Unassuming is an understatement for what happens inside a tiny kitchen tucked off an unsuspecting road in Fort Mill. After a less than scenic drive south, just when you begin to fear a wrong turn, you arrive at Passion8 Bistro. Inside, Chef Luca Annunziata and his team, Executive Sous Chef Matthew Krenz and Sous Chef Evan Micek, like members of an orchestral ensemble, work nightly to compose an experiential symphony for the palate, food as surprising as its location and beautiful enough to be called plated works of art.
Come this summer, Charlotteans need only travel to the Elizabeth neighborhood to experience Passion8. The small restaurant will bring its modern approach to locally inspired cuisine into Charlotte proper. The new space will feature two dining rooms, a mezzanine for private events and a chef’s table located inside the kitchen for the ultimate tasting experience.
Chef Luca is known in the food community for his relentless pursuit of locally sourced ingredients. Catch him every Saturday, clipboard in hand, commiserating with farmers at market for the week’s provisions. On this night, our eight-course seasonal tasting began with an amuse bouche– a dime-sized paper thin radish, layered with a single blackberry and chartreuse foam. Tiny granules of intentionally placed pink himalayan sea salt elevate the small bite, awakening the palate toward what’s to come. Next, came a monkfish liver torchon– a creamy, saline derivative of the sea served with a neon brush stroke of beet crema, delicate baby kale leaves and pickled carrots with a delightfully complex flavor of warm spices and floral notes. One of the most striking dishes of the evening was a cured North Carolina triggerfish cheek with pickled amarena cherries, passionfruit gel and thinly shaved cucumber. In one bite, salty befriends sweet begets refreshing– a sensory jolt. The journey continued with an amalgam of cuisines and technique, modern gels and micro-herbs mingle with pickled vegetables and imported Italian specialties.
Distinctly Southern elements like perfectly cooked collards and creamy grits arrive with seared local duck breast. Chef Luca’s Italian heritage shines in the handmade ravioli generously stuffed with Carolina bison and finished with a cream-kissed Provencal sauce. It goes on like this for eight courses after which Chef Luca invites us back to meet his team. There, amidst polite hellos, the team continues the synchronized dance they have been perfecting in this off-beat kitchen since 2007. The talented trio will find a well deserved spotlight soon enough on a larger stage.