Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sebastiano's and The Brawley Crawl

What's makes a Friday night out for dinner a great time?  Good food is a big part.  Several online reviews of Sebastiano's told us this was a good place to eat and off we went.

It's very easy to find, right on the corner of Oak Tree (across from Canvasback).When you walk in, you enter from the bar side, so it is a little deceiving.  You stand at a threshhold between the dining area and bar waiting to be seated.  It's a high traffic pass through, so you will get passed several times before you are seated.

We were sat and got our menus; and boy the menu is large.  Most of the space is dedicated to entrees, but you can see the pizza is the bulk of their business.  Our waiter came over, obviously Italian from up north, which is what you would expect in fact.  That was good because it really started to feel like one of the mom and pop pizza joints from back home (no I am not a New Yorker).

All of their prices are right in line with expectations.  Entrees from $8.95 and up.  Most in the $11 and $12 area.  Funny thing on the beverage menu - their beer offerings.  At the bottom, there is a "buck and change" selection.  Your lower priced options like Miller High Life Light and such.  Hey, $1.25 for a beer on Brawley is quite a treat isn't it?  They asked if we would like bread.  Smart on their part, so they don't give out product to someone that does not eat it.  It had a couple types of rolls and a focaccia - served with the olive oil if you like.

We ordered the bruschetta ($5.95) and received it shortly after our bread.  The menu said it had diced mozzarella in it.  Hmmm?  I have seen a lot of new twists in the bruschetta area, so this would be fun.  It came with several toasted breads on a bed of iceberg lettuce (that's different) with the mozz diced the size of the tomatoes.  They go heavy on the balsamic and light on the olive oil.  It was large enough to eat as an entree, good enough too.  We enjoyed it.

Our entree choices were the Chicken Cacciatore and Eggplant Parm.  Entrees are offered with side of pasta or salad or veg.  My personal thought... all sauced entrees need to include the pasta.  You can offer the salad as an option for $1.99 or something, but a pile of diced chicken in sauce (cacciatore) seems too odd for me.  One of us ordered the salad, which for a dinner salad was VERY nice.  The other elected the pasta, and that got split for the reason above.  More on that later.  Also ordered was a side of broccoli rabe.  Yes, it does exist.  Something I have not seen or eaten in several years - and love it!

Now, a couple of refills in, the salad is gone, the bruschetta long gone... tic toc tic toc... we have been here for over 30 minutes and the entrees are just not coming.  The server did a nice job for a while, but you could tell even he was antsy.  More so, those that ordered pizza and salads around us were seated, served and finishing while we still waited... tic toc tic toc.  Our server stopped to say there were coming, tic toc tic toc.  We had somewhere to stop after, but were not in a hurry.  Some delay is okay when you are just out for a night with no hurries, but this was beginning to get painfully long.  One more refill attempt and I just asked for our food to be packed to go.  We were now past 45 minutes and he said it should be any second but he can't do anything about the kitchen.  Shazaam.  Ask for it to go and someone lit a fire, we had food in two minutes.  I am sure it was close, but to get it together like that, someone finally took notice.

To my surprise, a box of food arrives.  He made sure to pack more bread, napkins, all of the food was packed well.  It really did come in a box.  He made a mild apology (and yes, we understand it's not his fault).  There was no attention from anyone in charge though.  We were not the only ones sitting there without food, but not a sole from management/ownership came out to talk to anyone.  Since we exit also through the bar, we walked right past nearly the entire staff.  Not a good bye, a thank you, nothing.  Ignoring a poor service experience is a great way to eliminate a second chance.  I am a firm believer in the 10 foot rule, and regardless of who is doing what, if someone walks within 10 feet - YOU MUST SPEAK TO THEM!  The bar is about 8 feet wide, so we were within 10 feet of easily 6 or 7 staff (including management) and not a word.

So how was the food you ask?  Well, the broccoli rabe was not oily, but nicely prepared and slivers of garlic as I would expect.  The cacciatore was asked for no peppers (and there were some) but otherwise very tasty.  This is where the one side of pasta just did not go far enough.  The eggplant did not hold up well to the drive.  If it is not prepared crisp before it is sauced and baked, it becomes gray matter.  This was just that.  The sauce was good, the portion was really good, but even if we ate it there - it would not have been a hit.  There is a common practice to use just egg and flour on eggplant, which creates an eggy batter-like coating instead of a crisp breaded coating.  Their way is done is several restaurants, but the best eggplant requires a little extra care.

So would we spend the money to go back?  I don't know.  Friends in the area swear by their pizza.  Most of the food was very well prepared.  If the kitchen performed better, I would say yes.  The poor handling of that concern is the concern.  What other areas are not being watched?  It leaves you open to question things.  Some might say it's not fair to judge on a Friday night.  I say just the opposite.  You really see how an operation performs when it is busy.  Let me say this to anyone that defends the Friday night excuse... there were about 15 people in the bar (and you could tell some were waiting on their take out).  There were only 4 tables full in the dining area when we arrived.  We were ahead of the rush.  When we left it was very full - sure.  But our food order was well before the rush.

In the end, if you can handle the Brawley Crawl traffic to get there, you can handle the wait to eat.  I am not sure I can. 

Sebastiano's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Update on Creole House in Cornelius

Man grew marijuana in Cornelius restaurant, police say

Police on Tuesday arrested the owner of the Creole House restaurant on North Main Street after making an undercover drug buy and seizing 87 marijuana plants, cash and marijuana growing equipment from a room on the restaurant's second floor, Cornelius police Detective Lt. Jennifer Thompson said.

Police charged Darin Jerome Nicolas, 44, with one felony count of sale and delivery of marijuana and two felony counts each of manufacturing marijuana, possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana and maintaining a dwelling to manufacture marijuana.

Nicolas is in the Mecklenburg County Jail this morning under an $80,000 secured bond.

(Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Emeril coming to Uptown.

Yes, Uptown Charlotte.

Wells Fargo has announced what else is going into the Levine Center for the Arts campus at South Tryon and Stonewall streets, and it includes a not-named-yet restaurant from TV star chef Emeril Lagasse.  He's got a dozen restaurants, from New Orleans to Miami to Vegas, and is known for his Creole expertise. Other new dining-related tenants include the Energy CafĂ©, a second location of this quick-service, healthy eating concept; Mizan, a Mediterranean restaurant and lounge (both plan to open in the second quarter), and Emzy Asian.Sushi Bar, an Asian fusion/sushi place scheduled to open in the third quarter.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Creole House (by committee)

Since there are 4 of us that will reflect our restaurant views in this site, some restaurants will get multiple opinions.  A recent trips to Creole House came with a warning - Don't be in a hurry.  After reading a lot of posts on Urbanspoon, that seems to be a common thread.  Growing up in the upscale restaurant world, there are many things worth the wait.  The last thing I want is food that is fast and tastes fast.

Creole House does indeed have a pace that can irritate the hurried/lunch crowd.  On a casual Saturday outing, speed is not my concern.  Upon arrival we had to look around a little and make sure they were open.  It was not a busy day to say the least.  We saw some take out activity, so that was a plus.  There was no one else dining in when we were there.  It was about 1:30 pm, so well within a weekend lunch time for the casual-at-large in the lake area.  It does leave a little fear, but the food was the goal, not how many people were eating at the time.

Our server relaxed, probably to a fault, but again - if there is no hurry on the food, the server stopping by 10 times would become annoying.  We had ordered a gumbo and a jerk chicken sandwich.  Gumbos come with options - chicken, shrimp, crawfish, or all of the above.  I have had some unsavory crawfish in the past, so I opted chicken.  I would have like a "pick two option", but was not aware until after that I could request.  **Hint: Put that on the menu for those of us that didn't ask**

The gumbo was deep, dark and delish.  There is no good way to take short cuts with gumbo and get this kind of result.  It was very well prepared.  There was time allowed for the chicken to simmer in it to absorb the flavors and not feel like it was sprinkled in.  The small rice mound in the middle was a nice touch, without adding too much defeating the texture of the dish.

The jerk chicken sandwich was on the mild side.  Mainstream dining would dictate that.  I think jerk and think heat, but for many, true jerk flavors can be too spicy.  Good decision on their part.  As a "side" sauce (by request) they have a Cajun ranch that added flavor and heat.  Again, ranch not my choice, but it worked in this sandwich.  Otherwise it may have been a little dry with the bread.

As we were close to the end, I did see a little more activity.  In looking around it appears they do live music at times too.  Overall, it's got a great concept and a well prepared menu.  It can still improve in the service area.  Most places can really. 

We all agree we will be back, so that is saying something.  The overall Urbanspoon rating is really low, so we might have just been lucky.

The Creole House on Main on Urbanspoon