Evidently, Freddy Lee has taken the Winston-Salem restaurant scene by storm and now has his eyes on the Queen City. Bernardin’s recently opened in the Ratcliffe Flowers building on The Green and hosted a soiree on Thursday, November 3rd. As grand openings go, it was a laid back affair, but certainly unusual in that none of the food served was actually on the menu. Not yet anyway.
Freddy Lee spent the entire evening in the kitchen producing tray after tray of appetizers. Highlights included oysters on the half shell that were prepared with tuna tartar and iced wasabi; tiny puff pastries piled high with brie, a clove of garlic and dried cranberry; and some sinfully good deviled-eggs that were whipped up with smoked salmon and capers on top. There was also a nicely spiced, grilled chicken satay and Thai beef lettuce wraps. The wraps, however, were messy and difficult to enjoy because there were no plates or flatware to be seen, so guests were handling them with nothing but cocktail napkins.
The servers we encountered were all very friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive. The intimate space, with its familiar window table jutting out towards Tryon Street, has been home to a series of fine restaurants over the years. The current configuration has been brightened up, perhaps a little too much, and the paintings chosen to adorn the walls do not particularly move me. Nevertheless, Lee has certainly put his stamp on the place.
In a sense, the menu was the star of the evening. There was no grand presentation from the owner/chef (at least not during the considerable time we were there) and guests were not handed any literature to bring home or even made aware of a Web site. A single hardbound menu sat on each table and the more you studied the eclectic array of appetizers and entrees, the more you wanted to try. Everything, from the bison, seafood, and ostrich to the poultry dishes, sounded extraordinary. The beer list certainly leaves some room for improvement, but the little bar, just inside the entrance facing The Green, is well-stocked. The wine list is quite extensive; full of vintages my wife Karen knew well and others that she is eager to sample.
We shared a table that evening with Bruce and Jill Hensley, the couple who started Charlotte Restaurant Week/Queen’s Feast. They were also intrigued with what the menu had to offer and we decided to return for dinner together next week. So in the end, Freddy Lee’s laid back approach got the job done by letting his food do the all the talking for him.