Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sneak peek at Passion8

Passion8 Bistro officially opens Friday on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte, finally relocating after years in a small space in Fort Mill.

How small? When I stopped by for a media preview Wednesday night, chef/owner Luca Annunziata was showing off the sleek, tricked-out kitchen like a kid with a new toy truck he couldn't wait to drive.

"In Fort Mill, I had eight burners and a fryer!" One of his assistant chefs immediately chimed in: "Now we have a walk-in."

That would be a walk-in refrigerator, and Annunziata took me inside to see. He's a big farmer's market shopper -- you can spot him every Saturday morning at both the Charlotte Regional and the Matthews Community markets -- but he could never buy in quantity because he didn't have room to store anything. So he has already filled it with local meat and produce, although there were a few very understandable exceptions: Benton's Country Ham from Tennessee and pristine edible flowers from Chef's Garden in Ohio.
Luca Annunziata (right) couldn't wait to show off his new kitchen

How's the restaurant space? Warm and comfortable, with a lot of stone, wood and natural fabrics in earth tones. There's a mezzanine upstairs that eventually will be used for private event (it's not finished yet) and there's a special room by the kitchen with a chef's table. It seats 8, and will feature small plates in seven ($85) or 12 ($145) course menus.

The regular menu will focus on what Annunziata calls "modernist cuisine with an emphasis on local."

"That will never change. We're working with more farmers than ever."

The official menu wasn't available to peruse Wednesday night, but one of the passed hors d'ouvres was an example: Truffle biscotti topped with a mousse-like foie gras butter and muscadine foam (below).

The new website hadn't changed over by Thursday morning, but the restaurant opens for dinner Friday night. Check back on or follow Passion8 on Facebook to keep up.

And could I add one more note of support? I try to avoid climbing on a soapbox, but I think this needs to be said:

Elizabeth Avenue between Hawthorne and Charlottetown has shaped up into a terrific food corridor, with Carpe Diem, Customshop, Earl's Grocery, Viva Chicken and Cafe Malay, among others. The business owners have done it while enduring endless construction, first on the streetcar tracks and then, before the paving dust had settled, by a huge road project in front of Presbyterian Hospital. And they've still created a community of locally owned food businesses in all price ranges.

Cheers to them for making it through -- and now it's time for food lovers in Charlotte to pay them back. There's plenty of parking in the free lot across the street and the lots behind several businesses, and it's easy to access despite the detour signs.

Visit, please, and give them support for having the faith to build something lovely for the city.

CORRECTION: I'm sorry, I meant Cuisine Malaya, of course. My apologies.