Reviews

Here are some recent reviews of Carpe Diem in its new location. The reviews offer further insight into the appeal of our new location and the caliber of service and cusine Carpe Diem delivers. Links to the web source of these reviews are included where available.

Charlotte Agenda – The Best and Most Famous Meal in Charlotte

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Zagat’s America’s Top Restaurants

This unique Elizabeth jewel is all about beauty, from the gorgeous art nouveau decor to the artful, imaginative and consistently amazing New American fare, including tasty vegetarian options (hard-to-find in Charlotte); professional, personable servers and a well-thought-out wine list are two more reasons why the popularity of this institution is well-deserved.

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Carpe Diem

One of the first restaurants to serve contemporary cuisine in Charlotte continues to reinvent itself. The newest version boasts a gorgeous art nourveau interior with a large wine bar area and intimate dining room. Dishes here are simple yet innovative and always served with style.

15 Best Restaurants

By Richard Thurmond First off, this is simply a gorgeous restaurant. The art nouveau interior is designed to evoke a classic Paris metro stop, and it works beautifully. It’s a perfect motif, because this really is a classic bistro– great food, strong flavors, simply presented, and served in comfortable surroundings. The cuisine isn’t French, not with fried chicken and spinach over gravy as a signature dish, but it is some of the best food in town. The menu shifts with the seasons, but we love the delicate pistachio-crusted trout, served with a pineapple beurre blanc, and the shrimp and chicken arepas, which burst with rustic and spicy flavors. To top it off, the dessert list goes on and on–all are house–made daily and wonderful.

Carpe Diem Restaurant and Lounge

A scrappy restaurant that has survived two moves, Carpe Diem remains a favorite among Charlotteans. The new grown-up digs look expensive, bedecked in ornate woodwork, ornamental metal, and lots of windows. Likewise, the food is fabulous. Local friends implored me to order only the specials, advice I ignored. Here’s a tip: Order the specials. Take, for example, the grilled tenderloin filet topped with blue crab-and-caper sauce and a wasabi-Japanese breadcrumb crust. It sounds like two entrées collided in the kitchen, but the result is divine. Another strong special was a fancy-sounding chorizo soup (chorizo is a highly seasoned Spanish sausage) that actually tasted like a more flavorful version of pork and beans–perfect on a chilly night. One regular-menu item must be ordered: the warm goat cheese salad. Wine-poached red onions and an apricot-jalapeño chile vinaigrette may make for the best salad in town.

By Morgan Murphy

15 Best Restaurants

By Laurie Prince and Richard Thurmond

Put simply, these are the best restaurants in the city, as decided by us. They are consistent, creative, have high standards, offer an excellent dining experience,and are chef-driven…

My memory of visit number one to Carpe Diem consists of a few vivid snapshots, like a movie flashback shot MTV-style. It was senior year of college, and my parents were buying. Four of us, moms and dads in tow, made the half-hour trek into downtown Charlotte, then virgin territory for me.

I remember a vacant lot next to Carpe Diem’s original location. White lights were strung in the trees of Tryon Street. Inside, it was boisterous and urban and slightlydark. The menu boasted items I had never heard of and now don’t remember. And I thought, now this is a big-city restaurant. And I liked it.

Since, I’ve eaten in dozens of big-city restaurants, and Carpe Diem has moved twice. It still stands out, and each new visit creates more vivid snapshots. A night spent drinking wine in the bar area, reminiscent of a Paris metro stop. A meal of simple pistachio-crusted trout slightly tarted up by a pineapple beurre blanc in the warm and cozy dining room. That dining room, always filled with a beguiling mix of Euro-hipsters, staid businesspeople, and traditional Myers Parkies. A table of twelve passing dishes around for all to try, staying late into the night.

A big-city restaurant, still. And still one of the best.

Ideal Meal: Warm goat cheese salad ($7.50), crab cakes with Moroccan jam and lime crème fraiche ($9.50), buttermilk fried chicken ($16.50), and, please,the chocolate ganache ($6.50).

Carpe Diem seizes its new day Food, decor and service impress at restaurant’s latest incarnation

HELEN SCHWAB Restaurant Writer

“Carpediem,” Horatio wrote in the first century — “quamminimum credula postero.”

If you know the second half of the quote, you can betterappreciate not only the poet/philosopher’s work, but the Charlotte restaurant named for its beginning: Seize the day — put as little trust as possible in tomorrow. And sisters Bonnie Warford and Tricia Maddrey have hadlittle enough to trust about tomorrow. The irony? They’ve had to open their restaurant three times since 1989, tossed about by a city’s growing pains — but they’ve also created one of that city’s longest running success stories.

Diners have followed as construction forced two moves: from the historic Ratcliffe Florist building to a 90-year-old building on East Trade, and then to their current spot in a 50-year-old building on Elizabeth Avenue. A bit ironic here, too, since its stock in trade is New American cooking, a friendly mix of influences and ingredients.

The current look is the most ornate to date — by virtue of elaborate woodwork that curves up the dining room’s mottled walls and across its ceiling, with lighting wrapped around it like vines. Window and door trim and shapes are equally striking. Billy Patete of Boulevard Films designed the place and had his carpenters build everything, said Maddrey: “We told him to do whatever he wanted and crossed our fingers.” They went for a Paris metro look, sliding into a little Art Nouveau — and got it.

Everything else is as simple and spare as Diems of old. Photographs of prior site details dot the walls. The floor’s marble. A lounge to the left offers sociable sit-down furniture and a shapely bar beneath a decorative curve of creamy glass panes.

Servers in black scurry among the areas, frequently aiding each other, each as painstaking with colleagues’ diners as with their own. Even the person pulling espressos delivers, and asks if there’s anything else you need. Simple. Easy. Rare.

So’s the attention to vegetarians in every course. Rare, too, is chef John Blumreich’s menu, with a few items dating back to ’89 without really sounding like it (although “New American” is a pretty broad playing field): hazelnut-crusted discs of goat cheese over greens with apricot-jalapeno vinaigrette, for instance, and chocolate ganache torte.

We had a lovely Asian-inspired carpaccio: paper-thin, half-dollar-sized rounds of beef lapped over each other’s peppered edges, with crisp triangles of wonton skin and a gentle wasabi cream, and a mound of sesame-tinged shredded seaweed.

Smoked trout with sweet corn relish is a great beginner (more relish, please!), while shrimp fried in jackets of kataifi (phyllo pastry that looks like shredded wheat) are fun, too. The good cheese plate can serve as first or last course, and the little pizza could serve as a meal.

As for entrees, shrimp and chicken arepas are fat, kernel-studded corn cakes topped with four juicy shellfish and hunks of chicken, drizzled with cilantro pesto and sided by a coarse salsa with avocado. Excellent, and — as our server had pointed out, a marvelous contrast of textures.

Trout fillets, crusted with pistachio, proved appropriately delicate; accompanying beets and carrots were thinly sliced but still too crunchy to cut. Sweet potato ravioli were a little washed-out in flavor, though the crisp sage leaves were a wonderful touch. The daily filet mignon, on one visit, produced miso-marinated meat with a wasabi bearnaise and red pepper coulis, with spaghetti squash and thin green beans on the side. Lush. The menu shifts a bit — a couple of appetizers and entrees — every two or three weeks.

Espresso drinks tend to the bitter, so opt instead for one of the handsome desserts, perhaps that classic ganache or a light version of crème brulée or a berry sort of cobbler with ice cream. I’ve liked Carpe Diem in each of its incarnations. So maybe we temper Horatio with another poet, Edmund Spenser — “all that moveth doth in Change delight” — and quit worrying about tomorrow.

Seize the Space Popular restaurant settles in Elizabeth BY TRICIA CHILDRESS

Outwit, outplay, outlast. The restaurant business is the ultimate survivor game with a notorious failure rate of 95 percent. Recently two local restaurateurs have overcome a series of plot twists that make some reality shows look wimpy by contrast.

“We’ve learned our lessons,” said Bonnie Warford, co-owner of Carpe Diem Restaurant. “Don’t move into an historic building next to a parking lot.”

Not only has her restaurant survived two moves, but it has prospered. The Carpe Diem saga began in September 1989 when sisters Warford and Tricia Maddrey opened the 53-seat restaurant in the historic Ratcliffe Florist building on South Tryon. Fourteen years ago, downtown streets were deserted by 6pm. There was no Blumenthal, BofA tower, bars. Folks didn’t eat dinner downtown unless they went to a private club or Slug’s at the top of a mid-rise office building. When folks did go out to eat, goat cheese salad and wines by the glass would not have been among the popular offerings. Maddrey and Warford helped to change some of that.

Warford came to Charlotte from Miami to attend Queens University (then Queens College). Eventually she became manager of Cafe Society, a small restaurant on Selwyn Avenue. Then she encouraged Maddrey to join her in Charlotte. Maddrey became a sous chef at the same restaurant. An opportunity arose in the Ratcliffe space after a natural foods restaurant failed. Maddrey and Warford seized the chance to open a restaurant featuring “New American” cuisine where people could “just enjoy themselves.” Warford said that the name of their restaurant was inspired by a philosophy of enjoying life and living life to the fullest.

Warford managed the front of the house, Maddrey worked in the kitchen, primarily as pastry chef. In 1989, lunch at Carpe Diem was crowded, dinner was less so. But during the 1990s, downtown was transformed; in fact, it became popular. In 1993 the sisters opened The Moon Room, a live entertainment bar next door to the restaurant.

Business at Carpe Diem was brisk, but competitors moved downtown by the boatload. National corporations like Morton’s of Chicago and Levy Restaurants (Bistro 100) opened large establishments. Then the Ratcliffe building property owners decided to redevelop the land. Would their historic building be torn down as so many others had in downtown Charlotte? In the end the decision was made to move, not destroy, the Ratcliffe building, but Carpe Diem would move out.

Warford and Maddrey found another unique setting at 401 East Trade on the corner of Brevard. This free standing building with brick walls, oak floors, and coffered ceiling had been built at the turn of the 20th century and was the former home of a pharmacy and grocery store. The top floors had been a hotel. The site underwent a remarkable transformation. Carpe Diem reopened in 2000. Back were the warm goat cheese salad and the comfortable atmosphere.

Then it was deja vu all over again. That building, and the others on that block, was in the way of the new arena, so it was slated to be demolished. And Carpe Diem was on the move again.

Down the street, Grubb Properties Inc. had bought property along the neglected portion of Elizabeth Avenue between Presbyterian Hospital and Central Piedmont Community College. The company planned a $240 million revitalization project that included 250,000 square-feet of retail, 340,000 square-feet of office, 800 units of residential, 150 hotel rooms, and 3,000 parking deck spaces. Grubb asked the sisters to relocate to Elizabeth. Maddrey said, “This is as close as we can get to downtown without being downtown and, besides, the building is already part of a planned development. We’ll be the first ones here, too.”

Maddrey and Warford have produced an art nouveau/Montmarte cafe. Said Maddrey, “We wanted to create a space that Charlotte could get excited about.” They hired Billy Pataete, a professional set designer for Boulevard Films, and architects Laughing Dog Studio for the interior design.

A series of arched wooden doors open the 60-seat bar area out to Elizabeth Avenue. Other design features include faux-finished walls, vaulted ceilings, subway tiles and hammered copper fixtures in the bathroom, writhing metal plant forms, and a kitchen, their largest yet, filled with new equipment.

Carpe Diem reopened on October 17. “We have loyal customers and we are thankful for that,” noted Maddrey. She also said that prices would remain the same. She continued, “We have been very successful in that price point. Even though it (the restaurant) may look upscale, we want people to know this is a casual and friendly place. We want people to know that we want them. That’s always been our main focus.”

Entrees range from $12.50 for shrimp and chicken arepas with cilantro pesto, chipotle coulis and avocado-onion salsa to $22 for a rib-eye steak with chipotle creamed leeks.

Chef John Blumreich, a graduate of the New England Culinary School, has been with Carpe Diem for three years. Maddrey still creates the desserts. The menu offers many new items and some long-time favorites: warm goat cheese salad; buttermilk fried chicken over greens; pistachio crusted pan-seared trout; and pork tenderloin with onion, prosciutto, haricot vert, and artichokes. Some dishes have morphed with time: the falafels contain more vegetables now and are served with curry mayonnaise. Specials will be offered every night as well.

No decision has been made whether to open for lunch. For now Maddrey and Warford just want folks to know where they are and that they’ve reopened. Again. Hopefully, three times will be the charm.

Carpe Diem’s triumphant return by Richard Thurmond

We’re not sure how Bonnie Warford andTricia Maddrey pull it off, but every time their restaurant,Carpe Diem, is forced to move, it ends up better. The original was a downtown pioneer before it was forced to vacate its South Tryon location in favor of the new Ratcliffe condominium building. The second iteration was over by the transportation center. Version 3.0 is on Elizabeth Avenue, not far from Presbyterian Hospital.

This time, Warford and Maddrey went for a hip, elegant sort of Parisian look on the inside, with a large wine bar out front backed by one of the coolest wine racks you’ll ever see. The dining room is lit by sconces and has windows to the street. The result is one of Charlotte’s signature restaurant interiors.

The crowd at Carpe Diem has always been a fun mix of stylish urbanites, regular folks, and out-of-towners. That hasn’t changed. Neither has the menu, which was one of the firstcontemporary American menus in town and still one of the best. And, it’s still one of the best priced, with the majorityof entrZ¹es below $20. We’re just glad it’s back.