People often save a fine dining restaurant experience to celebrate an occasion: birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, promotions or a myriad of other life moments worth dropping a few hundred dollars on wine, food and an elegant dining experience.
While I’m all about celebrating important life moments with food, I’m a big believer that you don’t have to save a fancy restaurant for a special occasion.
I think Tom Haverford put it best: “Treat yo ‘self.”
So with two days to spare on our expiring Groupon, we spent three and a half hours at a cozy table in a Victorian mansion in the 4th Ward, tucked into five courses of expertly prepared food and a bottle of delicious, robust red wine, recommended by Wes, the wine steward.
(Don’t worry, the Groupon is still available for those who need the extra push to make a reservation at The McNinch House, like we did.)
The McNinch House is a longstanding, award-winning stalwart on the ever-growing and changing Charlotte restaurant scene. For the last 22 years, The McNinch House has been taking guests on multi-coursed culinary journeys, with a side of elegance, romance, carefully picked wine pairings and Southern hospitality.
The key word is experience. An evening at The McNinch House is not just dinner. It starts when you cross the threshold of the purple, Queen Anne-style Victorian home. Gone is the hustle and bustle of Uptown, the traffic, the construction on the sky-rise going in across the street.
You’re ushered from the small foyer, showcasing the restaurant’s numerous awards and accolades and a small guest book that owner Ellen Davis loves to read on the daily (she lives upstairs), into one of the intimate dining rooms, decorated with the home’s history and preservation in mind.
The elegant dining rooms showcase fine, handcrafted woodwork by the same man who designed the woodwork at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, and ornate, tiled fireplaces opening into the foyer, library and dining room (the home has 10 in all).
After you’re situated in your plush chair, the waiter comes by with a menu and soon after, wine steward Wes explains the restaurant’s wine program. That’s when the fun really starts.
The McNinch House features classically prepared dishes with French influence and a Southern twist. The menus change by the season, highlighting fresh, seasonal ingredients (including some sourced from the home’s garden), grass-fed, free-range meat, wild game and fresh caught seafood.
Diners have several prix fixe menus to choose from. The house menu offers a classic 7-course, appetizer, soup, salad, sorbet, entrée, cheese and dessert for $99 per person, or 5-course meal at $79 per person. For a true one-of-a-kind evening, leave your dining experience in the hands of the chef with the Chef’s Tasting Menu. For $125 per person, the menu and courses are chef’s choice (a little bit like a fun, foodie roulette).
Our meal was a perfectly orchestrated five courses of beautiful, delicious food; it was so good in between bites of his crab cake, AJ actually told me, “I was pissed you ordered the soup so I had to order the crab cake. I don’t normally like crab cake, but this is so delicious.”
I loved the kitchen’s attention to detail. From the edible flower adorning our poached pear salad to the deep red hue of the filet and the creaminess of the cheesecake, it was clear Chef William Parham and his team want guests to a have a culinary experience they won’t forget.
While the food was downright delectable, the highlight of our evening at The McNinch House was chatting with Anthony “Wes” Wesley. As the wine steward (which sounds totally more badass than sommelier), he plays an integral part in your experience, carefully selecting wine to perfectly pair with each course.
Throughout the evening, you can hear his voice above the hushed din of diners, as he visits each table making wine recommendations and cracking jokes. Wes has spent the past 13 years bringing wine to the forefront of The McNinch House experience.
Originally from Liberia, Wes came to Charlotte more than 25 years ago via New Jersey and New York. He became interested in wine while working at The Lamplighter, and was trained at New York’s Windows on the World Wine School. With over 21 years of experience, he really knows his stuff. But even though he’s a big deal in the wine world, he’s not snooty; instead, he made the intimidating wine list approachable and fun.
Splurge for the wine pairings ($55, $75 and $89 per person, respectively), which are carefully constructed by Wes himself to harmonize with each course. We lingered after dessert over my last few sips of red, and talked about Wes’s background and his sports allegiances, and he even taught us the tricks to folding fancy napkins like a fan.
Dinner at The McNinch House experience is definitely a Charlotte bucket list item. There’s nothing else like it in the city.
Sure, the experience may cost an arm and a leg, a huge chunk of this month’s rent, or perhaps even your first child, but I assure you, every single penny is worth it.