Uptown Charlotte’s Swankiest New Spots: The Punch Room & Evoke

THE PUNCH ROOM AT THE RITZ

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.

IMG_1211Leave 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.

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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.

IMG_1323I’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.

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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.IMG_1324

Punch Room on Urbanspoon


EVOKE AT LE MERIDIEN

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.

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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.

ScallopsThere 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.

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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.

Evoke on Urbanspoon

 

Viddlz Alertz {plus a sneak peek of J. Sam’s}

I have a few food obsessions.  Yes, besides my well-documented love of barbecue, there are some foods I simply cannot go without ordering.  Burrata.  Scallops.  Caramelized onion anything.  Housemade bread.  Bread pudding.  Bread.  We all have our trigger foods.  How cool would it be to get an automatic alert any time one of the foods you’re craving was offered by a imagerestaurant?  Blackberry cobbler, softshell crab, meatloaf.  Whatever!  That would cut out, like, hours of food research a week.  Am I right?  That’s why I’m super excited about a new concept in Charlotte called Viddlz Alertz.  It’s an online tool that lets you manage your cravings by alerting you when your particular food obession is offered in the area.  Plus, the Alertz system displays daily drink and food specials from restaurants and bars you follow (you can also get daily email updates with this info), and the Viddlz app is expected to be rolled out later this month.

J Sams Charlotte Scallops (more…)

Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse–Davidson, NC {restaurant review}

Flatiron Davidson NC

I think it’s safe to say I dine at restaurants more often than the average eater, that is to say A LOT.  I impose mandatory splitsies on my dining companions, which means everyone gets to try everyone’s food, so it’s normal for me to sample several plates during a single meal.  This is good for obvious reasons (though my pants may disagree), but trying lots of different things means you’ll inevitably end up with a dish or two that just don’t strike your fancy–something you wouldn’t order again or that you wouldn’t recommend to a friend.  Every once in a while, I’ll find myself eating an AMAZING appetizer, and feel my apprehension grow as I worry the remainder of the meal won’t live up to the starter.

This is precisely how I felt when I dined at Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse for the first time.  I started with a glass of Malbec and their fried green Napoleon:  salty fried green tomatoes, sautéed spinach, sweet bits of corn, and bacon atop a dollop of warm, creamy goat cheese (a hearty serving for a mere $8).

Flat Iron - Fried Green Tomatoes (more…)

Restaurant Roundup: Elwood’s, Chuy’s, Urban Sip {Charlotte, NC}

ELWOODS BARBECUE & BURGER BAR

Invite me to brunch, and you’ll get a look.  When I ask you “what time” ELWOODS BBQwith furrowed eyebrows, it’s because I’m trying to determine whether you’re inviting me to have 10am brunch (AKA breakfast) or 12pm brunch (AKAlunch).  I don’t do brunch.  I love breakfast and I love lunch.  Why consolidate the eating joy into one meal?

Enter Elwoods Barbecue & Burger Bar‘s new brunch menu.  Needless to say, I ate my words.  Brunch vendetta be gone.  How could I say no knowing their juicy brisket makes an appearance in several of the menu items?  Exactly.  You can get straight-up brisket and eggs if you’d like, but if we’re doing brunch, might as well get a little fancy and go with my top pick:  the brisket BBQ Benedict with poached eggs and grilled tomatoes nestled on English muffin halves and topped with their signature red sauce.  It made a brunch believer out of me.Elwoods Brisket Benedict

If you’re not in the mood for BBQ (blasphemy!), their take on chicken and waffles, with buttermilk fried chicken tenders, a homestyle waffle, and honey maple syrup is a solid choice.  They’ve also got French toast make with thick-cut Texas toast, and you can even get it stuffed with peanut butter and banana or strawberry and cream cheese. Elwoods BBQ waffles

For you do-it-yourselfers, there’s a build-your-own breakfast sandwich, with your choice of bacon, sausage, pulled pork, or pulled chicken, plus an egg, choice of cheese, and bread, PLUS a self-serve Bloody Mary bar.  Homemade, house-made, made-from-scratch–you can use these terms to describe practically everything on the menu, including the breakfast sausage.  I snarfed down my whole side of their hashbrowns–they’re the chunky, chopped potato kind (not the shoestring kind, thank god), and they serve ‘em up extra crispy.

Did I mention $10 bottomless mimosas?  Who wants to meet me for brunch this weekend?

Check out my review of the full Elwood’s menu here.
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Tupelo Honey Cafe — Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

I’ve never been to Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville.  I’ve heard about it, walked by it, and stalked the menu, but I’ve never been in its doors or dined at its tables.  People RAVE about the place.  It’s where everyone who visits Asheville wants to go.  I’ve even heard it said that Tupelo Honey Cafe is Asheville, meaning Appalachian, southern, and a smidge hippy (at least from this Yankee outsider’s perspective).

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Tupelo Honey opened back in 2000, and over the past few years they’ve expanded to become a seven-store regional restaurant empire, the newest location of which is in Charlotte. Tupelo’s Charlotte location opened in the space previously occupied by Pewter Rose Bistro, which closed last year.  Pewter Rose had great ambiance; it was romantic and cozy with the low-strung lights, origami birds, and hanging plants–it felt like a grownup tree house.  Tupelo’s renovations on the space retained much of the building’s character — high ceilings, brick walls, and wood detailing everywhere.  They reconfigured the seating layout, allowing for many more tables and a large bar area, but at the sacrifice of Pewter Rose’s romance factor.

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tupelo open kitchen

Tupelo’s focus on local sourcing was a cornerstone of their success in Asheville.  Even with the restaurant’s recent expansion, they’re sourcing goods regionally (via a company that aggregates foods from farms in each restaurant’s region), and using those local products to shed new light on many old-time, comfort classics.  There are grits made with goat cheese, ribeye served with bordelaise (a French wine sauce), and crab cakes with lemon cherry pepper aioli.  At Tupelo Honey Cafe, every meal starts with a complimentary basket of their famous biscuits, served hot with a side of blueberry preserves and honey (surprisingly, I preferred the honey).

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