Now Reading
A Seat on Top of the World



— July 15, 2018

A Seat on Top of the World


WHEN IT COMES TO DINING out, I often find hotel restaurants underwhelming and trending local eateries overrated, so I was skeptical about Merchant and Trade. Since opening, last fall, Merchant and Trade has fast become one of the most talked-about restaurants in Charlotte. Located on the nineteenth floor of the Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel, with sweeping views of downtown, the setting is a huge part of the appeal. I planned a date night with my partner, Jerry, to see what all the fuss was about. A sign over a side door indicates the entrance. Inside, velvet ropes mark a long, narrow vestibule where a host manages the line for the elevator— and expect a line. We rode up to the restaurant with another couple and there was a collective “wow” when the doors opened. Merchant and Trade is designed to impress: the open floor plan resembles an upscale beach club with lots of outdoor seating—think lounge furniture, rocking chairs and tables with mini fire pit tables to make the setting feel even more intimate after dark. The seats on the terrace offered the most jaw-dropping views of the skyline and Romare Bearden Park down below, but peek-a-boo views could even be had from inside the restaurant. The scene might get people to Merchant and Trade, but the food keeps them coming back.

Parmesan Black Kale Chips with Parmesan Aioli Dip
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine lemon juice and sherry vinegar in a medium-sized mixing bowl, adding the extra virgin olive oil slowly while using a whisk to emulsify. Season to taste. Transfer to a smaller container.
2. Working in batches, dress the cleaned kale with the vinaigrette. Line several sheet trays with parchment paper and wire roasting racks. Distribute kale evenly in a flat single layer.
3. Bake for 3 minutes; remove from oven. Sprinkle Parmesan generously on kale. Bake for another 3 minutes, then remove from oven and cool completely.
4. To make the dip, combine yolks, lemon, and garlic in a food processor, and blend for 30 seconds, Slowly add both ice and oil; season with salt and pepper. Add the Parmesan to the food processor, and combine.

1 tbsp lemon juice (fresh)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil salt, to taste ground black pepper, to taste 1 bunch, kale, cleaned & stems removed
Parmesan cheese, finely grated, to taste Parmesan Black Kale Chips with Parmesan Aioli Dip

Parmesan Aioli Dip
4 egg yolks
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 garlic cloves
1 cup ice
1 cup blended oil salt, to taste pepper, to taste 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Courtesy of Merchant & Trade

the night we were there, it appeared that most tables ordered several plates to share. We started with the striped beet salad: Made with fresh greens and striped beets topped with orange slices, goat cheese, and almonds, it was the perfect light bite. Even Jerry, who has a most unadventurous palate and had never eaten a beet before, was impressed with the flavor. Then, because it seemed like every server who passed our table was delivering Parmesan black kale chips to hungry (and health-conscious) diners, we ordered them, too. The paper-thin kale was prepared to perfection, light and crispy with a sprinkling of cheese. The dip served on the side was amazing, but the chips were tasty enough to stand alone. We polished them off in a flash and overheard the woman at the next table pointing at our kale chips and telling her server, “I’ll have those.” The menu features other light fare like oven-baked lamb meatballs served with cucumber tzatziki and duck confit bao buns with honey hoisin orange marmalade. Thanks to the small portions, even the more calorie-laden dishes—country ham mac and cheese with a sweet potato crust, and calzone-like “Haute pockets” filled with sirloin, roasted peppers and onions, and aged cheddar—are a little less sinful, especially if you share. Hoffman knows some of the featured ingredients might not be fan favorites. Kale, he admits, is a love-it-or-hate-it superfood. His goal is to create flavor combinations that are too enticing to pass up, explaining, “I wanted to show off some techniques and flavor combinations that people might not have seen before or wanted to try and make them accessible.” The blue crab rolls are a good example: The buttery grilled rolls are stuffed with blue crab, avocado mousse and citrus aioli, and topped with crispy shoestring potatoes. Hoffman calls the flavor combination “classic New England with a Southern twang.” Since the small plates are made to share, Hoffman believes even the most reluctant diners might be willing to experiment with unfamiliar foods when the entire table is in on the sampling. Merchant and Trade attracts a robust after-work crowd (we snagged one of the last tables despite showing up at 5:30 PM) as well as late-night nibblers who want their small plates served by the glow of the city lights, but it shouldn’t be overlooked as a place to grab a full meal. By the end of the evening, wooed by the food and the views, I started rethinking my aversion to hotel restaurants and local hotspots. Merchant and Trade just might turn into my go-to place for a night on the town.

© Copyright 2020 Discover Life Magazine. All rights reserved.