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Asbury’s heirloom food has gravitas; Stagioni affirms pre-opening excitement

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/30/10/30/crQYx.Em.138.jpeg|237
    HELEN SCHWAB - hschwab@charlotteobserver.com
    The Asbury’s guinea hen: pan-roasted breast, with ham-hock greens and moist cubes of brioche and Calvander cheese “dressing” on a puree of Gilfeather turnip. For Calvander, think Asiago, and for the turnip, think rutabaga (which the Gilfeather actually is).
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/30/10/30/XpMyQ.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - HELEN SCHWAB
    Pot de creme with salted caramel and pecan brittle at The Asbury.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/30/10/30/FIlnt.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - HELEN SCHWAB
    Black truffles atop housemade pasta at Stagioni.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/30/10/30/R2s5C.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - HELEN SCHWAB
    The “snack plate” at The Asbury: butterbean hummus topped with tomato preserves and served with whey crackers; hidden in the back is BBQ caramel popcorn, and at front right are deviled eggs *=(that’s a strip of fried cornichon atop each). The jar holds some pickled okra and beet stems.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/30/10/30/XPlwt.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - HELEN SCHWAB
    A pizza-bar-seat’s-view of the Stagioni pizza oven.

The Asbury

The food: Chef Chris Coleman’s new effort roots itself in area history, from heirloom ingredients to family recipes, and pulls from area farms in ways expected (braised limas, greens of many kinds) and un- (he says he’s got a Florence, S.C., place raising guinea hens just for him). The name bows to history, too: Architect Louis Asbury Sr. designed what’s now the Dunhill hotel. The guinea hen was impeccable: moist, flavorful, served in thick slabs with big cubes of “dressing” rich with brioche and Calvander cheese. Tomato preserves brightened a plain butter bean hummus, with a sprinkling of benne (sesame for you Yanks) seed. “BBQ Caramel Popcorn” is embarrassingly snackable, though the icebox pickles could arrive in a gallon jug, and I’m pretty sure I’d finish them (except for a few too-hard-to-consume okra shreds). Catfish roulade was a trifle underdone, but pot de creme with salted caramel finished the meal well: perfect texture, temperature and proportion. Quite the promising beginning.

The service: Gracious and helpful on a very slow weekday, and enthusiastic.

The look: Walls of a deep, deep blue-green that looks glazed, and a room-lining strip of mirror bring a certain gravitas to this Tryon Street dining room, while the art – currently a display of storybook-yet-not drawings by McColl Center artist-in-residence Jason Watson – lends a contemporary feel: no trace of the homey plainness of the former Harvest Moon.

The details: Dinner entrees $18-$27; in the Dunhill Hotel; 237 N. Tryon St.; 704-332-4141; www.dunhillhotel.com.

Stagioni

The food: Diners, naturally, will have high expectations of Bruce Moffett’s new Italian place, and an early visit shows reason for excitement. There was a beautiful pizza with salumi, perfect eggplant caponata and delicate housemade ricotta, and a simple, terrific use of truffle over pasta – and room for a few tinkers in execution, like a way-too-loose chicken liver mousse. The menu is split smartly, almost evenly, between snacking things (olives, chicken skin, fried chickpeas, spreads of many sorts, charcuterie, cheeses, antipasti and pizzas) and larger plates (eight pastas, all housemade; seven secondi, or meat/fish/chicken dishes). Descriptions are often ingredient lists (“Salmon. Braised Fennel. Oranges.”) and you might learn a little Italian along the way, from spuntini (snacks) to pesce fresco (fresh fish).

The service: On a very, very busy weeknight, youngish servers clearly were trying to cope with both the crowd and a wide-ranging menu, plus some rather close seating (the pizza bar is tight-tight-tight). But they struggled with grace.

The look: Tucked as it is in the historic Reynolds-Gourmajenko House in Myers Park, you seep up some elegance just on the way in from the parking lot. The renovation features an open kitchen and handsome pizza oven, and a surprisingly quiet (on our visit) staff therein (the kitchen, not the oven). Decor leans on historical detail, from the bar up front to Reynolds memorabilia to massive wood door framing, and sconces bring a shot of red to all that rustic neutrality.

The details: Dinner plates $13-$28; 715 Providence Road; 704-372-8110; stagioniclt.com.

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