Monday, January 31, 2011

The Meal That Inspired this Blog

This past weekend, I shared an incredible meal with two very good friends.  Friend 1 (F1) had a gift card to Rooster's Wood-Fire Kitchen and Wine Bar in Charlotte, N.C.  Not one to ever turn down free food, I was super excited.

It was a Saturday, so we called ahead to make reservations.  Heads up: Rooster's only takes reservations until they've reserved 60% of the restaurant.  After that point, you're on your own.  That's what happened to us, and the hostess suggested that the earlier we came, the better.  And that's how three 20-something girls ended up channeling their grandmothers and going to dinner at 6 p.m.

What an amazing place.  Like I said, we had gotten there pretty early, so we lucked out and got seated right away.  I didn't have too much time to look around the front portion of the restaurant, as we were quickly led through one dining room, through a courtyard, and into another dining room to our table.  Even before I picked up the menu, I couldn't help but comment on the vibes I was getting from this place.  The lighting was dim, but not so much to the point where you couldn't see your food, your companions, or the people around you.  The tables were dark, polished wood.  We were sitting right by one of the bars, so we had a great view of a floor-to-ceiling wine collection.  There were small tea lights evenly spaced across the bar that did nothing but add to the ambiance.  The tables were pretty close together, but not awkwardly close.  Just close enough to allow us to gaze longingly at the food on the plates of the people who had ordered before us.  Of course, when we realized we were drooling, we tried to look away.

We were greeted quickly by one of the three servers in our section, offered a choice of water (sparkling, tap, or bottled), and given a small basket of crusty bread with a small plate of olive oil to munch on while we waited.  Since we had a pretty close to limitless budget, we had decided to go all out for dinner.  We were trying to decide what kind of wine we wanted, and had narrowed it down to pinot grigio, but were stuck there (not surprising, given the extensive wine list .  Not being huge wine drinkers (or wine drinkers who spend more than $15 on a bottle), we were at a loss.  Fortunately, our server overheard our indecision and offered a great suggestion: a 2008 Italian pinot grigio.  Unfortunately, I can't remember the name (I wasn't planning on starting a blog at this point, and so I wasn't really taking extensive notes).  At any rate, it was delicious.  It was a little more full-bodied that some PGs I've had, but I really liked it.  It ended up really complementing everything we ordered for dinner too. 

Then it came time to order our meal.  Rooster's doesn't have a super extensive menu, but everything looks so good that it's really difficult to choose.  Friend 2 (F2) and I pretty much let F1 guide us, and she took care of ordering our sides.  We each ordered an entree - F1 had the half BBQ chicken, F2 had the flounder (on special that night), and I had the mussels (also on special).  As each entree stands alone, F1 took care of ordering a variety of sides for us to munch on.  We had:

Mac & cheese - bizarre, right?  Not so much.  This stuff puts Paula Deen to shame.
The assorted mushroom plate - I don't know how these were cooked, but they were AWESOME.  Even if part of me kept singing "White Rabbit" in my head.
Pan-fried corn - This was seasoned with light butter and a TON of black pepper.  Delicious.
Fried onion rings - Seems a little out of place, right?  Not so.  These were so crispy and so well-seasoned there wasn't any need for the weird dipping sauces that accompany onion rings at most chain restaurants.
Haricots verts with garlic & herbs - When they said garlic, they meant it.  These beans were COVERED in minced garlic, but not to the point that it was overwhelming.  One of my favorites of the night.

Our entrees were equally good.  F1's chicken was so moist and so tender, it fell off the bone.  The bbq sauce was honey sweet, with just the right amount of tangy-ness to balance it out.  F2's flounder was outstanding.  Flaky and delicious, like all fish should be.  My mussels came in a white wine and garlic sauce with tomatoes and piece of grilled bread.  They tasted amazing, and the mussels were HUGE.  It took me several tries with the fork to get all of the meat out of the shell, they were that big.

Looks awesome, yes?
We were super full from dinner, but a great meal isn't complete without dessert and coffee, right?  Right.  Our server, who was exceptionally attentive and helpful all evening, brought out the dessert menu and had a fresh pot of coffee made for us.  The coffee was FANTASTIC.  I love coffee.  I'm a self-professed caffeine addict, and I really hate when I order coffee after a meal, and it tastes like the instant stuff I have in my cabinets for use in emergencies only.  This coffee was hot, fresh, and brewed to perfection.  And, the best part?  Our server was so attentive that my cup was never less than half-full.  Plus, the coffee was perfect with our desserts.  F1 ordered the lemon tart with fruit compote & coconut gelato, F2 ordered the coconut cake with creme anglaise and chantilly cream, and I had the turtle cheesecake with chocolate gelato and caramel sauce. 

The lemon tart is the perfect summer dessert.  It was light and fluffy and not overly lemony.  The tropical fruit and the coconut gelato offset some of the tartness of the lemon.  I'm not a huge coconut fan, so the coconut cake wasn't really on my list of things to try, but I'm glad I did.  Delicious.  And the chantilly cream?  Totally made this dish for me.  As for my own dessert, turtle cheesecake is one of my favorite things in the world, because I don't have to decide between chocolate and caramel.  This one had little pockets of caramel on the inside of the cake and was topped with chocolate ganache and caramel sauce.  Plus it had chocolate gelato on the side.  Not something I would usually think of to go with cheesecake, but I was proven wrong.

Y'all.  I loved everything about Rooster's, and I would go there again in a heartbeat.  It's probably a little pricey for daily dining, but that's not to say there aren't affordable items on the menu.  My mussels, for example, were $9.  If you split one or two sides with your dining companions, you will likely spend $15-$20 on dinner.  Expect to spend more if you opt for drinks or dessert as well.  But I promise you, it will be worth every single penny.

Final Rating

You can check out Rooster's Wood-Fire Kitchen & Wine Bar on Facebook, Twitter, or visit their website.

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