Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chef shakeup uptown

Bill Schutz, most recently executive chef at Ballantyne Country Club, is now executive chef for the Sonoma Restaurant Group, encompassing uptown’s Sonoma Modern American, Pie Town and Press.

Longtime Charlotte restaurant watchers will know that means the breakup of one of the city’s most prominent and long-lasting dining partnerships, between restaurateur Pierre Bader and chef Tim Groody.

Groody, known for his early and influential patronage of area farmers and contemporary cuisine flair, says he has been talking with backers for some months, and is exploring with them several possibilities, ranging from uptown to Huntersville. He says the group (which wishes for now to remain low-profile) plans to create something appropriate to the location it finds, rather than deciding what to create, then finding a space for it. He plans to continue his Friday cooking show on WBTV, but will be on vacation for a few weeks. He declined to discuss the split further. Both he and Bader said Groody is relinquishing his partnership piece in the restaurants.

Bader said the breakup of the 12-year relationship was his decision, and that Schutz came highly recommended, including by his Pie Town partner Peter Reinhart, currently employed as “chef on assignment” by Johnson & Wales. Schutz had worked as chef for the university’s University Events Center, not a part of the culinary school, and “Peter thinks he can walk on the moon.” His background includes stints as chef de cuisine at Bouley Bakery in Manhattan, and in Charlotte, as chef at Bentley’s on 27. Schutz will not, however, be pursuing the molecular gastronomy he has been noted for, according to Bader: “I’m not going to let him play with that stuff.”

Changes will occur at Sonoma, but Bader is unwilling to announce them yet. Expect menu style and cuisine to remain, but “the way it’s offered will change.” That shift is planned for the end of July. Also new with Sonoma: An Italian restaurant at Founders Hall to replace the closed Taverna; this new construction, which Bader estimates at 60 percent complete, is at street level on the corner of Trade and College streets.

Ongoing offers

  • The Crepe Cellar has begun "NoDa Neighborhood Night": Each Thursday, the restaurant will highlight seasonal ingredients and items from the Carolinas in a three-course fixed-price menu. Carolinas wines, beers and ciders will be specially priced, and the dining area will be arranged in three long rows of communal seating. 3116 N. Davidson St.; 704-910-6543.
  • Gallery at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge will feature its Underwood Family Farms lamb dish -- lamb with white bean cassoulet and kale, a finalist for the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ 2009 Best Dish in North Carolina -- for $34 through July. 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-248-4042.
  • Mystery Dinner Theater Experience begins July 10 at Grand Central Events & Catering. It’s a three-course meal at which diners witness the crime, sift clues, question suspects and decide on a likely suspect. The first is "Death Under Cover," set in London, circa 1942. Tickets are $69 (dinner, show, tax, parking); details at www.charlottesdinnerdetective.com or 704-840-5013. 1000 Central Ave.
  • New at Owen’s Bagel & Deli: Sandwiches created by customers, including the vegetarian Muenster Mash (hummus, muenster,onion, green peppers, lettuce and tomato on bialy), The Origin (ciabatta with turkey, pepperjack, lettuce and spicy mustard) and PurrfectBagel (ham, egg, American cheese, and peanut butter on a plain bagel). 2041 South Blvd.; 704-33e-5385.

For The Fourth

Blue offers a three-course meal for $34.95 and some half-price bottles of wine to celebrate the Fourth of July, adding live music and the option of $6 Firecracker Martinis in the bar. Among the course choices: Niman Ranch pork tenderloin cutlets over spaghetti; mushroom Bolognese; and oven-roasted Ashley Farms chicken with orange blossom honey. Hearst Plaza uptown; 704-927-2583.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pre-Booty food?

Sole Spanish Grill and Zen Asian Fusion plan a four-day "food extravaganza" to accompany 24 Hours of Booty, the charity cycling event slated this year for July 24-25. Diners who eat at either restaurant July 19-22 and mention 24 Hours of Booty get 15 percent off their bill, and the restaurants will donate 5 percent of total sales during that time to the fundraiser. Sole will also host live Spanish music and offer free appetizers 5:30-8 p.m. July 21 (plus giveaways). Sole: 1608 East Blvd.; 704-343-9890. Zen: 1716 Kenilworth Ave.; 704-358-9688. More info: www.24hoursofbooty.org.

Kids eat free

Eat Here Now began its "Kids Eat Free All Day Tuesday" deal this week. Since reopening and repositioning it as a "classic diner," the owners want to keep families in mind, and partner Andy Henson says the free kids' movies at Ayrsley at 10 a.m. Tuesdays were a good opportunity. The offer is for dine-in only; one child 10 or younger eats free when an accompanying adult purchases an entrée at lunch or dinner. 2016 Ayrsley Town Blvd.; 704-499-9999.

Two-Napkin BLTs and more

  • It's "Two-Napkin BLT" time at Rooster's, and it has new brunch and lunch menus. Also new: Both Rooster's and sibling Noble's have added Stone Seafood, based in China Grove, as a fish and seafood purveyor. Rooster's: 6601 Morrison Blvd., 704-366-8688. Noble's: 6801 Morrison Blvd., 704-367-9463.
  • June 27 will be Il Posto's last day at Phillips Place; menu items will appear at sibling restaurants Toscana (Specialty Shops on the Park by SouthPark) and MezzaNotte (at the corner of Providence and Sharon Amity roads).
  • Zink now offers sushi for lunch, and hosts a half-priced-sushi special from 5-7 p.m. each weeknight in the bar, lounge and patio. 201 N. Tryon St.; 704-444-9001.
  • Maddi's Southern Bistro serves "Big Maddi's Burgers" now: eight burgers ranging from a meatloaf burger with fried dill pickles to a pesto burger with fontina cheese and heirloom tomatoes. Also new: barbecue spare ribs from Grateful Growers in Denver each Tuesday night. Half a rack with sides costs $14. 16925 Birkdale Commons Parkway; 704-987-7762.

Real Food for real vegetarians

Look for full-on vegetarian restaurant Real Foods Charlotte to open sometime mid-July in the former Tea ReX space on South Boulevard in South End, colleague Jen Aronoff reports here.

Partners Anthony Quartapella and Randy Powell plan to offer vegan, organic and local seasonal items, mostly raw foods.

Deals, deals, deals

Several restaurants not affiliated with Charlotte Restaurant Week will be offering special summer deals:

  • Zebra has a three-course meal for $34 from June 29-July 4. Among the choices are lobster bisque, vase salads, salmon, N.C. trout, beef tenderloin, warm chocolate cake with caramel ice cream and more. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.
  • Providence Café serves up three courses for $28 for the entire month of July. Diners choose one each from the Salads, Pastas & Specialties and Desserts menu categories, and you can add a glass of Liberty School Chardonnay or Syrah for $5. 110 Perrin Place; 704-376-2008.
  • Global recently celebrated its third anniversary, and will offer its three-course meal for $30 through Sept. 30. 3520 Toringdon Way near Ballantyne; 704-248-0866.

Diner lands; Newk's on way

Expect Mattie's Diner -- a former New Jersey diner renovated and dropped into place at the N.C. Music Factory on the northwest side of Uptown -- to open sometime in late September.

Partners Matt King and Steve Estes have done restaurant work for years, including stints at Einstein Bros. Bagel and Jason's Delis, and heard from New York and New Jersey customers how desperate they were for a 24/7 diner. So they sought out this one -- pictured on the cover of the book "Jersey Diners" -- found it was available and brought it to Charlotte in 2005. (That's a detailed and entertaining story in and of itself, including King calling the 40-plus men in South Jersey with the name the author remembered as the owner's.)

They've worked on it since then and plan a menu with both standards and "a little contemporary twist." Among the standards will be pot roast, "because there's not much you can do with pot roast except have the best pot roast," says King, and among daily specials will be Tamale Tuesdays and Red Beans and Rice Mondays (culled from King and Estes' time in Louisiana, where laundry day was Monday and that's what you let cook on the stove).

Newk's arrives

Look for Newk’s Express Café to open in mid-September across from the Shops at Blakeney in south Charlotte if all goes according to plan, the first of this fast-casual chain to enter North Carolina. Salads, oven-baked sandwiches, California-style pizza and soups are its mainstays, and former Carolina Panther Wesley Walls is among this location's partners.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cigars and foie gras

Zebra hosts a cigar dinner June 22 that chef-owner Jim Alexander calls the "hands down best special event dinner ever offered at Zebra," with half-prices on the entire wine list and a menu that includes foie gras; crab cakes; angel hair basket with beef, scallops and shrimp; dessert platter; and Ecuadoran Ambassador Churchills, Cuban Ambassadors Siglo 6 and more for $55 ($50 if buying two or more). 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Family dining

Parents magazine today released its "10 Best Fast-Casual Family Restaurants" survey, in which parents looked at 50 nationwide chains and were encouraged to honor those offering "a variety of healthy kids' menu offerings, family-friendly conveniences and overall value." (Each chain answered a survey and submitted nutritional info for all kids' menu items; parents reviewed that and answered questions about conveniences and features.)

The Charlotte area has four of the 10 -- but three of the top five. The list:

1. Cosi (none in the Carolinas)
2. Jason’s Deli
3. Noodles & Company
4. Fazoli’s (closest to Charlotte are two in Columbia)
5. Panera Bread
6. Zpizza (Cary and Raleigh)
7. Atlanta Bread (closest now is Hickory, according to web site)
8. Corner Bakery Café (none in Carolinas)
9. Taco Del Mar (none in Carolinas)
10. McAlister’s Deli

For your dad...

His day is June 21. Options include:

  • Firenze, with an all-you-can-eat brunch for $20, juice and coffee included. Those younger than 10 eat free, and an a la carte menu will also be available. 6414 Rea Road; 704-544-4949.
  • Del Frisco's offers brunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. -- a three-course menu for $29.95, with a children's menu for $9.95 -- then dinner 5-9 p.m., including its full dinner menu and a three-course summer menu that goes for $36.95. 4725 Piedmont Row Drive; 704-552-5502.
  • Mimosa Grill hosts a barbecue buffet brunch on its patio 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for $18.95 for adults, $12.95 for 12 and younger. The menu ranges from cast-iron-roasted potatoes and prosciutto and egg pie to beef brisket and cedar plank salmon, plus pastries and peach cobbler. 327 S. Tryon St.; 704-343-0700.

Beer and wine dinners

  • Brixx Uptown does a four-course Victory Brewing beer dinner June 25. with HopDevil and Hop Wallop Ales paired with honey-chipotle barbecue babyback ribs among the offerings, plus dessert of Baltic Thunder Porter with a duo of Butterfinger ice cream and truffles. $30; 225 E. 6th St.; 704-347-2749.
  • Sullivan’s Steakhouse offers a Cakebread Cellars dinner June 26, with champagne reception and five courses, including melon gazpacho with 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley; seared pork tenderloin with 2006 Merlot Napa Valley; roasted "eye" of ribeye with 2000 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon; and more among them. $115; 1928 South Blvd.; 704-335-8228.
  • The Wine Shop at Foxcroft hosts a South African wine dinner June 30, with a brief history of winemaking in that country and peekytoe crab timbale with 2007 Raats Chenin Blanc; braised escolar with 2006 Rustenberg John X Merriman; and more on the menu. $50; 7824 Fairview Road; 704-365-6550.

Nickel & Dine

  • A buffet for $6 -- six bucks -- weekdays at the Hilton Charlotte Center City? Yep. Each day brings a salad bar and composed salads, a chef's choice hot sandwich of the day, a hot entrée, soup and assorted desserts. The menu for this week includes fried chicken with cheese grits and she crab soup June 17, and popcorn shrimp, a baked potato bar and New England clam chowder June 19. The buffet runs 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 222 E. 3rd St., 704-377-1500.
  • Providence Café offers a $19.95 theater menu before or after any Blumenthal or Ovens performance; among the choices are pear and Gorgonzola puff pastry with ginger-lavender honey, grilled mahi mahi; pulled pork barbecue; roasted half chicken and more. 110 Perrin Place; 704-376-2008.
  • Get half-price appetizers in the bar Sunday-Thursday with purchase of a drink at the Red Lion (2127 Ayrsley Town Blvd., 704-499-9829).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Eat local ... personified

Twenty-six Charlotte restaurants have banded together to create Eat Charlotte, a group promoting independent, locally owned restaurants in the area and looking to gain some economies of scale in advertising and mutual promotion.

Andrew Blair's, Aquavina, Barrington's, Blue, Bonterra, Cafe Monte, Carpe Diem, Customshop, Fenwick's, Global, Good Food, LaVecchia's, Las Ramblas, Latorre's, M5, Mimosa Grill, Nix, Noble's, Pie Town, Press, Ratcliffe on the Green, Rooster's, Sonoma, Upstream, Zebra and Zink hold their first promotion beginning June 19: Half-price bottles of wine through June 27.

Founder Briana Cohen -- general manager of Press, Pie Town and Sonoma -- says in a tough economy, independent restaurants "can't just leave the market like corporate ones can. How do you advertise and bring new people in when it's such a stretch on your advertising budget?"

Eat Charlotte member restaurants put in equal amounts of money to buy advertising, produce a by-neighborhood dining guide that will be available in each restaurant, and pay for a Web site -- EatCharlotte.net, slated to go live June 19. Cohen says the group's initial goal will be to make sure Charlotteans and visitors are aware of its members.

Plans also call for joint philanthropic efforts, such as funding a culinary scholarship. Members are discussing charities they might work with, too. "Once we get it going," says Cohen, "we can sit down and focus issue by issue."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cafe Monte/Amelie's venture

Cafe Monte (6700 Fairview Road; 704-552-1116) begins offering "A Slice of Amelie's" at its front counter next week, shifting its bakery lineup to products from Amelie's (2424 N. Davidson St.; 704-376-1781). Along with this new collaboration, the cafe will return to its morning hours -- opening at 7 a.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. Saturday-Sunday for breakfast -- and will expand its bar and evening hours to sell pastries and light dishes to the after-movie crowd. 


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Restaurant Week approacheth

The third Charlotte Restaurant Week stretches to 10 days -- July 10-19 -- and 71 restaurants this summer, with its Web site going live June 19 with each restaurant's menu. Three courses for $30 are the draw, and details are at www.charlotterestaurantweek.com. Here's the list of who's participating, broken geographically:

Dilworth: 300 East, Copper, Dolce, Fiamma, Frankie's Italian Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Sole, Zen

Uptown/South End: Basil Thai, BlackFinn, Blue, Caffe Siena, Capital Grille, Chima, Cosmos Café, Ember Grille, Fleming's, Greek Isles, LaVecchia's, Luce, Mez, Mimosa Grill, Morton's, Ratcliffe on the Green, Ruth's Chris, Sonoma, Sullivan's Steakhouse, Zink

Elizabeth/Midtown: Cajun Queen, Carpe Diem, Customshop, Melting Pot

Lake Norman/North Mecklenburg: Dressler's, Kabuto, Maddi's Southern Bistro, Mickey & Mooch, Positano, Red Rocks, T1

South Charlotte/Pineville/Fort Mill: Arooji's, Firenze, Flat Rock Grille, Gallery, Maestro's, Mickey & Mooch…The Other Joint, New South Kitchen & Bar, Tria Terra, Passion8 Bistro, Villa Antonio

SouthPark/Park Road/Foxcroft: Andrew Blair's, Arooji's, Brick Tops, Brio, Café Monte, Del Frisco's, Firebirds, M5, Noble's, Oceanaire, Palm, Red Rocks, Ruth's Chris, The Tavern on Park, Toscana, Upstream, Village Tavern

Southwest Charlotte/Yorkmont: Omaha Steakhouse

University: Lava Bistro, Melting Pot, Outback

West Mecklenburg/Gaston County: Old Stone Steakhouse

Say you saw it here...

... and these two restaurants will honor a deal that usually requires a coupon (the deal doesn't work with any other discount).

  • Villa Antonio on South Boulevard (4707, that is) offers $20 off if you buy two dinner entrees, through June 30. 704-523-1594.
  • And Maddi's Southern Bistro (Birkdale Village) gives you, if you purchase one entree and two beverages, a second entree of equal or lesser value for free -- good through June 30. 704-987-7762.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Special deals

  • Now through Labor Day, Del Frisco's (4725 Piedmont Row Drive) offers a three-course meal for $36.95: choice of salad, entree (including 8-ounce filet, 12-ounce ribeye, crab cakes or salmon) and dessert. 704-552-5502.
  • Harper's at SouthPark knocks 20 percent off the food for Dad on Father's Day (June 21, kids). 704-366-6688.
  • A 4-pound lobster split for two diners, plus two salads and one sharing-size side dish goes for $89.95 through August at the Palm (Phillips Place). You can upgrade to a 5- or 6-pounder for $12 a pound, also. 704-552-7256.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

When Twitter saves you $$

Best -- well, only -- use I've ever seen of Twitter is restaurants that let you know what's new, what's fresh and what's on special. This makes sense of the technology. Here are a few to get you started (and if you know others, send them to me via e-mail, if you can stand to; I remain reluctant to dive into Twitter, though I am signed up (voraciouseater).

Some offer Twitter-only deals, like NoDa's Crepe Cellar (CrepeCellar on Twitter), which recently gave Twitterers $2 off lunch, and Pewter Rose (PewterRoseCLT), which offered 20 percent off your bill.

The beginning of a list: lapazcantina, thecounterqc, ameliesbakery, commonmarket, jbnoble and noblesclt, intermezzocafe, bigdaddysclt (that's an updated name), soul_gastro, and chefmarkhibbs (that's Ratcliffe on the Green).

News, notes

  • Afton Village, including restaurant Max's Ally, will host a community fundraiser for USO of NC and the troops they serve on June 20, with military vehicles, NASCAR displays and more on hand, plus live music, a silent auction and food donated by local merchants. Info on USO is at www.uso-nc.org Afton Village is just off exit 54 from I-85 in Concord.
  • The Wine Shop at Foxcroft (7824 Fairview Road) hosts a Cape Classics South African wine dinner June 30 for $50. Among the four courses from chef Christopher Zion are braised escolar with spiced pork wonton and 2006 Rustenberg John X Merriman, and pan-seared ostrich with apricot chutney, basmati pilaf and 2002 Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon. 704-365-6550.

Moving pictures

  • "Food, Inc." opens nationally June 12 and tells a story of this country's industrialized food systems. Whether you find the idea alarmist, frightening or satisfying, some tough issues are broached, and, from the trailer at least, there will be plenty to talk about. You can watch the trailer and explore the Web site here. (For more news and philosophy, also check out slate.com's Food Issue here.)
  • Cutting-edge chef Grant Achatz from Chicago's Alinea posts video at the Atlantic's food page here on his new version of plating: It involves giant sheets of silicone, squirt bottles and lots of sharing. Too cool or too weird?
  • And speaking of Achatz, whose name no one can seem to remember how to pronounce: Check out this little vid on pronunciations of not only his name but several other of the stars of this sort of cooking. I especially enjoyed the bickering in comments about El Bulli...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dine out: Do good

Dine Out for Kids is June 16.
It's the 10th-anniversary edition of this fundraiser -- in which restaurants donate a portion of their day's sales to Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, a group that works to keep kids in school, graduate and prepare for life. CIS serves nearly 5,000 kids currently, in 37 CMS schools.
Among participating restaurants (which you can also find here: Alexander Michael's, Arthur's at SouthPark and Uptown, Big Daddy's, Bonterra, Bravo at Northlake, Brio, Brixx, Caffe Siena, Cantina 1511, Coffee Cup, Comet Grill, Don Pedro, Eddie's Place, Fleming's, Harper's at SouthPark, Johnny Burrito, Las Ramblas, The Lodge, M5, Mama Ricotta's, McAlister's Deli, Mert's, Nothing but Noodles, Pewter Rose, Quizno's at Whitehall, Showmars on East Boulevard, Sonny's, Upstream, Village Tavern and Zink.

Amelie's expands

Amelie's, which celebrated its first anniversary May 3, plans to nearly double its size, adding about 2,000 square feet for special-event space and offices to its NoDa location at 2424 N. Davidson St. (It's taking over what had been a photography place.) Selling French pastries and more 24 hours a day, bakery co-owners Lynn St. Laurent and Bill Lamb plan to have renovations complete by July 1. Former Observer staffer Crystal Dempsey and freelancer/promoter Larken Egleston will take over the nighttime operation. 704-376-1781.

Coming up: Patio party, wine, new burgers

  • Nolen Kitchen (2839 Selwyn Ave.) hosts a patio party June 18 with live entertainment, tents for shade, a free happy hour buffet (5-7 p.m.) and drink specials including $2 beers and cocktail specials. Blowing Rock Brewery will hand out samples, too. 704-372-1424.
  • The Oceanaire (4620 Piedmont Row Drive) has its first beer dinner June 19, with courses such as tempura N.C. softshell crab with Kirin Ichiban, and curry-spiced lamb kabob with Long Hammer India Pale Ale. $50; 704-554-8811. The following week, on June 23, look for a Chateau Ste. Michelle and Alaskan seafood wine dinner, with grilled halibut with '07 Eroica Riesling and seared sablefish with '07 Northstar Merlot. $65.
  • LaVecchia's (225 E. 6th St.) has put several entrees less than $20 on its new summer menu, including grilled salmon penne, shrimp and scallop carbonara and a half-pound Kobe burger. Sibling NIX (201 N. Tryon St.) also has additions, including a Mexi Burger (smoky queso and roasted tomato jalapeno salsa), and a Pittsburger (aged Cheddar, crinkle fries, slaw, bacon and Thousand Island dressing).

No smoking!

Providence Café (110 Perrin Place) will become a smoke-free restaurant as of July 1, getting a head start on the state ban that goes into effect in January. Expect more to follow…

(Know of one? Let me know. And as a reminder: You can log on here and find a list of smoke-free places, as well as restaurant inspection reports sorted in various ways. Bookmark it. (You have bookmarked the address you're at now, haven't you?)

First Bite: Brazwells

The food: Yes, its subtitle is "premium pub," and yes, fish and chips are on the list, but so are shrimp spring rolls and seared tuna as an appetizer, plus Buffalo chicken sandwiches and sirloin wedge salads -- in addition to several burgers, of course. And yes, the Matheny Burger from the site's previous incarnation as the Press Box is still around. We had truly terrific and fresh fried pickles, while the tuna fared less well, splayed as it was on a mayo-y mess of slaw with none of the promised arugula or pickled ginger. A mushroom Swiss burger had good flavor and a great bun but its accompanying fries proved greasy, limp and dull (but cut well, so there's hope). A grilled chicken sandwich stayed moist and meaty, and I'll be back for the fish and chips -- though it's only served at night, when the place gets to get packed to the gills these days.
The look: The patio out back sprawls pleasantly, with crossed lines of lights overhead. Inside, Press Box aficionados may not recognize the place: A wall of windows now fronts the room, which has pub mirrors and a bar-height table in addition to regular seating.
The service: Ours, at lunch, was congenial and fairly quick; she warned us how crazy-busy it gets at night, though, so I'd plan on things taking time then.
Quirks of note: It's named for the late Billy Braswell (yes, with an "s"), a well-loved member of Charlotte's Central High's Class of '49 known as something of a man-about-town.
Details: 1627 Montford Drive; 704-523-3500.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nickel & Dine

T.G.I. Friday's (multiple locations) offers a coupon for buy-one-entrée get-one-free here that will be good through June 22 at participating restaurants. You need the coupon, and it works for one offer per party, per visit. Entrees run about $6 to $22.

New additions

  • Zink American Kitchen (201 N. Tryon St.) begins family-style barbecue Sundays this week, serving brisket, pulled pork, chicken, corn on the cob, molasses baked beans and more for $18.95 for all you can eat. (Kids 10 and younger eat free from a kids’ menu.) 704-444-9001. Also coming up at Zink: A Brooklyn Brewery beer dinner June 10.
  • The Common Market Plaza Midwood deli (2007 Commonwealth Ave.) is now open Wednesday-Saturday evenings for dinner. (Also new: The Common Market is now making its own bacon from Grateful Growers’ pork bellies.) 704-334-6209.
  • Zen Asian Fusion (1716 Kenilworth Ave.) has added a sushi menu (it’s here.) 704-358-9688.

A world without fish?

I do not expect to be dead by 2048, so the documentary "The End of the Line" -- in which it's predicted our world will have nearly completely run out of fish -- scares me. It premiered at Sundance in January and will be shown in cinemas on World Ocean Day. (That's June 8, in case it's not on your calendar.) The trailer follows. Warning: It's powerful and difficult in spots. Get more info -- and an origami skate pattern! -- here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Free Krispy Kremes! and more

Doughnuts ...

Participating Krispy Kremes celebrate National Doughnut Day on June 5, giving away a free doughnut to each customer. For locations, check www.krispykreme.com/storelocator.html.

Softshell crabs ...

Special at TOMI (7741 Colony Road): East Coast softshell crabs, pan-seared and dusted with salt and sansho (a pepper powder), and served with steamed vegetable. You get two crabs for $18. 704-759-1288.

... And whatever they're having...

Simply telling diners a dish is popular increases the chances they'll order it, according to a new study by Duke economist Hanming Fang and others, conducted in Beijing. Fang attributes it to "the Google effect" -- "People want to sort through large amounts of information by learning from others who faced similar choices."

The "Observational Learning" study is slated to be published in the June 2009 American Economic Review. For one week in 2006 at Mei Zhou Dong Po restaurants in Beijing, researchers gathered data on customer choices with no intervention. For the second week, they put placards on some tables. Half named the top five most-popular dishes from the previous week; the other half listed "sample dishes" not identified as popular. The demand for the dishes listed as top-five increased by 13 to 20 percent. Demand for dishes listed as samples wasn't significantly higher. (That lessens the possibility diners were responding to mere suggestion.)

Why is service so bad? they whined...

Seventy percent of diner complaints in the national Zagat surveys have to do with service, say Tim and Nina Zagat in The Atlantic's food pages here.

(And you thought it was just Charlotte!)

The Zagats posit that a front-of-the-house division in culinary schools would fix the problem. Commenters beg to differ. I agree that most servers aren't in it as a career (therefore won't likely pursue excellence over time), and with the idea that dining in this country has become an "entitled" experience -- diners feel they deserve the best, without participating in the process.

Also pretty good: the part about how most diners know when something's late or cold, but don't know whether it's well-executed.

Top Chef approaches!

The sixth season of "Top Chef" wrapped shooting in Las Vegas, says Eater, which offers photos, too, here. No definitive word (that I can find) on when the series premieres, but October looks likely.

Those who can't stand to wait can tune in June 10 to the spinoff "Top Chef Masters," which I predict will be more fun to watch for food-o-philes and less fun for thrivers on drama. (Gordon Ramsay isn't in it, for example, although -- yay! -- Wylie Dufresne and Hubert Keller are. That's Dufresne at right.) Take a look at the bios here.

The host is requisite model-turned-foodie (Kelly Choi, who, lest you give her short shrift, has a master's degree from Columbia). Judges include the requisite Gael (Greene, this time) and the requisite acid-tongued Brit. This series' is Jay Rayner. Recent review quote, musing on why chef Marco Pierre White puts his own photo on his menu: "I like to think he is offering it as a service to the diners in this restaurant. Because once you have finished your meal you can take home a copy of the menu and then throw darts at the face of the man responsible. It will give you far more satisfaction than any other part of the experience offered here."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Carolinas flavor, with hot chef Eric Ripert...

... in the nation's capital? Yes, Charleston-restaurant (and College of Charleston) alum Joe Palma is chef de cuisine at Westend Bistro, the D.C. outpost of superstar Eric Ripert (he of New York City's Le Bernardin and "Top Chef" fame).

The restaurant made the Washington Post's top 100 of the year list, and dinner there Thursday produced some stellar food: delicate salmon with lentils, black truffle butter and tiny pickled mushrooms; loup de mer ("wolf of the sea," also called branzino or Mediterranean or European sea bass -- not Chilean, which is something else altogether) with a picholine-artichoke relish that was downright buttery; and amazing biscuit-style strawberry shortcake.

And really good bread, too, plus a house ale and a Californian IPA (India Pale Ale) called Lagunitas that's just shown up in Charlotte. Colleague Peter St. Onge clued us in to this one, offered at Flying Saucer (9605 N. Tryon St.) on draft, he says, and it's a spritely winner indeed.

Westend Bistro: 1190 22nd St. NW; 202-974-4900; www.westendbistrodc.com.