Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week: Delicious Tastes to Sip & Savor

Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Runs Now till April 30, 2017

I always love it when Charlotte chefs and restaurants pull together to put on a food event.  Throughout the year there are many such collaborative events, wine dinners and themed promotions, and I have loved them all. But for me, some of the best events stretch out over a week or two, giving the dining out public the chance to explore, taste and experience at several different venues.

WineandTapasWeek-just-charlotteThe all new, first ever, Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week is just such an event, and it runs NOW through April 30. This eight day long event ( it all started Friday April 21) is about little plates, sharing and tasting – a great way to dine out with friends; and you still have lots of time to participate!  The more than 30 of Charlotte restaurants  are taking part with special menus offered for the eight evening stretch of this Springtime extravaganza.  CWTW founder Phong Luong, owner of Zen Asian Fusion in Dilworth  came up with the clever concept.

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Heidi Billotto with Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Creator Phong Luong of Zen Asian Fusion on East Blvd.

I caught up with Phong at the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week kick off event, held in The Bottle Shop in the lobby of the Center City Marriott, just outside Stoke Restaurant.  He explained the reasoning behind the dedicated week –   “Everyone loves tasting new flavors in food & wine and its always fun to share! Little plates are a great way to try just a taste.”  The concept is  a clever approach and an easy, reasonably priced way to get new and repeat customers in to try out a restaurant where they have never eaten,  or perhaps haven’t eaten at for some time..

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Chefs Rodrigo Velazco, Evoke; Chef Chris Coleman, Stoke; Chef Ryan Daugherty, Dogwood Southern Table all cooked at the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Kickoff

This CWTW affords customers a change to mix and match and taste a variety of tapas and wines.  Chef Ryan Daugherty from Dogwood Southern Table and chef Rodrigo Velazco from Evoke restaurant were at the CWTW Kick off and joined Stoke’s Chef Chris Coleman to share tastes of the tapas and wine they will be serving at their own restaurants so that kick off attendees could see how the concept would work.

While a few of the participating restaurants have planned seasonal menus just for the promotion, many are featuring tapas or small plates regularly featured as appetizers, sides or salads on their current Spring menus.

IMG_1142For the stretch of Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week, each participating establishment is offering a pre-selected menu of wine and tapas. $30 or $35 dollars ( depending on the restaurant) buys you two glasses of wine and  two tapas offerings. The really cool part is that you can order a CWFW package for yourself, or you can share one order with friends. It makes for a wonderful game of mix and match which helps to  make this culinary adventure even more fun.  Enjoy your Wine & Tapas offering as a start to a meal, or as an opportunity to just  meet for a drink and a quick  bite. You don’t need to specify when you make your reservations that you’d like to order the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week plates; not everyone in your party has to participate, and you can change it up and order off the restaurants regular menu as well – but only the specific Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week menu items qualify for the special $30-$35 pricing.

IMG_1096The week before the kick off my husband Tom Billotto and I were invited to come by several of the participating restaurants for a taste of what would be on their menus. And then I tasted more at the kick off event. There are lots of big flavors on these little plates and the wine pairings are nothing to scoff at – as always, Charlotte restaurants and chefs are putting their best plates out there for you to enjoy – take advantage, sip and savor your way through the remaining days of April,  hitting as many of the participating restaurants as you can – you’re going to love it!

The list of participating chefs/restaurants is up  on the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week website as are the detailed menus and wine lists at each venue; and if you would like, there are reservation links here as well.  Check them all out, and eat at as many as you can,  but first  take a look at this quick preview from a trio of the participating restaurants we tried and then make your plans. 

 

LUCA MODERN ITALIAN KITCHEN

For those of you who don’t know, Jessica and Luca Annunziata, Proprietress and Chef, formerly of Passion 8 restaurant here in Charlotte decided just after the first of the year to change Passion 8’s name and concept. The new Luca Modern Italian Kitchen  was born and is still located on Elizabeth Ave. in Charlotte.

IMG_1055The menu and wine list is now decidedly authentic Italian cuisine. You simply cannot wait another minute to go in and check it out. Lots of nightly specials like Tuesday’s Bottomless Bowl of mussels for just $18 and Wednesdays all you can eat pasta night for $30.  You can certainly sit anywhere you’d like in this beautiful restaurant, but truth be told, when it is just the two of us, we love sitting up at the bar. They mix many a creative craft cocktail at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen and will come up with any kind of spirited elixir your would like to try.  While wine comes with the Charlotte Wine & Tapas package, you might just have to start your evening at Luca with a cocktail first.  

Like many of the participating CWTW restaurants, Chef Luca is  featuring some of the regular items from their all Italian menu and all of the wines on the are all spectacular Italian pours. This is the food Chef  Luca was born to cook, literally – its the food he grew up eating and each and every bite of the four dishes we tried – plus the soup and the dessert we decided to add on  was nothing short of spectacular. 

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Pasta e Fagiole at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen. 

We started, as I suggested with cocktails and with a little bite before our tapas  & wine pairings because we simply love Luca’s Pasta e Fagiole, a thick and delicious bean soup with fresh homemade noodles and enjoyed a side of the restaurant’s homemade foccacia on the side.  

Then we made an evening of it and each ordered  the two tapas and two wine package. It was more than enough to make a meal and there was more than enough to share..

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Baked Eggs in Tomato Broth at Luca ModerItalian Kitchen

Among our little plates this evening,  this iron skillet of baked eggs in a savory tomato broth, Parmesan and grilled bread,  or as they say in Italian, Zuppetta di uovo pomodoro    con Parmigiano e pane alla griglia.

We simply had to order pasta, as it is all made in house, so the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – a hot casserole full of fresh made gnocchi was the perfect next plate.  These soft fluffy little pillows of pasta came baked with a sauce from San Marzano tomatoes topped with mozzarella – ahhhh!

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Tender Grilled Octopus at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen

While the gnocchi was divine and we could have simply ordered more and been quite happy, I decided to beef it up a bit with Luca’s  Polpettine di Bisonte  – these bison meat balls are served with local Urban Gourmet Farms mushrooms and a creamy Parmesan fondue – perfect with the 2015 Scarletto Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo pairing Jessica Annunziata had suggested.  Tom ordered and very much enjoyed  Luca’s tender Polpo alla Griglia (grilled octopus), a favorite on many local restaurant menus this time of year, but served here with a warm potato salad, celery, olives and a bright lemon emulsion,  few do it better than chef Luca and the team at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen.

We ended our meal at Luca with a two servings of Gelato  – a blood orange for Tom  and a coffee for me. Luca and Jessica bring in this perfectly Italian gelato from a company in Greensboro. The name is Gnam, Gnam Gelato and believe me it is nom, nom.  For More info …

EVOKE RESTAURANT AT LE MERIDIEN HOTEL

IMG_0951With a new chef on the team and some major menu development in progress look for big things to be happening at Evoke Restaurant in the Le Meridien Hotel on McDowell Street in  Uptown. Chefs Rodrigo Velazco in the kitchen at Evoke and Chef Oscar La Fuente, the hotel’s executive chef, certainly have plans to take things up a notch, so the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week affords them the opportunity to stretch their culinary wings a bit and offer some really cool special plates. We had a delicious evening, tasting our way through several plates of tapas. As this is the restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel, Evoke regularly serves breakfast lunch and dinner and the bar is open during those hours.

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A Trio of Trios Marinated Stuffed Olive Plate at Evoke at Le Meridien Hotel 

We tasted several Wine & Tapas pairings at Evoke – The first a clever trio of olives presented three ways – Olives stuffed with Marcona almonds, Dolce Gorgonzola and Fig jam are skewered and dressed in three different combos of oil and vinegar – my fave was the 20 yer old white balsamic with Pumpkin seed oil, but you will love the mix of tasting them all.  Use Evoke’s signature foccacia also on the plate for dipping up the remaining oil after the olives are gone!

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Taste of Spring Grilled Vegetable Platter at Evoke Restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel

The “Taste of Spring”  vegetable plate combines seasonal grilled, sauteed, pickled and raw veggies and was another seasonal winner and a delightful alternative to a simple salad.

At the CWTW kick off, I also tasted Chef Rodrigo’s Middle Ground Farms’ Rabbit Scarpinocc ( a stuffed pasta much like half moon ravioli) served with Sherry jus and manchego; and his delicious fresh Cobia Crudo, a tartar of sorts dressed with aji  rocoto ( a small Peruvian chile) and corn nuts. Sad to say, my photos didn’t come out well, but don’t let that stop you from ordering – both selections are  on Evoke’s  Tapas week menu and worthy of your consideration!

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Corn Soup from Evoke Restaurant in Le Meridien Hotel

As we did at all of these stops, we complimented our taste of the CWTW menu at Evoke with a few extra bites from the restaurant’s  seasonal menu. Chef Rodrigo offered us a sample sized portion of his delicious corn soup served in a tiny saucepan;  and we ended with a a wonderful not too sweet finish from Evoke’s talented pastry chef. On the plate Green Matcha tea mousse with raspberry cream inside, a raspberry puree, and black sesame tuille. Its enough for two of you to share, but you’ll want to order on all your own!

For More Info…  

 

 

THE ASBURY AT THE DUNHILL HOTEL

If its been a while since you have been to The Asbury restaurant in the Dunhill Hotel, its time to get back Uptown and prepare to be wowed. Chef Matthew Krenz’s spring menu has got it going on. If you like what you taste from the Spring menu ( and you will) you’ll want to come back for more. Be sure and check out the detail and make reservations for the one or more of the upcoming  collaborative chef dinners   held monthly from now till the end of they year – Chef Matthew teams with another chef from around the city or across the state and they plan a whole chefs tasting menu dinner around a certain theme –  these dinners are a blast and you’ll want to be sure and make reservations. the next one takes place on May 25 with Chef Greg Collier of The Yolk!

But I digress… all of the Asbury’s Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week offerings are also featured on the Spring menu and you won’t want to miss a single one.  Start your evening  with two of The Asbury’s signature items: the deviled eggs, prepared a different way every evening and the savory sticky buns – yum!!

IMG_1110Each of The Asbury’s  tapas plates is its own little ode to Spring. Take for example the peas bathed in uni butter alongside a pea emulsion with mint and cilantro topped with toasted coconut and springtime blossoms. This is peas like you have never had them before, but this is how you are always going to want then from here on out! See what you’ve started, Chef Krenz!?

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Fried Oysters at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

The fried oysters, dusted with cornmeal and cleverly plated in the shell with onion jam, Cajun-spiced aioli and baby cress are another winner – there are four on the plate – just delicious and beautifully presented.

Heartier Tapas from Chef Matthew include the melt-in-your-mouth Pan-fried Lamb Sweetbreads, that come to the table almost looking like a salad of sorts – the sweetbreads are dressed with  local mustard green and with the made-in-house carrot BBQ sauce the slightly spicy greens are the perfect  foil to the rich taste and texture of the sweetbreads.

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Fermented Chili-glazed Pork belly at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

It is not often that I order pork belly. Those of  you who know me know that I am just waaay over the “everythings-better-with-bacon”, but never say never as there is always the exception to the rule. The Asbury’s tapas of Fermented Chili-Glazed Pork Belly is it. Its tender, and moist and served the way pork belly was meant to be, atop a cornbread puree, braised greens with local turnips and radish

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Pea and ricotta tortellini at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Finally ( well sort of) I’d like to recommend the pea and ricotta tortellini as a tapas plate to consider. It’s scrumptious! Stuffed with local Uno Alla Volta ricotta and peas, topped with asparagus & crispy ham,  the thin melt-in-your-mouth pasta is bathed in a white wine butter sauce – oh my!

IMG_1132When the tapas and wine pairings were done, we found ourselves totally satisfied, but its always nice to end on a sweet note and Chef Matthew did more that oblige the craving.

Spring in Charlotte means strawberries and in total tribute Chef Matthew has created a spectacular take on a Southern fave – strawberry shortcake. Here macerated local strawberries and blueberries are bedded atop a fresh baked biscuit and then topped with an incredible strawberry mousse with  lightly whipped cream. Nuff Said!   For More Info….

#TellThemHeidiSentYouIf you’d like to try a taste and sip and savor your way through these and other area restaurants participating in the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Weekend, its easy and you still have till the end of the evening on April 30. Visit the CWTW website and scroll down through the entire list of logos so you won’t miss a single on of the 30 + excellent options. Click on the individual restaurant logo. This will take you to the restaurant’s page on the site (I’ve already provide those for the restaurants I highlighted here.) Here you will read a bit more about the restaurant , see the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week menu and can even use the link provided to make reservations if you would like.

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Post your photos on social media and be sure to tag me in the posts on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter – I will be happy to share. Enjoy! Have fun! Now go forth to Sip and Savor your way through the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week line up…Cheers!

 

 

 

Heidi Billotto Live: from The Matthews Community Farmers’ Market

PrintWe interrupt the regularly scheduled series of blog posts to bring you a brand new series of social media videos – all LIVE from local area farmers’ markets.

I generally hit 2-3 area markets on any given Saturday morning. Its my Saturday morning thing to do. It’s not just about what I need to pick up for that week’s cooking classes, catering jobs or what Tom and I will eat during the week; for me a farmers’ market trip is about seeing what’s growing, visiting with all the farmers and being there to support what they do. The fact that I can buy all the local produce, proteins and product that I need and know where it all came from and what went into the food that I eat and serve to others is a bonus. Someone commented on the Facebook feed that they were amazed that I knew everyone’s name.

That’s what shopping local is all about: Knowing your local farmers and producers; Shaking the hands that feed you and resting assure that the food you eat was grown and nurtured with love and care, not pesticides and hormones.

This new video series started as a way for me to help the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market promote their opening day last week. I was going to write a blog post about the new additions to the market and the list of new vendors, but alas as it was all new I didn’t have any of these photos to include in the post.

So instead, I decided to hit the market early on their opening day April 15, 2017 and film my very first Facebook Live video. I had a blast! I have always loved spreading the word of all our local farmers bring to the table and this was a fun way to do it in real time. It appears that lots of Facebook friends and fans loved it too. To date that first FBLive video has enjoyed over 1.6K views! I am over the moon!

And you will be, too, when you go to shop at the Matthews Community Farmers market this Saturday and any or every Saturday hereafter, Spring and Summer hours are now officially in effect.

The market, located at 188 N Trade Street right in the heart of downtown, Matthews, is open every Saturday from 8 till noon. Matthews is a “growers only” market and  each of the farms represented by the farmers themselves are located within 50 miles of downtown Matthews.

Currently the Matthews Market is hosting a strawberry fundraiser with fresh delicious berries from Cody Strawberry Farms and new to the market this year is the addition of a food truck or two. Both of these trucks are preparing breakfast items using the local product you’ll find available at the market each week. Last weekend I enjoyed a killer Farmhouse Croissant from Carolina Smash Truck. The savory breakfast sandwich was prepared with Maitake Mushrooms, green onion, egg, and white cheddar – just what I needed to go with that delicious cup of Good Cup Cappuccino I was enjoying after I posted my video.

You can check out all the names of all the participating vendors, and sign up for the Matthews’ Market’s email newsletter by visiting their website 

Each week the market features a different chef presenting a 9 am cooking demo; and a different local musician  there to provide a little music to enjoy as you shop from and visit with each of the market vendors.

Last weekend, Chef Luca Annunziata wowed the crowds with a taste of his traditional Italian cuisine now featured on the menu at his restaurant Luca Modern Italian Kitchen ( formally called Passion 8). This Saturday, April 22 at 9 am chef Adam Reed from Sante Restaurant in Matthews will be cooking  up a storm for the market crowds to  sample and enjoy after they watch his entertaining demo.

And there is so much more, from compost to King of Pops, local honey, chicken, eggs, pork, beef, fresh from the Carolina Coast seafood,  fresh flowers, plants for you to grow and produce for you to cook and eat; From Water Buffalo cheese to locally made cottage cheese and ricotta; From Beeswax candles to Breads, pastries, frozen casseroles and pizzas made from local ingredients, baskets, pottery… whew! Just take a look at the video here and check it all out for yourself… then stay tuned.

Coming up  in a day or so, a post I filmed yesterday Wed April 19  which  features my  Facebook Live Video with market vendor details from the brand new Wednesday afternoon Selwyn Avenue Market in the parking lot of the Mouzon United Methodist Church from 3-7 on Wednesday afternoons.

This Saturday, April 22, I am teaching one of my On the Farm cooking classes at New Town Farms, but before hand I  will be at the Waxhaw Farmers’ Market at 208 N Church St, Waxhaw, NC 28173, open from 9 till noon,  to bring you a FBLIve video of everything from the market there. You can join me on my HeidiBillottoCooks Facebook page to watch the video live – probably around 9:30 -10 or so ( I’ll post a social media heads up about 5 minutes ahead of time), or you can catch it later on my personal Heidi Billotto Facebook page. Or if you are not on Facebook you can view it here in the next farmers’ market blog post.

My plan is to film from a local market once or twice a week  over the course of the next several months – so get ready for your close ups Atherton Farmers’ Market, Mecklenburg County Market, Noda Farmers’ Market, Davidson Farmers’ Market and more! If you know of a market selling local product that I am leaving out or one I might not be aware of – please post a comment here,  let me know and I’ll add it to my list.

My purpose is instead of just offering a list of local markets, you can really have the opportunity to see for yourself, virtually meet the farmers and producers and then make plans to go and shop local so you can eat local, too!

And don’t forget, what ever farmers’ market you shop at this weekend, be sure to #TellThemHeidiSentYou