New to the uptown Charlotte scene, Sea Level NC shines with locally farmed oysters and delicious food in a wonderful atmosphere.
Last month I went to North Carolina to visit Kara and do a Greensboro food tour. Kara and I have been friends since college, and have gone through so many funtivities together. Kara is a huge proponent of my blog, and we’ve been discussing this tour for a couple of years. Our schedules finally worked out this summer for a quick 72-hour trip. Kara sent me lots of restaurant options, but I just put her charge. I usually do that when Kara is the planner, because she does it anyway!
Kara raved about Sea Level NC in Charlotte. It doesn’t take much to sell me on delicious, fresh seafood, so I had no complaints. On Tuesday morning we dropped her kids at camp, had a wonderful breakfast at Print Works Bistro in Greensboro, and made the 90-minute drive to Charlotte.
Sea Level NC opened in February in the Hearst Tower in Uptown Charlotte. We weren’t super hungry when we got to Charlotte, so our first stop was appetizers and wine at The King’s Kitchen & Bakery. Then I couldn’t find my USB cord to charge my phone. And since my phone is my camera, and a food blog without good pictures is pointless, we went on the hunt. You would think it’s easy to find a convenience store in a major city. Well, then you would be wrong. By the time we found a Walgreens and got situated, it was nearly 2PM, so our next stop was Sea Level NC.
Sea Level NC has an entrance from inside Hearst Tower, and another from the street. There is a small covered patio on the street side. Inside is not huge, but they make great use of the space. From the street side, there is a large bar along half of the right wall, plus a long high-top table for bar area dining. There is a walkway to the open kitchen just past the bar, and then a good-sized oyster bar. Guests can have a full meal at the oyster bar, like my experience at Hog Island Oyster Company in San Francisco. The main dining room is in the remaining space.
I love the openness of the space, the exposed ceilings, and the clean and modern lines.
Sea Level NC is open every day but Sunday, 11am-midnight. They do not accept reservations, but do have call-ahead seating. They also validate parking in the Hearst Tower garage.
Oysters are freshly shucked to order, and the selections change daily. During the day, the managers shuck; in the evening, official shuckers take over. The large chalkboard sign at the far end of the dining room list the oysters of the day. Sea Level NC has the only farm-to-fork oysters grown in North Carolina. Interestingly enough, Hog Island Oyster Company is one of only 3 other restaurants with a proprietary relationship to an oyster farm. Also, many of Sea Level NC’s products are harvested from local NC farms.
The full Sea Level NC menu is available all day, and includes a raw bar, appetizers, soup & salad, sandwiches, “land lovers”, today’s fresh catch (changes daily), daily features, and desserts. A recent addition to the Sea Level NC lunch menu is lunch combos at a very reasonable price. You can choose one small plate or 2 small plates, and both come with one side.
My first requirement was water, and I love the presentation of the bottle at the table
I could have easily drunk at least 3 of those myself, just to hydrate. We also had a glass of house white wine. Many times, house wine is just average, but the house blend at Sea Level NC is really delicious, light and crisp.
Of course, we began with oysters. The oysters of the day were all from the East coast, except one from Washington and one from California. We decided to go as local as we could get, with oysters from Sea Level, NC
I love watching the staff shuck the oysters. I tried it one time years ago, and failed miserably. Now, I just eat them. These oysters were fabulous.
Kara and I both opted for the pick-2 small plate combos. Kara got duck tacos, fish tacos, and greens as the side
I’m not normally a fan of bitter greens, but these were delicious. They have a nice tart bite, but its not overpowering. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are cooked in fat…there’s nothing ever wrong with that.
I got the duck tacos and pork belly stem buns, and corn fritters on the side
The corn fritters are fried to order, and are screaming hot. The fritter is light, the breading is so flavorful, and has whole corn kernels throughout. The duck tacos are fabulous. The duck is tender and juicy, and I love the combination of duck and sweet pineapple. The pork belly steam bun is wonderful. The pork belly is a thinner cut than I’ve had, but it is still very tender. The bite of the pickled vegetables is a wonderful contrast to the sweet flavor of the pork belly. Did I need to eat all the bread of the bun? Of course not. Did I let that stop me? Of course not. The bun is light and fluffy, like a pillow of delicious.
There is no question I will go back to Sea Level NC. Of course to eat more oysters, particularly at happy hour for their $1 Sea Level oyster specials. And also to try some of the other menu items.
For reviews of more restaurants in North Carolina, click on the photos below!