Picture wandering the cobblestone streets of Venice in search of dinner. You wander from one cicchetti to another, eating bite-sized food served in places resembling small bars. With it you can enjoy a small amount of wine served in a glass the equivalent of a shot glass. This is the Italian equivalent of Spanish tapas, and restaurateur Pierre Bader of Sonoma Restaurant Group is bringing the concept to Uptown Charlotte.
Cicchetti will open in June at 100 N. Tryon St., in the space that once housed Badar’s restaurant, City Smoke.
Hundreds of years ago, vineyards and wineries would bring wine to Venetian squares, selling their new harvest wines in order to make money to bottle the rest of the stash. People would get hungry after drinking, so cicchettis started popping up in Venetian squares to feed hungry drinkers, Badar said. “Charlotte doesn’t have any place like that, so I thought we could give it a shot,” he said.
Some of the dishes will be devoured in one bite, eaten with a toothpick. With portion sizes so small, that leaves a lot of room for variety in ordering. “You can go crazy a little bit,” Badar said.
This sharing of small plates lends to a social setting, he said. “Sit down and have a glass or a bottle of wine and eat little bites until you think you can’t take it anymore.”
Menu items include Carpaccio, eggplant, cheese and charcuterie, even a build-your-own bruschetta bar, with spreads including arugula pesto, cannellini bean puree, lemon-roasted eggplant, and roasted red pepper Parmigiano. Bruschetta bar toppings will include fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, goat cheese, olives, fresh herbs, grilled shrimp and porchetta.
A full bar will offer wine by the glass or bottle, a variety of beers on tap, or craft cocktails curated by local mixologist Bob Peters.
Cicchetti will also have a retail wine shop, with wines sold by the bottle or the case — and delivery will be offered.
The interior will feature a modern interpretation of a bacaro, a traditional Venetian bar.
In this ever-changing city full of millennials who use dining out as a social activity, his new concept will be a lot more popular, Badar said. City Smoke, his barbecue restaurant for the past seven years, didn’t have the same longevity. “I didn’t see any growth in the barbecue business. Everyone — and their mom and dad — think they have the recipe for barbecue. I tried to stay away from that debate as much as I could.”
He tried introducing other items, including rotisserie lamb and pork racks at City Smoke, but to no avail. “Once you are labeled as a barbecue restaurant, you can’t do much else.”
Bader has a 30-year local restaurant legacy to back up his new concept, too. His roster includes Monticello in the Dunhill Hotel, Sonoma, Arpa Tapas, Town (later Pie Town), Press Wine & Food, City Smoke, and Aria Tuscan Grill. Monticello opened under Bader’s direction in 1991 as the first restaurant in Charlotte dedicated to locally sourced foods, he said.
Cicchetti will seat 81 customers at cocktail tables with chairs, settees, and banquettes, with room for 17 at the bar. Expect old-world Italian style mixed with modern elements. The restaurant will be open Monday through Saturday, mid-afternoon to late night.