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Friday, August 6, 2010

"Review" of Terra Restaurant

I had a fun adventure last night. A new neighborhood publication called Myers Park Life recently debuted in residents' mailboxes. It's a mix of ads and articles, and it turns out the area director is from Tallahassee and graduated from Lincoln High School a year after I graduated from Munroe.

He invited me to join him for dinner at Terra on Providence Road so I could write a review for the publication. My first chance for a restaurant review! I was in -- though I think this assignment is actually more in the spirit of what PR professionals like to call "advertorial."

We had a great time. The owner is delightful, the food was scrumptious, and everyone made us feel so welcome. I will definitely return! Entrees range from $20 to $32, with specials at market price. My article will be published in the magazine's September issue.

Fun food, comfortable environment, perfect location

Neighborhood bistro offers a piece of Paris on Providence Road

Offering quality food in a casual, “right next door” setting, Thierry Garconnet’s life has taken him from France and Italy to Charlotte. He opened his restaurant Terra about four years ago, the culmination of his experience working in every facet of the restaurant industry and the realization of his dream to create innovative dining in a comfortable atmosphere.

Garconnet constantly uses the word “fun” to describe what he and chef Gil McKnight aim to do with their menu. Listening to the two of them talk about their culinary creations is like listening to two little boys who still love to play with their food. Although the dishes are heavily French-inspired, McKnight relishes the freedom of not being restricted to any one cuisine. His own Southern roots blend with Garconnet’s French background in an appetizer of frog legs breaded and fried, topped with a Buffalo wing-inspired sauce and finished with a blue cheese mousse. Another first course is a pure homage to France: escargots sauteed with garlic and shallots, flavored with a hint of Pernod and served in a puff pastry.

“We like to take a little bit of everything and make it our own,” McKnight explains. In the competitive Charlotte restaurant scene, “you only get one chance to impress someone. You’ve got to be on the top of your game, use quality products, or you’re not going to survive.”

Most of the menu changes seasonally, but McKnight loves the creative challenge of his daily specials, driven by what’s fresh and available. One recent evening featured an amberjack fillet pan-seared and topped Oscar-style, with fresh crab meat, white asparagus and a tarragon hollandaise sauce. That night’s risotto was made with mushroom and chives, covered with a panko-encrusted duck breast, a truffle cream sauce and a Parmesan crisp. He loves ultra-seasonal ingredients with limited availability, like soft-shell crab, ivory salmon, wild salmon and sablefish.

For those who favor simpler fare, the iron skillet beef tenderloin with frittes is a popular and ever-present option, though diners might find a beurre rouge sauce one night and a bearnaise sauce another. Veal ravioli or scallopini, a duck duo and herb-crusted lamb chops round out the summer menu, which will transition to fall flavors in mid-September. Both McKnight and Garconnet understand the importance of offering vegetarian options, including a daily vegetable plate that celebrates the colors, textures and varied flavors of the season.

All of the pastries are made in house, “from the crust to the coulis.” McKnight works with his saute chef and pantry chef to brainstorm new creations, beautifully presented and perfectly sized. That might mean a lemon-lime pot de creme topped with mango coulis or a dark chocolate mousse with pastry cream and candied walnuts.

The wait staff plays a key part in creating the comfortable atmosphere; servers Scott Allen and Mark Heaton are friendly but professional, knowledgeable about wine and familiar with the menu. Heaton loves introducing customers to something new, like an Italian nero d’avola he says most diners mistake for a pinot noir.

Garconnet’s career in Charlotte started in the late 80s when a friend opened a French restaurant called Cafe des Artistes in what is now the Gateway area uptown. He admits it can be a challenge to run a small, local restaurant in a town dominated by super-sized chains and steakhouses. But he’s found a niche in a neighborhood where he can appeal to everyone from Manor Theatre moviegoers to executives on expense accounts. And he loves the familiarity of Myers Park, where regulars stop in while passing by to ask what’s for dinner. To him, it’s a bit of the flavor you get in a Paris bistro: the intimacy of knowing your customers, remembering their favorite dishes, building friendships over food.
“This neighborhood is alive,” says Garconnet. “It has a good palate.”


Neil said...

this is great! very cool that you got to do the piece. will there be more reviews for the magazine in your future?

Lynn O'Neill said...

Who's the Lincoln grad?

Lyns said...

I think the publication is more geared toward neighborhood news like family spotlights and pet profiles, but I am hoping to get a few more advertorial opportunities.

Lynn, the guy is Zane Odom. I thought you might have noticed we became FB friends! We had a lot of fun.