The Democratic National Convention is coming to my city later this year. They will, presumably, nominate Barak Obama to run for re-election for President of the United States of America. It’ll take place during the first week of September and thousands of people are expected to join the party that the Dems and the City of Charlotte will be throwing.
It will take lots of planning to pull off a convention of this magnitude. A whole passel of advance teams is expected. I think this is as good a time as any to show off some of the things visitors can distract themselves with while in Charlotte. Some are what any savvy traveler can find with minimal research while others might be a bit off the beaten path. This is the first of a series of posts.
One cool place to go, especially in the middle of summer is the U.S. National Whitewater Center. This is where the Olympic team trains for whitewater events. Anyone can go and play. It costs $5 to park a car that can have as many people as can safely be jammed into it. That’s all you have to spend. Everything else is optional.
The best deal is a $54 AllSport Daily Pass that allows unlimited access to all sports for a full day. Pretty sweet for people who want to white-water raft, kayak, climb the rock wall, and ride the zip lines all day long.
Don’t have enough time to spend all day out there? There are other, less expensive passes that allow visitors to tailor their visits.
Responding to increasing demand from growling bellies, I am also going to start reviewing Charlotte restaurants. We moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area and were the snobbiest of food snobs when we arrived. Happily, Charlotte has a lot to offer. With the addition of Johnson & Wales’ College of Culinary Arts, the bar has been raised even higher.
So let’s start there. While we have favorites, which I promise to include in upcoming posts, sometimes we stray for something shiny and new.
We meet friends on a Saturday night at the NC Music Factory for dinner. How to describe the Music Factory? It’s a bunch of old buildings (I’m thinking an old factory maybe – hence the name?) that have been turned into an entertainment venue with restaurants, bars, a comedy club and a stage for national music acts.
We decide to try a fairly new restaurant called Bask on Seaboard. I buy a $50 certificate for $10 on Restaurants.com. The stipulation is that we have to spend $100 to get the $50 discount. Most times I wait until they have their 80% off sales. That happens every few weeks. I usually buy a $25 certificate for $2. Shockingly, these are always accepted. It seems like a poor business model but apparently it’s working for someone so I’m going to take advantage while I can.
With certificate in hand, we cruise to the northwest area just outside of Charlotte’s “Uptown” (Considered by many to be a pretentious name for downtown, in reality the area is built on a ridge and is elevated and comes into view way off in the distance from many surprising locations.) past I-277 off Graham Street. This out-of-the-way place is hopping with nightlife.
The restaurant reminds me of places I used to hang out in Denver’s LoDo area of Lower Downtown, with brick walls, wood ceilings, exposed ductwork and an open kitchen. For years, Charlotte has been in love with the wrecking ball so there aren’t a lot of old buildings with character left.
With this kind of atmosphere, Bask on Seaboard could suck me in as a regular if the food matches the ambience.
I’m in a grazing mood so instead of an entrée, I want to try a little of this and a little of that. We start off with Deep South Samosas ($8), Black Bean and Roasted Garlic Hummus with pitas ($8) and Chipotle Spiked Sweet Corn Bisque ($5).
The samosas are filled with crawfish served on a bed of chipotle cream. They would have been a hit if the edges weren’t fried to crispy oblivion.
This seems to set the tone of the evening because next up is the dry, bland black bean hummus (Where is the garlic?) served with deep-fried, maybe even battered, pita chips! They are chip-your-tooth, rock hard. When we ask for un-fried pitas, it was like we have asked for the moon. Our waitress is doe-eyed and looks like a pair of headlights is bearing down on her.
A few minutes later she returns to ask if grilled pitas would be okay. She kind of makes a big deal about it so we say yes. More minutes tick by before she returns with a plate of warm pitas. I guess that to-do was their way of asking us if we want them heated up. Weird.
The Chipotle Spiked Sweet Corn Bisque does not contain even the slightest hint of chipotle peppers let alone being “spiked” with it. Our guess is that the red powder sprinkled on top is supposed to be powdered chipotle peppers but it tastes more like cayenne pepper that’s lost its punch. I’m expecting at least a little smoky, fiery flavor but don’t get any. Then there’s the not so pleasant aftertaste of some kind of thickener in the bisque that lingers on my tongue long after the bisque is gone.
Good company, good wine and lively banter distract from the food. And we need that for the next course. Continuing with my grazing plan, I order the Fried Scallop Ravioli appetizer on wilted garlic spinach and smoked scallop cream sauce ($10). I read reviews of this restaurant and knew the ravioli were going to be fried. They aren’t as bad as I am expecting but they would be so much better not fried.
For $23, Mike gets the Pork Tenderloin with broccoli risotto, tri-colored carrots and mango gastrique. It’s visually unappetizing but tastes okay. Our short-term memory isn’t what it used to be so when the risotto arrives, none of us can remember what kind it is supposed to be. Nor can we identify what it is by taste or by looking at it.
One of the reasons I chose this place is because of the Veggie Lasagna. Our friends are vegan-leaning vegetarians. The lasagna ($15) got rave reviews online but when it arrives at the table, the presentation is less than appetizing. And our friends are less than impressed. The only explanation we can come up with is that the rave reviewers must have been primed with copious amounts of alcohol.
For the menu price of $6 each, all of the desserts are unremarkable.
With an Adam & Eve innocence, our vegetarians submit to the temptation offered by the Apple Turnovers. They are billed as “roasted apple wrapped in phyllo, cinnamon and rum ice cream, chocolate, caramel sauce.” Unfortunately, what arrives at the table is a sinfully unappealing rendition so they just pick at it.
I know that from the moment my bad boy husband saw the Blonde Brownie with Dirty Girl Scout ice cream, the fantasies started running through his naughty head. All I can say is that the best thing about the Blonde Brownie with Dirty Girl Scout ice cream is the name.
Equally unimpressive is the Espresso Crème Brulee, which shows up adorned with a partially melted chocolate cigar. Not the best rendition of this dish.
Bask On Seaboard turns out to be an expensive disappointment. The bill including one bottle and one glass of wine and an ice tea totals $172 before the tip. Yes, we have the $50 certificate to deduct but I think the price is way too steep for the quality of food. The best thing I can say about this place is that I really do like the atmosphere.
And while writing this, I discover that we were charged $7 instead of $6 for the apple turnover!
With so many really good places to go in Charlotte, I will try to focus on some that not only have great food but also are a good value. I’ll give up some of those gems in future posts.