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Vida Cantina Charlotte - Anyone been yet

I've eaten at Vida twice now and would agree the place is a bit more about the atmosphere and scene than the food. It's a good attempt to bring contemporary Mexican to Charlotte, but currently is missing a beat or two.

The first meal was just for 2 and the second attempt was for a larger group of 15. Service was attentive both times and made the large group feel at home.

Table side guacamole is definitely a shtick, but if done right, lets the diner truly appreciate the freshness of the ingredients and adjusts flavors to their taste. Vida's guac comes in a large stone mortar that becomes a center piece "WOW" factor for a large group. Large enough for at least 5. However, a little work needs to be done if they want to claim to be the best Guacamole in Charlotte. Taste was a bit bland. There was no diced up jalapeno/serrano peppers available to give it a kick. Fresh minced garlic could of added some depth. The lime juice may have been freshly squeezed, but you wouldn't know it since the juicing wasn't done table side and lacked the sweet/tart bite. We ended up grabbing a pepper mill ourselves to flavor it up.

The ceviche cocktail again was a nice attempt, but missed the target a bit. Good size shrimp and lump crab meat in a large martini glass. We like ceviche because of the fresh, crisp taste it brings through the use of citrus and peppers. The presentation just didn't hit it, coming covered in a standard tomato cocktail sauce, it just didn't look that appealing. Again, this dish lacked any type of peppers and citrus used to marinate the seafood. It just didn't invoke the feeling of sitting dock side, taking in the fresh, clean flavors of the sea.

I was really surprised with the lack of heat available in the apps, since the complementary chips and salsa came with the waiter adding in a nice smoked chipotle sauce to your desired heat level.

Between the 2 visits, we went through a good sampling of their other appetizers. The queso and mushroom flautas were the standouts. A good mix of wild mushrooms wrapped in a lightly fried tortilla balanced well with the caramelized onions and goat cheese. The tamals were nothing to write home about though. The masa was too thick, with not enough filling. Since it was so thick, cooking time was probably elevated, leaving the corners of the tamal dried out.

The adobo rubbed pork chop gave Vida a breathe of life to this foodie. The double cut pork chop was juicy and perfectly cooked. The adobo rub gave it a nice earthy flavor that was not over powering. Side portions were large. The sweet plantains were perfect. A grilled corn on the cob with queso fresco was a nice rustic idea, but just doesn't work with someone trying to naw at the cob with an elegant drink on hand. A deconstructed grilled corn w queso fresco might be a better idea.

We finished the night off with some fresh churros. The churros come out pipping hot coated with cinnamon sugar, accompanied with a chocolate dipping sauce. This was a nice way to end the meal and very shareable. The only complaint was that the churros needed a bit more time in the fryer to get rid of the slightly wet center.

If you are a Tequila lover, you will be in love. A large Tequila selection for your sipping pleasure or some interesting Margarita combinations will help to start the night out right.

Vida was a great place for a large group to have a few drinks and share some laughs. Though Vida is a louder atmosphere with an up-beat vibe, Vida also works out great for an intimate night out with their cozy booths. We could see the direction Vida wants to be going, but has not quite reached the same path as a Rick Bayless in terms of food. Hopefully, Vida can evolve a bit more, and bring Contemporary Latin to a new level in Charlotte.

Nov 05, 2010
SkinnyChef in Southeast

Copper River King Salmon in Charlotte?

Now that the 2010 Copper River Salmon season has just started, are there any places in Charlotte that serve the fresh King or Sockeye Copper River Salmon? Can't get a better piece of fish than during these next few weeks. Hoping they make it all the way out this way!

May 16, 2010
SkinnyChef in Southeast

Chinatown Street Food

No carts or trucks in Chicago's Chinatown. The parade will be down Wentworth Ave, any place down the street will be fine to watch the parade.

For grab-and-go, try going into any of the bakeries on Wentworth like Chiu Quon. Grab a few buns like Ham & Egg, BBQ Pork, Curry Beef, an egg tart for dessert and a cup of coffee to warm up with. A coffee comes standard with cream & sugar at the perfect amount, and there's something secret in the Chinese Bakery coffee that puts it on par with Starbucks.

If you want something heartier, go into any of the BBQ shops with pigs, ducks and chickens hanging in the window and grab a pound of Crispy Roast Pork, BBQ Pork, or even a whole duck. Some places will make a rice box out of it for you. Eat away as you enjoy the parade.

Restaurants will be pretty busy. If you get their early enough, Triple Crown probably has the best seat in the house. On the second floor on Wentworth, the large windows look right down onto the parade. Okay dim sum.

Feb 13, 2010
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Charlotte - 2010 Restaurant Week 1/22 - 1/31

Looks like that time of the year again. 3 Courses for $30. Where is everybody going?

Sonoma looks to have a good lineup again, but want to try something new.

Also noticed Zebra is doing a 3 course for $34 during January - one of the best meals I've had in Charlotte.

Jan 13, 2010
SkinnyChef in Southeast

Help me gather provisions in SouthPark?

Anything gourmet, you'll probably be able to find at Dean & Deluca. A nice pate and maybe a little caviar to go with your Iberico and some freshly baked bread.

Dec 19, 2009
SkinnyChef in Southeast

Recs for Downtown Charlotte Restaurants for client dinners

You might want to check out Ember Grille inside the Westin. Quiet, comfortable and refined.

If you step out of Uptown a bit, try Fig Tree. A bit more intimate, real good food.

The new sushi spot in Epicenter, Enso has a swanky NYC feel for something more informal.

Oct 23, 2009
SkinnyChef in Southeast

Horlick's Malted Milk?

Any of the Chinatown grocery/supermarket stores will carry it too.

Oct 16, 2009
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Phillips Place Charlotte

Il Posto is closed at Phillips Place, but their sister restaurant Toscana is open over by South Park. Pretty much the same menu (still great gnocci and fish) plus a few more items.

Oct 13, 2009
SkinnyChef in Southeast

I need Whole Fried Catfish

Redlight does a pretty killer asian style/sweet & sour whole fried catfish.

Sep 25, 2009
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Charlotte - Uptown Restaurant Week

Looking at the menus at Sonoma in the Bank of America Building and Ember Grille in the Westin seemed like the best bet. Both were fantastic!

Looks like Sonoma has lowered (?) their price point since the last time I was there. They ended up offering any appetizer, any entree, any side and any dessert for $30 instead of the standard $35. The Kobe beef sliders were like an adult Happy Meal. The beef carpaccio was great, but could of used a few more slices and/or a little fresh parmesan slices. The lamb loin was perfectly cooked, but looked a little lonely on the big white dish. Sauteed assorted mushrooms with a bit of truffle oil matched the lamb perfectly. Dessert rounded everything off with a very fresh pear tart.

The next night, we went to Ember Grille in the Westin. I'm going to have to say this was one of my top dining experiences in Charlotte. We were about the only table in the restaurant except for a few solo diners from the hotel. You could tell the chef was really able to put his dedication into our meal. Bread service consisted of a glazed focaccia served with humus and roasted pepper sauce. Awesomeness #1. For an appetizer, I ordered a crab cake, expecting a nice mini crab cake. However, a thick half-pound burger sized crab cake was served over a grain mustard sauce with pickled onions. The crab cake consisted of NOTHING but JUMBO LUMP crab meat with no filler wrapped in a perfect crispy crust. Awesomeness #2. Again, I went with the spiced lamb chops. After the jumbo crab cake, could not complain about 2 perfectly done medium rare lamb chops over cherry couscous. The spices packed a nice punch that was evened out by the yogurt sauce. This was bone sucking good! Awesomeness #3. Finally, to end the night, I went with the apple tart & dulce de leche ice cream. The tart crust was crisp, light and airy like a Parisian croissant. The slight tartness of the apples went perfect with the sweet ice cream. The other dessert was a chocolate cake with grilled pineapples and vanilla ice cream. The chocolate cake was almost as light as a souffle, but had the consistency and taste of a brownie. The grilled pineapple chunks trapped in the sweet tart juices that exploded as soon as you bit into it. Awesomeness #4 & #5! It was truly an amazing meal. Parking at the hotel was also validated by the restaurant.

Charlotte - Uptown Restaurant Week

Has anyone tried the prix fixes for the Uptown Restaurant Week yet? Through 9/27.

Recommendations for Chinatown

Glad you enjoyed it!

May 18, 2009
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Recommendations for Chinatown

Little Three Happiness is good - but for a celebration-type event, I don't think the place fits the bill.

May 15, 2009
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Recommendations for Chinatown

I would recommend House of Fortune on Wentworth. Since this is a celebration, you get a nicer (clean) atmosphere, with linen service. You can get your traditional American style items - good crab rangoons, potstickers, orange chicken, fried rice while getting something a bit more adventurous for a celebration - Peking Duck service (think fancier crispy Chinese duck burrito), Hong Kong Steak (pan grilled T-bone w vegetables and oyster sauce), Shrimp/scallop bird's nest, or even head-on boiled shrimp (as Yao would say - "Eat the head!").

May 15, 2009
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Charlotte Recommendations

High End: Zebra, Fig Tree, Carpe Diem, M5, 300 East
Middle: Il Posto, Rooster's, Villa Antonio, 131 Main,
Casual: Mac's, Sultan's, LaWan's, Bill Spoon's, Bojangles

Everyday dining for a new Charlotte, NC resident

Yup! Mac's new place is right off Tryon on Sandy Porter. Great new location - perfect for lunch and outdoor dining. The location seems much larger than the Remount location and since off the main road a bit, feels more secluded for the outdoor dining. Service was extremely good in handling/moving the lunch crowds.

Best Ceviche in town?

I really enjoy the ceviche at Rick Bayless's Topolobampo. The tasting of each of the daily selection is the way to go. Nice amount of heat, plus the nice freshness of the citric juices paired with the fruits.

Carnivale also has a good selection - the Kona Kompachi and Tuna Tiradito are must.

Apr 03, 2009
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Everyday dining for a new Charlotte, NC resident

Tried Sultan today - right past Westinghouse on Tryon. Kabobs were very good - nice spice and good char flavor. Cucumber salad is Amazing. Portions and price were very reasonable. Service could do a little bit better, but I think was just overwhelmed by the crowd we brought in and the small staff.

Good find!

Everyday dining for a new Charlotte, NC resident

Slight correction, I think you are referring to LaWan's Soul Food. Not one miss there, except for their location. The fried chicken, meatloaf, baked chicken and mac&cheese are a must. Lunch does get crowded quick and there are not too many tables. I think they close a bit early for dinner too.

Charlotte - Weekday Prix Fixe?

Now through the 21st there's a 3 course for $30 available at Ratcliffe, Zebra, Global, Pewter Rose & Lulu. Found the information on Ratcliffe's website.

Just came from trying it at Zebra - one word - AMAZING.

Zebra stuck with their regular 3 course prix fixe, but offered it at $30 instead of the regular price. Had the torchon foie gras + an italian black truffle shaving, lamb loin diablo and the pistachio torte. The appetizer speaks for itself, the lamb loin had a very thought out layers of flavor (though could of used a bit more kick) and textures, and the dessert was a perfect sweet chocolate cap to the meal. Portions did not seem to be cut down anywhere, in fact, the dessert portions were probably too large! The slice of torte was the size of a dinner plate and the pecan tarte came out with 3 sizeable slices stacked ontop of one another! A nice touch was when Chef Jim brought out mini salmon tartar cones while we waited for the rest of the party. This got our taste buds rolling for a good night of food. An amuse bouche of roasted pepper puree and the constant flow of warm dinner rolls guided us through to the main menu.

Cannot wait to try out Ratcliffe tomorrow night! I'm not sure how you can find a better deal for the quality and experience as this!

Double thumbs up Charlotte for another awesome local taste bud adventure!!

Feb 18, 2009
SkinnyChef in Southeast

Charlotte - Weekday Prix Fixe?

Are there any good prix fixe in the Charlotte area during the week? With the economic downturn now - and the success of Restaurant Week bringing out more people - wondering if any place has/extended their deals?

Fiamma extended it for a bit after last year's Restaurant Week, but haven't been by in a while.

Waldhorn has a decent prix fixe that includes beer, soup/salad, entree & dessert for $25 going on now.

Any other recommendations?

Feb 09, 2009
SkinnyChef in Southeast

Charlotte Restaurant Week

Where is everyone going/has gone for Restaurant Week so far? Customshop seems to have the best deal with the extra wine & side, but want to try a different place too.

Where to have lunch before the Air Show on Friday?

A bit of a late reply, but something to keep in mind for the future.. brunch at the signature room before/during the show is actually pretty reasonable. You'll actually be looking DOWN or EYE-LEVEL with the planes. Have never really had much trouble calling in a week before and requesting a window table.

Aug 21, 2008
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Charlotte really great rotisserie chicken Pio Pio

Need to do a post bump... the chicken here was AMAZING! Started with a quarter, but after taking 2 bites of that moist, crispy goodness, had to call the waiter over to add another quarter! Nice sweet plantains and crispy Yuca rounds out the meal.

Was at CLT airport and overheard another fan describing the juicy chicken to a arriving visitor and had to butt in! Can't wait to get back to CLT and Pio Pio!

Restaurant Week

Came back from the Aigre Doux's Restaurant Week prix fixe last night after much anticipation, but was sadly disappointed.

Went with the haricot vert soup and the short rib. The soup was a nice puree, with a fresh bright color. The peekytoe crab had a sharp curry infusion that contrasted well on the first few tastes, but could not hold the punch throughout. The table bread with a strong cheesy crust, was great for soaking up some of the soup, but would of served better warmed.

The short rib also could not live up to the restaurant's hype. Was expecting a powerful contrast between the sweet potato puree and the short rib sauce to live up to the restaurant's namesake, but it left nothing overly spectacular to remember.

The dessert proved to be a nice recovery for the night, the chocolate malted with a homemade kit-kat. The cup of chocolate had a perfect brulee creamy yet firm texture and a nice bittersweet bite. The kit-kat was very good too, but left for some melted choco fingerprints on the white linen.

The wine-flight accompaniment for $20 had a nice white burgundy to go with the soup. Overall, the service was nothing too special. It seemed as though they wanted to turn the prix fixe tables over quickly, even though there were still a good amount of empty tables in the restaurant. The prix fixe items seemed "too prepared before-hand" and portions looked noticeably smaller than entries coming off the regular menu (think Visa commercial). Water glasses were not refilled and the waitress felt a bit distanced.

I had great expectations going into Sunday's dinner, reinforced by some of the awesome reviews here. Hopefully my experience was due just to the fact that it was Restaurant week. However, if Chicago is planning on making this an annual tradition, restaurants are going to step it up a bit to compete against well established weeks like in D.C.

Feb 25, 2008
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Best: Chinese in Chinatown, DimSum Chinatown

Old school Chinatown for a quiet dinner of Peking Duck & Lobster, you have to go with House of Fortune. Dim Sum, you're going to be better off in LA/SanFran, but if you must, Phoenix should get your fix.

Jan 25, 2008
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Blu Coral Sushi (Wicker Park); Any Thoughts?

Tried it out last week, signature maki's were creative & quite good. Try the Pink Cadillac, Flaming Hamachi & Ocean Drive. I think the Cadillac had some fruits mixed into it which made a nice textural & sweet change of pace.

If the group is sharing, I would stay away from the Appetizer sushi section, portions were a bit small & for the price & selection, you can just go with the maki choices.

Mirai is more about accentuating the fish, but if you like Maki, not a bad choice. Ambience has a nice chic industrial vibe without being packed together. Allows for a nice friendly get together.

Dec 21, 2007
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area

Side for lamb shanks...polenta or parsnip puree?

A honey poached pear is excellent. Helps cut through the heaviness of the lamb shank.

Feb 19, 2007
SkinnyChef in Home Cooking

Recipes with balsamic vinegar?

Mmm, yes, Asian dumplings, especially xiao long baos, go VERY well in Balsamic. Makes a great substitute for asian black or red vinegar. Add some fine strips of fresh ginger to it too.

Feb 16, 2007
SkinnyChef in Home Cooking

If i have to go out to dinner tonight, where?

Shouldn't have any trouble getting a table in Chinatown. For something nicer, try House of Fortune, Lao Sze Chuan or Phoenix.

Feb 14, 2007
SkinnyChef in Chicago Area