Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Talk about uptown dining

Tell us what you think about the uptown dining choices: Too much, too little or juuuuuust right? And why?

New offerings

Lebowski's Neighborhood Grill now offers Sahlen's hot dogs, which are the Buffalo Bills' official dog at the stadium and have "quite a following," says owner Kirk Weaver. Also new at the grill: Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 1524 East Blvd.; 704-370-1177.

M5's new summer lunch menu offers a "Five and Dime" section: five seasonal dishes priced at $10 each (including a Caesar or mixed green salad) from chef Scott Wallen. The lineup will change weekly; a few samples are tomato bisque and grilled Serrano ham panini; chilled local tomato gazpacho and BLT; hickory burger; and barbecue chicken pita. 4310 Sharon Road; 704-909-5500. UPDATE: A hood fire Monday caused the restaurant to close. A manager at M5 told me late Tuesday afternoon he did not think the closing would be extended beyond a few days.

Link day: Eat Chinese better, etc.

Frank Bruni, ex-New York Times restaurant critic, waxes philosophic about the field. Best point: Critics can never see a restaurant the way a regular does. Read more here.

If only for the title, read "The Ignorant American's Guide to Eating Better Chinese Food" here (but it's actually worth reading in its entirety if you're a novice.

And what about MSG, anyway?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dine out, do good

Throughout August, you can bring in a new, unwrapped toy -- or treat bags, or party favors -- to any of the four Charlotte-area Wolfman Pizza locations and get a free 8-inch, one-topping pizza. The donations go to Birthday Blessings, a nonprofit that does birthday celebrations for homeless children and their families. Donate $25 or more in cash or goodies and you get a limited edition T-shirt from Wolfman while supplies last. You can also enter to win a free pizza party for 10 to 15. (FYI: Wolfman donates the meal for one birthday celebration every month for Birhday Blessings, and provides the food for its annual golf event.) For more info on the nonprofit, which now celebrates about 60 birthdays each month and has done more than 1,100 of the events since 2005, go to www.birthdayblessings.org. “Every child deserves to feel special on their birthday," says volunteer executive director Amy Cervantes.

More Restaurant Week extensions

BLT Steak uptown at the Ritz-Carlton will extend its three-courses-for-$30 deal through Labor Day (Sept. 6). 110 N. College St.; 704-972-4380.

Sole Spanish Grille offers the deal to July 31. 1608 East Blvd.; 704-343-9890.

Global will also extend its deal, from July 27-31. 3520 Toringdon Way; 704-248-0866.

Deli opening this week

Essex Street Restaurant and Deli is slated to open Aug. 3 at the Village at Robinson Farm in the Ballantyne area. Deli staples such as stuffed cabbage, corned beef and potato pancakes are joined by less-often-available dishes such as stuffed derma and kasha varnishkas, and hand-sliced Nova lox, baked salmon, chopped liver and H&H bagels from New York are also offered. It's scheduled to be open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. 8430 Rea Road; 980-207-0885.

New N'Awlins place

Creole's Louisiana Kitchen is open at 15105 John J. Delaney Drive at Ballantyne Commons East. From the same folks who opened Irish pub P.J. O'Reilly's nearby a year ago, this is a casual, neighborhood Cajun/New Orleans-themed place, says Hamilton Stolpen, and features lunch and dinner fare such as gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee and po' boys. Lunch about $5 to $7; dinner about $7 to $15. 704-544-5213.

Wine, beer, food ... bourbon

Blue offers a Rogue beer and food pairing event July 29. Included in the lineup: crisp, pan-fried quail over grits with orange blossom honey and Somer Orange Honey Ale; pine-smoked pork kofta with John-John Ale; harissa-glazed, braised and grilled Angus short rib with Dead Guy Ale; and more. $34.95; Hearst Tower uptown; 704-927-2583.

Positano Osteria's next monthly wine dinner is Aug. 2. On the menu (for $40): Italian flat bread with prosciutto and Brie, with 2009 Villa Matilde Falanghina; farro, risotto style, with zucchini and Stracchino cheese, with 2008 Casalone "Rus" Barbera/Merlot/Pinot; grilled lamb chop with 2008 Casale del Giglio Shiraz, and more. 8625 Lindholm Drive at Birkdale Village; 704-896-2979.

Andrew Blair’s hosts a Maker's Mark bourbon tasting 6-8 p.m. Aug. 5, featuring the first new offering from the company, Maker's 46. Andrew Blair's, which offers 54 bourbons now, will serve light appetizers with the tasting, which includes samples of the original, the new 46 and two 46 signature cocktails. Cost is $15 (and you can join the AB's Bourbon Club for free). 1600 Montford Drive; 704-525-8282.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sir Ed's closes

Sir Edmond Halley's, the popular Park Road area pub and restaurant served its last meal last night, according to chef and co-owner Tobin McAfee. Sir Ed's, which opened in 1996 on the back side of Park Road Shopping Center, offered some British classics along with more contemporary fare; McAfee had cooked around Charlotte at places such as Crossroads and Metropolitan Cafe prior to the venture. He did not comment on the reason for closing, and said he had no current plans.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Best pimento cheese ever?

Possibly. Review of this place coming Friday ...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Raw food lovers, rejoice

Luna's Living Kitchen is open at 2102 South Blvd., serving raw and vegan foods exclusively. You may remember manager Juliana Luna Powell and her husband, Randy, from Real Food Charlotte, which had occupied that space before. The place is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m to 3 p.m. Friday-Saturday and closed Sunday.

The menu ranges from Birchermuesli (a combo of marinated oats, raw almond milk, oranges, raisins and Fuji apples) to a sprouted quinoa-kamut veggie burger, with smoothies and assorted housemade milks (such as hemp and coconut), cookies and hot drinks also served. Luna says she's still working on procuring a bread from vendors, but all else is in place. 704-333-0008.

Bits and schmucks

Be one of the first 15 people to order a Schmuck Burger (burger topped with pimento cream cheese and fried pickles) at Big Daddy's in Ballantyne today and you get two free passes to a July 27 screening of "Dinner for Schmucks." An interesting concept, no? (And with the beauty of Twitter, I know that the first two were ordered six minutes ago.)

FreshBerry Frozen Yogurt Café opens in Mooresville July 21, and each customer who attends the opening gets a free small frozen yogurt with one topping. The store is at the corner of Williamson Road and N.C. 150, in the Martins Crossing Shopping Center.

Monday, July 19, 2010

New: Slow Food dinner, messy BLTs, more

Noble's has brought out its "2 Napkin BLT" (at right) for the summer: "you'll welcome the mess!" as the restaurant puts it. 6801 Morrison Blvd.; 704-367-9463.

The restaurant also has a Slow Food dinner coming up Aug. 6: Five dollars of the $75 cost will go to the Slow Food Charlotte chapter, to encourage awareness food that is "good, clean and fair." Among the five courses: pan-seared Sunburst trout with New Town Farms Ossabaw Ham consommé; grilled Wild Turkey Farms Berkshire pork chops with seared Anson Mills polenta and S.C. peach butter; and fried Bosky Acres chevre-stuffed squash blossoms.

Meanwhile, the Terrace Cafe has a new dinner menu, with six new entrees, including Greek salad, sandwiches of chicken, duck and Wagyu beef (burger), a catfish po' boy and vegetarian plate. Also new: the place's hours, which shift to 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday, to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday. 4625 Piedmont Row Drive South; 704-554-6177.

Beer vs. Wine: The battle rages

The Liberty on Aug. 11 hosts "Beer vs. Wine," a dinner in which each course is paired with one beer and one wine. An expert on each will be on hand to make the pairings and discuss, and diners will be encouraged to make the call: Which is the better pairing? Among the courses: Wagyu carpaccio; foie gras "creme brulee"; pan-roasted scallops; suckling pig; and whole roasted peaches with ginger ice cream. $45; 1812 South Blvd.; 704-332-8830.

Other pairings events:

"A Deep Summer Vegetable Supper" commences at 7 p.m. July 24 at the Inn at New Town Farms in Waxhaw, with chef Joseph Bonaparte doing the cooking of a five-course all-vegetable dinner, Anita Skogland choosing organic wine pairings and breads from Bernadette Franco. $100; reservations by e-mail to newtownfarms@windstream.net.

D'Vine Wine Cafe does a Carolina Farm to Fork dinner July 29 with Spanish wines for $59.95. Included: N.C. trout BLT with Zios Albarino, braised pork shoulder with Prima Toro; short ribs with Casa de la Ermita; and more. 14815 John J. Delaney Dr.; 704-369-5050.


National chain Which Wich Superior Sandwiches has opened its first Charlotte location, at 1600 E. Woodlawn Road, in the Park Towne Village center. Its specialty: 50 kinds of customizable toasted sandwiches, from the "Wicked" (with five meats and three cheeses) to the "Elvis Wich," with peanut butter, honey and banana. You order by writing in red Sharpie on a sandwich bag. Owner Grant Alexander aims to open "five to 10 more locations" in the area. 704-522-0041.

More brunch

Mimosa Grill begins a Sunday brunch buffet Aug. 1, at an introductory price of $17 (the cost will go to $19.95 in September). The buffet will run 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and include wood-roasted meats and fish, breakfast dishes, pastries and breads and more, and diners will be able to order small plates a la carte, as well. A Bloody Mary bar and Mimosas will be offered, too, as well as complimentary valet parking. 327 S. Tryon St.; 704-343-0700.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ice cream, you scream, we all ... eat too much?

An inspirational story (photo from New York Times). Crazy, but inspirational. And I want a scoop of "Elvis (the Fat Years)" right now ... Which one appeals most to you?

It's difficult to tease apart this graphic's source info, but as a visual representation, it's thought provoking. So is the reminder, which I ran across in the USDA factbook, that in 2000, 62 percent of Americans were overweight. I'm trying to figure where all the "dairy products (non-cheese)" come from. Ice cream?

Restaurant week specials

Of note during the upcoming Restaurant Week:

D'Vine Wine Cafe lets you have either four courses (that's an extra one) for $30, or the four, each paired with a wine, for $45. 14815 John J. Delaney Dr.; 704-369-5050.

Both locations of Cosmos Cafe will offer a $25, four-course deal during the same timeframe as Restaurant Week: 300 N. College St., 704-372-3553; and 8420 Rea Road, 704-544-5268.

Both Harper's locations will do three courses for $20 during that time: SouthPark, 704-366-6688; and Carolina Place, 704-541-5255.

Andrew Blair’s, which offers four courses plus a glass of wine for $30 as a participant in Restaurant Week, has decided to extend that deal through July 31. 1600 Montford Drive; 704-525-8282.

Mez also will offer its three-for-$30 deal through July 31. 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-2400.

Village Bistro at Ballantyne offers three courses for $30 through July 25. 704-369-5190.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Free pizza, new menus, discounts

Go to any Charlotte Donatos between 5 and 8 p.m. July 20 and show them you have a Donatos phone number saved in your cell phones, and you'll get a free medium one-topping pizza -- if you're among the first 300 people at each of the 16 area stores.

Sunset Grille now serves Sunday brunch, including a "welcome basket" of cinnamon fritters and a menu that includes Lowcountry shrimp and grits and "the Big Fat Hot Brown" (a breakfast sandwich here, made with house-roasted turkey, bacon, tomatoes, fried eggs and gravy). Also new: Las Ramblas and Bar Barcelona nights each Monday and Tuesday, in which the restaurant, which was formerly Las Ramblas, brings back 10 to 15 of the most popular items from that tapas/Spanish/etc. menu, and offers some half-price bottles of Spanish wines. 2400 Park Road; 704-335-8444.

On the new menu from new chef Anoosh Shariat at Mez: summer gazpacho with cucumber and avocado relish; seared tuna with ginger and lemongrass French toast; a variety of flatbreads; herb-roasted lamb chops with caponata; grilled Scottish salmon with asparagus and more. 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-2400.

GadoGado offers a three-course dinner now through July 31 for $26 plus tax and tip. 157 N. Trade St. in Matthews; 704-844-8686.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Big Ben's back

Big Ben's Pub, burnt beyond salvaging in February, is slated to reopen at South End's Atherton Mill by Oct. 1, if renovations go according to plan.

Co-owner Paula Casey says she and David Harris are shooting for an Oct. 1 opening in the historic space at South Boulevard and Tremont Avenue that was once a trolley station. "We are anxious to get open, but the landlord has about a month of work and we have about a month."

Harris, a British native, and Casey had pubs in Florida, until the 2005 hurricane season convinced them another location would be safer. They opened Big Ben's in February 2006 in a 100-plus-year-old house at 801 Providence Road in Myers Park that had housed a series of restaurants, including the Meeting House and Sonoma on Providence.

The Valentine's Day blaze this year led to firefighters declaring it a total loss. "The building was so old," said Harris, "you couldn't build back on."

Amid the damage, estimated at a million dollars at the time, a small metal rendering of the pub's namesake clock tower in London survived. So did a photograph that has hung over the mantel in three of the pair's pubs of "the queen pulling a pint. That'll go back up," said Harris. "And we've been adding bits and pieces since we've been ... unemployed. We've been married 17 years, we have no children: Our pub is our life."

The mantel from the Providence Road house was salvaged. So was a London phone booth that will come to South End. The space has old brick, a 20-foot ceiling and plank roof, Casey said. The new Big Ben's will offer the same menu as the first, with traditional English pub dishes, plus some steak entrees and monthly specials.

Free Pinkberry; other bits and pieces

Pinkberry will officially open at Phillips Place on July 23, but will do a grand opening event 6-10 p.m. July 22 at the store (6908-C Phillips Place Court), with free frozen yogurt, music and giveaways.

Carpe Diem and Noble's in Charlotte, Herons in Cary and Charleston Grill and Peninsula Grill in Charleston all made OpenTable's 2010 Diners’ Choice Awards for Best American Cuisine. The rating is done with feedback from diners who made reservations through its service, at restaurants who use its service. Interestingly, restaurants on the list include Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York, 10 different Capital Grilles, and five Missouri restaurants -- the most of any single state.

Andrew Coe digs into Chinese-American "brown sauce" -- what is it, anyway? -- for The Atlantic here.

Pewter Rose has new chef

Brent Martin is now executive chef at the Pewter Rose in South End; Geoff Bragg has become chef de cuisine at Asheville's Grove Park Inn. A Buffalo native, Martin has been cooking with Bragg the last two years. Plans call for what he calls "some new items and styles" but also a continuation of favorites. 1820 South Blvd.; 704-332-8149.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Half off?

Do you know (or work at, or run, or own) restaurants that offer significant food discounts on particular days of the week? Let me know; I'm collecting them for a story.

Deals, deals

Bruegger’s Bagels has extended its 4 Under $4 offer through August; the four sandwiches are the Western (egg, bacon, roasted veggies, chipotle sauce), egg white and sun-dried tomato, egg and cheddar and egg, cheddar and bacon.

RiRa does half-price burgers from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. each Monday. 208 N. Tryon St.; 704- 333-5001.

July 29 is National Lasagna Day; Buca di Beppo will give a free lunch-sized portion to any dine-in customer who buys a small or large sized pasta or entree. 10915 Carolina Place Parkway; 704-542-5146.

Fearrington House turns 30

The Fearrington House in Pittsboro celebrates 30 years in business with a first-ever "Behind the Scenes" overnight package at the Fearrington Inn. Facebook followers of the restaurant suggested the idea. Guests can check in July 23 or 24; the one-night deal includes a kitchen tour with chef Colin Bedford (pictured; he'll address how the restaurant became the first AAA Five Diamond-rated one in the country to get certified by the Green Restaurant Association); a chance to talk wine with wine director Maximilian Kast; a garden tour with master gardener Wendy Moses; a visit with organic farmer Anne Stomp in the kitchen gardens; plus a la carte breakfast, afternoon English tea and a four-course dinner with wine pairings at the House, plus a gift card to spend at the shops at Fearrington and its beer garden. Prices start at $575 per couple. The inn is about 9 miles south of Chapel Hill; reservations: 919-542-2121.

Top Chefs in Charlotte for Beard

Gene Briggs of Blue will be host chef for this year's James Beard Foundation fundraising dinner in Charlotte on Sept. 22, joined by Bruce Moffett of Barrington's and Good Food on Montford, and pastry chef Geoffrey Blount of CPCC. As part of the Celebrity Chef Tour, the dinner is also slated to bring in Top Chef dolls-from-last-season Kevin Gillespie, of Atlanta's Woodfire Grill, and Eli Kirshtein, who had cooked at Eno, also in Atlanta. Proceeds benefit the James Beard Foundation's programming and educational initiatives. $150; 206 N. College St.; tickets at 720-201-1853 (Jeff Black).

Speaking of familiar names, chef Mark Hibbs, formerly of Ratcliffe on the Green (which closed in uptown last week), says he just became chef at Oak Street Café in Highlands. The fare is European-style fine dining, he says, mostly French and Italian influence. 332 Main St.; 828-787-2200.
And less familiar names: Anoosh Shariat has taken over the helm at Mez; where he plans to be “big into local,” according to public relations folks, but will take a transitional approach to changing Klime Kovaceski’s original menu; expect about a third to change in the near future, followed by more. A native of Persia, Shariat comes here from Louisville, where his experience was in fine dining and he’d gained a particular reputation for vegetarian fare, though his work was never exclusively vegetarian. Mez is at 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-2400.

Dine out, do good

"Wings for the Brave" is the name of Buffalo's Southwest Cafe's fundraiser 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through July 10. The idea is to assemble care packages for U.S. troops serving overseas. Customers who bring in stuff from an extensive list of qualifying items will get half off their meals. (Military families with ID will also get half-off during the week.) 14015 Conlan Circle at Ballantyne; 704-541-9055 (items include everything from toothpaste to sunflower seeds to playing cards; call for details).

Eat at Rotelli July 9, 10 and 11 and 10 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. 7510 Pineville-Matthews Road; 704-541-1850.

Dine at any of the three 131 Mains (Cornelius, Dilworth, Rea Road) on any Thursday in July and tell them you're "dining for Hospice" and a portion of your bill will be donated to Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region.

Bruster’s will donate a meal to Feeding America for every Snickers ice cream product sold -- up to a value of $10,000 -- during the "Bruster's Cares" campaign through July 31. Feeding America is a national hunger-relief charity, feeding the hungry in this country through member food banks; info (and closest locations): www.brusters.com.

Grass-fed beef and a sandwich a day?

Owen's Bagel & Deli celebrates its fifth anniversary with a contest: Create a new sandwich idea, name it and post it on the Owen's Facebook page by July 25. Fans will vote on a top three, then a winner will be announced July 31 and given the right to get their sandwich free every day for a year. 2041 South Blvd.; 704-333-5385.

Get a taste of grassfed beef from Proffitt Farms and a lineup of other area foodstuffs at Passion8 Bistro's Slow Food dinner July 14. Only area foods will be used (including the beer) and part of the proceeds will go to the Slow Food Charlotte's school lunch program. Slow Food is an international movement started in the mid '80s to combat the fast-food mindset and encourage preservation of local and traditional cuisines. You can find out more here. Shelley Eagan of the farm will be on hand to discuss method and reasoning with diners. $75;

Catching up with Restaurant Week

Catching up after time away (which included bacalao, Becco and bugs; I'll post a bit on that later). Let's get going:

Charlotte Restaurant Week approaches. For the uninitiated: $30 gets you three courses (occasionally more) at a multitude of restaurants around town July 16-25, so you can try some you've been meaning to get to, or return to old favorites at a possible savings. Check out the options here. This is the fifth Week, and 88 locations are participating. The website breaks them down geographically, and you can see each menu as well.

Tips for any Restaurant Week:

1. The 30 bucks doesn't include drinks (unless noted), or tips, so don't feel cheated when your part goes over $30. On the other hand, if you're intent on a bargain experience, don't be talked into ordering sides, extra courses or a multitude of wine. Have a plan and execute it, and everybody goes home happy.
2. Read the menus beforehand. A restaurant may not be offering its signature dishes in the deal meal -- know that before you go. Note meat weights, where given, and don't be afraid to ask if they're not. Likewise, ask about what sides come with the CRW deal.
3. Make reservations and be prompt. This can be a crazy-busy time for the restaurants involved and your timeliness helps everyone. The best staffs will be prepared and gracious throughout, no matter what (and the best kitchens will give you top-notch quality), but even the best can be thrown by folks who show up very late.

Brunch EVERY day; new menus

The Pewter Rose in South End now serves brunch every day, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Dinner is 5-9 Sunday-Thursday, to 10 Friday-Saturday and there's a bar menu offered between brunch and dinner.) Fans of the butterscotch scones can snag them daily; also on the menu: mashed potato omelets (and others), mushroom frittata, bananas Foster french toast, quiches and benedicts, shrimp and grits, entree salads, and a full complement of sandwiches, from burgers to crab cakes to black bean wraps. 1820 South Blvd.; 704-332-8149.

Gallery at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge has a new summer menu, including lunch offerings of Hawaiian ahi tuna with roasted local squash, broccoli, orzo and herb nage; and grilled salmon with baby bok choy and local carrots in a Thai honey beurre blanc. Dinner dishes range from small plates such as thinly sliced tuna loin, Jonah crab salad, papaya and crispy shallots (pictured) to new entrees such as tea-smoked duck breast with English pea and corn ragout and crispy herb potatoes served in a white wine duck reduction.
10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-248-4100.