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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

July 28, 2023

Your guide to Charlotte tasting menus

The best places to let chefs be chefs

by TM Petaccia

You hear it from your dining companion all the time, and maybe you sometimes say it yourself, “Everything looks so good on the menu. I don’t know what to get.” One way not to experience “Menu FOMO” is to let the chef make the menu decisions for you by opting for a chef’s tasting dinner, a.k.a, an omakase experience. Chefs love doing tasting menus. Opting for an omakase experience tells chefs you trust their skills and decisions, and they usually wind up going out of their way to make your meal extra special. There are a few things to keep in mind, however:

If you are a picky eater, tasting menus are probably not for you. These meals are adventures in food. You’ll be exposed to new ingredients and new ways of preparing them. While this excites many adventurous foodists, some diners get a little skittish when faced with the culinary unknown. If you are not willing to let it go, go with à la carte.

If you have food allergies or sensitivities, don’t wait until you show up at the restaurant to announce it. Make sure that information is known when you make your reservations. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate special dietary needs if they receive enough notice, but sometimes they can’t, depending on the tasting program of the evening. Better to know that upfront.

If you have a question about an ingredient, ask it. Typically chefs, either directly or via your server, get excited talking about an off-the-grid ingredient or a special preparation. Dining time can also be fun learning time. It’s also knowledge you can use to do a little showing off with your friends the next time you spot an ingredient on a menu, “Oh, you don’t know about lemon cucumbers? Let me tell you …”

A number of Charlotte-area restaurants offer tasting menus at prices from $49-500/person. Some include pairings; some don’t. Here’s our list of restaurants offering immersive tasting experiences.

Unless otherwise noted, prices do not include pairings.

Aqua e Vino, Providence Park (Strawberry Hill)

Chef Gabriele Grigolon offers his “Menu Degustazione”, a five-course tasting showcasing a combination of the chef’s favorite dishes, either from the menu or based on your stated preferences, he will improvise your meal. $80/person.

Biblio, Wesley Heights
Sam’s Hart’s wine-focused concept has recently expanded its tasting menu options. Diners can now opt for a traditional five-course tasting at two price points: “Index,” featuring lesser-known wines at $185/person; or “Archive,” featuring rare and highly acclaimed wines at $350/person. You can also go with Biblio’s original “The Blind” tasting. You choose the wine, and Hart’s team will create a four-course meal around it. $75/person, plus the cost of the wine.

Counter-, Wesley Heights

Beef striploin with truffles, sunchoke chips, purple potato aeration, caramelized onion puree, carrot glass, and blackberry bordelaise – from Counter-. TM Petaccia/UP

James Beard Finalist Sam Hart’s approach combines his creative culinary skills with the creativity of artists and musicians. Offering a fully immersive experience, an evening at Counter- is a meal for all your senses, based on a unifying theme. Current theme nights are “Here and Now” – a celebration of Carolina produce, “Curry” – an homage to the cuisines of India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Gold Coast, and the Caribbean, and “Prince Tribute Dinner” – with dishes inspired by the music legend. Dinners are usually in the 10-12 course range. Expect to pay $185-$240/person, plus wine pairing options.

Fin & Fino, Uptown

Simply known as “The Treatment,” Fin & Fino’s tasting menu typically offers 4-5 courses featuring dishes both on the menu and off.  Every Treatment starts with a conversation with the guest about how they would like the timing and experience to go. In addition, $5 of the cost is donated to a local nonprofit. $70/person.

McNinch House, Fourth Ward

This uptown landmark offers two chef’s choice options. Chef’s Tasting gives you five courses and includes wine pairings, $215/person. Chef’s Table is a private dining experience in the original family dining room for parties of 4-8 people. Requires a seven-day advance reservation (must directly contact the restaurant via phone or email, no apps). $315/person and includes wine pairings.

Omakase by Prime Fish, Cotswold

Hokkaido Kegani – steamed Hairy Crab and caviar at Omakase by Prime Fish. TM Petaccia/UP

Chef Robin Anthony’s high-concept restaurant raised eyebrows when he opened last year — only six seats, two seatings per night, at a cost of $300/person, not including wine or sake — but apparently the gamble is paying off. Anthony brings in rare ingredients from Japan including the highest-rated A5 Kobe beef, a special wasabi root he often jokes is more expensive than the fish he uses it on, and the very rare Yubari melon. You’ll also typically see a good dose of truffles, caviar, and other luxury ingredients. Each dinner is an eye-popping 16 courses. It is the only restaurant offering a lunchtime omakase experience (1 p.m. seating) at $150 for ten courses. There are also monthly sake-pairing dinners ($500/person).

Speakeasy at Supperland, Plaza Midwood

This is a bartender’s choice combined with a chef’s choice. The downstairs lair of the historic building houses a ten-seat bar where you can enjoy a cocktail-forward tasting menu. You’ll receive four exclusive cocktails, not available in the upstairs restaurant or bar, created by head mixologist Colleen Hughes and bar manager Rhea Buck along with small bite pairings created by executive chef Chris Rogienski. The theme changes every few months. Currently, it is “Tropical Voyage,” a tiki cocktail and food experience. $150/person.

Yume Ramen, Sushi, & Bar, Wilmore

Prawn with noodles and caviar at Yume. Photo courtesy

Multiple courses (varies depending on ingredients) featuring both sushi implementations and hot dishes. Dishes are custom curated for different guests, often sourcing special and seasonal ingredients. Requires a minimum two-day advance reservation (note that you want the omakase experience when you make the reservation). $200+/person. The restaurant has also introduced an Omakase Happy Hour, 4-6:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday. $50 gets you eight chef’s choice high-end nigiri sushi pieces and other items.

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