes a copy of the book. 3415 Highway 51 N., Fort Mill; 803-802-7455.
  • Bonterra hosts a Gundlach Bundschu dinner and wine pairing Nov. 18, with Jeff Bundschu in attendance. Among the offerings: citrus-marinated scallops with 2007 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay and almond-crusted duck breast with 2005 Rhinefarm Vineyard Mountain Cuvee. $75 (or $140 per couple); 1829 Cleveland Ave.; 704-333-9463.
  • D'Vine Wine Cafe hosts an Elyse Vineyards (Napa) dinner Nov. 19, with a large-format bottle to be raffled off. On the menu: braised oxtail with 2006 C'est Si Bon; espresso-dusted barbecue wild boar spare ribs with 2006 Howell Mountain Zinfandel; and more. $74.99; 14815 John J. Delaney Drive; 704-369-5050.

Restaurant holiday plans

McNinch House morphs into a "Victorian holiday wonderland," as its press release puts it, for Christmas each year, and for the 2009 season, owner Ellen Davis will open on Sundays and Mondays in December. The restaurant is also adding two abbreviated fixed-price menus for the season, with a five-course version for $79 and four courses for $59. Among the dishes: Burgundy- and spice-marinated loin of venison, and Grateful Growers Tamworth pork osso buco. 511 N. Church St.; 704-332-6159.

The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge (10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway) does lots for the festive season. On the restaurant-related side, there's:
  • The "Biggest Little Office Holiday Party" 6:30-midnight Dec. 4, with three courses, dessert and coffee station, live music and two drinks per person for $64. Reservations: 704-248-4035.
  • Etiquette Tea with Mrs. Claus is billed as a "festive, fun way to learn table manner lessons" for kids, who'll get treats, crafts and story time 2-4 p.m. Dec. 6. $40 per child, $20 per adult (for groups of 6 or more, $35 per child, $15 per adult); reservations: 704-248-4055.
  • Christmas Day Brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., a buffet with omelet and carving stations for $48.95 ($25.95 for 7-12, $7.95 for 3-6, and free for younger). Reservations: 704-248-4100.
  • New Year's Eve Package, with four-course dinner, breakfast in bed, and late check-out of 4 p.m., starting at $294 for a single and $394 for double occupancy. Reservations: 888-627-8048.

Mert's Heart, Periodic (Dessert) Table & More

Check out Mert's Heart and Soul owner James Bazzelle in a Visa ad here.

In case you've wondered about the structure of shortbread or the weight of marshmallow, check out the clever Periodic Table of Dessert here. I get the Dr abbreviation for "little silver balls" -- their formal name is dragees -- but there's a lot that's over my head. Still fun to contemplate.

And the Daily Beast Web site put up a slide show lovingly entitled "Food That Can Kill You Instantly" here. Bon (visual) appetit!

Sliders! Pig! and other news

  • Zink American Kitchen now has a slider bar weekdays from 4 p.m. to closing: You mix and match -- among American Wagyu burger sliders, fried chicken sliders, pulled pork, and/or tacos of short rib, chicken, braised pork or fish -- and pay $2.50 for one, $6 for three, $10 for five. Add a beer for $2. 201 N. Tryon St.; 704-444-9001.
  •, on which you can order online German foods, ran a contest for German restaurants, promising to tally a popular vote, then conduct on-site visits to the top vote-getters. Charlotte's Waldhorn (12101 Lancaster Hwy., Pineville; 704-540-7047) made the list of top 20 vote-getters.
  • Cantina 1511's Stonecrest location roasts a pig every other Wednesday (next up: Nov. 18), then starts serving pork at 5 p.m. as a dinner entree or in $1.50 tacos. Also up there: all-you-can-eat game days for football season Sundays, with nachos, tacos, wings and quesadillas for $15, plus $1 domestic beers. 7708 Rea Road; 704-752-9797.
  • Also at StoneCrest: Firebirds has added new items at lunch and dinner, and updated its bar; look for a "waterfall" of backlit bottles and a new wine wall facing the dining room. Among new dishes: a burger topped with goat and pepperjack cheeses and roasted poblano chiles; a bleu cheese burger; grilled fish of the day; warm brownie with salted caramel sauce; apple cobbler and more. 7716 Read Road; 704-752-7979. (The new dishes are also offered at the Northlake Mall and Morrison Plaza locations of Firebirds.)

Chef Convo

Karime Lopez is serving as consulting chef at Cantina 1511 in Charlotte. We asked her a few questions:

Tell us a little about your background: the foods you grew up with, how you got into cooking, your experience and training.

I grew up in a family that loves good food. I have been taught by my family that I should invest in a good lunch and good dinner because it is culture and sharing. My grandmothers and my mother are my favorite chefs. I became interested in cooking while living in Paris. The smell of bread, pain au chocolat, and good cheese inspired me. Everywhere I traveled in Paris, I experienced great food. After Paris, I decided to move to Spain, where I studied at Seville University. After college, I went to work for Chef Santi Santamaria for two years in a three-star Michelin restaurant. Chef Santi showed me the importance of high-quality fresh food. I then went to work for Chef Andoni at Mugaritz Restaurant, a two-star Michelin restaurant. Chef Andoni broadened my knowledge of plants, herbs, flowers, and about the simplicity of food. I went back to Mexico to be in charge of creativity and projects for Chef Enrique Olvera, in Pujol Restaurant, a four-diamond restaurant. After Pujol, I did a stage at Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen, a two-star Michelin restaurant. Lastly, I returned back to Mexico to work as executive chef for Danzantes Restaurants. I am passionate about teaching; it is one of my favorite things about being a chef.

What do you love most to cook?

I have many favorite dishes to cook. Two in particular are Pescado Veracruz and Huevos Campesinos, both of which are being added to Cantina 1511's menu.

What do you bring to Cantina 1511 that is most valuable for the restaurant?

I bring real Mexican food, real flavors, good products and excellent quality. I love and am proud of my food and my culture.

What do you think is the main difference between Charlotte diners and those you've cooked for elsewhere?

The Charlotte community seems to be very inquisitive and open to trying my authentic creations.

Is there one dish you hope Charlotte diners will fall in love with?

Tamales, moles and fresh salsas.

What's the best meal you've ever had, as a diner?

My mother's food is the best in the world.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Should DINERS Never Do?

The obvious needed accompaniment to the New York Times' story on "100 Things Servers Should Never Do" (second 50 should be out soon; the first 50 are here) is a parallel list for the customers. A few have had a stab at it -- I'm a fan of Waiter Rant's here (be aware it's predictably off-color in spots) -- but I think we can do better.

I'll start:

1. Never complain about anything more subtle than a wrong order unless and until you have waited on tables for a minimum 30 days yourself. (I'm not kidding: My plan for America includes mandatory 1-month stints waiting tables, selling retail and bus-driving before the age of 25. Schwab in 2016.)

2. Don't call your server by any dimunitive -- not dear, honey, sweetie, son: Nothing.

3. Never say you're allergic to anything if you're not. Raising the specter of anaphylactic shock and its accompanying degree of care is not something you do if you just don't like peanuts.

4. Beckon a server with a nod of the head, a raise of the eyebrow, an "excuse me?" Yells, whistles, claps and especially finger snaps are not acceptable.

5. If you intend to give a server the change, make a point of saying, "Keep the change" when you hand them the money. That saves them a trip back to the table; if it's busy, every trip matters.

Now you take a turn. I'll add more...

News, notes

  • Pewter Rose has new winter menus for lunch, brunch and dinner, emphasizing local foodstuffs and N.C. coastal catches, with nothing over $13 on the lunch lineup and an under-$10 bar menu. Among the new: Grateful Growers cider-braised pork shank and grilled tofu steak for dinner; two-bean chili for lunch; smoked salmon hash, Italian omelet and Oscar Benedict (crabcakes) for brunch, and lamb lollipops on the bar menu. 1820 South Blvd.; 704-332-8149.
  • Longitude 81 offers oysters roasted or on the half shell for a quarter apiece through November; chef Gregory Sheppard says he's getting in some beautiful Apalachicolas, along with fresh stone crab claws. 971 Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill, S.C.; 803-802-9981.
  • Del Frisco's has a new menu. Among the debuts: sliced sesame tuna; Prime beef carpaccio with Creole mustard; blue cheese wedge salad; 12-ounce cuts of Prime ribeye and strip steaks (smaller options than the usual); veal porterhouse; halibut with white bean ragout; crab cakes with jicama slaw and more. 4725 Piedmont Row near SouthPark; 704-552-5502.
  • The second Charlotte-area Zoes Kitchen (yes, like that, with no apostrophe) is open in Midtown's Metropolitan complex, featuring its menu of Mediterranean-inspired dishes. (The first is at Blakeney.) The expansion is one of about 200 planned in the Southeast for the currently-30-store chain out of Birmingham. 1055 Metropolitan Ave.; 704-347-5858; you can get an idea of the menu here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Free food, discounted food...

  • Come to Sunday brunch between 10:30 a.m. and noon at Harper's at Carolina Place mall and you get one complimentary brunch item per table when you buy another (with a minimum of two guests per table). 11059 Carolina Place Parkway; 704-541-5255.
  • Village Bistro now has weekday lunch specials for $6.99, including a soft drink. Sandwiches, half-sandwiches plus soup, quesadillas and pasta are among the choices. 14815 John J. Delaney Drive; 704- 369-5190.
  • Now through Dec. 23, T.G.I. Friday's has eight half-price appetizers in the bar after 4 p.m. at nearly 600 participating restaurants, from chicken strips to loaded potato skins to Buffalo wings.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Free food, discounted food and more

  • All Applebee's (and there are about 2,000 of them) plan to honor U.S. veterans and active-duty military with a free meal Nov. 11: Just bring proof of current or former U.S. military service and you'll get a free entrée from a special menu, and it's offered from lunchtime through dinner (but dine-in only). See for details.
  • Uno Chicago Grill offers a free entrée or individual pizza with the purchase of another to all members of the military that day. Arrive in uniform, or bring a photo of yourself in uniform or a military or veteran's ID. Charlotte's Uno is at 401 S. Tryon St.; 704-373-0085.
  • Sole celebrates its seventh birthday with $7 dinner entrees before 7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday throughout November. 1608 East Blvd.; 704-343-9890.
  • Cosmos Café also is celebrating -- it's been uptown for 12 years now, and is offering a three-course $12 menu and $12 bottles of wine Nov. 9-14 at both its uptown site (300 N. College St.) and Ballantyne one (8420 Rea Road). Among the dishes are sea scallops with red pepper sauce; chicken paillard with garlic mashed potatoes; grilled marinated flank steak and more.
  • Mert's Heart and Soul now offers a birthday club program, with a free entrée of salmon cakes or barbecue to members on their birthdays. To join, go here. 214 N. College St.

More for Thanksgiving

Mimosa Grill hosts a buffet from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. for $24.95 ($12.95 for 10 and younger). Hot carving station, sides, dessert lineup: Take a look here. 327 S. Tryon St.; 704-343-0700.

Longitude 81 plans a Lowcountry Barbecue Dinner for Turkey Day, from noon to 6 p.m., all-you-can-eat for $21.95 per person ($12.95 for kids). Among the dishes: sweet potato bisque, oyster stew, barbecued turkey with giblet gravy and spiced honey-glazed ham, sides served family style and choice of bourbon pecan cobbler or pumpkin Frangelico mousse pie. (And yes, the place has TVs for football). 971 Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill, S.C.; 803-802-9981.

The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge does brunch from 11 a.m.–3 p.m., with carving stations, decorative displays and more. $48.95 ($25.95 for children 7-12, $7.95 for 3-6, free for those younger than 3); reservations required; 704-248-4100 or

Renaissance SouthPark (5501 Carnegie Blvd., 704-501-2510) and Charlotte Marriott (2200 Rexford Road, 704-364-8220) will offer plated dinners from noon to 6 p.m. for $29 ($14 for 6-12, children's menu offered to 5 and younger), with entree choices including smoked paprika roast turkey with giblet pecan gravy, seared striped bass and filet mignon.

Gado Gado will offer a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner from 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. for $25 ($12 for younger than 12). 157 N. Trade St., Matthews; 704-844-8686;

All 47 locations of Fatz Cafe will be open on Thanksgiving Day, serving turkey meals for $10.99 as well as offering takeout versions of the traditional dishes. For locations, go to

Villa Antonio at 4707 South Blvd. has a Thanksgiving to-go package ($135 feeds 6-8 people and you can pick it up hot on Thanksgiving Day) and will also be open for dinner that day from 4-8:30 p.m. 704-523-1594.

Zink American Kitchen hosts a buffet from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. for $21.95 ($10.95 kids 3-10 and free for younger). 201 N. Tryon St.; 704-444-9001.

What should servers NEVER do?

The New York Times ran a story recently on 50 things a server should never do, with 50 more to come this week. They're mostly logical and appropriate, though there are several I could go either way on. See what you think here. And don't miss the comments -- more than 1,000 of them -- since they are the most entertaining part. Personal fave: "Bruce (the author), you seem like the kind of diner whose food would get spit in." Most surprising: "Profanity in a nice restaurant is almost a guaranteed extra 5% (tip) from me."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Soul serves once-illegal drink

Yeah, absinthe used to be banned, but it's legal now, and Plaza-Midwood's Soul Gastrolounge offers it, with food pairings and readings of Edgar Allan Poe's work, Oct. 30. (That's the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth and, some would argue -- like me -- a waaaay better Halloween event than most). Look for absinthe oysters Rockefeller, tarragon-butter-grilled shrimp over orange fennel salad and braised fennel and sausage on grilled peasant bread, plus absinthe and absinthe cocktails. Absinthe, also called the Green Fairy, was once considered dangerous; it's an emerald-colored liqueur based on wormwood (artemisia) and alcohol. Wormwood's compound thujone, says Wired magazine (and who wouldn't trust Wired magazine on such a thing?), is what was blamed for the drink's "supposed side effects: hallucinations, artistic inspiration, degeneracy and homicidal mania." Thujone's still banned in this country, but absinthes with little enough of it can be sold (and some doubt the connection anyway), while the New York Times said this year, "Modern analysis has shown that the absinthes produced today have none of these effects." Hmm. Drinks will run $7-$11 and include the classic cocktail and items such as "Surfer on Absinthe" (with coconut rum and pineapple), while the food pairings are $6-$7.

1500 Central Ave.; 704-348-1848.

Food Network spotted in Charlotte

Callers report spotting the Food Network crew from "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" -- the show in which wild-haired Guy Fieri waxes philosophic (and enthusiastically hungry) about all sorts of places and specialties -- filming around town. Among the reported locations: Jake's Good Eats, South 21, Cabo Fish Taco, dish and Landmark Diner. It's my understanding that mum's the word from restaurant owners, but you can hardly expect excited diners to keep secrets...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free, discounted and expanding food! (not all at once)

FREE: Become a Facebook fan of Amelie's (2424 N. Davidson St.) and get freebies on Fridays: Oct. 30, the haul is a palmier -- that's a sugared puff pastry fan-like thingamabob pronounced "palm-yay." And Taco Bell gives away a Black Jack Taco to each diner who stops in between 6 p.m. and midnight Oct. 31, "in celebration of Halloween and Game Three of the World Series" (two events that are obviously intricately related).

DISCOUNTED: Brixx Wood Fired Pizza’s Tuesday night special is back: Buy two pizzas, get two free, but you need a coupon and you need to dine in at a participating location: Check for both at the Web site at (fixed, thanks to commenter).
And it's the last week (through Oct. 29, that is) to get three courses for $30 at Zebra. Among the choices: shrimp bisque, signature vase salad, salmon fillet, lamb tenderloin, chicken with shrimp Provencal, lemon curd tart, coconut almond dacquoise torte, sorbet and more. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.

EXPANDED: Tasty Yo, the tart frozen yogurt place in NoDa, will open a second location in south Charlotte Nov. 27, if all goes according to plan. Michelle Goldstein and family (that's them above: Stephanie, Raphael, Deborah and Michelle) plan to offer two flavors at all times there of the tangy delight -- original "tart" and a rotation, beginning with green tea. You top these with fresh fruit, nuts, candy, cereal, and my personal favorite: mochi, a chewy form of glutinous rice cut into bits. (Trust me.) The new one will be at the Village at Robinson Farm (between StoneCrest and Blakeney); the original is at 3116 N. Davidson St.; 704-333-4551.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First Bite: BLT Steak at the Ritz

First Bite is a look at a restaurant that's opened recently, based on one visit -- not a full-fledged review. (Want to get notes like this as soon as they're posted? Follow me on Twitter: @helenschwab.)

The name: It stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel, and chef Tourondel has a slew of concepts nationally: BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Prime, BLT Market, BLT Burger. (One longs for BLT BLT, but what can one do?*)

The food: Steak, yes, but in usual and less-usual permutations. Tourondel's been quoted as preferring the Wagyu skirt, which weighs in at 10 ounces and $52, and it's indeed delicious -- tender, flavorful, rich and rendering sauce on the side (you pick from nine choices) completely unnecessary. Hanger, filet, ribeye, porterhouse, N.Y. strip, short ribs: they're all here ($29-45), plus chicken, veal, lamb and duck at one entree each. So's seafood, and the marinated Alaskan black cod is lovely, though branzino is always hard to turn down (and yeah, there's lobster, too). But it's the quality of sides that's freshest for Charlotte in this genre: amazing Brussels sprouts with bacon, hen of the woods mushrooms, roasted tomatoes Provencal, gnocchi with tomato sauce. The complimentary popovers are much discussed (they come with a tiny card divulging the recipe) and though ours were tasty, I wasn't blown away, since they arrived only warm -- which belied the server's description of them emitting steam when torn apart. Dessert fared better: fabulously simple orange sorbet, and the tiny sticky toffee pudding cake with pecan ice cream. Cheeses and dessert beverages are legion. Pricey? You bet: Only three dinner entrees are under $30 and sandwiches run $16-19 at lunch (entrees then are $26-52).

The service: Here's what did blow me away -- every person of the seven or so that dealt with us was engaged, enthusiastic, helpful and wry when it was called for, from the poor guy crumbing the table (imagine popovers and woven placemats) to the water refiller who noticed a votive was toasting the glazed artichoke table decoration. Servers knew their stuff and were gracious; the bread guy raved with real flair about the tiny "chocolate chip brownie bits" that arrive after dessert. Well done.

The look: Hey, it's in the Ritz-Carlton, so you expect luxe and you get it. But in simple terms: drum lights, leather seating, gold suede. Try not to face the street at night until construction's over over there, since you get a rather blinding work light in the eye, in addition to the neon valet parkers' vests.

Details: 110 N. College St.; 704-972-4380. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Menus aren't up yet on the main Web site ( but here’s the dinner lineup.

* Especially since one is not the PR person for this account, though one LOVES whoever is, because of sentences such as this in the chef bio: "The relentless ennui with which he greeted his other studies left a single alternative for the burgeoning chef," which was cooking school in France. That led to French Navy and NYC experience, three-star-Michelin cooking and "Top Chef" judging.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ballantyne restaurant closes ... again

The Flat Rock Grille in the Ballantyne area has closed -- for the second time.

The seafood and steak restaurant, part of a Southeastern chain, first opened in Charlotte in 2005 and closed the Ballantyne site in mid-2007. Ownership changed more than once in the restaurant's history, and a Ballantyne site was resurrected, but WR Hospitality Group, which operated three Flat Rocks, announced today it has closed the 15719 John J. Delaney Drive store. The company cited decreased sales and traffic at that location, but emphasized it will keep its restaurants in Hickory and Asheville going. If you've got a gift card, those two sites will honor it, says WR.

Sssssppooky...and 80 percent off?

Plug in the discount code TREATS through Oct. 31, I'm told, at and you'll get an 80 percent discount on coupons for area places -- so a $25 coupon that goes for $10 usually costs $2. Just tried it and it looks as if it's working.

Also, Halloween and Applebee's: Natural pairing?
50 locations of the chain in North Carolina will host a party 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Oct. 31, with prizes for best costume at each restaurant (contest at midnight, FYI). Nearest location to you: Go here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poulet Soiree and more...

  • The Inn at New Town Farms offers the "1st Annual Poulet Soiree" Nov. 7: an outdoor meal with Chef Joseph Bonaparte, featuring wood-fire-roasted, pasture-raised French Red Bro chicken, organic fall vegetables (also from the farm), organic wines and more. $45; RSVP by email to The farm is at 4512 New Town Road in Waxhaw.
  • The Wine Shop at Foxcroft has a wine dinner Oct. 22 featuring Hirsch Vineyards, which the shop's Conrad Hunter says is producing some of the country's best Pinot Noir. On the menu: fried and half-shell oysters with 2007 Chardonnay; pan-roasted smoked duck salad with 2007 Pinot Noir; spice-rubbed grilled lamb rack with 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and more. $75; 704-365-6550; 7824 Fairview Road.
  • Cosmos Cafe's got new dishes at both locations, among them: braised lamb shank with garlic mashed potatoes; miso salmon with broccolini; beef Bourguignon; and grilled octopus on the tapas lineup. 300 N. College St. and 8420 Rea Road.
  • I'm off for the week, but this is terrifying enough that it'll take that long for you to feel safe checking here again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Word for the day: Breastacular

When Plaza-Midwood does its Oct. 17 Fall Krawl, which benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure (that's the formal name for the popular breast cancer research group), Soul will offer a "Touch of Pink" menu from 7-11 p.m.: roasted baby beet salad with chevre; pink-peppercorn-encrusted shrimp skewers; Pink Roll (salmon and pink soy paper) and more. There'll also be some specialty drinks, from the classic Pink Lady to "X-Rated Lady" (vodka, a mixed-fruit liqueur, cranberry juice, sour mix and a cherry). Two dollars from every special dish and drink (and prices are $4-10) will go to Komen, and there'll be live "Breastacular Entertainment" from La Petite Mort Burlesque. 1500 Central Ave; 704-348-1848.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thanksgiving plans

It's finally happened: Two restaurants have beaten the reader requests for Thanksgiving plans:

Maddi's Bistro in Huntersville will host a Thanksgiving dinner and buffet Nov. 26 -- three seatings (noon, 2:45 and 5:30 p.m.), traditional dishes and a cost of $24.95 for adults, $9.95 for those 12 and younger. Birkdale Village; 704-987-7762;

And Upstream (6902 Phillips Place) plans a buffet with a hot carving station and traditional sides, plus its shellfish bar, sushi station and dessert bar, fresh fruit, salads and more. $32.95 for adults and $14.95 for 12 and younger. 704-556-7730.

Coming up

  • Maddi's Bistro revels for Octoberfest Oct. 16-24 with two food specials in addition to the regular menu -- two German brats simmered in Geary's Winter Ale with sauerkraut and home fries; and Schweizer Schnitzel, a German breaded pork cutlet stuffed with Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese -- plus beers Bavarian Helles Hefeweizen and Lammsbrau Organic Dunkel for $2.50 each. Also on the calendar: a five-course wine dinner Nov. 4 for $49. Birkdale Village; 704-987-7762;
  • The Fig Tree hosts a five-course Taittinger champagne dinner Oct. 21, with a menu that includes seared sea scallop with cauliflower almond gratin; cornbread-stuffed roasted quail; and gingerbread and apple bread pudding. $85; 1601 E. 7th St.; 704-332-3322.
  • The U.S. National Whitewater Center plans an oyster roast 2-7 p.m. Nov. 7 with live beach music, food and drink specials, steamed and fried oysters. 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway; 704-391-3900.

Halloween-vicinity happenings

  • Techno-driven T1 Tapas in Huntersville hosts a "Spooktacular Halloween Bash" Oct. 29 to benefit Loaves & Fishes. $35 in advance ($45 at the door) gets you a peek at new multimedia from T1 Visions (the restaurant's parent company), heavy hors d'oeuvres (including butternut squash shooters and pumpkin-seed-crusted bigeye tuna with blood orange vinaigrette, a cash bar, and a chance at door prizes. Costumes are encouraged but not required. 8625-C Lindholm Drive, Birkdale Village; 704-895-4373 or
  • Also for Halloween: Blue offers a masquerade party Oct. 30 with drink and appetizer specials, prizes for costumes and a deejay. It's free if you have dinner reservations; $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Hearst Plaza; 704-927-2583.

Celebrate with blynk

Celebrate blynk organic's one-year eco-conscious anniversary with a week's worth of specials and/or activities:

  • Oct. 19: all day, free coffee tasting of blynk coffees
  • Oct. 20: 9:30-11:30 a.m.: free tea tasting with Felicitea; 11 a.m.–1 p.m.: free tips on how to eat healthy from Pure Potential Wellness
  • Oct. 21: 9:30-11:30 a.m.: meet blynk’s local vendors and get info on ingredients (including Grateful Growers, Breadsmith, Poplar Ridge Farm)
  • Oct. 22: 11 a.m.-1 p.m.: free massage from Massage Heights; 2-4 p.m.: free coffee cupping from Counter Culture Coffee (space is limited, so register via Facebook or sign up at blynk)
  • Oct. 23: 11 a.m.-whenever they run out: all full sandwiches, crysps and wraps half price. 200 S. Tryon St.; 704-522-3750.

Wagyu burgers, $7 dishes and more

  • Harper's Restaurant Group has added locally produced Wagyu burgers to its restaurants' menus, each with a spin of its own. The breed of beef, known for exceptional flavor, will be offered as sliders (three for $10), as a hickory-grilled burger with caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese ($11) and in iron-skilled meatloaf (with veal and pork and apricot mustard; $14) at Harper's, for example, while Zink will sell a Carolina American Wagyu Burger with aged cheddar, roasted mushrooms, pickled onions and truffled aioli. More here.
  • New at Cantina 1511: A $7 fall menu for weekday lunch, based on Frank Scibelli's latest trip to Mexico, that includes: Del Norte Solomillo Salad (marinated, grilled filet mignon tips over lettuce with jicama, pumpkin seeds, grilled pineapple and a pickled chile vinaigrette; avocado, crab and jalapeno bacon quesadilla; tacos with shrimp and crab; a chicken Milanesa torta; and more, plus drinks that include aguas frescas (Mexican fruit drinks; add tequila if desired) and beer served in a salt- and chile-rimmed pint glass with ice and fresh lime juice. Also new for the restaurants: Karime Lopez of Mexico City, who's been hired as a consulting chef through the end of the year. StoneCrest and 1511 East Blvd.
  • Andrew Blair’s fall menu is out, with new small plates and seasonal entrees. Among the added: boudin blanc sausage croquettes; Grateful Growers cured ham; New Zealand rack of lamb. Also new is a three-course chef's menu from Blake Hartwick for $25; it will vary nightly. 1600 Montford Drive; 704-525-8282.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Odds and ends

  • Sullivan's Steakhouse offers "Palate in the Pink" now to Nov. 23, a three-course dinner for $39.95, of which $5 will be donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, with a minimum guaranteed donation of $30,000.
  • Blue hosts a six-dish B.R. Cohn wine dinner Oct. 29; among the pairings are seared scallops over pumpkin orzo with 2008 B.R. Cohn Merlot, Sonoma Valley; and Spanish oxtail stew with crisp walnut spaetzle and 2007 B.R. Cohn Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast. $34.95; 704-927-2583. Hearst Tower, corner of College and 5th streets. Also new at Blue: 10 menu items, ranging from chicken kabobs with falafel and Greek meatballs to Trout Navarra (stuffed with bacon and served with cauliflower), spaghetti alla chitarra (with shrimp, clams and white wine garlic sauce) and seared duck breast.
  • Speaking of new menus, Revolution Pizza & Ale House has a new menu out, adding chef Bryan Tetorakis's grilled pizzas, handmade pastas, house-ground lamb burgers, braised pork belly with collards and more. Owner Aman Boyd says the original menu was "pretty conservative" and now, with a year under the place's belt, they can expand. New menu is here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

BLT Steak at the Ritz

Nationally known chef Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Steak threw open its doors this week as the uptown Ritz-Carlton did likewise, offering “regional blackboard specials to accompany (Tourondel’s) signature modern American steakhouse menu.” The printed dinner menu ranges from steaks (10-ounce hanger $29; 8-ounce filet $34; 22-ounce ribeye $45; 10-ounce Wagyu skirt $52) to burgers ($16) to Dover sole with soy caper brown butter ($45) to branzini ($30). Lunch has most of the steaks (at the same prices) and more sandwiches and salad options, and yes, there’s a steak-and-eggs dish at breakfast ($24), along with pancakes, Belgian waffles and more. Chef de cuisine Aksel Theilkuhl runs the kitchen. 110 N. College St.; 704-972-4380. The Web site is here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mo Fro Yo

Yoforia plans to open two stores in Charlotte this winter, in south Charlotte and Myers Park. Based in Atlanta, the chain offers frozen yogurt made with organic milk and yogurt and four flavors: pomegranate, dark chocolate, mango and original. Toppings include seasonal fruit, granola, cookies and more. Both stores will have self-serve machines and topping stations. Check out more here.

Oct. 8

Oct. 8, for a Thursday, sure is jam-packed for diners:

  • Taste of the World (go here for details) traverses east Charlotte, and diners get to sample various ethnic dishes.
  • Mez offers a "first annual" oyster roast, with oyster buckets, shrimp boil, gumbo, chicken sandwiches and live music. At the EpiCentre, 210 E. Trade St., 704-971-2400.
  • Blue and Left Hand Brewery do a beef and food pairing for Oktoberfest; Hearst Plaza uptown; 704-927-2583.
  • Morton's uptown features Second Harvest as its partner during its week of Philanthropy (RAIN is tonight), with $25 of the $75 dinner going to the charity. 704-333-2602; 227 W. Trade St.

And more new dishes...

  • Uno Chicago Grill offers a limited-time menu beginning this week of pumpkin soup, Power Salad (with goji and sweetened dried cranberries), five-grain-crust flabread, barbecued short rib sliders, pumpkin tiramisu and more.-
  • Hardee's now has a Big Hardee: three beef patties, tangy sauce, two slices of American cheese, shredded lettuce and a seeded bun. It's offered in participating restaurants for "$2.29 or less" says the press release.
  • Angry Ale’s has expanded its burger offerings, with the Badlands Burger, the Elvis Burger and the Angry as Hell Cheeseburger, plus options for the more health-conscious, including a tuna burger, portobello burger and a raspberry shrimp salad. 1518 Montford Drive, 704-525-3663.
  • Fatz Café has repriced its menu, and added sides and choice of soup or salad to its rib and beef entrees, along with adding new items such as honey barbecue chicken nachos, oven-roasted barbecue half chicken, pimento cheeseburger topped with fried green tomatoes, and more. Multiple locations; details here.


New menus

  • New menus at Gallery: a lineup of breakfast signature specials, including the peach French toast shown, plus new lunch, dinner and dessert lists. Among new lunch entrees are housemade pappardelle pasta with braised short rib, Shanghai ahi tuna with jasmine rice and Atlantic cod with butternut squash couscous and braised local greens. New sandwiches include a grilled vegetable wrap and Underwood Family Farm’s roasted lamb with caramelized onions and aged provolone. Dinner options range from starters such as the Hawaiian tuna duet and beet salad with housemade goat cheese cake to entrées of blue-crab-stuffed Acadian redfish and beef short ribs with bone marrow crostini. At the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge; 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-248-4100.
  • Newly made executive chef at Aquavina is Vincent Giancarlo (a Charlotte Johnson & Wales grad), and the new menu adds a significant selection of Certified Angus Beef to its seafood lineup, including The Black Eye (center-cut 18-ounce bone-in ribeye encrusted with Tellicherry black pepper and served with fries tossed in white truffle oil and asparagus with roasted leek and Roquefort fondue; $36) and Surf & Turf Trio (beef tenderloin and tiger shrimp served three ways; $28). 435 S. Tryon St., 704-377-9911.
  • Zebra debuts its new dinner menu this week, offering 20 percent off all food and beverages for the week. On the new list: lobster bisque and cauliflower soup with butter-poached lobster; seared Hudson Valley foie gras with red currant compote; pan-roasted sea scallops with ricotta en croute; N.C. trout Francaise; Snake River Farm Kobe strip loin steak with grit and Gruyere cake; tournedos of beef tenderloin with prosciutto roasted asparagus; and more. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.
  • blynk organic offers new lunch and breakfast items, with ingredients from Grateful Growers and Poplar Ridge, new pastries including gluten-free cookies, and more. Vegetarian picks on the fall menu include a cold vegan low-cal sandwich called the Mezetta, and a hot sandwich with grilled portobellos, while protein fans can get a cold wrap with honey maple turkey and avocado. 200 S. Tryon St., 704-522-3750.

Coming up

  • The 13th annual Ciao, Italia! Festival will be Oct. 10 at the Wachovia/Wells Fargo Plaza atrium (301 S. Tryon St.), rain or shine, organized by the Christopher Columbus Italian Club of Charlotte. Chefs Luca Annunziata from Passion8 Bistro and Gabriel Grigolon from Firenze will do demos, and sausage and peppers, eggplant parmigiana sandwiches, pasta, pizza, Italian ices and pastries and cookies will be on hand, along with wine, beer and espresso drinks. Opera Carolina Chorus, Northwest School of the Arts and Italian singer Franco Corso are among the entertainers, and there will be cultural displays and kids' activities, as well. Admission is $3 with children 12 and younger free.
  • The Beer Dinner Extravaganza at Passion8 will offer four courses, paired with beers from FootHills Brewing Company of Winston Salem, for $38 on Oct. 13. 3415 Highway 51, Fort Mill; 803-802-7455.
  • Gallery hosts a Chehalem Vineyards wine dinner Nov. 2. Five courses, with Pinot Noirs from each of Chehalem's estate vineyards, and winemaker Harry Peterson-Nedry. $85; 1000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-248-4100.

More Dine Out, Help Out

  • The Melting Pot (both locations, in Midtown and University) hosts its annual Ladies Night Out Oct. 19-22, offering a four-course dinner for $35 per person. Five dollars of that goes to the Charlotte chapter of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Each night, there's also a raffle for a gift basket including Emile Henry cookware, with all proceeds going to Komen. Also, a dollar from every sale in October of the restaurants' Pink Ribbon Martinis goes to Komen. Midtown: 704-334-4400; University: 704-548-2432.
  • A portion of the sales of every jumbo Nova Scotia lobster dish at The Palm (in Charlotte, at Phillips Place) will go to World Food Program as part of its "Fill the Cup" campaign to feed schoolchildren worldwide; the restaurant chain has committed to raising at least $100,000 for the effort. 704-552-7256.

Trolling the 'net, so you don't have to...

A collection:

  • "What's next? The Mac de Triomphe?" (Pun courtesy of Trent Roberts, Observer desk man.) McDonald's goes into the Louvre, gets pantalons of assorted French in knot, here.
  • The new Michelin guide for New York City is out. takes a look here.
  • And a back-from-China blogger for The Atlantic starts a discussion about obesity in America -- how much does the availability of fast or processed food matter in this? Take a look here.

'Hell's Kitchen' casting in Charlotte

  • FOX's "Hell's Kitchen" will hold an open casting call in Charlotte Oct. 16. Says casting associate Brandon McCormick: "While it is true we are looking for the typical chef/restaurant owners for the upcoming season (as we have in seasons past), this season we are actively pursuing people who are culinarily skilled but who have not been able to pursue their passion for food for their livelihood. In other words, we are looking for culinarily skilled foodies who feel like they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with professional chefs in a restaurant environment." Sound like you? (And you're 21 or older, "outspoken, competitive and can stand the HEAT in one of the MOST EXCLUSIVE and TOUGHEST kitchens in the world"? Show up at Johnson & Wales, 801 W. Trade St. uptown, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 16. Want more info? Go here.
  • Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet (which reportedly will fold after the November issue) and former New York Times restaurant critic, comes to public TV beginning Oct. 17 with "Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth," a series on cooking vacations. Reichl will visit -- with celebrity guests -- cooking schools around the world, and sample local foods in the vicinity. Slated for the first season: Mexico, Italy, England, Morocco, Brazil, Laos, China and culinary resort Blackberry Farm in Tennessee for the premiere.

Liberty to open this week

The Liberty, American gastropub brainchild of longtime Harper's chef Tom Condron and Matthew Pera, is slated to open Oct. 9 at the former McIntosh's location in South End: 1812 South Blvd. Look for a pub setting with "upscale, yet moderately priced cuisine." Entrees will run $10-$21; look for dishes such as farm chicken with olive-crushed potatoes and chorizo; grilled Scottish salmon with Anson Mills farro (it's a grain); Angus pub burger with Niman Ranch bacon, teleme cheese and duck-fat fries; duck and dumplings with duck leg confit, duck meatballs and ricotta dumplings; grilled hanger steak with preserved tomatoes and parmesan-truffle fries; and more. Desserts will range from Meyer lemon donuts to warm Valrhona chocolate cake.

The space is divided into dining room and bar; the first is done in an "urban retro" style, with the bar sporting a more traditional pub look. Drinks range from 20 hand-crafted beers on tap and 50 by the bottle to 60 wines and a cocktail list. It seats more than 200, with a patio and 50-seat bar. Hours will be 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily. 704-332-8830.

Friday, October 2, 2009

New spot for South End

Look for Icehouse in early 2010 at the former Southend Brewery at Atherton Mill in South End. John Duncan of Bonterra and Las Ramblas plans a lineup of 200 beers, signature burgers, barbecue, ribs and pizzas. Edens & Avant, the group that owns Atherton Mill, plans design changes in the property "focused on features that will engage and connect people from the neighborhood": think more restaurants, stores and a glossing up of the outdoor space. Dan Boone, a chef who's been with Duncan a long time and was formerly chef at Mac's Speed Shop (both are no longer affiliated with Mac's), will do the Icehouse menu. 2100 South Blvd.