Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dine out, help out

  • Morton's in Uptown does Philanthropy Week: Buy a three-course fixed-price dinner Oct. 6-10 for $75 and $25 of the dinner price and 10 percent of bottled wine purchases will go to the charity of the evening. Here's the lineup: Oct. 6: Classroom Central; Oct. 7: RAIN; Oct. 8: Second Harvest Food Bank; Oct. 9: USO of North Carolina; Oct. 10: Levine Children's Hospital. Reservations: 704-333-2602; 227 W. Trade St.
  • Wolfgang Puck Carolina Bistro begins school support Oct. 1 and runs through November: 20 percent of all sales to diners who mention "School Promo" go to the restaurant's three neighborhood schools: Providence Spring Elementary, Jay M. Robinson Middle School and Providence High. 5349 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-708-5802.
  • Sole and Zen team with Levine Children's Hospital for "5 Days of Hope" Oct. 5-9. Five percent of the Dilworth restaurants' sales during those days will go to the hospital, in conjunction with the Hopebuilders 5K Run/Walk Oct. 10. Sole: 1608 East Blvd.; 704-343-9890. Zen: 1716 Kenilworth Ave.; 704-358-9688.

Slow down; sign up

Climb on the farm-to-fork train Oct. 3 at the Bed and Bike Inn in Gold Hill (about an hour east of Charlotte). Chefs Kyle Krieger (Noble's), Jamie Lynch (Barrington's), Sean Dowling (131 Main), Sam Jett (Blue), Zack Renner (Harvest Moon Grill) and pastry chef Ashley Boyd (300 East) will offer courses celebrating community -- and benefitting Friendship Trays and Slow Food Charlotte.

Organizers want to stress the importance of sustainable farming, local businesses and charitable giving, and ingredients (so far, according to Fisher Farms) will include rabbit from Full Circle Farm, pork from Grateful Growers, eggs from Laughing Owl and Yesterways farms, tomatoes from Fisher Farms, eggplant from Fisher or Carlea or Laughing Owl, mushrooms from Landis Gourmet Mushrooms and/or Clover Organic Mushroom Farm, apples from Nise's, goat cheese from Bosky Acres, assorted greens from Nise's and Poplin Farms and more.

Rain delayed this dinner from Sept. 26, so the hope is for clear weather, and there should be a full moon that night. Other fun details include a contest for best wine glass (the dinner is bring-your-own-glass), live music from Pfeiffer University, a silent auction of local services, art and gift certificates. Cost is $75 and you must reserve through e-mail to fisherfarms1933@gmail.com.

Friendship Trays delivers meals to elderly, handicapped and convalescing people. Slow Food is a nonprofit group founded to "counteract fast food and fast life."

Elizabeth Avenue casualty

NoFo on Liz closed yesterday, a Raleigh manager confirmed; the cafe/store's siblings in Raleigh and Wilmington remain open. Ironic, since the city today celebrated the reopening of Elizabeth Avenue after the lengthy construction process (with blocked access) that NoFo folks indicate they "just couldn't get through."

Deals, deals

  • French country breakfast for about $5 sound good? During October, from 7-9 a.m. weekdays, Cafe Monte offers two eggs any style, sausage and bacon (yes, "and"), potatoes and toast for half-off the regular price of $9.95, plus a free cup of coffee. 6700 Fairview Road; 704-552-1116.
  • McCormick & Schmick’s is offering “10 under $10” at lunch. Both Charlotte locations (200 S. Tryon St. and at SouthPark) will offer sandwiches, wraps, pastas, entree salads and some combos, and those in a rush can request a 45-minute-or-less service time. The offer is good daily, except for holidays.
  • Revolution Pizza & Ale House now offers a lunch buffet noon-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday: all you can eat pizza and salad for $7.50 (plus tax) and kids 10 and younger eat for free. Both the usual (pepperoni, sausage, cheese) and the chef-inspired (pulled pork, peppadew peppers, caramelized onions) ingredients will be on the buffet. 3228 N. Davidson St.; 704-333-4440.
  • Las Ramblas does its second Fiesta Las Ramblas 4 to 8 p.m. Oct. 22, with half-price menu items, $4 wines, $3 sangria and $2 beers. Details at www.lasramblascafe.com. 2400 Park Road; 704-335-8444.

Special dinners

  • Longitude 81 hosts its second annual All You Can Eat Low Country Seafood Boil from 5-10 p.m. Oct. 3 for $23.95 (kids younger than 10 eat for $11.95). Crab, shrimp, andouille, clams, oysters, corn and potatoes go into the boil, while there'll also be blackened beef tenderloin, ribs and chicken, plus salads and desserts and live music. 971 Gold Hill Road, Fort Mill; Reservations: 803-802-9981.
  • Blue does Oktoberfest with a five-dish beer-and-food pairing Oct. 8 for $34.95. Among the offerings: Jackman's Beer soup with Bellavitano cheese and sweet onions, with Jackman's Pale Ale; seared scallops over chickpea fritters and Sawtooth Ale; and oven-roasted Kurobuta pork loin with Oktoberfest. Reservations required: 704-927-2583; in the Hearst Tower at the corner of College and 5th streets.
  • Mimosa Grill hosts a pre-Oktoberfest dinner Oct. 9 with brewer Mike Cothran and his New Belgium Brewing Company liquids. Included in the menu are Goat Lady hush puppies with Fat Tire; "deconstructed" split pea soup with Mothership Wit; slow-cooked pork cheeks and diver scallops with Hoptober; and more. Cost is $45; 704-343-0700. 327 S. Tryon St.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Flavor tripping

Overheard at the Crepe Cellar's flavor-tripping party Sunday night in NoDa: "It's like high-def TV for your mouth."

In case you missed the turn-on, tune-in, drop-out event: At the door, trippers each got one tablet made with the West African berry Synsepalum dulcificum. They were then guided to sample from the buffet and perhaps order a drink -- to get a tasting baseline -- then to let the tablet dissolve in their mouths for four to seven minutes.

The tablet recalibrates tastebuds, rendering nearly everything (at least in my case) sweet: A shot glass of lemon juice was like drinking a melted lemon Italian ice, times 10; a lime wedge became wet candy; wine turned to, well, Mad Dog or maybe Annie Green Springs. (As owner Jeff Tonidandel put it in an e-mail: "Maybe you can save some money if a $2 pill can make a $2 wine tolerable.") Sort of like being 15 again, tastebud-wise. Hot peppers turned sweet, but a shot of Tabasco burnt like blazes going down, just as it would normally. (I should have sipped it, not shot it, since the taste difference is all in the mouth. I'm almost recovered now, thanks for asking.)

Brie in pastry tasted like -- more buttery Brie in sweeter pastry. Sweet potato chips with Gorgonzola sauce were only slightly sweeter and more mellow. Cheeses were definitely the oddest morph -- not really sweet, but not exactly more subtle, just ... weird. Perhaps the best thing about the night was patrons' adventurousness: We talked to folks just there for kicks, and one man who said his Type 2 diabetes might be easier to live with if he could "indulge" his sweet tooth with this sort of experience occasionally. (I'm told researchers are examining the possibilities.) All in all, a funky success.

Tonidandel said the citrus fruits and the special beverages -- grapefruit margaritas and sea breezes and more, made without simple syrup -- were the biggest hits. If the Cellar does it again, check it out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Free cookie

Mrs. Fields (not her, left) celebrates National Cookie Month by giving away a free chocolate chip cookie to each customer from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 1. All three N.C. locations -- at the Charlotte airport and in Raleigh and Durham -- are participating.

Chef Groody and an on-farm dinner

Check out chef Tim Groody at farmer Sammy Koenigsberg's Inn at New Town Farms on Oct. 17: It's a farm-to-farmtable Fall Season dinner "with foodmiles measured in feet," as Koenigsberg puts it.

On the menu: organic vegetables, French Red Bro chicken, Ossabaw pork and organic wines from Neal Rosenthal Selections, paired by the Wine Shop at Foxcroft. Fifty seats are available at $100 each, and there's a shuttle from Charlotte available on request -- the farm is at 4512 New Town Road in Waxhaw. Reserve by email to newtownfarms@windstream.net.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Odds and ends

  • Luigi's, winner of The Observer's 2009 pizza tournament, has opened its third location, at 1225-A East Blvd. (by the Harris-Teeter in Kenilworth Commons). In his e-mail, co-owner Tony Montesano says: "We never thought that we would open another location this soon, especially after opening up in Steele Creek less than a year ago." 704-335-8484.
  • Gallery hosts a four-course Scotch dinner Oct. 23 featuring Chivas 18 yr (meaning 18-year-old); Glenlivet 15 yr, French Oak; Glenlivet 16 yr, Nadurra; Glenlivet Archive 21 yr; and Laphroig 10 yr. $75; 704-248-4100. Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge; 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.
  • McNinch House says it will be the first and only restaurant in the Charlotte area serving Elysian Fields lamb. The name-brand meat from a family farm in Greene County, Pa., appears on hot-shot menus across the country. 511 N. Church St.; 704-332-6159.

Deals, deals

  • Zebra celebrates eight years in business this month by offering a 10-course chef’s grand tasting menu each night through Sept. 30 for $54. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.
  • Stop by any of the 10 Moe's Southwest Grills in the "Greater Charlotte area" (meaning Gastonia, Waxhaw and Concord are included) on Sept. 17 and you can get a free Joey Jr. Burrito, which has choice of meat, fish or tofu; black or pinto beans; rice; pico de gallo and other condiments.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vintage Wine Cellar closes

Kevin and Ingrid Howard will close their Vintage Wine Cellar in the Ballantyne area Sept. 18, after about 2 1/2 years. A farewell e-mail cited the economy and the couple's desire to spend more time with their twin daughters and suggested their customers keep supporting other small-business owners in the wine business, specifically mentioning the Wine Shop at Foxcroft and RiverGate, the Wine Vault and Dolcetto.

Vintage will be open reduced hours this week: until 7 p.m. tonight; then opening at 5 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday (no dinner Wednesday, since there's a sold-out tasting), and at 4 p.m. Friday. 12206 Copper Way; 704-543-3977.

Special dinners, special menus

  • D'vine Wine Cafe hosts its Wine Dinner V on Sept. 24, with wines from Santa Ema in Chile. On the menu: citrus-steamed oysters with chimichurri and Sauvignon Blanc; cashew and banana crusted sable stuffed with tropical fruit salsa, with Chardonnay; crispy duck breast with barbecued plum and fig compote with Barrel Reserve Syrah; proscuitto-wrapped bison tenderloin with braised pork belly and Rivalta; and more. $69.95; 704-369-5050. 14815 John J. Delaney Drive.
  • 131 Main in Dilworth now offers a "date night menu" each Friday and Saturday night: a lineup of meals for two for $49. It will vary; the current one includes choice of one appetizer to share; two salads; two entrees (choice of grilled Carolina trout, chicken paillard or prime rib), and one dessert to share. 704-343-0131.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tax talk and burritos

Johnny Burrito at 301 S. Tryon St. has cut its prices in the wake of the 1% N.C. sales tax increase, so as to keep the diner's price for meals (11 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays) the same, and plans to keep that going through the end of the year. The place offers a suggestion, too: Pay in cash, and it can make up the reduction in saved credit/debit fees, to say nothing of the saving of thermal paper! 704-371-4448.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Drink for those who need clean water

Blowing Rock bartender Doc Hendley started Wine to Water, a group that provides clean water to people in developing countries, using money raised at wine tastings. Dolce Vita in NoDa takes up the cause with a Wine to Water night at 6 p.m. Sept. 10. $15 buys you tastes of five wines, and a chance to say you pitched in. For a look at Hendley's story, check here. The UN estimates one in six people in the world can't get enough safe water for drinking and hygiene, and figures that leads to 1.5 million preventable deaths a year. Hendley told CNN: "You can be a bartender in Raleigh, North Carolina; you can be just a regular anybody. And you really, really can change the world."

Hendley's also slated to be on "Charlotte Talks" on WFAE at 9 a.m. Thursday morning. Dolce Vita is at 3205 N. Davidson St.; 704-334-1052.

King's Kitchen

Update on The King's Kitchen: Chef Jim Noble continues to work toward establishing this not-for-profit restaurant that will employ and train the chronically unemployed, offer local and comfort food, and use its funds for established centers to help feed the hungry in Charlotte and elsewhere. Currently, two prospective properties are under consideration, and the ministry is feeding people weekly. If you'd like to keep up to date, donate or volunteer, check out the Web site here or follow on Twitter here.

New offerings

  • XO Tapas's new menu is out, with a few more small plates (such as scallop with chilled corn and anise puree) and an entrĂ©e lineup that adds, among others, braised chicken thigh with poached egg and powdered olive oil, and a Caribbean-influenced dotted rose snapper (similar to red snapper) with "mojito sauces" -- mint gel and a rum and lime beurre blanc. 19701 Bethel Church Road, Cornelius; 704-896-9255.
  • Gado Gado has shifted from separate lunch and dinner lineups to an all-day menu, including appetizers, panini, pastas and entrees. The menu is here. 157 N. Trade St. in Matthews; 704-844-8686.
  • TOMI has oysters starting Sept. 11, in a traditional Taiwanese fried preparation with sweet potato flour, arrowroot and spices. Oyster soup is the appetizer; that's $3 and the main dish is $16. 7741 Colony Road; 704-759-1288.

Hungry? Really REALLY hungry?

Eat Here Now has a new item: the "Button Popper Challenge."

It begins with a triple-patty burger with all the trimmings and a pound of fries. Eat all this in record time -- or try a larger burger and more fries. If you win, the restaurant pays for your meal and posts your picture on its Wall of Fame. Don't finish and you end up on the Wall of Shame. "The entire restaurant gets involved," says owner Andy Henson.

The current record time for the triple-patty burger and pound of fries (which costs $9.99) is 4 minutes 47 seconds. The Ultimate Button Popper contest, a 2-pound burger and 2 pounds of fries, holds a record time of 30 minutes. Eat Here Now is open Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner; 2016 Ayrsley Town Blvd.; 704-499-9999.

Hotel chef hits Beard House

Jean-Pierre Marechal (shown at left), executive chef at Savannah Red in the Charlotte Marriott City Center, cooked at the James Beard House in August. His menu included brandy-scented lobster cobbler with chive-basil phyllo cups; chive cornbread with kudzu jelly butter; duck confit with savory waffle and maple-orange gastrique (shown here), caramel-braised Kurobuta pork belly with Anson Mills grit fries and flash-roasted N.C. vegetables, and peach-Krispy Kreme bread pudding with macerated local peaches and cognac-chantilly cream. Savannah Red is at 100 W. Trade St.; 704-358-6524.

This weekend: Get Greek, get 'cue

Yiasou, Charlotte's annual Greek festival held at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Dilworth, kicks off Sept. 10 and runs through the 13th, offering a lineup of Greek fare from lamb to loukoumades. New this year: Reenactments of the Changing of the Guards -- complete with traditional uniforms and movement sequences -- that takes place daily in Athens before the Greek Parliament Building. Festival hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 10, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sept. 11-12 and noon-8 p.m. Sept. 13. 600 East Blvd.; admission is $2; more info here.

And Blues, Brews & BBQ, Charlotte's annual Memphis Barbecue Network championship cookoff, will be open to the public on Tryon Street (between Trade and Martin Luther King) Sept. 11 and 12. Visitors will be able to stroll the lineup watching national teams compete for a $7,500 grand prize and the chance to go on to the Memphis in May championship in 2010. Local teams will also be cooking, in a different category. You'll be able to buy barbecue from vendors (not the competitors) as well. Winners will be announced about 6 p.m. Saturday. Info here.

Special meals

  • Firenze is hosting a two-week "Tour of Liguria" with four courses for $25; it's part of the restaurant's regional series of dinners. You can also order any of the courses a la carte; the tasting menu is offered Sunday-Friday, and the place will work through the most stellar regions sequentially (though are any of Italy's regions not stellar, culinarily speaking?). 6414 Rea Road; 704-544-4949; www.firenzecharlotte.com.
  • Max’s Ally plans a back-to-school party weekend beginning Sept. 12: Live music on the patio, a sneak peek at the new menu, which begins the following day, and a specials lineup. Sept. 13, brunch will be served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (reservations required; $18.95 for adults; $4.95 for kids). That menu includes a cold salad buffet, tapas, a roast beef carving station, hot buffet and more. (Also, through October, the restaurant offers drink specials on different nights, and half-price appetizers on Wednesdays.) 355 John Galt Way in Afton Village, Concord; 704-721-6297.
  • Passion8 offers two noteworthy dinners in September: Four courses featuring mushrooms from the Organic Clover Mushroom Farm on Sept. 16 for $35, and a tribute to Julia Child, with four courses from her seminal "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" on Sept. 30 (plus French wines) for $55. 3415 Hwy 51, Fort Mill; 803-802-7455.
  • Rooster's hosts a Jon-David Headrick wine dinner Sept. 22, with artisanal wines from France's Loire Valley. Headrick leans toward young owners using progressive techniques and organic and biodynamic farming. $75; 6601 Morrison Blvd.; 704-366-8688.
  • Blue serves up five Greek dishes, with Greek wine pairings, Sept. 24 -- inspired by this weekend's Greek festival. The menu includes shrimp spanakopita; rabbit moussaka; sweetbread stifado (like a stew) and more. $34.95; in the Hearst Tower at College and 5th streets; 704-927-2583.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dine Out, help out

National hunger relief group Share Our Strength organizes the national "Great American Dine Out," held this year Sept. 20-26. To date, the group says, more than 1,200 restaurants have signed up to participate by donating a portion of their proceeds in that week, including all in the Harper's Restaurant Group and plenty more (go here for more). Food Network star Aaron McCargo Jr. ("Big Daddy's House") is spokesman for this year's event.

Says SOS founder Bill Shore: "We were heartened by the generosity and commitment of the restaurant industry and diners last year. Our hope is to continue this program every year until every child in America has access to nutritious food where they live, learn and play." The group estimates that each year, more than 12 million kids in this country, one in every six, worry about when their next meal will come.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Charlotte shows up elsewhere

Del Frisco chef Bob Kalish was at the James Beard House in New York helping out at the chain's Divine Wine Dinner Aug. 11. That's Kalish in the middle in the photo at left, flanked by Restaurant Group CEO Mark Mednansky, corporate executive chef Thomas Dritsas. The menu included smoked crawfish cake, country-style pulled duck terrine (!) and American Wagyu prime rib, slow-braised short ribs and Maine lobster in a single course.

Get trippy at Crepe Cellar

Crepe Cellar hosts a "flavor tripping" party Sept. 27. This, as you may have heard (if not, go here), involves a West African-native berry, Synsepalum dulcificum. Chew one for a minute or so and your tastebuds are recalibrated so that foods taste sweet. Yes, even Tabasco sauce and Guinness beer. It will cost $15 to get in (in advance, $20 at the door), and plans call for "a spread of fun foods" to go with the effect, says co-owner Jeff Tonidandel. There'll also be a drink menu made specially for the night. (The fee covers one "miracle fruit" tablet and food; alcohol is extra.) 3116 N. Davidson St.; 704-910-6543.

Farm to fork times five

Ratcliffe on the Green plans a series of five "Farm to Fork" dinners, beginning Sept. 24. Each will be five courses for $65, with wine pairings for $25 more, and each will feature at least two area farms.

First up will be Grateful Growers and New Town farms.
Then, Oct. 20, look for Fisher and Full Circle farms, and Baucom's Best Beef.
Nov. 10: New Beginnings and Underwood Family farms.
Dec. 8: Poplar Ridge and Ashley farms.
Jan. 9: Eastern Carolina Organics and a to-be-determined place.

435 S. Tryon St.; 704-358-9898.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Bite: Fran's

The food: Lots of flavor is what owner Fran Scibelli was known for at her Metropolitan Cafe years ago, and that aspect is back -- but this is a more varied menu. Comfort foods (in the "like mom made" menu category) include the Metro meatloaf, plus a bowl of two fat meatballs in wonderful marinara, rosemary-grilled chicken breast with onion rings, "Thanksgiving on a plate" (house-roasted turkey and trimmings), and more. But there's also mussels many ways, Maryland-style crab cakes, burgers, Italian beef sandwiches, Nicoise salad and truly fabulous fries, served with your choice of blue cheese and herbs, goat-cheese ranch dressing or "secret spicy sprinkle." Don't miss the bone-suckingly great crispy ribs.

The look: Scibelli used photos done by a friend to set the warm Western tone of the place, and painted-top tables between rustic clay-red-with-wisps-of-teal walls keep pace.

The servers: T-shirts and jeans clue you to get comfy, and they're well-educated on the offerings.

The details: Lunch (about $7-$9) and dinner ($7-$13); 2410 Park Road; 704-372-2009.

Beer, wine, steak, etc.

  • Maddi's Southern Bistro offers an 8-ounce filet with blue cheese and tarragon butter and fries for $16 in September. 16925-A Birkdale Commons Parkway; 704-987-7762.
  • Terra hosts a Seghesio Family wine dinner Sept. 10, featuring eight wines and a menu that includes housemade salmon gravlax, lamb osso buco and an artisanal cheese board. $75. Reid's is taking reservations at 704-377-1312. Terra is at 545 Providence Road; 704-332-1886.
  • Mimosa Grill hosts a New Belgium Beer dinner Oct. 9. On the menu: Goat Lady hush puppies (with goat cheese fondue) with Mothership Wit; deconstructed split pea soup with La Fleur Misseur (yes, spelled like that); slow-cooked pork cheeks and scallops with Sunshine Wheat; and more. 327 S. Tryon St.; 704-343-0700.