Friday, August 31, 2012

Knife & Fork - Spruce Pine, NC

Daylily tempura with daylily tubers.

Back in July I finally had the chance to dine at Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, NC. My mom and stepfather have been raving about this place ever since it opened and it is definitely the closest destination from our mountain cabin for a fine meal. The best part is that it is not that expensive for what you get and the creativity and freshness of the menu would be remarkable even in a big city. The restaurant is located on Spruce Pine's lower street in an airy, comfortable space with a small bar and two small dining rooms. Reservations are highly recommended. The menu changes frequently and can be found both on a large chalkboard inside and on printed sheets. Vegetables are prominent and most if not all are made without meat products. Local produce, meat and fish is used whenever possible. My favorite dishes included the greens with breadcrumbs, the daylily tempura - definitely different and delicious, the sauteed squash and the seared rabbit. The bread they bring out is also excellent and I enjoyed the bread pudding with homemade nectarine ice cream as well. I look forward to returning to Knife & Fork again soon for dinner and also trying the lunch and brunch menus.

Delicious bread and butter.

Delice de Bourgogne, roasted carrots, rosemary.

Slow cooked greens with breadcrumbs.

Sauteed squash with onions and parmagiano.

Mashed Kinnebec potatoes with shiitake gravy.

Red Quinoa with duck confit, baby basil and green onion.

Seared rabbit loin with blueberries, carrots and baby squash.

Grilled NC Tilefish with fingerling potatoes and fairytale eggplant.

Grilled Cinnamon Spice Bread Pudding with nectarine and vanilla ice creams.

Chocolate Pot de Creme.

Knife & Fork on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 27, 2012

China Wing - Korean in Charlotte

Haemul pajeon - Seafood and scallion pancake.

One of the biggest food disappointments in Charlotte as compared to Atlanta is the Korean cuisine - or rather the lack of it! In Atlanta there are literally hundreds of options including full Korean BBQ restaurants, simpler Korean restaurants which specialize in particular dishes, Korean bakeries and even Korean shaved ice shops. In Charlotte there are only a small handful of places that serve Korean cuisine and many of them are quite far from my in-town neighborhood. This puzzles me because Charlotte has a decent number of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. There are certainly fewer people of Korean descent living in Charlotte than in the Atlanta area but not so few that there should not be more options for Korean cuisine. In any event, I was extremely excited to finally visit China Wing, which to my knowledge is the closest place to me where Korean food is served.

China Wing looks like it used to be a Long John Silver or similar fast food joint. In order to make it the Korean owners serve a variety of American fast food in addition to the full Korean menu. You want the Korean menu, which has detailed descriptions of the dishes and photographs of most of the options, making it less intimidating for first-timers.

I was pleased with everything we ordered including the delicious Korean seafood and scallion pancake, the noodle dish japchae, the BBQ pork and the bi bimbap, a personal favorite. One disappointment was that the selection of banchan or panchan - tiny dishes, often pickled served with the meal - was limited to just 2: tasty kimchi and pickled radish. At other places (of course I'm comparing to Atlanta) you get at least 4-5 different options or possibly more. Still, I can't complain since the main dishes and the banchan we were given were delicious and definitely hit the spot and satisfied my craving for Korean food. I look forward to returning to China Wing and to visiting the other Korean restaurants in the area. I also look forward to visiting my favorite Korean spots back in Atlanta when we visit! Where have you had Korean cuisine in Charlotte? Super G Mart and Cho Wan Garden are on my list.

Make sure you get the Korean menu!

Japchae - delicious noodles.

BBQ pork.

Bi Bimbap - so hot the egg cooks in the dish!

China Wing on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 26, 2012


One of my recent discoveries in Charlotte is Sauceman's BBQ. When I was growing up in Charlotte the small building at the corner of S. Tryon and West Boulevard was a scary looking Chinese takeout spot - not anyplace I ever thought to stop, although I did frequent the Bojangles across the street! Now with the light rail just a long block away and the burgeoning businesses on Camden Ave. nearby, the owners of Sauceman's have turned this once bleak spot into a highlight of the neighborhood and they serve some tasty BBQ to boot.

I've dined at Sauceman's twice and tried the chopped BBQ, the coarse chopped BBQ, the brisket and the ribs. My favorite is the brisket and the chopped BBQ as well as the mac & cheese, the fried green tomatoes and the hush puppies. The BBQ has a nice smoky flavor and several sauces are available to finish it off. The hush puppies are BIG and tasty. For dessert I indulged in the sugar biscuits - basically fried dough with sugar on top - yum! Next time I want to try the shrimp and grits, which I observed someone else eating last visit. I also saw someone attempting Sauceman's own food challenge: the Clark Griswold - let's just say one person should not be able to eat this giant portion of 2.5 lbs. of chopped pork, hush puppies, bread, slaw and another side dish! If you can eat it in under 30 minutes, it's free - otherwise it's $25. Maybe next time I'll try this with a couple of friends!

Coarse chopped pork with slaw and fried green tomatoes.

Ribs with fried corn.

Sugar biscuits.

Sauceman's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

300 East

The Usual: chicken salad, asparagus, mushrooms and cheddar baked open-faced.

300 East is a classic Dilworth establishment that has been open over 25 years. Many of the menu items have endured such as the Sonoma salad - one of my favorites and the Usual (above). They used to have an "Unusual" but it looks like that one is no longer regularly available. The setting is quaint and charming in a renovated old house and you must check out the cute signs that mark the bathrooms. A cozy full bar with a generous wine list is downstairs and there is seating upstairs, downstairs and on the patio out front. Lunch, dinner and brunch are served and a kids menu is available as well.

I recently enjoyed the homemade pimento cheese dip as well as a crab cake sandwich. I tried the gazpacho, which was more of a tomato soup with chunks of veggies rather than the blended variety that I like better. On another visit I tried the goat cheese appetizer - delicious with sun dried tomatoes and roasted garlic - and the aforementioned Sonoma salad with chicken - love the Dijon mustard dressing and the inclusion of red potatoes. Desserts are also tasty including the peach cobbler with ice cream that I sampled. 300 East truly has an eclectic menu with several unique salads, pizzas and Mexican inspired options as well as a full sandwich and entree menu. Vegetarians will find plenty including black eyed pea falafel and farro saute. Definitely a fun and different place to dine in Charlotte.

Pimento Cheese appetizer.


Crab cake sandwich with rice.

Peach cobbler.

300 East on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mellow Mushroom

The Black and Blue (left) and the Umami - my favorite - (right).

I was recently invited to check out Mellow Mushroom at its Selwyn Avenue location in Charlotte. Although I have seen Mellow Mushroom locations in both Charlotte and Atlanta, somehow I had never before tried it. There are actually locations in more than 15 states including another Charlotte location in Ballantyne. The Selwyn location of Mellow Mushroom boasts a large bar and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating including a groovy decked out school bus with booths inside! Although the focus is on pizza, the menu varies including Greek, Caesar and Chef salads as well as an option to create your own salad with all sorts of protein and topping additions. Additionally, a large number of hoagies are offered such as jerk chicken, mushroom club, spiked sausage and shrimp hoag'boy. Vegetarians will find plenty of options including 5 veggie hoagies - the tempeh came highly recommended - and lots of salad and pizza options. Munchies such as the famous pretzels, stuffed portobello mushroom, meatballs, wings, hummus and Muffuletta cheese bread round out the mix. Pizza and calzones are offered in specialty varieties and their is an option to build your own as well.

We started with bruschetta, a nicely executed version with basil and feta served on crisp garlic toast points with balsamic glaze, definitely a solid choice. Our wonderful waitress also recommended the stuffed portobello mushroom, which I will have to try next time. For pizza we opted to try 4 different specialty varieties by ordering half and half on 2 10" pies. The pizza is not too thin or too thick - a nice medium body crust - and you can tell it is fresh. I also enjoyed the addition of cheese around the crust's edge.

At this location only, there are three location-specific specialty pizzas available. We tried both the Black and Blue: olive oil and garlic based pie topped with blackened steak, crumbled bleu cheese, mushrooms and onions and the Umami (my personal favorite): candied jalepeno slices, pineapple, Applewood smoked bacon, fresh mozzarella, feta and caramelized onion, topped with basil. Wow, need I say more? Umami is considered to be the fifth taste - savory - which includes such a good combination of the four other tastes (sweet, sour, salty and bitter) that it requires its own unique name. The word comes from Japanese and means "pleasant savory taste".

We also tried the Holy Shiitake Pie, which includes Shiitake, button and portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, mozzarella and Montamore cheeses with garlic aioli and black truffle oil on top. This was a close second for me - definitely a lot of great mushroom flavor and the aioli really adds an extra special touch. The Red Skin Potato pie, our final pizza selection was tasty although I would ask for the sour cream and spicy ranch on the side next time as I felt they overpowered the delicious potato flavor. This pie also has bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar and mozzarella - yum!

We tried a salad as well - the Enlightened Spinach Salad, which includes feta, dried cherries, apples and pecans. The homemade signature Esparanza dressing was delicious - definitely a must try and also good with pizza crust! We also tried the tempeh hoagie - a good flavor and lots of veggies make this a wise choice for the non-meat eating crowd.

For dessert we ordered the pretzels with honey/cinnamon sugar and the chocolate chip cookie. The pretzels (also available as a starter with garlic butter and parmesan or with butter, salt and mustard) are made from the pizza dough and are absolutely delicious. I had to get these and the cookie to go since I was already stuffed but I'm glad I tried them - definitely a treat.

Mellow Mushroom is a fun place for the entire family. Live music and trivia are offered weekly and the patio will be perfect for the upcoming fall weather. I suggest you give Mellow Mushroom a try. Let me know what you think!

Holy Shiitake Pie (left) and Red Skin Potato Pie (right).

Groovy bus complete with seating.

Bruschetta - love the balsamic glaze and the use of feta cheese!

Enter here.

Tempeh hoagie (half size).

Dessert pretzels packed "to-go". Usually they are served with the toppings already on.

Chocolate chip cookie.

Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: The meal described in this review was complimentary.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Odalys Bakery Panaderia

Odalys Bakery Panaderia is a Latino bakery, located in the Grand Oaks shopping center on South Blvd. This place has excellent pastries. I love the above doughnut with custard inside and the guava turnovers are also delicious. Both are under $1 each and are often warm out of the oven when I've visited. Odalys also has a variety of cookies and other pastries along with breads and cakes including individual slices of tres leches cake, one of my favorites! You can order large cakes for parties at reasonable prices as well - I have not actually ordered an entire cake myself, however. English is not widely spoken and I don't believe they take credit cards. When you enter, take a metal tray and tongs from the front counter and place your goods on the tray - self-serve style. There may be some guessing involved as to what something is but since very few items are more than $1 it can be a learning experience without breaking the bank. Get the custard doughnut. Trust me. This is a fun place to go after visiting one of the many small taquerias on South Blvd.

Some of the breads and pastries available.

Grab a try and tongs and pick up some pastries! Warm out of the over selections are still on their cooling trays (left).

Odalys Bakery Panaderia on Urbanspoon