Venue Review: E2 emeril's eatery
The Charlotte Observer
135 Levine Avenue of the Arts; 704-414-4787;
HITS: Scallops, shrimp and grits, warm servers, gluten-free dishes offered.
MISSES: Pork loin, fish of the day, insufficiently trained servers.
No “bam!” jokes. No snarky bits about what or who should be kicked up a notch. Just this: e2 emeril’s eatery has been disappointing on each of several visits, except the one to the bar, where a cocktail with gin, wheatgrass and jalapeno syrup was terrific.
So it’s not that nothing works. It’s that this place misses far too often to uphold its namesake Emeril Lagasse’s national reputation as a gutsy, big-hearted chef passionate about flavor, keen on hospitality and attentive to detail.
Let’s talk about hits first: Four fat New Bedford (Mass.) sea scallops, roasted, atop lush corn puree, with Swiss chard. A marvelous version of shrimp and grits, with seven plump shellfish atop extremely creamy rice grits studded with mushroom, scallion, corn and a little pancetta. (Yes, rice grits, not corn, from Anson Mills: a creamier product by nature.) A starter of crunchy yet moist fried chicken thigh over a buckwheat waffle with sorghum molasses. Terrific.
Servers smiled and greeted us with warmth, and tended us with care throughout our meals. Our water glasses never went below three-quarters full. If someone left the table, he returned to a refolded napkin. Everyone’s entrees are served simultaneously, and wine by the glass is poured generously, from the bottles, at the table: These are service niceties that matter.
As for setting, the combination of art glass panels and sizable, simple artwork, with details such as glass votives in the same colors, sets a warm tone, and the wine room near the back is the coziest area in the place.
A bland gumbo with chicken is tragic, in light of Lagasse’s Cajun/Creole fame. I tried it twice: floury-edged, without the depth of flavor built on a fine roux.
A pretty piece of N.C. trout was topped with flavorless pieces of artichoke and arugula, studded with currants of varying quality.
A dry piece of pork loin with unevenly cooked chunks of sweet potato couldn’t be saved by its interesting mole and good collard greens.
Fish of the day one night: a slice of grilled swordfish, overcooked, on thin and dull potato puree, with chow chow that lacked punch. (And a price tag of $32!)
A bowl of mussels arrived with grit, too much chorizo in too-big slices and bits of flavorless (but good-textured) sweet corn, the broth a watery, dismal thing.
Puddings of varying flavors also have varying textures, from one nearly liquid (clearly unset and unpleasant) to a near pot-de-crème firmness. A buttermilk sorbet had the break-apart dry quality of an elderly sorbet.
Servers didn’t know preparation details beyond the menu explanation, or got them wrong. One called shrimp and grits the restaurant’s “stigma” dish – I’m presuming “signature.” Many also look uncomfortable in the plaid shirts and dress jeans that I suspect are meant to convey a casual, relaxed feel.
That same stilted quality comes across in the design: Lighting tends to the harsh, seating to the stiff, surfaces to the hard, making it also exceedingly loud when crowded. A band of seating faces the kitchen, but it’s laid out in a way that makes actually watching anything difficult.
I don’t know. Did Emeril – whose press folks pitched this as a place with “an eye towards the future of modern American dining” and describe its food as having “a touch of Southern flavor that is uniquely Charlotte” – think just OK would be good enough for Charlotte? (Wolfgang Puck did, the first time.)
Or is he just too busy with his other dozen places, or the new show, or other product development, to give these folks the support and/or training they need?