Le Meridien Hotel opened one of Charlotte’s coolest rooftop bars, City Lights, and adult indoor playground-slash-lounge and pool bar Craft City Social Club last year. But you shouldn’t forget about the hotel’s original star: Evoke Restaurant.

The new-age steakhouse, led by executive chef Oscar A. La Fuente, recently brought in chef Rodrigo Velazco as chef de cuisine. Pairing these two powerhouse South American and European-influenced chefs elevates the highly-rated Evoke to rarefied space on Charlotte’s culinary landscape.

La Fuente, a Peruvian who grew up in Toronto, worked with some of Canada’s best chefs at Auberge Du Pommier, Canoe and Scaramouch. He took the Gold Medal at the 1997 Canadian Black Box Championship, a prestigious culinary competition, and has led Evoke in earning top Charlotte restaurant recognition from Charlotte Magazine, Creative Loafing, Eater and others.

Chef Velazco is native of Caracas, Venezuela and most recently served as executive chef at Charlotte’s Vivace.

La Fuente and Velazco are introducing their spring menu Friday.

“I enjoy bringing new items to the menu seasonally,” said La Fuente, whose signature crudos, fresh hand-made pastas, and USDA Prime-aged Black Angus beef maintain anchor status on his menu.

Movie-star handsome, Velazco could pass as the younger brother of Antonio Banderas. He’s more than a pretty face however — his additions to the new menu showcase nuanced flavoring and Latin-infused flair.

“I love spring cooking as it can be substantial fare, yet simple ingredients that can stand out,” said Velazco.

Here are highlights from a recent tasting:

  • Burrata and Heirloom Tomato Salad with Black Olive Vinaigrette: A delightfully fresh mozzarella globe surrounded by assorted peeled baby-heirlooms, micro-basil and fresh herbs. Offering the promise of spring bounty, the pop of flavor is accentuated by the light astringent vinaigrette and plays nicely off a crusty-cheesy crostini toast.
  • Seared Pork Belly, Sweet Potato & Fava Bean Succotash & Kumquat Gel: The tangy-sweet kumquat gel is the perfect foil for the fatty-rich smoky pork belly – indulgent in the very best way possible.
Seared Pork Belly, Sweet Potato & Fava Bean Succotash & Kumquat Gel
  • Slow Braised Rabbit and Morel Ragu with Rigatoni: Earthy umami morel mushrooms are the essence of spring and meld with the 48-hour slow-braised rabbit in a hunter-stew-like ragu. Toothy tubes of ridged pasta catch all the savory goodness of this hearty dish.
Slow Braised Rabbit and Morel Ragu with Rigatoni
  • Diver Scallop Crudo with Passionfruit and Spring Radish

    : Briny and slightly sweet, these super-fresh giant scallops are thinly sliced and fanned out like a butterfly on the plate. Topped with a tart passionfruit sauce, salty sea-bean and peppery radish discs, each element shines.

 

  • Pacific West Coast Sturgeon with Asparagus Pearls: Yes, Evoke is a steakhouse. But to underestimate its prowess with seafood is a mistake, as this dish proves. A firm, buttery medallion of sturgeon (rarely seen in Charlotte) is nicely seared and served with asparagus two-ways: A shaved raw cooling salad and in a medley with baby fennel and grapes in a glorious mushroom and stock reduction.
Pacific West Coast Sturgeon with Asparagus Pearls

Spring has sprung at Evoke. Check it out.

Photos: Michael J. Solender

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