October Restaurant RoundUp: 6 Restaurants That Should Be on Your Radar

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Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto in the WCNC Charlotte Today studios with all the dishes featured in her October Restaurant Roundup lined up and ready to roll.

Updated Blog post to go along with my October Restaurant Round Up segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today originally airing this morning (Wed., Oct 19) at 11:47.

A link to the video from the show appears at the end of this post and I’ve updated each restaurant’s section with photos of the featured food and several shots from the show. Always great fun to share my thoughts on chefs, restaurants and food that really should be on your radar.

In addition to the photos posted here, I’ll also post them all on all of my social media with links back to the blog and to the video.

To be the first to see them, Friend me at Heidi Billotto or like my page at Heidi Billotto Cooks on Facebook; follow me on Twitter at @HeidiCooks and Follow me on Instagram @HeidiBillotto.

The segment on Charlotte Today  featured five restaurants that, if they aren’t already, really should be on your radar. The sixth, included in this post relates to a dinner I attended last night.

Check those social media feeds now and you’ll see photos from a fabulous dinner I attended last night at The Asbury in the Dunhill Hotel in Charlotte.

The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel

img_5423It was the last Collaborative chefs dinner of the 2016 series and it was an extraordinary evening. A pairing of the culinary talents of The Asbury‘s culinary team led by executive chef Matthew Krenz and guest chef John May from Piedmont Restaurant in Durham. This dynamic duo turned out 9 plates of fabulous fall flavor, each course paired with a wine especially selected for the evening by Josh Villapando of The Assorted Table Wine Shop also located in uptown Charlotte in Seventh Street Station.

If you haven’t eaten at The Asbury yet, don’t wait a second longer to make reservations. With a focus on all that is local and seasonal, and a nod to our Southern roots, Chef Matthew Krenz is really doing something special and the new fall menu is now up and running. And when next you visit Durham, be sure that a dinner at Peidmont Restaurant, home to chef John May, is a part of your plans!

There were nine courses at the dinner last night so can’t picture them all here – and its hard to pick a favorite, but if pressed I would have to say it would be John May’s salad with a poached egg and Matt Krenz’ roast lamb with stewed white beans and bitter greens. Both truly outstanding. My favorite wine of the evening  – this is another hard pick, but I think I’d have to say the rose paired with May’s salad. After nine plates and nine wines, the name escapes me so just call Josh at The Assorted Table Wine Shop and ask – he’ll be glad to tell you all about it!

Look for more on Krenz,  The Asbury and the fall menu in my culinary section of the new issue of Charlotte Living Magazine out soon – Subscribe to this blog and you’ll be among the first to know when the fourth quarter issue hits Charlotte newsstands!   Now on to the five restaurants featured on air this morning.

Dunkin’ Donuts in Concord, NC  30 Raiford Drive

concordstoreoutsideThis newest Dunkin’ Donuts celebrates its Grand Opening on Friday Oct 21 and has the distinction of being the 50th Dunkin’ Donuts to open in our area. The fun at the Grand Opening begins bright and early at 6:30 am. Free coffee to each guest from 7-9 am, and one lucky customer will be picked at random and will win free coffee for a year!

img_5430All the other Dunkin’ Donuts locations will also be celebrating with 50 cent cups of coffee and 50 cent donuts all day long on Friday Oct 21 – For more details on all the events planned at the Grand Opening and for a several fun recipes with Dunkin’ Donuts products as ingredients check out one of my blog posts from earlier this week here.

Fern, Flavors of the Earth at 1419 East Blvd. in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood 

img_5304After four year in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, Fern, Flavors of the Earth, takes up new digs in Dilworth. Now with an open kitchen, seated at the bar, inside and outside on a beautiful patio, there is more room to sit and enjoy the great vegan and vegetarian dishes chef Matthew Martin and his team are turning out.

On the show today I featured Fern’s,  Buffalo Cauliflower appetizer and well as two entrees: the raw noodle pasta dish and the Seitan Steak. After the show, My husband Tom and I stopped by to drop off some containers and stayrd for lunch which led us to discover two more favorite Fern Fall Flavors – the black bean burger and the Buddah Bowl, a mix of black Forbidden Rice, sauteed tofu and mixed seasonal vegetables – can’t wait to go back for more!

Clean Juice with three locations in Charlotte, at Birkdale Village, Sonecrest at Piper Glenn and in CrossFit Vitality in Concord

img_5366This is a great new juice and smoothie bar with a clean fresh and all organic approach to eating on the run.  I love the smoothies and the bowls, but don’t miss the little bites like the pumpkin, avocado or almond toast offerings. And if you are interested in juicing or a juice cleanse – the folks at Clean Juice can set you up and get you headed in the right direction.

As I said on air, the thing I love about this place is that this chain of juice bars are USDA Certified Organic, which makes their healthy offerings all the better. On air I showed the chia puddings, the carrot, pineapple and orange juice, spiced up with a big of good – for you turmeric; a wheat grass shot, the blue Panther Fan smoothie and my favorite of Clean Juice’s seasonal bites, the Pumpkin butter toast, made with homemade pumpkin butter, bits of cocoa nibs, cinnamon honey and sliced apple.

The last two restaurants featured today are  old favorites. Solid members of the Charlotte culinary skyline, both are located uptown.

Aria Tuscan Grill located at 100 N Tryon Street on the lower level of Founders Hall

img_5368With modern contemporary interiors that include  a dining room with a picture perfect view of whats going on in the kitchen, a private chefs table dining room open to the kitchen, a large and comfortable bar area and private dining rooms for larger groups, the fall menu at Aria features many seasonal old world Italian favorites as well as several new delicious spins on classic recipes.

Featured today – chicken cacciatore served atop homemade pasta with mushrooms and olives; Aria’s signature caramelized gnocchi in a truffled cream sauce, with thin sliced prosciutto and grated pear; and a melt-in-your-mouth polenta topped with Taleggio cheese and sauteed mushrooms. Funny enough I stumbled over the pronunciation of the word Taleggio – just for future reference for us all, its “Tall-Agee-O”. No matter which way you say it , its smooth and creamy, pungent in aroma but rich in flavor and a perfect foil for the umami of the mushrooms and the base of creamy polenta.

City Smoke at 100 N Tryon with an entrance off of the bottom floor of Founders Hall at the foot of the escalators.

img_5367If you are thinking barbecue, well, you are right, but City Smoke is so much more. Much of the fall menu comes from the rotisserie and its all about the smoke.  Classic Oysters Rockefeller, shucked ot order and topped with a spinach cream and then served on a bed of course salt, pepper and bay make for a fine start. My favorite recipe of the season at City Smoke might be the  smoked and grilled octopus salad – sliced grilled octopus served with roasted fingerling potatoes and roasted red bell pepper all atop a bed of lightly dressed arugula. Finally we have the Lamb roast done on the roitisserie and served with a rich brown sauce topped with a pine nut gremolata along side a bowl of roasted beets and blue cheese – This one had my name all over it!

Here is the link to the video segment in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it
Then make breakfast, lunch or dinner plans ( as it applies) to each of these great places soon. and remember to tell them Heidi sent you! Cheers!

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

If you enjoyed this post, I suggest you sign up to follow HeidiBillottoFood.com  where prompted on the home page.

That way each and every post, restaurant suggestion and recipe will come straight to your in box as soon as is goes up online.

When 2 Chefs are Better than 1: A Chefs Collaborative Dinner

chefchriscoleman-copyThe Asbury Restaurant located in the Dunhill Hotel in Uptown boasts a creatively crafted menu of Modern Southern cuisine. The underlying mantra of each meal and seasonal menu is to honor the past, celebrate the seasons and to keep looking forward. Under the direction of  Charlotte native Chef Chris Coleman, food and beverage director at The Dunhill and at the helm since The Asbury’s inception in 2014.

The restaurant now operates with what most would call a dream team of chefs. With Coleman, Chef Matthews Krenz, chef de cuisine and pastry chef Jossie Perlemutter are at the restaurants core. The trio heads a great culinary team of line cooks,  service staff and beverage aficionados who make a culinary concept that features  regional heirloom ingredients as well as specialty items grown by small, family farms throughout the region, work Chef Coleman searches out the best quality he can find—much of it coming from within the local region work, in spades.

Just after The Asbury’s first anniversary in 2015, Coleman thought it would be fun to reach out to farmers and friends and feature them at special monthly dinners, and so began The Asbury’s  Collaborative Series. After all what could be better than two great chefs working on one dinner together?

low country dinner prep“I’ve wanted to do this since I was first hired by The Dunhill, even before the Asbury concept became a reality,” Chris explained. “I’ve got a lot of friends in the industry and to plan a time that we can take a day and cook together, makes it fun. I love what I do on a daily basis, but bringing friends into the kitchen is  a great way to learn from each other,  share new techniques, and see what I do every day from another chef’s perspective.”

Each dinner in the series has a separate seasonal theme and  brings together chefs, food lovers, farmers, and artisan food makers together to celebrate the bounty of our state and region.

IIMG_8221 was delighted to attend the first Asbury collaborative dinner of 2016 with pooling the talents of The Asbury’s Chris Coleman and Executive Chef Ben Harris from Poogan’s Porch Restaurant in Charleston, SC.

It was a night of Lowcountry feasting and fun and even now as I write, I can still taste the nuances of every individual dish. I knew that any evening that started with Chris and Ben shucking oysters in the bar was going to be great and my hunch was not wrong. I’ve noted a couple of my favorite courses from that memorable Taste of the Low Country dinner below, and if you weren’t there, you be sad to know what you missed.

But just so that doesn’t happen again, you first must know about a similar opportunity TONIGHT you will not want to miss…all of the info you need to know to be a part of tonights  exciting beer -centric dinner is at the end of this post. Meantime here is just a taste  of the Lowcountry dinner and what you can anticipate from this wonderful chef’s Collaborative concept.

 

IMG_8228Back in March the dinner started with serve-yourself bright briny  local oysters  served on the half shell and no one was shy about helping themselves. Accoutrements included hot sauce, lemon and a fermented cabbage or sauerkraut mignonette of sorts that was to die for. Truth be told I could have bellied up to the oyster bar all evening,  and finished off the jar of sour cabbage and the remainder of the oysters all by my lonesome; but as the crowd was called into the dining room, I knew I didn’t want to miss the culinary adventures that waited ahead.

IMG_8240The First Course and the third plate were both tired and true Chris Coleman. To start a picnic plate  comprised of boiled farm eggs, pickled okra, Benton’s ham, chicken liver mousse, pimiento cheese, spiced nuts, and olives. A recent trip to Charleston inspired the platter shared at our table. Each little bit was in and of itself a wonderful way to begin the post oyster repast. Coleman’s second plate, the third course, was Hoppin’ John. It was simple and delicious, and I could have eaten bowlfuls. With a nod to the heirloom varieties of rice and beans

IMG_8238The second plate of the evening was Ben Harris’ She-Crab Soup with NC Roe, Sherry and Cultured Butter . This plate came with all of the soup’s core ingredients artistically arranged on the inside  rim of the bowl and then the warm rich broth was poured tableside.

A presentation like this seems to often leave the diner puzzled; questioning just how best to eat this veritable work of art in the bowl. At first we sipped the broth and took a small taste of each of the components – the row, the butter, the foam, but in the end, found the best way to enjoy this as it was intended was to stir the ingredients to blend the individual flavors into one. The result was nothing short of spectacular.  I must admit, I thought I had come to the place were I was over the presentation of a deconstructed plate, but this bowl of soup may have changed my mind.

It was a playful presentation allowing us to experience each of the components of the dish before they were rolled into one. With a simple stir each dinner guest turned sous chef  as we found ourselves compounding the flavors in the bowl. Whats fun for the chef is fun for the diner as well – gotta love  the opportunity for a bit of interactive dining.

IMG_8242Chef Harris also presented the fourth course, this one a bit more traditionally  presented  but full of fresh and refined flavors. Harris’ Shrimp and Grits was served with Jimmy red grits, house made tasso, an incredible Burnt Tomato, preserved lemon and benne. If you needed a reason to go to Charleston and see what Ben Harris is doing at Poogan’s Porch, this course might be it.

The dessert course brought out another talent from the Asbury kitchen as it will again tonight.  Whatever The Asbury’s Pastry Chef, Jossie Perlmutter creates is always a crowd pleasing sweet finish to the evening.

Tonight, Tuesday April 26 The Asbury’s Chef Chris Coleman invites Hickory’s Highland Avenue Chef Kyle McKnight and Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery for a night of Carolina feasting and fun. Chris and Kyle are just coming off two separate dinners served at the James Beard House in New York, so the stories these chefs have to tell should be worth the price of the admission alone. Add to that this incredible 5 course meal, each course paired with pour of Fullsteam and well, if you are not planning on being at The Asbury tonight then you will really be missing something! Its not too late to make a reservation…  Cost is $65  Reserve your seat now: http://bit.ly/SaveMySeatAtTheAsbury or call 704.342.1193

 

IIMG_8983 was fortunate to meet Chef Kyle McKnight from Highland Avenue in Hickory, NC just last month at his annual Kyle and Friends extravaganza.  Here we are with Chef Sam Stachon, formally of Kings Kitchen here in Charlotte and now baking up a storm in Hickory at Highland Ave.

Chef Kyle McKnight says a need for new sneakers landed him in a restaurant kitchen. As a teen, the Woodbridge, Virginia native needed money for a pair of Adidas and found work washing dishes in a local restaurant. The creative, high-energy atmosphere filled with camaraderie inspired McKnight to pursue a career as a chef.

A graduate of Johnson and Wales University, McKnight’s career led him through Europe, Charleston, Miami, St. John and Argentina. In 2012, McKnight was named Best Chef America for his commitment to the Slow Food movement and his advocacy of local farmers while at manna in Wilmington, N.C.
McKnight moved to Hickory, N.C. in 2013 to assume the role of Executive Chef on the opening team of Highland Avenue, the farm-to-table destination restaurant on the second floor of the beautifully renovated Hollar Hosiery Mill. His proud achievements include designing the kitchen, menu development and establishing the restaurant’s unique charcuterie program. Under his direction Highland Avenue has been named one of “The South’s Best Restaurants” by Southern Living.

Don’t miss the opportunity to meet Kyle tonight at The Asbury and see what he is cooking up with Charlotte’s own Chef Chris Coleman and Fullsteam Brewery’s Sean Lily Wilson. Sean is owner and Chief Executive Optimist of Fullsteam, a “plow to pint” brewery and tavern in Durham, NC.

Its going to be spectacular and it is after all, NC Beer Month, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate! Hope to see you there.  Cost is $65  The link for reservations again is: http://bit.ly/SaveMySeatAtTheAsbury or call 704.342.1193

 

Ten of NC (and VA’s) best, take NYC by Storm

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODThis weekend, April 16-18, a bit of Southern charm, flavor and a lot of local culinary talent is headed up to the Big Apple.  Ten chefs will share the flavors of our region at the James Beard House in two separate dinners, the first A Taste of Charlotte on Sat April 16, and the second, Small Towns, Big Flavors on Monday April 18.
In  the second half of this post you’ll find a beautifully filmed  presentation of the local Charlotte production called order/fire by videographer and photographer Peter Taylor and chef Marc  Jacksina. The focus of this most recent edition of order/fire is the group of five Charlotte-based chefs and their journey this weekend to New York City where they have been invited to cook at the James Beard House on Saturday night April 16, 2016.
Taylor and Jacksina explain the order/fire project as “a lighthearted, conversational approach” to filming the life of someone in the culinary industry. “Each episode aims to get to know the area’s leading culinarians, mixologists, restaurateurs, purveyors and farmers to paint them in a more multidimensional light.”
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Heidi with the five chefs featured in the April 16 James Beard dinner along with Bonterra sous chef Mike Long and 300 East Assistant Pastry chef Miranda Brown

As a food writer of several decades in Charlotte, I have watched these chefs grow through the years, define their technique and style and even at their young age become a part of the old guard in the Charlotte culinary community.  I am so proud of this group of five representing Charlotte in such a big way and even prouder of the fact that they are bringing locally farmed and produced product of so many local and regional farms and farmers along for the ride. Watch the video and see how many local products you can count!
Go and show them how it done Chef-Chris Coleman The Asbury; Paul Verica, Heritage food & drink; Ashley Boyd, 300 East; R Blake Hartwick, Bonterra Dining & Wine Room; Bob Peters The Punch Room, we’ll be here rooting for you!
But that’s not all…here are five more reasons for us to take pride in our regional cuisine. That’s right, it’ll be a double dose of the Carolinas ( and a bit of Virginia) for the food-centric New York City crowd as chefs Kyle Lee Mcknight, Highland Avenue in Hickory; Nate Allen, Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, NC; David Bauer, Farm & Sparrow Bakery in Candler NC; Ian Boden, The Shack in Staunton, Va; and Harper Bradshaw, Harper’s Table, Suffolk Va bring together their incredible pool of culinary talent to present a five course dinner  April 18, 2016.
Click the links in the first paragraph of this post to see what both of these talented teams will  be cooking in NYC and then file the info below when you are ready for a short road trip for some great eats… #TellTheHeidiSentYou
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Chef Kyle McKnight, Highland Avenue, 883 Highland Ave, Hickory NC  For reservations, Call 828.267.9800 or visit www.highlandavenuerestaurant.com

Highland Avenue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

allen_nateChef Nate Allen, Knife & Fork Restaurant, 61 Locust Ave in Spruce Pines, Nc, For reservations call 828.765.1511  or visit KnifeandForkNC.com Knife & Fork Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

baeur_davidChef David Bauer, Farm & Sparrow Bakery in Candler Nc  Call 828.633.0584 or visit Farm and Sparrow.com

 

boden_ian_photo_sera_petrasChef Ian Boden, The Shack, 105 S. Coulter Street, Stauton VA, Call 540.490.1961 or visit TheShackVA.com The Shack VA Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

bradshaw_harperChef Harper Bradshaw, Harper’s Table, 122 N. Main Street, suffolk VA, Call 757. 539.2000 or visit HarpersTable.com Harper's Table Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

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Heidi with Chefs Sam Stachon and Kyle McKnight of Highland Avenue in Hickory NC

“To be in New York celebrating Highland Avenue’s success with our culinary team is an honor and a privilege. We believe in the mission of the James Beard Foundation and we believe that food, philanthropy and community will build a better tomorrow for all.” says Meg Jenkins Locke, owner of Highland Avenue. While not  mentioned on the Beard site, Chef Sam Stachon ( formally of King’s Kitchen in Charlotte and now at Highland Ave.) will be with Kyle and the Small Town, Big Flavor chefs as well.

So you can’t get to NYC this weekend, but still want in on all the action on Saturday and Monday nights from the comfort of your own home? The dinners start at 7 pm both nights, click on the James Beard Kitchen Cam  just before that and I think you’ll be able to watch all of the chefs in action…
And now on to the order /fire video featuring the Taste of Charlotte chefs learn more about their excitement and a bit about what local flavors they are bringing along. Its going to be a great weekend for these 10 culinarians… New York City prepare to be WOWED!. Kudos chefs – To each and every one!

(This post and video as originally seen on the order/fire website.  Credits to Peter Taylor and Marc Jacksina)

This Saturday night, if you’re in NYC and if you’re lucky enough to have one of the tickets to the dinner, you can have a Taste of Charlotte at the James Beard House.

4 Charlotte chefs, all past and future guests on order/fire, and one Charlotte mixologist, (arguably one of the best in the world) Chris Coleman from the Asbury, Blake Hartwick from Bonterra, Paul Verica from Heritage, Ashley Boyd from 300 East and Bob Peters from the Punch Room. These guys will be doing their best to wine and dine and impress in New York.

A couple of weeks ago order/fire stopped in as they prepped for their shake down dinner, a preview of the same dinner they will serve at the JBH, at Bonterra. We talked to each one a little about what they will be doing and what it means to get to cook at such a revered place of honor. Check it out here!

If this weekend whets your palate for more here is where you can go next week to find each of these talented Charlotte-based chefs and taste for yourself!! #TellThemHeidiSentYou

coleman_chris

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman, The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel, 235 North Tryon Street Charlotte NC Call 704.342.1193 for reservations or visit TheAsbury.com The Asbury Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

hartwick_blake

Chef Blake Hartwick

Chef Blake Hartwick, Bonterra Dining and Wine Room, 1829 Cleveland Ave, Charlotte NC Call 704.333.WINE for reservations or visit BonterraDining.com Bonterra Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Chef Paul Verica

Chef Paul Verica, Heritage Food | Drink, 201 West South Main Street, Waxhaw NC  Call 704.843.5236 for reservations or visit HeritageFoodanddrink.com Heritage Food & Drink Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

boyd_ashley

Chef Ashley Bivens

Chef Ashley Boyd, 300 East, 300 East Blvd, Charlotte NC Call 704.332.6507 or visit 300East.net 300 East Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  Ashely is also the pastry chef for Heritage Food | Drink

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Mixologist Bob Peters

Mixologist Bob Peters, The Punch Room (in the Ritz Carlton) , 201 E. Trade Street, Charlotte NC Call 704.547.2244 or visit twitter.com/THEPUNCHROOM Punch Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

blog headerKeep up with my latest restaurant finds, cooking class schedules and recipes too as well as some three day weekend travel ideas with tips on where to eat drink and sleep and what to see while you are there. Simply subscribe to HeidiBillottoFood.com in the space provided in the side bar on the home page. In the meantime, follow me on Facebook at Heidi Billotto and Heidi Billotto Cooks; on Twitter @HeidiCooks; on Instagram  at Heidi Billotto and on PInterest @HeidiBillottoFood

 

The 2015 GotToBeNc Competition Dining Series Springs into High Gear in the Queen City

BlackCompDiningLogoGet ready to enjoy North Carolina’s favorite Culinary Sport – tickets on sale NOW

If you thought you had to wait until late summer to enjoy North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport in the Queen City – think again. This year the GotToBeNc Competition Dining series kicks off the first weekend of Spring with a record breaking 24 chef line up! Charlotte can be proud to celebrate the fact that this, the largest Competition Dining series in history, will take place here from March 22 – May 19 with competitions on most Sundays and every Monday and Tuesday evening. Each of the dinners in Charlotte will take place at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room.

The fun each night starts as guests gather for libations starting around at 6 pm and each dinner kicks off promptly with a dramatically fun video presentation at 6:45.

jimmycrippenAs in years past here in Charlotte and at other series across the state, Competition Dining operates with a focus of bringing the chef, the farmer and the diner together.

Competition Dining creator Jimmy Crippen personally hosts each event with a genuine enthusiasm for what he does. from handling the introduction of chefs, judges and media  to personally walking dinner guests to their seat. His number one rule is to have fun; and that means everyone, from the chefs in the kitchen to the guest in the dining room.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIt has been my great pleasure to have gone from the official blogger of the Charlotte series to working as a part of the Competition Dining team.  At dinners across the state, my role is not only blogging the play by play after the fact; but also reporting it to you and the wining and dining public live as it happens via the Competition Dining social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Between dinners when I am not teaching cooking classes, catering or otherwise writing from my home base in Charlotte, I am the Competition Dining Sponsor Ambassador, garnering supportive companies, commodities, farms and individuals anxious to be a part of this state’s favorite culinary sport; and I assist chef Ref Bobby Zimmerman in the finding and selection of the much anticipated secret featured ingredients for each night’s battle – needless to say I am in my element and having a blast!

Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins

Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins

But enough about my role at Competition Dining dinners each night  – let’s turn the guys and gals that make this competition what it is – twenty four of this area’s most competitive chefs, each leading a team of three, vying for the bragging rites to the title, the coveted red chefs jacket from ALSCO, a custom made knife from Charlotte’s own Bladesmith Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge, and a check for $2000 plus entree into the Final Fire to be held this year in Raleigh on Halloween weekend!

 

Now that you know the what, when and where, here is the who and the how – the Charlotte line up of competing chefs with links to buy tickets for each individual battle! Come to one or come to them all – but whatever you do, don’t miss out – its so much fun – like eating at two of your favorite restaurants at the same time and enjoying a ton of North Carolina produce and product in the process. Can’t wait to see you there!

The Preliminary Round Battles

Battle March 22

 

On Sunday March 22, the Competition Dining Battle field finds Chef Miles Payne of littlespoon in Charlotte up against Chef Ryan Forte of Southminster Retirement Community in Charlotte. For Tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/lg7lvbb

Battle March 23

On Monday March 23 its Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food and Drink in Waxhaw battling it out with Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511 in Charlotte For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/k7m9jub

Battle March 24

 

On Tuesday March 24 the action heats up between Chef Tom Marlow of Mimosa Grill in Charlotte and Chef Ben Miles of BLT Steak in Charlotte. For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/nlqpefqBattle March 29

 

The Competition Dining battle on Sunday March 29 finds Chef Joseph Cornett of The Flipside Cafe in Ft. Mill, SC up against Chef Jon Ernst of Cafe Monte French Bakery and Cafe in Charlotte. For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/oq6alxv

Battle March 30

 

On Monday March 30 Chef Mike Suppa of Vivace Charlotte goes head to head against Chef Melissa Joy Claude of Joy’s Bistro in Boone NC For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/mnpwp4j

 

Battle March 31The first two weeks of the Charlotte prelims end on Tuesday March 31 with Chef Aaron Rivera of the soon-to-be-open Tapas 51 in Ft. Mill up against another South Carolina culinarian Chef Neil Bratton of Local Dish also in Ft. Mill. For Tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/o9ax8u5

Slide84The preliminary rounds continue in April just after the Easter holiday with a battle on Monday April 6 in a battle that finds two non-traditional restaurants up against each other. Chef John Morey of Delaware North exec chef for the Bank of America Stadium vs Chef Brady Lutz, exec chef at the Cypress of Charlotte retirement community.  For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/nclk8cm

 

On Tuesday April 7 its Chefs Ryan Daugherty & Eric Litaker co-exec chefs of Dogwood Battle April 7 Southern Table and Bar take on Chef Travis Garrett of The Mandrake Small Plates and Wine. For Tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/l297spq

The Quarter Finals

With this new 24-chef Competition format, the brackets have been set as one would for two 12-chef brackets – In the end there will be two championship rounds and eventually two Charlotte series champions will go to the Final Fire to compete for statewide bragging rites and the big prize package.

To keep things fair and the brackets in place, 8 returning Competition Dining chefs drew byes and automatically go on the compete in the series quarter finals against winners of the eight preliminary rounds. These are chefs who have competed in Competition Dining series in Charlotte and Asheville in years past.

Here are ticket links and competitors for the quarter final rounds:

Slide86Returning on Sunday April 12 is the 2014 Competition Dining City Finalist Chef Tom Dyrness of Mama Ricottas Restaurant. he will go up against the winner of the March 22 battle. For tickets to the April 12 event visit http://tinyurl.com/lxw82ov

 

Slide87Returning on Monday April 13 is  2014 Fire on the Rock semi finalist, Chef Steven Goff of the King James Public House in Asheville, NC. Steven will battle the winner of the March 23 battle. For tickets to the April 13 event visit http://tinyurl.com/ofk8649

Slide88Returning on Tuesday April 14 is 2014 Fire in the City Quarter Finalist Chef David Moore from Gallery Restaurant in Charlotte David faces the winner of the March 24 battle. For tickets to the April 14 event visit http://tinyurl.com/o9tmvy2

 

Slide89Returning on Sunday April 19 is 2014 Fire in the City Quarter Finalist Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury in Charlotte. Chris goes up against the winner of the March 29 battle. For tickets to the April 19 event visit http://tinyurl.com/m7qszb6  

 

Slide90Returning on Monday April 20 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte. Clark will battle the winner of the March 30 battle. For tickets to the April 20 event visit http://tinyurl.com/pt2d7es

Slide91Returning to the Competition Dining ring on Tuesday April 21 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Ben Phillpott of Block & Grinder in Charlotte. Ben will take on the winner of the March 31 battle. For tickets to the April 21 event visit http://tinyurl.com/q6wyepe

Slide92Returning to the Competition Dining battle on Monday Tuesday April 27 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Brent Martin of The Summit in Charlotte. Brent will face the winner of the April 6 battle. For tickets to the April 27 event visit http://tinyurl.com/p9o64lt

 

Slide93Returning to battle in the last quarter final battle of 2015  on Tuesday April 28 is 2014 Fire on the Rock competitor Chef Michael Fisera of Lexington Avenue Brewery in Asheville. Michael will battle the winner of the April  7 event. For tickets to the April 28 event http://tinyurl.com/qzdlbja

comp dining promo

Semi Final and Grand Finale Rounds

After the 8 quarter final battles the chefs still standing will go into the semi final and final rounds  – tickets for those events are still available, but moving fast and will most certainly be sold out by the time those battles come around -so You Be The Judge -pick your battles and  purchase your tickets now at http://tinyurl.com/pznf8aj

I’ll be looking to see you there – Cheers!

 

 

 

Making a list, Checking it Twice – Heidi Billotto’s Restaurant Guide of Great Charlotte Spots to Wine and Dine

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODA Few of my Favorite Finds

When I moved to Charlotte nearly 40 years ago, if you wanted wine or a cocktail with dinner it meant brown bagging and there was no such thing as pizza delivery or valet parking. Now, as we end 2014 and  move headstrong into 2015, Charlotte’s culinary skyline continues to expand and the nation is starting to pay attention.  Great chef-driven restaurants abound in every neighborhood; new locally-owned restaurants are opening every day. 

The list in this post was first published and is up online in the current issue of Charlotte Living magazine. It started as a Baker’s Dozen round up of 2014 – a bakers dozen to give myself a cushion from only listing a top ten. But then 10 grew to 20 and, well, you know the story. This list is not a finite one, but a work in progress.

The problem with a list of any kind is that once you write it and publish it, a new place opens or you rediscover old favorites you want to add. So this list starts as a post  and then next week  it will be become a page on my blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com under its own tab.  In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll add to it with updates of new finds, old favorites and don’t miss places in a dedicated blog post out each week on Wednesday or Thursday with enough time for you to make weekend plans..

My hope is for it to grow into a list of great places to simply eat or wine and dine your way across the  Carolinas.

It is in alphabetical order and offers something for everyone, suiting every palate and pocketbook. Most of these restaurants opened this year or late in 2013, but some are old favorites I just had to mention.  

Your favorite places on my list may vary from day to day depending on your mood but  I can promise there is not a wrong choice in the bunch. Take the tasting into your own hands and check back weekly for additions and updates and even some video from my monthly Charlotte Today restaurant segments.

Enjoy! – Heidi Billotto

 

The Asbury – Off the lobby of the historic Dunhill Hotel at 235 North Tryon Street. Call 704.342.1193. Visit DunhillHotel.com/Dining. Under the watch of executive chef Chris Coleman the Asbury offers modern southern cuisine with a farm to fork approach with a menu that honor the past and celebrates each seasons supporting local farms, farmers and producers along the way. Private dining rooms separate bar area and lounge The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Baku Robata Bar and Lounge – 415 Sharon Road, Call 704.817.7173. Visit Baku-restaurant.com        Japanese cuisine featuring  Robata and Yakitori grilled seafood and meat specialties as well as unique presentations of sushi and sashimi. All of it beautifully done. Tapas style serving, so go prepared to share items at the table. At the bar, an extensive collection of premium sake, wines , beers and craft cocktails – this writer’s favorite – the kumquat infused Sazerac made with candied kumquats, Russell’s reserve rye, Absinthe and lemon juice Baku-Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bonterra Dining and Wine Room – 1829 Cleveland Ave, Charlotte, NC 28203  Call 704.333.9463. Visit BonterraDining.com.       The band is back together again at this old Charlotte favorite reinvented  in the fall of 2014 with the return of Chef Blake Hartwick doing great new things  and taking the menu back with a whole new and delicious farm to fork vibe along with pastry chef  Jason Lemon and sous chef Mike Long.. Nightly  food and drink bar specials, incredible desserts, excellent service staff, lots of room and great opportunities for private events. Private rooms, wine cellar dining, catering, great venue for weddings and receptions Bonterra on Urbanspoon

Dean & DeLuca Wine Room – 6903 Phillips Place Court, Charlotte, NC. Call 704.643.5152; Visit Deananddeluca.com/aboutus/northcarolina  Made in America  wine comprised of many tasty selections all available by the bottle, the glass or the taste. Red and white flights, plus a long list of domestic and imported beers. Enjoy the a menu of delicious fresh made options many featuring local ingredients. For something light, think snacking and sharing and turn to the list of cheese and charcuterie (complete with several vegetarian pates) or small plates. For something more, there is a short list of flavorful entrees and desserts to help finish it all off in style. Gift Baskets, Catering, Patio Dining Dean & Deluca's Wine Room on Urbanspoon

E2 emerils eatery – 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts #100, Charlotte, NC. Call 704.414.4787. Visit emerilsrestaurants.com/e2-emerils-eatery           Chef de Cuisine Brian Motola at the helm of the talented team in this Uptown eatery channeling  owner  and creator Emeril Lagasse’s take on  New Orleans-inspired American cuisine. Motola uses many local and regional products on the menu which changes seasonally. Top notch wait staff will make you feel right at home.  For a quick bite at breakfast or lunch patrons can also enjoy e2 to go and to make it more convenient you can order ahead online ( via computer or mobile device) and pick up within 30 minutes. But at dinner plan to go, relax and take it all in course by course. The tuna crudo, beef carparcio and wood roasted oysters are great ways to start. Salads and entrees delicious, too; but be sure to pace yourself and save room at dessert time for the banana cream pie, oh my!        Separate bar area, patio dining,  private rooms, wine dinners,  catering E2 Emeril's Eatery on Urbanspoon

Fig Tree Restaurant – 1601 E. 7th Street, Charlotte, NC Call 704.322.3322; Visit CharlotteFigTree.com        Fine seasonal cuisine with French and Italian influences.  This beautifully restored building  is The Lucas House, a registered historic landmark home and a fine example of a 1913 Craftsman Bungalow nestled at the corner of 7th street and Louise Ave in the charming Elizabeth neighborhood. Top notch staff with attention paid to every detail. Owned and operated by chef and proprietress Greg and Sara Zanitsch. Award winning wine list – you will leave wanting for nothing but to come and enjoy it all over again.    Private Rooms, patio Dining, separate bar area, wine dinners, annual game dinner, catering The Fig Tree Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Heirloom Restaurant – at 8470 Bellhaven Blvd.  Charlotte, NC 28216; Call  704.595.7710; Visit HeirloomRestaurantNC.com           Chef Clark Barlowe’s flavors are intricate, texture is key, and each plate a work of art as good to look at as it is to eat! Tasting menu’s are fun and a great way to try it all.  It’s nearly impossible to make a recommendation as every dish in this all local from North Carolina restaurant changes from day to day, but guests at Heirloom will delight in knowing that they are enjoying any given menu item at the height of just harvested flavor. Private dining room, cooking classes and farm dinners. Heirloom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Heritage Food and Drink – 201 W, South Main Street, Waxhaw, NC 28173 . Call 704.843.5236 . Visit HeritageFoodAndDrink.com           Chef Paul Verica’s vision for Heritage? To bring the idea of tradition back to life and to celebrate the bounty of our region and the seasonality of local product . Verica’s  personal take on New American Cuisine style finds his menu featuring the best in each local product. Supporting farms and producers from around the region, Verica incorporates molecular gastronomy’s powders and sprays in a way that simply feels right. This baker of biscuits and doughnuts also serves small plates layered in Mason jars, just for the fun of it. Big flavors make for a very satisfying dining experience, indeed. Catering Heritage Food and Drink on Urbanspoon

Fahrenheit  Charlotte – Fahrenheit Charlotte is located  at 222 S Caldwell St in the Hyatt Place Hotel, Charlotte, NC 28202;  Call 980.237.6718; visit ChefRoccoWhalen.com                                                                                      One of the Queen City’s newest and highest dining establishments. The venue – 21 floors up – undoubtedly has the best view in the city. The menu, which changes quarterly, lives up to the striking atmosphere with an air of creative yet comfortable sophistication. I’m crazy about the ramen noodle appetizer , but don’t miss the short ribs, the potato starter or any of the seafood entrees –  the level, quality and presentation of each dish delights. Nightly specials Private rooms, catering, separate bar Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Flipside Café – 3150 Highway 21 North, Fort Mill SC, 29715. Call  803.802.1711.  Visit theflipsidecafesc.com      This little casual café in the Regency Park strip mall in Ft. Mill is owned and operated by a talented husband and wife team of chefs: Jon and Amy Fortes . The Flipside kitchen  is turning out big flavors – lots of them local and all of them fresh and delicious. Check it out -Breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner – great kids’ offerings with tasty rather grown-up, well seasoned choices. And even though Amy’s palate may be pork-centric, there are lots of vegetarian selections on the menu too!  Chef Jon Fortes was the winner of the 2013 and 2014 Competition Dining Fire in the City Championship and went on take the 2014 state wide title as well.  Catering The FlipSide Cafe on Urbanspoon

Fork! – 20517 N Main St, Cornelius, NC Call 704.655.7465 Visit ForkRestaurantCornelius.com                      Fork! is home to chef Tom Groody, a true frontrunner among chefs in Charlotte, Tim was the very first here to ever put a farmers’ name on the menu. Groody’s style is clean and uncomplicated ; paying homage to the vast array of locally sourced ingredients on his menu.  Menu changes daily and featured items change with the season. This old home turned restaurant is a charming venue  with on the porch seating in suitable weather. Separate bar area. catering Fork! on Urbanspoon

 Kabab Je Rotisserie and Grill – 2233 Matthews Township Pkwy. Sycamore Commons  Mathews NC.  Call 704-845-0707.  Visit kababje.com         This great little place just keeps getting better and better, from classic Hummus  to stuffed grape leaves to the grilled lamb and chicken shawarma. Don’t miss the Za’taar “pizza”, the roasted cauliflower, the falafel and the chick pea and broad bean appetizer called Ful Mudammas.  With a host of sweet syrupy Middle Eastern desserts, a tiny cup of Lebanese coffee made with cardamom is the perfect finish.  Patio dining and Catering, too! Kabab-Je Rotisserie and Grille on Urbanspoon

Little Spoon Eatery – 2820 Selwyn Ave, Charlotte, NC 28209 Call (704) 496-9908  Visit LittleSpoonEatery.com/ “ the little spot right on the corner”, this neighborhood spot for breakfast and lunch is taking the Myers Park neighborhood by storm,  chef Miles Payne at the helm using local ingredients and supporting local farms in almost all of his breakfast and lunch offerings. Its all good, but I can’t get past the homemade pop tarts, the bowl of frothy cappuccino and the over easy eggs with toast. Weekends are packed, so go on a weekday and take the time to relax and enjoy before you start your day. Patio dining, take out

Lumiere French Kitchen – 1039 Providence Rd Call 704.372.3335 Visit lumieremyerspark.com The newest culinary adventure by  Chef Tom Condron and restaurateur Matthew Pera. These two long time Charlotte culinarians, owners of the very successful gastropub, The Liberty on South Blvd, have taken a more formal turn at Lumiere. Don’t miss the Wild Mushroom “Lyonnaise” salad or the Mediterranean White Sea Bass with roasted with olives, basil and lemons, beluga lentils, mushrooms and herb butter. Excellent staff, tremendous wine offerings and a host of classic French dishes with Chef Condron’s modern twist. Taking it up a notch in Charlotte,  Lumiere French Kitchen is located in the heart of Myers Park bringing modern French cuisine to the Queen City. Wine dinners, Cooking classes, catering Lumiere French Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Mama Ricotta’s  – 601 S Kings Dr, Charlotte, NC; Call 704.343.0148. Visit MamaRicottasrestaurant.com Great neighborhood spot for classic Italian and  American Italian fare, all exceptionally well done. From scratch sauces, homemade cheeses and sausages, fresh baked bread and from scratch pastas made from high quality imported Italian ingredients.  Competition Dining semi finalist chef Tom Dyrness heads the team as executive chef and menu favorites include:  the meatballs or Polpette Al Forno, the grilled salmon and arugula salad, any of the pastas and the pizza hot out of the wood burning oven. Mama’s is the flagship restaurant of owner Frank Scibelli’s FS Foods chain that includes Midwood Smokehouse, Pacos Tacos,  and a huge catering division as well.   Patio dining, full separate bar, catering Lumiere French Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

Passion 8 -1523 Elizabeth Avenue Charlotte, NC, 28204. Call 704.910. 3161. Visit ThePassion8.com                   Owned by chef Luca Annunziata and his lovely wife Jessica, Passion 8 Bistro moved  from its tiny home in Ft. Mill to bigger newer more sophisticated digs in Charlotte on Elizabeth Ave. in Charlotte in late October. While the surrounds are new, Chef Luca and his staff continue to supporting nearly 75 different local farms across  North and South Carolina and serve their own contemporary style of farm to fork cuisine.  Looks for special theme dinners and cooking classes too.  The new interiors are soft and sophisticated yet warm and inviting; with the same family friendliness and incredible local fare and flair that has always made you want to come back for more. Make your reservations now for the weeks and months ahead – its gonna be a hot spot in town, for sure. Now serving lunch as well! Private rooms, chefs table, catering, craft cocktails, separate bar Passion8 on Urbanspoon

The Summit Room1531 East Blvd. Call 980.237.2227 . Visit thesummitrm.com         In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening. But at night, the space at MayoBird is available for private events.   Chef Martin has come into his own at the helm of this kitchen, doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather, and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible!  Private rooms, seating at the bar, catering The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

Stagioni   – 715 Providence Rd. in the Eastover neighborhood. Call 704.372.8110. Visit stagioniclt.com       Stagioni, the third jewel in Chef Bruce Moffett’s triple crown of restaurants including Barrington’s and Good Food on Montford opened  to rave reviews and  standing room only crowds. The menu, which changes with the seasons, features deliciously done Italian classics with a fresh, modern twist. The food, like that in each of the Moffett Group restaurants is beyond reproach; and the atmosphere at Stagioni is, well, the Moffett website says it best, “The Moffett’s know from experience that life’s greatest memories unfold around the dinner table. Stagioni ( is the perfect place) to bring family and friends together.” Separate bar, catering Stagioni on Urbanspoon

 

Terra – 545 Providence Road, Charlotte NC; Call 704.332.1886; Visit TerraCharlotte.com.  A quaint little neighborhood French café you’re going to love. The menu changes with the seasons, the service is very personal and the feel is classic French right down to owner Thierry Garconnet, who is living his dream of bringing a taste of his home town in Paris back to the states. This charming little bistro is tucked away at the end of a small strip right next to Starbucks, but don’t let the casual surrounds fool you, the food is the real deal. Daily specials include: Tuesdays: All you can eat Mussels; Wednesdays: Pasta Special and Thursday: Half price wine  Patio Dining Terra on Urbanspoon

 Va da Vie Gelato – 4203 Park Road  Call 980.201.9159. This free standing building  with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond,  pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato by owners John and Wendy Paglia  who use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts –  no chemicals or preservatives.  As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment

Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Bar – Phillips Place Call 704.295.0101 Visit wolfgangPuck.com                  Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers  a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven.  Puck is in town occasionally but day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful  and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. Our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for two to share. Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar on Urbanspoon

 

Your Moms Donuts – 11025 Monroe Rd, Matthews, NC 28105 Call 803.280.5720 Visit Yourmomsdonuts.com    I’ve talked about these wonderful square-shaped locally-made donuts throughout the year.  The company is owned by Benjamin Frye, chief donut maker and his wife Courtney Buckley, manager of everything else. These truly  gourmet donuts are made with locally sourced ingredients, including organic, NC grown flour , grass fed dairy, local pasture eggs, and the donuts are fried in freshly rendered  leaf lard!

The best news of 2014 is that Your Moms Donuts is now operating out of its own bricks and mortar location on Monroe Rd. Donuts are available every day but Monday for breakfast and lunch or until they sell out.  Check the website or follow on Facebook @yourmomsdonuts and Instagram @yourmoms_donuts for the daily list of flavors. Large orders in advance. Complimentary delivery is available. Your Mom's Donuts on Urbanspoon

 

Fire in the City Competition Dining 2014 | Charlotte Chefs are Hot to Get This Party Started

The GotToBeNC Competition Dining Series, a single-elimination culinary tournament of chefs, highlights the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent. North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport starts in Charlotte on August 18, 2014 when sixteen local chefs will go up one against the other, head to head, battle by battle in Charlotte’s own Fire in the City culinary competition.Each Fire in the City dinner takes place at the beautiful Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located at 1829 Cleveland Ave in historic SouthEnd. The  Bonterra kitchen provides a neutral battle field for these chefs from restaurants all around the city. The chefs come in around 11 or so, and following the lead of Chef Refs Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, take stock of what foodstuffs are available to them to use from the mobile pantry and then sit down for a presentation from Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen, to learn the details on the secret ingredient for the evening. Then they get cooking till its time to plate and serve upwards of 150 guests each evening of the competition  – the fun and festivities each evening kick off at 7 pm.

There is nothing else like it any place else, you could say its the Sweet Sixteen of Charlotte’s culinary community.  To paraphrase Oprah, what I know for sure is, YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS IT!  To make it even more fun, at each Competition Dining dinner two teams of talented chefs must each prepare their three courses using a secret or featured ingredient that comes from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. Award winning NC wines and local NC craft beers are also featured at each dinner.  Competition Dining is all about things Grown, Raised, Caught and Made in the great state of North Carolina.

Heidi with the city crew

Heidi Billotto with all of the 2014 Fire in the City chefs standing in front of the mobile pantry

 

And the best part is, you get the be the judge! At each dinner – or culinary battle – you, the diner, will delight in savoring six courses without knowing which chef prepared each dish. Its a blind tasting of sorts and as you eat, you’ll rate each plate using a specially designed interactive app which you will download on your smart phone. No smartphone, you say? No worries! The tech talented team at HitsTech, Competition Dining’s NC based tech support team, are on site and have smart phones you can borrow for the evening.

At meals end, final scores are revealed and just like you see on Iron Chef or Chopped, one team moves on to the next round and one team goes home.

And for the winner…

At stake for the series winner. along with the all important braggin rites, is a grand prize of $2,000, a handmade chef knife by Charlotte’s Own, Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.”

Additionally, the Fire In The City winning team moves on to the Final Fire Battle of Champions.
Hosted in Raleigh this November, the Final Fire will pit the Fire in the City winner up against other regional winners from 2014 competition dining series in the mountains (Fire on the Rock), the coast (Fire on the Dock), Fire in the Triad (Winston Salem Greensboro and High Point) and Fire in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) to crown a statewide winner.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODThe Fire in the City Official Blog

As the official blogger of Fire in the City series and now the social media maven for Competition Dining across the state ( that’s me behind all of the Competition Dining Tweets and Facebook post) I’ll be there at every battle.  covering all the action, tweeting and facebooking along  the way and then posting the recap with notes on my favorite dishes and details on the  secret ingredients here on these blog pages each morning after.

If you want to follow along during each battle, periodically check  the Competition Dining Facebook page through the evening or follow along on Twitter by searching #CompDiningNC. Feel free to post your own ooohs and aaaahs as the food photos and course descriptives are posted and by all means, don’t hesitate to post your own comments on the action or in support of your favorite chefs along the way.

I can tell you from experience, that one or two nights of following along on the social media and you’re going to wish you were there in person. These dinners are like eating dinner at TWO of your favorite Charlotte restaurants at the same time and I can promise, its the most fun you’ll ever have on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening! So, Don’t Miss Out on this incredible culinary experience.

Make your reservations now, simply click here and then select each individual battle to link to that specific reservation page.

For more information about where you will find these chefs and their restaurants, outside of Competition Dining, follow the links to restaurant websites at the bottom of this page

as a PNG - charlotte living peice

I encourage you to go and dine with each of the Got To Be NC  Fire In The City chefs at their own individual restaurants, outside of all the Competition Dining fun, as well –

Here they are with links to their websites: 

Chef Luca Annunziate – Passion 8 – http://www.passion8bistro.com/ Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chef Clark Barlowe – Heirloom Restaurant – http://www.heirloomrestaurantnc.com/ Heirloom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chef Tom Dyrness – Mama Ricotta’s – http://mamaricottasrestaurant.com/home/ Mama Ricotta's on Urbanspoon

Chef Brian Mottola  – e2 Emeril’s Eatery- http://www.emerilsrestaurants.com/e2-emerils-eatery E2 Emeril's Eatery on Urbanspoon

Chef David Feimster – Fahrenheit – http://www.chefroccowhalen.com/fahrenheit-charlotte/ Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Chef David Quintana – Southminster- http://www.southminster.org/exquisite-dining/

Chef David Moore – Gallery Restaurant – http://www.gallery-restaurant.com/ Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on Urbanspoon

Chef Ben Phillpott – Block and Grinder –http://blockandgrinder.com/ Block & Grinder on Urbanspoon

Chef Brent Martin – The Summit Room- http://www.thesummitrm.com/ The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

Chef Jon Spencer – Epic Chophouse and Chillfire Bar and Grill- http://www.epicchophouse.com/ Epic Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Chef Chris Coleman – The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel – http://www.theasbury.com/ The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Chef Brian Williams – Upstream – http://www.harpersgroup.com/upstream.asp Upstream on Urbanspoon

Chef Nicholas Daniels – The Wooden Vine – http://thewoodenvine.com/ The Wooden Vine Wine Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chef  Paul Ketterhagen – Carpe Diem – http://www.carpediemrestaurant.com/ Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers on Urbanspoon

Chef Jon Fortes – Mimosa Grill – http://www.harpersgroup.com/mimosa.asp Mimosa Grill on Urbanspoon

Chef David “Sully” Sullivan – The Fish Market – http://www.fishmarketbarandgrill.com/ Fish Market Seafood Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

Weekend One of Charlotte’s 2014 Spring Show Cooking Stage: Recap & Recipes

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt is, each and every year, my great pleasure to coordinate the chefs and host the culinary action on the Southern Shows Spring Home and Garden Show cooking stage in late February and then again I do the same in August for the Southern Shows Ideal Home show.
This year the spring show ran two consecutive weekends in a row and with nearly 60 different chefs, sous chefs, foodies and farmers making appearances on stage, every hour on the hour, the action was hot!

With so many different chefs I made the decision to make the stage “paperless” this year – so aside from coupons, business cards and menus for the crowd to pick up and share, there were no printed recipes.

bannerInstead of all the paper,  my good friends at Charlotte Living magazine have created a Southern Spring Home & Garden cooking stage landing page where readers will find an index of all the participating chefs, links to their printed recipes and further links to restaurant, chef, farm and shop websites. the link to the recipe index from the first weekend is at the end of this post; recipes for the second weekend will be up next week and I’ll soon write a recap blog post for that as well –  but first a brief recap of the first weekend of fun, food and flavor!

Heidi and Tom in the Booth  spring show 2-14

Heidi and Tom Billotto in Charlotte NC at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show 2014

As I mentioned, this year, The Southern Spring & Garden show ran Feb 22 – Feb 24 and Feb 28 – Mar 2, While I was at the Cooking Stage, my very talented husband Musician Tom Billotto, was performing instrumental and vocals in the show’s gardens. We sold his CD, Two and A Half Guitars, at the Heidi Billotto & Friends booth directly across from the  cooking stage and then we played it between chefs  –  the crowd seemed to enjoy the blending of food and mood.

If you missed purchasing Tom’s CD for a little food and mood of your own – its available through his website – look for the link at the end of this post.

So what follows is the low down on the line up of first weekend chefs, farmers and foodies that I am proud to call my friends and colleagues as they shared their skills, tips and techniques with the audience. – Thank you every one!

 

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511's Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511’s Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Chefs Vince Giancarlo, Kyle Biddy and Greg Balch from Cantina 1511 kicked things off on Feb 21 at 11 am preparing Al Pastor Pork from Cantina’s new spring menu.

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

This delicious little bite is one you should certainly request when next you eat at either of Cantinas two locations – the big news is that the East Blvd. location will soon be moving to Park Road Shopping Center – stay tuned on these blog pages and on my Facebook page for details as they happen.

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

As it turned out it was a pork-centric beginning to the day as Chef Paul Verica and his son Alex followed with his version of the story of  “The Three Little Pigs” done Hertitage Food and Drink style with Maple Glazed Pork Belly, Pulled pork with old school biscuits and  Bacon Doughnuts, oh my!

A big supporter of local farmers and farmers markets, Paul has spent the last 20 years developing his personal style of New American Cuisine, and  the opening of Heritage Food & Drink in downtown Waxhaw NC  the culmination of years of hard work and dedication – like all the restaurants featured in this post Heritage is well worth your consideration next time you plan to enjoy dinner out!

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Then the day on the stage took a turn toward poultry with Private chef Chef Bill Bigham who shared his quick and easy recipe for Mojito Chicken.

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Bill was followed by Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel, a modern southern restaurant that honors the past, celebrates the seasons, and looks forward serving break fast lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Chris followed the poultry theme  preparing Cured and pan roasted duck with NC peanut Farro Risotto using local duck local peanuts and local farro – Chris is another big believer in the farm to fork concept and the menu at The Asbury reflects this philosophy.

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

North Carolina Peanut

North Carolina Peanut

Chef David Moore from The Gallery at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge was also inspired by all things local and Southern as he too worked with NC peanuts, crafting the legume into a delicious brittle that sported quick a kick as he added South Carolina’s now famous hot sauce, The Grim Reaper, grown and produced by the Puckerbutt Hot Sauce Company in Ft Mill, SC. The Grim reaper chili has recently been classified as the hottest Chili in the world by the fine folks at Guinness who keep all the records!

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman's cheese shop

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman’s cheese shop

Private chef Jill Aker Ray lightened things up a bit with her easy Primavera sauce and I followed with Rachel Klebaur of Orrman’s Cheese Shop, making my recipes for Local Bosky Acres goat cheese fondue and beer cheese stuffed jalapenos.

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Later, I took the stage once more to share perfect pairings of Pour Olive ultra premium extra virgin olive oils and artisan Balsamic vinegars and then Chef Greg Collier put a cap on the evening as he entertained the crowd while he prepared a twist on a breakfast classic – steel cut oats. Instead of making a sweet oatmeal, Greg transformed the oats into a melt in your mouth mushroom risotto – what a way to end our first day and one reason you should definitely check out the breakfast menus at The Yolk located in Rock Hill, SC!
 

 

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes form Mimosa Grill

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill

The action Continue at a fever pitch on Saturday, Feb 22 with appearances by four of Charlotte’s top restaurant chefs one right after the other:

Carpe Diem's Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Carpe Diem’s Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem, a fine dining restaurant and catering company
located at 1535 Elizabeth Avenue  in Charlotte delighted show goers with recipes for  a springtime farro salad with a duo of vinaigrettes – look for creative dishes like this one on the carpe diem springtime menu

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Then Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen a not for profit restaurant in Uptown , with a mission  to help and feed our city’s hungry and homeless, brought it all back home with his melt in your mouth biscuits and sasauge gravy. Kings Kitchen is now open for breakfast and these biscuits are featured on the breakfast and lunch menus.

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Show goers were ready for more as Chef Tim Groody from Fork Restaurant  on Main Street in Cornelius, a farms to fork restaurant supporting dozens of local farms in the Carolinas, put an international spin on a bevy of local ingredients to make his tasty smoked local pork pot stickers!

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Chef Jonathan Fortes, winner of the 2013 Fire in the City Competition dining series,  and his team from Mimosa Grill located in Uptown Charlotte, wowed show goers with his  creole stuffed hushpuppies – the crowd, quit literally, ate it all up.

Nada Vergili of Nada's Italy

Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

I made real Italian biscotti while Italian travel expert Nada Vergili  expounded on all that is wonderful about traveling in Italy; while private chef Jill Aker-Ray stepped up for  the first of  three separate time slots on stage over the course of the show  sharing her recipes for  primavera sauce, boursin cheese and southern pesto.

On Sunday Feb 23 – The crew from the Papi Queso Food Truck was unable to attend as scheduled, so I stepped in sharing a few tips I’ve learned from Papi Queso and others on making superlative grilled cheese sandwiches  -the big trick is to use real mayo instead of butter on the bread for a truly golden and crispy finish ( the brand is your call but my go-to is Carolinas-made Dukes) – other than that, use interesting breads and fill with your favorite combinations of cheese, fruits, meats and veggies and you’re good to grill!

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

I was followed on stage  by a new, very talented, chef in town. So glad to have Nathan Volz, executive sous chef at Charlotte’s Ritz Carlton join us on stage.  Nathan’s “taste of the Ritz- Carlton” this day were bite sized pistachio profiteroles filled with a foie gras mousse – ah – what a way to start the day!

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

After the foie gras, amuse, so to speak, Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish, sushi burger bar, gave the crowd a rundown on making the very best burgers and  cheeseburgers and shared recipes for some of his favorite sauces.

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach  to feed the crowd!

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach to feed the crowd!

Next things took a light turn as Windcrest Farms’ Mary Roberts  joined me on stage to talk about al things organic and to tell guests int he audience how to grow from their own organic gardens.

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach - just beautiful!

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach – just beautiful!

Mary and her husband Ray brought along two huge bags of fresh picked organic spinach which we served to the crowd paired with organic strawberries for a  light spinach salad and then backed with Bosky Acres goat cheese and grated parmigiana reggiana for a rich warm spinach soufflé. We also sautéed this wonderful seasonal green with organic chick peas and tomatoes to create a tasty simply side dish as well. 

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Inspired by Ben's mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! - seeds soaking here....

Inspired by Ben’s mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! – seeds soaking here….

That afternoon  I welcomed Chef Ben Philpott from Block and Grinder to the stage . At Block & Grinder, Ben makes delicious charcuterie and so he brought some of his duck ham to share with the cooking stage crowd and then he made a homemade mustard to go with. Keeping true to the philosophy that the show must go on, Ben persevered through an explosion of his blender and the fact that the fire alarm in the building went off in the middle of his demo.  After the all clear, we all realized that sometimes you just have to laugh and keep moving on.

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

The weekend ended with a presentation from Amy and Scott McCabe from The Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd  – my go -to place for all spices and herbs sweet and savory. Scott cooked up a rigatoni pasta dish while Amy handed spice samples out to the crowd – the perfect cap off for the evening and the first weekend of the show..

For all the recipes from this talented line up of first weekend of chefs at the cooking stage at the Southern Spring & Garden Show in Charlotte click on over to http://charlottelivingmagazine.com/spring_show_2014/Spring_Show_Recipes.pdf

Each of the recipes on the Charlotte Living site offer links to the chef restaurants and websites… recipes from the second weekend of chefs will be up and online mid March 2014. 

Meanwhile, for more information about any of our first weekend chefs  – just follow these links to get to their respective websites ….

For more information on me, Heidi Billotto and my cooking classes – friend me on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or follow me on Twitter at @heidicooks  and follow this blog and all the details will come to you as I post…

 

Feeling Romantic? Six Sensational Spots to Dine with Your Valentine

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 - now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 – now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

As many of you know, each month I present a “where to dine” restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today program. Every 4-6 weeks the show’s producers and I select a topic or theme  and I choose 5-6 restaurants to chat about on air. As February is the month of hearts and flowers, this month’s challenge was to gather a group of Romantic restaurants to share with Charlotte Today viewers and this Blog’s readers.

There was a time in here in Charlotte  that gathering this many outstanding chef driven restaurants may have been a daunting task, but in 2014 there are lots of wonderful restaurants I could have put on this list – I chose the six that for me ( and my hubby Tom Billotto) have come to be the most romantic. For me, a part of that is that these are all chef-driven establishments, with chefs, sous chefs pastry chefs and line chefs who all cook from their hearts. That love and passion is conveyed in the cuisine, making dining out a true pleasure for the mind, body and soul.

No matter if you are just kindling or trying to respark the fire, Romance doesn’t just happen on Feb 14 – enjoy a romantic dinner any night of the week and know that  these fine dining establishments run wine tastings and dinners, special cooking classes and prix fixe menus at all different times of the year, as do many of Charlotte’s chef-driven and independent restaurants.  I’ve added notes about upcoming February events at each post as well as links to all of the restaurant websites at the end of this article, so start making plans now and plan  to try them all – There was never more wonderful time in the Queen City, with more possibilities  for  delighting in dining aux deux, than now…enjoy!

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

To enhance the video and the chat with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway, I ask restaurants to prepare a plate that I can pick up and assemble at the studio – its like having something special to share for show and tell.

Many thanks to all the featured restaurants chefs and sous chefs for helping me out with product for the February segment.  I wish I had taken more behind the scene shots this time. Chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs and restaurateurs gave me each component of the dish as well as a hand rendered drawing or quick tutorial at pick up as to how to assemble it all.

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

As this segment was on a Monday morning and most of these restaurants weren’t open on Sunday, chefs came in early Monday morning or prepped things for me late on Saturday night or actually came in on Sunday, to help it all come together.

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of their extra efforts to help me boast about the quality and high caliber that is now standard in the Charlotte restaurant arena . While these are not the only great restaurants in the Queen City, this group of six is great representation of all Charlotte has to brag about.

All of these restaurants are ranked at the top of lists of kudos, yielding recommendation’s not only from this food writer,  but from the likes of Zagat, AAA’s Four Diamond Awards in North and South Carolina, Open Table, the Wine Spectator, DiArona, The Food Network, AOL restaurant rankings, and more. Check individual websites for all the accolades.

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

To that end, it goes without saying that service, atmosphere and cuisine, too, are all spot on at each and every one of these places;  no such thing as a bad choice here.

Here is my short list of a half dozen of my favorite Romantic restaurants in Charlotte. The video from the Charlotte Today segment follows.

As I mentioned in the video, poet Ogden Nash wrote a little two line verse which said, “Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker!” take those two lines to heart and intertwine a dinner at any one of these restaurants and with a little help from Cupid, you’ll hit a home run for sure…

Bonterra logo

First on my list is Bonterra Dining and Wine Room. This may be the most romantic restaurant here for me because I met my husband Tom at a mutual friend’s wedding at Bonterra and my life has been a wonderfully romantic whirlwind every since. In fact, while we were married out of town, we had a big party after our wedding at Bonterra. Many couple in Charlotte have weddings, rehearsal dinners and big engagement parties at Bonterra. The historic building, refurbished and owned by John “JD” Duncan, was once an old church and simple has an air of romance about it. The dining room offers open seating at tables for 2 to 8 and can accommodate larger parties as well.

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra's hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra’s hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

Seating at the bar as well with over 200 outstanding wines offered by the bottle and by the glass. Its fun and romantic to each order a different by-the-glass pour and then share sips along with something from the bar bite menu or a cheese tray before dinner. The bottle of Robert Foley Petit Syrah is one of our favorites and I included it in the photo as a shout out to our good friend Bob Foley, winemaker extraordinaire!

With small tables au deux tucked in the alcoves, a  private balcony upstairs and a wine cellar downstairs for private dinners there are plenty of places to sit snuggled away from the main dining area if you would like a bit of privacy while you dine.

Coming soon at Bonterra – a “Girls Night Out” wine dinner on Wednesday Feb 5 featuring Ponzi Wines; regular bar specials each night; and a Thursday night wine dinner as a part of the upcoming Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend in April.

Bonterra Dining and Wine Room is located at 1829 Cleveland Ave. at East Worthington Ave.  Reservations: 704-333-WINE(9463).   Bar opens at 4:30 pm Monday-Saturday The Restaurant opens for dinner at 5:30 pm Monday-Saturday. For more info and to get on Bonterra’s newsletter list, visit www.BonterraDining.com  Bonterra on Urbanspoon

The McNinch House in Charlotte's historic Fourth Ward

The McNinch House in Charlotte’s historic Fourth Ward

Next up, for a romantic evening on the town, the McNinch House Restaurant. Located in Charlotte’s Historic Fourth Ward neighborhood, this Victorian-era house was originally home to  Charlotte Mayor Sam McNinch; now for the past 22 years it has been the McNinch House Restaurant.

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Beautifully appointed, the home is owned by Ellen Davis, a front runner on Charlotte’s ever growing culinary landscape. McNinch House recently won its 16th consecutive Four Diamond designation from AAA, is listed as one of the top “extraordinary” restaurants in America by Zagat’s Dining Guide. Davis was Charlotte’s original street vendor,  back in the late 1980’s early 1990’s as she sold hotdogs from a cart while the house was being renovated to become a restaurant on the main floor with her private residence on the floor above.

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto from McNinch's Chef William Parham

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto, one of McNinch’s most popular entrees, from McNinch’s Chef William Parham

There are no menus at the McNinch House. When you make a reservation, you order your entrée on the phone and then the rest of the meal is built around your selection using seasonal produce and proteins.

The restaurant offers several selections of prix fixe menus: A classic 7-course  menu which includes appetizer, soup, salad, sorbet, entrée, cheese and dessert for $99 per person ( plus beverages, tax and gratuity) or a 5-course  menu at $79 per person ++.

For Valentine’s they are offering an  all-inclusive package for two with a 6-course chef’s menu with wine pairings, for $450 per couple

McNinch House Restaurant is located in uptown Charlotte  at 511  N. Church St.  Phone:  704-332-6159. Open Tuesday – Saturday Reservations Required.  Seatings available  Tuesday-Thursday On the half-hour, 5:30 pm-8 pm;  Friday-Saturday On the Hour    5:30 pm-8 pm.  For more information visit, www.mcninchhouserestaurant.com McNinch House on Urbanspoon

Zebra 2My third suggestion for Valentine wining and dining is Zebra Restaurant in the SouthPark area.  Zebra offers fine continental cuisine with French influences. Since Inception, Zebra has been recognized with numerous honors and awards of distinction.  including OpenTable Diners Choice, Zagat Best Restaurant, Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence, and AAA Four Diamonds for eleven consecutive years.

With two adjacent dining rooms the restaurant also offers seating in a small intimate room off the bar  and when weather permits out on the beautiful, newly decorated patio. Owned by Chef Jim Alexander, Zebra serves breakfast lunch and dinner, is a great spot not only for romance but for the corporate breakfast and lunch crowd as well; and in addition Zebra is hosting several monthly wine dinners in the next several months. Zebra also offers on and off site catering for private parties and events – call the restaurant for details.

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

In the Charlotte Today  segment we featured Alexander’s signature salad at Zebra – a delightful presentation that will make your sweetie smile! Zebra sous chef Chris Wriggle gave me a quick tutorial on how to put it together and I believe I did Zebra proud. Local organic greens gathered in a tuille vase, dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette and  honey Dijon and finished with a garnish of local Tega Hills Farm’s micro greens. As delicious as it is beautiful.

Entertainment at Zebra – music always sets the mood for romance; so its nice to know that on most Friday nights in February, Zebra features live guitar music in the bar with a bar bites menu and tasty $12 wine flights. This month guitarist Harry Bell  performs on Friday Feb 7; and my favorite musician in town, Tom Billotto on guitar and vocals on Friday Feb 21 and Friday Feb 28 from 6-8 or 9 pm. if I am not working, I am usually in the crowd – the official groupie in the room – so I hope to see you there!

On Wednesday February 19, 2014 come to Zebra and enjoy a four course wine dinner featuring SCHWEIGER Vineyards.  The evening starts with an hors d’oeuvre reception followed by a four course dinner with wine pairings for just $75 per person ++.  RESERVATIONS REQUIRED, 704-442-9525

Zebra is located at 4521 Sharon Road, across from SouthPark Mall. For reservations and gift certificates, please call 704-442-9525. For more information visit www.zebrarestaurant.net Zebra Restaurant and Fine Catering on Urbanspoon

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

Fourth on my list of six is  a new restaurant run by a very talented long time Charlotte chef. After making a name for himself and honing is own sophisticated Southern style at The McNinch House,

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman is now the executive chef and director of food and beverage for The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel. Named in honor of Louis Asbury, Sr., the Charlotte architect who designed the Mayfair Manor—now The Dunhill Hotel—in 1929, The Asbury celebrates the best of what the South has to offer in ingredients, technique, creativity, and, of course, hospitality. The Asbury is a tribute to Chef Coleman’s southern roots and the culturally diverse community of the New South from which he draws inspiration.

Cheers to The Dunhill's bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

Cheers to The Dunhill’s bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

What could be more romantic? Its a fabulous hotel dining experience where you can whisk your Valentine away after dinner and maybe a nightcap a the bar to a hotel room right upstairs if you’ve got  a mind; and then go and enjoy the restaurant all over again with room service or breakfast downstairs in the morning. In fact, with a great baby sitter and tickets to a show or concert uptown  you could make it a one stop weekend for Valentine romance!

The Asbury boasts a wonderful little bar where bartender Pete Ladino  makes everyone feel right at home.  Go old school and enjoy a cocktail or  sip on a glass of wine and preview the cuisine with something from the bar bites offerings.  Once seated for dinner, you’ll be wowed with Chris’ eclectic Southern menu in the restaurant featuring as much local product as Chris can source.  And then be prepared to be blown away by the talent that is Asbury pastry chef Patty Greene.   Unable to select just one, I featured two of Patty’s desserts on the show – first a unique take on raspberry cheesecake and then a chocolate espresso cake, my oh my!

Patty Greene's chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene's raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

The Asbury serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.  In addition to the ground floor restaurant space, The Asbury caters unique, private dining experiences and hosts special events throughout its intimate second floor   Located in The Dunhill at 235 N. Tryon Street, the parking entrance for The Asbury and the hotel is just off 6th street. Call 704-342-1193 for dinner reservations or more info. For room reservations at The Dunhill call 704-332-4141 or visit www.TheDunhillHotel.com  The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Fifth up, another newbie for Charlotte diners from a much loved and admired chef – Bruce Moffett’s newest jewel in the Moffett Restaurant Group triple crown – Stagioni! After much success with Barringtons and Good Food on Montford Moffett opened Stagioni about a month ago now to rave reviews. The menu is decidedly Italian, with an all Italian wine list of delicious pours.  Moffett and his team lead by executive chef Larry Schreiber have kept true to traditional Italian recipes like porchetta, arrancini, homemade pasta, and wood-oven baked pizza but have  put their own little twist on things here and there.

A tray of Stagioni's snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

A tray of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

The menu at Stagioni – “four seasons of food”, is of course, seasonal; and as I have eaten my way through winter I cannot wait to see what’s in store for spring. For the Valentine segment, we features a board of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads, such as fava bean  spread, liver pate, puree of cauliflower with truffles, stuffed peppadew peppers, tapenade and more with flat bread toasts and delicious fried chicken skin “chips” – perfect for the two of you to share while you make your dinner choices.

The historic house was once home to  Blanche Reynolds-Gourmajenko who loved to entertain and the villa traditionally served as a grand place for people to gather at the parties and dinners Blanche hosted.  They say that Blanche loved the home so  much that she hasn’t left and her spirit haunts the estate.

Banche Reynolds -

Banche Reynolds-Gourmajenko

All I can say is that Blanche must be very happy having people gather round the tables in her home once again surrounded by good food and drink.  The softly lit small bar and dining room with open kitchen and seating in front of the wood burning pizza oven are all beautifully designed to keep the integrity of the original home, while offering a modern spin on dining out.

Stagioni is located at 715 Providence Rd. in the Eastover neighborhood. Call 704.372.8110 for reservations. For more information about the menu, the history of the home and links to Barrington’s and Good Food on Monford, Stagioni’s sister restaurants, visit http://stagioniclt.com/  Stagioni on Urbanspoon

passion 8Finally, the last of these six romantic dining spots, Passion 8 Bistro – the name says it all. A place that is passionate about local farms, food, and service. Owned by chef Luca Annunziata and his lovely wife Jessica, Passion 8 Bistro has plans to soon move from its tiny home in Ft. Mill to bigger newer but every bit as romantic, digs in Charlotte on Elizabeth Ave.  The group is still waiting for permits and construction to be finalized, but until the move Chef Luca and his culinary team Chef Matthew Krenz and chef Evan Micek, are still cooking up a storm in Ft. Mill, serving an all market menu every evening,  supporting nearly 50 local farms in North and South Carolina.

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

Get caught up in the passion this Valentine’s Day with a special prix fixe Valentine’s Day Dinner menu Friday, February 14th from 5:00pm to 10:00pm; 4 courses with choices for each course. $140 per couple. make your reservations now by calling 803-802-7455. For the Charlotte Today segment we shared one of the first plates from the Valentine menu – a perfectly seared scallop atop a rounded cake of grits, topped with a red cabbage slaw, crispy pancetta and Tega Hills Farm micro greens surrounded by a pool of Charon sauce – a béchamel flavored with tomato.

If you and your sweetheart enjoy cooking together, then start sharing the passion this weekend at a special Valentine’s cooking class at Passion 8 -Saturday, February 8th from 11:00am to 2:00pm  3 courses for $75 per couple with a champagne toast.

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

On the Charlotte Today segment I announced that Passion 8 would be featured on a new Food Network show  – Buy This Restaurant – to air Monday Feb 3. My mistake – the show premiered on Monday, but the Passion 8 segment actually airs on Wednesday, February 19th at 9:00pm on the Food Network    http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/buy-this-restaurant.html   Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, to make your reservations at Passion8 Bistro simply call the restaurant at 803-802-7455. Passion 8 is currently located at 3415 Hwy. 51 North – just three miles past the tiny historic downtown of Pineville, NC. For more information, visit http://www.passion8bistro.com/ Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Now, that you’ve read all about it,  click here to watch the video from my Valentine segment on Charlotte Today. I’ll be back for my monthly cooking segment on Charlotte Today on Thursday Feb 13, Channel 36 – 6 on cable –  with three great Valentine recipes for Fondue au Deux! See you then! Cheers!