Two longtime Charlotte favorite restaurants sport new looks now: Miro Spanish Grille moved from StoneCrest to the Toringdon Market area (2 miles away), while Bonterra in Dilworth has reinstalled Blake Hartwick as executive chef, giving the menu a new twist. Let’s peek:
It’s still in a shopping center, and still sports an interior done in naturals and neutrals, leaving the vibrance one associates with its namesake’s art to the food. (And it’s not named for the artist anyway, partner Tri Luong told me way back in 1999.)
That food is still pretty good, if not as vivid as I’d like for Spanish cuisine here in 2014. It pulls its punches a bit in flavor, with the seafood stew called zarzuela leaning decidedly to sweet, and the grilled red snapper still listed with fresh tomatoes, in December. But the seafood in that stew – shrimp, a small fillet of white fish, a tiny lobster tail, and a couple each of clams, mussels and scallops – arrives perfectly tender, perfectly juicy. Nicely moist rice arrives on the side, and if the whole is a little small for $22, it’s solid and trustworthy. Other highlights: Pinchitos, essentially pork kabobs, with bright chimichurri sauce, and grilled octopus with a nice gloss of olive oil.
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Spanish classics remain the bulk of the lineup, from paella Valenciana to fideos (think angel hair); steaks and chops have their own section of the menu, with choices of sauces. Nearly two dozen tapas share space with a few soups and salads, all straightforward.
Our server showed off a nice knowledge of the wine list without being pushy, and checked in routinely; attentiveness has always been one of Miro’s strong points.
Lunch (about $9-$13) weekdays, dinner (tapas $6-$11, entrees about $12-$28) nightly; 12239 N. Community House Road; 704-540-7374; www.mirospanishgrille.com.
The food’s made a lusty leap forward since my last visit, while service has relaxed into warmth.
House specialties still include the fried lobster tail, but now also a beautiful slab of grouper from area seafood star procurer Tim Griner, served with accompaniments that bring tang, sweetness and depth to the dish: creamed celery root, charred kale, pickled apple and a brittle made with cashews and mustard seed. Other specialties include a 12-hour short rib with crispy oysters and Bearnaise sauce, and a filet with a popover made with Asher Blue.
There’s a pork chop from Heritage Farms, brined with a bit of maple flavor and served with roasted New Town Farms turnips. Shrimp and grits (from Geechie Boy, an interesting alternative, from Edisto, to the more prevalent Anson Mills) comes with house-smoked kielbasa and fried okra. Venison is made au poivre, with acorn squash and goat cheese gratin softening the peppercorn pop., and a muscadine and hop reduction on the side.
It’s interesting, and rich, and you can get a five-course tasting menu each night for $45 – not a bad way to go among this lineup, where starters run $6-$21 and entrees $25-$42.
Spanish shows up here, too (you might remember Harwick’s Las Ramblas time), among the charcuterie and sharing plates (olives, Serrano ham) along with plenty of other influences, from France (a foie gras brioche) to Pittsburgh (a seared scallop!) and Olde Salt oysters from Rappahannock are wood-grilled. Cheeses stay pretty local; four North Carolina ones, plus a Virginia and that Asher Blue from Georgia.
Service proved more relaxed than I’ve seen it over the years here, and it suits this richer execution. Ours was engaging and enthusiastic and gave us plenty of time, which you need with a wine list that fills an 11x17 sheet. (If you’ve forgotten, or never knew, Bonterra offers an astonishing percentage of its wine by the glass as well as by the bottle: About three-quarters of its whites and nearly half its reds currently.
1829 Cleveland Ave.; 704-333-9463; www.bonterradining.com/.