Venue Review: Dean & Deluca Wine Room
The Charlotte Observer
6903 Phillips Place Court; 704-643-6868 (that's the store; you must request transfer to the wine room)
HITS: Wine flights beyond the usual, always tagged (and a craft beer lineup, too!); lovely lamb chops; handsome cheese plates.
MISSES: Loud. Even when not particularly busy.
PRICES: One menu served all day, with sandwiches $10-$13, entrees $14-$32.
Here’s a happy holiday surprise: The Dean & DeLuca wine room, where you’d expect to find cool flights and some interesting winey things, also has some really good food.
A succulent threesome of lamb chops. Salmon, perfectly juicy, over butternut squash and braised cabbage. A trio of Mediterranean starters suitably rich: smoky baba ghanoush, properly parsley-heavy tabouleh and creamy hummus, with (and most welcome of all, since restaurants seem never to offer this) enough pita for it all. Ashley Farm chicken breast layered with zucchini, tomato and smoked mozzarella, over a few fingerlings. (For $15!)
You can finish with cheeses-by-land – French, Spanish, Italian – or a small, buttery golden peach tart. Or three thin chocolate tulips cupping scoops of tiramisu.
Not that you’d know any of this, unless you shop Phillips Place routinely: The wine room went without an online presence until recently (or if there was, no one including their own folks could find it). And, bizarrely, since it’s been three months since it relocated into the renovated Dean & DeLuca store, it still doesn’t have its own phone number. You must call the store and ask to be transferred.
All of which is irritating enough to require – well, maybe two flights, just to take the edge off.
Get a driver, and consider the sparklers to start – 2 ounces each of 2010 Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux Rosé, ’07 Caraccioli Brut Cuvee and a Laurent-Perrier Brut that goes for $20 a glass.
Flights are titled with more wit than the usual (I particularly like “Agree to A Gris”), or you can create your own, since all of the roughly 75 offerings by the glass can be ordered in 2-ounce tastes.
Another marvelous option: Browse the store’s retail selections (about 1,000 labels) and bring one in; there’s no corkage fee. You can also drag in your beer-drinking friends, since American craft beers are well-represented, including some local selections.
Andres Moncayo, Charlotte D&D executive chef, knows what he’s got to work with, and makes smart use of those resources. Perhaps that comes from his hard-working ascent; he began here as a dishwasher and now is responsible for not just the restaurant menu but prepared foods and catering menus as well.
Yes, he likes his olive oil (nearly everything we had sported a healthy drizzle), but otherwise, shows remarkable restraint. (Imagine what a fan of the frou-frou could do with all of Dean & DeLuca as a larder. I shudder to think of it.)
For example: Small bits of Valdeon cheese turn up in a salad of arugula, with bits of dried black mission fig and chunks of poached pear. Unlike most salads, which proffer cheese in chunks too big to blend into a bite, this is designed with taste, not looks, in mind. Like that plethora of pita. Bravo.
Beef short rib braised in Cabernet has the right lushness, over polenta, while I plan to order the brioche-bun lobster sliders next time. Stroganoff used pappardelle that was perfectly cooked and a suitably rich binding, though one of the tenderloin tidbits was gristly.
The room, a simple length of story-and-a-half height, studded with offset creamy brick, uplit wine storage and hardwood floors, ricochets with sound on busy nights, and is loud even when it’s not busy. Try to snag the bar-height table by the glass-framed fireplace in the left corner, or something at the other end, away from the lovely black granite bar, if you’re concerned. It’ll still be loud, but … less.
Servers do well and are considerably more polite than, say, the diner at the next table on one of our visits. He leaned over and tapped our server on the arm – while that server was mid-sentence with us – and ordered something else. (That was my holiday surprise: Just when you think you’ve seen everything…)
And a holiday gift: Two specific picks from Eric Heidal, assistant general manager in charge of wines, whom I asked for favorites. His two are the ’09 Desante “L’Atelier,” a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend (you might have that with the ceviche), and ’10 Hourglass “Blueline” Merlot, made by Bob Foley, a winemaker quite popular in the QC (with the short rib, perhaps).
Relishing a sip and a bite and a view of holiday-lit trees can soothe the shop-weary beast.