Head chef Jon Martinson and owner-sommelier David Soper incorporate fresh local ingredients into a menu brimming with unique tapas, flatbread pizzas, and other seasonal bites. Warm up with an order of rosemary-brown-butter roasted nuts ($5), or submerge tooth divers in the Cajun sweet corn and crab dip ($6). For the main course, shareable small-portion tapas entice diners with a spectrum of unique tastes. Mussels perform tableside feats of strength with a topping of red curry dashi, coconut milk, and miso butter ($8), and grilled flank steak teams up with a locavore-pleasing Clover Farm mushroom and spring-onion bread pudding ($12). At lunch, Nanny’s margherita flatbread tut-tuts unruly hunger ($6), and a mouthwatering pulled-pork sandwich served on a soft bolillo roll dives playfully into tomatillo-ancho chili sauce ($10).
Executive chef and owner Jim Alexander has created an upscale dining experience worthy of a world-class New York or London eatery, with a menu of contemporary French cuisine that remains accessible to all diners. Educated at New York’s Culinary Institute of America, Alexander has been widely recognized within the restaurant industry, including earning a stint on the 1996 gold-medal-winning US Culinary Olympic Team. His mastery of the kitchen shines not only in the well-flavored meals, but also in Zebra’s characteristic artistic presentation. Most dishes benefit from ambitiously sculpted food combinations, each a brilliant array of colors, shapes, and textures.
Dozens of bottles of wine line the walls and the menu at The Corkscrew. Their selection of more than 30 wines includes reds hailing from Tuscany, Argentina, and South Africa and whites from Portugal, California, and New Zealand. To complement the vino, mixed nuts, olives, and cheeses make for delightful pairings, which can be enjoyed in the chic dining room or on the outdoor patio, where people practice looking regal in case the Google Maps car rolls by.
The amicable staff at The Wine Dive prepares a tailored menu of bistro fare that reels in hungry passersby and warms them like the reassuring glare of a grandmother’s laughing emerald eyes. The panini club ($8–$10), part of a revolving roster of paninis, tightly enfolds savory selections such as salami, ham, turkey, and provolone in a bear hug of hearty italian bread, enabling one-handed or even hands-free munching. Diners can elegantly sip on port-wine cheese dip ($6) or nibble a plate of colby and pepper-jack cheeses and zesty olives ($6). The Wine Dive supports local artists by decorating its crimson interior with their paintings and sculptures, and live musical performances each Friday inspire passionate, beat-driven chewing and sipping solos. Outdoor patio seating presents guests with a direct view of the Lake Norman Marina and a viable escape route for those pursued by bee swarms.
At any given time, the Rioja! WineKeeper's handsome wooden casing houses 12 bottles in a temperature-controlled setting. These conditions keep the wines fresh and result in a full-flavored pour. A quick flick of the tap and a crisp white or bold red streams into Riedel crystal, the only glassware used at Rioja! A Wine Bar. Between these sophisticated pouring and storing methods, and the sheer immensity of the full selection—some 800 wines—Rioja!'s dedication to the appreciation of wine is palpable.
Their tapas menu was designed with elegant pairings in mind and—much like playing "spin the bottle" at the UN—highlights flavors from around the world. Prosciutto bruschetta, stuffed dates, and a chorizo and manchego plate show off the kitchen's Mediterranean leanings. South African-style jerky, on the other hand, indicates a willingness to infuse an Old World dining tradition with New World recipes. The bartenders also keep a healthy selection of craft beers from brewers such as Bell's, Duck Rabbit, and Founders.
Solstice Kitchen owner and executive chef Ricky Mollohan takes pride in crafting creative seasonal menus while working closely with local suppliers to ensure ingredients are as fresh as possible. Start taste buds tingling with a table-side beef tartare served with parsley-caper salad, worcestershire, black pepper, red-wine mustard, and Manchester Farms quail egg ($14), before moving on to indulgent entrees such as olive-oil-seared wild salmon tamed with horseradish-black-pepper cream, wild-mushroom and goat-cheese risotto, port-wine reduction, and a salad made from friendly local herbs ($19). While Solstice boasts an expansive wine and cocktail list, guests who prefer a familiar libation are welcome to tote their own favorite potent to the restaurant's cozy yet modern dining room for a $15 corking fee, or the equivalent value in cubic zirconia. Dinner is served Monday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and Sundays from 5:30 p.m to 9 p.m.