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The Main Event

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2001-02-24
New American cuisine is the latest catch phase for food of the moment, the trendiest food of the "00s." New American is what "Eclectic" and "Fusion" were to the 90s and what "Nouvelle" was to the 80s. Those terms are now jaded, I mean faded, memories, but are still used by some non-hip search engines one encounters from time to time. Today's chef wants to create New American dishes; however, too often these dishes are overly ambitious. Many recently opened restaurants are prone to toppling a plate with too many elements or taking extreme taste risks. These are the places that generally elicit "huhs?" and not "ahhhs" from me. But occasionally I encounter a chef who has achieved a balance of unforced tweaks on familiar themes that is notable while achieving tastes which are sensational. Such is the case at Barrington's Restaurant. "I take everyday things that people eat and try to update them" is the way chef and owner Bruce Moffett describes his food, a statement as simple and honest as the dishes he creates. Barrington's opened last fall in Foxcroft Shopping Center off Fairview Road in the spot formerly occupied by Metropolitan Cafe. Foxcroft is a stone's throw from other heavily trafficked shopping centers Phillips Place, SouthPark, and Morrocroft. But Barrington's isn't even street side. It's tucked away in the middle, off to the left side. The interior of this intimate 42-seat restaurant hasn't changed dramatically from the previous occupant and retains the allure of the demure: muted yellow walls; linen topped, snugly fitting tables; old vines framing the viewless windows. A seven seat bar dominates the entrance and the bar's back wall is cut to expose the kitchen. A narrow, unpretentious dining area is to the rear. Manager Peggy Gibouin, a transplant from Santa Barbara, greets you with an assured, perfected welcoming manner. The room is filled with the familiar, convivial SouthPark crowd and an experienced waitstaff. It would require Harry Potter's invisibility cloak for anyone, let alone a restaurant critic, to remain anonymous in this dining room. This is the first restaurant venture for Bruce Moffett, who hails from Barrington, Rhode Island. "I thought a long time about a name, but ended up naming the restaurant after where I'm from." Moffett is also a 1995 graduate of the Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park, New York, was the Executive Chef at Metropolis Cafe in Boston's Southend, and before that was at Boston's L'Efoffier and Atlanta's Cherokee Town and Country Club. He moved to Charlotte to be closer to his family. Continued Moffett, "This opportunity came up while I was in Boston. It just seemed like it was a lot less expensive to live in Charlotte and the restaurant was a good fit, size-wise, that is." With him in the kitchen is his brother Kerry Moffett, who attended cooking school in Maryland and Larry Schriber, a fellow graduate of the CIA, in Hyde Park, New York. Barrington's isn't a restaurant which is second, third, or fourth in a series of restaurants by an owner. Nor is it a clone of an existing Charlotte restaurant or a $2 million upfit in the gotta-get-into-it shopping center where the affluent toast each other with $10 martinis. The crowd isn't the attraction at Barrington's. Nor is the space. At Barrington's, the food is the main event. And since I don't write for Entrepreneur or Architectural Digest or People, Barrington's is my kind of place. If you're like me, Moffett's deference to food should make you want to pick up the phone and make reservations. Dishes here are a layering of simple textures and tastes. Chef Moffett demonstrates a deftness with unexpected, yet appealing combinations such as catfish with smoky white beans, scallops with roasted beets, spinach with gorgonzola. Sure, the fact that he spent most of his life in New England plays a part in the food he chooses. Cranberries are stock players. Rope Prince Edward Island mussels and Maine crab are regulars. Pastas such as fresh tagliatello with proscuitto, wild mushrooms, English peas, cream and toasted sage are featured items. The menu is brief with only six entrees, one special, and four pasta dishes, but it also changes seasonally. In fact, Moffett expects to introduce a new menu soon. A brief wine list has been picked by Moffett and his staff specifically to complement his dishes. They also have a "Captain's list" which has pricier wines and changes frequently, but as Moffett notes there is no storage space for a lengthy wine list. I began my exploration with a crunchy medley of apple slices, endive, arugula, and halved walnut salad which got a hearty boost from chunks of blue cheese and a cranberry vinaigrette. Another winning dish is the sea scallop appetizer with the faint beckoning sweetness of the scallops, surrounded by segments of brightly flavored orange and inherently rich roasted beets, but offset by the piquant counterpoint of a bed of fennel. Next up were the entrees, which proved equally tasty. The complementary taste of the striped Carolina bass and the Maine rock shrimp shared a kind of elemental richness. That dish was further heightened by the interplay of mellow Israeli couscous and delectably earthy seared greens. Another thumbs up goes to the lamb entree. The lamb, whose cut was incorrectly identified by our server, rested on halved roasted sweet potatoes with a scattering of string beans and a slathering of chipotle barbecue sauce with just the right twang of heat and smoke. Desserts are dangerously good and elegantly plated. We tried an overly generous portion of pear, apple, cranberry tart with a dollop of rich caramel ice cream. Wonderful. Prices by Charlotte standards are almost a bargain. Not too far from Barrington's are restaurants serving up grilled meat for $30 and $35. Here, with two CIA-trained chefs, they're serving entrees ranging from $16 to $21; sides, such as mashed potatoes, are $6; and appetizers and salads are $6 to $9. Right now Barrington's is a convenient escape for SouthParkers and other south/southeast residents. I hope that in the ensuing months folks who prefer restaurants where the food, not the concept, is the star will flock to Barrington's, and that this restaurant will develop that same magical atmosphere of unselfconscious success that emanates from each of Chef Moffett's dishes. Barrington's Restaurant, 7822 Fairview Road in the Foxcroft Shopping Center. Hours are Sunday through Thursday 5:30pm until 10pm and Friday and Saturday until 11pm. AmEx, MC, Visa. 704-364-5755.


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