Charlotte business dinners uptown...anything new and different?
I travel to Charlotte four or five times a year on business, and often play host for group dinners (anywhere from five to twenty people; this trip the group will be on the small side). I'm headed there again next week, and I'm just getting a little bored with the same places...so anything new and interesting?
I like Mimosa Grill's Sunday night specials, and will probably do that again this trip. They work well for a group that is trying to treat its guests well and yet not spend huge amounts of money...at least not at every meal (One "special" meal per trip is fine).....I also have enjoyed Ratcliffe on the Green a lot, but the last two times I've eaten there the service has been less than stellar...one time it was so bad that my friend asked me "Why did you choose this place, anyway?" argghhh....(btw, both times the restaurant seemed very understaffed; I see this as a sign of the times...I understand that Charlotte has been hit hard by the banking crisis...and no, I'm not in banking....).
So, any ideas for something new and/or different? Walking distance from Trade and Tryon is a huge plus. I'm looking for nice places that will cater to a variety of tastes (including possibly vegetarian), with good wine lists and prices that aren't over the top....
Sadly, uptown has little options that are centrally located and reasonably priced. Not sure of the size of your group, but Pietown has a private room and cooks up "artisan" pizza, using fresh & local products. They also offer pastas, salads, sandwiches, etc. Great wine specials and a warm, inviting atmosphere. One of the owners, Peter Reinhart, is an instructor at Johnson & Wales and has written several books on bread making. I think he's also a James Beard winner. http://www.dineatpietown.com/
Although not walking distance, but just a short drive, is Carpe Diem on Elizabeth Ave. A Charlotte institution at this point, they have creative food all well-prepared and the atmosphere is second to none. Good service too.
Just up the street from Carpe Diem is Customshop. Known for their crudo & sous vide preparations, but also for reasonably priced fare, I think their menu is comparable to Carpe Diem. http://www.customshopfood.com/index.html
Go for Mert's Heart & Soul on College St. You can't go wrong with the fried fish plate - fresh, crispy and lots of good stick-to-your-ribs sides. The fried chicken is also excellent. The ribs are a little saucy for my taste. Don't give me that 'I'm looking for something light BS' - you're in the south, darlin'.
Mert's is the first place I'll eat when I get off the plane and want to enjoy some good food before the meetings get started the next morning...but not a good place for business groups...especially since we need to be able to talk comfortably and it tends to be a little loud. Plus we need a place that will take reservations...my group works hard all day long and is not going to want to wait for that table of eight....
I may have over-emphasized reasonalbly priced. As long as its not the most expensive place in town, its probably fine.....
A report back: We ate at Latorre's tonight. Enjoyed it, thanks. It is smaller than I expected, but they had a nice table waiting for us (we were 11) and it wasn't crowded or noisy. Everyone enjoyed their meals...The wine list tends towards South American choices, which I'm not very familiar with. I was getting nervous about picking wines, and then someone got a look at the cocktail list and decided it was a "cocktail night." The mojitos are excellent, btw....and several good martinis and the like. So they all decided they didn't want wine, and I was off the hook....
We shared several of the appetizers, all were delicious. The vegetable chips were very addicting (and was the dip), and the crab cakes (called something else, but that's what they are...) practically melted in the mouth.
In general the seafood dishes seemed to be the better choices....I thought of my sister Susan when folks ordered the scallop "signature dish" I avoided it because it mentioned plaintains, which are too much like bananas for my taste. But they could have easily been set aside....those who ordered it said the scallops were wonderful but felt that the coconut rice was too heavy on the coconut. I tasted the rice and disagreed...but I love coconut.
Probably my only complaint is that three out of the four deserts contain bananas. I guess it goes with the Latin American theme, but I don't eat bananas....I settled for a dish of dulce de leche ice cream. Very good.
Our meal was just under 600 dollars for our group of eleven, including a round of drinks, tax and a mandatory gratuity of 20% for large groups ( a couple of people had two drinks, but overall the group wasn't drinking much; they have a hard day of work ahead of them tomorrow and knew it). I think that is very reasonable for the quality. We will definitely return.