THE SCOOP #2: Get out from under your rock

For those of you in Charlotte who have been living under a rock, famed restauranteur Jim Noble opened his second Rooster’s Wood-fired Kitchen restaurant in a swanky new uptown location (that’s “downtown” for all you outsiders) in February to rave reviews. And rightly so.

I visited the new Rooster’s recently and was thoroughly impressed. From the two story urban-farmhouse setup to the elegantly plated dishes and intoxicating scent of burning wood permeating the air, every aspect contributed to the feeling of being transported to some faraway city in Europe.

I started my dinner with the house-cured duck, which was a real treat. Loved how the flavor of fresh herbs underscored each bite and the accompanying bread was toasted in the wood-fired grill for a nice smoky char. Next I had the arugula salad with chevre and almonds, which was fresh and tasty but large enough to feed a small army so I boxed up half. After that I indulged in the short ribs, which were braised perfectly, bone-in. (Unlike some other short ribs I’ve had… see fake short ribs post)

The service was stellar as well – my server was new, but she knew the details of each dish well, and wasn’t afraid to ask others if she didn’t have the answer to a question. Wine pairing recommendations were spot-on and the manager came by several times to check in, taking attentiveness to a whole new level.

I also discovered that Rooster’s features “chalkboard menus” throughout the week. These are late night menus for post-10 pm meals, and the items on the chalkboard menus are no less drool-worthy than the regular menu. This is a refreshing alternative to most late-night dining options, which include deep-fried bits of unidentifiable objects and cheese plates long-past their prime. That being said, if you’re the type who likes to eat dinner at the senior-citizen-early-bird-special hour of 5 pm, this information will be of no use to you. And furthermore, you really need to get a life.

If you haven’t yet crawled out from under your rock long enough to check out the hottest new restaurant uptown, or worse, if you’re one of those delusional fools who avoids dining uptown due to “finding parking” as if it’s downtown L.A. (will save that rant for later), you’re missing out on one of the best dining experiences in town. Get in your car and go. Now.

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THE SCOOP #1: Fake Short Ribs and other such tragedies

This article is the first in what will soon be a series of restaurant reviews, aptly named “THE SCOOP”.

Charlotte’s South End neighborhood is chock full of hip eateries, and after years of frequenting many of them, I finally made my debut visit to The Liberty last night. Located in the heart of South End, The Liberty is gastropub known for its craft beers on tap and tasty burgers. The vibe is laid back and the ambiance is rustic tavern-meets-modern local hotspot. Needless to say, I chose to begin the evening with a refreshing draft beer. This is where things start to go downhill. When I ask the server for a recommendation on an amber ale with some spice, she immediately scans the menu for anything labeled “amber”. How do I know this? She replies, “Here’s an amber that we have” and points to Bell’s Amber Ale. Then she mentions that they have a beer by Green Man that’s pretty good (huh?) and I comment, “Oh – that’s brewed in Asheville, right?”. She looks at the menu and says, “um, well – it’s a local beer”. I look down at the menu and see “LOCAL” in parentheses next to the Green Man ESB. Hmm…

So I order the Bell’s Amber along with some fried pickles, to get my week’s worth of sodium in one fell swoop. Both are happily satisfying. Although really, how could anyone screw up fried pickles? Next I order the braised short ribs. They arrive on a bed of buttery mashed potatoes, topped with collard greens. This seems to be a Southern spin on traditional French-style slow braised short ribs, and given that we’re in the South, I can appreciate this. What I don’t appreciate is that the short ribs are not, in fact, short ribs.

And now for a brief rant. When did restaurants stop using real bone-in short ribs? The Liberty is not the first establishment to do this, I’ve experienced it at Halcyon, Bask on Seaboard, and The Crepe Cellar, to name a few. Apparently, boneless beef chuck “short ribs” are now being used as a substitute for bone-in short ribs, and the results are lackluster at best. Instead of hearty, fall-off-the-bone tender meat, you have bland, dry pieces of beef that would be better served in a pot roast. Or perhaps as a snack for my dog, who is content to eat bits of plastic from her kong toy after devouring the treats inside. I realize that in a down economy restaurants must find creative ways to cut costs, but when the short ribs are the most expensive dish on the menu, they’d better damn well be real short ribs.

I digress. After wrapping up my meal with another trusty Bell’s Amber, I visit the restroom and find printed beer trivia posted on the walls. Because I’m a super-nerd for culinary trivia of any sort, this significantly brightens the evening. And so I’ll leave you with this: a fun fact about 17th century English taverns, courtesy of the women’s bathroom at The Liberty.

In old English pubs, ale was ordered by pints and quarts. When customers got unruly, the bartender would shout at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down. It’s where we got the phrase “mind your own p’s and q’s.”

I may pay another visit to The Liberty sometime in the future, but it sure as hell won’t be for the short ribs.