Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

teething pains at vapiano

My quest to try interesting restaurants brought me to Vapiano in Charlotte during a recent business trip. It’s a German chain that is trying to elevate the cafeteria concept to another level as lounge / bar / eatery. On the Wednesday night that I colleague and I walked in, it was packed with young banking types – half of which ordered take-out. Vapiano’s has several restaurants, so I’m sure the concept works otherwise they’d be out of business, right? Unfortunately we went 3 days after grand opening and there’s certainly room for improvement.

You walk in and the hostess hands you a swipe card to compile your tab. There are stations set up throughout the restaurant – pizza, pasta, salad, drinks, dessert – where your card is swiped based on the order. After eating at the pay station the cashier rings up your tab total. Kinda felt like I was back in Freshman year at Hedrick Hall! The food is prepared while you stand at the counter. I mean all made to order – pick your pasta, sauce, veggies, meat and the chef cooks it front of you. The problem is that we were waiting at every station and the previously picked up food got cold.

I started out at the antipasti line partially because there was no line. I decided on bruschetta three-ways (classic tomato & basil, pesto & parmesan, and sundried tomato & olive tapenade). Then over to the pasta line where the overall wait was 15 mins. I tried to order ricotta and spinach ravioli (had not been delivered), then penne (they ran out), and finally farfalle (score!). Sauce ordered was pesto and pine nuts. While that was being made, I walked over to the bar for a strawberry basil mojito (there were no cut strawberries and bartender needed to pluck basil from herb tree). I get the fresh from the garden made to order concept, but this was a joke! Alas after a total of 30 mins total wait time, we finally sat down to eat our meal.

Bruschetta – really fresh taste overall and an above average dish. The tomatoes were vine-ripped and slightly sweet; the pesto freshly prepared and not overly oily; and bread tasted fresh baked. Given the lag time between ordering and eating, both the pesto and tapenade versions started to get soggy. With that said, I preferred the classic. However, I can’t complain at the $3.50 price.

Pasta – again, fresh pasta cooked slight al dente just the way I like it. The basil pesto (blended on the spot) and parmesan cheese (grated on the spot) were above average. This pesto flavor was balanced with the right amount of olive oil, salt, and basil. However, the overall preparation was not balanced – I had to “re-toss” the dish to combine the pasta and sauce. After that work, I was pleased with the dish and portion size. But as my colleague pointed out, you can’t really screw up such a simple pasta dish. Dish was priced at $8.50 which is reasonable.

Strawberry Basil Mojito – took about 10 mins longer to prepare than it should have. While waiting, I comment to my colleague that the bartender probably needs the ingredients list – sure enough she did. The drink was way too sweet, watered down, and tasted like an Italian soda. Not the elegant cocktail I was envisioning.

Bottom line, the concept is great, the food is above average, but this place needs operational help. My take is to be more like a Food Network show – have everything chopped and ready to go…and then go! Few other ideas are as follows. Hand out buzzers to come back rather than having people wait at the counter. Don’t roll out the entire menu at once if you’re lacking all the ingredients – ever heard of a soft opening? Teething aside, this place will do well is Charlotte based on the young banking clientele, emerging diversity scene, and trendy concept. I may even go back a few months, but for now please avoid.

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