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What's New?

Trendy gift ideas plus restaurant news

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One of the hottest spices on the market right now is Aleppo Pepper, a rich red pepper that delivers the heat without the fire. This fruity-flavored chile, aka Capsicum Annuum or the Near East Pepper, is from the Aleppo region of Syria and is used frequently in some Indian dishes as a stand-alone spice. Greeks and other Mediterranean cuisines also use the Aleppo Pepper. This burnt-red ground chile has the heat texture many chefs like since the earthy smokiness offsets the moderate heat. Traditionally the Aleppo Pepper is used in bean soups, tomato dishes, even sprinkled on deviled eggs, but now this chile is showing up on trendy menus with such items as braised fish cheeks, as well as in cookbooks. It's available at Dean & Deluca. One of the coolest gadgets I found this year is Williams-Sonoma's remote meat thermometer. This thermometer comes in two parts: one is the thermometer/transmitter, the other a pager. A wire probe from the cooking meat is connected to the thermometer/transmitter, which can be hung on the oven door. When the roast reaches the desired internal temperature, the thermometer will beep you on your pager. The range is 100 feet, which allows cooks to rejoin their dinner guests. ($45)

Last year the Microplane Zester-Grater ($13 at Sur La Table) was the item to have in your kitchen. This year Kyocera has come out with two inexpensive mandolines that create paper-thin slices. Each unit is outfitted with a ceramic edge. The yellow slicer creates a flat slice while the green does julienne. A hand guard protects the cook's hand. Both slicers are dishwasher safe. (At Williams-Sonoma, $25)

Do you like waking up to the smell of coffee? The Cuisinart Grind and Brew automatic coffee maker will grind the beans, then brew the coffee any time you select. This model includes a gold tone commercial-style permanent filter and a charcoal water filter. What is new on this coffee maker is the insulated brushed stainless steel carafe that prevents the coffee from cooking on the hotplate as it would in a glass pots. ($150 at chefscatalog.com)

Speaking of coffee, Big Apple restaurants are now serving it with milk, rather than cream. Evidently in NYC where one can neither be too rich nor too thin, coffee drinkers have given up cream and opted for milk. Now when you order coffee, milk, which may be steamed or frothed, is brought to your table.

Some heard a rumor that Lupie's had opened a second location in Birkdale, the upscale development in Huntersville. Fortunately that rumor, which had a bizarro world feel to it, was not true. Lupie did open a second shop in Huntersville, but this one is located in an old historic drugstore building downtown at 101 Old Statesville Road. Lupie says, "I had wanted to do another location. A friend bought this building four years ago and brought me up here to see it. I fell in love with it." She adds that she waited for the right time and opened the new location on November 11. This location has the same menu, but not wine, beer, neon lights, or loud music. She continues, "We want to ease our new customers into it and hope they will accept us for who we really are." Hours are Monday through Friday 11am until 9pm and Friday and Saturday 11am until 10pm. 704-948-3959.Is it deja vu all over again? Bonnie Warford, co-owner of Carpe Diem, is waiting to see if the downtown arena happens and then for the decision to save or tear down the building their restaurant occupies on the corner of Trade and Brevard. (The building won the Loaf's Best Urban Restoration in 2000.) "They won't finish the design until they close the land deal. It may be December or January before we know." Carpe Diem, first located in the Radcliffe Flower shop on South Tryon Street pioneered the effort to get Charlotteans downtown at night. They dazzled folks with their eclectic menu. That location was closed when the Radcliffe was moved down the street. Carpe Diem closed for six months before reopening in 2000 on the corner of Trade and Brevard in a building that once housed the Carolina Pharmacy and an A&P grocery store. "We will never be closed for that length of time. If we do move it would be across the street and we would be closed no more than two weeks." Either way they plan on expanding and at least have a larger bar area. "This time any move will be a smooth transition," she says.

What else is new downtown? In Second Ward, attorney and restaurateur Stefan Latorre, who also owns Latorre's Nuevo Latin Cuisine, is opening the 200-seat Aquavina, serving upscale seafood in the Radcliffe.

Native San Franciscan Katherine Alexander of Mejia Interior Design was excited to design one of the new restaurants opening in the Hearst Tower. Her work includes the interior design of Volare in Myers Park and the transformation of a fast food place into Mi Tierra Latino Grill & Fritanga in Matthews. This time she wanted create "a look of San Francisco, LA, or New York" at the newly opened 70-seat Luce Ristorante and Bar. To complete the look of "Italian Renaissance and contemporary theme," Alexander imported limestone columns, furniture, and travertine tiles from Italy. On the walls are some of Ben Long's preliminary charcoal drawings, known as cartoons, that he made for the frescos in the TransAmerica building and St. Peter's church. "We put the one of Hugh McColl behind the bar," Alexander notes. Artisans applied the Venetian plaster, a mix of limestone and marble, to the walls and a fiberglass ceiling was imported from France. Luce is owned by restaurateur Augusto Conte, who also owns Toscana in SouthPark (and formerly, Trattoria Rustica in Dilworth and Conte's Ristorante Italiano in Myers Park).

Also to open in the Hearst Tower with an entrance from College Street is the 200-seat Blue, a restaurant featuring the foods of the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, and its neighboring cafe Panini. Alex Myrick, stepson of US Rep. Sue Myrick, is the majority owner, but has some high profile investors on board.

Do you have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant which has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? You can fax this information, at least 12 days in advance of event date, to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136.

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