Monday, December 28, 2009

M5

M5 is a member of the Harper’s Restaurant group located in South Park. This was my first visit after the new chef change… and it was an overall menu change as well. M5 goes for the Mediterranean fare in a ‘trendy’ way. The restaurant is decked out in a modern vibe with alligator print booths and walls and brown and clue d├ęcor.

We ended up going for lunch since it is cheaper than the dinner menu and we were out doing after Christmas shopping. First glance of the new menu showed me that there were some big changes. The original menu was good (my old favorite – falafel and cucumber salad with pita is no longer on the menu and not offered – bring it back!). The new menu had the lamb and chicken pitas and some additional ‘med’ dishes. I was torn between the lamb pita or the Grilled Springer Mountain Chicken Breast… and decided on the Chicken Breast. This was served with ricotta gnocchi, caramelized onion, mushrooms (this is was sold me – prefer this over the fries served with the lamb pita). The spouse ordered the Chicken Rigatoni with peas, prosciutto and pesto. Nice hearty meals to overcome the Christmas wine the day before. To assist, we ordered a pitcher of red Sangria (made in-house) as an appetizer. The pitcher is $12 – which is a pretty good deal.

While the spouse was to recall the best alligator tail (inspired by the alligator skinned booth), our food arrived. My grilled chicken was sliced and served with a piece bone-in and the gnocchi was atop a broth-like sauce. First glance – the appearance was very nice. I could smell the parsley and onions once the dish was placed in front of me (I think the spouse was jealous of my selection). I began slicing my chicken – which was very tender – and it was complemented by a crispy thin skin finish. My first bite was ‘like butta.’ Very delicious and sinfully good. I devoured the chicken in a slow manner to enjoy every bite. The chicken had a good balance in flavor between the moist meat and the crispy, flavored crust of the skin. I am not a skin person but this was so thin and flavorful, I couldn’t resist. The gnocchi was equally as good. Surrounded by the onion and mushrooms, the gnocchi was tender and perfectly cooked. The broth sauce (I could taste butter, chicken broth and parsley) was nice a ‘light’ tasting and paired greatly with the gnocchi. If I were not at the restaurant, I would have tipped back the bowl and sipped the rest of the sauce like soup. The spouse’s rigatoni was also good – I had a bite and the pesto had a good home-made flavor. I am glad I ordered my chicken though and could see why the spouse was jealous of mine.

The service was also good with continuous drink refills. I did miss the fresh bread that was brought under the old chef and the hot pita bread… another item that should be brought back but probably better for me that it wasn’t…. can’t overload on those carbs! I give M5 4 ghosts – the chicken dish was to die for. The meal was about $45 with tax and tip.

Also on the menu, they had a tasting menu for $15 which included - Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup, Grilled Salmon with English Pea Risotto & Truffle Jus and Pumpkin Flan. They also have drink and appetizer ‘happy hour’ specials – nice on the patio when its warm out.

http://www.harpersgroup.com/m5.asp

4310 Sharon Road, Ste. W01 (by Crate and Barrel and The Counter)
Charlotte, NC 28210

Encore Bistro

I have been to Encore a few times – even after running the SouthPark Half-Marathon banking on some good food and drinks.

We went to Encore last week while finishing last second gift shopping and looking at lights (a great house is nearby that has lights timed with music…. Anyways back to the food). The restaurant was fairly crowded for a holiday week. Note that on Wednesdays, martinis are half-off. That’s a good deal considering their martinis start at $10/drink. The best appetizer on the menu is the Feta Dip. It comes out with a nice portion and the cheese is melted and mixed with sun-dried tomatoes – served with parmesan covered flat bread. For this visit, I ordered the Chicken Napoleon (chicken breast with prosciutto, roasted red bell pepper, and provolone over vegetable orzo with marsala sauce). The spouse ordered the special, which was lollipop lamb chops with mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and a chimichurri sauce. The food that night was served rather quickly and very hot. I had to wait to start to seriously eat my meal. The chicken breast was sliced in half and stuffed with the prosciutto, bell peppers and cheese. The prosciutto added a super salty flavor to the chicken and the cheese could have been more melted – but the chicken itself was tender and pretty good. The orzo was good nicely with some large mushrooms (a plus) but the marsala was also over-salted. The spouse’s lamb was good nicely (medium) and tender and nicely flavored. The item not that rememberable was the chimichurri sauce. My favorite dish on the menu is the Asian Salad (noodles, broccoli, mushrooms, green onion, red bell peppers, wonton crackers, and soy sweet chili). I add-on the ahi tuna with the salad.

The service overall is good… if you sit in Nick’s section – it is excellent. Overall, I give Encore 3 ghosts. For this visit, my meal (chicken napoleon) was too salty and the cheese was not melted even though the food was piping hot. The food is also simple – I can copy cat these meals and make them at home. The reason why I ordered the chicken and not the Asian salad was that I actually made it at home the night before. It’s a good place to go if you want a simple meal and cheap drinks (again – go on a Wednesday) and don’t mind paying a little more than you would at Chili’s. Our meal was about $80 with tax and tip. Give it a try.

A side note for you charities – they participate in ‘celebrity bartending’ and all cash tips are donated to you. Info is on their website.

9824 Rea Road
Charlotte, NC 28277
Phone: 704-341-3651
Fax: 704-341-7956

www.encorebistro.com

Monday, December 21, 2009

Big Daddy's Burger Bar

Ok – so here is the Big Daddy’s review (like I said – I have been swamped!). The spouse was craving a burger and fried pickles so we found our Sunday meal at Big Daddy’s. We were seated pretty prompt (surprisingly) and put our order in for the fried pickles. We debated on which burger to get as there are quite a few… between the basic burger, veggie burgers, Southern (with cheese, slaw and chili) and a blue cheese burger – just to name a few. We settled on splitting their other namesake restaurants – the Mama Ricotta burger (housemade mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto) and the 1511 Cantina burger (black bean patty, green chilies, avocados, cheese and chipotle ranch – I upgraded the black bean patty to the buffalo meat). The order was placed (both medium) and the pickles arrived… The fried pickles here are sliced long versus the ‘chips’ you can get at other places like the Penguin and the Counter and served with ranch dressing. From appearance, it looks like a lot of pickles – but when you bite into them, I tasted only a salted fried matter. One slice of the pickle can give you your sodium allowance for the week. I ate a few more to see if it was just that slice – but these badboys were saltier than the Dead Sea – at least the ranch dressing helped mask it. The pool of grease was not that appetizing either. I will note that these were saltier and greaser than what I have had at other places in the Queen City area.

Our burgers arrived about 10 minutes later nice and hot. We both halved our burgers and began to dig in. I started on the Mama Ricotta burger first. I noticed that the bottom of the bun was completely soggy – but oh well – I guess that means one nice, juicy burger. Wrong. This burger seemed over cooked and was very dry, the tomatoes were overripe and super mushy, and the pesto was not very flavorful (here is where an actual dash of salt and pepper would have worked). The housemade mozzarella was actually pretty good and helped the overall burger taste. I shutter to say that I could have gotten a better cooked burger at Five Guys. Next – to my main event – the 1511 Cantina burger with buffalo meat. This meat was super flavorful and moist… another reason to ‘upgrade’. The avocado and chilies also added to the flavor and was complimented by the chipotle ranch dressing. This was the burger I was wanting – a juicy dream with a slight kick. We both had the tater tots with the burgers – nice and crispy and hot!

The service was pretty good… much better than it has been in the past. For the overall experience, I will give Big Daddy’s 3 ghosts. The 1511 Cantina burger carried the rating due to the dry and unseasoned Mama Ricotta burger and the overly salty and greasy pickles. I know this is a Charlotte hot-spot… but a dry burger is like walking across the desert with no water. They also have grilled chicken and salads for healthier options. The overall price of the restaurant is up there ($11.50 for the Cantina burger with the buffalo). I plan to visit again in the future (for some more buffalo) but will have to save some coin.
Two locations - Dilworth and Ballantyne - http://www.bigdaddysburgerbar.com/Home/