19 January 2014

Tonight's Episode: If a picture is worth a thousand words.....

If a picture is worth a thousand words...

...then Occidental Grill & Seafood in Washington DC may be worth more than a thousand dictionaries. Located in the Willard Hotel, the walls of this venerable restaurant are lined floor to ceiling with autographed photos of the thousands of entertainers, politicians, and sports starts to enter the dining room since the doors first opened in 1906. Don't confuse the Occidental with some gimmick restaurant, there are some serious culinary chops on display. Our trip there was one of our favorite meals of the year. 

For our starters, I went with the jumbo lump crab cake (mkt price) with sorrel and beech mushroom ragout, and a sunchoke-black truffle cream. The crab cake was gorgeous, lightly crusted, and the cream sauce was plate-lickingly good. For her starter, The Girl chose the Roasted Lobster Bisque ($12) with white sweet potato puree, fennel compote, and Maine lobster. Elegant, creamy, and utterly satisfying, each bite was luscious and decedent. 

The Girl's main dish may be the tastiest "surf and turf" I have tasted in years. Seared U-10 scallops with braised short rib ($36) with a basil Anson Mills polenta and charred vidalia onion relish, the resulting dish plays on the textural and flavor differences of the two proteins. Expertly prepared, and utterly satisfying. 

For my main, I had the black cumin crusted yellowfin tuna ($34) with "paella" style Israeli couscous, crispy romanesco, and a saffron vinaigrette. Again, a masterful execution, as the sear on the tuna soaked in the vinaigrette wonderfully, and worked wonders with the buttery goodness of the tuna. The couscous delivered on the paella promise, with the pleasing texture of the couscous. A total win of a dish.

The Classic Lemon bar ($9) with the blackberry and blueberry compote was a cool and refreshing finish to this amazing dinner. What we experienced at The Occidental was a series of stately and restrained dishes delivered by a thoughtful and confident chef. This isn't a restaurant that survives based on the power of a celebrity chef. This is an institution that knows no matter how long it has been around, no matter whose faces line the walls, if the food fails to deliver the all important wow, then soon the booths will be empty. On a cold day on the week between Christmas and New Years, when most of the DC population has fled to their hometowns, The Occidental was FAR from empty.

The Scores:
Ambiance: 5/5
Service: 3.5/5
Food: 10/10
Value: 4/5
Overall: 22.5 out of 25 Restraint and decadence walk hand in hand in this restaurant long adored by DC's movers and shakers.

Occidental Grill & Seafood on Urbanspoon

05 January 2014

Tonight's Episode: Charleston 2013 The Year That Was

With Steven Page formerly of the Bare Naked Ladies, now with The Illegal Eater

2013 was yet another banner year for Charleston. You name a list, we were atop it. Best place in America, Best Place in the world, Best place to be on a list.....The top ten list of lists we topped is one heck of a read (You can always head over to Holy City Sinner to see the list of lists). Guess it is about time for Foodmancing the Girl to do the list of the Best of Charleston 2013!

Best Summerville Restaurant: Perfectly Franks

For years, this spot was reserved for The Dining Room at the Woodlands. With its demise, we go to the complete opposite end of the dining spectrum with a hot dog joint from a local legend. With dozens of crazy dogs (My favorite involves cocktail sauce, shrimp, and sweet corn relish.), Perfectly Franks delivers family-friendly taste. 

Must Have: A Sol Legare with a Peach Nihi

Best North Charleston Restaurant: Cork

The little restaurant that could has been a part of the revitalization of the old Downtown. 

Must Have: Shrimp and Grits

Best West Ashley Restaurant: Riso Noodle House

Pan Asian cuisine has a tasty love-child with German.....that is Riso. 

Must Have: Mr. Beef and the crispy pork intestines (well, that last bit you must have ONCE)

Best John's Island Restaurant: Angel Oak 

Southern Cuisine isn't my favorite. Not even close. But Angel Oak consistently delivers Southern at its best.

Must Have: Friday Blue Plate Special, fried chicken with mac n cheese and collards

Best James Island Restaurant: The Lot

Farm to table hippy ethos meets rock n roll. The ever changing menu is always full of thoughtful, elegant, and satisfying dishes.

Must Have: If Cavatelli is on the menu, order it. Even if you order it for dessert. I do. Often.

Best Folly Beach Restaurant: The Wich Doctor

Funky gourmet sandwiches and pizzas make The Wich Doctor the eclectic restaurant Bohemian Folly Beach deserves. Throw in daily noodle specials that will leave you drooling, and you have a winner.

Must Have: Chicken and Waffle Sandwich and a pouch of Peach Vinegar to drink

Best Mount Pleasant Restaurant: Pattaya Thai 

This isn't Basil. This is ACTUAL Thai food, since 1998. Properly prepared. In a strip mall. Next to a bowling ally. And unlike Basil, it actually tastes GOOD.

Must Have: Neau Pad Prik and a pot of Jasmine tea

Best IOP Restaurant: Coda Del Pesce 

The new seafood joint from Italian cuisine master Chef Ken Vedrinski has given Charleston what it has always needed, a signature water-front seafood restaurant.

Must Have: Do the tasting menu, and let Chef Ken do all the thinking.

Best New Restaurant: The Ordinary

While it technically opened in 2012 (by less than two weeks) Mike Lata's love letter to seafood has dominated national press for a damn good reason.

Must Have: The Shellfish Tower

Best Chef: Nate Whiting of Tristan

One of the worst self promoters on the planet, Chef Whiting prefers to let his whimsical, thoughtful plates speak for him. His playful dishes show stellar technique and may be the most beautiful plating in the city.

Must Have: Dinner and a Show- Dinner for two with two tickets to the Dock Street Theater

Best Charleston Restaurant: Two Boroughs Larder

I swear Chef Keeler cooks only for himself with little regard to what the customer wants. And that is a good thing. Expect to hear his name among the James Beard Finalists this year.

Must Have: The Pork Scrapple or Wednesday night Burger

Saddest Closing: The Green Door

This breath of fresh air was snuffed out by the Champion of Mediocrity Ryan Condon. Fingers crossed it will be back soon.

Best Burger: Husk

To find out why I think Husk has the perfect burger,  read my breakdown over at Yahoo Food

Best Shrimp and Grits: Anson

The Anson milled grits, slow cooked all day with copious amounts of cheese make these the gold-standard for the dish you see on menus all across the state.

Best Fried Chicken: Angel Oak

I'm not listing Martha Lou's Chicken. That is because what she serves isn't chicken, it is a religious experience. Angel Oak does, however, serve one of the most mind-blowingly juicy fried chickens, with hints of sweet from the buttermilk brine. So worth the drive down 17 South.

Best Canadian TV Show to feature Foodmancing The Girl: The Illegal Eater

That's right, Canadian rocker Steven Page came to Charleston and turned to this guy for some food knowledge. So if you find yourself bored in Canada scour the Travel + Escape Network for a rerun and pray they get a US distribution deal soon. 

That is our Best Of 2013. Feel free to let us know what we missed, what we got wrong, or (in a totally un-internet like manner) what you agree with! Have a wonderful 2014, and keep eating!

21 November 2013

Event: High Wire Distillery debuts Hat Trick Gin

Charleston is a city that loves to drink. We aren't New Orleans drunk, but the liquor does flow fast, and our mixologists (which apparently does not translate to bartender with an ironic mustache) combine regional ingredients in unique ways to form inspired cocktails. Recently they have been able to up the "local" ante by using liquors birthed right here in the Holy City.

High Wire Distilling Co, who brought the production of craft liquors to Downtown Charleston back in September, launched their new Hat Trick Botanical Gin last night. To introduce their newest offering they chose one of Charleston's hottest new bars, The Warehouse.

Hat Trick does something amazing; it makes you love juniper.  This isn't a gin that tastes like one of those Christmas Tree air fresheners, nor is it the vodka-like tasteless gin of some major label offerings. Hat Trick takes the light rosemary and citrus essence of high quality juniper and accentuates it without overplaying the pine flavor. The result is a gin best served over the rocks with a twist. A proper martini will also benefit from the lightly herbal and subtle flavors.

The Blood Orange Tonic, the night's signature gin cocktail, was tasty but slightly overwhelmed the beautiful gin. The second cocktail of the night, the Light & Stormy (featuring High Wire's Light Rum) was much more of a success, highlighting the rum's unusual and extremely satisfying blue agave notes. Think of an ultra-high end tequila in flavor, but not abandoning the core flavor that makes a light rum so dang tasty. This is a rum that will cure you of the Bacardi blues.

While I was imbibing copious amounts of premium gin, I decided to sample a board of the rotating house-made charcuterie ($14). Tonight's offerings were (from left to right) smoked brisket, apple and fennel sausage, crispy pork rillete, and Canadian ham. While the rillete was the clear and crispy winner, all the offerings were tasty and just salty enough to satisfy.

The Hat Trick Gin (along with the fantastic Rum and a Vodka I have yet to try) are all for sale at the distillery, coming soon to liquor stores, and by the glass at the Warehouse.

And after a glass or two try your hand at the bloodsport known as foosball.

15 October 2013

Recipe: Croque Madame Muffin

Is there any dish in French cuisine more wonderfully child-like in its whimsy as the Croque Madame? The delightful grilled ham and cheese sandwich, topped with a fried egg, is one of my favorite brunch dishes. This updated version, in muffin form, is tasty on its own or paired with a dressed arugula salad.


4 Slices white bread, crust cut off
4 eggs yolks (reserve the whites for light omelets tomorrow)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 oz ham cubed

For the Mornay Sauce:

3 Tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup light cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan reserved for garnish

To Make the Mornay Sauce:

Melt the butter over medium heat, add onions and sweet till translucent. Add flour, stirring until it forms a paste. Add Salt and pepper. Gradually add both broth and cream over low heat, stirring constantly until combined and thickened. Cook for 5 minutes while stirring to prevent the cream from burning. Stir in cheese until melted, remove from heat.

To Assemble:
Preheat oven to 350º, Then flatten the slices of bread, brushing both sides with melted butter. Press the bread into a muffin tin, the bread should overhang the top of the tin. Add 1/4 oz of ham to each slice of bread, then add egg yolk. Cover with Mornay sauce, about two tablespoons, and sprinkle with reserved grated Parmesan. Bake for 13 minutes for a loose yolk, 20 minutes for a firm yolk. Serve immediately.

10 October 2013

Tonight's Episode: Closing a Door

Ask most Charleston natives over the age of, oh I don't know 30 maybe, their thoughts on Big John's Tavern and you are likely to hear "Oh that sketchy place that lets teens drink?" Now ask the same question of your random 20something and you are likely to hear "You mean the bar at The Green Door?" That change is significant. The day food truck vet Cory Burke opened his funky little slice of culinary heaven, the entire vibe changed for Big John's. Suddenly, this place that seemed better suited to a Law & Order: SVU episode became a destination. People talked about it again. It mattered. But not for long.

The Post & Courier's Hanna Raskin set the Charleston food scene ablaze last night when she broke the news that The Green Door was getting the boot. In the follow-up article we meet the building's owner, Ryan Condon. See Ryan bought Big John's from it's struggling owner John Cannady to keep the spirit of the bar the same. What made Big John's so special? According to Mr. Condon it was the kind of place parents felt safe letting their teens drink. Let that sink in for a moment. He took the bar back from his nephews, who had been running it, because "That's just not what the business was intended to be." I'm assuming he means the menu at The Green Door, not the enforcing of the legal drinking age, but that seems open to interpretation. 

Mr. Condon isn't new to the Charleston food scene. He co-owns the Charleston Crab Shack chain, most famous for providing mediocre fried seafood and crab legs identical to any other such chain across the country. It is that mediocrity that Mr. Condon feels is best for his business. He wants to return it to its glory. From Hanna Raskin's article we hear this:

“I want to return Big John’s to what Big John’s was when I started going there,” says Condon, who started hanging out at Big John’s as a high schooler. “If Big John would ever have seen The Green Door, he would have rolled over in his grave. I don’t even know what the hell grilled kimchee is; I just want to restore Big John’s the way it was.”

What, other than having high schooler's like Mr. Condon getting drunk, made Big John's so special? Ham sandwiches and football on TV. Yes, Mr. Condon hopes Big John's can fill that void in Charleston of places to get a ham sandwich and watch TV. 

Listen, I do not begrudge a businessman doing what he thinks is best for his business, but if THIS is the move he wants, then the failure he will endure will be of his own making. I also don't think Chef Cory is without blame. I hope he has learned a valuable lesson about getting it in writing.  I hope Chef Cory keeps his funky eclectic food in Charleston. We need someone to help tip the scales of generic mediocrity that the Ryan Condon's of the world want to spread. 

PS- The Girl thinks Ryan Condon deserves to stub his toe AND get a paper cut in the same day.


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