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Time to ring in the new

Attitudes, that is — put some adventure in your dining for 2005

HELEN SCHWAB – Charlotte Observer Restaurant Writer

Fitness, schmitness: If you’re reviewing resolutions for 2005, do something good and luxuriant. Commit yourself to trying new foods, expanding your dining horizons, getting into a few neighborhoods you don’t usually go. Diversify. Suspend judgment. Appreciate.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Pull up a plate of something you tried 10 years ago, didn’t like and haven’t eaten since.

I haven’t got many personal examples — occupational hazard — but in doing a sushi story a few months back, I retried octopus nigiri-zushi and — surprise! — liked it. It happened to be at Nikko (1300 South Blvd.), which happens to be opening a second location the third or fourth week of this month. This will be at 15105 John J. Delaney Drive at Ballantyne Commons East (formerly Saigon Cafe), seating about 110, and will offer a menu nearly the same at the Dilworth original. (704) 341-5550.

2. Have some foie gras, while you still can.

The stuff’s been banned in California. OK, OK, technically, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s given the industry until 2012 to come up with a more humane way to produce it, and how can you be against more humanity? But as a big fan of the nightly “chef’s mood” foie gras special at Sonoma, I was wondering what to do, now that owner Pierre Bader’s doing a downtown changeup: Sonoma has become Sonoma Kitchen, while a new Sonoma is slated to open at Founders Hall the last week of January or first of February. (Yes, you old-timers who remember the first one, on Providence Road, it is the fourth location for the name.) Executive chef Tim Groody puts our minds at ease: Though it’s now off the menu at Sonoma Kitchen (which offers a less expensive lineup and lots more appetizers), “we’ll always have it in-house for people who want it — especially until Sonoma opens.” And, he notes, it may return to the menu eventually. The new Sonoma, meanwhile, will offer food similar to the old’s, geared slightly more toward theater-goers (as in things that be prepared with alacrity) and maintaining an upscale feel.

3. Order something you’ve never had before that you think you won’t like.

(Hint: Go with an adventurous friend willing to trade you for it, in case you really don’t like it.) This aligns with the fashion rule that you should periodically try on clothes you don’t think of as “you” — and the culinary rule that you need to offer kids a new food 10 times before they’ll actually eat it. (Unfortunately, the only things that worked that way with my children are whole blue crabs and really good coffee.)

If you’ve never liked spicy food, for instance, take a deep breath and sample a Thai curry (specify “just a little spicy”) — and have a big bowl of rice nearby, and a beer. (Use the rice first, though). If you’re bean-phobic, try lentils first. Find Ethiopian eerie? Start with a side of collards. Soon you’ll feel at home — somewhere pretty far from yours.

4. Spend a few moments with food bloggers (you know, folks who do a Web log — “blog” — an online sort of diary/journal).

I like professional stuff (like www.gastropoda.com) but I love more personal sites like http://chezpim.typepad.com/ or chocolateandzucchini.com, and www.afullbelly.com, which posts links to useful stories such as why almost everything tastes like chicken. I especially cherish ones with lots of photos, like www.amateurgourmet.com or http://fatman-seoul.blogspot.com. (I like a few industry ones, too, though they tend to the profane.) For a good jumping-off list, check out www.accidentalhedonist.com’s 2004 Food Blog Awards.

5. Order something prepared tableside and really pay attention to the technique.

I’m partial to having fish filleted before me, but a good, simple, honest pan of crepes Suzette is tough to beat. Try those at Bentley’s on 27 (201 S. College St., the Charlotte Plaza building), and you get a pleasant running commentary, too.