Still time to Indulge in Charlotte Restaurant Week – The 2014 Winter Queens Feast runs Jan 17-26

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgWith the last weekend of the winter 2014 Queens Feast Charlotte Restaurant Week upon us, I wanted to share two fabulous dinners my husband Tom and I enjoyed during the two week winter run of this semi annual culinary event.

What? You’ve never partaken in Restaurant Week before? What are you waiting for? You have until January 26 to enjoy the perks – make your reservations today!

Its super simple and at 3 for $30 pricing (3 courses for $30, exclusive of alcohol, tax and gratuity) its a great way to try out a new place or revisit on old favorite…

Here is how it works -

Charlotte Restaurant Week - the winter 2014 Queens Feast

Charlotte Restaurant Week – the winter 2014 Queens Feast

There are over 100 participating restaurants on the Queens Feast web site, so lots of offerings to choose from – search for restaurants by neighborhood or name.
Then, click on each restaurant’s name to view the exact location of each dining establishment, contact/reservation information and the restaurant’s  special Charlotte Restaurant Week menu. To make it all the easier, the link to the site is at the end of this post.

Be sure to make advance dinner reservations and then all you have to do is show up. Its really just that easy.  No passes, tickets, or restaurant coupons are  required.

Most restaurants go all out to share what they do on a regular basis for an exceptional 3 for $30 pricetag. Some restaurants also offer their regular menus should not everyone in your party want to partake in the Restaurant week offerings and this year I have noticed that many places are offering several additions or enhancements to their individual Queen Feast menus at an additional charge.

Heidi Tom and SwitchbackWith so many Charlotte area restaurants participating, the choice of where to dine is a tough one. Over the past two weeks, my husband, Tom Billotto and I took time out to eat at two outstanding Charlotte restaurants participating in the promotion: Passion 8 Bistro and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room.

Our first dinner was the first Sunday of the Queens Feast run. Passion 8 Bistro is one of our favorite places in town, but they are not usually open on Sunday or Monday nights. For restaurant week, however, the schedule changes and the place is open for business as usual on what are regularly the chefs nights off. I called to make reservations and was delighted to find they had a table for two open.

The team at Passion 8 Bistro

The team at Passion 8 Bistro

We enjoyed an incredible Restaurant Week meal  – chefs Luca Annunziata, Matt Matthew Krenz and Evan Micek and staff outdid themselves!  So much food on the 3 for $30 menu – portions are big, so some of our dinner made its way into to-go containers and we very much enjoyed the rest for lunch the next day!

While I ordered from the Restaurant Week menu, Tom opted to ordered from the short list of nightly specials. It was wonderful to have so many choices.
Food, wine, service and atmosphere are always wonderful at this small 48 seat bistro supporting over 40 farms and serving a market menu every evening.  A pictorial of our first 2014 Restaurant Week meal follows.
Passion 8 Bistro's escargot

Passion 8 Bistro’s escargot

Passion  8 was serving the Restaurant Week menu as well as an abbreviated regular menu – so we decided to mix it up a bit – I ordered a la restaurant week and Tom went for the nightly specials – a marvelous mix as we shared each plate.
I kicked it off with the escargot in a fabulous chimichurri butter and ancho cream sauce on the evening specials menu. When I was a little girl escargot was the first “fancy” food I ever ordered in a restaurant – tongs, shells, tiny forks, garlic butter and all. These escargot at Passion 8 were. oh so. different than that and oh so. much better than what I remembered – no shells, no special equipment; but it brought back wonderful memories. It’s been so long since I have had escargot -LOVED them done this way!
Passion 8 Cheese plate

Passion 8 Cheese plate

Tom started with the Passion 8 cheese plate – my photo here really doesn’t do it justice – a beautiful oversized platter of four cheeses with a delicious local jam and crispy flatbread crackers.
pasnip and NC apple soup with BBQ beet salad, crispy pigs ear, Tega Hill Farm microgreens

pasnip and NC apple soup with BBQ beet salad, crispy pigs ear, Tega Hill Farm microgreens

Next, the first of three courses from my offical Charlotte Restaurant Week meal at Passion 8  – a warm and creamy apple and parsnip soup topped with a BBQ beet salad and a slice of crispy pigs ear. Okay, I’ll bite… the beets obviously weren’t the challenge here –  I am a beet lover and the salad with Tega Hill farm micro greens was a nice foil to the creamy soup . But the pigs ear…well, honestly could have done without the pig’s ear – but in the spirit of paying homage to the whole animal when you use local product, I got it – I tasted it and it was a nice touch!

Passion 8's infamous Calamari Cubano

Passion 8′s infamous Calamari Cubano

Tom’s second plate was the infamous Passion 8 calamari – this is a dish Chef/owner Luca Annunizata has had on the Passion 8 menu for years – his original plan was to change the recipe around every month or so and make it some sort of calamari special; but regular customers – the Billotto’s included – won’t let him take this lime, jalapeno and honey glazed fried calamari off the menu – with good reason:its incredible! A must try the next time you go to experience dinner at Passion 8.

NC trout with black garlic sauce

NC trout with black garlic sauce

Entrees came next – for me the Restaurant Week  – NC trout with smoked NC trout roe and a side of silken tofu and black garlic sauce – really tasty and the first time I have ever had Black Garlic – thank you to Passion 8 chef Matthew Krenz for all of the information about this warm, rich and earthy ingredient. Now I am anxious to get some and try it out in recipes for myself.

Wild caught U-10 scallops with parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts with cherries and almonds, bourbon and thyme demi

Wild caught U-10 scallops with parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts with cherries and almonds, bourbon and thyme demi

Tom ordered the scallops from the non restaurant week menu – outstanding and of melt -in-your-mouth proportions ( there is also a scallop starter on the Charlotte Restaurant Week menu at Passion 8.) Toms plate was done with a parsnip puree and Brussels sprouts with  cherry and almonds and a Bourbon and Thyme demi  – oh my!

dark chocolate ganache with grand Marnier scented meringue

dark chocolate ganache with grand Marnier scented meringue

And for dessert on the Passion 8 Bistro Charlotte Restaurant Week menu – a bowl of chocolate ganache studded with Grand Marnier scented meringue, devil’s food cake and  a roasted pear – nuff said!

sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche

sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche

Tom Billotto’s favorite Charlotte Restaurant Week dessert at Passion 8 Bistro was the rich and wonderful sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche – a perfect ending to the evening.

Bonterra logoOur next 2014 winter Queens Feast restaurant week meal this week was at another of our favorite restaurants – Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located in Charlotte’s historic SouthEnd. Bonterra is a special restaurant for Tom and me, as it is where we met at a friend’s wedding in 2003, but despite our emotional attachment to the place, the food is always excellent and the wine list of offerings by the glass and by the bottle, always spectacular…and the service is some of the best around. Thanks to owner John “JD” Duncan and staff for doing such a wonderful job!

Bonterra's Chef Bill Schutz in action

Bonterra’s Chef Bill Schutz in action

Bonterra doesn’t offer the restaurants’ regular menu during all the restaurant week hubbub; however there are some “enhancements” to the 3 for $30 menu you can make if you would like a different seafood or steak option or would like to add Bonterra’s signature fried lobster tail, a crab cake or shrimp or scallops to any entrée. Enhancements or no,   Chef Bill Schutz outdid himself on the menu … simple but decidedly delicious.

NFL logoRight after Restaurant Week ends, Chef Bill will be representing Charlotte, cooking at an exclusive NFL cocktail party in NYC. As this pre Superbowl extravaganza,  each city with an NFL team will have a chef cooking and a representative of their team in attendance.  I know Bill will represent us well – can’t wait to hear what he’ll be cooking – more later!
For now its back to our 2014 Bonterra restaurant week meal…
Bonterra's crispy calamari

Bonterra’s crispy calamari

To start,  Tom was still in calamari mode and so he ordered the crispy calamari  with creole seasoning, tomato aioli and fresh herbs – excellent.

Grilled shrimp and Anson Mill grits at Bonterra

Grilled shrimp and Anson Mill grits at Bonterra

I opted for a simple but rich and flavorful plate of the most tender grilled shrimp over a bed of Anson Mill grits.  I asked for the Andouille cream sauce on the side and I found  it was the perfect way to enjoy all the intricate flavors of each component of this tasty dish.

saintsbury pinot noir
One of the wonderful things about dining at Bonterra is the wine list    - from the start, the bar at Bonterra has been set up with an exclusive system for storing and preserving the wines at the restaurant, leading to the largest by the glass wine program in the country with more than 200 options at any one time. Whenever you dine at Bonterra you can wine as well – by the glass or by the bottle. This night Tom and I enjoyed one of our favorite California Pinot Noirs- Saintsbury 2010 Carneros – oh so good!
Bonterra' s roasted free range chicken breast

Bonterra’ s roasted free range chicken breast

My entrée for this Charlotte Restaurant Week dinner at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room was the roasted free range chicken breast served with toasted farro, leaf spinach, red wine shallots and a fresh thyme sauce;

The pasta option on the Bonterra restaurant week menu

The pasta option on the Bonterra restaurant week menu

while Tom, very much enjoyed the  pasta offering –  an excellent choice tossed with asparagus, fire roasted mushrooms, basil and Parmigiano.

The evening ended with two delicious desserts – a NY style cheesecake for Tom and a molten  chocolate cake for this food writer – delish!
For more information about all of the restaurants participating in Charlotte’s 2014 Queens Feast Restaurant Week visit: http://www.charlotterestaurantweek.com/articles/charlotte-restaurant-week-info-472876/how-do-i-take-part-in-11212684/#ixzz2rEVhBNAB
For more information on Passion 8 Bistro in Ft Mill – visit www.passion8bistro.com 

Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

For more information on Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Charlotte’s SouthEnd neighborhood, visit  www.bonterradining.com

Bonterra on Urbanspoon

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