Speaking of McCormick & Schmick's. I wanted to compare the one in Manhattan to the one of two locales in Charlotte, this being Uptown at South Tryon Street. It's the same as far as fresh fish of the day menus, etc. The difference lies in the seafood chosen by the Executive Chef and its preparation. I did a tasting and wasn't alone. Thanks to waitress Roxanne Gardner for supplying me with the descriptions and manager Bryan Konar for actually preparing the following with a few left out for purposes of length.
Sampling of oysters on the half shell including three from Virginia.
Crab Bisque: cream based bisque served with white rice lump crab meat with a tawny port reduction, which is at the bottom of the bowl and the bisque poured around the white rice that's covered with the crab meat.
Grilled Shrimp and Fruit Salad: mixed greens and baby spinach tossed with a fresh pear dressing, dried dates, apricots, and cranberries topped with fresh blackberries, raspberries and strawberries.
Wild Chilean Sea Bass: sea bass marinated with miso paste and stir fry sauce seared then served on udon noodles and stir fry veggies with a side of miso broth.
Dessert Trio: restaurant made ice cream chocolate chip cookie; Grand Marnier Dark Chocolate Patte; chocolate mousse on a dark chocolate shell.
When it comes to thoughts of NASCAR the cities of Indianapolis, Daytona and Charlotte come to mind. Charlotte Motor Speedway is the motorsport venue in North Carolina where the recent Coca-Cola 600 took place. It was for that reason that behind the scenes van tour was not allowed on the racetrack to bank the 24-degree full tilt force. The speedway is actually located in the suburb of Concord vs. the recently opened NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is located in Uptown Charlotte.
Lunch was at the Speedway Club specializing in a mix of Southern and American favorites. I decided to sample their version of Shrimp and Grits.
Headed for Uptown financial and arts district of Charlotte to check into the historic Dunhill Hotel. Here's where the charm comes in with the look of 1929 and renovations of the present day amenities. The hotel is in walking distance from: Charlotte Bobcat Arena; Discovery Place; IMaginOn:The Joe & Joan Martin Center; Levine Museum of the South; Mint Museum of Craft & Design; Spirit Center for the Performing Arts; and North Carolina Blumenthal Center for the Performing Arts.
If you don't want to walk to any of these places their London Taxi provides transportation upon request within the Uptown loop on a space available basis from 7AM to 10:30PM. So, for instance you want to dine at McCormick & Schmick's and then go to the Bobcat Arena, which may be a longer walk, they will do that for you. Keep in mind, though, that there is only one taxi.
Here's another charm about the hotel. You either decided the last minute to stay there or just didn't want to think about what you can carry on the plane. All of the toiletry amenities for staying overnight are given gratis. Yes, you don't have to go to a "gift shop" to purchase them.
Levine Museum of the New South documents the history of the region through an exhibit called "Cotton Fields to Skycrapers". You can relive a civil rights era sit-in at a lunch counter (not like the one at the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro), try on a hat in an early Belk department store and whole lot more. The second floor houses the changing exhibits.
Discovery Place is the South's premier hands-on science and technology center. This is one cool place for the young and older inquisitive folks. It's kind of like a whole bunch of "adult toys" that kids could play with. There were two things that captured my attention. One was a machine with dust that "danced" to the music. The other was this electronic thing that you can put "blocks" on to contact to others to make musical tones.
They also have two movie theatres, one of which shows 3-D movies and the other is of the IMAX dome ilk.
If you're into the fine arts, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art may capture your eyes. I found it to be a big space for the amount of artwork. There are four floors with the fourth having the most to view. The others were "spaces".
It occurred to me that the Segway tour and art museum were the only activities in this trip. Everything else was about eating. The best thing for me to do is just list where and what I consumed.
I asked if there was a Chinese restaurant as a dinner plan fell through due to the area parking lots being filled up for a free event. We wound up in the Warehouse District on West Hargett Street and walking into what looked far from any Chinese restaurant that I ever went to. The name is Five Star. Huge open spaces where people could drink, dance and hang out as it must have been a former warehouse. Then we enter one smaller room where the dining takes place. Very casual Soho or Village like atmosphere all around.
What may have distinguished this restaurant from any other cuisine was the Oriental waitstaff, which seems to assure us that the it's Chinese food.
Don't expect Chicken Chow Mein and the like. It's an upscale menu. I didn't dine alone so what I describe had been shared and with leftovers. Appetizers: Crispy Green Beans; Roasted Duck Rolls - rolls are made of a thin wrap and not fried; Heat Seeker Shrimp with just enough heat to not overdo it.
Entree: Crispy Sesame Beef; Grilled Lamb Chops with Seasonal Asian Vegetables, Sticky Rice and Spicy Cucumber Mint Relish (certainly not skimpy on the amount of chops); Filet Mignon with Teriyaki Reduction, Asparagus, Eggplant, Red Chilies and Taiwanese Yams.
It was when the desserts came out that I questioned it all. One of them was this flourless chocolate cake and the other two were something that you would never find on a Chinese menu. I asked the waiter if the desserts were made here and he said that it was. We now wanted to meet the chef, Daniel Gray who was not of any Asian descent. Just a great chef who decided to focus on Chinese cuisine.
I also found out that this Warehouse District is considered to be the "gayborhood" of Raleigh.
Big Ed's City Market Restaurant where Southern cooking couldn't be more traditional. The restaurant is filled with antique farm instruments and political memorabilia. When you order "pancakes", you just need to order a pancake, which takes up the whole plate.
42nd Street Oyster Bar is not located there but off Glenwood Avenue, a nightlife area. If you want steamed oysters you have to sit at the seafood bar. They come in a bucket and get shucked as they are served. I didn't realize how many oysters were in a "half peck" and preceded with a seafood salad of crab meat, shrimps, and scallops over greens and such.
Another Natty Greene's Pub and Brewery recently opened in Raleigh. The restaurant is much larger than the one in Greensboro with a different menu as well. Great beers brewed here, too.
I also encountered Escazu an artisan chocolate store where they make the chocolate started from the beans. There are various bars and pretty chocolates as well. I tried one bar of dark chocolate with goat's milk.
As far as my radio show, it was held in my room at the Raleigh Marriott City Center just across from the Convention Center. Excellent location and comfy bed. I had breakfast at the hotel the next morning. Did not order grits.
Raleigh, the capitol of North Carolina, is a bit "stately" and more city-like than one such as Charlotte. A bus system called the R Line gives you a free ride through downtown reaching several districts such as: State Government, Raleigh Convention Center, Performing Arts Center and Warehouse District. That's one way to get acquainted with the area. I decided on a different route via a Segway tour.
Okay, it wasn't the whole downtown area. Rather a Triangle Segway's one-hour "Experience" tour covering Fayetteville (the Main Street of Raleigh), the Government areas and City Market, where the tour begins. It's really easy to get the hang of this standing bicycle and all is taught and practiced before you leave the building. I'm hoping to "Segway" in all of the cities that I go to.
Outside of the downtown area is where the North Carolina Museum of Art is located. It appears that they have built a whole new 127,000-square-foot West Building with nearly 800 works of art and highlighted by daylit galleries. It's a one-level deal and having these open galleries makes it easy to view the artwork and sculptures. The former building is being renovated to contain temporary exhibits.
Rodin sculptures are featured here and can also be found in one of the outside gardens.
Iris is the name of the Museum Restaurant that features culinary art with great food. My lunch choice was this fabulous sweet potato soup and chicken salad prettied up with watermelon radish.
I took a side trip to Town Creek Indian Mound located in Mt. Gilead. A culture called the “Pee Dee” lived there, way before America was “discovered”. Through archeology, the mound was pieced together. Start at the visitor’s center museum where you will find both the history and artifacts. The walk to the Ceremonial Center for the Guard Tower and three buildings: The Mortuary; The Town House and Mound; and East Lodge. You will certainly get a sense of the Pee Dee way of life.