Hotel restaurants must tread a fine line: Develop and execute a menu varied enough to appeal to the wide-ranging tastes of the steady stream of far-off travelers while being distinct and creative enough to attract a local following.
In introducing a new chef and revamping their menu, the Ballantyne Hotel’s Gallery Restaurant masterfully succeeds in expertly walking this tightrope.
Kennardo Holder recently became executive chef at Gallery, bringing nearly 17 years of culinary experience including stints at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain and most recently at the Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester. Holder hails from Jamaica, where he began his culinary career with the Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort in Rose Hall.
Gallery’s lush space makes it one of the most attractive dining rooms in the city. Long cozy banquettes ring the dining room of tables alight with glowing candles in blown-glass. Soft, earth-tone room stylings, and large-scale modern oil-paintings and collages create a hip, Manhattan-esque vibe.
Gallery’s winter menu reflects a style Holder characterizes as modern with southern touches.
Starters like Deviled Egg and Beet Salad marry wine poached beets with familiar southern-style deviled eggs create a share-able starter and light beginning. A black-eyed pea dumpling with collard green chow chow accompanies the Petite Pork Shank appetizer, playfully twisting Southern ingredients in a contemporary way.
Diners will find Asian influences on this contemporary menu as well. The Cured Hamachi delivers buttery slices of mild Japanese Amberjack surrounded by charred orange segments, pureed edamame and toasted nori.
Entrées please a wide variety of palates, with steak lovers finding no finer cut than the bone-in-ribeye, perfectly charred with a sunny-side-up egg perched atop in homage to a cowboy-style preparation.
The bronzino, expertly filleted with crispy seasoned skin, finds a homey foil with a Southern-inspired corn-tomato-based succotash. Perfectly grilled rare tuna is served with coconut lime leaf broth, king trumpet mushroom, baby bok choy and a lovely fried nori salad.
In the mood for duck? Have it two ways here: Seared with Asian pear butter and confit in a crispy spring roll.
“My style is globally-influenced fare celebrating fresh, local ingredients,” said Holder, who noted he’ll be bringing some Caribbean flavors and influences into the upcoming spring menu. “I’m slowly introducing menu items as specials and evaluating dishes for the upcoming spring menu. One plate that will catch people’s attention is a Jerk Shrimp Rice Bowl with the classic Jamaican spices and a unique barbecue twist.”
Small details receive big attention at Gallery, from the medley of compound butters accompanying the choice of freshly baked breads and popovers (the smoked paprika has a toasty kick) to the playful amuse bouche – a basil-infused mozzarella mousse on this evening.
Only 34, Holder takes over this high-profile restaurant surrounded by a strong team, including chef de cuisine Matt Tilman and executive pastry chef Ben Kallenbach, whose desserts like the Cranberry and Brown Butter Sphere simply amaze.
Holder has taken residence in Ballantyne with his Corgi and is just beginning to get out and explore the food scene here.
“Charlotte strikes me as a city with a lot of potential,” said Holder, who added he doesn’t mind stepping back a bit from the frenetic New York City pace. “I look forward to contributing to that.”
Photos: Michael J. Solender; Courtesy of Gallery Restaurant