Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Food Baby Top Picks for Charlotte Restaurant Week

Just when you thought your new year’s resolutions were safe…CRW is back!  The lists have been circulating for a while, and I’ve spent some time perusing the participating CRW restaurants and their menus.  A few of my personal opinions...

1.  Watch out for amateur hour.  In many ways, CRW is like other dreaded “rookie” nights for restaurants – Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, etc.  You know these nights – it’s hard to find parking, tough to get a decent reservation, and there are just too many damn people asking for Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.  Gross and strenuous and I’m already over it.  And you just know your waiter is sizing you up – are you a rookie that will skimp on the tip, or are you a seasoned diner who knows the rules?  Whatever they conclude will on some level impact the quality of service...

2.  Best showing?  I am also skeptical in some cases that you get the best of what a restaurant has to offer.  I can imagine that participating restaurants struggle with the trade-off between the hard to define marketing benefits of RW versus the reality of food costs.  As with anything there will be hits and misses.

3.  Come on, really?  There are some places where a $30 pre-fixe menu concept is just ri-donk-u-lous (in a bad way). Take BlackFinn, for example.  I wasn’t sure if human people actually went there with the intention of eating food, but apparently some do. I think it’s a bad sign that they have to give you wine/beer, an app, a salad, an entrée AND a dessert for you to get your money’s worth.  In other words, there is a reasonable chance that this experience will be quantity over quality. 

4.  Seek the value trades.  I believe that RW “strategery” is crucial.  I try to select restaurants where the $30 pre-fixe menu is actually good value in order to maximize food baby potential.  However, RW offerings from many traditionally “expensive” restaurants (namely the big steak houses) don’t really turn me on.  My issue personally is that most offer similar options; some variation of this formula:  (Caesar/wedge salad) + (steak/salmon/chicken) + (cheesecake/bread pudding) = RW menu.  Somehow paying $30 for a Caesar salad an 8 oz filet doesn’t thrill me…oh and I can get a slice of cheesecake with that?!?  Look, I know that no one goes to these places to push the boundaries of molecular gastronomy and eat coffee-dusted pork belly with caviar foam and fennel “dirt”– they want a big juicy steak the size of their head, some delicious red wine and a big-ass baked potato.  To that end, I will end up spending far more than $30 to get my proper steakhouse fix in.  I will upgrade with pineapple-infused martinis, red wine, lobster tails, sides, apps, etc.  Sorry I’m not sorry – I go to steak houses to acquire a gluttonous food baby, end of story.

For all of these reasons and more, I tend to be carefully selective about my RW picks.  Here are a few options that caught my eye.  What are your picks?

Food Baby Top Five for CRW
  • The Liberty.  After the pickle course for the table, I’ll take the pig ears (duh), the butcher steak topped with a fried egg and the sea salted caramel budino.  There may have to be a beer flight and a bib involved too.
  • Dolce.  I think the ambiance at Dolce is dead charming and they do solid Italian food.  Lobster bisque, gnocchi with butternut squash and prosciutto (although my dining partner will be required to order the lamb osso buco), limoncello cake.
  • Bernardin’s.  Tuna tartare, filet with bone marrow truffle butter and sorbet.  Gasp. 
  • Mimosa.  So many choices … I like that they included a few higher end items for modest upcharges.  Perhaps the grilled romaine salad, beef carapaccio or duck confit/pear flatbread to start?  Duck trio or shortrib entrée.  Who cares about dessert at that point?
  • Malabar.  I love small plates and this menu definitely allows you to try several of them, depending on the size of your group.  For the first course I get excited about the croquetas, beef meatballs, stuffed peppers, grilled octopus and patatas bravas (each person gets to pick 2 tapas).  Main course churrasco steak or gamabas al ajo (mmmmm garlic and paprika!).  Tres leches for dessert.   

- Brianna 

1 comment:

  1. Aria did a nice job with CRW offering the entire menu. Our party of four enjoyed the courses, but the scallop entree was ridiculously small.