Friday, June 11, 2010

Taste of Charlotte

I just got back from the Taste of Charlotte, and, boy, are my arms tired!  Oh, wait...that's not how it goes.  Actually I just got back, and, boy, are my feet tired!  The Taste of Charlotte is in a small area, but we walked up and down it several times.  As usual, LA was with me, and we met a couple friends there as well.  Since it was called "Taste of Charlotte", taste was exactly what I planned to do.  I did a lot of tasting, and it was not cheap.  But I did have some good things and some great ones. 

In order to purchase food or drinks, you need to buy tokens or "coins".  You can buy 7 coins for $10 or 15 for $20.  I started with 15 coins, and ultimately had to buy another 7.  The variety was really quite impressive.  I started with the bacon-wrapped scallops from Brazas Brazilian Steakhouse.  I got two scallops and a skimpy portion of beans and rice.  The scallops were well-cooked, although I'd recommend the chicken or beef and get more for your money.  You couldn't really taste the scallop, so get something more flavorful.  My next stop was Namaste India.  LA and I both got the "vegetarian platter".  The platter consisted of a good sized portion of aloo palak, or potatoes cooked in creamy spinach, with basmati rice and naan bread.  The spinach was quite spicy.  I was unable to finish mine because I ran out of bread and rice and had no more water to temper the spice.  Namaste India's booth was right next to Brazas.  Their real stores actually share a building on Independence Blvd. as well.  I've eaten at both and recommend the lunch buffet at Brazas, as it includes the option of going over to Namaste to load up on some Indian side dishes to go with your Rodizio.

I stopped in for the crab cakes from Dilworth Neighborhood Grille.  The crab cakes were low on crab and high on filler.  They had a subtle spiciness and were served with a mildly spicy remoulade.  I wasn't expecting much from their outward appearance, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Their menu says that they are "award-winning".  Maybe they are better at the restaurant.  They were good enough, but I wouldn't give them any sort of award.  After having the crab cakes, I found that Caffe Siena had a Chilean sea bass cake with curry aioli.  My friend Dawn and I both agreed that this was absolutely delicious.  It blew the crab cakes out of the water (no pun intended).  One large cake was served, full of chunks of sea bass.  I knew I was eating fish and not just filler. 

Ri Ra Irish Pub provided ruben bites and Guiness barbecue wings.  The ruben bite was corned beef with melted swiss served on a piece of bread with what the menu refers to as "marie rose sauce".  I'm not crazy about Thousand Island dressing, but the marie rose sauce was great.  Sweet and a little tangy, but no "islands".  My only complaint with the ruben bite was the level of difficulty in eating it.  The dish was definitely made for a knife and fork, but only a fork was provided.  I gave up and ate it with my fingers, getting sauce all over me.  Luckily, a hand-washing station is located at the north end of the festival, and that's where we'd stopped to finish the ruben bite.  Shelby had also gotten this and had the very same opinion that I did.  She also said cabbage or sauerkraut would have been a nice touch.  Dawn and Shelby shared the Guiness wings and said they were fantastic.  I passed simply because I didn't feel like dealing with walking, crowds, and chicken bones simultaneously.  But the wings were highly recommended.  Soul food always draws me in, and Mert's Heart and Soul was no exception.  Dawn and Shelby are both fans of the restaurant and suggested I get something. I got the Soul Roll, an eggroll filled with black-eyed peas, collard greens, rice, and chicken.  The chicken was unnecessary, as I didn't realize it was even there, and the roll wouldn't have been any less good without it.  If all of the food at Mert's is as good as the Soul Roll, I may have to find my way back there.  I was still eating it while standing in line at another booth.  The young man ahead of me turned around and asked what was in my egg roll.  As soon as I listed the ingredients, he said, "Mmmm, a Soul Roll!  I just had one."

The best item that I tasted was the Avocado Chill from Blynk Organic.  The chill was a very smooth, pureed soup, similar to gazpacho, made with avocado, cucumber, tomato, and lime.  Tortilla strips were added on top.  The day was hot, my feet were tired, and the hordes of people were getting on my nerves.  Yet the avocado soup refreshed me and momentarily took my mind off my complaints.  While everything else I'd consumed cost 3 coins, the avocado chill was only 2 coins.  If I went back, I would spend all my coins on cups of avocado chill.  LA made a horrible face when I finally coaxed him into tasting it, and Dawn and Shelby passed on it altogether. 

I still had 3 coins left.  By this time, I had tasted everything I wanted to taste, plus the lines were starting to get a bit long.  The coins were worthless once I left, and I didn't want to waste any money, so I stopped at Salsarita's and got some beef nachos.  For fast food Mexican, Salsarita's is actually my favorite.  The portions at the Salsarita's booth were bigger than most of the other vendors, which was a selling point in my mind.  So I ended the evening on fast food. 

Charlotte has such a variety of independent restaurants; it would be nice to see more of them participating in the Taste of Charlotte.  I'm not too familiar with the Charlotte restaurant scene, and even I knew of most of the vendors there.  We went there at 5pm today.  Although it was hot, we managed to get there before the crowds really turned out.  By the time we left at 8pm, the place was hopping.  All four of us hate crowds, so I'm glad we all chose to go in the heat of this afternoon, rather than wait until this weekend or even any of the three evenings.  I still recommend going, if you like food.  Just be aware that you'll spend a lot more than you're expecting.

Side note:  many parking garages were advertising "event parking" for $10.  I parked across the street from the Epicentre and ended up paying $7 for the three hours that we spent there.  We only had to walk a block and a half to get to Tryon St.

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