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11 September 2011

Tonight's Episode: The Devil is in the Details

           Where did you go when you really wanted to impress a girl in high school? I'm talking about throw on a tie and jacket impress her? For me, it was Magnolia's. The Uptown/Down South class always made it a sure hit. When you wanted a great night, Magnolia's always came through. Took The Girl there tonight, and we had the same one-word thought: dated.
          The main room, occupying the right side of the restaurant, has beautiful wood floors but oddly modern black pillars with black ironwork. The paintings spaced around the wall are impressionistic floral scenes familiar to any doctor's office. The area where we were seated, behind the bar area, was even worse. Instead of the rich wood floors, we had awful white tile. The far wall is a long mirror, with more of the bad art. The light fixtures are equally dated, and give the entire space an '80s upscale feel. Paying attention to the details, like the dirty and paint chipped baseboards or the dirty napkin under my chair, and you start to get the feeling that someone just doesn't care enough to make sure things are as they should be.  Details will be the theme of the night.
          Both The Girl and I choose the 3 for $30 Restaurant Week menu. For her appetizer, she chose the Butternut Squash Bisque with spiced creme fraîche. The texture was velvety smooth, and the taste was wonderfully sweet but very one note. The size of the serving and the sweetness of the bisque call for something else added, perhaps toasted pumpkin or sesame seeds. For my app, I choose the Apple and Walnut Salad with radicchio, arugula, and a port wine vinaigrette. Again, just missing something. I would have loved a few slices of brie to offset the bitter radicchio and sharp Granny Smith apple. The vinaigrette was beautiful, though. The server, again not focusing on details, served the apps to the wrong person. I wouldn't have mentioned it except she went on to do the same thing with the entrees.
           For her entree, The Girl settled in on the Grilled Sirloin Steak with caramelized cauliflower, smoked bacon, roasted red bliss potatoes, and a creole mustard cream. The steak was cooked perfectly, the cauliflower-bacon mixture was surprisingly tasty, and the sauce was flavorful. The detail missed on this dish was seasoning. Though the steak was perfectly cooked, there was no seasoning. The Girl, who isn't a fan of aggressive seasoning, called it bland. She even left steak on the plate, bored with the flavor.
        For myself, I went with the Smoked Pork Loin with hand cut fries, Brussels sprouts, and cheddar cheese with a malt vinegar remoulade, and a burnt onion chutney. The pork was beautiful, and so was the chutney and remoulade. It was hard to eat, however, with the knife provided. I had to ask for a new knife. The Brussels sprouts were not bad, just forgettable. The hand cut fries were very tasty, but they were just a soggy, limp, undercooked mess piled on top. There are defiantly some great elements to this dish, just not well executed.
        For dessert, I went with the chocolate chess pie with caramel and fresh whipped cream. This turned out to be a tasty chocolate brownie in a pie crust, with a nice caramel. Nothing exciting, but tasty. The Girl went with the Lemon Cream Cheesecake, with a strawberry sauce. The cheesecake had a perfect texture, and the lemon mixed with the strawberry sauce was D-LISH. The problem comes in that the slice was half cheesecake, half crust. I am not kidding, half of the slice was crust. When The Girl mentioned this to the waitress, she stated that the slices are very inconsistent, and it seems to depend on who makes it. Again, details. It shouldn't be common knowledge that a dessert is poorly made.

           Walking out of Magnolia's I had a crushing sense of disappointment. This was one of the great restaurants of my youth. Now, it seems content with grabbing tourists and cruise ship passengers and ignoring the details. Maybe the issues with our meal were due to it being the Restaurant Week menu, but this is supposed to be a way for you to find new guests and bring back those who haven't been in a while. The details matter. It really hurts me to write this about what was such a wonderful fixture in Charleston's culinary scene for so long. Maybe that is the problem, though. Maybe it is time for Magnolia's to be retired, or at least reimagined. All I know is that if I had brought The Girl here on a date night before our wedding, this blog might have been Foodmancing My Self.

The Scores:
Ambiance: 1/5
Service: 3/5
Food: 5/10
Value: 2/5
Overall: 11 out of 25, A restaurant a decade past its prime, and no signs of making a comeback Magnolias on Urbanspoon

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