Monday, July 27, 2009

El Valle

I am a Mexican food junkie... ok a cheese junkie - but always love a quick, hot bite with melted cheese. I can find this at El Valle in Matthews. I will admit - this is my Mexican restaurant in the Charlotte area. I have been to others (again - a review will follow as I am giving everyone a new slate) but always find this one the best of the best.

Walking in, the decor is a little - I will say 'different' and the faint smell of cleaning products in the background may shock you a little but don't let that sway you. Once entering, you are greeted by the friendly staff who sit you promptly and bring the chips and salsa. The chips are warm and the salsa is in a small craft and small bowls (so you have your own and don't have to worry about double dippers!). The salsa is homemade and light and tasty and only the slight heat is an after taste. The waiter came and took my order - the #11 (one burrito, one enchilada - cheese, and a taco) and a jumbo margarita. Not even five minutes later, my meal arrived.

The plate was hot! and the food sizzling. The burrito was simple - beef and cheese. The beef had good flavoring and not overly greasy - as one my expect. The burrito had a red sauce as well which added flavor. I moved onto the taco next - this was stocked full of beef, lettuce and cheese and still hot. Finally - the enchilada. The cheese was melted all the way through (I have been to some places where the cheese is not melted all the way through and you get to the middle and it is shredded coldness). The enchilada sauce was also tasty. As for the jumbo margarita - it was big and it hit the spot.

I will also recommend the Chicken Chilaquiles - which is shredded chicken served on corn tortillas topped with some cheese and red sauce. This dish has it all - perfect flavored chicken that is tender to the touch with the nice blend of spices (and hotness) on top of the moist corn tortillas that compliment the chicken.

I give El Valle 4 ghosts just for the quickness, cheapness and hot food. Don't judge it based on the appearance - as this is a flavor party on a plate. (and yes - I did give it 4 ghosts - similar to Andrew Blairs and Crepe Cellar Revisited - but this place it GOOD). My #11 plus jumbo margarita was $12.50 (not including tip).

305 W John St Matthews, NC 28105-5356 (704) 845-1417

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dolce Vita Wines and Crepe Cellar - Revisited

Ok - went to NODA for the gallery crawl... which was pretty cool. Saw different works of art from photography to a reconstructed slave quarter to some paintings I believe I could paint myself. I also enjoyed the free wine and music and people watching as well. So back in NODA and thinking where to eat....

My friend I was with wanted to try the Crepe Cellar and I said - sure, I said I would visit again. The wait was a little over an hour so we left our name and number and decided to hit up Dolce Vita Wines.

Dolce Vita was nice and open and had a guy jamming on a guitar. We were both a little hungry - after walking around the galleries - so we decided to get a cheese tray. This was the only disappointing thing of the visit as the waitress did not know what was on the cheese tray... but hey - we ordered anyways. We paired this with a bottle of Ciao Bella Pinot Grigio and the hour went by quicker than expected (note - one glass of wine was $7, one bottle of wine was $22... do the math). As far as the cheese tray - it was pretty good. It had crackers, three types of cheese (I did not know what they were - just like the waitress), peppered salami, bread and olives). I enjoyed the honey-drizzled bread and peppered salami as they both played different tastes with the Pinot. If grapes and chocolate were on this tray, it would have been heaven.

So back to the Crepe Cellar... yes, I have visited - pretty recently - but was ready to dive in again. To be fair, I ordered the same item - Queen City crepe (see previous write-up) and this time it was nice and hot and the cheese was perfect and the bacon crunchy! Bravo! I will upgrade to 4 ghosts!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Andrew Blair's

My first summer restaurant for the Charlotte Restaurant Week (CRW) - Andrew Blair's. What drew me to the restaurant during this week was the menu offered - a glass of wine, two apps, an entree and a dessert - you cannot beat that deal for $30!

When my spouse and I arrived, we waited for our table for about 20 minutes (no biggie - it's a busy week) and sat at the bar with a glass of wine. The bartender was friendly and they had a baseball game on - which helped pass the time. I was also able to take in the atmosphere and noted that it was a 'hip, trendy' decor but very relaxing. Once our table was ready, we were sat by a friendly hostess who gave us an overview of the regular menu as well as the Restaurant Week menu. We had plenty of time to review the menu as it took about five minutes for the waitress to come to our table to welcome us. I understand it is busy with CRW but it more of a higher end place (as compared to your Harper's etc) but five minutes with no 'just a moment, we'll be with you' was hard to bite.

Once we were approached by our server - who was nice but a little rushed (again CRW) - we placed our orders:

Mine (per the menu)-
- Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir
- Roasted Oysters on the 1/2 Shell - garlic, Parmesan, Pernod cream and spinach
- Yellowfin Tuna Napolean - diced sashimi tuna, olive tapenade, cherry tomatoes, double yogurt aïoli, wontons
- Petit Filet and Crab Rosti - buttermilk mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, veal demi glace
- Chocolate Moltan Cake

Spouse -
- Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir
- Yellowfin Tuna Napolean - diced sashimi tuna, olive tapenade, cherry tomatoes, double yogurt aïoli, wontons
- Seneca Salad - arugula, shiitake mushrooms, goat cheese, pine nuts, strawberry basil vinaigrette
- Wild Salmon - sundried tomato & basil polenta cake, feta & cucumber salad, summer gaspacho
- Pistachio Milk Shake

Alot of food - for the price!

Our appetizers came and I received three oysters and a nice portion of tune. The oysters were nicely roasted and warm and tender. The sauteed spinach gave a good balance to the oyster - both in texture and flavor. Next, I dove into the tuna. This was excellent. The tuna was served on to of the olive tapenade and presented on a wonton. The olive tapenade was savory and a surprise for my palate as it was paired with the tuna. The tapenade was just the right amount (too much could have overpowered the tuna). I also tasted of the spouse's salad, which had the perfect amount of dressing - nice and light! As we waited for the entrees, we were also served pimento fritters and cornbread. One negative on this was that they already cleared our appetizer plates so we were eating over a basket. Second, the cornbread was ice cold and dry. The positive outcome of this were the fritters. They were hot and had a soft center and crisp shell - with a bite of the pimento. A side note - the server did get better as the meal progressed... so the first five minute wait can be forgiven due to CRW.

Entrees. My filet was a nice serving size - I did not leave overly stuffed. The filet, which I ordered medium, was a perfect medium. Nicely seared and tender. The middle of the steak practically melted in my mouth. The crab on top was nicely seasoned and paired well with the filet. I only wish there was more crab. The mashed potatoes were a smooth texture and not too heavy. I will admit - I am not a potato person - but I ate these potatoes! My spouse had the salmon (cooked medium), which I tasted. The salmon flaked easily and was very tender and flavorful. This salmon, combined with the feta/cucumber salad gives a good balance of acid.

The desserts came quickly after the dinner plates were cleared. My chocolate moltan cake had a crispy outside and a very moist inside. I will admit, I was expecting the middle to explode with chocolate - but instead, it was a very rich chocolate cake. The cake was thick to swallow but delightful. I also tasted of the pistachio milkshake (milkshake?!) and is was smooth with the hint of pistachio.

Overall, the meal was good. The service redeemed itself during the meal as I know it is restaurant week. I will say the location is a little off as it is a higher priced restaurant across from the Roasting Company and Angry Ale's... The price was $60 plus tax and gratuity and well worth it. I would give Andrew Blair's 4 ghosts.

Crepe Cellar

I finally made it to the Crepe Cellar in NODA. This hip, new restaurant/pub is where the Addie's Jamaican Cuisine used to be. Walking in, I noticed that the Cellar was a small, cozy place with a nice looking bar - as well as the friendly staff. Once being seated, our perky waitress came over and took our order - we started with nice cold Carolina brew and the pesto brie fries. All I can say about the fries - home cut - which means a good effort and a nice taste. The pesto and brie complemented themselves well.

For dinner, I ordered a crepe (obviously) - the Queen City crepe. This crepe has roasted chicken, cheddar, bacon and a tomato sauce served on top. For my side, I had to get the mac and cheese. This "crepe" cellar - has 5 dinner crepes and 6 dessert crepes. There are also other entrees that seem to outnumber the crepes! From the looks of other diners - it seems like they branched off from the crepe train and ordered the non-crepe items. I will say that the Steak and Guinness Pie looked tempting (and I will try it next time!).

Ok - so back to dinner - my crepes and mac and cheese have been delivered! The appearance was nice and simple... two crepes covered in the roasted tomato sauce - a nice size and not overly stuffed. As I took a bite - I was a little disappointed that the cheddar was not all the way melted. There were some areas that brought the chicken and bacon together through its gooey dream but the other half was unmelted shreds of cheese. The temperature was also not up to my liking - sub warm. Seems like the crepe was made and sat under the heating lamp while the mac and cheese was being dished - as this was hot! Yes - I did enjoy the flavor of the chicken and loved the sauce - but was hoping that the cheese was all the way melted and the crepes were warmer. The mac and cheese (as I mentioned) was hot. This was the best part of the dish - perfect noodles and a mix of melted cheese throughout. I will say that all this food made me pleasantly stuffed.

The service was exceptional - great staff that had a good vibe and made the Cellar a comfortable dining experience - I give them 4 ghosts. The food - it has potential! If the Cellar kicks it up just a bit - they will go from good to freaking awesome. I know its their rookie year too so they have some kinks to work out... so the food will get 3 ghosts - for an overall score of 3.5 ghosts. I will give them another chance for sure and look forward to it. Cost of meal was ~$25 with tip (inlcudes one $4 beer).

If you plan to go - go early - this place is small and it gets packed.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Zapata's Cantina

I was feeling a little festive with the Holiday weekend approaching so I took myself to Zapata's Cantina in Ballantyne. The server came right away offering chips and salsa and bringing my non-alcoholic tequila (i.e. water). The chips were served with two sauces - a mild and a hot. I noticed that one of the sauces had pieces of tomato and onion, while the other was a simple looking sauce. Both tasted the same temperature to me - I preferred the one with the tomato/onion pieces because of some additional flavor. I also ordered some queso, which was hot and served in a large 'soup bowl.' Tasty.

For my meal, I ordered a beef burrito from their Pronto Lunch Menu (a little smaller portion at a good price). The burrito soon arrived (pronto!) and was gigantic - it took up the entire plate. It had ground beef in the inside and topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato and guacamole. My first bite of the burrito was okay - nothing spectacular. I was disappointed that the plate the burrito was served on was hotter than the burrito itself... also I thought that the flavoring of the beef could have been more (like the salsa) and less greasy. I did finish the burrito and was stuffed - which is always good. The burrito was $7 plus tip. I will note that the service was excellent as the waiters were very considerate and constantly refilling the chips and salsa and water.

Based upon the temperature of the burrito and the lack of flavor (show me some heat!), I give Zapata's 3 ghosts as I could have made a better burrito at home (or another Mexican restaurant to be named later). Overall, if you are just in the mood for some fast-served Mexican food - then Zapata's is your place... and kids eat free on Sundays.