As if arriving at the Ritz for cocktails on the 15th floor wasn’t fancy enough, there’s actually a suit-wearing doorman who grants you elevator access to The Punch Room level. It’s worth the rigamarole though, because up on the 15th floor, that’s where you’ll find Bob, Charlotte’s cocktail whisperer. No exaggeration here—this man’s cocktails are legendary. Even if you aren’t into cocktails, or if your prefer wine or beer, or even if you think mixed drinks are too darn sweet (that was my excuse of choice), Bob will listen to what you DO like and mix you up the best darn cocktail you’ve ever had. The first time Bob made me a drink he made his version of The Last Word, and it permanently changed my view of cocktails.
Leave all your punch preconceptions at the door; these are unlike anything you’ve had before with complex flavor combinations and only the slightest bit sweet. The punches come in 2, 4, or 6 person servings, and are presented to you in large, handleless glass pitchers with long glass stir sticks. It all feels a little Willy Wonka, in the best kind of way. I tried all the punches on the opening menu, and each one was delightful, but my favorite is the Top of the Hill with blackberries, Earl grey tea, and rosemary simple syrup. There’s also a full list of specialty cocktails handcrafted by Bob himself.
There’s more than just booze at the Punch Room; the small plates menu features some surprisingly good dishes, like the crispy duck sliders with date “ketchup,” pickled shiitakes, and shallots. This is my new favorite CLT small plate, and I don’t even like duck.
I’m a big fan of the oysters with collard greens, kimchee purée, sweet potato pearls, and pickled apple. That’s a mouthful. (Not complaining.) You also can’t go wrong with the Quail Scotch Egg (house-made chicken sausage and smoked paprika aioli) or the cheese and charcuterie, but you already knew that.
The Punch Room pulls off the drinking-den vibe; it feels upscale but cozy, with beaded curtains, dim lights, leather couches, and smoking chairs. Sort of like a mash-up of a posh library and cigar lounge, minus the smoke. I can see this becoming a go-to spot for all sorts of get togethers. Date nights, girls’ night, guys’ night, after-hours business meetings, etc.
Le Meridien took over the building previously occupied by the Blake Hotel. $20 million+ of renovations later, the hotel doesn’t look much different on the outside, but inside it’s nothing but modern glam, with floor-to-ceiling windows, sleek seating areas, interesting light fixtures, and bold yellow accents throughout.
Evoke is Le Meridien’s onsite restaurant, a “new-age steakhouse” featuring dry-aged prime cuts of steak, housemade pastas, and intricate crudos. I went to the opening event with fellow Charlotte food blogger Chrissie (check out her review here). Both of us agree: you absolutely cannot go wrong with Evoke’s gnocchi. Smoked pancetta, jumbo lump crab, and buttery melt-in-your-mouth pillows of dough. In my eyes, this was the standout dish. The sweet potato ravioli with browned butter was too sweet for my taste (I’m sensitive to sweet and savory combos), while the beef tenderloin madeira bucatini was good. I must say that all the housemade pastas were cooked well—toothy, just how I like it.
There are six intriguing varieties of crudo on the menu. The sea scallop with orange and toasted pinenuts is mild and light, and the peruvian ceviche is served with crunchy sweet potato chips.
The prime, certified black angus steak selections include 21-day dry-aged NY strips (with a nice salty crust), bone-in tenderloin, 36oz ribeye, and 40oz porterhouse.
Other delights on the menu: crispy fried oysters with caviar and creme fraiche; artichoke parsnip bisque with truffles and a seared scallop (poured tableside); seared scallops with butternut squash risotto, parmesan, and chanterelles; and a frissee salad served with lardons, sliced pears, a light mustard dressing, and a perfectly poached egg.
There aren’t many four-dollar-sign restaurants in Charlotte, and thus Evoke’s menu offerings stand out from the competition. It’s pricey, but you get what you pay for, and at Evoke that’s quality meats, gourmet pastas, and beautiful crudo, in a swanky setting.