Food for thought

If you want to combine delicious food with adventurous travel at a tremendous value, all within a day’s drive from south Charlotte, you need to be thinking of a vacation on a cruise.

AZN is located at 4620 Piedmont Row Drive. Find more at www.aznrestaurant.com/charlotte.

AZN is located at 4620 Piedmont Row Drive. Find more at www.aznrestaurant.com/charlotte.

Having recently returned from our third Carnival cruise in the last four years, it’s easy to understand why each ship has been practically sold out. At a cost of $50 to $100 per day per person, depending upon your cabin, you can absolutely have the week of your life. Considering the fact that all the food you care to eat is included, and the food is very good, you simply can’t beat the value. This time my wife and I took a seven-day excursion. We left the day before and enjoyed an evening in Daytona Beach, Fla., dining on local seafood. The ship itself was like a dream. From the 11-deck atrium, multiple pools, hot tubs, nightclubs and shows, to the numerous dining venues, 24-hour room service and ports of call – it’s all included. As much as I enjoyed Belize, Cozumel, Roatan and Costa Maya, I looked forward each day to returning to the Scarlet room each evening for a great dining experience.

The menu changed nightly, and it was a challenge to choose an appetizer, a salad, an entrée and eventually a dessert (you can, as we sometimes did, order more than one app. or dessert. I know, very decadent). And the quality and freshness, combined with excellent execution, made most every bite delectable.

But that was not what enchanted me most. What brought me so much delightful and memorable enjoyment each evening was the staff. Note to local managers and servers – please take this to heart. The entire dining room staff, to a person, every time, afforded every guest the highest, most personably professional, often humorous, dedicated service to my deepest appreciation. They were polite, friendly, supportive, informative, well groomed and attired – and always, always with a smile. The wait staff’s execution was flawless because the training is complete and ongoing.

And the maître’ d inspects what he expects. I observed him not just checking on tables. That’s easy. He would stand strategically to listen and hear exactly how the staff was communicating with the guests, and would occasionally speak to the server away from the table. That’s how you elevate your staff to this level.

It wasn’t until we returned home and had breakfast the next day in a relatively new south Charlotte eatery (more on that in an upcoming Culinary Corner review) that I realized how much I appreciated the cruise staff.  Our server greeted us with “… sorry you’ve been waiting; they sat me five tables,” and the abbreviated menu description ended with “… or you can get something boring like the …” Little did she know, that was exactly what I was about to order – sorry to be so boring.

Managers, I beg you – listen to your staff as they speak to guests! Wait staff, I implore you: think about each new guest and the words you choose, and commit to offering the best experience of which you are capable, just as you would want. It’s not rocket science, though one might think so given the lack of consistently great service I experience time and again in south Charlotte and beyond. Suffice it to say, I cannot wait to take another cruise.

AZN; beyond A-OK! – As AZN approaches its one-year anniversary, I have been deliciously impressed by the dining experiences I have enjoyed there. In advance of next month’s review, please feel free to stop in and check out their newest delicacies. New special offers, as well as updated lunch and lounge offerings, are on the menu at South Park’s AZN Azian Cuizine on Piedmont Row Drive.

For guests dining in the restaurant, AZN now offers half-priced wine on select bottles every Monday, all-you-can-eat sushi Thursdays and Fridays at lunch (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) for $15.99 per person on select items and half-priced sushi on select items Sundays from 4 p.m. until closing. The new lunch menu offers unique selections, as in the Korean Bibimbap Burger – a Wagyu Korean-style patty with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, sautéed carrots and fried egg on a pretzel bun.

AZN will celebrate its first anniversary by hosting a chef’s dinner on Oct. 5, a Saturday, with guest Jeem “Jim” Han Lock, founding chef of Seattle’s renowned Wild Ginger and the 1997 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Pacific Northwest/Hawaii. AZN chef Alex Chiu and Sonny Seng, chef of AZN’s sister restaurant Pacific Rim Bistro of Atlanta, will join Lock in the kitchen. Cost of the five-course dinner is $55 per person, with an optional additional wine and sake pairing.  Reservations are required at 980-819-9189. AZN also is kicking off a new Sunday Brunch the following day, Oct. 6, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will be an extensive multi-station selection that includes noodle dishes, salads, sushi, entrees and more, as well as a dim sum cart making the rounds. The brunch is $22.95 per person.  Learn more at www.aznrestaurant.com/charlotte.

Culinary Correspondence

Harry was kind enough to take the time to send the following email – “I recently read your review of the Bradshaw Social House. Paid it a visit to look it over yesterday afternoon for a glass of wine. It brought to mind an idea  I am suggesting you and/or your editor might want to consider. Invite readers to comment on their visits to the restaurants you always write so glowingly about. To paraphrase Will Rogers, who said, ‘I never met a man I didn’t like,’ you never met a restaurant you didn’t like. I know that everyone (restaurants included) deserve a second a chance, but in this fickle age with so many restaurants to choose from, diners quickly move on and never look back, as it will be with me and BSH. I waited a full three to four minutes to be served while three employees chatted at the end of the bar ignoring me. The server, when she did arrive, was not particularly friendly, and my inquiries about the restaurant were answered in a nonplus way. For example, I asked what was in this location before BSH. The answer? ‘A dirt floor.’ Nothing more. Seems to me when I told her I was a new customer having read about the place in your paper, staff should be prepared with a more informative response.  I found the place, unlike you, cold and uninviting. The bar stools certainly don’t encourage you to stick around very long… and I didn’t.”

Harry has received a copy of the BT’s Burgerjoint review (One-Star rating in July) in response to the Will Rogers comment. And yes, although the bar stools may last forever; they just aren’t comfortable. As for the staff not paying attention, that’s very disappointing. And a more appropriate response may have been “this space has been vacant since Robinson Farm opened in …”  And to the bartender – dirt and food and drink are a bad mix, even in a sentence. Please read the Food for Thought above. Also, to comment about a review online, go to www.thecharlotteweekly.com and click the Culinary section.

I had mentioned Rotelli’s Pizza & Pasta as an example of restaurants that have closed recently, even as new ones open weekly in south Charlotte. Dave shares the following email – “In case you haven’t already been bombarded with emails re: the closure of Rotelli’s, you should check-in with them on their Facebook website: www.facebook.com/pages/Rotelli-Pizza-and-Pasta/71206767066. The owners are in the process of relocating…. still staying in the south Charlotte area. And the only economic factors affecting their closure was the opportunity to reopen in a larger, more-affordable location. So, this is actually good news for those of us who frequent Rotelli’s.”

I thank Dave for his email as it was the only one I received regarding Rotelli’s. I had checked the Facebook page and read the closing-the-doors message dated June 23. The page has an August entry that said they are still looking for a new location. The obvious question is why close if you’re busy, as you look to relocate? I wish them well and will let you know if they reopen, even as more new restaurants continue to debut in the area.

Questions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings and food news, email culinary@thecharlotteweekly.com.

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