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 (www.bltrestaurants.com) 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.