This whole social media / blogging idea still seems strange to me. I get the creative outlet. That’s why I started The Wandering Gourmand. I not-so-secretly dream of becoming a published author. But there is a community that comes with blogging that still seems foreign to me. It starts with a few bloggers dropping by your blog and clicking the “like” button. Maybe, if you’re lucky, they’ll even leave you a comment, engaging in a conversation about to how to pack for two weeks in Europe. Out of politeness, you visit their blog and click like on a post or two. You might even leave a comment about how adorable their one eared bald cat is. He really isn’t, but you want to be polite because you start to understand how this blog space works. You have to engage to gain readers. Then, one day, you find yourself making plans to meet a fellow blogger in person hoping that he’s not an extreme dork that chews with his mouth open.
That’s how it started with The Wandering Sheppard. A few likes led to a few comments, to some email exchanges, and to an eventual meet-up. It turns out that bloggers aren’t that dorky after all. They’re actually a lot like you (assuming you’re not a dork). The Gourmands and the Sheppard’s had an enjoyable evening sharing stories of food and travel. This is a guest post authored by The Wandering Sheppard of our meet up during the Queens Feast at Luce in Uptown Charlotte. I encourage you to stop by his blog for more travel and food writing.
Charlotte’s Restaurant Week, also known as Queen’s Feast, is one of my favorite times of the year. Actually, all Restaurant Weeks are my favorite week, but Charlotte is easy for me to participate. For those new to the promotion, it is a 3 course prix fixe menu. Prior to the week, most participating restaurants display their special menus on the week’s website. I made plans to come to one of the week’s weekends and meet up with The Wandering Gourmand, a Charlotte-based blogger. He sent over a few of his recommendations and agreed on Luce, a Northern Italian restaurant steps from the famous crossroads of Trade and Tryon.
When given the choice of an Italian restaurant, the first thought that comes to my head is it Mama serving her pasta with gravy, or a specific regional cuisine? While I enjoy the former, the latter always gets a nod in my book. When an Italian restaurant focuses on regional specialties, it always seems like you are lifted from the stale American city and sitting on a satellite of the focused region. Luce transports you to Northern Italy. With native ownership and a chef from Torino (Turin in English), you can’t get any closer than a non-stop flight from the International airport.
My first experience here and I am in awe with the atmosphere. The ambiance is upscale, yet it is palatable to the wallet as it does not bleed it. It is great place to meet friends, enjoy a special evening, or have a decent regional meal. We arrived early, so we headed to the bar to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails. I enjoying watching the restaurant’s pulse. While observing, I notice the maitre d’ has this restaurant humming like a well-oiled machine.
He is aware of every guest in the restaurant, where they are queued as tables turn, and upcoming arrivals. Since we just walked to the bar without checking in, I noticed we had thrown a wrench into the machine. “A bolt needs to be tightened,” thinks the maitre d’, “and I must determine where it is loose.” After a short moment while sipping our cocktails, the bartender and the maitre d’ are speaking to each other. Another check on the authenticity checklist, as I believe they are speaking Italian. The bartender returns to the bar and asked us what time we were eating. I explained the situation, which is relayed to the maitre d’. He is relieved that everyone is now accounted for. However, instead of thinking of a table for two, a table for four is on queue at some point. And so the maitre d’ returns to his machine for adjustment.
Once everyone arrived, we were quickly sitted at our table. Soon after, the waiter greets us and reviews the traditional menu. As with most places on Restaurant Week, they also discuss the Prix Fixe menu for the week. Since I already had some idea of what I want, I bury my nose in the wine list. While I am still learning Italian grapes and regions, I quickly noticed a recent favorite, Roero Arneis. Which works out well, since I usually drink white wines and rose in the summer to combat the heat. So when the waiter returned, I quickly order the Roero Arneis.
The first course: Carpaccio
What is there not to love but some close to rare meat with some delicious salty Parmesean cheese. The cheese obviously was fresh and a great representation of the northern cheese. It was salty and creamy with a firm bite. I remember my knife easily cutting through the beef and melting at first touch on my tongue. The rest was just a taste entourage that my taste buds overlooked admiring the two main stars.
Entree: Pesce del Giorno
Prior to ordering, the waiter informed us that the Fish of the Day was Red Snapper. I had recently had a nice piece of Red Snapper (Backyard Bernie’s, Kill Devil Hills), so it was decided on this choice. The fish was sitting on top of some Isreali Couscous, which I prefer due to the larger texture compared to typical couscous. The fish was fresh with no fishy overtones (not a fan of “fishy” tasting fish). It was nicely seasoned that gave it somewhat of a spice to it. The couscous was excellent choice for the fish to sit on. Since the texture is a little been more hearty, it had a feeling of eating beans and grain at the same time.
I am noticing that upscale locations, cruise ships and restaurants similar to here, present Tiramisu in a cup. My first impression was a cake form, when I had my first piece in a grocer’s bakery. Maybe I was introduced wrong, but there seems to be a trend for the cup.
The mascarpone had a light and fluffy texture that my spoon easily pierced and scooped into my mouth. Most tiramisus that I have had in the past, too, have been overly spiced with nutmeg or cinnamon. This was not, as it was evenly matched with the cream. Thanks to the presentation, it didn’t feel heavy and felt more like mousse or pudding.
If I wanted to impress someone in Uptown Charlotte, I would have this in my rotation. I have been given a lot of recommendations of good food. But this place seems to hit high marks in every aspect of a restaurant. Great atmosphere, great food, and a great staff is the combination you want to have in your “impress” bullpen.