CRW Day 6: Swimming Upstream

Day 6:  Upstream

Thursday night we dined at Upstream, the flagship restaurant of the impressive Charlotte-based Harper’s Restaurant Group, which also includes sister concepts Arpa, Mimosa, Zink, M5, Harper’s, Harper’s ToGoGo, and Blue Ribbon BBQ. These folks know what they’re doing and hold a leadership position as the class-of-the-field on the local restaurant scene.

Upscale Upstream resides in SouthPark’s slightly uppity Phillips Place complex swarming with conspicuously upper-class clientele. Not to be upstaged, we walked right in, claimed our reservations and were seated immediately at a cozy two-top with upholstered chairs.

(Okay, Bruce just had to get that out of his system.)

The restaurant group’s celebrated Executive Chef Tom Condron has created a menu with a broad but approachable variety of the freshest possible seafood. Accolades abound:  just after the restaurant opened in 2000, Esquire magazine food maven John Mariani named Upstream one of the best new restaurants in the U.S.  Zagat subsequently declared Upstream Charlotte's most popular restaurant. With a Dirona designation and a Wine Spectator “Best Wine List” award, Upstream is a sought-after dining destination, and even more so during CRW, holding the #2 spot among non-chain eateries for reservations this week.  

Upstream’s décor is designed to give diners an underwater experience in a well-appointed main
dining room with faux coral- and shell-encrusted columns; the tray ceiling even holds the suggestion of a pool complete with oversized art glass leaves floating on it. The relatively new patio adds to the chicness, and the bar is sizable, including a popular sushi bar in one corner. There are also a couple of rooms (one large, one small) for private dining.

The place was packed, mostly with Charlotte Restaurant Week customers, it appeared. We dove right in, with Jill ordering the Lobster Bisque with brandy and crème fraiche for her first course and the Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut with Silver Queen corn risotto, trumpet royale mushrooms, and white truffle vinaigrette for an entrée.

Bruce started with the Hawaiian Ahi Tuna “Tataki,” with shiso, summer radishes, micro cilantro and ponzu; and chose the entrée of beautifully flavored Miso-Marinated Wild Scottish Salmon with baby bok choy, steamed jasmine rice, organic shitake mushrooms, and local peach-ginger sauce.

We complemented the dinner with a Twelve Pinot Noir from Oregon (okay, so we really like these) and some excellent fresh-baked bread with olive oil for dipping. Our shared dessert was a fun Japanese Bento Box with mochi ice cream, strawberry-rhubarb crisp, mini chocolate cakes with gooey centers, and diced wood-roasted local peach.

All around, it was a spread of great variety, profound flavors, and impeccable quality.  It’s nice when a restaurant lives up to its hype.

We did encounter a few familiar faces, including Harper’s Restaurant Group president and owner Tom Sasser, on his feet and watching over the action; and Harper’s Group partner Hugh Bigham, enjoying a CRW meal. We also ran into Kay and Mark (Mr. Midas Touch) Ethridge, who shared his latest success story with us, and big news it is — but he’ll probably want to break the story in one of the publications he once helped to run, The Charlotte Observer or The Charlotte Business Journal [ed. note: Hey, what about Charlotte magazine? I swear, give a couple a blog, and you still get no respect…]

This Charlotte restaurant stalwart could easily be the poster child for the contemporary fine dining scene in our little metropolis. It’s upscale, up-to-date, uplifted, uppermost, up-tempo, and uproariously good.

Bruce and Jill Hensley are partners in the firm Hensley/Fontana. They launched the first Charlotte Restaurant Week, which runs through July 18. They're dining out each night and will be blogging about their experiences for Read past entries here.

Categories: The Buzz, Trade & Tryon