Friday, February 5, 2010

Bonterra in Charlotte

Through a series of travel complications too long and boring to relate here, we found ourselves in Charlotte, NC for the evening of Friday, February 5th on our way to St Barts. My first thought, when I knew we would be spending the night in Charlotte, was to look for a decent barbecue joint, but the bloggers and chatters at Chowhound suggested that there was really no good barbecue to be had within a reasonable distance. (I had a decent experience, years ago, at the 3 Little Pigs in Asheville...not really close...but nothing here).

Anyhow, through a little research I stumbled on this place called Bonterra, which boasted of being Charlotte's finest restaurant (always a claim that fills me with suspicion) and with the best wine list (which, if the website was accurate, seemed like a real possibility). It was close to our modest airport-area hotel so I figured, how bad could it be?

Well, the answer is, not bad at all. We were somewhat exhausted from our trials in escaping the "snowstorm of the century" -- the second one this season -- and were in need of a good drink and some uncomplicated food, which is exactly what we found. I will say that our options did not test the kitchen in any way and in fact we skipped entrees entirely and focused on a series of appetizers, but we were quite happy with the results.

Bonterra is in an old deconsecrated church and has nice high ceilings and a fairly simple decor. On a cold rainy night it provided a pleasant although perhaps slightly austere atmosphere...of course Michael spent part of the evening pointing out how the decor should have been done differently but that is to be expected. The service was very pleasant and very professional although the waiter seemed overtaxed...the restaurant was not terribly busy but it is a large space and there appeared to be only two people working the floor so the waits for things were a bit longer than ideal.

Bonterra has an extensive and excellent selection of cheeses and allows you to pick your favorites on an a la carte basis. They are very reasonably priced at $3 per selection. We chose probably our all time favorite, Humboldt Fog, plus Crater Lake Blue from Oregon and Black Diamond cheddar from Canada...maybe not the most adventurous selections, but they were all generous sized and in excellent condition. And delicious. We also had some Rosette de Lyon salami and Serrano ham ($5 each, both very good although the salami was a bit bland), a tub of chicken liver mousse (also $3, excellent and an amazingly generous portion) and a tub of mixed olives. This latter, billed as a "spicy mix", was the only real disappointment of the meal...rather watery, and not spicy at all.

Following this selection, we had a couple of Southern-themed salads: the Azalea, with apples, bacon, and blue cheese, and the Magnolia with goat cheese and almonds). Both generously portioned and with first class ingredients. We also had an order of duck spring rolls, which I thought were OK but not memorable, and Michael didn't like even that much.

Compared to the very reasonable appetizers and salads, the entrees seemed a bit pricey at $25-30 and up, so we were happy to economize and make a meal out of the starters. The chicken liver mousse alone could have served 4 as an appetizer easily.

The wine list was, I must say, truly extraordinary. It would have been a good wine list in New York or San Francisco and was exceptional for a modestly sized city in the South. The vast majority of the selections are available by the glass and there were also several interesting tasting flights.

Michael opted for the "Napa's best chardonnay" flight which included Trefethen, Cakebread, Robert Keenan, and Silverado. The Trefethen was a bit light and not so flavorful, but the other three were excellent...we're familiar with the Silverado but the other two were a nice surprise. Meanwhile I had a Pinot Noir tasting including two Oregon (Adelsheim and King Estate) and two California (Grey Stack and Testarossa). To my surprise, I liked the Californians much more than the Oregonians. The flights were not cheap at $18 and $16 respectively but made for an interesting drinking session. We followed this up with a glass of Mollydooker Verdelho for Michael and a glass of Hendry Block 7 Zinfandel for me, which were both as good as we remembered.

The total for all of this was $120, half of which was for wine, so I must say we ate very well for $60 (and drank very well too, for that matter). Certainly a place I would not hesitate to go back, or recommend, if I find myself in Charlotte again.

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