Friday, September 30, 2011

Scary pancakes and other fall flavors

IHOP offers special pancakes for October: pumpkin pancakes, all-you-can-eat buttermilk pancakes, and Scary Face Pancakes, with a daylong giveaway of the last to kids 12 and younger 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 28 (one per kid).

And Bruegger's now offers pumpkin spice coffee for the fall, along with baked apple bagels and honey walnut cream cheese in what the place calls a Baker's Choice pairing, offered through Nov. 22. The chain also has a Harvest Ciabatta panini (roasted turkey and green apple), and has brought back its 4 for $4 breakfast sandwich menu for a limited time.

Eat tacos, do good

Vida plans a fundraiser for Oct. 4 (that's Tuesday), taking advantage of National Taco Day. For every taco sold that day, Vida will donate a dollar to Levine Children's Hospital, and then match the day's total in an additional donation to Levine. By the way, each Tuesday from 5-7 p.m., Vida does "Vida Sociale," which offers $2 a la carte tacos, with half a dozen varieties of filling. 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-8432.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oktoberfest, kind of

BlackFinn American Saloon has German-ed up its menu for Oktoberfest, beginning Friday, with beer cheese soup, potato pancakes, beer-braised bratwurst platter, sauteed pork chop and pan-fried chicken schnitzel, plus apple strudel offered through Oct. 30. 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-4440.

Maitakes, wine and wine

Zebra chef-owner Jim Alexander notes he got maitake mushrooms (also called "hen of the woods") in this week that are "huge ... so big we are displaying them in the bar!" He's serving them all week, over risotto with shaved Reggiano Parmesan cheese with red Burgundy, for example. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.

hosts a Torbreck dinner Oct. 7 with the Wine Vault. On the menu: smoked salmon with Torbreck Steading; sliced Cajun ribeye with Woodcutters Shiraz; steak frites and Descendant; and more. $100; reservations: 704-548-9463.

Zink offers a five-course Duckhorn Vineyards dinner Oct. 12, with someone from the winery there to answer questions. The menu includes butter-poached Maine lobster tail with 2009 Migration Chardonnay; Snake River Farm Berkshire pork belly trio with 2008 Merlot and 2004 "Three Palms" Merlot; Painted Hills N.Y. strip with 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2004 Howell Mountain Meritage Blend; and more. $85; 704-909-5500; 4310 Sharon Road.

Dine out, do good

Plan now for the Oct. 22 Third Annual Oyster Bash at Upstream, with a portion of proceeds benefitting national hunger relief group Share Our Strength. For $95, you get to try 10 varieties of coldwater oysters from around the continent, paired with 10 wines and sparkling wines. Three wine experts will declare what they think is the best pairing of the evening, as will guests, and votes from both will be counted to declare a winner. Guests will be in the running for a $100 Harper's gift certificate.

Planned offerings include Rappahannocks from Topping, Va.; Old Salts from Chincoteague Bay, Va.; York Rivers from (surprise) York River, Va.; Kusshis from British Columbia; Malpeques from Prince Edward Island; and more, plus Droin Chablis, Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, La Marca Prosecco, Domaine du Quilla Muscadet, Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc and other paired wines.

Reservations for the night are required: 704-556-7730; 6902 Phillips Place. (Malpeque oyster photo from

Tune in tomorrow

I'll be with debonair host Mike Collins and fellow restaurant writers on "Charlotte Talks" on WFAE (90.7 FM) 9-10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30. You can listen online as well, here.

Dine out, do good

Terrace Cafe at SouthPark offers a six-course wine dinner Oct. 5 that benefits Charlotte Family Housing. Among the courses: bourbon-glazed pork belly with 209 Oliverhill Shiraz; boursin-stuffed squash blossoms with White Oak Sauvignon Blanc; Korean short rib with 2009 Llama Malbec; and more. $55; 704-554-6177; 4625 Piedmont Row Drive.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Restaurant is animal-welfare-approved

Grazin' in Hudson, N.Y., is scheduled to open Oct. 1 as the first "Animal Welfare Approved Restaurant" in the country. That means all meat, dairy and egg products used at the restaurant come from AWA-listed farms. Animal Welfare Approved is a national nonprofit that audits and certifies farmers raising their animals outdoors on pasture or range, sustainability. (For more on the standards, check the AWA website.)

Dan Gibson and his family own and operate the restaurant, along with Grazin' Angus Acres farm, which raises grass-fed and -finished Black Angus beef. "For some time now, I have dreamed about opening a truly sustainable restaurant," Gibson said in a press release. "And as we only use local suppliers, most of our ingredients will have traveled less than 11 miles from farm to plate, minimizing the carbon footprint of every meal." The place will make its own butter and ice creams, and get its baked goods from another AWA approved source.

The restaurant is at 717 Warren St.;

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bernardin's coming to Uptown

And no, it's not an outpost of chef/celebrity Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin in New York. Chef-owner Freddy Lee, who's opening this second location of his Winston-Salem restaurant, did cook for awhile at Le Bernardin - but that was back in the mid-80s, when Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze had the place. "I don't know Eric Ripert," says Lee. "He came way after that."

Lee, 44, has owned the Winston-Salem restaurant - whose name he and staff pronounce "ber-NAR-din's" - with his brother Terry since 1992. "We've been down here a long time." About a year and a half ago, they moved it from its original site to the historic Zevely House. That's why, he says, the uptown spot at 435 S. Tryon St., formerly the Ratcliffe Florist building, was so attractive. "It's a historic house, like ours in Winston-Salem." They signed the lease with Wells Fargo two or three months ago, he said, and did some renovation. The menu at first will be very similar to his original, which he says is contemporary American with Asian influences, and "completely different" from Ripert's. His family came from Hong Kong and he spent time in India, as well as some months cooking in New York City. He is a Culinary Institute of America grad and says he spent time with Le Coze, as well as with Steven Mellina at Manhattan Ocean Club and at Tribeca Grill.

Lee hopes to open in three weeks or so - which will be about a week before Ripert, interestingly, comes to Charlotte for an Oct. 26 appearance with chef/celeb Anthony Bourdain. Twitter was alive with comments, with people suggesting to Ripert that he rename his place "Le Original Bernardin" and that he send Lee a dead fish wrapped in a Le Bernardin menu. (Ah, Twitter. A subtle place.) Ripert tweeted that "They will deal w MLC my business partner," then clarified that was Maguy Le Coze.

Asked if he'd heard from anyone from Le Bernardin's yet, Lee said, "Why would they call me? I pronounce it 'ber-NAR-din's'."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wine dinner

Mama Ricotta’s hosts Tim Grace, founder of Il Molino di Grace winery, for a wine dinner Oct. 5. Tim Groody, corporate chef for FS Food Group, will do five courses paired with Grace's wines plus two Italian sparkling wines. Among the highlights: Chianti Classico Riserva 2005 and wild boar; risotto al salto with mussels and scallops with Chianti Classico 2006; and grilled Tuscan short ribs with Il Volano (a super Tuscan).
$65, with a shot at a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant and a signed bottle of Il Molino di Grace; 704-343-0148. 601 S. Kings Drive.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rippington's back

Rippington's Restaurant celebrates a "Grand Reopening" Sept. 25 after remodeling (adding a beer and wine bar) with a charity benefit for the Wounded Warriors Project. A $15 donation gets you in, with samples of new bar menu dishes, plus three drink tickets, a chance at door prizes and other ways to support the Project, which helps with programs and services for severely injured service members. 109 W. South Main St., Waxhaw; 704-843-4806.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Steakhouse is opening uptown

Nick's Steak and Taphouse, billed as uptown's first mid-priced steakhouse, is open at 7th Street Station (225 E. 6th St.; 980-819-9240), with prime rib and other steaks, bacon-wrapped grilled swordfish, butter-poached salmon, 16 craft beers on tap, and more. Steaks come with salad and sides and run about $22-$27.

In case you've lost track of the LaVecchia Restaurant Group's movements, let me refresh you. That site used to house LaVecchia's, until that operation moved to the Hearst Tower (across from Luce) in March, and got a menu and wine list upgrade.

Also within the past year or so, the group:
* Opened Jax Backstreet Tavern in Belmont.
* Opened Battleground Steakhouse in Kings Mountain.
* Opened Nick's Steak and Taphouse in Gastonia.
(It also has Nix Burger & Brew uptown and Old Stone Steakhouse in Belmont.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Taste Charlotte East

... and the world, too, Oct. 6 with the ninth annual Taste of the World, an event designed to let diners travel, culinarily speaking, through the vast world encompassed on the east side of town. About 20 restaurants so far, with more than a dozen different cuisines, will take part, and it works like this: Ticket buyers go to an opening reception at the VanLandingham Estate (2010 The Plaza), then are divvied randomly onto buses. From there, they travel to three restaurants and get tastes at each, complete with guides to help explain the foods. The evening wraps up with a dessert party. Tickets are $30, and you can buy them here. Restaurants on board include:

Ben Thanh
Bistro La Bon
Carnitas Guanajuato
Dim Sum
Fu Lin
Lang Van
La Shish Kabob
Machu Picchu
Mama's Caribbean Cafe
The Motherland
Nile Grocery and Cafe
Pollos Mario
Portofino’s Ristorante Italiano e Pizzeria
Three Amigos
Woodlands Vegetarian Indian Cuisine

Raffaldini festival Saturday

Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda hosts its sixth annual Festa Italiana on Saturday, Sept. 17, (not Friday, as today's CLT said): a daylong (11 a.m.-5 p.m.) celebration of Italian culture, food, art, music and wine. Admission is $15 and includes a wine tasting and commemorative glass, live music, food vendors and more. Info: or 336-835-9463.

Bits & crumbs

Slate reposted this classic by Christopher Hitchens on the absurdity - nay, impossible effrontery! - of waiters pouring your wine for you. Fun.

Until Nov. 6, diners at Genghis Grill have an extra protein option: Dr Pepper BBQ Chicken -- "all natural white meat chicken, with touches of soy sauce and pineapple juice, flavored with Cajun and garlic seasonings, marinated with Genghis Grill's signature Mongo BBQ sauce, all blended with the 'authentic blend of 23 rich flavors®' of Dr Pepper®." 980-236-1427; 11324 N. Community House Road.

The 28th Showmars is now open in Mooresville, at 138 Williamson Road, accessible from I-77 at exit 36. 704-662-3383.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Calories, sodium cut; First Lady approves

Darden Restaurants -- that's Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse in these parts -- announced today (with First Lady Michelle Obama, by the way) an initiative to cut calories and sodium by 10 percent across its brands over five years, 20 percent over 10. Darden says it's the world's largest full-service restaurant company, with 1,900 restaurants in 49 states.

Also promised: fruits or vegetables will be the default side on kids’ menus (meaning you can get something else, but if you don't specify, you'll get fruits or vegetables), and 1-percent milk will be the default beverage. Those changes start now and will be fully implemented by next July, the company says.

Said Michelle Obama: "I’m here today because this is a breakthrough moment in the restaurant industry ... Darden is working to make the healthy choice the easy choice."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A look at Chapel Hill chef Reusing

Raleigh News & Observer food editor Andrea Weigl tells us a little more about Lantern's chef, Andrea Reusing, who won the regional chef title in this year's James Beard Awards. An excerpt: "Reusing is at Lantern every day, tweaking the menu, creating specials, checking on deliveries, overseeing the kitchen several nights - and teaching, always teaching. Her brother, Brendan Reusing, who helped open Lantern, says: 'She will not stop until you do it the way she wants you to. ... She's really pretty relentless.' " Photo by Juli Leonard.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Updated: Free wings and yogurt Wednesday

Get free chicken wings Wednesday at Trade and Tryon streets uptown, in preparation for this Saturday's Carolina Wing Fest. "Wing King" Drew Cerza (who beat celeb chef Bobby Flay in one of his "throwdowns"), along with area restaurants Buffalo Wild Wings, Duckworth's, Fuel Cafe, Hickory Tavern, Taste of Buffalo, Wing Zone and Wing King Cafe, will give away wings from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Charlotte stop of the National Buffalo Wing Fest, founded by Cerza, is noon to 10 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Metrolina Tradeshow Expo (7100 Statesville Road), with more than 75 kinds of wings from about 18 area restaurants (including the seven above) - plus a wing-eating contest and "bobbing for wings" in vats of blue cheese. Restaurants are competing for a free trip to Buffalo to represent the Carolinas at the 2012 National Buffalo Wing Festival.

Admission is $10; active-duty military with ID, college students with ID and kids younger than 8 get in free. Three wings go for $2 and the event benefits the Great Prostate Cancer Challenge. Info:

And: from 5 to 10 p.m., the EpiCentre Yoforia offers free frozen yogurt. 210 E. Trade St.

Bits and pieces

Enso Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar recently finished up SILK, a private dining and banquet facility (about 2,000 square feet) that can handle about 20 to 100. It's got "Las Vegas-style decor," according to its press release, along with commercial-grade video capabilities and a Bose audio system. Info: 704-705-0131. Enso is at the EpiCentre uptown, 210 E. Trade St.

If you "like" Upstream on Facebook before Sept. 30, you could win a date night each month for the last three months of 2011. The restaurant will pick a winner Sept. 30, who will get a $100 gift card each for October, November and December.

Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda hosts its sixth annual Festa Italiana on Sept. 17, a daylong (11 a.m.-5 p.m.) celebration of Italian culture, food, art, music and wine. Admission is $15 and includes a wine tasting and commemorative glass, live music, food vendors and more. Info: or 336-835-9463.

Attn: Charlotte Chocoholics

Bar Cocoa opens Sept. 30 at the Ritz-Carlton uptown as an extension of the Lobby Lounge as well as streetside access. "A sophisticated, all-new chocolate and cocoa experience," according to its press, it will offer food and drink, plus retail sales, dessert dinners and cooking classes.

* A daily "Chocolate Afternoon Tea" starting Oct. 1: Six teas plus chocolate tea and hot chocolate with housemade marshmallows; $32, $10 per child younger than 12, including valet parking, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. (Offerings will be mini-sandwiches, white chocolate and orange scones, petits fours and a signature Bar Cocoa: layers of praline and Gianduja cake, hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate mousse and milk chocolate Chantilly.)
* A weekly five-course (all desserts) chocolate and Champagne dinner starting Oct. 8 for $125.
* Classes in the adjoining Cocoa Lab: Starting Oct. 15 for $75.
* Sales of pastries from the Ritz-Carlton's Josh Cain and confections from chocolatier Norman Love (shown, although don't you wish they'd used someone local?); and
* A Chocolate Rehab package for overnight guests this fall.

You can get a la carte items (think pastries and sweets) 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, to midnight Friday-Saturday and to 4 p.m. Sunday. 201 E. Trade St.

Info: 704-547-2244 and here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meet your farms

The third annual Charlotte Area Farm Tour happens this weekend, with 32 area farms open for self-guided tours, from 12:30-5:30 p.m. Sept. 17 and 18. Tickets are $25 in advance ($30 on tour days) and different farms are open different days. Download a map and buy a ticket at, or get them at the Milky Way (Charlotte) both locations of Common Market (Charlotte), the Bradford Store (Huntersville), and three Ben & Jerry's locations (Gastonia, Charlotte and Davidson).

Note: You may be able to get in free, if you're willing to help out. Check the website for more information.

Know Your Farms, a family business based in Davidson, organized the tour and aims to "rebuild our local food system in a sustainable way." On the tour are places that grow fruit, vegetables, livestock (including ostrich and alpaca), mushrooms and wine grapes. Many farms plan activities for kids, from hay rides to petting zoos, and adults, such as live music and cooking demos. Also featured: a Shabby Chic Farm to Fork Dinner at Honey Mountain Farm in Mount Ulla Sept. 17. Tickets for this are sold separately from the tour, are $75 (dinner only) and $100 (farm tour and dinner) and benefit Friendship Trays in Charlotte. Those can be bought on the website, too.

Wine dinners

A Mollydooker dinner Sept. 17 at Zebra for Heartbright has a few seats left. Sparky Marquis of Mollydooker will be on hand, and the menu will be French-inspired. $150 (half is tax-deductible); 704-373-3002.

Latour Wines are the star Sept. 21 at The King's Kitchen. Courses include Latour Pouilly Fuisse with roasted S.C. poussin with Anson Mills farro; Fessy Morgan Cru de Beaujolais with grilled veal tenderloin and sweet potato hash; and more. $55; 704-375-1990; 129 W. Trade St.

Allen Papp of Darioush Wines will guide a dinner at Del Frisco's Sept. 23, with dishes that range from poached pears with mascarpone and 2010 Viognier to pappardelle with duck confit and 2007 Signature Merlot to pepper-crusted filet mignon with veal jus with 2007 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, and more. $150; 704-552-5502; 4725 Piedmont Row Drive.

The Wine Shop at Foxcroft offers a Spanish wine dinner Sept. 27 with André Tamer's De Maison wines, and Tamer will be on hand. $60; 704-365-6550; 7824 Fairview Road.

BLT Steak hosts a Shelton Vineyards four-course dinner Sept. 30, with Mandy Shelton Houser and Michael Egues of Shelton discussing both courses and wines. $75; 704-972-4380; in the Ritz-Carlton at 201 E. Trade St.

First place pork (and more)

Gallery won the regional fine dining award in the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' "Best Dish in NC" contest. The entire three-course menu isn't still available, but included such items as Chapel Hill Creamery's Thunder Mountain Swiss, a black walnut-smoked heritage pork dish marinated in Junior Johnson cherry moonshine (pictured), and Baucom's Best short rib with local blueberry and peach barbecue sauce. The last two will be on the fall menu, which begins Oct. 1. 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-248-4100.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Deals: Tasting, barbecue specials

On Saturday nights, get a five-course tasting menu with wines for $35 per person at the Mimosa Grill bar. Chef Jon Fortes also does a three-course tasting menu (without wines) for $30 -- that's every night, and not just in the bar -- that includes cress and strawberry salad with Persian feta; shellfish with shallots, smoked tomatoes and rustic bread or hickory-grilled five-spice ribs; and bittersweet chocolate molten cake with peanut butter mousse and crispy banana. 327 S. Tryon St.; 704-343-0700.

Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q hosts a grand opening for its Arboretum site (3351 Pineville-Matthews Road; 704-910-3038) the week of Sept. 19. Included: Kids eat free (one per adult) Sept. 19; all-you-can-eat ribs for $9.99 Sept. 20; buy one dinner plate and get one for half price Sept. 24, and more.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Palm gift cards

"85 Days of $85 Gift Cards" is The Palm's new promotion on its website, Through Nov. 24, you can enter daily to win a card; a winner is pulled each night, and the card is mailed in the next few days. Why now? The Palm has done a "comprehensive brand refresh," which means new tableware and leather menus, new uniforms and logo, and a new menu, including additions such as an antipasti appetizer and housemade gelato, and "comeback items" like a 14-ounce New York strip and 16-ounce lobster tail. In Charlotte: 6705-B Phillips Place Court; 704-552-7256.

Google to buy Zagat?

The New York Times says yep, noting "Zagat has grown from a two-page typed list to a global empire with millions of loyal readers and reviewers happy to rave about their favorite restaurants and bars. But the company has faced several challenges in recent years, notably a slew of Internet-based competitors that provide an alternate outlet for restaurant reviews. Zagat (pronounced zuh-GAHT) has responded by partnering with a number of online players, including Facebook, Foursquare and, yes, Google."

BBQ & Blues -- and burgers

A reminder: The ninth annual BBQ & Blues event runs 5-11 Friday night and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday at the N.C. Music Factory (935 N. Graham St.), with assorted foods and beer, live blues, pig races and barbecue competition (but no, you don't wander around sampling; the barbecuers are vying for prize money). More info:

Wendy's "Hot 'N Juicy Tour" stops at the festival Friday to hand out 2,000 free cheeseburgers with a Frosty 5-11 p.m. (And founder Dave Thomas's daughter, Wendy, is scheduled to be on hand 5-6:15).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gluten-free... flour?

Uber-chef Thomas Keller (of the French Laundry in California, and Per Se in New York) now is in the gluten-free flour business with chef Lena Kwak, who developed the stuff - a blend of flours of white and brown rice, tapioca and potatoes, plus potato starch, cornstarch and milk powder - for pastries in the Laundry. Interesting: here.

Wine dinners

Savannah Red in the Uptown Marriott hosts a Hill Family Wines dinner Sept. 12 for $75. Among the courses: crab hoe cake with pickled fennel and apple salad; lobster stew with Hill Family Chardonnay; venison short rib with Cabernet Sauvignon; and more. Reservations: 704-548-9463.

Passion8 hosts a Falcor wine dinner Sept. 28, with seven courses of local fare and winery proprietor Mike Bee on hand. $85; 3415 Highway 51 North, Fort Mill, S.C.; 803-802-7455.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Zagat picks top fast food

The newest Zagat Survey (that's where diners vote; this boasts 6,000+ voters) is in, on fast food, covering 103 chains nationally. Get a roll-over summary here, giving you the fast-serve and full-service winners in Burger, Salad, Coffee and Value categories.

Among highlights and interesting tidbits:
* Five Guys and Red Robin take the burger prizes, while Panera and The Cheesecake Factory claim salad kudos.
* 69 percent of votes said they support calorie count displays in both fast food and full service chains
* 55 percent said those counts influence their decisions about ordering (!)
* The "outtakes" section gives you quotes from surveyors, and they're worth perusing for the zzzing! Sample: "If you want to make one more bad decision on a Saturday night at 2 AM – go here."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

'Cue: It's everywhere

Bill Spoon's made a Zagat list (that's the national diner-voting website and publication) of the country's top 10 barbecue destinations (and it got referred to by the Huffington Post, Steve Spoon tells us!). Take a look here.

And coming in Friday's CLT: A review of Sauceman's.

Happy 40th

Sept. 1 marks the 40th anniversary of owner Steve Abernethy's Bar-B-Que King in Lincolnton, where Abernethy has kept the doors open Monday through Saturday since 1971, according to daughter Allyson Hancock. She says he's got employees who have stayed with him for two and three decades, and that she and her husband, her sister, Stephanie, and Steve's wife, Becky, have all worked stints at the place, known for its vinegar-based 'cue and cheeseburgers. "I'm just so proud of him," she says.