The full-sensory, evocative dining experience at Counter- opens the doors to its new West Charlotte home on Wednesday, December 21, 2022. Serving 14 to 16 guests per evening, the restaurant is rolling out the next iteration of its 10- and 14-course tasting menus that have been in development for the past five years. The menu themes at Counter- change each quarter, and every course is paired with a story and a song on the evening’s playlist. This one, Modern Art, features 10 to 14 dishes inspired by modern artists, including Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Roy Lichtenstein, and Georgia O’Keefe.
“[Counter-] menus take about four to five years to fully develop because of the research we put into the story,” says chef and restaurant owner Sam Hart. Also, every component of a course is made in house, so that means time is needed to design dishes, create recipes, and start any lengthy fermentation or preservation processes.
Hart concocted the latest menu theme after seeing a collaboration between the Museum of Modern Art and Vans Shoes. He and his team of young, up-and-coming Charlotte chefs “dove into which artists at MoMA were most impactful and paired it with the modern cuisine and gastronomy’s rise.” They spent years researching each artist’s life, learning stories to influence corresponding menu item, and bring food to life in a new way. “We want people to learn something as they dine,” Hart says. “People come in and realize there’s more to it than just food.”
Some dishes are a little on the nose: The Warhol has tomato and banana, of course, after two of the pop artist’s iconic paintings. The Basquiat, made of maitake mushrooms, shemeji, onion, peas, carrots, and au poivre, is entirely vegan to showcase the vegan movement in modern gastronomy and because the artist was a vegetarian for most of his life.
Louise Bourgeois, a lesser-known artist who made spider sculptures throughout France, gets a playful approach for her dish. For the Bourgeois course, Hart plays with an arachnid texture by asking guests to place out their hand for the chef to “build” the course upon it: black ants, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and makrut lime. Like the surrounding visual art and music, Hart designs certain dishes to evoke moments of anxiety. “You can’t have a roller coaster if things stay happy all the time,” he says.
One dish, he identifies as an example, is the F— Pablo Picasso, made up of prime stripling, blackberry bordelaise, potato mosaic, and sunchokes. The course was initially inspired by the artist but ultimately evolved into an homage to his partner and mother of several children after Hart’s team came across their relationship. “We discovered some horrifying things about the artist and turned the course into a way to honor her,” Hart says. Even the menu itself is a work of art: The course names and their components are penned strategically within a print of an F. Gilot painting (see below).
The entire experience unfolds to the rhythm of the menus’ playlists, both timed precisely to span the 10 or 14 courses. The new, 2,000-square-foot dining room allows for views into the execution kitchen as the chefs cook, and is intentionally designed with a gray-and-white palette with varying textures of concrete, rock, linen, and brass. The dining room showcases rotating installations of local artwork, all selected to complement the current menu theme. This theme carries over to Counter-’s sister space, the neighboring wine bar Biblio. It similarly features the work of Charlotte artists and is a place where Hart hopes guests can continue their evening after finishing the final course.
More than anything, Hart hopes to use Counter- to help launch younger chefs’ careers. He builds his team of driven individuals with goals of opening their own space, particularly in the Queen City area. “We’re built to be an incubator for young gun chefs,” Hart says, “I want to show that a world-class restaurant CAN exist in Charlotte.”
The Latest Menu at Counter- Charlotte
- by Trisha Boyer