I was just told yesterday from someone that I respect in the biz (and by “biz” I mean the Charleston hospitality business that includes local restaurants, hotels, businesses, salons, etc) that I have a wide span of restaurants that I recommend to my guests. I’m not sure if this was meant as a dig against my skills or not; I don’t send as many people to one particular restaurant as I do to a variety of places. This ensures that my guests are getting the most personalized, tailor-made experience in Charleston as possible; however, this can leave some restaurateurs insulted that I don’t pack their place full of my guests every night. Sorry, y’all, I’m the same way with everything in my life. I don’t have 2 friends, I have a lot of friends. In addition, one thing that I’ve learned from being friendly with the better part of 300+ people every day is that it is absolutely impossible to please everyone.
Rest assured, my being told that I already have a gamut of restaurants that I recommend will absolutely not affect whether or not I try or recommend new places.
That being said, I went someplace new last night. I have a ton of gift certificates that I have been meaning to capitalize on and last night was the official kick start. I went to The Library at the Vendue Inn. To steal a picture from their website, this was the room in which we sat last night:
Although I was with dear Patty and Mike last night, I will admit that their atmosphere is adorable and romantic. It is all the things that other “upscale” places aspire to be but many fall short. Two beautiful crystal chandeliers adorn their front room, wrapped with soothing colors like deep blue-green upholstery and medium gray walls. Truly, a gorgeous front room. We were actually quite impressed when we first walked in, a pleasant surprise from the chilly evening we had last night. Greeted by our server (who’s name escapes me), we were seated in an adorable booth off to the right side of the restaurant. Cozy once we were settled but every time one of us had to get up, the whole table had to be rearranged. Which was perfectly excusable because it was so adorable.
So enough on the atmosphere, let’s dish about the food! Click on the image below for the full-sized dinner menu.
We were greeted with a salmon amuse bouche to start off.
UGH, sorry about the crappy picture y’all. The salmon tasted house-cured which was fabulous but I have to admit, I wasn’t crazy about the sticky rice. It tasted mildly undercooked which wasn’t that huge of a deal but I was still a little turned off to the dish because of it. I crossed my fingers that the rest of the meal would more than make up for it.
I started off with the bourbon acorn squash bisque. To quote our server it was “all the flavors of the season in your mouth at the same time”. Velvety, rich, warming, without super overwhelming or bold flavors. Just perfectly balanced and creamy. I didn’t get a picture of it because, let’s face it, cream-based soup has to be experienced not viewed.
Mike got the fried green tomato and crab cake stack. Deliciously crunchy, perfect presentation, delightfully crabby. Unfortunately, he got a hold of it before I got a hold of my camera so it was sufficiently decimated before I got to take a picture. It wasn’t pretty so I decided to forgo pictures of our first courses. Patty got the arugula, charred sweet corn salad which I actually liked a great deal. Nice and light compared to what Mike and I got.
For dinner, I managed to get some snapshots.
OMG. The 24oz cowboy steak. And those are cucumbers and tomatoes on top, polenta underneath, and a blue cheese fondue in front. Patty and Mike split it because it was so massive. I would love to see someone try to eat the whole thing, though we were told that it’s been done several times in the past month. It was absolutely delicious, if not a bit undercooked when it first came out. At least it was a perfectly curable problem, whisked away back to the kitchen to come out cooked properly the second time. The plating was superb, the elements with the steak were tasty and unexpected, and the steak itself was beautiful and tender. Definitely a gorgeous piece of beef.
Since I cheated and looked at the menu earlier in the day, I had decided hours before I arrived that I wanted to try the antelope shepherd’s pie. It did not disappoint. It was gamy without being dry, full of flavor, and not nearly as greasy as other shepherd’s pies I’ve had in the past, that were always all-beef I might add. This particular pie was not really a pie at all (as is evidenced by the potatoes on the bottom instead of the top) but I really appreciated the creativity of using a unique ground meat instead of your average beef. The veggies inside were flavorful and broke up the meat just enough without taking away from the warm, winter feel of the dish. And I just loved the mashed underneath. Since my foray into the land of antelope at Circa 1886, I have decided that I am a game-lover. Plus, I am almost always a sucker for what seems to be a super unique signature dish. The antelope was definitely something I enjoyed with a lot of gusto; I ate almost the entire thing.
It was about this time that we met the new Executive Chef Jude Wagner. He is relatively young but not without a heavy heaping of ambition considering the complexity and skill with which our dishes were executed. After sitting with us for a while and enjoying a bottle of Malbec, he mentioned that he really wanted us to try his dessert.
In his words this was the “gelato tree”. From what I remember of the flavors: eggnog, mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, butter pecan, orange sherbet, and honestly the last one escapes me (maybe it was chocolate?). However, the taste was divine. They were all perfectly nestled atop feather-light, house made cookies and the presentation was nothing short of 5 star. He said that he had the “tree” specifically made for this purpose; presenting house-made gelato. Adorable, romantic, silky, delicious. Picture sitting in a small, intimate restaurant and seeing one of these come out to a table across the room. There is no way you’re not ordering that dessert.
On a personal level, I had a wonderful time. I am so excited that I have a new place to recommend to my guests and my dedicated blog readers. Seriously, don’t let the fact that they’re a hotel restaurant throw you off. The Library can certainly hold it’s own against any of the big boys in town. Based on my meal last night, they have every right to.