Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Movie and a mousse


Here's where a movie theater with food is genius: Aug. 6-9, to accompany "Julie & Julia" showings at the EpiCentre Theater, Mez will offer a lineup of Julia Child dishes. The movie blends the memoirs of uber-cooking-teacher Julia Child and self-professed "government drone" Julie Powell, who decided to spend one year cooking every recipe in Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and blogging about it. The movie, with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, opens Aug. 7. Mez has an a la carte list and a fixed-price meal (before or after screenings) for $39. Among the offerings: salmon mousse, French onion soup, foie gras with Madeira, duck a l'orange, bouillabaisse, steak au poivre, orange bavarian and banana Nutella crepe. 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-2400. Bon appetit...

(For a food-stylist's-eye view of the moviemaking, check out Susan Spungen's story for The Atlantic here.)

Free beer tasting? Yes... then wine!

Taste your way through the entire new beer lineup at Vintage Wine Cellar for free from 5:30-7 tonight -- and that lineup includes Mexicali, Bells Oberon, Fat Tire, Unibroue Ephemere and more. After 7, all beers will be half price. Wednesday night (July 29), you get the same deal with Vintage's wine menu. Same time, same half-price-after, too. 12206 Copper Way; 704-543-3977.

Monday, July 27, 2009

They're dealin'...

  • Buca di Beppo celebrates National Lasagna Day (no, I'm not kidding; why do you ask?) on July 29, throughout its regular hours, with a free lunch portion of the specialty for anyone who buys a small or large pasta or entree for dine-in. The Pineville location is 10915 Carolina Place Parkway; 704- 542-5146.
  • McNinch House offers a vintage preview of unreleased 2006 and 2007 Maison Louis Latour wines from Burgundy Aug. 10. For $30 per person, you'll get to taste 13 wines, plus food pairings for each, and will be able to order more than 75 other wines (which will be shipped to McNinch). Reservations required. 511 N. Church St.; 704-332-6159.
  • Zebra's three-courses-for-$34 ends July 31, as does its half-price offer (one bottle limit) on its entire wine list. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.
  • EatCharlotte, the group of independent restaurants working on promotions together, will offer a two-course-for-$25 deal Aug. 14-22. Some will offer an appetizer and entree pairing, others an entree and dessert, while those with lower prices may kick in an extra course. The menus will be posted (by Aug. 7 or so) at eatcharlotte.net.
  • Both locations of Cosmos Cafe (uptown and Ballantyne) will extend their three-for-$30 through the summer, changing the entree choices every few weeks. Check the website -- www.cosmoscafe.com -- for the menu.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New brunches

  • Firenze now has Sunday brunch, at which children younger than 10 eat free. 6414 Rea Road at Piper Glen; 704-544-4949. Also new: 25 percent off for early bird dinners.
  • Firebirds at SouthPark now offers brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 3920 Sharon Road; 704-366-3655.
  • The Common Market at SouthEnd also has a Sunday brunch now. 1515 S. Tryon St.; 704-332-7783.

Coming up

  • Check out magician Bryan Swaringen each Thursday night at Harper's SouthPark; 6518 Fairview Road; 704-366-6688.
  • Toscana, along with Opera Carolina and the business Nada's Italy, hosts an evening on its patio with live opera, antipasti and a wine tasting, 5:30-8 p.m. July 30. $20; Specialty Shops at the Park across Morrison Boulevard from SouthPark; 704-367-1808.
  • Blue hosts a Stone Brewery beer dinner July 30, with five courses, including beer-battered grouper cheeks with duck fat fries, pork shoulder braised with apricots, and Moroccan-spiced lamb loin. $49; Hearst Tower uptown; 704-927-2583.
  • Also July 30 (busy day!), Carrabba's offers mixer events to help raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. $15 gets you a sampling of new appetizers and one of three new signature drinks. $1 will also be donated to MDA for each of the three drinks sold through Aug. 6. 1520 South Blvd., 704-377-2458.

Three for $30 (etc.) goes on...

Gallery at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge will offer the three-for-$30 deal it had for Charlotte Restaurant Week throughout July. The menu will change weekly. 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-248-4100.

Blue extends the deal through Aug. 1; Hearst Tower uptown (at College and 5th); 704-927-2583.

Providence Cafe continues its three-for-$28 through July. 110 Perrin Place; 704-376-2008.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another uptown closing

Harper's will close its uptown ToGoGo site at 121 W. Trade St. after Friday. Harper's director of operations, Steve Seitz, said a proposed rent increase "forced us to close that business" but that many of its customer favorites will be incorporated at Harper's Grill, which is at the end of that block (at 129 W. Trade St.). Included among those is the make-your-own salad bar, which Seitz says will be offered at the Grill for lunch. Fried chicken, pulled pork and more will also be sold at the Grill. Takeout salads and sandwiches, and beverages, will be offered "within a short time," Seitz said, and catering and delivery will continue out of the Grill kitchen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Restaurant numbers

The recent rash of closings – Oceanaire near SouthPark, Sonny’s on Monroe Road, San Remo in the east and Sugar Magnolia in south Charlotte – beg the question: How are the restaurant numbers in Charlotte?

One answer comes from the Mecklenburg County Health Department, which tracks the number of places offering sit-down dining each September, and the change in that number each year. Only twice in the past 20 years has that number been negative – meaning fewer places opened than closed – and that was back in 1991-’92 and ’95-’96. (It’s not exactly precise, since some restaurants continue to be counted although their permits have been suspended for not paying fees, etc.)

More accurate numbers have been available the past two years, showing we had 2,063 places operating in ’08-’09 and 2,120 in ’09-’10 (though that number is obviously a little early). But the change number has varied a good bit, from 149 in ’86-’87 to 70 in 2003-’04. The last five years, from ’05-’06 to ’09-’10 ran 67, 68, 80, 59 and 28.

The county’s Bill Hardister sums up: “Either way you look at it is a snapshot, just with different filters in place. And either way, we have more restaurants now than we did one year ago ... But the number of plans we are receiving for new/remodeled facilities is down and with the lag between plan submission and permitting a facility, any decline we see may be more likely in (fiscal year 2010).”

So, in terms of closings, it still may get worse before it gets better.

Tapas, crabs, wine

  • Vintage Wine Cellar has a new menu for July in which more tapas-style places are offered, from muffuletta sliders ($6) to duck confit salad ($7) to braised short rib ($9). 12206 Copper Way near Ballantyne; 704-543-3977.
  • Two more weeks left in softshell crab season at TOMI (7741 Colony Road); it’ll be served salt-and-pepper style for another week, then with garlic sauce for the last. Each preparation costs $18. And through the rest of July, you can get an appetizer called fish chips: chunks of fish deep-fried, then topped with seafood powder. 704-759-1288.
  • Sullivan’s Steakhouse (1928 South Blvd.) hosts a Wine Vault dinner July 26, preceded by a five-wine tasting. Among the courses: seared tuna appetizer with Landmark Steel Plow Syrah, and filet mignon with Flora Springs Cabernet. $55; 704-548-9463.

New breakfast-lunch place en route

Coming to the Charlotte area is FirstWatch, a breakfast-lunch-only chain that plans to build three to five locations in the area. Its menu ranges from eggs, pancakes and sandwiches to specialties such as the Chickichanga (whipped eggs, spicy chicken, housemade chorizo sausage, green chiles, cheeses, onion and avocado rolled in a flour tortilla) and Crepeggs (crepes with whipped eggs and fillings). Locations are TBA, say public relations folk, but you can take a look at the concept here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New restaurant in Plaza-Midwood

Look for Café Central to open quietly sometime at the beginning of next week at 1401 Central Ave., if all goes according to plan. Peter Herrero, whom you may remember from uptown’s Café 521 years ago, is at the helm of this place, which he says will offer “New York bar food… but a little more rounded.”

That means burgers from meat ground in-house, couscous, sandwiches big enough to sustain an extra few slices of bread (on the house, and from Nova, says Herrero), some pastas, salads, gelati and more.

Herrero, whose Café Central in New York City was called “a saloon that’s also a salon” by People magazine in 1984, has done consulting the past 15 years, but steps again into the fray with this venture, in a multi-tenanted building that will also house a theatrical “black box.” Expect nothing over about $17 and most things less, and details such as housemade mozzarella and stocks with no salt; says Herrero, “I don’t have any salt in my diet, so NO ONE will have salt.” James Hobday, formerly of Upstream, is in the kitchen.

Deal of the day

Even among summer deals, this is exceptional: Harper's at both SouthPark and Carolina Place offers a three-course dinner for two for $29 total through July 19. The menu includes choice of soup or salad; prime rib, chicken breast or salmon with side; and deep-dish apple pie or brownie. SouthPark: 704-366-6688; Carolina Place: 704-541-5255.

Don't blow the tip

Amid the summer restaurant deals and promotions, a reminder: Tip on what your meal would have cost, particularly if you get great service. These are tough times for servers, too, and tipping appropriately is a help.

And while we're on the subject: You tip on the pre-tax total, including alcohol, and (unless you're Johnny Depp) 15 to 20 percent is appropriate. (Depp reportedly left a $4,000 tip at Chicago steakhouse Gibsons, and the waiter characterized him to Radar online as "a really cool dude.")

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New ... and healthy

blynk organic has a new summer menu with organic flatbread sandwiches, a gluten-free light rice paper wrap and new breakfast items, such as the quiche Parisienne (quiche made with turkey bacon, caramelized onions, ricotta and provolone), French toast with apples and bananas, and a flatbread with scrambled eggs, spinach, mushrooms and provolone. 200 S. Tryon St.; 704-522-3750.

Coming up

  • Zebra hosts July 10 a “One HOPE” wine tasting. HOPE, a company that produces wines, pairs each with a charitable cause, and donates half its profits on each wine to its paired cause, including Cabernet Sauvignon and autism, and Chardonnay and breast cancer. $10 for four tastings and hors d’oeuvres, 5:30-7:30 p.m. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525. Also on tap: July 16, the restaurant brings in winemaker Ryan Bee for a Falcor wine dinner. Among the courses are oak-grilled wild Alaskan salmon with Gaffney peach and apricot compote and 2005 Durell Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley; and classic Tournedoes Rossini with 2002 Le Bijou, Napa Valley. $75.
  • Mimosa Grill holds its next Artist Series wine dinner July 25 with the work of Holt McClean, who is also a server at the restaurant. Her work will be available to buy. Among the courses are Cape Fear flounder stuffed with lobster and prime rib of Colorado lamb. $50; 327 S. Tryon St., 704-343-0700.
  • Chef Tim Groody, who recently left the Sonoma Restaurant Group, plans to do a series of farm dinners with Sammy Koenigsberg at his New Town Farms in Waxhaw.

Deals on now

  • You’re remembering Charlotte Restaurant Week is going on, right? Three courses for $30 at dozens of restaurants: Check out www.charlotterestaurantweek.com.
  • Global has a three-for-$30 deal July 10-19 (3520 Toringdon Way; 704-248-0866), while Providence Café offers three courses for $28 throughout July (110 Perrin Place; 704-376-2008) and the South Boulevard Villa Antonio will offer three-for-$30 throughout July. Zebra will have the three-for-$30 through July 17, except for Thursday, when it closes for a wine dinner. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.
  • New at Terra is a three-course tasting menu offered for $50 per couple Tuesday-Thursday through August. Also new: a patio menu of small plates for $8 each, including tartine of leek and mushroom with Taleggio, and frog leg lollipops. 545 Providence Road; 704-332-1886.
  • Angry Ale’s will offer a $6.99 all-you-can-eat wing buffet with three flavors of Buffalo wings through the rest of 2009, says owner Andy Henson. It’s offered 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays, dine-in only. 1518 Montford Drive. 704-525-3663.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Closings, big and small

Closings at both ends of the dining spectrum:

The Oceanaire Seafood Room
, a SouthPark-area fine dining destination, and the three-decade-plus diner landmark San Remo's on Central Avenue, have closed.

So have the Sonny's on Monroe Road, which had operated in that spot for 31 years, and Sugar Magnolia, a nearly-3-year-old Lowcountry venture in south Charlotte's Blakeney.

Five other Sonny's continue to operate barbecue restaurants in the Charlotte area; Sonny's declined to renew the license agreement at the Monroe Road location, perhaps because of volume, according to a spokesperson for the local franchisee.

Oceanaire is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, confirmed a spokesperson, and is closing three other locations: Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Why Russians really love Michelle Obama...

... and other Internet opinions on politics and food

  • Could food put Michelle first in the hearts of Russians? Check out the admirably single-minded Obama Foodorama, which focuses on the Obamas' food -- personal and policy-wise -- here.
  • Supreme Court candidate Sonia Sotomayor's reputation as a foodie matters -- at least to some folks. More here.
  • "Food is a conduit, a venue, (through which) we can sort of permeate each others' thoughts," says star chef Lidia Bistianich at Salon.com here.