Immersive Tasting Menu in Charlotte, North CarolinaBy: Amber Chase
If you’ve ever attended a symphony, you’re familiar with the participatory dynamic of a living art piece: the hum of cello strings, the mysterious trill of piano keys, an abrupt clash of symbols. At counter- in Charlotte, North Carolina, a similar sensation is found through their elaborate 10- to 14-course tasting menus. Conducted by chef and founder Sam Hart, counter- began as an in-home dinner series that grew into an intimate and exclusive dining experience with evocative storylines ranging from a Clue-themed murder mystery to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Their first course is served in the entryway, paired with a choice of house bubbles, wine, tea, or house sake. This course is set to prime guests for what is to come, mimicking a standing-room lobby prior to entering a performance. Following the first course, guests are led to the dining room, an 18-seat concrete counter angling around the centerpiece: the live kitchen.
Once seated, guests are guided through pairing options. For wine, choose from the global pairing curated by counter-’s sommeliers, the “absurd pairing” featuring rare and bizarre bottles, or the 50-50 option allowing a balance of each. Holding the same intention and allure as the wine options, their nonalcoholic pairing features sparkling teas, kombuchas, spritzes, and infusions that are all created in-house. Additionally, counter- offers both caviar and truffle upgrades; in Hart’s words, “These are ways to amplify the meal; the experience will be incredible either way.” However, with caviar imported from Holland and truffles arriving just before consumption, you won’t regret going all in.
The storyline unfolds as you dine through each course, dabbling in elements of mystery, intrigue, and emotion. Each dish is a presentation, with backstories provided by Hart accentuating the inspiration behind each ingredient and its place in the overarching theme. As a dish is plated, a musical score accompanies its climactic entrance. Notably, these can range from complex medieval pieces to ’80s favorites like Tina Turner’s “The Best”. Whether it’s tortellini with duck confit layered with truffles or venison with golden beets and house-fermented berries, each dish is a living art piece, plated with precision and presented flawlessly.
The ethos at counter- is to provide an immersive, sensory experience that radiates emotion through art. Yet more than that, counter- strives to be a space that is revolutionizing the restaurant industry. By incorporating sustainable practices, curating high-caliber ingredients, and serving the surrounding food desert, they form their service around intentional community engagement. They also donate a portion of sales to organizations like The Relatives and Time Out Youth and emphasize awareness for mental health and LGBTQ+ rights. Additionally, counter- operates under a shared-ownership model between Hart and their team, a structure that allows their vision to continually revitalize and expand.
From the cinematic dishes to the intricacies of the storyline, the experience entrances guests for the full three hours at counter-. Yet, undoubtedly, the most notable part of dining at counter- is the raw emotion and creativity that Hart infuses into each service.
Menus will change quarterly and will not include previews.
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