Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Don't settle for less when you're spending more

Make Q.C. dinners great again

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 7:00 AM

I hate spending money on alcohol, especially if I end up flushing it down the drain just a few hours later. But I really hate spending money on a meal that's lackluster. My thought process? If I'm going to pick up a hefty tab, the food should be borderline orgasmic. There's nothing worse than going to say, Duckworth's — no offense — to get a burger, fries and two beers only find out the total plus tip is around $30. I blame it on being a former resident of the foodiest city in North Carolina — Durham.

I'll never forget my first trip to Bali Hai, a Mongolian restaurant just a couple blocks away from my residential high school — believe it or not, I wasn't sent away to boarding school for bad behavior. We weren't allowed cars, so we had to make the most of what was within walking distance. Bali Hai, with all of its self-stack bowls, fresh ingredients, crabmeat add-ons and house-made sauces was to die for. Unfortunately, Ghengis Grill is the closest thing to Bali Hai that we have in Charlotte, and let me tell you, it doesn't even compare.

After six years in Durham, surrounded by a multitude of cultures, my palate craves more. I'm no longer satisfied with the same ol' same ol' for lunch, and don't mention McDonald's unless its 3 a.m. and my eyes are swollen with hunger. What's even worse? The boyfriend is your basic carnivore who prefers meat and potatoes with minimal condiments. Every now and then, however, I convince him to step out of his comfort zone and try something new.

This past Friday, we were contemplating what we'd eat for dinner. Sighs. Picture Ryan Gosling screaming at Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, "It is that simple. What do YOU want?!" That's how our dinner conversations usually go. This time, however, I was tired from a long day and in the mood for something tasty. I gave him two options: Essex Bar and Bistro or Stoke Charlotte. Two of the newest restaurants in Uptown, I thought, "There's no way we could make a wrong choice." I let him peruse the menus and, after he saw a flat iron steak, we decided on Stoke.

Nestled in the Marriot lobby nextdoor to Coco and the Director, Stoke has caught my eye on many occasion. The minimalist and rustic appearance of the wood panels surrounding the entryway with STOKE placed in large, silver letters above intrigued me from the get-go. I called around 7:30 p.m. to secure a reservation for 9:00 p.m.

(Pro tip #1: When you enter the Marriot lobby, you'll find dual entrances to the eating area. The hostess stand is at the lower entrance.)

We arrived a bit early, and starving, so we were pleasantly surprised that we could sit in the lobby area, play board games and even place orders for drinks/appetizers. While we waited, I ordered one of their whiskey cocktails, deviled eggs, country ham and pickles. Not a lot of food for the starving 9-to-5er, but I'm learning how to be patient and curb my appetite without ruining dinner. After a game of chess, our table was ready and my tummy breathed a sigh of relief.

(Pro tip #2: I'm not even a whiskey drinker, but the cocktail was delicious. Chances are, you won't need more than two of these well-crafted and stiff drinks that run between $10-12. That'll save you money in the long run.)

We'd already salivated over the menu, so we knew what we wanted as soon as we sat down: flat iron steak, pork shank, roasted fingerlings and barbecued carrots. I couldn't believe what a score this dinner choice was. The average person would expect to leave a place like this still hungry, especially considering the steak was only $18, but we were bursting with satisfaction when we left. Not to mention, everything was absolutely delicious!

Our only regret? We had no room left for dessert. The couple next to us had ordered a one-pound doughnut — which wasn't listed on the menus I'd stalked online — that rivaled any other you've feasted your eyes on. Upon seeing our neighbors receive their check, I quickly offered to take the rest of their plate to which the response was a definitive no. Confirmed, the donut was that good.

(Pro tip #3: The menu I found on their website differed slightly from the one that we received when we sat down. Expect that with a smaller menu, some items may rotate on a semi-regular basis.)

If you haven't been yet, get Stoke-d! Your belly will thank you.

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