Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Alton's Kitchen and Cocktails

I now live for two things in this world – Award Show Season and Charlotte Restaurant Week. For ten days, restaurants in Charlotte and surrounding areas offer three (sometimes four) course meals for just $30 a person. This is incredibly affordable if you’re lucky enough to find a deal that includes a glass of wine, or if you go with a large group and can sample several dishes. My dining partner and I chose Alton’s Kitchen and Cocktails in Cornelius, 20 miles outside of downtown Charlotte. We settled in for a four course meal, and left no less than completely satisfied (and satiated.) 

The hardwood floors and cozy gas log fireplace invite you in immediately. The spacious bar is the perfect setting for a drink while watching the big game. But enough about the space, let’s get to the real treasure: the food. Peninsula Nachos are one of the most innovative and delicious appetizers I’ve ever indulged in. These upscale nachos feature crispy, salty kettle chips topped with a gorgonzola cream sauce (instead of queso), tender beef tenderloin tips (instead of ground taco meat), gorgonzola crumbles and scallions. I could have eaten this entire dish, but knew I had three more coming. I will be back for another order. 

My companion enjoyed the Prime Rib Stuffed Mushrooms as an appetizer, though the mushrooms weren’t as tender as we would have liked. Prime rib, cheese and horseradish sauce filled the caps and were a nice combination of flavors.

Though the salad course might seem like the least appealing, the Romaine Wedge was anything but substandard. Huge chunks of bacon, tomatoes and onions sat atop the wedges, which was served with bleu cheese dressing. I’m not usually a fan of this overpowering cheese, but thankfully this was very mild. The acidity of a balsamic glaze was a nice offset to the creaminess of the dressing.

The star of the show was my Braised Colorado Lamb Shank. My taste buds could not have been more pleased. Two huge bone-in lamb shanks were served on a bed of chunky Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and tender carrots, all floating in a succulent sea of cabernet au jus. I think only a Viking (or two) could have finished this portion, but I was very tempted to lick the plate. The server kindly packed up enough leftovers for two more meals, and I still ate my heart out! Between the fall-off-the-bone tender shank (the meat surrounding the bone below the knee), the velvety sauce and garlicky potatoes, this is one of the most phenomenal meals I’ve ever had.

The other entrée we ordered was the Surf & Turf - always a winner. The Filet Mignon was cooked perfectly and was extremely juicy, while the Lobster made for a rich topping. The Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes were again served as the side, and we noted that no extra seasoning or use of salt and pepper was necessary for any of our dishes.

By course number four, we were beginning to regret wearing pants that buttoned, but we thought we could make room for what sounded like my kind of desserts – White Chocolate Bread Pudding and Apple Cobbler. The White Chocolate Bread Pudding could have been just a degree or two warmer, but the gooey bread with caramel sauce and crispy topping was very satisfying. I was also looking for a few more white chocolate chunks, but the flavor was there. The Apple Cobbler was lucky enough to be paired with Vanilla Ice Cream, and featured large chunks of apples and walnuts under a crunchy cinnamon top. My favorite part of the meal is usually dessert, but in this case, the Nachos and Lamb Shanks take the cake. Pun intended.

Charlotte Restaurant Week, consider your goal accomplished. I don’t know when I otherwise would have discovered this hole-in-the-wall gem in Cornelius and enjoyed four outstanding dishes. Readers, do yourself a favor and go before the week is over. I’m venturing to Uptown Charlotte next to try another multiple course meal, so I’ll try and remember to wear a more forgiving outfit. 

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