Tag Archives: upscale

When the Husk is Peeled Back, What Really Exists?

7 Aug

One of the most essential parts of doing my job well is constantly reevaluating different tours, restaurants, cocktail bars, business partners, and most importantly, myself. Just because I’ve had one negative experience with a person or at an establishment does not permanently condemn him/her/it in my eyes. Everyone deserves some form of redemption for minor wrongdoings or inconsistencies.

Catharsis: I may or may not have been wrong about Husk.

Husk Restaurant

Husk Restaurant

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Over the Top, But in the Best Kind of Way

28 Jul

There are several reasons why I moved from New Jersey to the glorious Palmetto State about seven years ago. Yeah sure, the obvious first answers are college, cost of living, escaping the hell of living in the same town I grew up in (sorry Colts Neck), understanding the euphoria achieved by drunken boating adventures, the allure of possessing a year long tan, and the social acceptance of wearing croakies. Freaking croakies After years of field research I can conclude that I still don’t get it. I will say that we have far, far better restaurants in about three square miles of the Greater Charleston Area than in all of Central Jersey. Look at me, saying “we” like I grew up here. Charleston has part of my heart and the other 40% sort of misses 3 Brothers Pizza and Skylark Diner.

Let’s segue back to those Charleston restaurants, which is why you’re probably here. The following statement contains absolutely zero sarcasm: I love when people do their jobs so well that it makes it exponentially more difficult for me to do mine. By this I mean that it is a borderline travesty that there are so many amazing options when my guests ask, “Where should we eat dinner tonight?” My knee-jerk response is: “Well, what are you in the mood for? Upscale/casual? Seafood/steak/Italian? Special occasion?” Please people, help me help you. There are about 150 restaurants in the Historic and Upper King Districs, all within walking distance of one another (barring unforeseen laziness, the wearing of high heels, life-inhibiting injuries, etc). Say you’re looking for a place within these lines: upscale but not stuffy, special occasion, consistently good quality food, a menu with variety, excellent service, oh and price is not an problem because someone else is paying. Here’s a good list to get started: Charleston Grill, Hall’s Chophouse, and Circa 1886. Did I forget something? What a coincidence, I went there recently.

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Fish, pork, and rice – Lowcountry done right

28 Aug

Sooo, Anson. It’s been a long time since I’ve written about you. You’re quite a tease sitting down there near the market enticing me with your wares. Though you’re surrounded by barns and various animals that trot by and leave behind foul-smelling reminders of their existence, you are nonetheless gorgeous and your bounty is veritably delectable. I enjoy your cornucopia of seafood, vegetables and game that varies monthly based upon market availability. There is also no denying that I am quite a fan of your newly swanky atmosphere.

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I’m in love, Circa last weekend

23 Aug

As far as most people are concerned there are one or two “fine dining” restaurants in the entirety of Charleston. The Grill and McCrady’s.

Not so fast, y’all.

I am always a fan of supporting the underdog. Sure, they mostly don’t have the kind of notoriety that true celebrity brings and maybe they don’t have a gazillion dollars to spend on advertising. There is something so appealing to me about patronizing a restaurant that is off the beaten path. By this I mean a place that isn’t the first place you think of. It’s one of those places where you say “Where should we eat? Hmm…. Oh honey, we haven’t been to ___ in forever! Remember how good it was last time?” Something just barely below your stream of consciousness that when it actually comes to you, you stop and scratch your head and wonder “You know what? You’re right. It was legitimately awesome the last time we went there.”

Of course I’m talking about Circa 1886.

Before you throw your hands up and say “You’re crazy, that’s a stuffy old-people’s place”, hear me out.

I wish I had grabbed some pictures of the interior because it really is gorgeous. It just didn’t seem right to be snapping pictures like the paparazzi at Kim and Kris’s wedding in the middle of a four diamond restaurant.

Situated right across the lawn from the Wentworth Mansion, Circa is housed by the former carriage house building of the inn. Elegant, quiet, and refined, it makes for a gentile night out on the town. An impeccably demure setting for an anniversary or birthday. Which, coincidentally, was why we were there. Sneak peak of the ending:

Strawberry Shortcake at Circa 1886

Birthday dessert fit for a classy lady

As you may have guessed, it was Sporter’s birthday. What better way to celebrate than at a classy lady dinner? X, Sporter and I realized at the last minute that we all had the night free and after some frantic scrambling we were ready to dine. But where? We debated between several places but landed upon Circa. I justified it to her as “Honey, it’s your damn birthday. If you can’t justify going out and having a classy night on the town in one of the best restaurants on tonight of all nights then when the hell can you?” My logic is unquestioned.

Since I can’t really go into a lot of details about the atmosphere without you questioning me on the lack of pictures (which once again would have been totally inappropriate on a Saturday night given the setting) I will state the one minute detail that makes me question the restaurant’s judgement. I promise I’m not trying to look for things that are wrong because it’s not in my nature to do so but this was something that stood out almost immediately: taupe-colored tablecloths. I am pretty sure that there is an actual rule that in order to be considered for the upper echelons of AAA certification the restaurant is required to have white tablecloths for dinner service. It’s really not a deal breaker and I can understand wanting to have an artistic choice to break up the dining room but can’t the restaurant do taupe underneath the white tablecloth? I felt like I was at my Aunt Holly’s for Thanksgiving and someone decided to go digging for the “holiday linens” in the basement. When white linens are the norm for upscale restaurants, pardon the cliché but “if it ain’t broke…”

Taupe linens aside, the meal was without question one of the best meals that I have eaten in an upscale restaurant in recent memory. Let’s talk about the food!

Snapper crudo with plantain

Thanks Chef Marc for the beautiful amuse!

I will give it to the kitchen staff, this was a beautifully executed amuse bouche. Granted, we all had a relatively difficult time figuring out how to daintily eat the snapper crudo with pineapple and the crispy plantain in the same bite but that was honestly the largest hurdle. Both ladies loved it and I absolutely agreed with the flavor profile. Unfortunately, I have never been a huge fan of the texture of crudo. I will eat it without question, especially from a chef as talented as Marc Collins. It’s just a weird personal preference of mine that I just cannot seem to get over. I love ceviche and sushi so it’s not a raw fish thing, I just can’t get on board with room-temperature crudo. I was outnumbered because both ladies thought it was delicious.

On to the appetizers.

Pork Picnic

Seriously, how did they even come up with this concept?

Did the chef honestly sit down and say, “Ok guys. I want to come up with a concept for a dish that is essentially a ‘Pork Picnic’. There won’t be pulled pork but we’ll have other picnicy elements on the dish so it’ll taste like you’re eating it on a hot summer day outside.” Mission accomplished. Admirably. Potato salad with whole-grain mustard, a house made bread and butter pickle, crispy pork tenderloin, and a delicate variation of ketchup-based barbecue sauce? Seriously, chef, if you’re reading this now how in the hell did you come up with this? It is genius. Perfect textures all around and the dish actually told a story without veering into pretentious categories. Because it was honestly that good. Bravo!

Bibb lettuce salad

Birthday girl's salad

Granted, this dish was not quite as high-concept as mine but for what it was it was satisfying and fresh. The dressing was almost a green goddess-like quality with a light summery feel that paired perfectly with the crispy potato strips, cucumbers, and heirloom tomatoes. Great simple mid-summer salad course.

Shrimp and "grits"

Shrimp and gnocchi grits

X’s dish was another high concept yet unbelievably successful first course. Light as a feather anson mills grits “gnocchi” (GENIUS) paired with morels, prosciutto, lemon anglaise, and of course shrimp. It was playful, colorful, and sheer bliss on a plate. X would only give Sporter and myself one bite apiece because there was no way she was parting with any more of it and I don’t blame her, I would have defended it like it was my child.

Annnnnd on to the main courses!

Annatto Rubbed Antelope Loin

Annatto Rubbed Antelope Loin

No surprise whatsoever that I got the weird game item. We were in a meat-fueled mood for the evening, it seems. The texture of the antelope was deliciously lean and yet still tender enough without venturing into a super chewy territory. If you look at the pieces closely, you’ll notice that there is just a hint of sea salt cracked on top of each one, counterbalancing the texture with a slight crunch with each bite. For someone as into textures as I am, it was a little piece of heaven. Also, for a piece of meat as lean as the antelope was it was unbelievably flavorful and oh my god those Mepkin Abbey mushrooms set off the entire dish like I can’t even describe. Beautiful plating, expertly seared, spot on recipe. That night, I could have died a happy girl.

Beef tenderloin

Sporter's affectionately named "beef cupcake"

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t grab a picture that did this dish justice. See?

Beef Cupcake

Shot 2 of Beef Cupcake

You get the idea. I will say that the texture of the tenderloin was unbelievably silky; it could easily have been cut with the side of a fork. What was really surprising about the whole endeavor was the fact that the piece of meat was easily as flavorful as any piece of ribeye I’ve had recently. That’s right folks, Chef Collins has taken a cut of beef with essentially very little flavor and made it as rich and juicy as a Sunday Prime Rib. How is this possible?!? I have so many questions. The rest of the dish was good but rightfully so, the beef took center stage. It was phenomenal.

Sous Vide of Lamb Leg

Sous Vide of Lamb Leg

When it comes to bold flavor however, I think I’ve got to give the grand prize to Miss X. This leg of lamb was just lean enough to be considered an exceptionally well-butchered piece but just fatty enough to be overflowing with natural flavor. The boldness had a lot to do with the sous vide and it was an admirable choice to a cut of meat that is already chock full of rich, delicious, unmistakable flavor. On a side note, I have a tendency to find many preparations that include foam (this one was of a cucumber variety) a touch overdone and usually are used to overcompensate for lack of creative flair on behalf of the chefs behind the line. I will say this: they can put their foam on anything that comes out of the kitchen. They could block out the sun with their foam and the flavors and complexities of their dishes would still shine through. They have earned that right because everything we had was just that ridiculously good.

And then we got dessert.

Chocolate Truffle Souffle

Chocolate Truffle Souffle

There is nothing I can say about this dish that will do it justice in any way, shape or form. Except this: this was the best soufflé I have ever had in Charleston. EVER.

Strawberry Shortcake at Circa 1886

And, of course, making an encore performance is Sporter’s strawberry shortcake. I didn’t get a bite, unfortunately, because I was unable to come up for air from my chocolate soufflé.

I have to state a disclaimer as I close: I had honestly almost forgotten about Circa. One of my better personality traits is that I am almost always willing to admit when I am wrong. I also have a strong affinity for pork but that’s beside the point. I was wrong for counting out Circa. They are a strong dark horse contender for “best fine dining restaurant downtown”. I walked away from my dinner this past weekend with renewed amorous feelings toward the playful nature of the restaurant’s concept. I’m both impressed and proud that there is a restaurant in town that can juxtapose the flavors of food that are so comforting against haute-cuisine procedures and textures. Nothing feels stale or like it’s been done before and yet it’s not a re-invention of the wheel; it’s a re-imagining. As in “I’m re-imagining for the third time today when I can dine there again”.

Many thanks to Chef Collins and his exceptionally talented team of chefs in the kitchen for making our special occasion an exceptional memory.

Circa 1886 on Urbanspoon

Note to self: markedly better evenings start with sushi

9 Aug

Ok, so I have to gush, y’all. I just love blogging about town. I am currently curled up in the end booth at The Belmont on Upper King (enjoying my water after last night’s borderline debauchery) and Mickey was kind enough to let me connect to their Wi-Fi. I swear to god, I really don’t know why I ever go to another bar in this city. This place has the best music (currently Nina Simone is crooning), the best drinks (OMG Hampton Park), and the absolute best bar staff. They could not be any friendlier or more worthy of praise. Seriously, guys, well done. I will continue to come to this place until the end of time as long as I can get the Hampton Park or Laughing Countess.

So I decided to walk to work today. Yes, it was hot as hell earlier because, well, it’s August and occasionally that happens. Welcome to America, it gets hot in the summer. Regardless, I was walking home today when I realized that I was hungry. I walked into a place that is normally good for after-work dinner and promptly walked right back out. I will absolutely not name the place because that’s not fair and I normally have fabulous experiences there. I will say that it smelled unappealing and it’s really needless to elaborate on it much more. It was unwarranted for a place that I was about to eat in.

Then I remembered O-Ku. I forgot how much I like that restaurant. Maybe it’s their atmosphere:

Interior shot of O-Ku

Beautiful and sexy dining room

Bar at O-Ku

This picture doesn't do their bar justice

Or maybe it’s their adorable chefs at the sushi bar.

Sushi bar at O-Ku

Awesome sushi bar

Chefs at O-Ku

Showing off for the camera

Whatever the reason, the interior aesthetic is sexy, date-night dinner. It has that exclusive air of “leave the kids at home” while still being approachable enough for me to sit up at the bar by myself on a Monday night. While I don’t recall the bartender’s name, she was absolutely adorable. She claims that she is there between 4-5 nights a week and was friendly, knowledgeable about the entire menu, and a fellow yankee. I really am uspet that I don’t recall her name off the top of my head because she was so pleasant, such a welcome change from my experience out last night. Unfortunately, I arrived about 40 minutes after their amazing happy hour special had ended (which is awesome by the way. It entails getting half off every roll on the menu on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5-7pm). She recommended several sushi rolls and I ended up going with one of her recommendations and one that sounded appetizing to me. The firecracker roll was her choice and I thought I’d try the eel wrapped roll.

Sushi rolls at O-Ku

Firecracker up front and eel in the back

The eel was good but holy cats that firecracker roll was spicy and had so much complexity it was astounding. Spicy, crunchy, sweet, warm all at the same time and with such a broad flavor profile that I could taste just about every note in every bite. Don’t get me wrong, the eel roll was delicious but it tasted almost pedestrian compared to the firecracker roll. This isn’t a bad thing because it tasted so fresh and had such a nice smoky and sweet flavor like most eel rolls have a tendency to but the crunchiness of the firecracker just woah. I haven’t even told you what’s in it, that’s the best part: crab salad, avocado, asparagus roll tempura with spicy tuna, salmon, whitefish topped with Serrano pepper and eel sauce. I was a little put off by the description but I guess I should have just listened to her from the start because it was a great recommendation.

Oh, and the chef sent out a little nibble too.

Sashimi Scallop at O-Ku

Sashimi scallop

Apparently the chef’s mother made her signature garlic kimchee. The chef wanted to feature it on a little morsel of scallop sashimi and holy mother of god. Toasty on the top, wonderfully raw in the middle and the kimchee was, not shockingly, the best part. It was kind of sweet and spicy and garlicky all at once and it gave the scallop a punch that was much warranted. I’m sure my breath is awful right now but I honestly don’t care. I could have another 7 of these right now.

Overall, in terms of the upscale sushi market in Charleston, I feel like O-Ku stands alone. I haven’t found anyone that can touch them in terms of quality of food, sexiness of atmosphere, and level of service. They pour a fabulous cocktail, serve up some of the best sushi I’ve ever had, and do it with a smile on their faces. I really don’t see what else you could possibly want for a night out.

O-Ku Sushi on Urbanspoon

There’s a new(ish) steak sheriff in town

1 Aug

I have some apologies that I didn’t post earlier about this. I’m in the process of moving my blog over to WordPress and have kind of hit a wall. Unfortunately, that’s what I’ve been concentrating on in the blog world this past week and it’s eaten up so much of my time.

Regardless, I went to Oak Steakhouse two nights ago.

Let me say that I have only been one other time since Jeremiah Bacon started there and it was pretty delicious. I remembered really liking my bistro steak then so we decided to go for round 2.

The atmosphere is fabulous in the bar area. We encountered great bartenders that seriously made me the most delicious dirty martini last time. I have yet to find its equal anywhere in the city. I strongly encourage you to order one up for yourself. The dining room, for me, is a bit of a different story entirely. While I love that their main dining room is far above the street on the third floor overlooking Broad Street, I only really like the first and second dining rooms that you encounter at the top of the stairs. The main one at the front of the building is a little bizarre for me. For lack of a better way to describe the room, it has jungle themes painted on the walls. I’m not making this up. I kind of wish I had pictures but there were couples having an intimate evening out and I didn’t want to disturb them. I felt like I was in someone’s upscale nursery or playroom. It wasn’t exactly a deal-breaker for the meal but it was borderline distracting when I was eating a $40 steak to see a monkey painted over the door frame. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being picky but it detracted somewhat from my personal experience. I polled the table and I really was the only one that cared so I guess it really is just me. I lose.

Decor aside, I will say that we received impeccable service from every member of the staff that we encountered. Our server, SA, the hostess and the front of house manager were all genuinely concerned about our enjoyment of the meal without being over the top. It was all done with a polite and professional flair to it and trust me, it did not go unnoticed. So many places think that the key to good service is offering you nothing short of the shirt off your back. I can say that based on personal experience in my profession that my favorite type of service is the calm, reserved, understated, elegant service that one receives in truly high-end establishments, most notably in a place like Charleston Grill. In my honest opinion, the service at Oak ranks right up there with the finest in town. Easily top 5. Based solely on the service, I would dine there again without hesitation.

The food itself could stand to be judged in its own category. Behold!

Delicious filet at Oak

Patty and Colin (a new addition to the regular dining crowd) both ordered the filet. It was juicy and cooked perfectly rare. Good seasoning on top and a nice char. I really couldn’t find fault with the steak and Patty was raving about it but to be honest, it didn’t legitimately blow me away. I know, I know, it was still a beautiful cut of meat and it was prime at that but it was not the most amazing knock down, drag out steak I have ever had. It was by all means a superior steak, this much I will admit without the slightest doubt. I just can’t pinpoint it. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for a big beefy steak that night. I will say that I ordered and received exactly what I wanted.

Veal Chop

The best meat on the table

Quite possibly the most delicious veal chop I have eaten in a very very long time. It was an unbelievably flavorful t-bone chop with just the right amount of marbling throughout. In my opinion it was the best thing on the table. The char mixed with the juices once I cut into the chop so the whole dish had a rich peppery texture, including the delicious potatoes upon which the protein was perched. I was not a huge fan of the sauce that was served on the side but I was thankful that it was on the side and not covering the whole piece of meat. Seriously not a deal-breaker whatsoever. Overall, a decadent, knockout dish. I sincerely loved every bite. I can’t wait to eat it again.

Bistro Steak

Woody's delicious meaty meat

Miss Woody’s bistro steak. Beautiful bias cut on the tenderloin, making it more tender than it already was. The Burden Creek goat cheese fondue was absolutely delicious; I could easily have used it as actual fondue and dipped bread and veggies in it. It elevated the dish beyond just “steak dinner” to “well thought out steak experience with an elegant flavor profile”. If it can be argued that fondue is elegant, this would be my entry into said debate. The truffle fries were, of course, delicious. A little heavy on the truffle oil but the texture of the fries was so good that it cancelled out any negativity created from the truffle flavor. It definitely didn’t stop me from having several forkfuls from Woody. A very successful dish and at only $28 it is a veritable steal if you’re looking for a satisfying gourmet meal out.

GrouperSorry about the blurry photo, y’all. And to be honest, I didn’t get a bite of this dish. This was what Woody’s sister Mighty Heidi ordered and it looked delicious. I can almost always trust a good steakhouse to do fish well too and, well, she sure seemed happy.

Lobster Mac at Oak

Lobster Mac and Queso

I know that this is one of their signature dishes. I also know there would probably be nothing short of a civil war if they were to ever take this off their menu. There are enough people in this town that would riot in the streets and throw bricks through store windows if Oak Steakhouse ceased to make their signature Lobster Macaroni and Cheese. Jeremiah’s version is decidedly less decadent and it was pretty good. I have to admit, I do love orzo but I feel like the orzo doesn’t really work if you want to call the dish “mac and cheese”. Maybe I’m a purist but I feel like orzo is a tad light and doesn’t hold in the cheese the way elbow macaroni or rigatoni would. I also understand that lobster is so heavy and there has to be a way for the dish to counterbalance the lightness of the pasta with the decadence of the shellfish. However, who orders this dish looking for a restrained side to their steak? If you want something light, order the asparagus. My philosophy for situations like this is “go big or go home”. I want baked macaroni with lobster not orzo artfully prepared with aged cheddar whipped into a creamy fondue sauce with the finest quality of wild caught Maine lobster. I mean yes, that does sound phenomenal now that I think about it and the dish was really really delicious, but there are times when you should just call a spade a spade. This is one of those times.

Macaroni and Mushrooms

Side dishes galore

Those mushrooms lurking back there were absolutely delicious too. Perfect texture and exceptional flavor.

Asparagus and Spinach at Oak

Various legumes

Asparagus and spinach. Pretty standard stuff here, people. No problem with anything, just wanted to show you all my pics.

So the dinner was actually really good. To reiterate, I loved my veal and Woody’s bistro steak. Sides were all good, yada yada.

The chef heard we were interested in dessert. Mind you, we were too full to order anything but for some reason we received some anyway. Maybe it’s the fact that Patty is just overly friendly and nice things seem to happen to her. Here is my rundown in order of deliciousness.

Chocolate Cake at Oak

Decadent layers of chocolate

4. Their chocolate cake. I loved the blue and blackberries and the cake was moist. Not the best of the desserts but still a passable chocolate cake in the big scheme of things.

Carrot Fig Cake

Chunky and awesome

3. The carrot and fig cake. It was so rich but not overbearing. I have never had a carrot cake that also featured the figgy texture that this particular confection did. Unique and delicious so therefore a win-win.

Crème Brûlée at Oak

The best crème in town, seriously y'all

2. The “by no means regular” crème brûlée. Easily the most delicious I have had in Charleston. A perfect thickness on the sugar for the top and creamy and delicious underneath. It had that quintessential signature snappy sound when broken by a spoon. I would also order this again and I am not even a “dessert person”. It was that good. Topped only by…

Goat Cheesecake

This ain't no burden

1. Burden Creek Goat Cheesecake. A velvety cheesecake with a distinct goaty flavor and texture to it. I could not stop eating it. It was phenomenal. One of the best desserts I have ever eaten at a restaurant in Charleston. And also the world. With just enough of an emphasis on the crust there at the bottom and the blood orange slash across the plate, it was a near perfect dessert. I loved every bite.

The bottom line on Oak: while it wasn’t necessarily the best steak I have ever eaten in my entire life, the restaurant itself is easily one of the better dining experiences in town. With the understated elegance in the atmosphere and service, not to mention the wonderful food parading out of the kitchen, Oak is one of the more surprising and enjoyable restaurants that I’ve been to recently. It was delightfully pleasant and in retrospect, I have not had a more relaxed and unpretentious meal out in Charleston since I went to Carolina’s a few weeks ago. Seriously, well done y’all. I cannot wait to send guests there. I’m sure I’ll hear nothing but fantastic feedback.

Oak Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

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