The well-heeled set who summer in the NC mountains have had a best-kept secret for years: Bill and Anita Greene’s seasonal restaurant Artisanal in Banner Elk, near the Tennessee border. Now the Greenes have come down from the mountain top with their long-awaited Peppervine in Charlotte’s tony SouthPark area. Greene, whose experiences include a turn at Le Cirque in New York, gets playful with both Southern and Asian inspirations, from pillowy pimento cheese scones served with pepper jelly and sorghum butter to Thai-style fried chicken that’s like a chef’s riff on Trader Joe’s beloved Orange Mandarin Chicken. Pappardelle “Carbonara” topped with a 62-degree egg has a lemony acidity that saves it from being cloying. Paired with Anita Greene’s skill with a wine list, Peppervine is that clubby place you actually look forward to taking your parents.
Where do you start with Michael Lee’s restaurants? There are eight in Durham, each focused on a specific and mostly Japanese style: M Sushi, M Kokko, M Tempura, M Robatayaki, M Mandoo, M Kaiseki. The newest, M Pocha, takes a turn toward Korea, specifically pojangmacha, late-night street food traditionally cooked under tents. The menu is short and inventive: clams steamed with a dashi egg custard similar to Japanese chawanmushi are sparked with Szechuan chili oil and XO sauce. Crispy dumplings filled with Benton’s bacon are served in a pool of jalapeno soy vinaigrette, and the always-popular seared brussels sprouts are a bowl of deliciousness, with garlic bacon butter, fish sauce, and white wine vinegar. The most interesting (and filling) is kimchi soup, a meaty, bubbling “army stew” loaded with things that Korean cooks used to “liberate” from U.S. military bases, like spare ribs, Spam and Vienna sausage cut and curled to look like octopus. Mixed with long slices of rice cake and soft tofu, it’s a lesson in culture and make-do cooking in a single bowl.
When brick-and-mortar dreams seem impossibly out of reach, you pop up. For Jason Zygmont and his new Setsun, dropping into a temporary location (a kitschy old cafe in a historic neighborhood) four nights a week has been just the right testing ground -- albeit with quirks. Flowery tablecloths under glass table covers may not end fit his end-all aesthetic, but when the food is this good (raw oysters with a black vinegar mignonette; an earthy, jalapeno inflected spaghetti Pomodoro; sliced heirlooms in a pool of fermented green tomato puree) the location matters little. Add an intriguing list of natural and organic wines (buy a bottle, you get to spin a record), and the concept starts to come together.
Haitian-born Fida Noel worked in restaurants in the Bahamas in her teens before landing in Lexington. She put her kitchen skills to use cooking for family, friends and church events. Eventually, her son, David Laurinvil, convinced her to make a business out of it. They opened Fida’s Cafe in 2017; their second restaurant, Beach House Coffee & Tapas opened this past January. You might miss the narrow yellow house, but inside there’s thumping beach beats, original art, and the homey vibe of a cozy café. Tapas come in the form of conch salad, Cuban melts, tacos, and jerk jackfruit sandwiches, plus there’s Haitian coffee and house-made ice cream sandwiches -- flavors that fill a void in one of the state’s fastest-growing cities.